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Jason

Cruises a bargain despite price increases

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Execs: Cruises a bargain despite price increases

BY DONNA BALANCIA, FLORIDA TODAY

Value at sea

When taking inflation into account, cruises are a better value today than they were 25 years ago, Carnival Cruise Lines President and Chief Executive Officer Robert Dickinson said at the annual Seatrade Cruise Shipping Convention.

Some seven-day trips on the bargain Carnival brand cost about $599 in 1980 and remain that low today. And $599 in 1980 dollars is worth $1,373 today, Dickinson said. -- The Associated Press

MIAMI - Exciting on-board activities, more technology and personalized service will help the cruise industry continue to grow, cruise-line executives said Tuesday at a major industry conference.

They also predicted that the price of a cruise would rise -- but remain a relative bargain, compared with land-based vacations.

"Consumers are more demanding than ever before, and the industry is very strong and buoyant," said Robert Dickinson, president and chief executive officer of Carnival Cruise Lines. "We're starting to get our prices back to where they were a few years ago, and we are renovating and refurbishing our fleet."

Dickinson and other cruise-line executives addressed an audience of several hundred people during the State of the Industry keynote speeches at the 21st-annual Seatrade Cruise Shipping Convention in Miami.

The state of the cruise industry is vitally important to Brevard County. Port Canaveral in north Brevard is the second-busiest cruise terminal in the United States by passenger count, behind the Port of Miami.

The cruise industry is a key segment of Brevard's tourism industry, an industry that officials estimate is worth $1 billion a year to the local economy and employs about 30,000 people.

Travel agent Roberto Dias, tourist adviser with Miami Reservation & Information Center in Miami, said he has two types of cruise customers.

"I have the kind of people who want the very best," Dias said. "They book in advance, they are experienced cruisers, and they want all the conveniences. Then, I have the last-minute, best-deal types, who want the least expensive."

People want it either quickly, or they want the latest and newest, Dias said.

Technology demands

"I attribute the technology advances on the cruise ships to the young people," Dias said. "They are very impatient, and they want things right away. They want to send pictures from the ship by e-mail."Andy Stuart, chairman of Cruise Lines International Association and executive vice president of marketing for Norwegian Cruise Line, said the cruise lines must stay ahead of passenger demand for instant access to information.

Technology -- like on-board Internet access -- will continue to play a critical part of a cruiser's experience.

"Technology has transformed the individual . . . in ways we couldn't have imagine years ago," he said. "Technology has fashioned a new consumer. Access to information is everything."

"People want to always be connected," said Yvonne Kraak, director of marketing and sales for the Bahias Plus travel agency in Port Huatulco, Mexico. "And the cruise ships know the economic potential for this. That's why they offer high-speed connections, because people expect to be connected quickly."

'Experience-oriented'

"Passengers on a ship today want everything they can have at home," said Jorge Rodriguez, a frequent traveler from Miami. "My kids want to get on the Internet and check their e-mails. My nieces want to have the computer all the time."Terry Dale, president and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association, told conference attendees that consumers are more experience-oriented, and must cram more leisure into less and less time.

The many local ports across the United States that offer cruises help propel the drive-to business and make cruises accessible.

On-board health and wellness, cooking and other special-interest classes and instruction offer diversity and catering to the family and multi-generational cruiser is critical, Dale said.

Howard Frank, vice chairman and chief operating officer for Carnival Corp., said the industry continues to grow at a rate of 8 percent or 9 percent a year, but has a "long way to go to get back to fair pricing in the vacation market today."

"In terms of where we are as an industry, it's a rising tide," he said.

He added that the price of a cruise still is a better bargain than a competitive land-based vacation.

Jack Williams, president and chief operating officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., said challenges to the industry include the cost of oil.

Other challenges include the weakness of the American dollar.

Expanding a challenge

"We have to continue to be patient with the exchange rate," Carnival's Frank said.Colin Veitch, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, said building ships and adding to the fleet -- no matter what the cost -- is critical for the future of every cruise company.

"We have the challenge of replenishing our fleet and taking out our old ships," Veitch said. "It's like, when stocks are cheap, you back up the truck and buy. But when stocks are expensive, you don't stop buying."

While many companies have an initiative to build bigger ships -- larger than 160,000 tons -- Carnival's Dickinson said it was "premature to speculate" on Carnival's similar plan, dubbed the "Pinnacle project."

Royal Caribbean's Williams said his company was focusing on expanding the Celebrity brand, but there was no announcement date.

"We're also being patient with relation to the exchange rate," he said.

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I am paying now about what I paid when I began cruising, many years ago!

That's one of the advantages of living here in South Florida; I can book a "last minute cruise, in "off-season" and save a bundle...

But, even if you pay a bit more, look at what you get for your money. An average, "standard" cruise still runs about $100.00 per day, per person, about what you'd pay just for a room at Disneyworld! And, you get all your food, entertainment, etc; "free."

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Hi everybody,

I agree with the article that Jason submitted and with DaCruzNut. I guess it's preaching to the converted.

In addition to being a floating hotel and restaurant, one has the convenience of unpacking once and going to several different countries or cities. It's a great fun and even educational if one chooses.

I find cruising to be quite a bargain.

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For us, it's the only way we enjoy vacationing since we know, for sure, that our daughter will have plenty of kids to hang with, no matter when we sail. If she's busy , we can relax and enjoy. Hotels didn't work for us , not enough kids .

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