MIAMI — Alaska is a hot destination again, and river voyages are enjoying a boost in popularity this year as the cruise industry works on luring back potential first-time passengers put off by the Costa Concordia tragedy.
The Concordia accident, in which 32 people died when the ship ran aground off the Italian coast in January, has been an overarching story in the cruise world so far this year. The Costa line is owned by Carnival Corp., the largest cruise operator in the world, which was forced to cut its 2012 profit forecasts nearly in half after the accident.
"What's new is the impact of the Costa Concordia tragedy on absolutely every corner of cruising I can think of for the time being," said ###### editor-in-chief Carolyn Spencer Brown. "That's not something we certainly want to write about or cover or hear about — but the trend as a result of that is the emphasis on safety and security."
Here are some details on what's new in cruise trends for the coming year:
• Booking trends: Even with the loss of potential first-time cruisers, around 17.2 million passengers are expected to take a cruise this year — up 5 percent from 2011, according to the Cruise Lines International Association. The Caribbean is again expected to be the leading destination.
• River cruising: River cruises in Europe and the United States are expected to gain passengers in 2012. Avalon Waterways is adding three new ships (carrying 166, 128 and 32 passengers) for European river cruises, and closer to home two ships will traverse the mighty Mississippi. The 436-passenger American Queen, the largest steamboat in the world, was bought by the Great American Steamboat Co. and got a $6 million retrofitting. It will be relaunched next month, featuring a new interior and two top-deck dining venues. In August comes the launching of the brand new 150-passenger Queen of the Mississippi by American Cruise Lines.
• Alaska: The 49th state is expected to be bigger than ever as cruise destination this year. The state "head tax" for cruise passengers led some lines to reduce their Alaska itineraries in recent years, but since it was rolled back in 2010 the ships have returned. Plus, higher airfares to Europe this year have more people looking at an Alaska cruise as an alternative vacation. The Disney Wonder sailing to Alaska from Seattle this year helps put it on the radar for more families.