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PortWatch

May 24, 2013

Smoother sailing

Cruises get good buzz from new ships, overhauls

The 2013 cruise season began with a nightmare: a Carnival ship adrift with no power. But in the last month or so, several cruise companies — including Carnival — have announced major overhauls to old ships and exciting innovations on new ships, from engineering upgrades to theme park-style rides.

And the industry’s biggest splash of good news is yet to come: On June 13, the former Kate Middleton, nearing the end of her pregnancy, is scheduled to christen the Royal Princess, a new ship from Princess Cruises debuting in Southampton, England.

“When you start focusing on shiny new ships with funky, fun, new amenities and features, the market comes back,” said CruiseCritic.com editor Carolyn Spencer Brown. “There’s a lot to talk about that is really interesting and really exciting. I’m glad the conversation is shifting.”

“Product improvement and good PR are positive developments that together will likely overcome the challenges that surfaced earlier this year following Carnival Triumph,” agreed Mike Driscoll, editor of Cruise Week, an industry publication.

Vicky Garcia, chief operating officer of Cruise Planners, which is part of American Express Travel, said prices for Carnival cruises “took a hit” following the engine fire on the Triumph and incidents on other Carnival ships, but that prices for cruises on other lines “held firm.” In fact, Cruise Planners reported a 25 percent increase in cruise sales in the first four months of 2013 compared to 2012.

Driscoll said, however, that while repeat cruisers have not been deterred by the bad headlines, cruise-sellers are reporting that “first-time business remains challenged,” meaning that it’s still hard to get consumers who never cruised before to try it.

Despite that resistance, and despite the latest bad news from Carnival — a couple plunged over a ship railing in Australia earlier this month — there’s plenty of excitement over recent ship debuts and other news. For example, Royal Caribbean in April unveiled a list of dazzling first-at-sea attractions on its Quantum of the Seas ship, launching late next year: simulated skydiving, bumper cars and an observation capsule called The North Star, modeled on the London Eye, offering a bird’s-eye view 300 feet above the water.

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