What’s new to cruising: part two

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

More and more of us are taking to the water for our holiday. With this in mind, we asked  travel guide publisher Berlitz to tell us what’s new for 2013 in the world of cruising

Maybe coming later…
Although ocean-going residences have thus far been limited to The World, another company, Utopia Residences, may become the second company to offer a ship where the accommodation is strictly for purchase by the wealthy. Although a Letter of Intent between Utopia Residences and Korea’s Samsung Shipyards was signed in 2009, the construction of the 971-ft (296-m) ship has yet to start. One of the hopeful future occupants of the £1.1 billion ship is the entertainer Pat Boone, who signed in 2010 for one of the floating apartments aboard the 105,000-gross-ton ship. However, other similar projects, such as The Four Seasons, The Magellan, and The Orphalese have all come to naught.

Refurbishment as an alternative
For cruise operators and companies that are small or lack substantial financial resources, refitting and revitalizing older ships will become increasingly popular. This option makes sense in light of the enormous cost of a new ship and the two-year time frame needed for completion and delivery. Even so, refits are expensive, at around $2 million a day – and the figure is being pushed up by material, equipment and labour costs. A positive aspect of refits is that the latest green technology can often be incorporated, or existing equipment modified, to make the ships more ecofriendly. Logistics are key, and the aim is to put the ships back in service as quickly as possible.

Choppy economic waters
Although more than 22 million people took a cruise in 2012, the cruise companies found the economic waters unpleasantly choppy, particularly when bookings declined immediately after the Costa Concordia tragedy. Enacting cost-efficiencies was the order of the day. Head offices further reduced management and staff, squeezed suppliers and port costs, and tried to make their ships more efficient. Cruise lines moved ships away from low-profit regions such as Alaska and the Caribbean, and sent them to Europe and Southeast Asia, or Australasia. Europe has become awash with cruise ships – so much so that getting berthing space has become a difficult task for the itinerary planners. Australasia, too, has seen dramatic growth recently. But there is pressure from the regulatory bodies, too, such as the cost of implementing the latest requirements of SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) in 2010, and the cost of compliance of imminent emissions regulations and the use of certain fuels. As a result of the looming low-sulphur fuel regulations, ships have slowed down, and itineraries have been changed accordingly. The new sulphur cap in Emission Control Areas (ECAs) drops to 0.1 percent in 2015. For cruise lines, it’s coming fast. It means that ships will be required to use distillate – a lighter fuel. Whether there’ll be enough distillate available is, as yet, an unanswered question. It could become more difficult for ECA cruise regions such as Alaska and Northern Europe to attract cruise ships in future, given the additional fuel and operating costs.

Effects of the credit crunch
One way of making fares seem more attractive was to charge less for the basics but push hard to earn more onboard revenue from all the ‘extras’ that many passengers don’t really want in the first place. Put another way, cruising aboard the large resort ships is now like buying a new car, with so-called ‘cruise enhancements’ being the equivalent of optional extras. Sadly, ‘two for one’ pricing has almost become an industry standard in some markets. But such pricing is really a marketing gimmick used by people who don’t understand the excellent product that a cruise vacation delivers to so many people. It’s better to concentrate on your vacation – where you want to go, what size of ship you want to sail aboard, and what kind of food and service you’re willing to pay for (or are prepared to accept).

The truth about low fares
Although bargains still exist, it’s important to read the small print. A highly discounted fare may apply only to certain dates and itineraries – for example, the eastern Caribbean instead of the more popular western Caribbean. It may be subject to a booking deadline or, typically, is ‘cruise-only,’ which means you must arrange your own air transportation separately. This can prove expensive (to Alaska or Europe, for example). If air transportation is included, deviations may not be possible.
Your cabin choice, grade, and location may not be available. You could be limited to first seating at dinner aboard a ship that operates two seatings, and some highly discounted fares may not apply to children. Port charges, handling fees, fuel surcharges, or other taxes may cost extra.
As with low-cost airlines, add-ons such as government taxes and perhaps a non-refundable processing fee take the glow off an apparent give-away price. Once you strip all the ‘free’ extras away and obtain the final per-person, per-day cost, you’ll have a better idea of what’s included, what’s not, and how good the ‘price deal’ really is.

Is cruising still good value?
It’s never been better, thanks in part to the economic downturn that forced cruise lines to offer more incentives – such as onboard credit, cabin upgrades, and other perks – in an effort to keep their companies afloat and their ships full. The price of your vacation is protected by advance pricing, so you know before you go that your major outgoings have already been set. A fuel surcharge is the only additional cost that may change at the last minute.

The 2013 Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships is now available in e-book format (£17.99), while the printed edition (704 pages) is published on 1st October (£17.99 www.insightguides.com/berlitz/berlitz-cruising). Also available now is the Berlitz Cruise Ships 2013 App (£6.99) for the iPhone and iPad which allows would-be cruise-goers to quickly search through all 284 ships according to their needs, whether for family travel, cuisine, accommodation, size of ship and many other criteria.

For part three, be sure to log onto the CD-Traveller website tomorrow


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