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Monday, Jun 17, 2024

Cruise Bookings Rebound as New Ships Prepare to Sail

Despite the tragic sinking of Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia, which rocked the cruising industry earlier this year, two locally-based cruise lines — Disney Cruise Line and Princess Cruises — are optimistic about bookings as they prepare to launch the newest additions to their fleet. Bookings appear to be strong for Disney’s new ship Fantasy, which sets sail March 31. And reservations for cruises overall are up 17 percent so far this year at Montrose Travel, one of the nation’s top travel management companies, based in Montrose. But the industry is still recovering from the public shock over the Costa Concordia accident, which killed 32, and put cruise safety issues under a microscope. Cruise ship bookings dropped by 30 percent in January at the height of the all important “wave season,” when people book tickets for the summer months, said Andi McClure, president of MTravel.com, a booking site owned by Montrose Travel. Reservations have since rebounded, she said, and the travel industry is hopeful for smooth sailing in the coming months. “For a while all we saw in the media was that darned ship on its side,” she said. “It had an impact. But now bookings are on track.” McClure and other cruising experts said the Concordia accident had little impact on experienced cruisers who understand that it’s not every day that ships sink. However, the industry, especially cruise lines such as Carnival and Princess, also depend heavily on new cruisers and invest in marketing to attract them. Many of those were “freaked out to see the Costa Concordia lying on its back in the water,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of the website Cruisecritic.com, which follows the cruising industry. “Those are the people who are having second thoughts.” Industry observers are also watching for discounting as the industry looks to recover from the tragedy. Brown said that for the first time in years, she noticed cruise lines offer packages this season that include airfare, hotels and on-ground tours. For example, she said, she recently noticed a 13-day trans-Atlantic package to Barcelona for $2,329 that included airfare, several nights in a hotel, train tickets and local tours. “When you break out the price, it’s a really good deal,” Brown said. For the moment, at least, Disney appears to be doing well. Company officials told Cruisecritic.com that the Fantasy, along with all other Disney cruise ships, were 75 percent booked for 2012, a strong showing. Disney declined to comment on bookings, but a spokesman said, “Disney continues to enjoy great popularity among our guests. We launched the business more than 10 years ago and have experienced double-digit returns and extremely high guest satisfaction ratings.” But Carnival Corp., parent of Santa Clarita-based Princess Cruises, reported a net loss of $139 million in the first quarter, due largely to write-offs associated with the loss of the Costa Concordia. The loss compares to a profit of $152 million for the same period a year ago. Carnival does not break out results for the Princess brand, but executives told analysts on an earning conference call on March 9 that the North American business should see a modest improvement in yield this year, or what the company makes from passengers after expenses. Princess did not comment on its contribution to its parent company’s earnings. Chief Operating Officer Howard S. Frank told analysts that the Costa Concordia accident had a “profound effect on our business and, indeed, the business of the entire cruise industry.” He said the impact has been mostly on European operations. “It seems that it will take more time for those markets to return to normal booking levels.” A return to normal is certainly the hope as both Burbank-based Disney and Princess prepare to launch brand new ships. Disney’s Fantasy is a newly designed 130,000-ton ship with a guest capacity of 4,000. One of its unique features is an elaborate water park, the AquaDuck, which Disney calls the world’s first shipboard water coaster. “It’s a feat of engineering,” Brown said. Princess launches its newest ship, the Royal Princess, in June, 2013. That ship, too, represents a redesign — something important to cruisers who look forward to the exciting changes in these ocean behemoths, Brown said. The new ship will be able to accommodate 3,600 passengers. Among its unique features will be a SeaView Bar, with a glass floor and sweeping ocean views, an adults-only top-deck pool with private cabanas and an outdoor movie theater.

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