Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ship lines not cruising as smoothly this year

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At this time last year, many cruise lines had added more capacity than ever to Europe, and their gamble paid off.

Cruise ships were running close to full and, while cruise lines were being paid in American and Canadian dollars, most of their revenue was in pounds and euros. Perfect.

Flash ahead to 2012 and it's a vastly different story. Prices are dropping, double upgrades are normal, in some cases air credits are being offered and at least one cruise line is taking several ships out of the market for 2013.

What happened?

The cost of flying to Europe went up, and when you add in those extra fees all of sudden the airfare became twice the price of a seven-day cruise. On top of that, the locals are concerned with the geopolitical issues... mix it all together and you have consumers who are holding on to their disposable income.

That perfect storm is this: If you want to cruise in Europe this summer, you will find some great travel bargains, especially in the Mediterranean.

Royal Caribbean was the first cruise line to blink. With a dozen ships currently sailing in Europe, Royal Caribbean announced only nine of them will return next summer -- a reduction of 25 per cent. Oceania is also cutting back on its European cruises, choosing to spend more time in Alaska next summer instead.

One of Royal Caribbean's ships, Mariner of the Seas, will join Voyageur of the Seas in Asia next summer. Obviously, this cruise line is following the money and the Australia market just finished its best winter on record, so you're going to see more ships in the Asian and Australian markets starting with this winter's Australia/New Zealand season.

Even with the European discounting, rarely does Cunard offer Transatlantic pricing under $1,000 in the prime part of the summer season. Rarely, that is, until this year.

Transatlantic sailings specials on the Queen Mary 2, according to Cunard, include eastbound sailings (New York to Southampton) on July 6, Aug. 3 and 18, Oct. 2 and 28, Nov. 2 and Jan. 3; and westbound sailings on June 24, July 27, Sept. 14, Oct. 14, Nov. 20 and Dec. 15.

Last Friday marked the start of the hurricane season and Cruise Critic interviewed 2,300 cruisers to see how it affected them. The vast majority -- 77 per cent -- doubted hurricane season would stop them from cruising; 26 per cent hoped to find a good deal because of the hurricane season, and 23 per cent planned to sail another time.

A few times during the lengthy season you will find cruise lines adjusting their schedules due to weather. It could mean a ship rearranging a port sequence, it could mean changing to an alternate port, or it could mean just spending more time at sea.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) annually calls the shots on hurricanes and is forecasting a less active season compared to recent years.

-- Postmedia News

Visit portsandbows.com for daily updates on the latest cruise news, best deals and behind-the-scenes stories from the industry. You can also sign up for an email newsletter on the site for even more cruise information. Phil can be contacted directly at portsandbows@gmail.com .

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 1, 2012 D5

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