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Continued growth of cruise vacations a certainty

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Last week, I introduced some of the evolutionary changes being made by the major cruise lines. In this week's column I will continue outlining some of the trends.

The basics of cruising may not be changing, but research by the cruise industry is generating significant adaptations that, for the most part, have been genuinely consumer driven.

Longer stays at major port stops

While cruise itineraries generally give passengers the chance to visit a number of ports, most often the time on shore is limited to between eight and 15 hours.

This is hardly enough time to really gain an appreciation of a city or region. Single-day stops in Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh, for example, hardly allow visitors to experience the life of the city or gain even a minimal appreciation of the history and culture.

That is all changing as most cruise lines are adding one-, two- and even three-night stays at many of the more sought after port cities around the world.

In most cities, what you see during the day is one thing. But there is a dramatic change to the city as night transforms them into fascinating kaleidoscopes of music, food and people.

On single-day stops, passengers are very often rushing to get back to the ship for fear of it leaving without them.

Now they can experience the unique dining and entertainment areas they have heard so much about, knowing they are not at risk of being stranded as their ship heads out to the next port of call.

The first and last night hotel stay is often the cruise ship

When cruise ships were embarking from fascinating cities such as Istanbul in Turkey, it was common for guests to arrive a day early to tour the city and take in at least some of the major attractions.

Many itineraries now bring passengers to the ship for boarding a day and a half ahead of actual departure.

Passengers can check in on their scheduled day, unpack and still have time to spend on shore as they would have before. They can return to their ship as early or as late as they wish.

This saves the trouble of packing and unpacking for the clients of the cruise, while conserving fuel expenses for the cruise line itself.

From train to boat to train

Most of the river cruises of the past were of one to two weeks in duration, travelling only from one river city to another. Every night of the itinerary was on board the ship.

Among the most popular of these in Europe are the river cruises that go down the Rhine from Basel to Amsterdam, or longer ones that traverse both the Rhine and the Danube from Amsterdam to Budapest and vice-versa.

As time has gone on, the river-cruise industry has evolved. In a constant search to create new customer experiences, not to mention additional revenues, broader options have been added. The cruise lines recognized many of the most sought after inland cities are not connected to a major river such as the ones mentions.

Taking almost the opposite approach developed for ocean cruises, new itineraries were developed that connected these cities to existing programs, resulting in new and increasingly popular cruises such as the Paris to Prague offering.

This allows travellers the opportunity to spend a few days of the tour in France on one end and then have an equal number of days visiting cities such as Prague on the other.

A train or motorcoach will transport clients to and from the rivers of the destination points selected.

Bells on the water

All-inclusive resorts have owned the destination wedding market for the better part of the last decade.

Having grown by leaps and bounds over the years, it has become an industry unto itself. With all these revenues waiting to be tapped, it would not be long before the cruise industry began to test the waters, so to speak.

While land resorts still capture the greatest percentage of this group of travellers, today's cruise lines feel they not only can do it all for the bride and groom, but believe they can do it better. On the bigger ships especially, guests can spend as much time together or apart as their own moods direct them.

And guests seem to be turning out in high numbers for cruise-ship weddings, suggesting the next few years will realize even faster growth for that sector.

Fixed dinner hours may be on their way out

It seems like it was only yesterday when we had to choose our dining hours, and there was no option but the time you selected.

From the time freestyle dining was first introduced to the present day, its popularity has totally eclipsed fixed dining.

With more restaurant options being added with each new ocean ship being launched, the fixed-dining period may soon become a thing of the past.

With an industry that seems to really work hard to measure what their passengers like best or least about their services, the continued growth of cruise vacations will be a certainty.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2014 E2

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