Increasing numbers are going down to the sea in ships

February 20, 1994|By Boston Globe

"If you build it, they will come."

This was no "Field of Dreams" Bob Dickinson, president of Carnival Cruises, was talking about. He was telling travel agents about the future of cruising and Carnival's massive shipbuilding campaign.

Some travel agents -- and many others outside the travel field -- have pondered the same question: Just how many more megaliners can the cruise industry afford to build -- and fill with passengers?

The way Carnival is building -- and filling -- its massive Superliners, the answer is many more.

Mr. Dickinson was talking aboard the line's newest vessel, the 2,600-passenger Sensation, the third in a series of megavessels. As he was speaking, the Fascination, the fourth in the series, was nearing completion at the Kvaerner-Masa Yards in Finland. The first of this year, Micky Arison, Carnival's chairman, announced that another ship in that class, the Inspiration, would be built for service beginning in 1996.

If that is not enough, Carnival's sister line, Holland America, which just launched the Maasdam, is into the finishing work on the Ryndam, the third in another series of 1,200-passenger ships being built at the Italian shipyard Fincantieri Cantieri Navali Italiani near Trieste. That same shipyard has just begun work on what will be the world's largest cruise ship, a still unnamed 95,000-ton, 3,300-passenger vessel for Carnival. The $400 million vessel is slated for delivery in 1996. Holland America also has announced it will build another ship at Fincantieri for delivery in 1996.

Carnival and Holland America, both very profitable cruise lines, are showing their confidence in the future of the cruise market. Helping Carnival in its decision was Standard & Poor's rating the company Single-A-Minus, up from Triple-B-Minus, despite the line's plans to spend more than $1 billion to finance six new liners. S&P said Carnival had "proven ability to both absorb new capacity and perform well in a challenging environment."

Choosing to cruise is becoming a growing trend in the vacation field, proving popular not only to travelers but also to the 'N business world.

The launching of new ships is becoming so common each year it is hard to keep up with the new products available on the seas. Costa Cruises recently offered the CostaRomantica, a luxuriously appointed 1,350-passenger ship.

Royal Caribbean Cruises has announced it will build not one but up to four more ships in the next three years. One t 1,950-passenger ship costing $300 million has been ordered from the Kvaerner-Masa Yard in Helsinki, and the line has taken an option on a second. Two additional ships, each for up to 1,800 passengers, will be built at the Chantiers de l'Atlantique yard in St. Nazaire, France.

Crystal Cruises is building its second vessel, the Crystal Symphony, in Helsinki -- a move that is surprising, since the company is partly owned by one of Japan's largest ship builders, and its first vessel, the Crystal Harmony, was constructed in Japan. And a new cruise line, Silversea Cruises, will put its first luxury liner, the Silver Cloud, into service on April 2 and its second, Silver Wind, in December. In addition, it has confirmed it has ordered two additional vessels for service beginning in 1996. That's confidence.

More ships, better bargains

Choosing to cruise, once a fanciful dream for many and for many others an idea that was immediately rejected, is no longer a vacation to fantasize about or to regret taking. And the reasons ++ are simple: All this construction has helped push cruise prices -- already considered a good value -- even further down, and the new ships are providing more options once aboard so that even the die-hards who once saw no redeeming value in taking a cruise have little if anything to complain about.

Most cruise prices average $175 to $225 a person a day, and that includes air fare, all meals and entertainment. With discounts, it is possible to lower that cost even more, making an already good value vacation and even better value.

Do you want room to roam? Need lots of space when on vacation? Want a nice stable sail so there's no chance of seasickness? A vacation the whole family can enjoy? Want adventure? Broadway- or Las Vegas-style shows? Want to be pampered? No matter what your desires, the new ships are designed to attract a greater audience.

Each year, the number of vacationers who take to the seas grows -- not dramatically but steadily. Last year, the count was 4.4 million people. And the number of passengers who return for another cruise -- many times on the same line, the same ship and the same voyage -- reaches 50 percent or more on a cruise. That's satisfaction.

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