Cruises from here selling well

Skittish about flying, many turn to ships

discounts are scarce

February 19, 2002|By Liz Steinberg | Liz Steinberg,SUN STAFF

If you want a discount on a cruise this spring, don't count on leaving from Baltimore.

Although the travel industry is suffering nationally, local travel agents say they have been busy booking trips on the 26 Celebrity cruises that will be sailing from Dundalk Marine Terminal starting March 26 in the largest-scale, most regularly scheduled service ever to sail from the Maryland port.

"I've not even been able to book group space on the [ships] because they've sold so well," said Lynda Maxwell, president of the Ellicott City-based travel agency Destinations Inc. None of the cruises have sold out, according to Celebrity.

Latent demand coupled with post-Sept. 11 flying fears have made the cruises popular among locals, travel agents said. Agents estimate that between 60 percent and 80 percent of people booking vacations live in the Baltimore region.

And, unlike its cruises leaving from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. or New York City, Celebrity Cruises Inc. is not advertising any deals on the Baltimore cruises.

Strong demand has kept prices in Baltimore high, according to Celebrity and local agents. Although more specific figures are not available, Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Celebrity's parent company, reported this year's first-quarter bookings up 78 percent for its Celebrity and Royal Caribbean cruise lines in comparison with 2001.

"We're very enthused about the pace of bookings and the positive feedback we've received from guests and travel agents," said Liz Jakeway, spokeswoman for Celebrity.

Baltimore's location is ideal for attracting customers on the East Coast and farther west, Jakeway said.

Nationally, the travel industry - including cruise lines - has been suffering because of economic and security issues, said Mike Pina, manager of communications at the Travel Industry Association of America. However, cruises are benefiting from vacationers' concerns about flying.

The 10- and 11-night cruises are scheduled between March 26 and Oct. 21, hitting destinations including the Bahamas; Key West, Fla.; the Virgin Islands; and Cozumel, Mexico. Two cruises will be heading to New England and Canada.

Fares begin at $799 per person for 10-night trips and $849 for 11-night trips, similar to other Celebrity cruises of those lengths and destinations.

Agents call the prices competitive. Keeping in mind factors such as time of booking and type of room, "you might expect to pay upward of $200 a day for a Celebrity-quality vacation," said Pat Madach, manager of the Baltimore-based travel agency Cruise World Inc. The Baltimore cruises "are going to be less than that."

The Galaxy, which will make 19 trips, holds 1,850 passengers, and the Horizon, which will make seven, carries 1,350.

Celebrity diverted the Horizon from the port of New York to Baltimore after the Sept. 11 attacks. The company scheduled this year's Baltimore cruises in response to customer feedback, Jakeway said. Celebrity's schedule for 2003 has not been completed.

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