Cruise Views

The Industry Is Shaping Up So it Can Ship Out

May 18, 1986|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH | Slater and Basch are Los Angeles free-lance writers.

While airline takeovers, mergers and route transfers have occupied headlines and newscasts for several months, a quieter but equally long-ranging series of changes has been going on in the cruise industry.

It's comparable to Detroit's realization some years back that not everybody coveted block-long gas-guzzlers with tail fins, that a lot of consumers would put cash on the barrel head to buy economical little cars from Japanese firms who had a better grasp on what the public really wanted.

Now, it appears, some cruise lines that weren't around a few years ago are challenging the tradition-minded giants for what they perceive as the new cruise market--yuppies, baby boomers, young couples, young families, older couples of low-to-moderate income and single travelers looking for active holidays with plenty of jogging, swimming, scuba and snorkeling.

For the consumer, this means that cruise lines are offering more exercise, spa and fitness programs, taking more care in choosing entertainment acts, creating more diet-conscious menus, scheduling more short cruises and marketing more extras at lower-than-ever prices.

Frantic Shuffling

Behind the scenes, there's been a frantic shuffling of ships, itineraries, prices and programs, all intended to bring the cruise industry into the present.

The French flag line Paquet put its ship Rhapsody, acquired as the Statendam in 1982 from Holland America, up for sale recently, and the buyer was none other than William Schanz, president of Regency Cruises (until now a one-ship line) and formerly president of Paquet.

Schanz describes his company as passenger-oriented and aggressive in marketing, and hints at "some interesting new developments on the drawing board," including a hoped-for expansion at the rate of "one ship a year."

Meanwhile, another ex-Paquet executive, Jean-Claude Potier, has become president of Windstar Sail Cruises, apparently an idea whose time has come. Potier, who was responsible for introducing the French line's France to the North American market in 1960, is so delighted with the response he's had for the company's four-masted computerized sailing ships under construction in France that the initial order for two ships has already been expanded to four.

Reservations are being taken for the maiden voyage of the first Wind Star, scheduled for Dec. 13, on a seven-day round-trip sailing from Martinique through the Windwards and Grenadines. Ports of call will include St. Lucia, Bequia, Tobago Cays, Mayreau, Grenada, Palm Island and Mustique, and prices range from $1,725 to $2,250 per person double occupancy, depending on the season.

Not a Household Name

The 440-foot ship will carry a maximum of 150 passengers, traveling under sail whenever possible, and has dispensed with the customary end-of-cruise tipping. For information, call (800) 258-SAIL.

Another company that's not exactly a household name is Premier Cruise Lines, a subsidiary of the Greyhound Corp., whose Star/Ship Royale with its bright red hull sails from Port Canaveral, Fla., on three- and four-day cruises. If you wonder what kind of passengers the line attracts, its 1985 summer entertainment series concept was built around a Baby Boomer Festival and a yuppie generation music series.

Now suddenly this one-ship company has acquired Home Lines' Oceanic (sold to make room for Home's new Homeric), a 1,034-passenger classic ship with luxury ocean liner looks. What have they done with it? Painted the hull red, put it into service as the Star/Ship Oceanic, and made the same three- and four-day sailings to Nassau with the same Walt Disney World options as the Royale.

Because working people want weekend getaways that won't cut into vacation time, three- and four-day cruises are today's hottest trend. Western Cruise Line's Azure Seas and Eastern Cruise Line's Emerald Seas, pioneers of the mini-cruise, have launched a Supercruise program emphasizing a low daily rate.

According to vice president of sales and marketing Bob Mahamarian: "Consumers considering a vacation are concerned with the per diem price," so advertising will stress rates based on a minimum-priced cabin occupied by four passengers, which works out to $49 per person per day on the Emerald Seas, $69 on the Azure Seas. Mahamarian also says research shows that the average passenger age on his ships is nine years lower than it used to be.

Joining Optimists' Club

The latest cruise line to join the optimists' club and order new ships is Los Angeles-based Sitmar, which announced recently that two 1,600-passenger vessels costing a total of $300 million are scheduled for delivery from Chantiers de l'Atlantique in France in 1988 and 1989. Both ships are to be based in North America with itineraries to be announced, according to John Bland, Sitmar's chief executive.

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