To agents’ delight, new cruise ships steaming for the West Coast

The Norwegian Bliss, shown here in a rendering, will make a June debut in Seattle.LONG BEACH, Calif. — For years, agents on the West Coast have pleaded with suppliers to put new cruise ships in ports near their clients. Now they’re getting their wish.

This year, the Norwegian Bliss will make a June debut in Seattle, the first time a new Norwegian Cruise Line ship has been stationed in the West since the Norwegian Star began sailing in Hawaii in 2001.

Next year, Carnival Cruise Line will launch its latest ship, the Carnival Panorama, in Long Beach, Calif., while Royal Caribbean International will move the Ovation of the Seas, just 2 years old, to Seattle.

Together, the three ships will add more than 12,000 new or nearly new lower berths, at least seasonally, to the West Coast market.

“It’s very exciting. There’s been a big need out here for a long time,” said Betsy Geiser, vice president at Uniglobe Travel in Irvine, Calif. “Historically, it’s been older ships and smaller ships. Carnival’s making a big improvement by bringing [the Panorama] here.”

With their proximity to the Caribbean, East Coast ports, particularly Miami and Fort Lauderdale, have long been the default homeports when a new vessel emerges from the shipyard.

In recent years, ports such as New York have also benefitted as fleets grew and lines cultivated new markets.

But in a sense, the West Coast is the cradle of the industry, said John Mast, vice president of marketing for Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Vancouver.

“It’s important to remember that Princess, with that run down to Mexico, sort of kicked off the U.S. cruise industry in many ways,” Mast said.

The California-Mexico itinerary, immortalized in “The Love Boat” television show, is still a mainstay of the market. Carnival plans to enrich Ensenada with new port activities in a bid to make Long Beach one of its biggest hubs.

“I think there’s been a renaissance going on for the West Coast, and I think that Carnival’s investment is a very strong indicator of that,” Mast said.

There are several reasons why the region is enjoying a rebirth, Mast said. One is the recent expansion of the Panama Canal. Before 2016, the cruise industry’s newest and largest ships couldn’t fit through the locks. Now that a wider channel has been opened, it is easier to move most large ships back and forth.

Also, after several years in which European cruise seasons were marred by terrorist activity, domestic ports have become more attractive long-term investments, especially in excursion-rich Alaska.

Mast said the new ships, with their go-kart tracks and Imax theatres, can help attract a younger demographic to Alaska.

“It seems kind of gimmicky to have a racetrack on the roof,” he said, “but the reality is that Alaska is a wonderful summer vacation for families. Families are a huge market. If I know kids, that will immediately get them excited, and we know that kids play a role in forming the vacation choice.”

For agents, the practical impact of having news ships on the West Coast is that they are easier and more profitable to sell.

Anita Pagliasso, president of Ticket to Travel in San Jose, Calif., said, “Cruisers are very excited about something new. It becomes lucrative because the pricing’s always higher when a brand new ship comes out, so the higher the pricing, the higher the commission. It goes hand in hand, I think.”

Pagliasso said the opportunities extended beyond West Coast agents.

“I think some of the feedback I got, even some of the agents in the Midwest, was that [clients] have gone to Florida enough, and they want something different,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for not only West Coast agents to promote these ships but other agents who have clients who have done all the cruising out of Florida and are looking for something new and exciting.”


Western Australia Committed to Growing Cruise Business

Ovation of the Seas arrives in Perth

“The State Government (of Western Australia) is committed to growing the cruise industry by addressing regulation and infrastructure issues,” said Tourism WA (Western Australia) Acting CEO Stephen Wood.

Among the changes for cruise operators, casino operations are permitted when ships are traveling between WA ports.

With nine ports, including Perth as a key homeport, WA is in close proximity to ships coming from Southeast Asia, offering a variety of niche destinations.

Mid-West Ports recently installed two sets of shore tension units for Geraldton, Wood said, to ensure reliable berthing. There is also funding heading to Kimberly Ports to purchase an all-tide gangway system for the Port of Broome.

In Exmouth, a steering group has been formed to enhance anchor and tender operations. Wood said Exmouth was a transformational cruise port that holds the key to growth for WA.

“Perth and the port city of Fremantle are also undergoing massive transformations, thanks to unprecedented levels of public and private investment, making both more attractive places to visit,” Wood told Cruise Industry News. “Perth has seen redevelopments on a huge scale including improvements at Perth Airport and the Elizabeth Quay waterfront precinct. Fremantle is undergoing major redevelopment, with more than $1 billion in the investment pipeline. New small bars, restaurants, cafes and retail precincts have popped up in both cities, giving cruise visitors many shore options for dining and shopping.”

Recent highlights included the Queen Mary 2 making a visit to Busselton, with a return call planned in February 2018. The Ovation of the Seas called in Fremantle last December and comes back earlier this year, with a November call on the books.

This coming season will see 44 cruise ship visits for Fremantle, a small decline as some capacity has been moved elsewhere. Cruise & Maritime Voyages is a key customer, homeporting the Astor for a fifth consecutive season.

Inaugural visits are scheduled by the Regatta, Ocean Dream, Azamara Journey, L’Austral, Seven Seas Navigator and Golden Princess.

Tourism WA is pushing its strategy to make its nine ports a key cruise destination, by developing the necessary infrastructure to serve industry capacity, according to Wood.

“Since 2012, Tourism WA has helped to deliver 30 ‘Welcoming Cruise Passengers to the West’ workshops to more than 1,000 tour guides/drivers and volunteers across the state,” he said.

In addition is a newly accredited training program for tour guides funded by Tourism WA, which will debut in Geraldton, Busselton, and Albany.

China’s ban leaves cruise lines scrambling

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Majestic Princess

Cruise lines have started to tear up their northern China itineraries following an order from the Chinese government to the country’s travel agencies to stop selling itineraries that include South Korea.

The Chinese directive follows the announcement late last month by the South Korean and U.S. governments that components for a new U.S.-developed anti-missile system were to arrive in South Korea last week for installation.

Known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, it is designed to intercept missiles up to 125 miles away as a means of protecting South Korea from missile strikes by North Korea, which has undertaken a series of long-range missile tests in recent months and tested a nuclear weapon as recently as last September.

The Chinese and Russian governments have objected to the installation of the missile-defense system because it employs powerful radar technology that the two countries assert can see into their territories.

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Genting Dream

Japan and South Korea are the main cruise destinations reachable from northern China on the four- and five-day itineraries preferred by most Chinese. With Korea suddenly off limits, cruises operated for Chinese passengers out of ports such as Tianjin and Shanghai will now focus primarily on visiting Japan, experts said.

In a statement, Costa Cruises said it would “remove calls to South Korean ports for our upcoming cruises homeported out of China, replacing them with cruising at sea or calls to destinations in Japan.”

Royal Caribbean International also said it will curtail visits to South Korean ports due to “recent developments regarding the situation in South Korea.”

Delivery of the parts for the missile-defense system came as North Korea tested four missiles launched in the direction of Japan that fell into the sea.

Dwain Wall, an executive at and a consultant familiar with the Chinese market, said there is no question that the Chinese government has the authority to order Chinese travel companies to stop selling cruises to Korea.

“There is a very tight licensing and regulatory control over travel agencies” in China, Wall said. “It does impact cruise, but it’s low season, thank God, and [the cruise lines have] been sort of able to regroup and change the ports to Japanese ports.”

If China’s ban persists into the busier summer months it could both overwhelm the port capacity in Japan and reduce demand for cruises in China because of the lack of destination variety.

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Richard Fain, chairman of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., said he could not predict how long the chill in China-Korea relations might last.

Stock analysts blamed news of the Korea tiff for a pull-back in cruise shares last week but said that it was excessive.

As a share of cruise lines’ global capacity, the analysts said China accounts for 9% of RCCL’s, 6% of Carnival Corp.’s and 4% to 5% of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’. Further, they pointed out, not all of that capacity is sailing from north China.