The centre of cruise gravity just shifted. While the top three cruise regions are the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexico, vacationers are showing more interest in cruising Europe this summer.
Cruise Holidays, the oldest and largest cruise specialty retailer in North America reports in its "2008 Cruise Holidays Travel Trends Survey" (which tracks U.S. and Canadian interests) that European cruise bookings are up 42 per cent; Alaska bookings are up 17 per cent; Mexico bookings increased 10 per cent; and Caribbean bookings rose 4 per cent.
"Our research shows that decisions about a cruise vacation are based first and foremost on itinerary and a particular cruise line, before pricing," says Peter Thomson, Cruise Holidays' vice-president and chief operating officer. "And people are also willing to spend more time away from home."
For a European cruise, the average cost is about $269 per person per day; for Alaska $259; and Mexico and the Caribbean $159. (Costs exclude airfare and are in U.S. dollars.)
Even though the cost is higher for Europe, it is seen as great value since a cruise includes lodging, food and entertainment.
"The average costs of those itineraries can hardly be beat when piecing together a comparable land-based vacation," Thomson says.
Costs have increased over 2007, but that hasn't made interest wane. Cruise Holidays says its overall cruise bookings are up 14 per cent.
"While the average cost shows a modest increase in the price of a 12-day Mediterranean cruise at 7 per cent, it is far less than the 13 per cent that the euro has gained on the U.S. dollar in the past year," Thomson says.
Mediterranean cruises are more popular than Baltic cruises. The most popular Mediterranean ports are Rome, Venice, Barcelona, Santorini and a tie between Athens and Istanbul. The most popular non-Mediterranean ports are St. Petersburg, London, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and a tie between Dublin and Lisbon.
Passengers considered Dubrovnik, Croatia, the hidden gem of European cruising – the most underrated European port of call for its scenic beauty, history and quaint village atmosphere. The British Isles (Dover, Dublin and Scotland) are next , followed by a tie between Malta, Italy and Barcelona, Spain.
"People really enjoy a Mediterranean cruise in general, but a special shore excursion such as a private guided tour of the Vatican (which also avoids long lineups), exploring the ruins of Ephesus and kayaking in Dubrovnik can make a cruise experience unforgettable," says Thomson.
The Vatican and Rome tours are the most popular excursions, followed by Pompeii. The most popular Mediterranean excursion outside Italy is visiting the ruins of Ephesus in Turkey. Other popular excursions are having a personal shopping assistant in Florence, a gondola ride in Venice, wine-tasting in Barcelona and Tuscany, a private drive along the Amalfi Coast, and visits to Park Guell by Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona and the Acropolis in Athens.
Cruise lines are launching eight new ships in 2008 and adding many new ports to European itineraries. Here's a sample:
HOLLAND AMERICA: Six ships, including the new 2,044-passenger Eurodam launching in June, will be positioned in Europe. They will sail on 57 itineraries until November in northern Europe, the Norwegian fjords, Mediterranean, Greek Isles and western Europe.
Nine new ports will be featured including three in Sweden (Lulea, Hudiksvall and Karlskrona); Aalborg, Denmark; Newcastle and Barrow in England; Santander, Spain; Portimao, Portugal; and Split, Croatia.
CARNIVAL: Carnival's first northern Europe cruise season begins with the inaugural of the new 3,008-passenger Carnival Splendor in July. It sails the Mediterranean and Greek Isles in early summer and later goes from London to Copenhagen, Warnemunde (Germany), Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallin and Amsterdam.
AZAMARA: The new Journey and Quest ships launched last year will sail from the western Mediterranean to the Adriatic and pay visits to Morocco, Scandinavia and Russia. Two voyages include Egypt and Israel.
NORWEGIAN: Three of its newest Jewel-class ships – the new Gem launched last year, the Jade and Jewel are sailing in Europe for extended seasons from May through November with new itineraries and ports. The company is so confident in Europe's popularity that the Jade will sail there year-round until 2010.
CELEBRITY: Celebrity brings four ships to Europe again this year, offering Scandinavia and Russia, the Norwegian fjords, western Mediterranean, northern Africa and eastern Mediterranean.
Itineraries include five new ports: Harwich, England; Cherbourg and Brest, France; Gijon, Spain and Split, Croatia.
PRINCESS: Six ships will call on 115 ports, including several new ones, on 32 itineraries. The Crown and Pacific make their European debuts, and there will be five new itineraries, including one that combines the best of Scandinavia and Russia with the Mediterranean.
New ports include Sarande, Albania; Dartmouth, England; and Scrabster, Scotland.