River cruising in the US follows in the wake of more established ocean voyages, and while smaller cruises are catching up, the larger ships also continue to steam ahead. What are the factors that should accelerate the trend for both types of cruises in 2012?
Why did Crystal Cruises, for example, close the year with its highest ever December booking week?
It"s "Book Now" fares offered "very attractive" 2-for-2 pricing and bonus savings that began to be offered early this year, said President Gregg Michel, who attributed the bookings mainly to the offer.
"Since we launched the "Book Now" program, savvy travelers believed us when we reiterated that for those who book early enjoy the best pricing," he said. The "Book Now" program continues this year.
As for river cruising, 2012 might be called the "year of the river."
River cruising, which in the past was widely confined to Europe, is getting swamped with reservations.
"Here in the USA, river cruises are catching on. From Maine to the Potomac to the Columbia and Snake rivers, cruising is a great option for getting up close and personal to American cities," says Unique Travel Events.con.
The Mississippi river used to be a serious contender for river cruises but some lines pulled the plug in 2008. But there"s a definite revival of interest.
"The all-new Great American Steamboat Company, based in Memphis, is updating and upgrading the 436-passenger American Queen," reports Cruise Critic.
It will have both upper and lower Mississippi sailings as well as cruises on the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers.
Viking River Cruises will launch six new ships this year, while another four are due to set sail in 2013.
Most river cruises are no more than ten days.
In common with ocean cruising, the cruises involve one-time packing. But they have the advantage of being closer to cites and destinations. Instead of a half hour or longer trip to visit a museum or market it can be a 5 minute walk.
Unlike ocean cruises, beer and wine are often included in the cost. Excursions are also often included in the price instead of passengers paying for add-ons.
Instead of thousands of passengers, the river boats carry only a few hundred.
One of the major reasons for river cruises" rising popularity is that they have gone more upscale in recent years.
"The newly designed ships, which up the ante on the once-spartan riverboat ambience, include more suites, alfresco dining and environmental improvements," says Cruise Critic.
Ocean-going trips are not resting on their laurels. Two of the biggest lines launched vastly different campaigns to add to their popularity.
"Royal Caribbean International (RCI) is launching a new brand campaign centered on the relaxation, romance and adventure of the open waters," says Travel Agent West.
Another giant, Carnival Cruise Lines has opened a new advertising campaign that promotes the quality and value of "Fun Ship" cruises in comparison with traditional land-based vacations. Both campaigns will run throughout 2012.
"We are tapping into the sea"s powerful, emotional force to reframe the context of cruising for consumers who don"t understand what a Royal Caribbean cruise vacation offers," said Betsy O"Rourke, senior vice president, marketing for RCI.
Carnival"s multichannel campaign launched late last month. The central theme of the campaign reinforces the notion that everyone deserves a "fun, memorable vacation at a great price and that Carnival delivers on this promise with a unique onboard experience at an exceptional value," says Travel Age West.
Crystal is also looking for new incentives to continue its growing popularity.
Starting this spring, Crystal will offer complimentary fine wines, champagne, open bars and paid gratuities.
By David Wilkening
Thursday, January 12, 2012