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Cruising into 2007: what to expect

At this time of year, just about everyone devotes a column to predictions for the year ahead. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I can tell you the shape of things to come on the high seas in 2007: more taxes, more tonnage, more talking and — would you believe? — bowling and water balloons.
People stand on a dyke watching cruise ship Norwegian Pearl on its passage from Papenburg to the North Sea
People stand on a dike watching the newly built cruise ship 'Norwegian Pearl' on its passage from the Meyer shipyard in Papenburg to the North Sea back in November.Christian Charisius / Reuters file
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At this time of year, just about everyone devotes a column to predictions for the year ahead. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I can tell you the shape of things to come on the high seas in 2007: more taxes, more tonnage, more talking and — would you believe? — bowling and water balloons.

Ships, Class of 2007
Eight new ships (and two older ships relaunched with new cruise lines) will be ready for their closeups next year. Here’s a summary for the Class of 2007, in order of the month they debut.

  • January. Officially launched in late December 2006, the 93,500-ton Norwegian Pearl will carry 2,400 passengers and sail year-round from Miami on Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries.
  • March. The 110,000-ton Carnival Freedom will carry 2,974 passengers and sail in the Mediterranean until November, when it transitions to Miami for its winter Caribbean season.
  • April. Princess Cruises’ 30,000-ton, 680-passenger Royal Princess (formerly the R8 for the now-defunct Renaissance Cruises line and, more recently, the Minerva II for Swan Hellenic cruise line) will sail in the Mediterranean for the summer and then transition to Fort Lauderdale to sail Southern Caribbean and Amazon cruises for the winter.
  • May. Royal Caribbean’s 160,000-ton Liberty of the Seas will carry 3,600 passengers and sail year-round from Miami in the Caribbean. This ship is the sister vessel to the Freedom of the Seas; together they tie for bragging rights as the world’s largest cruise ships.
  • May. Celebrity Cruises’ 30,000-ton, 680-passenger Celebrity Journey (formerly the R6 for the now-defunct Renaissance Cruises line and, more recently, the Blue Dream for Spanish cruise line Pullmantur) will sail Bermuda cruises from Cape Liberty in New Jersey.
  • May. Princess Cruises’ 116,000-ton Emerald Princess will carry 3,100 passengers. The ship will sail in Europe until November, when it repositions to Fort Lauderdale for its winter Caribbean season.
  • May. Costa Cruises’ 112,000-ton Costa Serena will carry 3,000 passengers and sail year-round in the Mediterranean.
  • October. Norwegian Cruise Line will debut the 92,000-ton Norwegian Gem. The ship will carry 2,384 passengers and sail year-round from New York to the Caribbean and the Bahamas.
  • December. Cunard will debut the 90,000-ton Queen Victoria at the end of the year. A little more than half the size of the Queen Mary 2, the ship will carry 2,000 passengers. The first two voyages will be round-trips from Southampton, and then the new Queen will set sail on its world cruise.

Alaska cruise tax
Alaska voters passed the Ballot 2 initiative in August, and now that it is law, cruisers and cruise lines will have to pony up more money to visit the state. Every cruise passenger will pay an additional $50 in taxes and fees, but it’s the other taxes and fees (levied directly on the cruise lines) that you need to keep an eye on.

Carnival Corporation estimates that the new taxes and program fees will impact its 2007 earnings by three cents per share, or a total of approximately $24.15 million. The Carnival brands that sail Alaska itineraries are Carnival, Holland America and Princess; those cruise lines account for 560,000 of the almost one million Alaska cruise passengers. For Carnival Corporation lines, the new taxes and fees average out to around $43 per person on Alaska sailings; the figure will almost certainly be higher for the other cruise lines that sail there.

Will the cruise lines pass the cost on to the consumer by jacking up ticket prices, or will they absorb it, or will they cut back the number of cruises for the 2008 season? Those are the questions. Alaska voters certainly voted for change, but they may be surprised by the amount of change they’ve unleashed.

E-tickets @ sea
Finally! A cruise line is following the lead of the airlines, and that’s good news for trees. Princess Cruises is converting to all-electronic ticketing for cruise and air bookings, becoming the first cruise line to do so. Princess says going to e-ticketing will enable it to provide cruise documents to its passengers earlier than any other line in the industry; they will also offer passengers 24-hour access to their cruise information through its online “Cruise Personalizer.”

The program will replace the second of two mailings that cruise passengers receive prior to their sailing (passengers will still receive the first mailing, which encloses the cruise contract, information on shore excursions and FAQs). Princess says the program is also expected to save travel agents time and money, as they will no longer need to forward final ticket packages on to clients. The transition to the Princess eTickets program began November 17 and will roll out across the fleet before the end of 2006. Given the cost savings, you can bet more cruise lines will follow Princess’s lead.

The Big Easy makes a ‘cruiseback’
In early December, the last of three cruise lines returned to their home port of New Orleans. Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean have each dedicated a ship to cruise from the port. Regular sailings represent another step in a return to normalcy for New Orleans. Before Hurricane Katrina, the cruise industry accounted for nearly 2,800 direct jobs and $200 million in direct expenditures in the city. Let’s hope Big Easy cruising makes a big comeback.

More California cruising
Carnival Cruise Lines announced that the Elation will be moving its home port to San Diego to operate a year-round four- and five-night program to Mexico. It will be the first ship to be home-ported year-round at San Diego. The new cruises will begin on June 2, 2007.

European mouse invasion
Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and the gang are going on a European cruise! Disney Cruise Line will offer its first-ever European sailings from May to August 2007. The Disney Magic will offer eight alternating 10-night and 11-night Mediterranean cruises, departing from Barcelona, Spain, and stopping in eight European cities in Italy, Spain and France.

More ding-a-lings
Can you hear me now? Get used to it: There’s no escaping the cell phone, even at sea. Two years ago, Norwegian Cruise Line and Costa Cruises became the first cruise lines to offer cell phone service fleetwide; now almost everyone else has come on board. Silversea Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Lines and Regent Seven Seas Cruises have all enabled onboard cell phone coverage by installing radio networks that link vessels with public networks via satellite. The service is available on most all types of cell phones being used by most U.S. carriers. Charges for calls and data services while at sea will appear on the caller’s wireless bill. The cost of a call varies with the carrier; current rates range from $1.99–$4.99 per minute.

Bowling leagues over the sea
You can ice skate, surf and rock-climb at sea. And, starting on December 15, you’ll be able to go bowling! Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Pearl will have a four-lane bowling alley as part of its Bliss Ultra Lounge sports bar and nightclub complex. By day, Bliss will have a sports bar atmosphere with several plasma-screen TVs, air hockey, foosball and other arcade games in addition to bowling. At night, Bliss will morph into a disco with video tracks, its own disc jockey, dance floor and — would you believe? — “mood lit bowling.” One can only imagine the number of gutter balls after a few drinks or in a patch of rough seas; both together could prove very interesting.

Water wars
Get in touch with your inner teenager again. Starting next summer, every Carnival Cruise Line passenger will have the opportunity to aim and catapult water balloons at fellow (participating) passengers. Carnival’s “Jr. Dyno Water Wars” consist of two custom-built battle stations from which participants propel their water balloons. I can only wonder if Carnival’s “Hairy Chest Contests” will get all wet.

2007 looks to be an interesting and fun year in cruising.

Anita Dunham-Potter is a Pittsburgh-based travel journalist specializing in cruise travel. Anita's columns have appeared in major newspapers and many Internet outlets, and she is a contributor to Fodor's "Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises 2006." or visit her Web site .