For one classic late '70s TV series about romance on the high seas, the joy was definitely in the journey. But, quick: Which ports did the "Love Boat" call into during her tryst-centric sailings?
You’d be wrong—but forgiven—if Caribbean locales come to mind. After all, the Caribbean remains the number one year-round destination for the cruise ship industry, and a far and away favorite for Americans booking cruise vacations. (The "Love Boat", for the record, cruised the Pacific between California and Mexico.)
But for travelers still living in The Pacific Princess' heyday, the reality of the industry’s diversity of ships and ever-evolving itineraries couldn’t be further removed from those ancient cruising days of Captain Stubing and his contemporaries.
Spin the globe and take a stab—chances are a cruise ship plies the coastline very near to wherever your finger lands. From ports of call on the remote island of Komodo in Indonesia, where Oceania Cruises’ Nautica is calling in late 2008 on a Singapore-to-Sydney itinerary, to 67-day sailings from the Arctic to the Antarctic, today’s cruise itineraries span the planet.
And the ships are as dynamic in size and scope as their ports of call. “There are so many ships coming to market between now and 2012,” says Bob Sharak, executive vice president of marketing and distribution for Cruise Lines International Association, Inc. (CLIA), the world’s largest cruise association, representing 24 major cruise lines that serve 97 percent of North American passengers. “There are 36 new CLIA member ships coming online, adding just shy of 80,000 beds to the market."
In 1991, the cruising industry had an estimated 80,000 beds—in total.
And while mainstay ports in the Caribbean and Mediterranean will always anchor the behemoth boats, the opportunity to get off the beaten path during a cruise vacation is ever more feasible with each passing season.
“The smaller the ship, the more exotic the itinerary, generally,” says Anne Campbell, editor of Cruising from New York, an online guide detailing cruise departures from New York City’s three terminals. According to Campbell, Asian destinations, including new ports of call in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, are a hot cruising trend right now.
In 2007, Seattle-based Cruise West—with small ships carrying between 78 and 136 passengers—began calling on Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Danang in Vietnam.
Seabourn—another small, luxury cruise line—is adding a new ship, the Odyssey, to its fleet in 2009, with Sihanoukville, Cambodia, among the maiden ports being introduced to itineraries. (Service to Sihanoukville starts in 2010, as part of the Odyssey’s world tour.)
And while small ships have their appeal, it took a big cruise line—namely Carnival—to pony up the monies to build one of the Caribbean’s most exciting new ports. The Grand Turk Cruise Center was inaugurated in February 2006 and can accommodate up to 5,000 passengers per day in one of the Caribbean’s most coveted locations. Holland America, Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas and Crystal Cruises are among the lines now calling in Turks & Caicos.
Smaller ports are popping up in the Caribbean, too. In 2009, Seabourn will re-introduce Iles Des Saintes—a cluster of eight islands off the southern coast of Guadeloupe—to itineraries.
“Iles des Saintes is very French, with small hotels, no big developments, and lush beautiful beaches,” says Peter Cox, Seabourn’s director of itinerary and land development. “We used to go there six or seven years ago, before they got some major impact from hurricane activities that destroyed landings and led to beach erosion, but now it’s been restored.”
Exciting things are afoot in Europe, too—both in the well-trafficked reaches of the Mediterranean and destinations farther off the grid. Luxury cruise line Silverseas added the Frisian island of Sylt, off the coast of northern Germany, to 2008 itineraries, putting the spotlight on an under-the-radar German jet-set locale largely unfrequented by Americans.
“Germans like to say Sylt is our version of the Hamptons,” says Benjamin Wadewitz, a Web site designer from Hamburg who has vacationed on the island. “It’s a high-profile destination in Germany, but it manages to stay pretty laid back at the same time… There are empty beaches, good biking and walking paths and a few small villages with traditional North Sea-style houses.”
In the eastern Mediterranean, new ports are opening in Croatia and other points along the Dalmatian Coast, including Kotor, Montenegro, which is new on the itinerary for Seabourn, Europa/Hapag Lloyd, and Star Clippers.
“We are at a distinct advantage over our land-based resort partners since we can move and they can’t,” says Sharak of CLIA, speaking about the cruise industry’s ability to change with the times. “Whether it’s geo-political, weather or consumer interest and tastes that are changing, we can alter our itineraries and go to places that are unique, cool or different.”