Carl and Linda Magni love to travel but hate to unpack.
The Prescott, Ariz., couple also dread the hassle of airport security and dislike the difficulty of finding restaurants in unfamiliar cities. So instead, while traveling to far-flung destinations most people only dream of, the retirees spend leisurely days playing ping pong and shuffleboard and relaxing with longtime friends.
Over the years, Carl, 65, and Linda, 58, have given up their vacation home and other travel plans in favor of cruises that can last months on end.
They are in good company. As the travel industry continues to rebound from its Sept. 11 downturn, cruise lines are seeing increased demand for a luxurious and pricey niche: trips that run anywhere from two weeks to several months.
For 2006, Holland America plans a 20 percent increase in cruises longer than 12 days. And in 2007, demand is forcing the cruise line, a Seattle-based division of Carnival Corp. & plc, to switch to a larger, 1,380-person capacity ship for its around-the-world cruise. The company scaled down to a smaller ship following the Sept. 11 attacks.
Silversea Cruises Ltd., which specializes in high-end luxury cruises, recently launched a series of trips lasting 34 to 123 days and plans its first around-the-world cruise in 2007. At Cunard Lines, also a Carnival subsidiary, demand for world cruises is so great the company plans two simultaneous trips in 2007.
Crystal Cruises Inc. spokeswoman Mimi Weisband said her company, a unit of the Japanese company Nippon Yusen Kaisha, is seeing a record number of bookings for its forthcoming 106-day world cruise.
Cruise lines say a key attraction of long cruises is that it allows people to visit plenty of far-flung destinations - such as Antarctica and Easter Island - without dealing with airport security and other hassles typical of getting to such remote areas.
While some people revel in fingering native currency, finding local accommodations and sampling unfamiliar foods, a key selling point for long cruises is the ability to see a truly exotic locale then get back to the ship in time to shower in your room and eat a steak dinner.
Some passengers also are what Holland America spokeswoman Mary Schimmelman dubs "destination collectors" - seasoned travelers who are eager to get to places that might be hard to reach without a boat. For that reason, cruise lines often vie for increasingly far-flung ports of call, like Safaga, Egypt, Lautoka, Fiji, or the Galapagos. The itineraries change often, since many long cruise passengers are repeat customers.
Such cruises don't come cheap. A high-end room on a world cruise can cost as much as $200,000 per person, depending on the cruise line, and it's not uncommon for other longer cruises to cost between $10,000 and $60,000 per passenger.
Cruise patrons also often have to foot the bill for drinks - including coffee and soda on some ships - and any off-boat excursions, adding thousands more to the bill. Many ships also function as roving malls, tempting passengers with clothes, jewelry, fancy spa treatments and other costly indulgences.
But many in the industry argue that even six-figure cruises are a relative value when you consider what it would cost in plane fares and hotel costs to see these remote destinations.
The trips also require time away from home that most Americans, with a scant two weeks of vacation a year, don't have. Still, cruise lines say the boats aren't entirely populated with retirees. On-board Internet access, cell phones and BlackBerries are making long cruises increasingly popular among entrepreneurial 40- and 50-somethings, who are able to turn the ship into a virtual, floating office.
"People can fairly successfully run a business from being on a ship," said Jan Swartz, a senior vice president with Cunard.
Some are also fulfilling a lifelong dream while they are young enough to really enjoy the more adventurous locales. Weisband of Crystal Cruises said one recent world cruise passenger was a 36-year-old who had endured a nasty breakup and resolved to change her life. A Holland America world cruise even included a family with children under school age, Schimmelman said.
The cruise lines also say they see professors and other educators with more flexible summer schedules on some longer cruises. Rich Skinner, co-owner of the travel agency Cruise Holidays of Woodinville, recalls a 51-year-old teacher who saved for years to pay for a long, $40,000 cruise.
Despite the growing popularity, long cruises remain a relatively small portion of the overall cruise market. And Skinner said they are still primarily the bastion of older, wealthier people who are willing to pay high prices in exchange for being treated exceedingly well.
"It's really a very select sliver of people," Skinner said.
Even with e-mail and other modern on-board technology, getting away from it all for as long as 120 days can require plenty of pre-travel organizing.
The Magnis, who recently finished a 97-day cruise and expect many more long cruises in their future, have by now perfected a routine of prepaying bills, stocking up on medication and getting their mail held for months. They also have cultivated good relationships with their neighbors, who the couple says are more than willing to help but are sometimes mystified that they still bother making these arrangements for their short stays on solid ground.
"Our neighbors want to know why we don't sell our house and just rent a room," Linda Magni said.
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