Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Next Stop: Wow!

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Next Stop: Wow!

Article excerpt

A cruise is basically made up of two ingredients: the ship (aka the "what") and the ports it sails to (the where).

For many years, we heard a lot about the what -- especially as ships got so big they warranted their own ZIP codes. (That ZIP code reference was supposed to be a joke, but when 6,000 people gather in one well-defined area for a week or more, you've got a small city. Or at least a self-contained resort.)

Each new ship came with a new can-you-top-this amusement -- climbing walls were just the beginning. Basketball courts, putting greens, virtual-reality experiences -- passengers have been conditioned to expect something wow-worthy when they come aboard. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines' 4,905-passenger Quantum of the Seas, which doesn't sail until September, has created a major buzz with news of its sky-diving simulator, RipCord by iFly, and its Ferris wheel-style sky ride, North Star.

In the past, this is what made news in the cruise world. This is what gets potential passengers interested.

But the "where" can also make a cruise line stand out.

With competition fierce and so many ships sailing the same routes to the popular ports around the world, every cruise line is under constant pressure to find a new "wow" factor, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), an industry trade association with 26 member cruise lines and 10,500 travel agencies.

Cruise lines big (Carnival, for example) and small (Azamara) are finding wow factors beyond what's onboard. They're adding new ports or two every season, or developing a new itinerary in a popular destination. They're also moving ships to new destinations in areas they wouldn't have even considered five or 10 years ago, including Montenegro and Afghanistan.

Viking Cruises, American Cruise Lines, UniWorld and other small ship lines are commissioning new builds. Besides ships, whole small- ship cruise lines have either just opened (Emerald Waterways, DreamCruise) or are expanding (Aqua Expeditions, Ponant Croisieres, Tauck Cruises) to keep up with demand. All feature ships with a capacity of less than 250 -- built to not only blend in with traditional vessels of the regions, but also to withstand the vicissitudes of remote areas and/or extreme weather.

Time has also been spent researching and testing waterways that have long been the lifeblood of civilizations but are not on our radar today, because size matters when it comes to ships and where they can go when they're carrying a few thousand people. Destinations on the rise today include Japan, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Amazon among the exotics. France -- yes, France, its many canals, rivers from the Seine to the Saone to the Rhone -- is especially au courant right now for small-ship sailing,

The big cruise lines are adding ports in all parts of the globe. …

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