Cruise Guide: Cruise lines brace for challenging 2009

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Royal Caribbeans Oasis of the Seas, at 220,000 tons the worlds biggest cruise ship by a long shot, will debut in 2009. Shell span 16 decks, carry 5,400 passengers and feature a new neighborhood concept complete with seven distinct-themed areas.
Royal Caribbeans Oasis of the Seas, at 220,000 tons the worlds biggest cruise ship by a long shot, will debut in 2009. Shell span 16 decks, carry 5,400 passengers and feature a new neighborhood concept complete with seven distinct-themed areas.

By Mike Coleman

The New Year may produce the greatest values ever seen on the high seas as mass market, premium and ultra-luxury cruise lines slash prices to levels not seen since 2001.

An industry which weathered the after-effects of 9/11 is positioning itself to survive the global financial meltdown through 2009 all the while striking a fine balance as it prepares to launch new vessels plus the worlds largest, mass-market cruise ship.

Fuel surcharges, added when oil was trading at just under $150 a barrel, have now been virtually eliminated across the board. 

The best deals, typically found on older cruise ships, are now being offered on many of the newest vessels at sea. Ruby Princess, Celebrity Solstice, Holland Americas Eurodam and Royal Caribbeans Independence of the Seas, each just a few months old, offer attractive roundtrip Caribbean voyages from Fort Lauderdale through winter.  

Upper-premium cruise operator Oceania Cruises, in celebration of its fifth anniversary, has reduced prices on more than 40 voyages in Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, South America and the Caribbean. Two-for-one cruise fares, free airfare from 20 North American gateways and bonus savings of up to 72 per cent on select voyages (vs. published brochure rates) are hugely enticing even for the most budget-conscious traveler.

The upcoming year will also be a time to improve on past success. Highly-regarded ultra-luxurious operators Silversea and Regent are in the midst of major shipboard refurbishments. Silver Wind just completed a major, multi-million dollar overhaul. Fleet mate Silver Cloud will undergo a similar makeover in May, 2009. Regent ships, Voyager and Mariner, are also being transformed to the tune of $40 million. Each will receive a new alternative dining venue a steakhouse dubbed Prime 7 plus other enhancements.

Premium cruise operator Holland America Line will be spending $200 million over the next two years to transform five of its venerable vessels. Statendam, Maasdam, Ryndam, Veendam and Rotterdam will each receive an extensive makeover highlighted by the transformation of each pool area into an upscale retreat. 

The upcoming year, however, will also be marked by the addition of some of the greatest cruise ships to ever grace the high seas. 

The luxury sector will feature the launch of the 450-guest Seabourn Odyssey (June) followed by the debut of Silverseas 540-guest Silver Spirit (November).

MSC will unveil the 3,000-plus passenger Splendida this spring; Costa, meanwhile, will debut two vessels in spring, the 2,260-passenger Luminosa and 3,000-passenger Pacifica. In fall, Celebrity will launch the 2,850-passenger Equinox.

The New Year will also introduce two of cruise travels biggest vessels. The 3,652-passenger Carnival Dream, the largest ship ever constructed by Carnival, will literally be overshadowed by the debut of Royal Caribbeans 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas.

While Dream will weigh in at 130,000 tons and be massive in its own right when she debuts in October, Oasis of the Seas, at 220,000 tons, will tip the scales like no other cruise ship before her.

Will big be necessarily better during belt-tightening times for consumers?

Stay tuned.

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