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It's a big world out there, and the cruise lines want to show it to you.
The islands and Alaska remain the meat and potatoes of the cruise diet, but the menu expands every year, with new ports, routes and pre- and post-cruise land tours in Asia, South America, Central America, Africa and more.
Adding more spice to the mix this year will be 11 new ships; an emphasis on amenities, including balconies and spas; more dining options; and more diverse shore excursions.
The intriguingly named "cruise tour" gets more takers every year, and lines that have traditionally offered the land options as a means to seeing more of Alaska than icebergs and glaciers are expanding the concept on other routes as well.
For example, the venerable Cunard Line offered 44 cruise-tour programs last year. This year, there are 184 land options of varying lengths, including Cape Town, South Africa; Chile's Easter Island; and Botswana. Norwegian Cruise Lines offers cruise tours in Southeast Asia for the first time, from October to December.
"The cruise tour is a good springboard for first-time travelers who feel that cruising is too restricting . . . [and for] seeing a lot of sights that you wouldn't see from a ship," said Nigel Osborne, vice president of sales and marketing for Holland America Tours.
Holland America considers itself something of a founder of cruise tours, having offered them in Alaska for decades. The off-ship tour is practically a necessity, Osborne said, considering the vastness of the region and its scenery.
"For people who have just been on the cruise, pardon the pun, it's just the tip of the iceberg," Osborne said. Besides Alaska, Holland America offers cruise-tour options in Europe and intends to add the option to its other North American cruises as well.
At the decidedly upscale Silversea line, cruise tours have been offered since the beginning. At an average cost of $850 per person per day, Silversea caters to people with high expectations, and part of that goal is met with land tours and exclusive shore accommodations. (Silversea recently teamed up with the esteemed Relais & Chateau association of properties.)
"What we found out in the early '90s, before we even had a ship in the water, is that the person who is going to take this kind of cruise is not going to go all the way there without doing a land segment to their vacation," said Silversea spokeswoman Jennifer Lawrence Schott. "They want to come home with something they can tell their friends about."
Some lines create their own land tours, and others team with established land-tour operators. For example, the Cunard Line has formed alliances with Maupintours, British Airways, Brendan Tours and Far & Wide Travel to make packages that include the QE2.
Royal Celebrity Tours, which began offering tours to Alaska this year, intends to expand into other markets by next year. Ditto on Royal Caribbean.
The major cruise lines continue to compete for firsts:
Radisson Seven Seas Cruises is about to launch the world's first all balcony-suite ship, the Seven Seas Mariner.
Celebrity Cruises is offering its first seven-night Baltic cruise from Stockholm, Sweden, with port calls in Helsinki, Finland, and St. Petersburg, Russia, and for the first time will take trips that include Haifa, Israel, and Alexandria, Egypt.
Crystal Cruises will make maiden calls on diverse ports including Ponape, Marshall Islands; Hon Gai, Vietnam; Nosy Be, Madagascar; and Hvar, Croatia.
Holland America has a new embarkation port -- San Diego, from which it will send 10 South American Explorer Cruises.
Royal Cruises will be the first line to visit Costa Maya, Mexico's newest port, in December.
Also, new itineraries dominate the cruise lines' press releases. While the Caribbean remains king, with 44 percent of the market share if you include the Bahamas, Europe is gaining with 21 percent of the share, followed by 8 percent for Alaska. Regions including the Panama Canal, Hawaii, the West Coast, South America and Asia make up the remainder.
IN ITINERARY NEWS:
From New York, Carnival will have seven-day fall foliage tours from Sept. 8 to 29, and Norwegian Cruise Lines will offer 15 seven-day New England itineraries starting June 3, a series of seven-day fall foliage cruises to and from Canada, and three 12-day fall foliage cruises to Newfoundland.
Celebrity Cruises has added South American cruises with port calls in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Montevideo, Uruguay; Devil's Island; and more.
Crystal Cruises has a 24-day voyage from Rome to Cape Town, South Africa, via the Suez Canal and the Red Sea and a 22-day trip up the west coast of Africa to Lisbon, Portugal.
Princess Cruises will debut its newest ship, Star Princess, with a Pacific Rim cruise. The 26-day journey will take passengers from Los Angeles to Singapore with port calls along the way.
And, while many lines have pulled out their world maps and drawn exciting new itineraries, several others are concentrating on the comforts of home.
The new breed of small-ship cruise lines, which favor inland waterways, lakes and rivers, gets a new addition this year when Delta Queen Coastal Voyages launches a pair of 226-passenger ships, Cape May Light and Cape Cod Light. The ships, to launch in May and August, respectively, will focus on popular coastal cruises with port calls that include New York; Montreal; Quebec City; Newport, R.I.; Washington, D.C.; Charleston, S.C.; Cape Cod; Nantucket; Maine; Mystic; and Salem, Mass.
As for the future, expect continued competition -- more routes, more land options, more amenities and, of course, more ships.
Industry insiders are watching the horizon for more on the eagerly anticipated Queen Mary 2. Cunard announced a few months ago that it had signed a contract for "the world's grandest and largest passenger vessel ever constructed, Queen Mary 2."
The 150,000-ton liner, expected to launch in late 2003, will cost about $780 million. It will carry 2,620 passengers and stretch nearly four football fields in length. The 17-deck ship will feature balconies in nearly three-quarters of the ships 1,310 staterooms.
In announcing the new ship, Cunard President and CEO Larry Pimentel said: "The Queen Mary 2 will be the greatest liner of the new century."
Still, the century is young.