Four New Lines Set Sail for 'Niche' Markets

Slater and Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month.

At last count, about 159 cruise ships from more than 50 lines are being marketed in the United States--more than enough choices, you'd think, to accommodate every man, woman and child in America who might consider setting out on the high seas. Indeed, many of these ships already sail with less-than-full passenger decks--and frequently resort to discounting to fill them even partway.

Why, then, are four brand-new cruise lines sailing into view in the next six months? What can they possibly have to offer the increasingly jaded cruising public?

"Specialization" is the short answer. Each new line is going after a niche market, a particular segment of the potential cruising public. American Family Cruises is targeting families with children; Fiesta Marina is going after the affluent and ever-growing Spanish-speaking market; Orient Lines will serve adventure-bound cruisers interested in exotic destinations for affordable fares, and Silversea plans to service the often-undersold super-deluxe sector.

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Here's the news about the four new lines.

Bruce Nierenberg, president and chief executive officer of American Family Cruises, is no stranger to the family cruise market. He was co-founder and president of Premier, the longtime "official cruise line of Walt Disney World." And his new company, he says, is making a "total commitment" to this market segment.

American Family Cruises' 1,500-passenger American Adventure--formerly the 984-passenger CostaRiviera--will set out from Miami into the Caribbean on its first sailing Dec. 18, calling in Nassau, Bahamas; Key West, Fla., and Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic. Summer Alaska sailings are also scheduled.

Nierenberg, himself the father of four children under 10, interviewed children and their parents all over America, trying to find out what families wanted on board ship. "We did it by age," he said. "First 6-to-8-year-olds, then 4-year-olds, then teen-agers. They literally built our program for us. Sixty percent of our original plans changed after we'd talked to them."

The result? A cruise line that touts its ship as a place where parents will be able to spend as much time as they want with their kids, but where they also can get away on their own in the evenings. A kids-only dining room operates from 5 to 7 p.m., followed by supervised evening programs that last until 10. "Then baby-sitting takes over," says Nierenberg. "Parents can have the entire evening, 5 p.m. to midnight, by themselves, in an adults-only area of the dining room," he said--complete with candlelight and complimentary glasses of champagne.

Teen-agers, meanwhile, will have their own nightclub and disco, and some public areas of the ship--casino, lounges, showroom--will be off-limits to kids of any age after 7 p.m.

Cruise fares range from $895 to $2,295 per person, double occupancy, for adults, depending on season and accommodations, and free to $395 per child 2 to 17 sharing a cabin with parents, depending on the season. (Super Value dates, when kids cruise free, are in early January, early June, September and early December, 1994.)

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According to Bob Dickinson, president and CEO for Carnival Cruises, parent company of FiestaMarina, "The half-a-billion worldwide Latin population has not had a cruise product designed for them in contemporary three- , four- and seven-day affordable cruises . . . We think the time is right because the Latin market today is where the Anglo market was 30 years ago, ready to explode."

FiestaMarina will use Spanish exclusively as the shipboard language for newsletters, menus, activity sheets, wine lists and comedians and singers in the shows.

Changes from traditional shipboard patterns, according to Dickenson, include "music, cuisine, timing of the meals--Latins like to eat later, so instead of the traditional dinner times on Miami ships of 6 and 8:15, here it will be 7 and 9:30."

Menus have been created by the executive chef of Miami's trendy Yuca restaurant, which Dickinson describes as "kind of like Latin cuisine meets Wolfgang Puck or Jeremiah Tower; very cutting edge." FiestaMarina's first sailing is set for Oct. 22 from San Juan. The cruise can be taken as a seven-day round trip from San Juan or Caracas/La Cuaira, or a three- or four-day fly/cruise package from either city. Fares range from $399 per person, double occupancy, for an inside cabin with upper and lower berths during value season on a three-day cruise from San Juan or Caracas to a high of $2,229 per person, double occupancy, for suite occupancy during a seven-day sailing in high season.

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Orient Cruise Line's 800-passenger Marco Polo, said senior vice president Deborah Natansohn, fills a niche of a very different kind. "We found that when it came to exotic destinations, what existed in the marketplace were very small ships that were quite expensive, $400 to $500 a day, or older ships that didn't have up-to-date facilities."

Orient, in contrast, offers a mid-sized ship with prices starting at $179 a day per person, double occupancy, and one that "can offer all the facilities of the big ships with prices attractive to the middle-class market" on cruises to exotic destinations, from the Antarctic to the Amazon.

The Marco Polo was once the Russian Arctic cruise ship Alexandr Pushkin--but, said Natansohn, it has been extensively renovated and is "virtually a new ship."

Cabins are attractively decorated in natural woods and Art Deco fabrics and have dressing tables, large closets, TVs, telephones and hair dryers. Tiered seating in the show lounge, a piano bar with white baby grand and two restaurants, one of them a handsome two-level Art Deco dining room with Tiffany-style ceilings, are among the public rooms aboard. Menus will be designed by California chef Wolfgang Puck.

The Marco Polo's inaugural is set for Oct. 30, from Piraeus to Mombasa, followed by a cruise to southern Africa, then a series of Antarctic sailings led by Lars-Eric Lindblad and other notable naturalists and explorers, each limited to 400 passengers.

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Silversea Cruises' ultra-deluxe 296-passenger Silver Cloud, a new ship built in Italy, is due to sail April 2 on its inaugural from Civitavecchia, the port of Rome, to the Greek Islands. After a series of sailings there, it will head north to the Baltic, then to the British Isles. Silversea is owned by a partnership of the Vlasov Group of Monaco and the Francesco Lefebvre family of Rome, former co-owners of the now-defunct Sitmar Cruises.

"We think we can do it better than competing ultra-deluxe lines," said Silversea President John Bland, former president of Sitmar. "First, we have a different ship design. It's larger, very seaworthy and very comfortable for ocean crossings--but small enough to do the things you want a small luxury vessel to do, to get into small islands where big ships can't go, to travel up rivers like the Thames."

Fares aboard the Silver Cloud will start at $3,395 per person, double occupancy, for cruise-only tickets, $4,195 for full air/sea packages for seven-day sailings. Prices include beverages and tips, and the air/sea program also covers travel and emergency medical insurance.

A sister ship, Silver Wind, is due to debut in March, 1995.

"It's inevitable that as the main part of the cruise industry grows and ships get larger, the opportunities arise to do something different, to create new niches," says Bland.

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