The cruise industry has certainly done what it can to see that they do, emphasizing convenience and variety as never before. Don't want to fly? If you live within a day's drive of the East or West Coast, chances are there's a ship waiting for you close to home to take you to any American cruise lines destinations.
Tired of the Caribbean? Royal Olympia Cruises has a 17 -day cruise out of Fort Lauderdale making 28 knots, almost 32 miles an hour, as it races through the Caribbean to South America and five days on the Amazon before turning homeward.
Hooked on themes? They've got them, from doo-wop to yoga.
Much of the added variety in American cruise lines destinations have been made possible by a big expansion in the number of new ships and passenger berths the cruise lines ordered during the booming 1990's, and that they will now be competing to fill. Carnival Corporation, which includes 13 cruise lines, among them Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises, Costa Cruises and Cunard, is spending $6.35 billion on 13 vessels set to go into service between now and mid-2006. The ships represent about 34,000 additional passengers.
Consumers want more choice, and the bigger ships, they want to have more bars and lounges, a wider variety of types of entertainment. There are people who can't live without their country and western, and they can have regular service on american cruise lines: disco clubs, big wine bars, cigar salons that haven't lost the glow.
For consumers, all this new capacity offered on American cruise lines destinations will come at a price, but generally a low one. Prices have still not completely recovered from the drop that followed the chain of events starting with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and continuing through the war in Afghanistan, the Iraq war and the unabated Middle East conflict. Asian cruises, meanwhile, have barely begun to recover from the effects of the SARS outbreak. Cruising to Europe is still off, travel agencies report, and while Europeans continue to cruise the Mediterranean, Americans are staying away.
Still, cruising is still a major vacation pastime, particularly among Americans. Worldwide, 9.8 million passengers took cruises in 2004, compared with 8.4 million the year before, according to the Cruise Line International Association; Americans account for most of the passengers and most of the increase. And most of the worldwide growth was registered, in turn, primarily in the new ports ringing the country where the industry has deployed its fleet in an effort to bring the ships closer to their passengers.
So while Miami remained the biggest port of embarkation, Galveston's passenger count grew to 267,000 from 149,000, San Diego to 135,000 from 103,000, and New York City, emerging as a year-round home port for several liners, saw embarkations grow from 238,000 in 2003 to 326,000 in 2004.
The new capacity was based on pre-9/11 assumption, but the industry has always been able to sell capacity; the only question is at what price you sell it.The home port cruise is a drive to fill that capacity and you are going to have a lot more people who can afford it than before.
Five years ago, there were perhaps a dozen home ports around the country, and now there are about 20, with more likely as cities compete for cruise ships. Now, passengers can sail from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk, Charleston, Jacksonville, Port Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Tampa, New Orleans, Galveston, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver and Honolulu.
The biggest single thing since 9/11 is that the cruise lines have tried to redefine their philosophy about how people get to the ship.
Taking a cruise on American cruise lines destinations is an attractive travel option for people with disabilities: an array of activities in one place, from spas to live music to casinos; no need to pack and unpack continually; a cabin at the ready for midday rest; even medical services on board. Some cruise ships offer service on American cruise lines such as kidney dialysis, special devices for the hearing impaired or supplemental oxygen.
According to a survey conducted for the travel industry by Harris Interactive in 2004, 12 percent of people with disabilities had taken a cruise within the past five years - compared with 8 percent of the nondisabled population - and more than half of those who took one cruise promptly signed up for a second voyage.
But pick the wrong ship, and passengers with impaired mobility might find themselves on a floating obstacle course, lacking accessible public restrooms, lifts for the swimming pools and Jacuzzi baths, and adequately designed staterooms.Most American cruise lines ships sailing in U.S. waters provide better access for passengers in wheelchairs. Cruise lines do it in terms of reconfiguring pools, restaurants and emergency equipment for wheelchairs.