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February 3, 2004

Cruise bookings soar

The North American cruise industry is on track for another record-setting year, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

January marks the start of the Wave Period, when cruise lines traditionally gauge the strength of the market based on bookings during this high-volume period. The 2004 "wave" has been particularly strong, with several CLIA-member lines reporting record-setting numbers.

"The CLIA-member lines are telling us that 2004 will be a very strong year for the cruise industry," says CLIA President and CEO Terry L. Dale. "There has been record cold weather in many parts of the country and the economy is showing signs of a real recovery, both of which may lead more people to think about digging into their wallets. With this surge in interest, it is important for travelers to book early to ensure availability of their choice of cabin and the best rate."

CLIA Chairman Mark Conroy says that at Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, where he is president and CEO, "Call volume since the first of the year is up 30 percent over the same date last year and revenue for 2004 is up almost 30 percent."

He also says, "Close-in bookings represent a good portion of the volume; however, we are also seeing great activity for the summer programs in Europe, Bermuda and Alaska."

Cunard Line, which recently held inaugural festivities for its Queen Mary 2, reports booking activities initially tripled and call volume remains at an all-time high.

MSC Italian Cruises reports the first three U.S. sailings of its new ship, the MSC Lirica, are completely booked. The 1,590-passenger vessel is also fully booked for its transatlantic cruise that departs May 15 for Genoa, Italy.

Costa Cruises also experienced strong booking activity throughout the month of January in line with expectations for Caribbean sailings and 20 percent ahead of last year on bookings of cruises to Europe.

Cruise lines that offer longer sailings and unusual itineraries also seem to have started off 2004 on a positive note. Norwegian Coastal Voyage, Inc., which offers scenic cruising combined with a working ship experience along Norway's west coast, reports booking are 14 percent ahead of the same time last year. Swan Hellenic, which focuses on adventure-oriented cruises, is running about 60 percent ahead of the same period last year.

Oceania Cruises also experienced a record-setting week for phone volume during the first week of January, with call volume exceeding the previous record by 25 percent. The line reports increased demand for travel to Europe, particularly the Mediterranean and Greek Isles, and noted that some itineraries are sold out.

Mimi Weisband, vice president, public relations for Crystal Cruises, reports that the line has "seen huge growth since the first of the year." She indicates that the results for the week ending Jan. 26 were 108 percent higher than bookings for the same week last year and the past four weeks have been 83 percent higher than the same period of 2003.

Silversea Cruises is projecting a booking increase of 30 to 35 percent in 2004, noting that Mediterranean, Baltic, Far East/Japan, and Alaska voyages are "all filling up nicely." In addition, the second week of January set an all-time record for reservation sales for Silversea Cruises, with a net passenger gain of almost 20 percent above the previous high set in July 2003.

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