Posted by: Jerry Garrett | October 20, 2009

A tsunami-like ripple effect is roiling North American cruise ship markets


A new generation of super-sized cruise ships like Carnival’s Dream and Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas is coming on line, and headed for duty in the Caribbean. But when new ships come into an area already well-served by existing ships, change is necessary. And we’re seeing, especially in 2009, how some of the smaller, older ships that once plied the Caribbean are now being pushed to the Pacific.

This means greater choices – and some compelling prices – for West Coast cruisers. But the influx of additional ships, and much greater capacity, has forced some really creative – and quick – thinking onto itinerary planners.

The West Coast doesn’t present such easy choices for cruises as does the island-dotted Caribbean. The traditional 2-3 day “Love Boat” type runs out of Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego to Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico are not routes with high-volume appeal or capacity.

Longer routes to Mexican resorts farther south mean several days “at sea”- rather than exploring exotic ports of call – on a typical 7- or 8-day itinerary. And choices are somewhat limited: Mazatlan, Manzanillo, Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa, Cabo San Lucas and – at the far end of the range – Acapulco.

These are long-haul routes, and through often heavy, inhospitable seas.

A ship like RCCL’s Mariner of the Seas is completely capable in a wide range of conditions, but honestly the ship was built with the bathtub-calm and warm waters of the Caribbean in mind. Grinding through rolling swells off the coasts of California and Mexico is a drudge most days, and the relatively high speeds needed to traverse wide expanses of deep ocean, and the cold, dark waters of the Pacific, dampen enthusiasm for outdoor activities – the types of activities which these ships were designed around.

By comparison, an ocean-crosser such as the Queen Mary 2 is interior-oriented, with the exception of a few pool and bar areas concentrated at the wind-protected aft of the ship.

Earlier this summer, itineraries to Mexico were interrupted by H1N1 flu outbreaks, resulting in ships being re-routed to northern ports – in San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. And, despite assurances of tourism officials, Mexico’s escalating drug violence has made the country a less appealing choice for cruisers.

The routes from California to the Mexican mainland are also proving to be vulnerable to the Mexican hurricane seasons.

This week, Hurricane Rick, as it barreled northeast toward Cabo, forced several lines to make unpopular itinerary changes after they had already left port.

The Carnival Splendor made an unscheduled stop in Ensenada, and cancelled a call in Mazatlan. Carnival Spirit delayed its stop in Acapulco, added Long Beach instead, and scratched its Ixtapa leg. The Sapphire Princess headed to northern California instead of Mexico. Other ships affected included RCCL’s Radiance and Mariner, Holland America’s Veendam and Statendam, and Norwegian’s Star and Sun.

Things were scheduled to return to normal, or normal as things get in Mexico, by the following week.

But Hurricane Rick was another example of a ripple effect that roiled the expanding West Coast cruise market.

Jerry Garrett

October 19, 2009


  1. […] a year ago that Royal Caribbean trumpeted its renewed commitment to the California/Mexico market by repositioning Mariner of the Seas –  the largest ship to ever serve the area – from the […]

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