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It’s time once again for the annual Cruise 3Sixty conference and trade show, put on by the Cruise Lines International Association, or CLIA. And this year, it’s more accessible than ever – at least, somewhat selfishly, for me: it’s being held right in the heart of downtown Vancouver, at the new Vancouver Convention Centre West building that was constructed for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
But it’s the wonderful world of cruising that is the topic du jour here from today until Saturday. While Cruise 3Sixty is geared mainly toward the travel agent community, there’s still an enormous amount of representation from media, publications, and the cruise lines themselves. This morning, I had only been at the Convention Centre for a few moments before bumping into friends and colleagues. To be sure, it’s as much a social gathering of the cruise industry and the people who work so diligently to help sell it as it is about education and career enhancement.
This morning I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Patrick Clark, Managing Director at Avalon Waterways to chat about all things river cruise.
“We’ve hit it right, because response has been good,” Clark said.
He also pointed out that what started out largely as a niche segment of the overall cruise industry is growing steadily in popularity, and that the potential for future growth in the river cruise sector is enormous.
“There are more waterways in the world, and more ways to explore them,” stated Clark. “Guests [who have river cruised in Europe] will come to us and say, ‘Where else can we cruise?’”
For those guests, Avalon has a staggering array of options. One of Clark’s personal favorites, though, are the line’s offerings along the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia. An enthusiastic speaker with a wealth of knowledge, he lit up when describing the region. “ It’s still new. It’s an emerging market destination. But you’re there to see the culture, the people, enjoy the food, and enjoy these amazing places like Angkor Wat.”
Clark was also forthcoming about Avalon’s highly-successful Suite Ships, which really resonated with guests following the debut of the Avalon Panorama in 2011. It’s not that their previous vessels weren’t desirable; far from it. But the Avalon Panorama took the company in a new direction, blending a mix of style and function that has helped to give Avalon a distinctive voice in the industry.
One of the defining features of the Avalon Panorama was the inclusion of wall-to-wall balcony staterooms. French balconies that can open fully to transform the stateroom into an entire open-air balcony. The differences, Clark said, between having a step-out balcony on an ocean cruise and on a river cruise ship are numerous. Based on my personal river cruise experience, I agree with him. On a deep-ocean cruise, balconies became desirable because of long days at sea and, frankly, their ability to afford some private deck space. On a river cruise, with so much of the day spent in port and no real days spent “at sea”, Avalon has largely resisted the urge to put step-out balconies on their newbuilds, preferring instead to devote that space to the interior of the stateroom.
The line also has a stunning lineup of Theme Cruises in the works for next year and beyond. One of the most popular so far has been the introduction of a Beer-themed river cruise that will include brewery visits, tours, tastings and informative lectures on the history of brewing as the ship makes her way through the heart of Germany and Austria.
Avalon has also created a golf-themed cruise that will include three special golf outings, but with all the regular shore excursions for those who may not be as crazy about the sport. In that respect, Avalon just made every couple on the planet happy: the golfer can golf, the non-golfer can enjoy a walking tour or a wine tasting.
History buffs, though, will want to head to France next year aboard Avalon’s WWI Heritage cruise that commemorates the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.
For press, the main events are taking place tomorrow, with wall-to-wall press conferences that begin at 7:30AM. Today, though, was a chance to explore the convention centre, reconnect with friends and colleagues, and peruse through the increasingly-elaborate display of brochures ripe for the picking in the Press Room.
The award for sexiest brochure surely goes to MSC Cruises for their fantastically-designed booklet celebrating the upcoming of MSC Divina, which will sail year-round from the Port of Miami beginning this fall. We’ll have more on MSC’s latest-and-greatest newbuild tomorrow following an early-morning press conference that will reveal some of the exciting new features and enhancements in-store for this gorgeous-looking, 1,094-foot long vessel.
Paul Gauguin cruises had laid out some fantastic information regarding their newest fleet-member, the 330-foot-long Tere Moana. The line’s second-ship, Tere Moana can carry just 90 guests in yacht-like splendour. With one crew member for every 1.5 guests, it’s reasonable to expect some highly-personalised service onboard. In that vein, the line also includes complimentary select wines and premium spirits along with soft drinks, bottled water, and coffee and tea throughout the ship, along with all gratuities, in the cost of the cruise.
Carnival Cruise Lines had a short paper available re-iterating some of the positive news to come out of the company in recent months, including the debut of Carnival Sunshine – the former Carnival Destiny – following her transformative, US$155-million refit. She is currently in the Mediterranean, sailing nine and 12-day voyages through October before commencing her winter lineup of sailings from the United States this November.
Carnival is also boosting capacity in San Juan and Miami. They relocated the Carnival Valor to San Juan in February, on a series of weeklong runs featuring five ports of call. In doing so, Carnival Valor became the largest and newest ship to operate sailings ex-San Juan on a year-round basis. Carnival Victory relinquished her San Juan runs in favor of operating three-and-four day voyages that started on February 14, thus making her the largest vessel operating the short cruise segment from Miami.
Also noteworthy for West Coasters is that Carnival will be deploying their 2,052-guest Carnival Imagination from Long Beach, California starting on January 26, 2014. It’s not new news, but it’s definitely worth re-mentioning in this age where the latest-and-greatest ships tend to be afforded more coverage, usually at the expense of smaller, time-tested favorites that offer new and interesting itineraries. In the case of Carnival Imagination, she’ll be the third ship the line has operating on the West Coast and will operate three-and-four day voyages to Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico.
From Cunard, there’s still time – if you move fast – to get in on Queen Mary 2’s 200th Transatlantic Crossing. Departing July 6, 2013 from New York to Southampton, this special crossing will be commemorated with different speakers and events, including the chance to hear and meet Stephen Payne, OBE, the man who is largely responsible for her design. Also onboard: BBC newsreader and presenter Nick Owen and musicians from New York’s Julliard School of Dance, Drama and Music.
Although I live in the lower mainland, I don’t live near Vancouver. I used to, residing in the city’s famous ‘West End’ for over six years. But with a late dinner tonight and an early breakfast meeting tomorrow, getting a hotel in the city seemed like a better bet. But I chose to stay outside the city, at the oasis of calm that is the Fairmont Vancouver Airport.
A few of you are scratching your heads. Let me explain:
The Fairmont Vancouver Airport is served by the Canada Line train that whisks guests from Waterfront Station to YVR in just 20 minutes. It’s also soundproof, meaning those airplanes outside (which I absolutely love watching) barely make a noise that would rise above a whisper.
Whenever I have an early-morning flight – which has been quite frequently this year – I stay at the Fairmont. Sure, there are other, cheaper alternatives around, but nothing beats the convenience of being right in the terminal itself. In fact, the entrance is just off of the Transborder check-in counters for flights to the United States.
The beds are fantastic, the service is personable. After four visits so far this year, they know me here, and I know them. And I like that. Hotels are often thought of as being cold and impersonal, particularly at an airport.
The Fairmont Vancouver airport is warm and inviting. They’ll even set you up with workout gear to use in the Fitness Centre for just $10, which might come in handy after a visit to the Jetside Bar, where the food has improved substantially in the last few years.
And, I get to watch the planes.
Finally, I had an enjoyable dinner with the good people from Tauck. As anyone who’s read this site knows, I am an enormous fan of their river cruising product, and it was a real pleasure to just chat with them informally about the industry, the past, the present, and – of course – the future.
Since it was informal, I’ll leave it at that – but rest assured: they’ve got some very cool things in store!
Our Live Report from Cruise3Sixty Vancouver continues tomorrow with a full day of press conferences and exciting developments that we’ll update you on in the evening! Be sure to follow us on Twitter @Deckchairblog for all the latest.
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