As airlines cut back on the number of flights and passenger dissatisfaction grows, the idea of driving to a cruise ship, unpacking once and enjoying entertainment and meals without venturing out is becoming more popular.
“The drive market has helped the cruise lines overcome economic obstacles,” said Nick Verrastro, editor of Travel Trade magazine.
“And they’re capitalizing on the fact that the airlines are cutting capacity and raising prices.”
Geraldine Blanchard, vice president of Global Tours & Travel of Melbourne, said her bookings have grown to the point where 65 percent of her travel business is comprised of cruise customers.
“The cruise company facilitates everything for the guest,” Blanchard said.
Brevard County has capitalized on the cruising phenomenon, with local hotels offering specials and perks to cruisers, like free parking for the duration of the cruise with a hotel stay before or after hitting the high seas.
“The port, with all the cruise business it’s developing, really helps us,” said Rob Varley, executive director of the Space Coast Office of Tourism.
“The cruise business is an important part of our tourism industry because it drives hotel stays before and after the cruise.”
Otherwise, during the slow period from late August through mid-November, things would be very quiet at hotels around the county, particularly in the Cocoa Beach and North Brevard areas, Varley said.
In Florida, there are many choices for cruising, with several ports throughout the state offering a multitude of cruise options.
Port Canaveral is considered No. 2 to Miami in terms of cruise passengers. Most of the major cruise lines are represented at Port Canaveral.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Carnival Cruise Lines, Disney Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Lines have ships either based there or that make a port-of-call stop.
Port Canaveral has been working at establishing itself as a premiere drive-to cruise destination, and operators are paying attention: Disney Cruise Line recently agreed to put its two largest ships at Canaveral, and Royal Caribbean and Carnival are also home-porting ships in their largest classes at the port.
“One of the reasons we’re doing so well with cruising is that people just don’t want to fly,” said Stan Payne, chief executive officer of the Canaveral Port Authority.
“We’re located within driving distance of many states along the East Coast and well into the Ohio Valley, and cruising has become a better option than flying.”
Carnival Corp. has made itself a successful cruise business model by growing through acquisition of other cruise companies and by offering a range of choices, from affordable, shoter trips to longer luxury vacations.
The biggest cruise company in the world, Carnival says it hosts two-thirds of the world’s cruise passengers on its brands, such as Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line.
Terry Thornton, Carnival’s vice president for marketing planning, said there is no end in sight for demand for Caribbean cruises, which the company bolsters through locating its ships at drive-to ports around the state of Florida.
In addition to being an attractive cruise vacation for first-timers, the Caribbean can continue to appeal to veteran cruisers because of the numerous ports of call and island destinations, and the different itineraries ships take to get there.
But the convenience — of driving, of settling in — spark the cruise business these days.
“The cruise industry is doing well because people are driving to their ports,” Thornton said. “There are a lot of local ports around the country and cruising is more of an option than ever before. Also, people enjoy the convenience in that they can unpack once.”
The fact that Florida has more cruise ports than any other state is not by accident.
Florida residents and those who live within driving distance of the state can pick cruises that depart from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, and Jacksonville, as well as Miami and Port Canaveral.
Travel Trade’s Verrastro said he believes the cruise lines will continue to market the ports that are accessible to the biggest number of drivers.
“All the cruise lines are focusing on the drive market,” Verrastro said, citing Carnival’s recent decision to place additional cruise ships in New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., on the Gulf of Mexico.