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Travel industry insider Q&A: Stewart Chiron, The Cruise Guy
Q: How did you develop your cruise expertise?
A: My cruise history began 23 years ago when I took a one-day cruise to the Bahamas. I didn't like it for a day, and didn't understand why people would do it for a whole week. In between my first and second years of college, I took a summer job with the very first cruise-only agency in the United States, The Cruise Line, Inc. It was very exciting as the opportunities were endless. It took almost 14 months after that to get me on my first real cruise. From then on I was hooked!
Back in 1989, cruising was far off the radar for most vacationers. I devoured the cruise brochures and quickly learned what consumers were really interested in. I developed a keen understanding of cruise trends, strategies and marketing. Over time, my research-based, objective perspectives allowed me to become one of the most quoted cruise industry experts, sought out as a regular contributor by leading news organizations on TV, radio, newspapers and magazines.
Q: How would you recommend that people go about choosing a cruise?
A: Buying a cruise is like buying a car. It's an investment of money and time. You'll be on these ships for three, four, or seven nights, or even longer, so you need to make the right decision.
Being on the wrong ship and paying the wrong price can easily ruin a vacation! Determine your desired destination and do your homework before calling and then booking.
Q: Are you bullish about the future of cruising for the short-term and the long-term?
A: The cruise industry is quite resilient. Ships sail at full capacity. The only question is at what price.
The cruising demographic is expanding. Higher airfares, fuel costs, hotels, and meals are prompting many to give cruising a chance. People who would never previously have considered a cruise are discovering the many advantages of cruising.
The cruise industry will continue to succeed in both the near and long term, in part thanks to the amazing new ships and destinations that are continually being introduced. The industry is also flexible. If an itinerary isn't working, ships can be redeployed to more profitable destinations.
Q: How is cruising going to change in the next decade or two? Are there regions of the world where you expect to see particularly strong growth in routes, ports, and local demand for cruising?
A: Europe will continue to be strong for the foreseeable future, with more and more cities warming up to cruising. The South Pacific including Australia/New Zealand has large growth potential, as does Asia.
Main Caribbean departure points in Florida, Texas, and Louisiana will need to develop new ports-of-call to continue to drive interest. Ports like Grand Cayman must build piers or risk losing even more business.
As far as ships are concerned, it comes down to innovation and development. It wouldn't surprise me if Royal Caribbean introduced dolphins or killer whales in their Aqua Theater pools aboard their Oasis Class ships! The possibilities are mesmerizing!
Q: Give us five helpful, concrete tips for finding an inexpensive cruise.
A: 1. Research but don't book online. There are many deals, including specials for residents, military, and seniors, that may not be available online. You'll never be sure you're getting the very best deal, cabin or ship. Non-published deals are often better. Make the phone call.
2. Use a travel agent. There isn't one advantage to booking directly with a cruise line. You'll never receive the professional and objective advice that an experienced cruise agent can provide. A true cruise specialist can match you with the best ship and deal. Beware of cruise line and agency "order takers," who are often neither well informed nor experienced! Ask for their qualifications.
3. Be flexible with your dates. Cruise prices often vary by sailing date. If possible, check a few dates before and after your desired sailing date to ensure maximum savings. Plan on booking your own air to ensure best price and schedule unless air is free/subsidized by the cruise line.
4. Book early. Book your cruise as far in advance as possible. Some of the most desired specialty itineraries such as Europe and Alaska require advance bookings to avoid paying higher air and cruise fares. The difference can easily come to thousands of dollars.
5. Consider travel insurance. A cruise is an investment of money and time and should be protected. Besides providing protection against cancellation, policies also cover interruption and travel delay, and are worth serious consideration.
Q: How many cruises have you taken? What was the best cruise among these? What about the most unusual?
A: I've now cruised well over 150 times and experienced almost every ship. Someone has to do it!
Some of my favorite cruise destinations are Hawaii, the Mediterranean, Alaska and the Caribbean.
Sailing to the Galapagos Islands may be one the most unusual cruise itineraries around. I found Celebrity's Xpedition to be an excellent choice for the Galapagos.
Q: Do you recommend that people sail on new ships right after they've launched?
A: It's great to be the first, but sailing within the first year of a new generation of ships can be very expensive. Wait until a generation's second ship arrives as pricing on both will be reduced.