Larger ships raise concerns in tourism industry

A trend toward building ever bigger cruise ships, such as a 3 600-passenger vessel to be launched in June, has some industry experts wondering whether it might be too much of a good thing.

Cruise lines taunt dream vacations at sea, complete with Broadway-style shows, cinemas, gourmet food and even artificial waves for surfing.

But some travel agents worry passengers might eventually feel the dream is turning into a crowded nightmare.

“Megaships that carry lots of people unfortunately lead to crowds in line,” said Walter Littlejohn, a cruise travel expert with the Chartwell travel agency.

“We have crowds at embarkation, we have crowds at disembarkation, we have crowds in line at restaurants, we have crowds at airports,” he said during a panel discussion at the Seatrade Cruise Shipping, the industry’s largest convention, held this week in Miami Beach, Florida.

Increasingly, vacationers have to get up early in the morning if they want to ensure they get a deck chair, he said.

Cruise ship companies insist this is more than offset by the huge variety of attractions offered on board.

Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas that will launch in July has a rock-climbing wall, an ice-skating rink, and even a pool with artificial waves for surfing.

The 160 000-tonne, 3 600-passenger vessel will be the world’s largest cruise ship, a title the Queen Mary 2 has held since 2004. A new record should be set in 2009 when Royal Caribbean inaugurates Genesis, a massive ship designed to accomodate 5 400 passengers and more than 2 000 crew.

And if the trend continues, Genesis might not hold the crown for long.

“Cruise ships have been doubling in size every decade,” said Tom Degerman, vice-president of the Norwegian Aker Yards, which will build the Genesis.

In recent years, the industry’s growth has centered largely on megaships of at least 150 000 tonnes, said Degerman.

Littlejohn said some passengers may feel the ships are simply getting too big, a view shared by several other travel experts at the Miami Beach gathering.

“They want to know how far is too far to walk to dinner, how long is too long on the line to get on the ship and ‘am I going to be stressed out vacationing on a ship that is larger than the average US city?’,” he said.

A study presented at the convention estimates that the boarding process for the Genesis will last four to six hours.

Some experts also pointed out that attractions along the route of the cruise ships could only accomodate a certain number of people. Some Caribbean destinations already limit the number of passengers who can disembark on a given day.

What would happen if, say 2 000 passengers, decide they want to join a land excursion to the famed Dunn’s River falls in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, one of the convention participants wanted to know.

“We have to expand our attractions,” responded William Tatham, vice-president of the Caribbean island’s port authority.

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