Caribbean cruising has gone exotic. No longer are Caribbean
itineraries relegated to lovely but crowded islands like St.
Exotic Caribbean itineraries are proliferating in the Western
Caribbean region, especially now with the increasing number of
ships homeporting in the Gulf of Mexico.
Longtime favorites like Cozumel are being joined by new Mexican
Caribbean ports such as Progreso, near Merida, and emerging ports
in Central America.
In September, Carnival Cruise Lines will launch a new type of
seven-day cruise from Galveston aboard the Elation.
The advent of this itinerary from Texas marks the first time
Carnival has brought its weeklong “Exotic Caribbean” product west
of the Mississippi. Previously, the line had offered these cruises
exclusively from Florida, beginning with the Carnival Spirit in
By making the move westward, the company has seven ships
deployed at one time or another on “Exotic Caribbean” itineraries
Of these, four are new for this year, including one aboard the
The reasoning behind this expansion is simple, according to
Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales and marketing for
“I think consumers are looking for new destinations,” she
“People who have gone to St. Thomas year after year say, ‘I love
cruising but I’m looking for something different.’ ”
Besides repeat passengers, the exotic nature of these cruises
can be a strong selling point for converting potential first-time
cruisers, especially people who traditionally take their vacations
at land-based resorts, Freed suggested. The agents can talk to the
land-based vacationer and suggest they try something different this
year, she said. “They can say, ‘I have this fabulous cruise
vacation that can take you to the most interesting ports of call.’
Norwegian Cruise Line is another company that is focused on new
destinations in the Caribbean. NCL was one of the first mainstream
cruise lines to feature a call in Roatan, Honduras (see box on page
36), initially on “Texaribbean” cruises out of Galveston, which
began in 1997 on the Norwegian Star.
For 2003, NCL has expanded its exotic Caribbean program from one
ship to three sailing from Miami, New Orleans, and Houston.
The proliferation of Caribbean cruises billed as exotic is a
natural growth for the region, agreed Andy Stuart, NCL’s senior
vice president of marketing and sales.
“I think there’s a very large market of people who have done the
more traditional Western and Eastern Caribbean and are looking for
something new,” he said.
“And there’s a big first-time market that is looking for
something exotic in a vacation. So it appeals to both past cruisers
and first-timers. It’s another choice, and the market needed
another choice in the Caribbean.”
Stuart encouraged agents to present exotic itineraries as an
exciting alternative for Caribbean-bound clients.
“We’re getting great passenger feedback. The passengers
definitely like it,” he noted, which is why agents should have
confidence in the product.
“Start to offer it as a real option,” Stuart advised.
“In our minds there are two types of Western Caribbean
itineraries traditional and exotic and we’d love travel agents to
be out there selling the two different types.”
Royal Caribbean Inter- national sees a strategic advantage to
offering exotic Caribbean ports, which allows the Caribbean to grow
without becoming old hat, according to Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, associate
vice president of product marketing. “As an industry, we are always
looking for new places to take our guests,” she said. “There are
lots of ships out there going to ports we have been calling at for
years. As these ports get more crowded, we look for options,” she
explained. Ports like Progreso, Roatan, Belize and Limon provide
just that avenue, she continued.
“These are unspoiled and new,” she said, “and they provide a
great experience for something different.”
By positioning its ships in Galveston and New Orleans, Royal
Caribbean hopes to make Caribbean cruising accessible to passengers
nationwide especially those originating in the West.
“It’s a midpoint for people from the West who want to take a
Caribbean cruise,” she said, adding that the company intends to
become more aggressive in promoting these home ports and
“We’re in these places for the long-term,” she noted. “The West
Coast has become a very important market for us.”
So by positioning ships on the Gulf Coast, Royal Caribbean is
sending a message to agents and their clients, she said.
“We want you to cruise in the Caribbean and you don’t have to
fly to Miami.”