Much has changed in the biz since Frankie Ford’s “Sea Cruise” hit the Top 20 charts in 1959. Costa Rica in particular, always well liked as a cruise destination, is seeing big changes this year and next with the arrival of three newly constructed ships, the entrance of one cruise company to the market here for the first time, and new options for beginning and ending cruise itineraries here.
Cruises are big business in Costa Rica, with 258 ships arriving in the country carrying 365,000 passengers from August 2008 to July 2009. (The Costa Rican Tourism Institute tracks cruise figures on an August to-July seasonal basis.)
Cruises that feature Costa Rica are always popular, Bruce Good, communications director of Seabourn Cruises, told The Tico Times by phone from his office in Miami.
“We’ve always found that Costa Rica has excellent tour operators with top-quality guides,” he said.
Seabourn is one of several cruise lines launching new ships this year, and four of those companies’ new vessels will visit Costa Rica for the first time in the next two years.
The company’s new mega-size yacht Sojourn will call at the Pacific port of Caldera for the first time Christmas week on a Fort Lauderdale-Los Angeles cruise that will transit the Panama Canal. Though large for a yacht, Seabourn prides itself on being smaller and more intimate than the large, mass-market cruise ships that ply the world’s waters, Good explained.
“We’ll have almost a one-to-one crew to-passenger ratio,” Good said of the allsuite, 450-passenger Sojourn.
Seabourn passengers generally go out on their own or in very small groups on customized shore excursions when they arrive in port, Good said.
“We’re generally not loading our people into big tour buses when they get there,” he said.
Also skewing smallish is the Silver Spirit of Silversea Cruises, which will debut this spring and will call at the Pacific port of Puntarenas for the first time in early January 2011. At 540 passengers, Silver Spirit is the largest and most luxurious ship in Silversea’s fleet, but small and intimate in the cruise world.
New kid on the Costa Rican block – and fairly new to the cruise business itself – Oceania Cruises arrives in Puntarenas next February with its new Marina, which will launch in January 2011. Puntarenas is part of Marina’s inaugural voyage, which will run from Miami to San Francisco and is actually its second excursion; “maiden voyage” is the term used for the first.
Marina moves up to the midsize range, yet, with a staff of 800 serving 1,200 passengers, is still able to offer the personalized experience for which Oceania is known.
Details are being hammered out on the Costa Rican arrival of Celebrity Cruises’ Eclipse, which embarks on its maiden voyage this month, according to Alex Arias, sales manager for the company here in San José. Celebrity already docks at Puntarenas and Limón, on the Caribbean, and either or both will be probable ports of call for Eclipse, likely in 2011.
“The nature themes, the advanced technology for treatment of water and the always changing shows will set Eclipse apart,” Arias said of the 2,800-passenger ship.
Also new to Costa Rican cruising, and still an uncommon novelty, is the ability to begin or end a cruise here, or do both, rather than embark in, say, a popular port such as Fort Lauderdale.
Windstar Cruises pioneered the concept here during the peak December-to-March cruise season with weeklong excursions on its Wind Star beginning and ending in Caldera and visiting several smaller ports of call up and down the country’s Pacific coast (TT, Jan. 15).
Regent Seven Seas this week launches occasional 11-night excursions on its Navigator, embarking in Puntarenas and finishing in San Francisco with calls at various ports in Mexico and the United States.
Crystal Cruises’ Symphony of the Seas will begin sailings in 2011 between Miami and Caldera or vice versa with a Panama Canal transit and visits to several Caribbean islands.