Saturday, May 06, 2006

Gas Guzzlers

Think high gas prices make filling up your SUV painful? Try pulling up to the pump in the 101,000-ton Carnival Destiny.

The soaring cost of oil has already hit motorists and airlines hard. Now it has cruise lines redrawing routes and changing schedules. Carnival Cruise Lines says its Destiny ship won't be stopping at Aruba, which requires a fuel-guzzling trip far south. Royal Caribbean is making travelers show up for earlier departures on some of its cruises so ships can sail at a slower, more fuel-efficient speed. And at Regent Seven Seas, they're tacking on a daily fuel surcharge starting at $5 a person (that's $12 on Tahiti trips).

With cruise-ship fuel costs up about 30% over the past year, industry experts say other operators might follow suit. "They're looking at everything more closely," says Tim Conder, leisure analyst at A.G. Edwards.

Carnival's announcement doesn't come as much of a surprise. Rising fuel prices helped contribute to a 19% decline in its fiscal first-quarter profit. The new itineraries, says Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen, are also an attempt to "freshen the product."

From January, Carnival will nix Aruba from the Destiny itinerary. The island off the coast of Venezuela will be replaced with stops at St. Lucia and Antigua -- making the cruise about 470 miles shorter. Carnival says it also has itinerary changes set for its Legend liner, scrubbing Barbados and Martinique for two islands that are closer together.

But Steve Gelfuso, owner of Cruise Brothers, a travel agency in Cranston, R.I., says his clients couldn't care less about where they stop. "The real cruise people just go for the ship. It's never as nice on one of those islands."

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