Following in the wake of cruise line collapse
Seattle Times staff and news services
While the collapse of Premier Cruise Lines several weeks ago caught thousands of vacationers off guard, it wasn't entirely unexpected in some circles.
Cruise Week editor Mike Driscoll says many travel agents who specialize in cruising had suspected trouble at the world's fifth-largest line for months and had long ago stopped selling it to clients. As early as six months ago, a Cruise Week survey found just 13 percent of agents still promoting the line.
The lesson, says Driscoll: It pays to use a good agent. Agents often have a sense of when a cruise line or tour operator is in trouble and can steer vacationers to sound choices, he says. Even when they steer someone wrong, they usually help sort out the mess.
Premier's shutdown Sept. 14 ruined the trips of 2,800 passengers on board five of its ships and left thousands more who had booked cruises scrambling for refunds.
Premier customers who had insurance can expect quick refunds. Dan McGinnity of Travel Guard International, one of the largest travel insurance companies, says most claims should be settled within several weeks. The company expects to pay out more than $1 million, he says. By contrast, Premier customers who didn't have insurance will have to file for refunds from a Federal Maritime Commission bond that Premier, by law, had posted (updates at www.fmc.gov or call 202-523-5807). The payouts could take "several months" or longer, and there is no guarantee passengers will get all their money back, says commission spokesman Ron Murphy.
A big caveat on insurance: Beware of policies sold directly by the cruise lines. Trip interruption and cancellation policies sold by many lines, including Premier, are no good if the company folds.
Love those theme parks
Just how obsessed has America become with theme parks? Consider the new figures from Orlando, Fla., home to Walt Disney World, Universal and SeaWorld.
The theme-park magnet drew a record 42.6 million visitors in 1999, a rise of nearly 4 million. To put that in perspective, the entire state of Hawaii, with all of its beach resorts, drew fewer than 7 million people last year, and the entire cruise industry, including ships sailing in the Caribbean, Alaska and Europe, reported about 6 million passengers. Fueled by growth at theme parks, visits to Orlando have soared 45 percent over the past five years, and the only destination that remains even close is Las Vegas, which drew 33.8 million visitors last year.
Vegas ocean views
and other oddities
Did you hear the one about the guy who informed his travel agent he was not going to get a visa for a trip to China because he preferred to use his MasterCard?
Statements such as that were among the curious world views revealed in a summer survey of members of the American Society of Travel Agents. Others included:
- A customer said he preferred to take a train to Hawaii.
- A Las Vegas vacationer demanded a room with an ocean view.
- A man planning a cruise was worried that there would be icebergs en route to the Caribbean.
How we plan
How do Americans plan business and leisure trips? A survey by the Travel Industry Association showed these media are used for trip-planning (multiple answers were allowed):
1. Newspaper travel sections 28%
2. Internet Web sites 21%
(tie) Travel show on TV/cable 21%
4. Motor club magazine 18%
5. Lifestyle magazine 17%
6. News magazines 12%
(tie) Consumer travel magazines 12%
(tie) Membership publication 12%
9. Travel guidebook 11%
10. Airline magazine 10%
(tie) Travel trade or business publication 10%
L.A.'s Getty museum
eases parking rules
In Los Angeles, where a parking space is considered a precious commodity, the Getty Center no longer requires parking reservations on weekends or Thursday and Friday evenings (the parking fee remains $5; entrance to the museum is free). The Getty uses parking spots to control the number of visitors to the popular art museum, and parking reservations are still required for weekdays. Reservation requirements were dropped for weekends and Thursday and Friday evenings to encourage more spontaneous and quick visits.
A new display at the museum is the recently acquired El Greco painting, "Christ on the Cross." The Getty acquired the 400-year-old painting in July. It has never been publicly exhibited.
Getty information: 310-440-7300 or www.getty.edu.
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