Disney to sail Miami cruises at lower fares
By Scott Blake
More than a decade after Disney Cruise Line put Central Florida's Port Canaveral on the cruise industry's map, Disney is squeezing into Miami's ultra-competitive cruise market.
Disney will offer cruises from Port Miami to the western Caribbean and the Bahamas, beginning Dec. 23 and continuing to May with one of its two original ships, the Wonder. In December 2013, Disney will return to Miami with its other original ship, the Magic. Both ships have a maximum passenger capacity of 2,700.
Disney's addition of even larger third and fourth ships — both based at Port Canaveral — since last year has given the Orlando area-based cruise line the ability to try different markets, said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief at Cruise Critic, a website for cruise reviews and news.
Perhaps in response to greater competition at Port Miami, Disney is offering its upcoming winter and spring cruises here at starting rates below what Disney typically offers, Ms. Spencer Brown said.
"Disney has two more ships than it had before. It has four ships to fill and needs more itineraries," she told Miami Today.
"Now," she added, "they're really evolving and competing more with other cruise lines."
It won't be the first time Disney Cruise is taking on competition. Disney ships have operated alongside titans of the industry, such as Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean, at Port Canaveral in Brevard County.
However, in coming to Miami for seasonal cruises, it is stepping into a Carnival and Royal Caribbean stronghold, where the two industry leaders have been primarily responsible for making Miami the world's busiest cruise port.
Disney's first two Miami cruises will be six and seven nights, and then will switch to three-, four-, and five-night voyages for the rest of the season. The cruises will offer different combinations of the following ports of call: Cozumel in Mexico, Grand Cayman, Key West, Nassau in the Bahamas, and Disney's private island, Castaway Cay.
Prices for the Wonder's four-night trips start at $500 per person, and five-night trips start at $575 per person, according to Disney. Those prices are for a standard inside stateroom, based on double occupancy.
Some online travel sites, however, are advertising Disney's Miami cruises at rates as low as $100 a night per person, Ms. Spence Brown said. Over the course of an entire cruise, those rates would equate to $400 per person for a four-night voyage and $500 per person for a five-night trip.
Although some cruise lines have been offering rates as low as $50 to $75 a night per person, the Miami rates being offered by Disney are low for Disney, known for higher premium-level pricing and its "family friendly" cruises, she said.
"Some people don't understand," she added about Disney. "These are beautiful ships. This is not ticky-tacky, take the kids and let them trash the place" cruise experiences. "These ships have all the bells and whistles."
In December 2013, Disney will reposition the Magic in Miami for two three-night holiday cruises, with prices starting at $609.
From its inception in the 1998, Disney emphasized the "family friendly" aspects of its ships, such as the absence of casinos onboard, unlike most cruise lines. Disney also has sold many of its Port Canaveral cruises as part of family vacation packages at its Orlando area theme parks and resorts.
However, Disney is far from having the family market cornered. Today, some cruise passengers rate some vessels operated by Carnival, Royal Caribbean and others just as high or close to it for offering family-oriented vacations, said Ms. Spence Brown.
This year, she added, Cruise Critic chose Royal Caribbean for having the best family cruise offering over Disney because Royal Caribbean had the edge in activities for teens, while Disney does a lot for younger children.
At Port Canaveral, Disney negotiated with port officials to build a specially designed terminal exclusively for Disney for the launch of its first ship, the Magic, in 1998. Disney added the Wonder there the following year.
From Port Canaveral, Disney has mainly operated weeklong Caribbean cruises and shorter Bahamas cruises, originally using the Magic and the Wonder there.
It wasn't until last year that Disney launched a third, larger ship, the 4,000-passenger Dream, followed by the 4,000-passenger Fantasy in March, both at Port Canaveral.
Currently, the Magic is based at Galveston, TX, with plans to relocate to Barcelona in June for Mediterranean cruises.
The Wonder will relocate from Los Angeles to come to Miami. After completing its stint here, the Wonder will be repositioned to Vancouver, Canada, for Alaska summer cruises.
"With the addition of new ships, the Disney Dream and the Disney Fantasy sailing out of Port Canaveral, we are able to offer a wider variety of itineraries and new home ports for the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder," said Disney Cruise spokeswoman Rebecca Peddie.
"There's a lot of excitement about Disney Cruise Line coming to Miami for the first time," she added, "and we are looking forward to our inaugural sailing on Dec. 23."
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