Cruise Lines Compete for Your Money

Cruising the high seas was once a privilege reserved for the worldly elite.

Today, cruising has become the vacation almost every American can afford, which means cruise lines are in an increasingly competitive race for your business.

"We've come a long way from shuffle board, casinos and bingo," said Stewart Chiron, who runs TheCruiseGuy.com, a Web site dedicated to the cruising industry.

The Cruise Lines International Association estimates that more than 9 million Americans cruise every year, and that number has been growing steadily despite rising gas and airline prices.

With the cruise industry taking in about $250 per passenger per day, securing business for the $19 billion industry requires offering up something new at every turn, like bragging rights as the biggest cruise ship.

Liberty of the Seas, the new ship launched last month by Royal Caribbean, claims to be the largest on the water, weighing in at 160,000 tons. At 1,200 feet, the ship is the length of four football fields.

Liberty boasts a 3,634-guest capacity, a 445-foot-long town-style promenade of shops and restaurants, and a surf simulator on its top deck.

But to win the cruise ship race, it takes more than just having the biggest ship or the latest high-tech bells and whistles.

Disney's cruise line boasts Broadway-style entertainment attractions it says you can't get anywhere else at sea.

Norwegian touts its freestyle cruising experience, with options for passengers to eat wherever and whenever they wish.

Carnival continues to be the most recognizable brand with the largest fleet of ships.

All these attractions are more accessible to vacationers than ever because cruise lines are making it easier and cheaper for travelers to get to their ships.

Fifteen years ago the major cruise lines departed from only seven North American ports; today vacationers can catch a cruise ship from at least 24 different cities.

"The sky's the limit, and with the imagination they'll add new innovations to the cruise ships," Chiron said. "They really have to stay ahead of the curve in order to attract passengers."