With bookings drying up because of the gulf war and tim growing short on planning for summer, several cruise lines are pulling their liners out of the Mediterranean.
"We think Americans want to stick closer to home this year," said Valerie Gadway, a spokeswoman for Royal Cruise Line, which canceled the spring/summer European itinerary of its Golden Odyssey last week.
Other Europe dropouts include Sun Line's Stella Solaris, Crystal Cruises' Crystal Harmony, Windstar Cruises' Wind Star and Cunard's Sea Goddess I. All will remain in North American waters rather than summering as planned in Europe.
"We believe it is not safe to sail to Europe at this time," said Arthur A. Rodney, president of Crystal Cruises.
Several other cruise lines indicated they were studying the situation before deciding whether to operate in Europe this summer.
"Our first ship goes back [to Europe] in May," said Jennifer Lawrence of Costa Cruises, "but we have not made any changes in itineraryyet. But I do know we are keeping a very close eye on the Mideast."
Although no large-scale cancellations of reservations have been reported by the cruise lines, demand has been leaking away, said cruise line spokesmen. This is true for all foreign travel, but especially for vacation trips to Europe.
Result: The ship lines are scrambling for a place in North America's cruise sun, and that, in turn, is increasing the choices to passengers.
In Alaska, reports Rich Skinner of Holland America, bookings are a record pace. The Caribbean is a different story. Although the war has had no direct effect on bookings, the addition of ships into an already soft market means many cruises are being sold today at prices that may never again be as low.
Despite the war, not all cruise lines are pulling their ships out of Europe. Several are taking a wait-and-see position, and some lines have found the market for cruises in the western Mediterranean, the Baltic and Scandinavia -- all well away from the Middle East hot spots -- is holding up fairly well.