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Cruisers seek 'learning experiences'


Destination-intensive cruises are just one of many different theme excursions that the cruise industry has created to lure more passengers.

Other theme trips include cruises for gourmet cooks, country and western music lovers, dieters, wine tasters, gardeners and investors. There are even ones for chocoholics.

All have been designed to appeal to vacationers seeking "enrichment," in one form or another.

According to the Cruise Lines International Association, the industry's trade and marketing association, 64 percent of the passengers polled in a recent survey said they want their trips to be learning experiences.

"People don't go on vacation just to have a good time," said CLIA spokeswoman Barbara Wiener. "They want to bring back something that they can use in their everyday lives."

One result of this emphasis on themes is that the cruise industry is no longer the province of the wealthy and the retired.

According to the cruise lines association, a new generation has discovered cruise vacations, and many of the passengers have moderate incomes and are years away from retirement. Surveys show:

* The average age of a cruise vacationer is 49.

* More than 60 percent have annual incomes of less than $60,000.

* Forty-seven percent of those traveling in 1994 were first-time cruisers.

* Family members are the most common traveling companions. Seventy-one percent of cruisers travel with their spouses, and 17 percent bring their children. Twenty-five percent come aboard with friends.

* There are equal numbers of male and female cruisers.

The cruise industry is booming, with a 10-percent growth rate on average. In 1994, 4.5 million people from the U. S. and Canada took a cruise -- more than three times the 1.4 million cruisers in 1980.

The industry has more than two dozen lines operating nearly 140 ships of various sizes. With another 30 ships scheduled to begin service by 1999, CLIA predicts that eight million passengers a year will hit the high seas by the turn of the century.

According to Ms. Wiener, the average cost of a cruise is $175 to $225 per person per day. She said that figure typically includes airfare to and from the port where the cruise begins; hotel accommodations; ship-to-shore transfers; and food and entertainment on board; but it excludes tipping for the ship's staff, shore excursions and liquor.

Most cruises are booked through a travel agent. Because so many different options are available, Ms. Wiener said, travelers should explore their options carefully so they find the cruise that's right for them.

"Someone who likes to read books on vacation may not want to be on a ship where everyone else wants to party till dawn," she said. "It's important to be selective."

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