Didion is testing port as cruise-ship mecca; D.C. company plans to expand cruises if experiment works


The agreement that brings five additional cruises to the port of Baltimore next summer carries the promise of even more business as other cruise companies watch closely for expansion possibilities in new markets.

Ed Didion, president of Didion World Cruises of Washington already is talking about increasing those five new cruises to seven or eight in 2001, if all goes well during the July 2000 season.

"I feel confident that if we fill this up, we'll continue to do this and build this up incrementally," he said yesterday at a formal signing of an agreement with Premier Cruise Lines. "We're bringing this ship in during the height of the season. We want to test it."

And James J. Applebaum, senior vice president of Premier Cruise Lines, said that Premier will consider additional cruises from Baltimore providing they do not directly compete with Didion's cruises. He also expects that other cruise operators will look to do the same once Didion has tested the waters.

"The port of Baltimore is probably sitting very well right now," he said. "All you need is one person to start it off, and then all the rest will follow."

One of the reasons for the move into Baltimore is that cruise lines are looking at smaller markets as they send their newer, larger ships on the more popular routes.

For instance, Premier is moving into Boston in 2000 and taking a serious look at cruises into Philadelphia, Applebaum said.

The cruises Didion will offer in July will include: a three-night cruise to nowhere; an eight-night trip to New England and Canada; a six-night trip to Nassau in the Bahamas; a two-night voyage to nowhere, and a seven-night cruise to the Bahamas and the Southeastern United States.

The round-trip Baltimore cruises will appeal to people in the region who may not want to travel to a distant port to begin a cruise.

"That's a huge selling point," Didion said.

George Williams, the state's director of tourism, is optimistic that these new offerings bode well for Baltimore's cruise business.

"We really don't know what kind of economic impact this type of cruise activity will produce here," he said. "We're definitely talking about millions of dollars, but more importantly we're talking about multiple ships doing the same thing."

Carroll R. Armstrong, president and chief executive officer of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, says the cruises will be another useful tool to sell the city and are likely to appeal to convention-goers.

"It allows you to say to meeting planners, 'By the way, when the convention is over, there's a cruise people may want to take,' " he said. "That's something a little different . It's kind of an exotic flavor that we're now adding."

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