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Passengers on cruise control during Fall Foliage trip

What makes cruising so popular? So popular in fact that the cruise industry is headed for a record year in 2002. A total of 7.4 million passengers are expected despite last year's terrorist attacks on the U.S.

The answer is easy. It's cruising's broad appeal, spanning all age groups and many interest groups. Indicative of its popularity were the many reasons for cruising that were offered by the 41 persons who participated in latest Post-Bulletin sponsored Fall Foliage cruise from New York to Montreal.

For almost everyone, it's the virtual hassle-free traveling. Check your luggage at an airport and the next thing you know it's in your cabin. For others it's the ability to stay at a plush sea-going resort and watch the destinations change every day.

There's almost round-the-clock entertainment available, plus cultural and educational forums, with all of this interspersed by a shore trips to a variety of interesting destinations. And don't forget about the food: All you can eat and any time of the day or night. Another plus that is popular with those who don't want to leave everything behind are cruising's Internet Cafes.

Cruising is getting much more informal as well, attracting younger couples with families in addition to senior citizens who for years have been the industry's almost-sole constituency.

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As an example, cruising's traditional and sometimes formal fine dining has been supplemented by attractive options. The P-B cruise aboard Holland America Line's MS Rotterdam offered a fine Italian restaurant and informal dining as alternatives to the main dining room.

First-timers as well as veteran cruisers were among the P-B set. The youngest ever in the P-B cruising series was two-year-old Elizabeth League, daughter of Julie Abbott-League and Gary League. The family hadn't cruised before so they didn't know "quite what to expect," said Julie, a Mayo Clinic physician. Gary, a dentist, said "we were surprised how well everything worked out for all of us, and having a small child along was not that difficult."

It was a multi-generation trip for the family too. Gary's mother, Maxine League, and her companion, Vincent Cortese, both of Hilton Head, S.C., were aboard as well.

Among other first-time cruisers was Marilyn Lewis, who like the Leagues wasn't sure how the trip would go. "But I sure enjoyed it, especially since we didn't have to fool with the luggage."

Some 90 percent of all cruisers industrywide are repeaters, and Post-Bulletin cruises attract many.

Al and Mary Schroeder were on their seventh P-B cruise -- among the 10 that have covered wide areas of the globe.

Jack and Diane Winkels figured that they have been on "about six" P-B cruises. "They're a good thing, and we enjoy the destinations and the friends we make," explained Jack. All told there were more than a dozen repeaters among the group.

The Post-Bulletin always hosts a cocktail party aboard ship, and there were two special guests this time. They were Rochester native Florence Sears (Maass) and her husband, Chuck, of Orange County, Calif., who were passengers too.

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Florence left Rochester about 50 years ago but has kept in contact with such friends as Barb Withers of Rochester. The two were roommates in college.

Chuck, a physician, often was a doctor for Holland America Line after retiring from his practice. At the cocktail party he was able to chat with the several retired Mayo Clinic physicians who were part of the P-B group, Joe Kiely, Jack Osmundson and Walter Bowie.

Our encounter with the Sears was by chance, but these encounters often happen if you travel a lot.

Riding the elevator one day we struck up a conversation with another passenger who asked where we were from. We replied we were from Rochester and he noted that one of his dining companions lived in Rochester at one time. So the next night we went to their table, met the Sears and invited them to our P-B party.

What's next?

We'll be cruising again soon, to Australia and New Zealand Feb. 8-24 aboard HAL's MS Prinsendam. The cruise begins in Auckland and ends in Sydney. At last report 27 persons had signed on -- virtually all have cruised with us before. Several of the group may be leaving earlier than the rest to spend a day or so in Auckland where, we understand, there will be practice runs for the America's Cup teams which will be vying for that famed international sailing trophy in mid-February.

After the trip to Down Under there will be another next summer -- we're in the process of negotiating for one. Best bet is an Alaskan cruise in combination with a land tour in the splendid Canadian Rockies (including overnights at Banff and Lake Louise). The cruise would follow the glaciers along Alaska's Inland Passage.

There are some interesting Mediterranean destinations on the horizon, too. Hopefully something similar to the cruise planned in mid-September 2001 that fell victim to the terrorism attacks.

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During the winter of 2004 we'll probably schedule an Hawaiian Islands cruise with Europe likely the following summer.

Let us know your favorites.

Bob Retzlaff is travel editor of the Post-Bulletin. He can be reached by phone (507-285-7704) or e-mail (retz@postbulletin.com).

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