Cruises West has announced 26 itineraries in 29 countries for the 2009 season, including four new programs in the Galapagos, on the Danube River and in the East Indies and Melanesia; a Vietnam itinerary is being re-introduced.

The new itineraries are part of a strategy to launch small-ship operator Cruise West as a global brand, according to Dietmar Wertanzl, president and CEO. While Alaska will remain its core product, Cruise West will test the new programs on the Danube and in the Galapagos and, if successful, these will be expanded and help drive further international deployment, Wertanzl said.

Next year, Cruise West will test four sailings on the Danube with the 148-passenger Amadeus Diamond and one sailing for 120 passengers in the Galapagos.

The riverboat will the chartered from Austrian Luftner Cruises. "We have the brand and the passenger sourcing," said Wertanzl. "This is a fast track to growth without having to build our own ships." The river cruise market is growing fast, Wertanzl, said, and pointed out that many of the European owners do not have the brand name and the recognition.

However, Cruise West was not interested in the more conventional riverboat cruise from Amsterdam, for example, but wanted to model the experience after its expedition-style concept. Hence, the sailings will be on the lower Danube, using Vienna and Bucharest as tum-around ports. The I 1- and 12-day river cruises start at $5, 199 per person, per person, double occupancy.

Wertanzl described the Galapagos cruise as an "ocean safari." The new cruises are also an effort to entice past passengers to stay with the company. The company has  a 28 percent repeat factor. 'We do not have a big advertising budget, and word-of-mouth and referrals are very important to us," Wertanzl said.

"We have high ticket prices, so the commission structure for travel agents is terrific, compared to the mass market which is shrinking the commission base bydriving more onboard spending." Cruise West is "mostly inclusive," Wertanzl continued, including shore excursions, although there are often optional excursions available for a price as well, and all gratuities are included.

In North America, the vessels fly the American flag and has American crew. In Alaska, which represents 60 percent of the company's capacity, cruises depart from Juneau and Whittier, and all at ports off the "highway," Wertantzl noted.

Seattle-based Cruise West, which is privately owned, has a fleet of nine vessels, plus charters, and carries approximately 20,000 passengers a year. Fifteen percent are sourced internationally, with Australia and the UK being its main foreign markets.

In addition to its seven U.S.-flag vessels, Cruise West also owns and operates the 120-passenger Spirit of Oceanus in the Pacific and the 100-passenger Pacific Explorer in Costa Rica.

"We have been known as a regional operator, but we want to move on and be a global leader in smallship cruising," Wertanzl said.