The cruise capacity in Brazil may be as high as 858,500 this winter season - up 65 percent, compared to approximately 522,000 last year, according to Ricardo Amaral, managing director of Royal Caribbean Cruzeiros Brazil and president of ABREMAR, the Brazilian association of cruise lines. Eighteen ships will make some 405 cruises from Brazilian ports. In addition are calls by ships sailing from other ports and carrying international passengers.

Last year, the occupancy rate was estimated at 96.6 percent and 447,000 of the passengers were Brazilians and 75,000 were identified as foreign.

This year, the capacity growth is driven partially by more short cruises and a longer season. In addition, a higher percentage of foreign passengers are expected, according to Abremar.

The biggest operator in Brazil this season is MSC Cruises with six ships and a passenger capacity of 352,566;Costa Crociere with three ships and a passenger capacity of 163,200; CVC, the Brazilian tour operator with four ships under charter - three from Pullmantur and one from Louis Cruises - and passenger capacity of 128,356; Iberocruceros has three ships and a passenger capacity of 108,572; and Royal Caribbean International has two ships able to carry about 105 ,907 passengers - all sailing from Brazilian ports with mostly Brazilian passengers.

Royal Caribbean opened its office in Brazil July 1 (2009) with the intention of increasing its local passenger sourcing. Amaral described Brazil as having a lot of potential, although facing some growth issues in terms of infrastructure and services, which, he said, are being addressed through Abremar.

The organization was formed in 2006 to promote and grow the cruise industry in Brazil.

According to Abremar, Brazil has more than 40 ports of call, and more than 80 percent of its 187 million people live within 200 miles of the coast. He also noted that Brazil is one of the new countries that allow for cabotage cruises, that is, foreign-flag ships sailing between its ports, but requiring that at least 25 percent of the crew are Brazilian nationals.

The Brazilian crew work with regular contracts, Amaral said, they are not seasonal employees, and when the ships are in South America, they are able to offer better service to Brazilian passengers.

Of 1,140 total calls in 2008/2009, 1,140 were so-called cabotage cruises and 165 were international.

Abremar is working vis-a-vis government agencies on behalf of the cruise industry and also involved in cruise promotion, training of travel agents and the travel trade, as well as training of ports in terms of ship and passenger services.

"Our challenge is to break the seasonal pattern of ship deployment," Amaral said. "The cruise lines are stretching the season for the first this year, and the ships sailing out of Brazil source both Brazilian and international passengers. This year, the season will be five to six months, compared to three to four months last year.

Amaral is responsible the Royal Caribbean brand in addition to Celebrity Cruises And Azamara Cruises in Brazil.

Long term, he can envision a year-round Royal Caribbean ship in Brazil. The market potential is there, he said, but will take time to develop.

This season, altogether 18 ships are sailing regularly from Brazil, compared to 16 last year.

The cruise capacity has grown from an estimated 50,000 berths in 2000/2001 to more than 850,000 this season. The growth has been steady until this year when it is growing dramatically.