Author's Note: This satirical article originally appeared in Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel magazine in Dec-Jan 2002-2003. But it has come true! Since then, several companies have active plans to offer sub-orbital travel and beyond.
Ever since Neil Armstrong did it in 1969, more and more residents of Earth have been ensnared by the lure of traveling to the Moon. Britney Spears wed her second husband there. In fact, very few major celebrities, sports figures, and network news anchors have not yet plunked down the $1 million and change to really get away from it all. But no longer does this fantastic voyage require selling your house. With more frequent departures, increased competition, and the much-heralded opening of the reasonably priced Marriott Luna in 2014, taking off for an "out of this world" vacation is more affordable than ever. The first few years of commercial space flight were dominated by the Russian shuttle service Mir, named after that nation's former space station. Mir leveraged its early success with first-class airline transportation to the Bering Sea launch site from London and Tokyo, luxury accommodations pre- and post-voyage, a complete video diary, unlimited phone calls home, and a liberal baggage policy (20 pounds per person, twice as much as currently allowed by other companies). Though vilified by the world scientific community as unsafe, unethical, and opportunistic, the Russians laughed all the way to the bank, raking in $1.6 billion in the first 18 months and creating a waiting list of 1.2 million people.
Despite a few dicey incidents (the near miss of Flight M5 and the International Space Station, among others), Mir is still the model for most shuttle companies, including American Airlines, which hired three Russian execs to start the Moon Shadow line. Last year, Mir captured 75 percent of the high-end Moon market, overcoming the 15 percent share of such upstarts as Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Planet. American, along with the Korean company Hanjin Shipping (the largest Earth-Moon cargo transporter), have about 5 percent each. Moon Shadow, Virgin, and Mir charge about the same for the basic package, $1.3 million per person, which includes Earth transportation and moderate lodgings en route and at the Marriott Luna.
Most Americans have never heard of Hanjin except perhaps to notice their trucks on interstate highways. Though their spaceships are mostly involved in carrying oxygen and other supplies to the lunar surface, the small but ultra-pricey Stowaway service provides private, 600-square-foot "astrocabins" aboard space freighters with all-inclusive five-star fixtures, food services, and pampering. Price tag? About $5 million for five days, per person, double occupancy.
Carnival is a new player. It surprised the industry in 2012 by buying several former NASA space shuttles, and through a joint venture with Paramount Pictures, launched the Starfleet line of space cruisers. While those vehicles never land anywhere-or even get close to the Moon-they are extremely popular. Carnival's shuttles leave from NASA's Kennedy/Bush Space Center twice a week on eight-hour "missions" to the International Space Station, breathtaking Earth views, and a final low pass across China to see the Great Wall, one of Earth's few structures visible from space on a clear day. Paramount's near-constant filming of movies and television series aboard has done for the line what The Love Boat did for Princess Cruises in the 1970s. Says Monica Lewinsky Stefanopoulos, VP of marketing for Carnival, "We bring space access to the average American family. Carnival's Starfleet line offers the cruise of a lifetime for a reasonable price."
Reasonable? Starfleet's one-day adventure is $149,995 per person with discounts available that drop the price to $105,000. In contrast, the cost for a family of four at Disney's newest property, the Belize-based Nemo SeaPlex, runs only $23,000 for an all-inclusive week. With that same family paying $420,000 for Starfleet, there's no fear at Disney or any other of the 1,862 major American theme parks registered with USTPA, the industry association. Says USTPA Executive Director Bert Parks III, grandson of the Miss America Pageant's most famous host, "We're not worried about Starfleet or Moon Shadow or any other firms in the space-travel business; they're solely for the rich."
But enter now an unlikely budget alternative, from an actor without experience in travel other than as a passenger. Yes, Leonardo DiCaprio is taking a Titanic-sized risk in space tourism, using a multimillion-dollar alimony payment from third wife Julia Roberts and investors ranging from UPS to Sony to the Scandinavian shipping conglomerate Maersk. Their shared goal, already in testing, is to make the first affordable Moon vacation available by the end of next year.
The new venture, Blue Moon Voyager, uses Hanjin's business model with a new no-frills twist-and much lower pricing. The key is in their alliance. Maersk won contracts for expanding the space station and for other stations beyond the Moon. UPS, unprepared five years ago for Hanjin's success in off-planet shipping, negotiated a new contract with NASA to handle more military transport in both personnel and cargo. Blue Moon will be the marketing arm to fill passenger areas in Maersk-built UPS ships (brown, of course). Starting as low as $19,995 per person (flights to the Texas launch site not included), passengers get a full Moon experience with two days in the soon-to-be-built Sony MoonStation casino/hotel (a Maersk project). That's 98 percent off the Russian price and almost free compared with Hanjin's luxury edition.
If you're thinking there's gotta be a catch, you're right. These voyages are more like summer camp than a pampering ocean cruise. Ships will hold up to 300 passengers, ten times current capacity on any carrier. Like privacy? There's no such thing as a private room; bunks are part of a long, very unprivate series of open hallways. With a young but highly trained staff acting as "counselors," this will be the space version of an all-inclusive resort. "There is even a Blue Moon song every passenger will hear about 500 times," according to Jim Small, president of Small World Travel in Los Angeles, who was part of a test voyage last month. "But it was so, like, worth the hassle," said Small. "After all, man, it's the friggin' Moon!"
Blue Moon Voyager will open ticket sales next October 1 for flights to the Moon every Sunday from their facilities outside Dallas. Reservations are not being taken until clearance is given by the FAA and NASA, expected in July. For information, call 800/2DAMOON, or visit www.2damoon.com.