Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Book Your Vacation Early for the Biggest Savings

Whether you're planning a winter vacation to a warm destination or to visit friends and family, experts advise booking your travels as soon as possible. There are many opportunities you can take advantage of when you book your vacation package early.

Besides getting away from the hustle and bustle and looking forward to your vacation, check out the many other reasons to book early.

With fuel prices fluctuating, many are anticipating that prices will continue to rise. Securing your vacation now relieves that worry.

Some travel companies offer a price guarantee option. NWA WorldVacations has a travel protection plan, which allows you to receive a refund of the price difference should the price of your particular vacation package go down from the time you book it to the time you travel.

Due to the price fluctuations and potential increases, more people than ever before are deciding to book their vacations earlier. If you want to be sure to get the dates you want, the hotel or resort you want, at the price you want, don't wait too long.

Many resorts are offering some great sales and deals for booking your vacation package early whether n the form of discounted rates or extra inclusions.

Many travel companies, including NWA WorldVacations and travel agencies, offer the option to put down a deposit to secure your booking and price, and allow you to pay the balance at a later date.

You will have time to do some research on the destination that you are going to so you can plan, know what to expect, and most importantly what to pack. You can think about activities you'd like to try when you get there and have your travel provider add them to your booking before you go. That way, you don't have to use your precious vacation time making those arrangements once you arrive at your destination.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Miami-based cruise lines map different routes through a struggling economy

With economic conditions making waves globally, signature Miami cruise lines are mapping different routes to calmer waters. Carnival Cruise Lines announced this week that a ship scheduled to move to Europe in May is to remain in Miami operating Caribbean cruises instead. A ship meant to shift in April from Long Beach, CA., to Miami and later to Baltimore will instead move directly to the Maryland port four months early to begin the city's first year-round cruise program. "Based on current market conditions, continued economic uncertainty and high air costs to Europe, we are shifting our focus to an even greater extent toward our core, close-to-home cruise options, which are clearly the preference of the vast majority of the mainstream vacation market right now," said Gerry Cahill, president and chief executive officer, in a press release. Carnival did not respond to a request for further comment. The company's third-quarter earnings show that the cruise line saw a dip in net income, dropping to $1.3 billion from $1.4 billion in last year's third quarter.
However, revenue rose year over year: the company generated $4.3 billion third quarter of 2007 and $4.8 billion the same period this year. The cruise line still plans to offer European voyages next year when its newest and largest ship, the Carnival Dream, debuts next fall. Royal Caribbean Cruises, another major cruise operation based here, has not announced any changes to its itineraries and destinations, said Ian Bailey, vice president of investor relations, in an interview. Should the need arise to tweak plans, the line is established enough in both North America and Europe to accommodate, he said. "If one market is particularly strong relative to the other one, or weak, you could source from the other market, so it does give you some flexibility in getting the ships filled." The cruise line saw record earnings in the third quarter of this year, with net income hitting nearly $412 million compared to $395 million from Cheap Cruises the year before. Still, in recent months, Royal Caribbean has seen a dip in bookings, while Discount Celebrity Cruises Alaska have been doing great. "Up until September of this year, bookings had been very robust, but over the last six-to-eight weeks we have seen a disruption in the volume of bookings that we've been taking for the year," Mr. Bailey said. The company expects fourth quarter yields to fall anywhere from 4% to 5%, according to an earnings announcement. "We don't know if this is the beginning or middle or end" of the drop in bookings, Mr. Bailey said. "Our visibility into 2009 is a little less clear." Royal Caribbean is taking a "wait-and-see" approach before changing any plans, he said, not because officials are "asleep at the wheel," but because "this is a very new disruption for usÖ certainly we would react appropriately as we get more data and understand better what's happening in the markets."

Last-minute cruise deals starting under $60, $40 and even $25 dollars per day

I had always thought that if you could get Cheap Cruises, Cheap Europe Cruises and Cheap Caribbean Cruises for under $100 per day, it was a decent price and dare I say, had come to be the standard way of measuring cruise rates (unless you were taking a luxe line). The way to look at it is, you’re not just getting the bed to sleep in, but also food and entertainment. Whether you’ve always loved or hated cruising in the past — now is the time to appreciate how low cruise prices are.

If you can pack your bags at the last-minute you’ll find cruises as low as $25-$60 per day, pre-tax.

CruiseOne/Cruises Inc is reporting 40 cruises under $40 per day. I thought I’d test this amazing deal for myself as well as have a look around at the market and see if anyone else was giving away their cruise trips at this low rate. Here’s what I found (but prices could change by the time you get there):

Cruises by Length:

> 19-Nt Voyage to South America - San Francisco to Santiago, on Norwegian Sun departing Nov. 4, 2008. Cost: $21/per day for an inside cabin, per person based on double occupancy, pre-tax. The total cost for two people was $1,165 after taxes, or $30.65/day. [CruiseOne]

> 7-Night Eastern Caribbean, Miami R/T, on Norwegian Dawn departing Nov. 15, 2008. Cost: $21 per day for an inside cabin, per person based on double occupancy, pre-tax. The total cost for two people was $922 after taxes, or $66/day. (Taxes and fees were $162 per person). [CruiseOne]

> 4-Night Bahamas, Miami R/T, on Norwegian Sky departing Nov. 10, 2008. Cost: $25 per day for an inside cabin, per person based on double occupancy, pre-tax. The total cost for two people was $425 after taxes, or $53/day. [Southwest]


> 7 Night Western Caribbean Cruise, Miami R/T, on Norwegian Pearl departing Nov. 16, 2008. Cost: $33 per day for an inside cabin, per person based on double occupancy, pre-tax. The total cost for two people was $828 after taxes, or $59/day. [Southwest]


> 32-day South American Cruise, San Francisco to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Princess’ Star Princess departing Nov. 20, 2008. Cost: $43 per day for an inside cabin, per person based on double occupancy, pre-tax. [Vacations To Go 90-day Ticker]

> 7-Night Mexican Riviera Cruise – Los Angeles R/T, on Vision of Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas departing Dec. 1, 2008. Cost: Starting at $54 per person, double occupancy, pre-tax. [Cruise Critic]

> 8-Day Mexican Riviera, San Diego R/T, on Carnival departing Nov. 12, 2008. Cost: $50 per day for an inside cabin, per person based on double occupancy, pre-tax. The total cost for two people was $1,091 after taxes, or $68 per day. [Carnival]

Caveat: Note that not all of the deals above have the final price. In some cases I would’ve had to call in to get the final price.

Tip: Los Angeles Times Travel editor Catharine Hamm recommends booking a cruise through an agent. Read: A travel agent can help you find the best cruise and the best deal

The beginning of the end for cruise fuel surcharges?

The dreaded “s” word – surcharges – is back in the news, but this time cruisers have reason to be cheerful. On the face of it, at least.

With the price of oil now down to little more than US$60 a barrel – that’s half the price it was in July – cruise lines have taken their first steps to get rid of fuel surcharges.

US giant Carnival is being credited with having started the ball rolling, but it appears that the plaudits should actually go to Voyages of Discovery.

Vilified for having the highest fuel surcharge in the industry at a whopping £19 a day, I discovered this week that it quietly dropped them in the summer with immediate effect. Bookings now and for 2009 are guaranteed to be surcharge-free.

Sister company Swan Hellenic removed its surcharges last month, with a no-supplement guarantee in force until March 31, 2009.

Italian line MSC Cruises also has an early Christmas present for cruisers – as of November, the fuel surcharge has been dropped on all future bookings.

Unfortunately, if you were hoping to get something in this year’s Christmas stockings from any other cruise lines, you’ll be disappointed.

US cruising giant Carnival, which owns Cunard, Princess Cruises, P&O Cruises and Ocean Village, among other brands, is axing fuel surcharges on bookings made after October 31 2008 – but only for cruises in 2010.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines is also dropping fuel surcharges, this time on bookings made after November 10 this year, but likewise only for cruises taken on or after January 2010. The change affects Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Cruises, which are all owned by RCCL.

There is also a ray of hope to those who have booked a 2009 cruise on either a Carnival or RCCL ship, or who plan to book one for next year.

Both lines have drawn up guidelines whereby fuel supplements charged on 2009 bookings will be refunded if the oil price stays low. They are complicated so you’ll have to trust the lines to do the maths, but it is all to do with the price of oil staying at or below US$70 (Carnival) or US$65 (Royal Caribbean) for a certain number of days before your cruise.

Rather than cash, refunds will be made in the form of on-board credit, which I’ve no doubt will elicit complaints – in this economic climate it is nice to have some unexpected cash come your way – but it’s not such a bad thing. The credit will pay off the crew’s gratuities and could cover some of your bar bill. Either way, you are only spending money you didn’t expect to have anyway.

I admit to being pleasantly surprised that so many lines have dropped, or started to drop, their fuel surcharges, but it’s a shame that the domino effect that worked so well when the lines were putting up their surcharges is less effective when it comes to getting rid of the charge.

Fred Olsen Cruises Lines, a big favourite with older British cruisers, is still collecting £6 per person per night, or £84 over a two-week cruise. Norwegian Cruise Line continues to levy US$11 (£7.28) per person per night, and there are levies of US$8 (£5.30) on Disney Cruise Line and £3.50 on Star Clippers.

Any cause for cheer has also been knocked sideways with news that this Friday, at the same time as dropping fuel surcharges across its brands, Carnival is increasing cruise prices for, yes, you’ve guessed it, its 2010 sailings – the ones that should have benefited from an end to the fuel surcharge.

The cruise line has not said what those increases will be – and of course there is the bigger question of whether they will actually stick in the present economic climate – but I suspect what they are really doing is building the surcharge into the cost of the cruise, so it is presented as one price.

The timing of the announcement was not great, given that it was at the same time as telling the world that it was dropping fuel surcharges, but it’s a smart move.

The “s” word causes angst and upset, not so much because of the money – let’s face it, another £60 or so is not going to break the bank if you are already paying £1,500 for a cruise – but because it is shown as a separate charge. It’s like VAT, and no one likes to pay that.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Silver Lining for Vacationers in the Caribbean

A Silver Lining for Vacationers in the CaribbeanIf the financial crisis has made you think twice about spending money on a vacation, hotels in the Caribbean are trying to sway you with discounts and deals.

Even before the latest economic news, the Caribbean's tourist industry was under pressure. Flights to the area have been cut and airfare prices have risen. An active hurricane season -- particularly devastation from Hurricane Ike -- has already spooked some potential travelers and damped demand. Indeed, bookings at many hotels began to drop over the summer. And hotel construction in the area is booming, meaning there are more rooms to fill. So, while the fall off-season has usually meant some hotel discounting, this year the offers are particularly sweet.

The Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort & Casino, for example, is offering a fifth night free, a room upgrade, and free breakfast for two every day on stays before Dec. 18. For the first time during the off-season, the Turks & Caicos Club, a small luxury resort on Providenciales island, is offering rates starting at $247.50 until Nov. 9, a 50% discount from rates at the same times last year. "We wanted to encourage people to come to the island not only because of the hurricane," (Hurricane Ike struck nearby) says spokeswoman Tiffany Dowd, "but because of the economy." Ms. Dowd says the property did not sustain significant damage during Ike.

To be sure, the travel industry overall may be in for tough times ahead: Hotels in other regions of the world have recently started to see revenue fall. But on a broad level, room rates are still rising -- as they have for several years. That isn't the case in the Caribbean. The region is the only geographic area in the world that has seen average hotel-room rates drop consistently over the past few months. In August, the average rate for a room in the Caribbean was 8.2% lower than last year, according to Smith Travel Research, a hospitality-research firm.

Online travel agencies such as Travelocity and Orbitz say they are also seeing big discounts. "We have crazy hotel promotions going on now in the Caribbean," says Brian Hoyt, an Orbitz spokesman. For example, average daily room rates for Puerto Rico during October through December are down about 11% for hotels on the site, compared with the same period last year. Average rates in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, are down 16%.

In addition to dropping rates, hotels are offering added perks like free meals, resort credits and airfare reimbursement to keep travelers coming before the typically busy winter holiday season.

Sandals Resorts has extended a promotion, first offered earlier this summer, which gives guests an airfare credit of up to $550 when they book a three-night stay by Oct. 23 for travel through Dec. 20. The all-inclusive resort, which caters to couples, is also offering additional perks like spa credits this year, says Mitchell Nover, media coordinator at Unique Vacations, which handles sales and marketing for Sandals Resorts.

Hotels are hoping that their deals will offset the pain of higher airfares for travelers. For years, the Caribbean has been able to depend upon a wealth of good, cheap flights. But airlines have been cutting their schedules in the region. About 15% fewer flights are expected into the region from the U.S. this December compared with last December, according to OAG Back Aviation Solutions. And prices for the flights that are left are rising. Online travel agency Travelocity says that airfare into the Caribbean from the U.S. is up about 10% this fall and winter compared with last year.

In Cancun, Mexico, which isn't as affected by airline-route cuts but is often considered part of the Caribbean tourism region because it is competing to attract similar travelers, some room rates are also falling.

"It's been a tough second half, no doubt about it," says Chris Calabrese, director general for the plush JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa and its slightly less-expensive sister property, CasaMagna Marriott Cancun. When the hotels noticed weakening demand earlier this year, they dropped some rates and created packages they hoped would attract guests. Until Dec. 15, CasaMagna Marriott is offering a $109 base rate, and the JW Marriott Cancun's base rate is $130. Mr. Calabrese says those rates are 20% cheaper than last year at the same time.

Most hotels say that bookings still look strong for the busy winter holiday season, but that they aren't as booked up as usual at this time. So some are offering winter deals, too. Travelocity is offering an average room rate of $300 per night (from Dec. 15 through Jan. 15) at The Somerset on Grace Bay, a 46% discount compared with what the modern luxury resort in the Turks and Caicos offered last year. At Las Casitas Village & Golden Door Spa in Puerto Rico, owned by LXR Luxury Resorts & Hotels, the site's average rate during the winter period is $527, a 43% discount from last year.

Some hotels are on the lookout for weakened demand from recent negative financial news even into late winter and spring and are offering pre-emptive deals.

Grace Bay Club, owned by Grace Bay Resorts, a luxury property in the Turks and Caicos, hasn't yet seen business weaken, says Nikheel Advani, chief operating officer and principal of Grace Bay Resorts. But last month the hotel started offering a series of deals -- a fourth night free through Dec. 16, a $500 resort credit for stays of three nights or longer and a fifth night free, Jan. 4 through Feb. 12. In addition, children under 12 eat free until Dec. 20. "Just watching news, seeing Wall Street, and talking to guests," it's clear travelers will respond to value, Mr. Advani says.

Ritz-Carltons in the Caribbean and Mexico have an attentive eye on bookings over the coming months. "The unknown is how leisure travel will be impacted by what is happening to the economy," over the last few weeks, says Ezzat Coutry, senior vice president of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.

By: Sarah Nassauer
Wall Street Journal; October 8, 2008

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cruise Tourism to Increase During Winter Season

Aboard the P&O vessel Arcadia.After what was deemed a very slow summer season, the winter season is expected to pick up for stakeholders in the cruise business with over seven new ships calling on the port.

The first of the winter cruise vacations arrived in Antigua yesterday, the transatlantic voyage from the UK Cruise Line, P&O, with its vessel Arcadia.

President of the Antigua and Barbuda Cruise Tourism Association (ABCTA) Nathan Dundas said P&O will be making approximately 25 calls and it is expected that Antigua will receive calls from two other UK lines, Fred Olsen & Saga Cruises.

“If the bookings hold as we have received them and we are not hindered by any weather conditions we can still expect to have a good winter season,” Dundas told the Antigua Sun.

It is expected that the main American cruise lines Carnival Cruise Corporation and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines will maintain their calls to Antigua and Barbuda throughout the winter season.

According to Dundas, Antigua and Barbuda expects to receive at least seven new discount cruises calling in St. John’s for the first time with the most anticipated one being the Carnival Victory from Carnival Cruise Lines.

“The Carnival Victory is the cruise ship that will be replacing the Carnival Destiny that used to make weekly calls all year-round to Antigua,” he stated.

Carnival Victory’s first call will be on 7 Nov.

Antigua is said to be one of the destinations that is doing well in the winter season even though the island is at the same declining position as the rest of the Caribbean during the summer months.

“Cruise stakeholders will be looking forward to a good season as the summer was very slow for the past month having only one cruise- ship, the Adventure of the Seas making fortnightly calls to Antigua,” Dundas added.

The first new ship making its inaugural call to Antigua will be the French cruise ship Amadea from the V Ships Cruise Line on 27 Oct.

The cruise sector still expects to reach its target of over 620,000 passengers for the 2008/2009 season.

By: Afeefah Beharry
Antigua Sun; October 6, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pink Floyd Themed Cruise to the Bahamas

Great Gig in the Sea is the first Pink Floyd themed concert cruise to the Bahamas. This set of Bahamas cruises will allow Pink Floyd fans to combine sun and sea with an amazing concert experience.

This one-of a kind voyage will feature the music of Think Floyd USA: The American Pink Floyd Show, and will celebrate material from Pink Floyd’s earliest days through the present. So take a cheap Bahamas cruise that includes Think Floyd USA and be taken on a musical and visual flight through the Pink Floyd galaxy performing all of Pink Floyd’s classic hits from legendary albums such as Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and the all time classic, The Wall.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Extraordinary Shore Excursions for Adventuresome Cruisers

Extraordinary Shore Excursions for Adventuresome CruisersTravel specialists Cruise Brothers pick their favorites.

Today's cruise lines, in addition to taking the vacation experience to new heights at sea, are now offering truly remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime, land-based shore excursions, guaranteed to intrigue even the most discerning travelers and adventurers.

“If you want an extraordinary experience and money is no object, look for a cruise to Italy on a cruise line that offers plenty of over-the-top shore adventures,” said Kerri Fitzgerald, Marketing Director of Cruise Brothers, a top cruise pricing Web site that allows consumers to obtain the best deals on cruise vacations. "Cruise guests should be prepared to spend the day -- sometimes even a few nights -- away from the ship, for these shore excursions take travelers well beyond any typical bus tour. There's something for everyone -- from children to seniors."

Travel specialists at Cruise Brothers have identified some of their favorite, out-of-this-world Italian adventures available today:

12 Night Mediterranean Cruise on Princess Cruises: Departing from Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy
Ports of Call: Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy | Portofino, Italy | Monte Carlo, Monaco | Ajaccio, Corsica, France | Sorrento, Italy | Messina, Sicily, Italy | Valetta, Malta | Kotor, Yugoslavia | Sorrento, Italy | Ravenna, Italy | Venice, Italy

12 Night Mediterranean on Princess Cruises: Departing from Venice, Italy
Ports of Call: Venice, Italy | Venice, Italy | Piraeus (Athens), Greece | Rhodes, Greece | Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy

This popular cruise from Venice visits Rome, Venice, and goes into Greece. So, you've got Italy covered from the Grand Canal to Mt. Etna, as well as the treasures of Florence and Pisa. But, there's so much more.

11 Night Mediterranean on Azamara Journey: Departing from Venice, Italy
Ports of Call: Venice, Italy | Venice, Italy | Koper, Slovenia | Dubrovnik, Croatia | Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy | Marseille, France | Barcelona, Spain

Azamara cruise guests looking for a unique vantage point of the Italian countryside will thoroughly enjoy this eleven night Italian cruise.

"While traditional cruises are still popular, these private cruise deals take cruisers to far, out-of-the-way locales in the countries they visit -- and places typically not accessible to the general public," Fitzgerald said. "Most of these unique cruises are offered by luxury cruise lines that attract the world's most affluent travelers. Space is limited, so advance reservations are required -- along with hefty advance payments."

If you are interested in taking an adventurous cruise, but do not want to spend an outrageous price, check out Cruise Brothers, and for even more cruise deals, their partner Cabin Closeouts. Right now, Cabin Closeouts is featuring their exclusive Princess Cruise sale - going on right now. Take advantage of early booking savings for Europe & Alaska too!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Cruising Deals, Trends and Insider's advice

Cruising DealsKerri Fitzgerald, Marketing Director of Cruise Brothers says she is seeing some "absolutely amazing discounts" on cruises — like seven days on a new ship for $399-$499.

What are the hot trends in cruising? How will fuel costs affect the prices you pay? And what sort of stateroom do the experts book?

Kerri Fitzgerald, Marketing Director of Cruise Brothers, a leading cruise broker, offered her perspective:

Q: First up, the consumer issues: What will cruise pricing look like for this winter and into 2009?

A: What we are going to see ... in fact, what we are already seeing in the last month ... are absolutely amazing discounts. Most people buy cheap cruises a fair amount of time in advance. Then the downturn happened and people stopped buying or became more careful. So on our site, we have seen a lot more cruise deals and a greater variety of deals.

It's a fantastic value vacation. And that's not hyperbole. We're seeing $399 and $499 for seven-day cruises on new ships. That's crazy ... crazy good for the consumer.

Mexico cruises, especially those in the Mexican Riviera are going to be really hot this year. And South America.

Q: Will there be a fuel surcharge on top of those prices?

A: Yes, but in most cases it's fairly reasonable, usually $10 to $15 a day, and we are able to offer Mexico cruise specials that offer much more reasonable rates. It's different for every cruise line, so the challenge is to read the fine print. I don't see that going down just because gas prices are going down. I think we are stuck with that for a while.

Q: Say someone has done the basic West Coast cruises to Mexico and to Alaska. What's a good next cruise for them to try?

A: I think South America is a phenomenal destination that combines a bit of Alaska with a bit of Norwegian fjords with a bit of Europe. It's the most amazingly diverse cruise. One day you feel like you are in Paris, the next day you feel like you are in the fjords ... And I feel like the cruise lines are overexposed. So I think the pricing will be good in the shoulder season ... November and late February/March. Otherwise, I would suggest the Panama Canal, which is sort of a blend of history and Mexico/the Caribbean, so you get some beach time as well.

Q: What's on the horizon?

A: I keep saying Asia is going to be the next popular region for cruise travelers interested in more exotic destinations, and I'm curious to see if the Beijing Olympics will, via its coverage of China destinations, result in a boom. Cruising Asia really is a great way to sample the region for the first time to get a feel for the varied countries and cultures.

Q: What's the latest on homeporting?

A: Travelers do not want the expense of flying. So I think you're going to see more use of the regional ports. San Francisco is getting a little more traffic, and Los Angeles and San Diego are for sure. Cruisers will have more close-to-home options than ever before.

Q: You no doubt have to cruise alone sometimes for reviews. What are good cruise lines for the solo cruiser?

A: Two of the best are Crystal on the higher end, which offers specials where you pay 125 percent (instead of 200 percent, or double), and Fred Olsen, which is just now marketing to the United States. The Queen Mary 2 will be offering some good incentives to solo travelers.

And other lines do have sales.

Fred Olsen has this ingenious effort ... they actually have single cabins. They are sometimes the same size as a double, but with one bed. The idea is to make people who are traveling solo not have to look at this big empty bed.

Q: And what if the solo or senior traveler wants a little peace and quiet?

A: Then it's important to avoid kids ... because they will take over the ship. You want to avoid peak holiday times. That would be summer, spring break time between mid-February and April, and obviously the Thanksgiving and December holidays.

You can also pick longer voyages on ships that don't market to kids. Most families don't go longer than seven days. So pick a 21-day cruise. Or find a ship that doesn't have state-of-the-art kid facilities.

Q: How are theme cruises doing?

A: Theme cruises are enjoying a huge renaissance ... whether it's quilting or Three Dog Night you are interested in ... because it creates an instant community. That's a lovely way to find a community onboard.

Q: What kind of ships or cruises do you prefer?

A: I like smaller ships, meaning under 1,000 passengers. You have a decent spa and enough amenities and restaurants, but it's also cozy enough. I do not like ships with the fixed dining.

I love Oceania. I think it's my favorite line. The ships are roughly 700 passengers, and they go to really interesting destinations. I think they do the best job in the industry in terms of value.

Q: What's the best stateroom to book?

A: I think the best cabin has to be any cabin with a balcony. That's like a whole other room. There is nothing like sitting out having coffee in the morning, watching the sunset in the evening, opening the door and having the air coming through. That's something an on-land resort can't touch.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Huge Savings Available on MSC Cruises

Huge Cruise SavingsMSC Introduces Two New Luxury Cruise Ships

MSC Cruises' Newest Ships to Sail to the Caribbean and Mexico in 2009.

Book MSC Cruises Now and Save!

North American cruise passengers are able to experience the Caribbean and Mexico aboard two of MSC Cruises' newest and largest ships when the MSC Poesia and MSC Magnifica arrive in Fort Lauderdale for their inaugural 2009-10 seasons.

In addition to sailing on the two newest of the line's "Musica" class ships, passengers can select from a variety of Mexico cruises and MSC cruises roundtrip itineraries that include 7-night Eastern and Western Caribbean sailings and four different 10-night itineraries with stops in Mexico. MSC cruise Itineraries feature many of the most popular ports of call as well as several exciting not-so-often visited ports, such as Playa del Carmen, Curacao and Aruba, on select itineraries.

Cheap Caribbean cruises rates begin near $500 per person, double occupancy for some 7-night MSC cruises and below $800 per person, double occupancy for 10-night MSC cruise itineraries. As always, Government fees and taxes are additional, as is a fuel surcharge.

As with all MSC Cruises' sailings, kids ages 17 and under sail free when sharing a stateroom with two full-fare-paying adults.

Discover The New MSC Cruise Ships Featuring Many Shipboard Amenities: 
Both the MSC Magnifica and MSC Poesia feature 1,275 staterooms, of which 80% are outside staterooms and 65% have a balcony. There will be 236,000 square feet of public spaces, 2 pools and 4 hot tubs, plus a 13,000-square-foot spa. On each MSC cruise ship, guests can select from four restaurants, including a Sushi Bar alternative dining restaurant.

In addition, the MSC Magnifica cruise ship features a Magrodome that allows guests to enjoy the pool area no matter what the elements.

MSC Cruises will offer many specials in the winter of 2008.

Leave the harsh North American winter behind and experience the warmth and beauty of the Mediterranean amidst the elegance and European and Italian ambiance of MSC Cruises’ two newest ships.

Guests can enjoy comfortable Mediterranean climates under less-crowded conditions – and with the lower airfares that come with the off-peak season – this winter on MSC Fantasia and MSC Poesia while discovering the hidden corners of Italy, Spain and Portugal or exploring the ancient mysteries of Egypt, Greece and Turkey.

MSC Fantasia, which debuts in December 2008, is the largest ship in the line’s fleet. In addition to five dining venues (including a Tex-Mex alternative dining option), the expansive AUREA SPA featuring Balinese treatments and a large Aqua Park (with 150 illuminated fountains), it introduces the MSC Yacht Club, the line’s new exclusive VIP area. MSC Yacht Club is a paradise within a paradise. It will consist of 99 spacious suites (up to 700 square feet), plus a bar, solarium, 2 Jacuzzis, a pool with sky dome, as well as offer guests their own butler service.

MSC Poesia is truly an Italian poem of the seas, with sophisticated color schemes, attention to detail and service. The ship features 12 bars, the refined AUREA SPA and the Kaito Sushi Bar, with its Japanese food and ambiance, including a Zen garden and art pieces.

After her December christening in Naples, MSC Fantasia will sail two 8-night roundtrip holiday itineraries from Genoa: the Dec. 20, 2008 Christmas sailing calls at Rhodes, Alexandria, Messina and Naples, while the Dec. 28, 2008 New Year’s itinerary visits Barcelona, Lisbon, Malaga and Civitavecchia. The ship will then sail 11-night Western Mediterranean and Canary Islands roundtrip itineraries from Genoa that call in Barcelona, Funchal, Tenerife, Arrecife, Malaga and Civitavecchia, from Jan. 5-Feb. 18, 2009. Departures from Barcelona are also available on all sailings except Dec. 20, 2009.

MSC Poesia, which debuted in spring 2008, will spend the winter sailing alternating 11-night itineraries roundtrip from Genoa. The Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt itineraries call at Katakolon, Piraeus, Rhodes, Alexandria, Limassol, Marmaris, Heraklion and Naples or at Ajaccio, Messina, Rhodes, Alexandria, Valletta, La Goulette and Naples. The Western Mediterranean and Canary Islands itinerary calls at Barcelona, Casablanca, Tenerife, Funchal, Malaga and Civitavecchia.

MSC Cruises’ winter cruises promote relaxation and personal harmony on board elegant and modern ships. Discover the beauty of the Mediterranean’s unique coastline from a balcony stateroom.

Guests can reap significant savings on the line’s Europe itineraries by taking advantage of the “Best Fare, Best Room” promotion, which provides the best stateroom available within their desired category (interior, oceanview, balcony) at the time of booking. “Best Fare, Best Room” rates begin at $1,049 per person, double occupancy; rates are cruise only, USD, government fees and taxes and fuel surcharge additional.

Families can also take advantage of the special “Kids Sail Free” offer on all Europe sailings when youngsters ages 17 and under share a stateroom with two full-fare-paying adults

For more information about MSC Cruises and its winter Mediterranean itineraries, visit a local travel professional or www.msccruisesusa.com.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hawaii Vacation: So Much To See, So Much To Do

Planning a Hawaii vacation can be quite involved- there are so many unique features on each of the islands and so little time to visit them. Hawaii contains huge waterfalls, majestic mountains, and wildlife, plants and flowers you can find nowhere else. Whatever your plans for a vacation, Hawaii has something for you, and it will take some thought for you to decide on what you want out of your vacation.

One of the popular options is to stay at a resort. Several resorts offer packages which give you hotel stay, drinks, meals, and activities as well. Some resorts will have amenities such as a club for kids, a salon and spa, on site shopping, and provide Hawaii upholstery cleaning methods Ask your friends and family members for recommendations, and check with a travel agent as well for suggestions. Several resorts have great sales and promotions, too.

Make sure you travel to other islands while you're there. Kauai is particularly popular as a vacation spot. Arranging a vacation package to Kauai could be an amazing house cleaners Maui is the second-largest Hawaiian island, and another popular destination. If you're a history buff, Oahu, the location of Pearl Harbor, is a great choice. If you prefer geology, you'll want to see Mauna Kea, an active volcano on the Big Island.

Many love to visit Maui and rent a privately owned condo or a time-share for their Maui vacation. This will be less costly for you and you will be given more privacy since you will essentially be staying in someone's own home. The accommodations are often times upholstery cleaning sacramento than any hotel. Unlike a resort though, activities and meals are not available on the site. You will more then likely need to cook for yourself or eat at local restaurants. Most times, people will pick this type of accommodation for large events such as family reunions or for longer stays.

Another choice for you is a Hawaii cruise. There's no need to get a hotel room; there are plenty of spaces on the ocean. Hawaii cruises allow you to see many of the islands, visit many ports, and participate in all sorts of activities on the cruise ship itself or on land sponsored by the cruise line. Many cruises are meant for families with children, while others are meant for romantic couples.

Whatever you choose for your Hawaii vacation package, your experience is sure to be memorable. After you arrive in Hawaii, remember to ask locals for recommendations and suggestions to enhance the authenticity of your trip.

Huge Savings on Europe Cruises

Cruise Brothers Offers Money Saving Advice

Cruises can offer good value because of increasing competition among cruise lines because there are more boats in the water.

Steve Gelfuso, owner of Cruise Brothers, said starting prices for many cruises have been reduced and rolled back to the prices of five years ago.

Kerri Fitzgerald, marketing director for Cruise Brothers in Cranston, Rhode Island, said Europe cruises are now more popular than ever. Vacation goers are saving hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars as they sidestep the European exchange rate tied to the euro. Cruisers headed to Europe get the most value as they can pay for the entire vacation using their credit cards that are based on the U.S. dollar.

Europe cruises allow American travelers to visit Europe and pay for the entire trip using American dollars. Cruise vacations save consumers thousands.

If you are considering Europe cruises most brokers recommend booking early. "Many cruise ships headed to Europe are already full," Fitzgerald said. "We help our clients find available Europe cruise packages that offer an all inclusive fixed price... this saves our clients thousands. The key is to book early."

Lock in low rates on discount Europe cruises with Cruise Brothers

Lock in trips and air fares as much in advance as possible.

This can protect against rises in fuel prices, a further sinking of the dollar against the euro and so on.

It also pays to buy airline tickets as early as possible. The lowest fares, best seats, and flight times are available to early shoppers. Double discounts are available: the first discount is airfare, and the second discount is exclusively available with cruise vacations.

Cruising is the cheapest way to travel to Europe. Avoid the expensive Euro exchange rate, travel to Europe on U.S. dollars and save. For the best deals on Europe cruises call 800-827-7779.

Europe cruises are sold as all inclusive cruise vacation packages that are priced in U.S. dollars, not euros. Travelers only spend euros if they choose to do so during an off-shore excursion or port visit. The experienced brokers at Cruise Brothers can help you sidestep expensive euro charges.

Hawaii Vacations

Sail to Hawaii and save thousands on airfare.

Hawaii vacation prices have spiked in recent months in response to soaring fuel prices that are deterring many travelers as typical air fare has jumped by several hundred dollars.

Major cruise lines are helping travelers avoid expensive airfare by offering many cruises that depart from mainland ports sailing to Hawaii.

Why fly to Hawaii when you can cruise to Hawaii from a mainland port and save thousands?

Don't get trapped at airports. Instead, travel to the docks and set sail on a luxury cruise ship that has all the amenities: luxury cabins, oversized state rooms, wireless internet, room service, wireless cafes, nightclubs, bars, gourmet restaurants. Nothing matches the luxury of a major cruise ship. The airlines just cannot compete.

Can you remember the last time you were trapped on the runway or missed your flight connection? Have you set foot in O'Hare airport lately? How about the Detriot Metro Airport? How about Logan Airport in Boston?

Don't waste days being pushed around and treated like a second class citizen by the major airlines. Discover true customer service, luxury, and appreciation avoid the airlines and travel by boat with a major cruise line.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Honeymoon Cruises: Perfect for Any Style

Honeymoon CruisesA week on a broad ship caressed by an emerald-green sea; Hanging out in funky bars just off a tropical island; Testing your golf skills on well-manicured courses upon a luxurious cruise ship; Partying till the wee hours at trendy nightclubs.

Honeymoons can take almost any form and be enjoyed almost anywhere in the world. That's true for cruises as well -- and not only will a honeymoon cruise cost less than traipsing off to an exotic island or far-off country, but it can be every bit as romantic.

After all, there's a reason why cruises one of the world's most desirable honeymoon destinations.

Keeping in mind that different folks like different strokes, we've put together a few honeymoon cruise possibilities.

For the well-heeled

Cruises often have high-end lodging options, and if you honeymoon during the off-season you can get a price break. For a high-end honeymoon that won't empty your wallet, check out cruisemarketplace.com for the latest cruise deals.

For culture vultures

If it's a variety of culture you want to experience while on your honeymoon, honeymoon cruises leave you with plenty of options. For instance, Mexico cruises allow you to relax in luxury, but will also allow you to experience a whole other country.

For club hoppers

Many cruise-lines offer an array of entertainment options, including dance clubs and concerts. For example, cruisemarketplace.com offers many cheap Carnival cruises upon their “fun ships.” These “fun ships,” feature multiple lounges, casinos, and dance clubs.

For high seas fans

Sail on major cruise ships from Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Port Canaveral or Tampa. You can combine a land vacation with one at sea or simply sail off to the Caribbean on a cheap Caribbean cruise for a week reveling in all the no-stress dining, entertainment and travel opportunities a cruise offers.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Carnival Cruise Booking Solid Despite Tight Economy

Carnival CruisesCarnival Corp.'s fiscal second-quarter net income was flat as stronger-than-expected revenue yields were offset by surging fuel costs, which prompted the world's largest cruise company to cut its earnings forecast for the year.

Carnival reported net income of $390 million in both the latest and year-ago May-ending quarter. Per-share earnings in the latest period were 49 cents a share, above the company's March forecast of 42 cents to 44 cents a share. Revenue increased 16% to $3.38 billion.

The number of passengers rose 8.7%. Net yields, or net revenue per available lower berth day, rose 7.3%, or 3.7% without foreign-exchange fluctuations. The Miami company had projected increases of 6.5% to 7.5% and 2.5% to 3.5% without foreign-exchange changes.

"Despite the current difficult economic environment, our booking trends continue to be solid," said Chairman and Chief Executive Micky Arison, though he conceded that "the impact of skyrocketing fuel prices on our operating results has overshadowed the revenue yield improvement we have experienced."

Faced with soaring fuel costs, Carnival has shifted capacity to Europe, where there is strong demand from the new moneyed classes in Asia and Russia for affordable dollar-based European cruises. Carnival's brands range from mass-market Carnival Cruise Lines and Princess Cruises to premium and luxury brands Holland America and Cunard.

The company lowered its fiscal-year earnings outlook to $2.70 to $2.80 from $3 to $3.20, citing increased fuel expenses that are expected to reduce earnings by 92 cents a share. Analysts forecasted $2.96 a share. The company also lowered expectations for net yields by one percentage point to 4.5% to 5.5% because of currency fluctuations.

Current-quarter earnings are seen falling to $1.56 to $1.58 a share from last year's $1.67 a share. Analysts had expected third-quarter earnings of $1.78. Net revenue yields are projected to increase about 4%, or 1% on a constant dollar basis.

Andrew Fitchie, an analyst at Collins Stewart, said, "The cut in guidance was expected and the company is demonstrating that it is trading and managing [its operations] well, given the tough economic environment."

He noted, however, that is was "disappointing" that Carnival was cutting back on its revenue guidance. "If revenue growth weakens and fuel prices continue to rise, it would suggest that the company won't be able to pass on fuel costs [to customers]."

By: Shirleen Dorman
Wall Street Journal; June 19, 2008

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Before-You-Cruise Checklist

The Before-You-Cruise ChecklistSo you booked a cruise. Can't wait to go? Great! You're likely have a wonderful time, given the cruise industry's high satisfaction rating among passengers.

But are you really ready? Too often people wait until just before departure to do things that should have been done weeks earlier. Then in the rush to get it all done, they sometimes leave tickets, medicines or other essentials behind.

After interviewing numerous travelers and travel agents, we've put together a checklist of "must do" advance tasks. These will help to assure your cruise planning and preparation goes as smoothly as possible. In this article, we'll discuss the early chores - things you ought to do from the time of booking to two to four weeks before departure.

To be done as Far Out as Possible:
If you don't have a passport, if your existing passport expires soon, or if you don't have enough pages left in your passport, you'll need a new one. New passport regulations for American citizens traveling abroad will be fully enacted in June, 2009. The good news is that the state department has staffed up so passports are currently being processed and delivered in as little as a week. Don't expect this to last too long, however, as the final deadline gets closer the passport office will get busier.

You can pay for expedited service to be sure you get your passport on time. Currently you can get a passport in as little as 24 hours, but in the future even VIP handling may take far longer than usual.

Until June, 2009, if you don't have a passport, you can use a state issued ID plus an original birth certificate or certificated copy with a raised seal issued by an official government agency.

Check with your travel agent or cruise line about whether any visas are required for your cruise itinerary. Start this process very early on as well.

Six Weeks to Three Months Out:

Shore Excursions:
When you receive your cruise documents (your papers for boarding the ship), you usually will receive a shore excursion booklet describing the line's tour options in exotic ports of call. Don't set it aside: Read the booklet, look for cruise deals, make a decision, and book online -- as soon as possible if you plan to take any of the line's shore trips. The majority of cruise line shore trips are now booked in advance, and there are two good reasons.

First, booking in advance means your shore tickets will be waiting in your stateroom upon arrival. Or they might be delivered while you're at dinner that first night. So you'll avoid standing in a long line at the ship's shore excursion desk after you board.

Second, by pre-reserving shore trips, you'll have a good shot at getting the ones you want. This is particularly important for such popular activities as swimming with the dolphins in the Caribbean cruises or going dog-sledding via a helicopter transfer in Alaska cruises. These excursions, and many others including Hawaii cruises have limited spots available.

While the cruise lines say they save some spots for onboard bookers, travel agents will tell you it's risky to wait. Your chances improve with early pre-booking.

Spa and Salon Appointments:
If you have the chance to book these in advance, and know what you want, then pre-reserve. Otherwise, you'll have to run to the ship's spa desk right after you board, and even then you might find yourself in a line.

Try to pre-book your spa appointments on sea days, so you have time free in ports of call. Appointment slots fill up quickly. If you wait to book onboard, your only options may be port days or times during the dinner hour.

Embarkation Gifts:
If you're celebrating a special occasion on the cruise, like an anniversary or birthday, your cruise document package will often include information on how to book gifts or special packages. If not, check the line's Web site.

It's a nice celebratory touch to pre-book champagne and hors d'ouevres for your stateroom on the day of embarkation. Or, you might pre-purchase "cruise line bucks" for your spouse or friend; that's basically a credit for onboard purchases such as spa treatments, photos or shopping. Most lines require that guests make arrangements for these "gifts" several weeks in advance.

Airline Tickets:
Travel agents often re-check their clients' air tickets (if purchased at the agency) to assure the tickets are correct. But if you bought your ticket directly through the cruise line or redeemed frequent traveler miles for a free ticket, you need to do this yourself.

Is the flight schedule correct? Is your name correct? The airline might refuse to board you if the ticket name doesn't match what's on your ID. Are you ticketed to fly on the right dates and at the right times?

It's not uncommon for tickets to be incorrect or for people to have mistakenly booked their flights on the wrong date or in the evening instead of morning. While you may incur a charge to correct the tickets, it's better to find out now rather than at the airport on your day of departure.

Also, check whether you have seat assignments. If not, try to book those directly with the airline. If they say they cannot assign a seat in advance, that means they're tight on space. Some seats are held for assignment on the flight departure day. If you cannot get a seat assignment in advance, check in early at the airport to assure you get a seat and are not bumped.

Credit Card Planning:
If your cruise documents have arrived, you're probably feeling great about having paid for the cruise in full. But start evaluating the credit you'll need on your trip. You'll need one credit card with a sufficient credit line, because the cruise line will ask for a credit card upon embarkation to cover the cost of your on-board expenses. At check-in, they'll run off a "credit card authorization" for a certain amount of money. Depending on the line's policy, length of cruise and type of journey (luxury, premium or contemporary), the line might get authorization for $50 to $200 in daily charges.

Why? Sometimes the cost of on-board incidentals might rival the price of the cruise itself. It's possible to run up over a thousand dollars in onboard charges for shore trips, alcoholic beverages, special onboard programs, casino play, spa treatments and onboard shopping.

That doesn't mean you'll be billed on your credit card for more than you actually spend. If you spent only $80 for the week, that's what you'll pay when you get off the ship. But that preliminary credit authorization will apply to your card until it expires. For example, if you have a $2,500 credit card limit, the card already had a $1,500 balance prior to your cruise, and the line runs off $800 in "authorized" charges as a security deposit, you might be left with little usable credit on that card, at least temporarily.

If you rent a car or stay a few days in a hotel pre-cruise, those suppliers might also run off a credit card hold that could extend through the first day of your cruise. Translation? You might not have enough for the incidentals "hold" charge at check-in.

So never go on a cruise with only $100 or $200 credit on a credit card. I've seen people incredulous at the purser's desk when their card is declined, saying, "but it had at least $200 on it." In reality, that isn't enough.

Also, the "hold charges" placed on your credit card onboard might interfere with your ability to use that card for purchases ashore. Savvy cruisers take along two credit cards one for incidentals onboard, another for purchases ashore.

Arrange for a House Sitter:
If you want someone to house-sit for you while you're away, schedule it now. People's schedules fill up quickly, so start early.

Arrange for Child Care:
If you're not taking your children along on your cruise, arrange for child care. Would a relative let your kids to stay at their house while you're at sea? Would a grandparent consider staying at your home and handling cooking and supervisory tasks for your kids? Or will your children have to fly elsewhere to stay with a relative? All these issues should be dealt with well in advance.

Two to Four Weeks Out:
Pre-Packing: Find a good spot in your home to open up the suitcase(s) you plan to take on the trip. Aim for one medium-size suitcase and one roomy carry-on bag. Travel agents say most cruisers tend to over-pack, and usually regret it later.

Put everything you might possibly want to take along in piles next to the luggage. Over the next few weeks, evaluate what you have and start to take away this or that. Don't procrastinate and pack the night before your cruise, as you'll probably throw everything in "just in case."

Susan Helfrich, director of Cruise Events in Richboro, Pa., notes that cruise cabins are usually smaller than most hotel rooms. "Some people pack a month's worth of clothes for a one-week vacation and thus the closets feel tight," Helfrich says. She says cruisers should read the dress code information the cruise line sends. The days of dressing up in formal attire every night are over. Usually no more than two nights on a one-week cruise are classified as formal. Resort casual has become much more the norm these days.

Even on formal nights, some cruisers leave their gowns and tuxedos at home and simply order room service or head for the buffet restaurant. If you like to dress up, by all means take a gown or tuxedo, but don't take two or three different ones.

Agents including Helfrich say savvy cruisers select five or six interchangeable outfits to wear throughout the week. Aim for two or three color groups and mix-and-match clothing. Black is always a good neutral color to team with other colors. Which jacket might go with two or three different outfits? What top might go with both slacks and a long skirt? Think layers. Something you might wear in the morning could be taken off to create a cocktail look in the evening. The black heels you wear with a formal gown can be worn other nights with less dressy attire.

Helfrich says if you haven't worn something in years, you likely won't wear it onboard. Try on any clothes you plan to take, as styles, weight and preferences change. Yesterday's treasures may look awful today. Also, have your kids try on their clothes. It's amazing how fast they grow out of clothing.

One secret Helfrich shares is putting clothes on hangers as they go into the suitcase. "Hangers allow you to take clothes directly from your suitcase and hang them in the closet within minutes," she stresses.

Packing efficiently can improve the quality of your cruise. Remember, if overstuffed checked bags are hand-searched by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at the airport, items may fall out, get lost or not fit back in the bag, causing a luggage delay. By packing efficiently, you also won't waste time in your stateroom unpacking unnecessary items and cramming them into closets.

You'll also have room in your suitcase to bring souvenirs home without having to pay fees for excess baggage at the airport. Helfrich has seen her clients opening bags on the airport floor and hastily transferring clothes between them to avoid a $50 excess baggage fee. "This is not a comfortable way to begin or end a trip," she emphasizes.

If you're on a luxury cruise, inquire about fee-based luggage services that many lines offer. A company will pick bags up at your home and the next time you see your luggage, it will be in your cruise cabin.

Medicines and Toiletries:
Many people take prescription medications. If you do, don't wait until it's time to depart to discover you need refills. Take care of this at least two weeks out. If you need a new prescription, there's time to handle the situation with your doctor.

And take along plenty of medicine. A good rule of thumb is one week's extra supply, just in case there's a flight delay, winter storm or some reason why you can't get home on time.

If you get seasick or carsick easily, talk to your physician about remedies or use of "the patch." Also, you might want to buy sea bands -- small, elasticized bands that cover both wrists and have proven helpful in preventing nausea. You'll find these in most drugstores.

Many cruisers want to pack toiletries or over-the-counter medications as well. If you plan to carry on these items, TSA says all liquids, gels and aerosols must be placed in a single, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag. Gallon-size bags or bags that are not zip-top (such as fold-over sandwich bags) are not allowed. Each traveler can use only one, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag, and each container must be three ounces or less.

So put non-essential stuff in checked luggage, using zip bags to avoid any problems if a bottle accidentally breaks. Yes, you could just buy toiletries and over-the-counter medicines (like Pepto Bismol or cold medication) on the ship or in ports of call, but prices can be higher. Also, it might not be that convenient to spend vacation time searching for what you need.

Medical Records:
If you have significant medical problems, take along a copy of your records and tests. These could be extremely helpful if you need a doctor onboard. Last summer, my 81-year-old mother and I headed for Alaska on a cruise. We carried all her medical paperwork including copies of EKG and blood tests. Sure enough, she got an unknown infection in the middle of the cruise. The Princess Cruises doctor was able to treat her more effectively after seeing the paperwork.

Do this at least two weeks prior to cruising, three if you can. It may take a week or so for your doctor or other medical groups to provide this information to you.

At least two to three weeks before departure, arrange for pet care, whether in your home or by boarding your animals. Put any instructions in writing and include pet care insurance documents and vaccination certificates for the caregiver.

Contact your veterinarian and make sure he or she understands that you have designated a particular person to act on your behalf while you're gone. If necessary, draw up a power of attorney so that person can legally make decisions about the pet on your behalf.

Arrange for Airport Transfers:
On a long cruise, you may want to book an airport shuttle transfer (leave plenty of time if you are booked with others it could take an extra 60-90 minutes if the shuttle stops to pick up multiple people) or a limo ride.

If you're booking a car pick-up with a local limo company, do so at least two weeks in advance. Book even further out if your required transport falls during a major event period like prom season, Mardi Gras or Super Bowl.

By Susan J. Young
originally published on cruisemates.com

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Royal Caribbean Orders Largest Ever Cruise Ship

In the cruise ship industry, the battle for bragging rights has turned into a QE2-size slugfest. In 2003, Cunard stole the crown for world’s largest cruise ship when it launched the 151,410-ton Queen Mary 2; three years later Royal Caribbean topped it with the 154,000-ton Freedom of the Seas. Now, Royal Caribbean is set to raise the stakes yet again with the 220,000-ton Genesis, slated to launch in 2009 from a shipyard in Turku, Finland. (A second Genesis will launch a year later.) Why is bigger better? “Having more real estate, we can provide more deck area,” says Royal Caribbean’s Harri Kulovaara. “That means more entertainment options and better amenities.”

Make no mistake, Genesis will be no lumbering behemoth. The ship’s three main propellers will swivel 360 degrees on independent bearings. All will be driven by electric motors powered by the ship’s central bank of six diesel generators, and steered by an integrated navigation and control system. From the bridge, the captain will be able to move the ship in any direction — forward, backward, sideways — with the flick of a joystick. No tugboats required.

Other Large Cruise Ships

Knock Nevis
Knock Nevis
Claim to fame Largest ship ever (now retired)
Length 1504 feet
Displacement 564,763 tons
Launched 1981
Capacity 4.1 million barrels

Emma Maersk
Emma Maersk
Claim to fame Longest ship (in service)
Length 1303 feet
Displacement 156,907 tons
Launched 2006
Capacity 11,000 shipping containers

USS Ronald Reagan
USS Ronald Reagan
Claim to fame Largest warship
Length 1092 feet
Displacement 98,235 tons
Launched 2003
Capacity 85 aircraft and a crew of over 6000

Friday, June 13, 2008

Wireless Maritime Services Announces New Contract with Royal Caribbean Ltd.

New Contract Will Continue Cellular Service at Sea

Wireless Maritime Services (WMS), the world leader in providing cellular service to the cruise line industry, announced today that they have signed a new five year contract to continue providing cellular at sea wireless service to guests and crew members on all ships from Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. and Celebrity Cruises. New ships entering the fleets are also included under this agreement.

WMS service allows both Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise line guests and crew members, with a qualified plan, to use their cell phones as they currently do on land while the ship is at sea away from land based cellular phone service. Connectivity is activated when each ship leaves port and turned off when in range of land-based providers. WMS is providing uninterrupted service to guests so they can stay in touch with family, friends or business associates back home while they enjoy the experiences of their cruise. Guests can make and receive calls, send text messages and surf the internet at rates similar to roaming internationally.

“We are excited about the new contract with WMS, both for the existing fleet and for new ships planned in the upcoming years,” said Royal Caribbean’s Director of Hotel Technology, Patrick Manuel. “As the world has changed, we saw the need to allow the guests and crew to stay connected, in a convenient way, to those back home. The signing of the new contract signals our recognition of the commitment WMS has shown for both service and support.”

“We are very excited to have grown the depth and breadth of our relationship with Royal Caribbean and Celebrity,” said Leighton Carroll, President and CEO of WMS. “We pride ourselves on delivering the best products and services to our customers, and this renewal is an indication of the value we bring to cruise line passengers and crew. Royal Caribbean International is a terrific company and we are very proud to have them as our customer.”

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

MSC Cruises Ideal Family Cruise Vacations

There are many additional benefits for families traveling with MSC Cruises. For the perfect holiday experience and those looking to combine a family escape with the desire to discover new places, without sacrificing the requirements of varying age groups, MSC Cruises has it all.

On board an MSC Cruise ship there is an entire team especially selected to cater for the specific needs of all ages - including the youngest guests. On all the ships in the fleet there is a special area exclusively dedicated to the under 18’s – cheerful and colorful, safe and equipped play areas for every different age group. MSC Cruise ships are completely child friendly, offering daily entertainment and plenty of space for running, exploring, diving, swimming and, most important of all...playing!

In addition, the MSC Kid’s Club provides specialized entertainers to organize fun activities for teenagers. Younger brothers or sisters will not be left out, as the staff will divide the children into two or three groups according to their ages: children from 3 to 9 in the Mini Club, those from 9 to 13 in the Juniors Club, and the over 13s in the Teenagers Club.

MSC Cruises also offer a Teen’s Card. This personalized credit card will provide children aged 12 to 17, with more freedom of movement and allow them to spend small sums on board. Two options are on offer - from 30 euros (with bonus addition of 5 euros) and 50 euros (with bonus addition of 10 euros). These can be used on board like a proper credit card as well as a cruise card. When you board the ship you’ll be given a flyer describing all the benefits and an order form. This way, your Teens’ Card will be delivered directly to your cabin.

Mums will be delighted with the decidedly Italian food offer, including kid’s favorites such as pasta and pizza. There are special menus (Stellar, Polar, Jungle, Farm) without mentioning the thousands of tantalizing pastries and desserts. Plus, if it’s someone’s birthday during the cruise, a fantastic birthday cake will be served at the end of dinner, including the candles!
Knowing you’ve entrusted your kids to our expert (and really friendly) staff, you can sunbathe without having to remember their sunblock and sun-hats. You can take a dip in the pool without sparing a thought of armbands or rubber rings....! You can indulge yourself by relaxing or keeping fit in the exclusive SPA, unwinding with a Turkish bath, an aromatic massage or a session at the fitness centre... to be followed with an evening enjoying a flutter in the casino.

If you want to enjoy an excursion for the whole family, MSC Cruises also offer really great prices with a 30% discount for children under 14¥!

Currently, MSC Cruises have fabulous limited last-minute special Mediterranean cruises for travel in September, October and November 2008. Cruise with MSC on a selected departure AND book an airfare with us to receive an extra $500^≠pp off your airfare. Call MSC Cruises for these fabulous offers.


CHILDREN CRUISE FREE – With MSC Cruises children under 18 sharing a cabin with their parents cruise free throughout the year!

FAMILY CABINS – The 7 night Mediterranean cruises on board MSC Poesia, MSC Orchestra, MSC Musica and MSC Opera offer family cabins on various decks at a range of prices, giving the greatest amount of comfort, pleasure and peace for a family cruise holiday.

With MSC Cruises you can find the ideal holiday for all the family. All you have to do is choose where you want to go. You can choose a cruise in the western Mediterranean or a journey amongst the beautiful Greek islands or the fascinating ancient sites of Turkey.

MSC Cruises currently has a fleet of nine ships: MSC Poesia third flagship of the “Musica” class, MSC Orchestra, MSC Musica, MSC Sinfonia, MSC Opera, MSC Armonia, MSC Lirica, MSC Melody, MSC Rhapsody , cruising in the Mediterraneanall year round, Northern Europe, Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean and South America. The fleet will increase to12 ships by 2010. In the winter of 2008 the MSC Fantasia will launch, followed in the spring of 2009 by MSCSplendida. These will be two of the largest ships built by a European ship owner. Then in 2010 MSC Magnifica, thefourth ship in the Musica class will enter service.MSC Cruises is a partner of the city of Venice and a member of the Club - 'Friends of Venice' as well as one of thesupporters for the project 'Venice Blue Flag' which sets the standards for the carbon emissions.

Small Ships Becoming More Popular with Cruisers

Size matters to cruisers who savor the joys of seeing the world up close and personal on a small ship.

In these days of ever-expanding megaships, with thousands of passengers pouring off at each port, there's something to be said about the more personal and intimate aspects of small-ship sailing.

We're talking small compared with Royal Caribbean's three enormous Freedom-class ships, including the new Independence of the Seas, carrying 3,634 passengers and thousands of crew.

Cruise Lines International Association says there are about 50 ships carrying from 50 to several hundred passengers, providing the chance to explore the world from a more personal perspective.

With their smaller size, the ships can visit the inland capitals of Europe and Asia, tiny islands in the tropics, somewhat undiscovered ports in the Middle East, remote coves and bays in Alaska, the U.S. Intra-Coastal Waterway and more.

Getting on and off the ship is much easier, with docking in the centre of the action of many destinations, and sightseeing is without crowds -- often in places where there are few other visitors.

Anyone who cruises knows how crowded and hectic ports are where several large ships have dropped anchor or tied up to the pier on the same day.

It's enough to keep some veteran cruisers on board where it's more relaxed than fighting the crowds on shore.

Here's a look at some of the small-ship cruise opportunities.

- Silversea Cruises' (www.silversea.com) Prince Albert II is an exploration ship carrying 132 guests on expeditions to the Arctic, Antarctica and many points in between.

In its inaugural season, Mexican Sea of Cortez expeditions in September will have eight Zodiac boats for up-close viewing of birds, dolphins, whales and sea lions.

The line's Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper, each holding 382 passengers, and Silver Cloud and Silver Wind, accommodating 296 guests, offer worldwide itineraries with ocean-view suite accommodations.

- Windstar Cruises (www.windstarcruises.com) has three sailing yachts, Wind Spirit, Wind Star and Wind Surf, for that pampered luxury experience.

Carrying 148 to 312 passengers, they visit the hidden harbors and secluded coves of some of the world's most sought-after destinations.

They ply the seas to 50 countries, calling at 100 ports throughout Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas. This includes voyages through the Greek Islands and in-depth explorations of Costa Rica.

- Seabourn Cruise Line's (www.seabourn.com) yachts for 208 guests will be joined next year by the larger 450-passenger Seabourn Odyssey.

On the Seabourn Pride, Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Legend, staff members almost outnumber the passengers who dine on gourmet cuisine created by celebrity chef Charlie Palmer and enjoy signature experiences such as Caviar in the Surf.

Along with world cruises and transatlantic crossings, Seabourn voyages cover the world from Asia to Europe to the Americas and Caribbean.

- Seadream Yacht Club's (www.seadream.com) two 110-passenger ships, SeaDream I and SeaDream II, have a water sports marina offering equipment for enjoyment right off the ship.

From May through October, they offer seven-night itineraries to classical yachting ports in the French and Italian Riviera, Costa del Sol, the Amalfi Coast, Greek Islands and the Adriatic and Black Seas.

In the winter, SeaDream visits some of the most exclusive islands in the Caribbean, including St. Barts, Virgin Gorda, Jost van Dyke and the Grenadines.

Other options include:

- Majestic American Line (www.majesticamericaline.com) offers cruises of the mighty Mississippi River and U.S. waterways.

The legendary paddle wheelers Delta Queen (in its last season) and the newer American Queen ply the Mississippi, while the line also offers sailings in Alaska and the rivers of the Northwest U.S.

- American Cruise Lines' (www.americancruiselines.com) four ships carry up to 100 passengers with amenities such as onboard naturalists and historians. The American Star, Spirit, Glory and Eagle sail the U.S. East Coast, including the Rivers of Florida, Antebellum South, Mid-Atlantic Inland Passage, Chesapeake Bay, Hudson River, Maine and New England Islands.

- Hurtigruten (www.hurtigruten.us), formerly Norwegian Coastal Voyage, specializes in cruises along the coast of Norway and popular sailings to Antarctica and Greenland.

- Uniworld Grand River Cruises (www.uniworld.com) offers itineraries on 12 rivers in 20 countries across four continents, including Europe, Russia, Egypt and China.

- Pearl Seas Cruises (www.pearlseascruises.com) will begin service next year for voyages in the Caribbean along with the Maritimes, St. Lawrence Seaway and Thousand Islands, a circumnavigation of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and the Great Lakes.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Europe Cruises Very Popular

Cruise Lines are Increasingly Big In Europe

Like a growing number of British vacationers, Richard Scott has gotten hooked on cruising the past few years. And yet he's never seen anything quite like Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas.

"This ship's a bustle of activity," says the 31-year-old scaffolding worker from Southampton, England, talking just steps away from the ship's four-story rock-climbing wall — a Royal Caribbean signature. "It's an amazing thing to see."

In just two days on board, Scott has scaled the rock-climbing wall, boogie-boarded on the ship's SurfRider wave pool, played miniature golf and gone to a show in the world's largest theater at sea. And he hasn't even made it to half of the 15-deck ship's attractions, which also include an ice-skating rink, a boxing ring and a luxurious spa.

"It's a big ship," says Scott, one of several thousand primarily British residents who sailed on its maiden voyage earlier this month out of Southampton. "But I like it big. There are a lot more things to do."

Traditionally cruise lines have launched their newest, most groundbreaking ships in the Caribbean, long the hub of the Cruise World. But the 3,634-passenger, 160,000-ton Independence, one of the three largest ships ever built, will spend its entire first season sailing out of the British port.

The deployment marks the first time a line has based a ship of this size in Europe and is a sign of just how important the Continent has become to cruise lines. Indeed, in some ways Europe is the new Caribbean — the place every cruise company worth its bunker oil wants to be.

"Europe is the hottest story in cruising these days," says Mike Driscoll, editor of industry watcher Cruise Week. "It's reaching the point where if a line has trouble selling a ship (anywhere else in the world), they pack up and move her to Europe."

Driscoll notes that cruise-ship capacity in Europe this year will be up an astounding 23%, even as capacity in the Caribbean drops by 5% — the first time on record that year-over-year growth in Caribbean capacity has been down.

Royal Caribbean alone will have a record seven ships in Europe this summer. Rival Holland America is sending six ships, including its newest and biggest vessel, the Eurodam, making its debut in Rotterdam on July 1. And even Carnival, a line synonymous with fun-in-the-sun Caribbean cruises, will base its newest, most advanced ship, Carnival Splendor, in England when it arrives in July.

A New Way to Do the Grand Tour

The growth is partly in response to demand from North American vacationers, who are more than ever looking at Europe for their next big voyage, says Richard Meadows, the head of sales, marketing and guest programs at Holland America.

"The driver is the value," says Meadows, noting that the weak dollar has made Europe prohibitively expensive for the more than 5 million Americans who take land-based vacations there each year. Cruises in Europe, by contrast, remain reasonably priced, he says. "The exchange rate is the single biggest thing that is driving the success of Europe (cruises) right now."

Meadows notes that Holland America has been selling 10-night European cruises this year for as little as $1,499 per person — or about $150 a day. That's a lot less than U.S. vacationers will pay for a comparable European experience if staying in hotels on land, he says.

"People can do the math," he says. "They recognize the value."

In effect, cruise ships are becoming the new way to do the old Grand Tour of Europe — an "if it's Tuesday it must be Barcelona" blitz around the highlights of the Mediterranean or the Baltic.

But growing demand from U.S. vacationers isn't the only factor behind the drive to deploy more ships to the region. Even more significant, many executives say, is the growth in demand from Europeans who are just discovering cruising.

"We're seeing the same phenomenon we saw in the United States 10 to 15 years ago," says Richard Fain, the CEO of Royal Caribbean. "We're getting a critical mass of people (in Europe) who now have taken a cruise, and they're telling their friends and co-workers — in effect becoming missionaries for cruising."

Fain notes that less than 3% of Europeans have taken a cruise, a far smaller percentage than the estimated 15% of Americans who have tried one. But Fain says the growth pattern among Europeans is almost identical to what he saw in the early days with Americans, and Europeans are "a great untapped market."

The Mediterranean and Baltic, he notes, are to Europeans what the Caribbean was to Americans — an easy-to-reach, low-cost cruise destination right in their own backyard.

Tea Makers and Indian Dishes

One of the byproducts of the rapid growth in the number of Europeans cruising is that many of the ships sailing there are taking on a more international flavor.

Some North American-based lines with ships in Europe, such as the Disney Cruise Line, still cater almost exclusively to Americans on their European voyages. But Susan Hooper, the head of Royal Caribbean's European operation, says more than 50% of bookings this year for the line's cruises in Europe are from Europeans, putting Americans in the minority on board. On the Independence, which is sailing out of Southampton through the summer, more than 80% of passengers will be British, she says.

The influx of non-American cruisers has prompted U.S.-based lines to tinker with their ships before sending them across the Atlantic. Royal Caribbean, for instance, has added more Indian dishes, a favorite of British vacationers, to the buffet on the Independence. The line also has had to beef up its supply of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio wines, which the British drink far more than the Chardonnay preferred by many Americans. And in one widely reported nod to its growing British customer base, Royal Caribbean has added tea makers in every cabin onboard the Independence.

So far, Hooper says, Americans aren't complaining about the changes. "If you get (the atmosphere) right for the Europeans, the Americans love it, too," she says.

Another byproduct of the growth in European cruises is increased crowding in popular ports.

"There are some small ports such as Dubrovnik and Venice that do have overcrowding, and they've got to put their foot down," says Hooper, an advocate for limitations on ship arrivals in Europe's more intimate destinations.

Hooper says with more ships heading to Europe, lines are looking for new, less-visited places to stop. Watch for more port calls in countries along the bottom of the Mediterranean in North Africa — places such as Tunisia, a gateway to the Roman-era ruins of Carthage.

Not Just a Summer Fling

Another sign of the boom in European cruising is that major U.S.-based lines are beginning to place ships there year-round, something that was unthinkable just a few years ago. Norwegian Cruise Line announced in February that the 2,400-passenger Norwegian Jade, originally scheduled to spend this summer in Europe, would remain on the Continent year-round through at least 2010. Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas, meanwhile, will begin year-round cruising out of Barcelona this winter.

Europe traditionally has been a summer-only destination for cruise ships. But in recent years the season has expanded, starting as early as April and continuing for some ships until November.

The arrival of year-round deployments in Europe means ships will stay during the less-appealing winter months. But while the colder weather is a downside, "there's a lot of benefits for cruisers to winter trips," says Norwegian executive Andy Stuart. "It's less crowded, and the airfares (to fly from the USA to the ships) are half the price that they are in summer."

Airfares, indeed, are a growing issue for cruisers thinking of booking European trips — and a wildcard that some say could derail the rapid growth of European cruising. With the cost of oil soaring, airfares to Europe have been rising rapidly.

"The lines have done a good job with air promotions" that have kept air costs down, notes Driscoll. But the lines had negotiated bulk-rate fares with the airlines "before the fuel prices went out of control. Now, they're negotiating for bulk seats at a time when fuel is over $125 a barrel."

That said, the growth in European cruising is going to continue, says Driscoll, noting the big cruise companies have continued to order new ships for the European market — even as they slow ordering for North America. "Ships for the European market continue full throttle."

By Gene Sloan
USA Today; May 30, 2008