Monday, December 28, 2009

The Ocean Village Cruise Ship Ends Operations In Caribbean

Caribbean Press Releases

The Ocean Village Cruise Ship has had a successful 6 year run.  Tobagonians have become accustomed to seeing the colourful and inviting vessel pull into the Scarborough port every other week during the summer. However, September 2010 will be the last opportunity to view this vessel.

Carnival Cruises UK has announced that by the end of 2010 Ocean Village will cease operations as a brand and the ships will be transferred to the P&O Australia Cruises. The ship Ocean Village which continues to operate Caribbean cruises until next fall will be renamed to Pacific Pearl.

In 2003 Ocean Village commences operations with the tag line “The cruise for people who don’t do cruises” and  offered the British public a relaxed cruise experience, similar to Norwegian Cruise Line Freestyle cruising.

Ocean Village successfully appealed to first-time-type cruisers by "tearing up the cruising rule book" and targeting the "Dress Down Friday" generation. The cruise line strongly supported casual dress, sporty activities, eating-when-you-please, stand-up comics and rock concert-style entertainment.  Freedom and casual experience has been the mantra everyday on Ocean Village. Specifically, none of the restaurants have dress codes and there are no formal evenings, so the cruise was great for those who like to pack light and for those who avoid formal attire.

The Caribbean and Tobago in particular will continue to see cruise ships from the Carnival family member P&O Cruises, as the Oceana, Artemis and Ventura continue to ply their routes with formal cruises providing great cruise vacations.

Ocean Village Two has already ceased its Caribbean duty and is now part of the P&O Australia Cruises fleet, sailing under the name Pacific Jewel.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holiday Travel Increases Nationwide

My West Texas

Although the percentage of Americans traveling this holiday season is expected to increase by nearly 4 percent from last year, local experts say that may not be the case in the Permian Basin.

According to AAA, about 87.7 million Americans will travel 50 miles or farther during the weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year’s, up from 84.5 million in 2008.

In Midland, though, travel agents say many people still are holding tighter to their wallets and choosing to stay close to the Tall City this holiday season.

“It’s been that way all year,” said C.W. Porter at Amera Travel Network.

Those who are traveling, Porter said, mostly are looking for a warm getaway and are booking trips to Mexico or Caribbean cruises.

Vicki Johnson with Adventure Travel agreed, saying adults without kids are flocking to Cancun and various warm destinations. Families, she said, are choosing places like Disney World.

Instead of taking major trips that require high-priced airfares, managers at resorts in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico said many Texans are deciding to drive to their venues for part of the holiday season.

Lajitas Resort and Spa’s reservation manager Terri Thate said they have several families already in town and are expecting their largest crowd over the New Year’s holiday when occupancy rates will reach more than 90 percent. That’s still not where they want them, she said, but is much higher than on an average weekend this year.

At The Lodge at Sierra Blanca in Ruidoso, N.M., Ryan Reynolds said they’re nearly sold out for the remainder of the month and have several families coming in to ski. In previous years, he said, the resort has required guests to stay for a minimum number of nights if they’re making a reservation. This year, though, they took the rule away and have seen business increase since families have cheaper options if they want to visit for just a night or two.

About 77.7 million Americans are expected to travel by automobile, according to AAA, which is an about 4.4 percent increase from 2008.

AAA anticipates air travel will increase by about 2.9 percent with 4.2 million traveling by plane compared to 4.1 million in 2008.

Those traveling by either method, travel agents said, are likely paying more than  previously because the airline industry has shrunk its offerings by 3 to 4 percent. Gas prices are up about 90 cents from where they were at this time last year, according to

Johnson said those planning travel at the last minute are paying the highest prices as most deals were grabbed by those who made reservations six months ago.

Because airlines have decreased their offerings, Porter said, those who are traveling via Midland International Airport still will see crowds on board. At this point, he said, anyone who hasn’t booked a flight will have trouble finding an outbound seat.

“There are definitely no deals in the airline industry,” he said.

And while locals said it hasn’t quite become the case in Midland yet, AAA officials say the increase in travel despite these pricing conditions is a sign citizens are more at ease about the economy.

“More Americans traveling and taking advantage of Mexico cruise specials during the winter holidays is another sign consumers are continuing to grow more confident in their personal financial situations,” said AAA’s director of Travel Services Glen MacDonell in a statement.

The Transportation Security Administration is advising travelers to arrive at the airport with patience since the holidays typically mean larger volumes of inexperienced travelers.

Packed flights also will mean any cancellations made due to weather around the country could cause more chaos than in previous years since there won’t be many openings on alternative flights.

“Really there’s not a lot you can do,” Johnson said, adding the possibility of bad weather is enough to keep many families at home.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

January Snows Mean Travel Sales

NY Times

FOR years, Linda Graef Jones planned the family ski vacation over Christmas or during Presidents’ Day week, to coincide with her children’s school vacation. That meant paying the usual holiday premiums for airfare and lodging, and dealing with throngs of skiers and snowboarders on the mountain. This year, with both her children in colleges that have longer winter breaks, she is going in January instead.

“January is currently the softest-looking month for cruise pricing of the year,”

“It was a no-brainer,” said Ms. Graef Jones, a sales executive for an insurance brokerage firm in New York. She had a variety of less expensive flights to choose from, she said, and estimates she is saving more than $500 a night on the cost of the condominium. “Lodging was relatively inexpensive,” she said, and without the crowds, “you can ski and get a lot out of your expensive pass.”

Also, she added, “it’s nice to get out of the holiday craziness.”

January may be the best time of year to take a vacation, as passenger traffic drops and resorts, airlines and cruise companies all roll out deals. Yet the start of the year is often overlooked when it comes to vacation planning: families return to school schedules and New Year’s reveling is traded for resolutions of eating in, working out and spending less. And it’s no wonder. People are tired, or broke, or dreading the thought of getting on another plane.

“You could call it vacation fatigue,” said Evan Eggers, president of the cruise vacation site But a lot of travelers are missing out. It’s a great time to travel, Mr. Eggers said, “since you’re escaping the cold and getting a killer deal.”

Just how killer? Discounts range from 30 to 50 percent compared with the holidays and other busy travel periods. Hilton Hotels just introduced a January Sale with weekend rates 33 percent off hotels in North and South America. The average domestic airfare for a weeklong trip departing Saturdays in January is $274 round trip, according to Bing Travel, the Microsoft search engine that predicts airfare prices. That’s down from about $447 on average for Christmas week.

January and February also have the fewest airline passengers, according to the Department of Transportation, easing the airport experience. And with fewer crowds, you could have that beach or fresh powder trail all to yourself.

So it’s time to shake off that holiday hangover and plan a trip. But don’t just jump at the first cheap fare that comes your way. Think about what you want to do once you get there in order to find the best destination for your budget. Though Florida beckons with bargains, the water can be chilly in the winter, and temperatures, while warm, tend to hover in the 70s or even lower. So you may want to look farther south to Caribbean cruises. But if pub crawls and hot springs are your thing, Reykjavik may be just the place, with two-night packages, including flights from New York or Boston, from $499 a person at

To help you plan your post-holiday escape, here are some of the best bargains for popular winter getaways, whether you’re seeking, sun, snow or a cruise vacation.

Sun lovers: It’s high-season for cold-weather getaways like Hawaii cruises and the Caribbean, where warm sands beckon sun worshipers, and discounts tend to be scarce. But it’s still a heck of a lot cheaper than it was over Christmas. And some resorts are offering extra incentives to fill rooms in January. The Reef Resort on Grand Cayman has Summer in January rates from $230 a night, down from $325. On Nevis, Nisbet Plantation Beach Club is offering seven nights for the price of six with its January Thaw package. The deal starts at $3,750 based on double occupancy — $630 less than a similar package over the holidays — and includes daily breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner.

Hawaii’s deals may soon dry up as Alaska, Continental, Delta and Hawaiian Airlines add flights next year, bringing more visitors. So strike now to nab a bargain like $135 a night with breakfast at the Hotel Renew, half a block from Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. On the Kohala Coast, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, normally $600 a night, has rooms from $450 with a fourth night free.

Deal seekers may get the most bang for their buck from Mexico cruises, which are still offering discounts to win back visitors scared off by reports of Mexican gang and drug violence and the H1N1 outbreak earlier this year. Fares are about 40 percent less to Cancún in January on average compared with the December holidays, 34 percent less to Puerto Vallarta and 30 percent less to San Jose del Cabo, according to

Occidental Hotels & Resorts, which has six all-inclusive properties in Mexico, is running a winter sale with rates starting at $81 a person a night at the Allegro Nuevo Vallarta, north of Puerto Vallarta, for travel beginning Jan. 4.

Snowhounds: The snow is falling and so are prices at ski resorts this January. Four nights and three-day lift tickets at the Village at Squaw Valley near Truckee, Calif., start at $828 a person, according to, down from $1,115 a person last January and $1,383 a person in December. Bachelor Gulch Village in Beaver Creek, Colo., is offering 25 percent off lodging, a $50 resort credit and three-day lift tickets for the price of two, bringing four nights in a two-bedroom with three days on the mountain to $642 a person when four people share a room. Last January a similar package was $868 and didn’t include resort credits or the lift-ticket special.

Vancouver may seem out of reach as it readies itself for the 2010 Winter Olympics in February. But it’s cheap if you go now. “Visitors assume the host city is busy in the months leading up to the Olympics,” said Emily Armstrong, a spokeswoman for Tourism Vancouver. “We’re not.”

For less than $400 a person, skiers can fly round trip to Vancouver from San Francisco or Denver and stay two nights at the Fairmont Hotel with United Vacations, Jan. 11 to 28, according to, and hit the local ski slopes at Grouse Mountain, Cypress and Mount Seymour.

Cruisers: “January is currently the softest-looking month for cruise pricing of the year,” said Evan Eggers of The average price of a seven-night cruise on major lines such as Princess Cruises is about $600 a person, he said, compared with $900 in December.

Some cruise lines have adopted airline-style yield-management strategies and are now changing prices multiple times a day, according to Mr. Eggers. Travelers can check for such rate cuts by clicking on Price Cut Tattletale at and sorting by date, line or region. There was a 7-night Western Caribbean cruise from Galveston, Tex., starting at $420 a person (down from $2,033) on Royal Caribbean Cruises, for example, in a recent search for January; a $650 a person (down from $2,464) 14-night Amazon River cruise from Manaus Brazil to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Princess; and a $300 (down from $2,599) seven-night Hawaii cruise on Norwegian.

Another site for spotting deals is And if all you want is a diversion, consider Norwegian’s one-night sail to nowhere on the Norwegian Gem, from just $159 a person. It departs New York on Jan. 2 and 23, cruising about seven miles out to sea so it can open the casino and duty-free shops, and then returns to its starting point.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Larger Cruise Ships Tempt Seniors

NY Daily News

Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Disney and others  have or are about to launch massive new state-of-the-art ships that offer activities, services and amenities never before available on the high seas.

That’s sure to interest a group that’s always helped fill the ships: older vacationers.

“The 65 and over crowd are always excited to hear about the new ships,” said Jill Rosenberg, manager of group travel sales at AAA New York Travel in Garden City, L.I. Nonetheless, she added, “For repeat cruisers, I have found that they often appreciate staying with what’s familiar and will often return to the same cruise line, and even the same ship, year after year.”

Last summer, to celebrate turning 80, Virginia Byrnes invited her extended family − 15 people aged 9 to 80 − on a five-day cruise to Mexico on Royal Caribbean.

“I wanted my whole family together to celebrate my birthday,” said Byrnes, whose family comes from around Manhattan and Long Island. “If we stayed at a resort instead of taking a cruise, we would have been too spread out, and we would have needed at least three or four cars to get around to restaurants and activities. Cruise ships are ideal for traveling conveniently with groups.”

Everyone enjoyed meals together but, in between, people went off to various activities.

“I enjoyed swimming everyday, the dining and the shows at night. The adults in the group enjoyed gambling at night after I went to bed, while the kids participated in the camplike activities offered aboard the ship during the day,” Byrnes said.

“We had the best time, and this was my best birthday ever.”

The newest cruise ships offer a lot more than sundecks, swimming pools and shuffleboard to entertain seniors. While not everyone will try a rock climbing wall or indoor ice skating rink, the golf driving ranges, world-class day spas and land excursions are a big hit.

“Everyone has different budgets, physical limitations and expectations. There are cruises available to fit everyone’s needs, including people with physical or dietary limitations,” Rosenberg said.

When reviewing cruise info that describes land excursions, the cruise lines now rate them based on how strenuous they are.

“Make sure you choose activities that are within your physical abilities,” Rosenberg said.

To find the best prices on cruise packages including Mexico cruises, contact the cruise lines directly, work with a travel agent and visit online services, especially for last-minute deals.

Some of the newest ships have created unusual cruising environments.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Oasis of the Seas, for example, pays homage to Central Park on one full deck, even adding cafés and shopping.

When Norwegian Cruise Lines launches a ship named Epic next summer, it will offer a bar made entirely of ice.

“The cruise lines are trying hard to make the cruise ship itself into the vacation destination. Where the ship actually travels to is now almost secondary for many passengers,” Rosenberg said.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Top Cruise, Travel Destinations For 2010

 USA Today

Poised to claim their time in the spotlight, destinations around the world are taking center stage with big festivals or anniversaries, massive new developments, or just particularly good deals. If you're looking to be where the action is in 2010, consider a trip to:


Been waiting for the right time to visit Germany? Then dust off your passport and practice your "Guten Tag!" 2010 stands out as a year chock-full of memorable, unique, and rare events. And increased air service from the U.S. puts it all closer.

For something a little different, how about coal mining complexes turned art and cultural centers? That's what you'll find in the Ruhr, a region once known primarily for coal and steel, which has transformed itself and earned the European Capital of Culture designation for 2010. The 53 cities comprising the region will host more than 300 projects and 2,500 events during the year. The extravaganzas include "!Sing," a day of song with 65,000 performers; the "Still Life A40," during which a 60-kilometer long banqueting table will be set up along a closed highway and the public invited; and "ExtraShift," an art and performance festival in 40 venues on June 19.

Watch for discount Germany cruise deals to Hamburg. Hamburg is a busy harbor city situated along the Elbe River cruises in North Germany, and owes much of its architecture to the rebuilding done in the late 19th and early 20th centuries after a massive fire. World War II also inflicted severe damage, but the city's medieval character is still evident thanks to post-war restorations. The skyline features an extraordinary backdrop of church spires, architectural landmarks and towers, and the whole of the city serves as a gateway to the neighboring capital of Berlin.

Once a decade for the last 375 years, villagers in the Bavarian town of Oberammergau put on a play re-enacting the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The five-hour Passion Play has a cast of more than 2,000 villagers, and attracts an audience from around the world. Tickets to the play, which will be staged 102 times between May and October, are already sold out, but a number of tour operators are still offering accommodations-and-tickets packages.

More anniversaries and festivals round out Germany's 2010 offerings. September marks the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest in Munich. Leipzig and other cities will celebrate the 200th birthday of composer Robert Schumann (this website is in German only) with concerts. And Nuremburg's Railway Year (in German only), complete with train-themed art, a locomotive parade, and special exhibitions, will honor the 175th anniversary of the country's first train.

Germany will be easier to get to in 2010. Starting on March 27, Continental will begin daily nonstop service between Newark and Munich. And in May, Air Berlin, Germany's second largest airline, will begin nonstop service between San Francisco and Dusseldorf.

Worried about the cost of a Germany vacation or Germany cruises? The German National Tourist Board offers tips for keeping costs down on accommodations, transportation, and more.


Is Singapore the next Las Vegas or Dubai? New mega-resorts, iconic buildings, and over-the-top entertainment are shaking up the destination's staid reputation. And in 2010, Singapore will host the first Youth Olympic Games.

Three massive projects are set to open in 2010. A major Las Vegas developer has reached a golden finger across the Pacific to create the Marina Bay Sands, the first casino and resort in Singapore. The resort, set to open this winter, includes three hotel towers topped by a "sky park" with gardens, 360-degree views, restaurants, and a swimming pool. The resort will also house a museum, whose architecture was inspired by the shape of a lotus blossom, as well as a mall with shops, restaurants, cafes, and an indoor canal.

Across from the Marina Bay Sands, big things are afoot at the Fullerton Heritage Complex, a massive waterfront dining, entertainment, and hotel development. In early 2010, the new boutique Fullerton Bay Hotel will join the refurbished luxury Fullerton Hotel in offering waterfront accommodations close to downtown.

Also opening early in 2010 is Resorts World at Sentosa, a family-centric destination island with a Universal Studios theme park and the world's largest oceanarium. Hotels on the island will include a Hard Rock Hotel and the Michael-Graves' designed Hotel Michael.

Set sail on Royal Caribbean Cruises, Legend of the Seas in Asia. Sail from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur and Penang on a 3 Nights cruise of Asia. Savour your Asian Cruise and take in the delights offered on board Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Legend of the Seas on the 3 Nights Asian Cruise.

An entire island of entertainment won't be the only thing to draw families to Singapore this year. In August, the destination will host the first Youth Olympic Games, drawing young athletes from around the world to compete in 26 events, including track, gymnastics, and swimming. Nearly 400,000 tickets, priced to be affordable, will go on sale in March. Each ticket includes a free day of travel on Singapore's public transportation system.

Visitors looking to stopover in Singapore this winter can check out Singapore Air's Stopover special, which includes accommodations and dining discounts, plus attraction and transportation passes.


2010 is set to be a banner year in Tampa. The city will see the opening of a new theme park (no, not The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, that's Orlando), art museum, and children's museum, providing visitors with plenty of new reasons beyond the beach to pay a visit.

Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street? Sure. This spring, Busch Gardens will open the Sesame Street Safari of Fun, a playland packed with rides, shows, and other amusements, including the "Air Grover" junior roller coaster and the watery "Oscar's Swamp Stomp."

Tucked inside Tampa Bay on Florida's west coast, it's really no surprise that Tampa has evolved as a year-round bustling home port for Tampa cruises with mostly Western Caribbean and Panama Canal itineraries. Its red-hot waterfront is jam-packed with sights, sounds and surf, and is just a hop, skip and a jump away from century-old St. Petersburg and from Clearwater, one of Florida's best beaches.

The fall 2010 opening of the Glazer Children's Museum provides another reason to bring the kids to Tampa. The 53,000-square-foot museum will be a place for children to learn, create, and play. Kids can follow the journey of a water drop from a climbing structure, pilot a plane, or dress up like firefighters and put out imaginary fires.

On February 6, the Tampa Museum of Art will open a new facility in downtown Tampa. In its new digs, the museum will continue to host traveling exhibitions in addition to adding to its permanent collections of classical and contemporary art.

Tampa is well-connected to the rest of the U.S., and with air service from low-cost carriers including AirTran, JetBlue, and Southwest, airfares tend to stay competitively priced.


It's no secret that Iceland is a great deal right now. Iceland's currency still hasn't recovered from the economic crisis, and that means a very favorable exchange rate for visitors looking to soak in the Blue Lagoon, hike glaciers, and dance all night. With 10,000 waterfalls, geo-thermal pools galore, and a nightlife and music scene that draws crowds from around the world, there are plenty of ways to stretch each dollar.

While most destinations saw fewer visitors last year, Iceland actually welcomed more than in years past. Lonely Planet just named Iceland a top-value pick for 2010, and Travel + Leisure called it one of the world's sexiest affordable destinations.

It used to be that if you wanted to go to Iceland, your choices were to fly Icelandair or swim. But that will change in 2010, when Icelandic low-cost carrier Iceland Express debuts seasonal service between New York, Reykjavik, and about two dozen European cities in June. When we compared fares, we found Iceland Express prices that undercut established carrier Icelandair's. With two carriers to choose from, we're hoping to see a summer travel fare war fit for the Viking ancestors of Iceland.


With the H1N1 virus and drug-related violence in its Northern cities, Mexico tourism had a rough 2009. But a big anniversary, a strong dollar, and some of the most affordable hotel rates in years promise a brighter 2010 for travelers to Acapulco, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, and other popular spots in Mexico.

This coming year, Mexico will celebrate 200 years of independence. To mark the occasion, Mexico will debut six history routes that follow three military campaigns of the Independence movement and three of the Mexican Revolution. Even if you're not tracing a route, you can still keep an eye out for the "Mexico is My Museum" signs that will identify important points along the routes. A toll-free number will even offer a short informational message about the location.

If you're considering Mexico cruises in the New Year and want to save, let the deals guide your planning. Hotels and resorts around the country are promoting discounts, specially priced packages, and extra amenities thrown in to sweeten the offerings. And package providers like Pleasant Holidays have low rates on air-and-hotel packages plus additional perks such as free car rentals and activity discounts. In recent months, Mexico has been a favorite among airlines promoting frequent flyer award destinations, a trend likely continue well into 2010.

The exchange rate still provides more chances to stretch vacation dollars, and should allow vacationers to do more with their money at least through the first half of the year, and possibly longer.

More destinations to watch in 2010

• Hawaii: A bevy of new routes from Alaska (Sacramento and San Jose to Hawaii in March), Continental (Orange County to Honolulu starting March 7), and US Airways (Charlotte to Honolulu starting December 17, 2009) put Hawaii within reach of more travelers. Plus, Norwegian Cruise Line will add two more Hawaii cruises this spring.

• Istanbul, Turkey: Istanbul celebrates its heritage and vitality as a 2010 European Capital of Culture. Throughout 2010, the city will feature music, literature, theater, traditional arts, and more.

Vancouver: Vancouver is mere months away from welcoming the world to the XXI Olympic Winter Games. For the rest of the year, take advantage of tourism infrastructure improvements without battling Olympic crowds.

Ft. Lauderdale: Both JetBlue and Virgin America have just started service between San Francisco and Ft. Lauderdale, making it easier to get to from the West Coast. Nearby Miami will host the Pro Bowl in January, and the Super Bowl in February, making Ft. Lauderdale a hot spot for sports fans around the country. Ft. Lauderdale is also the new home of the world's largest (for now) cruise ship, Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas.

• Capetown, South Africa: Another hot destination for sports enthusiasts in 2010, Cape Town will host the FIFA World Cup beginning in June.

• Colombia: With Spirit increasing service to Colombia, and more low-cost carrier service from JetBlue, this up-and-coming destination is easier to get to than ever before.

• Cuba: Will 2010 be the year the U.S. eases its travel ban on Cuba? It's certainly a destination to watch this coming year. Watch for 2010 cruise specials.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Sanctuary For Human Wild Life

Sydney Morning Herald

Lounging back, eyes closed, sweet peace and quiet. There's just the gentle rocking of the waves to remind you that about 1900 other passengers also inhabit this cruising superliner, Dawn Princess.

I'm in a special zone where the usual din of the sun-drenched upper decks and the bustle and buzz of holidaymakers at play are absent. There are no kids screaming and splashing in the pool.

No live band belting out classic rock tunes. No cacophony generated by dozens of different conversations carried on simultaneously. No thirsty throng milling three-deep around the bar.

Instead, a cool drink is just a request away. Nearby passengers are as interested in preserving the peace as I am. An extra touch of ostentatious luxury is provided by a "serenity steward" who will come around to spray you with a mist of chilled Evian water if the sun gets too hot.

Aptly named the Sanctuary, this lounging area is Princess Cruises' bid to deliver one of the few luxuries of busy shipboard life found in preciously short supply - solitude.

Unveiled aboard the Crown Princess in the Caribbean in 2006, the Sanctuary concept is being unrolled throughout the cruise line's worldwide fleet, which is part of the Carnival group.

Dawn Princess, which went into dry-dock for a multimillion-dollar refurbishment in June, is the first of its two Australian ships to get the Sanctuary-branded upgrade.

The Sanctuary is on the forward-most section of the top deck, where a combination of distance and headwinds isolates it from much of the noise and activity of the pool deck.

The oasis-inspired space, child-free and partially sheltered by a sunshade, is kitted out with about two dozen plush lounge chairs around a private splash pool. A small army of staff is always on hand to serve complimentary snacks or fill bar orders. At sunset, there are yoga classes.

Access to the Sanctuary isn't part of the standard inclusive cruising package - patrons are charged $20 a half-day - but there's been no shortage of passengers eager for splendid isolation.

"It's been about creating a niche area, a big ship with a small ship feel," says the director of corporate affairs for Carnival Australia, Sandy Olsen. It's only a short stroll back to the party - and Dawn Princess' other new attraction, a massive LED TV above the pool deck, measuring eight metres by 4.5 metres and with a picture powerful enough to be seen in blazing sunlight.

During the day there's a changing schedule of family-friendly films and concert videos. At night, passengers rug up for movies under the stars, with fresh popcorn and bar service.

Last week, Dawn Princess embarked on a two night repositioning cruise from Sydney to Melbourne, where it will be based from November to March. The ship has since departed on a 28-day circumnavigation of Australia, one of the eight itineraries it will sail in Australia and New Zealand in the 2009-10 summer season.

It's expected to be a bumper year. Cruising has had a surge in popularity in recent years, making it one of the few consistently strong and growing sectors of the domestic tourism industry, particularly during the global financial crisis.

The number of passengers for Australia cruises grew by 26 per cent last year, according to the International Cruise Council Australasia. By comparison, the US cruising market - the largest in the world - grew by just 5 per cent and the British market by 12 per cent.

A recent survey by marketing group Cruise Down Under found there are more ships visiting more Australian ports and spending more money than ever before.

A professor of tourism at Edith Cowan University, Ross Dowling, says the Asia-Pacific region has become the fastest growing for cruising. "[Cruising gives] Australians a holiday that's close to home and it's now a lot more affordable in terms of value for money compared to a lot of domestic and international holidays," he says. "There's a real attraction to a holiday that's pretty much all-inclusive.

"They've [ships] become like massive floating resorts, with everything you can think of onboard to cater to all age groups and interests." Carnival Cruises Australia, which represents P&O Cruises and Princess Cruises locally, had just two ships plying Australian waters a few years ago. It will have six by the end of next year.

The Dawn Princess, launched in 1997 and built for $400 million, has a passenger-to-crew ratio of about three to one, with an emphasis on service. Its sister ship, Sun Princess, is due to be fitted with a Sanctuary and LED screen during its scheduled dry dock in April next year.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Are Cruisers Ready For Sexual Chocolate?

USA Today

Remember Sexual Chocolate, the fictional band in Eddie Murphy's 1988 comedy Coming to America?

It's making a comeback next month on, off all places, a cruise ship.

AOL music blog reports the faux band, fronted by Randy Watson (aka Eddie Murphy), will make an appearance on MSC Cruises' Poesia in early January as the ship hosts the eighth annual Jam Cruise in the Caribbean - another in a popular series of themed cruises.

The annual music festival at sea also will see performances by more than a dozen real bands including Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9), Galactic, Jeff Coffin (Dave Matthews Band), Toubab Krewe, the Mother Hips, Maceo Parker, Zappa Plays Zappa and Lotus.

The five-night voyage to the Western Caribbean sets sail Jan. 3 out of Ft. Lauderdale and includes stops in Ocho Rios, Jamaica and Grand Cayman Island.

Results Are In For Princess Cruises' 'Sea The World' Photo Competition

eTravel Blackboard

Princess Cruises passengers have revealed a talent for amateur photography in a recent competition held onboard Dawn Princess’ first world cruise from Sydney.

The cruise line’s “Sea the World” competition was designed to encourage passengers to capture the heart of each of the 42 ports Dawn Princess visited during her three-month long voyage.

Lake Macquarie resident Ron Bender, who sailed the full 104-night world cruise with his wife Cheryle Bender, won first prize of a new digital camera valued at with a touching photograph of a tiny monkey, a Barbary Macaque, inspecting a fellow passenger’s fingernail in Gibraltar. [Right]

Jenny Lourey, Senior Vice President of Carnival Australia, which represents Princess Cruises in Australia, said the competition was a hit with passengers keen to share some of their fantastic experiences on the cruise.

“We were amazed by the creativity of our passengers and their enthusiasm to share their unique experiences around the world with their newfound friends on the cruise,” Ms Lourey said.

“There were so many stunning entries in the competition, the crew said picking a winner was one of the hardest decisions they had to make,” she said.

The 77,000-tonne Dawn Princess is based in Australian waters year-round offering premium cruise holidays.

Dawn Princess’ 2010 world cruise has been selling strongly, with the voyage departing Sydney on May 21 and taking passengers through Asia and the Middle East to Europe, then to the Americas before returning to Sydney. Fares for the full 104-night world cruise start from $30,259 per person twin share for an outside cabin.

The superliner carries 1998 passengers and features close to 1000 staterooms, almost half with private balconies. Ship features include a massive new poolside movie screen to enable passengers to watch movies under the stars and a new child-free Sanctuary retreat, as well as a four-storey atrium, eight restaurants and cafes, seven lounges and bars, four pools and a 550-seat theatre.

Azamara Cruises To Be Reborn As Azamara Club Cruises

USA Today

The recently appointed CEO of Azamara Cruises today announced some big changes for the line, including a new name: Azamara Club Cruises.

In a teleconference with cruise writers, Azamara President and CEO Larry Pimentel said the already upscale brand would become more all-inclusive with everything from wine with dinner to gratuities included in the price of voyages.

Pimentel also said the line will focus much more on the destinations its two ships visit by adding longer port calls and more overnight stays to itineraries.

"We are slowing down the ships rather significantly," says Pimentel, a well-known cruise industry veteran who took over Azamara in July after running SeaDream Yacht Club -- a boutique line known for leisurely paced, port-intensive itineraries. 

Pimentel says the changes will coincide with a notable increase in prices for Azamara's voyages, which he argues have been far too low given the quality of the product.

"Rates already have come up about 20% (in recent weeks), and they will be coming up a lot more," Pimentel told cruise writers, noting the line planned a big price increase to take effect on Dec. 14.

“We’re going to ... allow our guests to not just see the destination, but to live it,” says Pimentel. “Consider destinations like St. Tropez or St. Petersburg, Russia. If you’ve experienced them only by day, you haven’t really experienced them. With Azamara, through more overnight stays and late-night stays, you can.” 

Owned by industry giant Royal Caribbean Cruises, Azamara has struggled to gain traction since it was launched in 2007 as a "deluxe" line designed as a step up from sister brand Celebrity Cruises. The line operates just two 694-passenger ships that formerly belonged to the now defunct Renaissance Cruises, and it's still a relatively unknown quantity to many vacationers. 

Pimentel, who also has served as CEO of Cunard Line and The Yachts of Seabourn Cruises says he spent weeks talking with travel agents, past passengers and cruise writers about how to take the line to a new level and has come up with a new focus for the brand based on four pillars: Destination immersion; extraordinary service; cuisine and wine; and wellness and vigor.

Pimental, notably, also has been allowed to hire his own dedicated management team for the brand, which until now was run on the side by executives at the much larger Celebrity. 

"We have been looking at everything you could possibly imagine (to change), and we are in a very fast-paced mode," Pimentel says of the new team. 

Many of the changes Pimentel announced, including some itinerary changes, will be in effect by April, he says. April also will mark the beginning of included-in-the-price wine being served at lunch and dinner.

Among other items the line will begin including in the price are specialty coffees, sodas and bottled water; self-service laundry machines; and shuttles in port towns -- a nod, says Pimentel, to feedback from customers who have said they don't want to be nickel-and-dimed on a high-end ship.

Pimentel says that by slowing down the ships and spending more time in each port the line will be able to carve out niche cruises offering a more in-depth experience than others. As part of the new focus on ports, the line will be launching more elaborate shore excursions, including two-day packages tailored to overnight calls in places such as Dubrovnik, Croatia and Sorrento, Italy.

“We’re going to ... allow our guests to not just see the destination, but to live it,” says Pimentel. “Consider destinations like St. Tropez or St. Petersburg, Russia. If you’ve experienced them only by day, you haven’t really experienced them. With Azamara Cruise Lines, through more overnight stays and late-night stays, you can.”

Among multi-day packages Pimentel says the line is adding are an overnight tour from Hiroshima to Osaka via bullet train; a three-night experience from Mumbai that includes a visit to the Taj Mahal; and a Grand Egypt tour featuring both the ruins of Luxor and Cairo.

Other unusual themed cruises the line announced today include a Ferrari driving tour in Civitavecchia, Italy; an “In the steps of The Beatles” tour in Liverpool; and an Imperial Russian Court evening at Tsarskoye Selo in St. Petersburg.

As for service, Pimentel says Azamara will be retraining its on-board suite butlers to be true English-style butlers who will "offer that fine balance of anticipatory, pampering, yet non-intrusive service to guests."

Azamara executives also announced the line will launch a loyalty program, “Le Club Voyage,” with specific features and benefits yet to be announced.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Mahogany Bay Cruise Center Officially Opens To Caribbean Cruises

Breaking Travel News

The $62 million Mahogany Bay Cruise Center at Roatan in the Bay Islands officially opened this week and began welcoming cruise ships. The Yachts of Seabourn’s’ 208-passenger Seabourn Legend arrived on Saturday, Nov. 28, followed by discount Princess Cruises’ 3,070-passenger Crown Princess yesterday. Carnival Cruises’ 2,974-passenger Carnival Valor is in port today. Reaction from cruise guests to the new facility has been outstanding.

More than five years in development, and two years under construction, Mahogany Bay Cruise Center encompasses 20 acres of waterfront property and includes a two-berth cruise terminal which can accommodate up to 8,000 passengers daily.  It is a joint project of Carnival Corporation and Roatan businessman Jerry Hynds.

This week’s ship visits are the first of 200 annual ship calls at the new facility, which is expected to host more than 500,000 passengers each year.  In addition to the Yachts of Seabourn, Carnival Cruise Lines, and Princess Cruises, vessels from Holland America Cruises, Costa Cruises, and P&O Cruises, as well as non-Carnival Corporation brands, are expected to call at the new facility, as well.

In addition to a two-ship cruise pier, the Mahogany Bay Cruise Center offers a welcome center along with a variety of retail outlets, including two themed bars, a restaurant and several shops. A transportation hub with the ability to accommodate taxis, rental cars and tour buses, along with a wide range of shore excursion opportunities, which can be purchased on board the cruise vessels, are also available.

Unique to Mahogany Bay is a new chair lift system that takes cruise ship guests from the welcome center to beautiful Mahogany Beach, a 10-acre private island featuring an 825-foot-long white-sand beach with a beach volleyball court and myriad watersports opportunities.  Eight exclusive cabanas are also available for rent.

The “Magical Flying Beach Chair” takes guests on a six-minute ride across nearly 1,200 feet of suspended cables, providing not only convenient beach access but views of the lush countryside as well.  All-day passes for the beach chair lift are $5 per person.  An elevated path is also available for those who prefer to walk.

“The Mahogany Bay Cruise Center not only serves as a gateway to one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful islands but is also a destination unto itself, with a magnificent white-sand beach and a wide range of shops, restaurants and shore excursion opportunities,” said Giora Israel, senior vice president of port and destination development for discount Carnival Cruises.

Untested Waters For Gigantic Cruise Ships

Wall Street Journal

PORT EVERGLADES, Fla. — Oasis of the Seas will make quite a splash Saturday when it embarks on its inaugural seven-day cruise in the Caribbean with some 5,400 passengers aboard.

Towering 20 stories above the sea and nearly as long as four football fields, discount Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.'s newest vessel cost $1.4 billion to build and is about a third larger than any other cruise ship now plying the seas.

And, with its 13 retail shops, 21 pools and 24 restaurants, the ship offers the most outsized example of the cruise industry's bet that huge ships with amenities like multistory cabins and 300-foot water slides will help buck slack demand for cheap Europe cruises.

But Oasis, and several other super-sized ships that will launch soon, face stiff head winds. Cruise lines have been able to fill their ships during the recession, but only by offering steep discount mexico cruises. Yields—the amount they make on each passenger—are down about 15% this year amid a broad drop in consumer spending. Travel agents say they see signs of a turnaround in 2010 cruise bookings, but fourth-quarter demand has remained very soft. And while big cruise-ship companies are still booking profits this year, helped in part by lower fuel costs, their margins have shrunk.

Even some competitors say Royal Caribbean may have gone too far in the size race. Micky Arison, chief executive of Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise company, says his company looked at building a similarly sized ship earlier this decade but decided the profit margins weren't sufficient. There's a market for bigger ships, he says, but one as large as the 225,000-gross-ton Oasis risks having the feel of "a huge mall."

Still, discount Carnival cruises is also bulking up. It launched the 3,650-passenger, 130,000-gross-ton Carnival Dream in September, and it announced this week that it has ordered another similarly sized ship costing $750 million. And the No. 3 player, NCL Corp.'s Norwegian Cruise Line, is spending $1.2 billion for the 4,200-guest, 150,000-gross-ton Norwegian Epic, which is slated to start service in the summer.

But Norwegian is hedging its bets. While it's going ahead with the 4,200-passenger Epic, it canceled an order last year for a similarly sized sister ship. "You have to be on the cutting edge, not the bleeding edge, of innovation," says Kevin Sheehan, NCL's chief executive. He believes cruise prices won't climb back to 2008 levels for another three years.

As more big ships are launched, the Cruise Lines International Association estimates North American capacity will grow 8% in 2010 and an additional 5% in 2011. Even Italian-owned Silversea Cruises, which specializes in small, ultra-luxury ships, is launching one later this month that can handle 540 passengers on discount Europe cruises, or nearly a third more than its next-largest vessel.

Consumers' wallets were thicker in late 2005, when Royal Carribean, the world's second-largest cruise company by market share, decided to take the plunge with Oasis, and, a year later, to add Allure of the Seas, an identically sized sister ship, which will join the company's rapidly expanding fleet late next year.

But industry executives say they have to take the long view: Ships take about three years to build and have life spans of 30 years or more. "At some stage in [Oasis's] life we're going to have big ups and big downs. This is probably a bigger down than we ever imagined," says Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean's chief executive, but, he adds, he has no regrets. "I think Oasis of the Seas will be one of the highest returns on investment our industry has ever seen," he says.

Indeed, Oasis has had strong early bookings for cheap Royal Caribbean cruises and initial double-digit percentage-price premiums over smaller rivals, according to industry trackers. Room rates for Oasis's inaugural voyage ranged from $1,649 a person based on double occupancy for a 149-square-foot interior stateroom to $16,659 for the 1,524- square-foot Royal Loft Suite with an 843-square-foot balcony.

The ship offers a casino with gaming tables and nearly 500 slot machines, a 1,380-seat theater for Broadway-style productions, an exercise center with nearly 200 machines and twin 40-foot-high rock-climbing walls, a skating rink, and seven "neighborhoods," including one called Central Park that has more than 12,000 plants and trees. "This is as close as the industry has gotten to a Las Vegas resort," says cruise-industry consultant Rod McLeod of McLeod.Applebaum & Partners.

But the sheer size of Oasis also poses logistical challenges. Few ports are equipped to handle it, restricting its itinerary. If Oasis were to ferry passengers to land by smaller boats, "it would look like Normandy at D-Day," Mr. McLeod says.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

CNBC Special -- Cruise Inc. - Big Money on the High Seas

A Behind The Scenes Look at the Cruise Industry