Friday, February 26, 2010

Sushi Lollipops?

USA Today

Celebrity Cruises Unveils Plans for New Restaurant

Celebrity Cruises is going arty with its newest restaurant concept, a $30-a-person eatery called Qsine that will be as much about style and design as it is about food.

Among menu items at the venue -- announced late Wednesday for the soon-to-debut Celebrity Eclipse -- will be elaborately presented "Sushi Lollipops" and a Kobe beef "Slider Party" of mini-grilled burgers with Wisconsin cheddar served on brioche buns.

The 2,850-passenger Celebrity Eclipse -- the third ship in the line's much-heralded Solstice Class series -- will enter service in late April.

Celebrity Vice President of Culinary Operations Jacques Van Staden says Qsine is designed to present passengers with an unexpected, modern approach to familiar dishes from around the world.

"Our guests love new and different dining experiences, and we've designed Qsine to deliver that in a big way," Van Staden says. "Qsine is designed to offer a globally-influenced blend of nostalgic and contemporary favorites, artfully presented to the Celebrity Cruises diner with elements of surprise."

Among high-design touches: Qsine's menu will be a large, backlit square; wait staff will wear custom-made asymmetrical jackets with square buttons; desserts will be showcased in a menu described as a hinged, twistable cube.

Qsine will be open nightly on Celebrity Eclipse from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. There will be no age restriction for entry, as there is with some other Celebrity eateries, and the dress code will be smart casual and above.

The restaurant will be located in the space that houses Asian eatery Silk Harvest on earlier Solstice Class ships.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Carnival 'Glory' Returns to Duty after Major Refurbishment

Hotel Interactive

The 2,974-passenger Carnival Glory has resumed Caribbean service from Miami following a multi-million-dollar renovation that added a host of new facilities and features, including a Serenity adults-only retreat, a 270-square-foot Seaside Theatre poolside LED screen, and a Circle “C” facility for 12- to 14- year olds. 

Eighteen new balconies were also incorporated onto existing ocean view staterooms and a new Mongolian wok venue was added to the casual poolside restaurant.  Bow-to-stern Wi-Fi access was added, as well.

From February to May, Carnival Glory operates seasonal seven-day cruises departing from Miami, alternating weekly to the eastern and western Caribbean. Seven-day eastern Caribbean cruises visit Half Moon Cay, St. Thomas, San Juan and Grand Turk, while the western route features Grand Cayman, Isla Roatan, Belize and Cozumel.

The ship will then be deployed to New York where it will offer a series of four- and five-day Atlantic Canada cruises from June 6 – September 6, 2010, followed by a series of seven-day Canada/New England cruises, from September 11 – October 9. 

 “We are constantly looking for ways to improve and expand our product to deliver fun and memorable vacations to our guests while at the same time offering exceptional value,” said Gerry Cahill, Carnival’s president and CEO. “The new Seaside Theatre, adults-only area and Circle ‘C’ facility, which are all available to our guests on a complimentary basis, serve to enhance an already terrific, value-packed vacation choice,” he added.

New Seaside Theatre

Located poolside on Lido Deck is Carnival Cruises new “Seaside Theatre,” a massive 270-square-foot LED screen displaying movies, concerts, sporting events, and other programming, including the popular “Morning Show” hosted by the ship’s cruise director.  Utilizing the same technology featured in large stadiums and New York’s Times Square, the state-of-the-art entertainment system includes a 70,000-watt sound system, providing concert quality sound, even outdoors.

New Balcony Accommodations

During dry dock, 18 new balconies were added to existing Spa Deck accommodations, creating spacious 220-square-foot verandah staterooms. They are conveniently located next to the ship’s 14,500-square-foot “Spa Carnival” facility offering sophisticated exercise equipment, expansive workout facilities and a variety of soothing European-style treatments. 

With the addition of these newly reconfigured staterooms, nearly 40 percent of the Carnival Glory’s 1,487 cabins now feature private balconies.

New Adults-Only Retreat

Another popular feature added during the dry dock is Serenity, a two-level adults-only retreat located forward on Sun Deck and Sky Deck. Designed as an oceangoing oasis for relaxation, with decorative latticework and teak-style decking, this area features different styles of seating, including shaded sun loungers and hammocks, a full bar, and two oversized whirlpools.

Circle “C” Facility for 12- to 14-Year-Olds A new Circle “C” facility catering to 12- to 14-year-olds has been added as part of the line’s unique offerings for kids. The center features a high-tech sound and lighting system, plasma-screen TVs displaying movies and music videos, a touch-screen jukebox, and gaming pods with the latest video games and consoles.

Dining Enhancements

A new Mongolian wok option was added to the Carnival Glory’s Red Sail casual restaurant located poolside on Lido Deck. At the new venue, guests can select their favorite meat, sauce, vegetables and other ingredients and watch as a chef creates their custom-designed stir fry dish right before their eyes.

Additionally, the Golden dining room, located forward, was reconfigured for Your Time Dining providing guests the option of open seating between 5:45 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. nightly.  

Monday, February 22, 2010

Celebrity Cruises introduces 'Celebrity iLounge'

Travel Daily News

With the launch of its new brand platform, "Designed for you," last month, Celebrity Cruises reinforced its commitment to delivering the ultimate combination of ship design, service, cuisine and programs for cruise lovers. And today, it announced plans for a new venue whose design, products and programming are sure to appeal to today's cruisers.

When Celebrity Eclipse - the third in Celebrity Cruises' stylish Solstice Class fleet of ships - launches in April, guests will find the first "Celebrity iLounge." Designed to not only offer a hip, modern lounge ambience, Celebrity also created the space to offer what its guests said they wanted most in an Internet cafe: easy access to the Internet, inspiring classes and new products.

The Celebrity iLounge is composed of three main areas: a series of 26 contemporary workstations where guests can check their e-mail, retain their social media connections, or print boarding passes; a retail space offering cruisers the opportunity to see and try out the latest MacBooks(R), iPods(R) and accessories; and an enrichment center where certified staff will offer guests tips on Mac or iPod usage.

"Our new Celebrity iLounge is a direct outgrowth of our 'Designed for you' brand platform, and our commitment to listen to our guests and offer experiences and programs expressly designed for them," said Celebrity's President and CEO Dan Hanrahan. "Our surveys show that our guests rely heavily on the Internet for research, learning and staying in touch, so we think this new offering will be a big hit, as will the contemporary online classes offered through the 'Discover' series of our inspiring and enriching 'Celebrity Life' experiences."

Enhancing the "Discover" component of its "Celebrity Life" series of inspiring enrichment and entertainment experiences, Celebrity will offer in the Celebrity iLounge a series of engaging new courses designed to suit its guests' interests - including do-it-yourself photo books, movie editing and web design, through programs including iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD and iWeb. And whether guests are savvy or novice users of Mac or iPod products, Celebrity's certified staff will be well-equipped to assist, following more than 125 hours of training in operating systems, applications, and products. They also will be poised to illustrate to guests the differences between Macs and PCs.

Guests eager to expand their collection of merchandise will find the Celebrity iLounge an enticing venue, too. As an Authorized Apple Reseller, Celebrity will have products available for guests to purchase, including iPods, MacBooks, and essential accessories.

Located on deck six of Celebrity Eclipse, the Celebrity iLounge will house the 26 MacBook Pro's, classroom and retail area, in addition to display pods, a 56-inch flat-screen TV for use during classes, and an accessible workstation.

The Celebrity iLounge also will be presented on Celebrity Silhouette, which launches in 2011, and the fifth ship in the Solstice Class fleet, which sets sail in 2012.

Celebrity Cruises is designed for discerning cruisers, with modern, sophisticated environments, impeccable service, enriching and inspiring onboard programs, and world-class cuisine. The ultimate in premium cruising, Celebrity sails on Alaska, Bermuda, California, Canada/New England, Europe, the Pacific Coast, Panama Canal, South America cruises, and year-round in the Caribbean and the Galapagos Islands. Celebrity also offers immersive cruisetour experiences in Alaska, Canada, Europe and South America. Celebrity's mega-series of honors include being named the top mega-ship line in Conde Nast Traveler's annual Readers' Choice Awards (November 2009). Celebrity's fleet currently consists of nine ships. Its $3.7-billion investment in building five stylish Solstice Class ships between 2008-2012 represents the largest newbuild commitment for a single brand in industry history.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Roundup: Current Top Deals for Cruising

Telegraph UK

Orlando "stay and cruise"

Spend seven nights at the Quality Inn International in Orlando, before embarking on a one-week cruise on board Carnival Cruises' ship Carnival Legend, calling at Grand Cayman, Cozumel (Mexico), Belize City, and Roatan Island (Honduras).

Eastern Mediterranean

Join the good ship Boudicca for 23-night Mediterranean cruises, departing from Liverpool on April 6. Ports of call include Cadiz, Malaga, Zakinthos, Pireaus (for Athens), Mykonos, Valletta, Ibiza and Lisbon.

North America

Spend two weeks on board Costa Atlantica, departing from Fort Lauderdale on April 10 and calling at Quebec City, Charlottetown, Nova Scotia, New York and Boston.

Western Mediterranean

Two-week voyage on board P&O Cruises’ ship Oceana, departing from Southampton on April 17. Ports of call include Gibraltar, Cartagena (Spain), Rome, Florence, Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Cadiz.

Middle East

Join Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas for a 14-night Middle Eastern cruise, departing from Dubai on April 18. Highlights include a transit of the Suez Canal and visits to Muscat, Sharm-el-Sheikh, Alexandria and Barcelona, where the cruise terminates. Prices include an inside cabin and flights.


Embark on a 24-night Caribbean cruise on board Royal Caribbean Cruises' Jewel of the Seas, sailing from Miami on April 25. The voyage includes stops at Cartagena (Colombia), Colon (Panama), Puerto Limon (Costa Rica), Grand Cayman, Bermuda, Lisbon and Zeebrugge, and terminates at Harwich.

Northern Europe

Join Norwegian Cruise Lines' vessel Norwegian Sun for a two-week Baltic cruise, departing from Dover on September 20. Ports of call include Bergen and Alusund (both Norway), the Shetland Isles, the Faroe Islands, Reykjavik, Glasgow and Dublin.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Financial Slump Produced Bargains on 2010 World Cruises

Sun Sentinel

While most cruise passengers today can save a few dollars on a seven-night cruise, a lucky few are sailing around the world on a luxury liner for thousands less than it cost a couple of years ago.

They're booked on world cruises, which depart this time of year on voyages that can span four months and touch seven continents.

The dismal global economy wreaked havoc on the luxury travel sector in 2008 and early 2009, forcing top lines such as Silversea Cruises, Regent Seven Sea Cruises and Yachts of Seabourn to discount fares on early bookings and offer freebies to lock in wealthy passengers for 2010 world cruise itineraries.

Although demand has recovered, cruise executives say they're still happy to throw in unlimited tour excursions and airfare to reel guests into making early arrangements. Those who wait to book pay a higher fare, they say. This strategy, combined with the personalized service they receive aboard the cruise, also helps keep passengers loyal to a specific line.

"World cruisers really create a base for us to go very exotic places," said Mark Conroy, president of Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

The company's 2010 world cruise drew about 300 people who will sail around the world, while the rest of the 700-person ship is filled with passengers who take one or more segments of the itinerary, Conroy said.

Of the 300 people sailing on Regent world cruises this year, Conroy said over half — maybe as many as two thirds — have been on every world cruise the company's offered.

Regent's world cruise left San Diego earlier this month and is scheduled to conclude in Fort Lauderdale in May.

Another Fort Lauderdale-based luxury line attracted Tony Sturiolo, 65, and wife Patricia, 62, of Mount Kisco, N.Y., who paid about $118,300 to sail on the Silver Spirit's maiden voyage around South America. Their 745-square-foot suite has a private veranda and dining area. And for the entire voyage, they will have a butler assigned to their stateroom.

"We're going to meet friends that were on the world cruise with us before," Sturiolo said. In 2007, the couple sailed with Silversea on a world tour, an experience he described as "126 days of absolute luxury."

"For the level of service that Silversea provides, the pricing is appropriate," Sturiolo said. And perks like free shipping for luggage take the hassle out of traveling, he said.

While sales of world cruises and long itineraries slowed in the wake of recession and economic uncertainty last year, experts say it was not because passengers lacked the funds.

"They saw what was happening … and there was a sort of melancholy empathy" that caused them to hold off on making vacation plans, said Matthew Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso Travel, a group of more than 300 upscale travel agencies.

As passengers started watching their financial portfolios rebound, they began booking early to reserve their preferred cabin accommodations and take advantage of the perks offered, Upchurch said.

Travel agents agree that many potential world cruises are insulated from economic shocks.

"These people have no financial problems whatsoever," said Millie Schwartz, an Aventura-based travel agent for more than 50 years.

Schwartz said she once sailed a portion of a world cruise with one couple who had their own helicopter pad and another who had a 93-foot yacht.

"Even though they have a lot of money," Schwartz said, "they want value and service."

This year's crop of world cruises likely won't set any profit records. Incentives last year to perk up 2010 world cruise bookings included itineraries offered at 50 percent off and two-for-one specials. Cruise fares for these voyages start at about $20,000 at top-tier lines and include perks such as free air fare, free unlimited tour excursions, free baggage shipping and onboard spending credits.

"We're losing some on the per diem rate, but we're making up for that with the volume," said Stephen Tucker, vice president of field sales for Fort Lauderdale-based Silversea Cruises.

Next year, the line is offering a 119-day world cruise aboard the new 540-passenger Silver Spirit. The ship is about 30 percent sold for the voyage, with about 95 percent of the big suites sold out for all segments, company officials said. Last Thursday, the ship departed Port Everglades for a 91-day circumnavigation of South America, a trip designed to introduce the vessel to major United States markets before taking it around the world.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cruise Photos Intact After Camera Hauled From Seabed

BBC News

A trawlerman is trying to trace the owner of a digital camera after it was hauled from the Atlantic seabed in his nets with the photos still intact.

Benito Estevez believes the camera was dropped overboard from the QM2 cruise liner in the middle of the Atlantic.

The camera's memory card revealed five photographs, including a woman posing on the deck of a ship, with the now out-of-service QE2 in the background.

Mr Estevez, of Spain, is now trying to trace the people in the pictures.

US tourists

The QE2 made its last ever voyage to Dubai in November 2008.

BBC South Transport Correspondent Paul Clifton says the ship the woman is posing on is the QM2, and the two liners sailed together from Southampton to New York in October 2008.

It was the QE2's last ever transatlantic round trip between the two cities.

Mr Estevez caught the camera in his nets off the west coast of Europe, so the camera was probably lost in the early days of the crossing.

It may be that the couple are from the US, as one picture shows a man wearing a woolly tourist hat from Oxford.

Cunard Cruises, the shipping company that owns the QM2, said no-one had reported a lost camera and the firm had not been able to trace the people in the pictures.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Holland America Line Brings on the Heat With Warm Water Cruises for Fall 2010 Through Spring 2011

PR Newswire
Caribbean, Panama Canal, Mexico & Hawaii Beckon Cruisers

SEATTLE, Feb. 2 /PRNewswire/ -- Holland America Line highlights warm tropical destinations from October 2010 through April 2011 with an exceptional variety of Caribbean, Panama Canal, Mexico and Hawaii cruises.  Among the most popular cruise choices, warm water itineraries provide a sunny getaway with the relaxing ambiance of a premium cruise ship.

"The Caribbean, Panama Canal, Mexico and Hawaii all offer extraordinary cruise experiences that include exotic ports, warm water beaches and exciting shore excursions," said Richard D. Meadows, CTC, executive vice president, marketing, sales and guest programs.  "Each region is historically and culturally different so guests can choose from six- to 25-day cruises for a perfect warm weather vacation."

Nine ships — including the new ms Nieuw Amsterdam — will sail 142 cruises to the eastern, western and southern Caribbean.  Six ships will feature 25 full-transit Panama Canal cruises.  Four ships will offer 40 cruises to the popular Mexican Riviera and Sea of Cortez.  And ms Zaandam will add 11 among the Hawaiian islands.

146 Caribbean Cruises Bring the Best of the Islands

A leader in cruises of 10 days or longer, Holland America Line's Caribbean itineraries range from six to 25 days. Nieuw Amsterdam, ms Eurodam, ms Ryndam and ms Westerdam offer six- and seven-day western, eastern or southern itineraries while the ms Noordam, ms Zuiderdam, ms Maasdam and ms Prinsendam feature 10- to 25-day explorations of the southern and eastern Caribbean. 

All cruises sail roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale or Tampa from October 2010 through April 2011 with 14 holiday cruises in late December.  Many departures are designed so guests can combine different seven-day Caribbean sailings to offer a more in-depth 14-day exploration. They also can combine two 10-day Noordam Southern Caribbean sailings to create a truly memorable 20-day Collector's Cruise.  Maasdam offers 21-, 24- and 25-day Collectors' Cruises.

Holland America's 10-day cruises to the southern Caribbean feature three itinerary options. Wayfarer itineraries highlight the islands of St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Barbados and Martinique while Seafarer cruises showcase the Turks & Caicos Islands, Dominican Republic, Bonaire, Curaçao and Aruba. Nineteen Sunfarer itineraries combine some of these enticing destinations with Panama Canal cruising.

Aboard Maasdam, guests enjoy unique 10-day eastern and 11- and 14-day southern Caribbean itineraries roundtrip Fort Lauderdale.  The eastern itinerary visits San Juan, Puerto Rico; Gustavia, St. Barts; Rosseau, Dominica; St. John's, Antigua; St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; and Half Moon Cay.  Both southern routes call at islands that can feature Half Moon Cay, St. Croix, St. Kitts, St. Vincent, St. Barts, Martinique, and St. Maarten en route to Barbados.  The 14-day option will also sail to the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.

Popular six- and seven-day cruises explore the eastern, western and southern Caribbean, some including Central American ports. Itineraries may include the Turks and Caicos Islands; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Grand Cayman; Willemstad, Curacao; Oranjestad, Aruba; Falmouth, Jamaica; Belize City, Belize; Roatan, Honduras; and Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico.

Most Caribbean itineraries call at Holland America Line's award-winning private island, Half Moon Cay, which continues to be the line's highest-rated Caribbean port of call. Here guests can enjoy activities such as the guided AquaTrax watercraft tour, stingray adventure, and a horseback riding and swimming excursion.

Starting Caribbean cruise fares range from $599 to $2,499 per person, double occupancy.   Taxes are additional. 

Transit an Historic Engineering Feat on Panama Canal Cruises Holland America Line features 25 full-transit cruises though the canal from fall 2010 through spring 2011. Six ships – Statendam, Westerdam, Maasdam, Zuiderdam, Ryndam, ms Rotterdam and ms Amsterdam – offer itineraries ranging from 14 to 30 days.  Cruises depart Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Vancouver, British Columbia.

The 14-day Panama Canal Adventurer and Explorer itineraries feature ports in the Mexican Riviera, Central America and Caribbean that may include Fuerte Amador (Panama City); Puerto Vallarta, Huatulco, Puerto Chiapas, Acapulco and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica; Cartagena, Colombia; and Oranjestad, Aruba. Longer cruises may add Grand Cayman; Corinto, Nicaragua; Santa Marta, Colombia; and the San Blas Islands of Panama.   Guests may also combine east and westbound crossings for an all-inclusive 28-day Collector's voyage, featuring in-depth exploration of the Panama Canal and surrounding regions with two complete transits.
For an extensive exploration, the Apr. 17 Rotterdam transit includes several ports in South America en route to a two-night stay in Callao, the gateway to Lima, Peru.  The 30-day cruise, roundtrip from Ft. Lauderdale, also visits both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Central America.

Panama Canal cruises begin at $1,599 per person, based on double occupancy.  Taxes are additional.

Sunny Riviera and Exclusive Copper Canyon Await in Mexico

From fall 2010 to spring 2011 Holland America Line is featuring 36 six- to 12-day cruises to the popular Mexican Riviera, plus four ranging from 10 to 14 days that highlight the Sea of Cortez with optional tours to famous Copper Canyon.

ms Oosterdam sails one six-day and several seven-day Mexico cruises roundtrip from San Diego in fall and winter/spring. The Vista-class ship cruises first through wildlife-rich Bahia Magdalena and then visits the lively ports of Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. Oosterdam also offers a 14-day Sea of Cortez itinerary from San Diego to Vancouver, British Columbia, in the spring.

ms Zaandam features 10-, 11- and 14-day cruises departing roundtrip from San Diego for the Sea of Cortez and Mexican Riviera in winter and spring 2011. Guests visit Cabo San Lucas, Loreto, Guaymas, Topolobampo, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta on the Sea of Cortez itineraries. From Topolobampo, the highlight is the full-day optional excursion via rail deep into spectacular Copper Canyon.

In addition, ms Rotterdam offers a 12-day holiday cruise and ms Amsterdam sails two six-day cruises to the Mexican Riviera roundtrip from San Diego in December 2010.  Starting cruise fares for Mexico itineraries are $599 per person.

San Diego Offers Homeport Premium Cruise Access to Hawaii

San Diego is also the convenient homeport for roundtrip cruises to Hawaii.  From October 2010 through April 2011, Zaandam offers 11 Circle Hawaii cruises that range from 14 to 18 days, including one holiday sailing.  Cruises departing from San Diego mostly sail roundtrip; one sails in April 2011 roundtrip from Vancouver, British Columbia in the Pacific Northwest.  In October 2010, Zaandam features a 15-day Circle Hawaii sailing from Vancouver to San Diego.

The cruises call at four main islands, including Hilo, Hawaii; Honolulu, Oahu; Nawiliwili, Kauai; and Lahaina, Maui.  The October 2010 15-day sailing calls on these ports and also at Kona with an evening cruise by Kilauea Volcano. 

Rotterdam adds four 30- and 31-day Circle Hawaii, Tahiti and Marquesas voyages that sail roundtrip from San Diego.  These cruises through the islands of Polynesia include an overnight in Papeete, French Polynesia.  Hawaii ares for Hawaii cruises begin at $1,499 per person.

About Holland America Line

Holland America Line's fleet of 14 ships offers nearly 500 cruises to 320 ports in more than 100 countries, territories or dependencies.  Two- to 108-day itineraries visit all seven continents, and highlights include Antarctica, South America, Australia/New Zealand and Asia cruises; a Grand World Voyage; and popular sailings to ports in the Caribbean, Alaska, Mexico, Canada/New England, Europe and Panama Canal.  A 15th ship is scheduled to join the fleet on July 4, 2010.

Fleetwide, the company features Signature of Excellence enhancements, a commitment totaling more than $525 million, that showcase the Culinary Arts Center presented by Food & Wine magazine — a state-of-the-art onboard show kitchen where more than 60 celebrated guest chefs and culinary experts provide cooking demonstrations and classes — Explorations Cafe powered by The New York Times, teens-only activity areas and all new stateroom amenities highlighted by flat-panel TVs and plush Euro-top Mariner's Dream Beds. 

World's Leading Cruise Lines

The highest-rated premium cruise line in the world, Holland America Cruises is a member of the exclusive World's Leading Cruise Lines alliance, which also includes Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises, Cunard Line, Seabourn Cruise Line and Costa Cruises.  Sharing a passion to please each guest and a commitment to quality and value, these lines appeal to a wide range of lifestyles and budgets.  The World's Leading Cruise Lines offer exciting and enriching cruise vacations to the world's most desirable destinations.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Royal Caribbean and Carnival Create Destination Ships


Ever since the big cruise lines began offering travelers the chance to sail among the many islands of the Caribbean, the main factor in deciding which ship to take was the ports of call.

The destinations were the attraction. The ship provided a way to do a bit of island hopping with the bonus of being able to eat, drink and relax as you made your way from, say, St. Thomas to St. Maarten without the hassle of going from airport to airport — or even packing and unpacking.

But two new cruise ships have hit Caribbean waters, creating waves and rocking the old decision-making process.

Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas and, to a lesser extent, Carnival's Dream are by far the largest in each fleet's line. The Oasis holds almost 1,800 more passengers than its biggest predecessor; the Dream's capacity is 600 passengers bigger than Carnival's former biggest.

The two lines took different approaches to the upsizing of their fleet. But the resulting ships share one new phenomenon: Each is a destination unto itself.

For Royal Caribbean, the design and layout of the Oasis is a dramatic change from previous ships — from any line's ships, for that matter. Carnival views the Dream as more of an evolution. The upgrade, while not revolutionary, is significant enough that the ship has a bigger, grander there's-an-awful-lot-to-do-here vibe.

The behemoth cruise ship idea isn't new. But these ships have sailed into new cruising territory. They've outgrown the ship's former role as a floating hotel that allows you to visit different countries without having to pack every day; these ships are more akin to sea-going all-inclusive resorts. There's little reason to leave the ship.

And that changes the equation when it comes to planning a cruise.
The ports of call and the land excursions take a back seat to what's available aboard each ship — especially when traveling with a big group or kids.

To borrow a tropical fruit analogy — planning a Caribbean vacation is now more than just comparing mangos to mangos, but mangos to coconuts. It's not just comparing one cruise ship to another, it's deciding a cruise on the Oasis (or the Dream) versus a trip to Sandals, Club Med or any other all-inclusive — because in many respects, the choice isn't that different.

Cruises and all-inclusives have always had a lot in common: Endless food, kids camps, group activities (if you want) or quiet and relaxing (if you don't); a great choice for families or groups who can't agree on what to do and don't want to deal with the hassle of trying to get tables for eight or 10 or 16.

But there were also major differences – and it wasn't just the obvious water- vs. land-based setting.

All-inclusive was one destination.

Cruising took in multiple destinations.

So how have the Oasis and the Dream changed the equation?

Oasis of the Seas

Shop, eat, play, relax. Stroll though Central Park, see a Broadway show, take a spin on a carousel, play minigolf. Grab a slice, try rock climbing, the zip line or surfing simulators. Getting tired yet? There's still plenty to do.

The Oasis isn't just the biggest cruise ship in the world — it's, as Mark Ratner, a passenger from Minnesota observed, "Vegas on water."

It has changed the concept of a cruise ship as a very comfortable, amenity-filled mode of transportation to an attraction unto itself.

"We have truly created a ship that rivals any land-based destination resort and opened the door for a whole new sector of consumer that might not have otherwise considered a cruise vacation," says Adam Goldstein, Royal Caribbean Cruises International's president and CEO.

And that's fortuitous. Because of its size, the Oasis is restricted in what ports it can stop at, limiting it to much-visited territory such as Cozumel and St. Thomas.

The unique feature of this ship is the themed neighborhoods. The ship is divided into seven distinct neighborhoods: Central Park, Royal Promenade, Boardwalk, Entertainment Place, Pool & Sports Zone, Youth Zone, Vitality at Sea Spa & Fitness.

Each zone offers guests a unique experience, and different vibe. The heart of the ship and main level is the Royal Promenade, which is home to upscale shops and restaurants, highlighted by the Rising Tide Bar, which slowly ascends and descends three levels. The Central Park zone is lush with plants and walkways; the look is true New York. The Boardwalk zone is a family-friendly area that features a hand-carved carousel, rock climbing walls and an Aqua Theater.

Whether you are overlooking Central Park from your guest room or strolling along the Royal Promenade, you can actually forget that you are on a ship. It's like a big hotel wrapped around an upscale mall, but in a good way.

Still, enormity brings drawbacks. It's a long walk from one end to another — which can be tiring, especially for older cruisers. And despite the wide array of shows and venues — including the Aqua Theater productions, ice-skating spectacle, musical and stage shows and comedy acts — you can't rely on the old walk-in-when-you-feel-like-it cruise behavior. Now, if you want a seat, reservations are advised.

But the biggest change is the additional fees for many of the dining options. Eating in the three-level Opus main dining room, Windjammer Marketplace, Sorrento's Pizzeria and several casual grab-and-go eateries is included in the price, but 10 restaurants — including Johnny Rockets, the Seafood Shack, Izumi Asian and the upscale Chops and 150 Central Park — charge an additional fee, ranging from $4.95 at Johnny Rockets to $35 at 150 Central Park.


Think of the Dream as a souped-up, super-sized version of previous Carnival ships.

"The Dream class of ships embodies the evolution of our brand," says Gerry Cahill, Carnival Cruise Lines' president and CEO.

The best new feature on the ship is The Lanai, the half-mile, open-air walkway that encircles the ship on the Promenade deck. Complete with four whirlpools, outdoor café and places to relax and enjoy the view, The Lanai also provides easy access to the Ocean Plaza, the hub of the ship's entertainment.

Carnival Cruises has embraced high tech with the FunHub, an on-board social network that you can access from 12 stand-alone kiosks throughout Ocean Plaza.

If you've cruised on Carnival before, the Dream has a familiar feel, just on a bigger and grander scale. There's just more of everything, from lounges to the two-deck Serenity adults-only area to the very impressive kids programs and activities areas.

That size is also a drawback, especially if your cabin is at either end of the ship. You turn down the stateroom hallways and it seems like they go on forever. You will get your exercise going from your room to onboard activities.

And while the Ocean Plaza is spacious and airy, if you have bad weather at sea, it will get awfully crowded and you'll quickly realize you're sharing your vacation with 3,600 other people.

Is bigger better?

So, when deciding if these big ships are the right choice for your vacation, consider the following:

1. Kid-friendly. Both lines were already geared to family vacations; these ships have upped the ante by virtue of the room and equipment available for kids of all age groups.

2. Do you like crowds? While there's plenty of room to find solitude and quiet on each ship, face it, when you're sharing a confined space there are times you can't avoid crowds.

3. Variety. Each ship offers more to do than other ships. But destination-wise, your choice is limited.

4. Extra fees. This applies primarily to the Oasis. If you want to sample all the ship has to offer — food-wise — it will cost you. Like those nagging baggage fees airlines keep hitting you with, you'll find that the original cost of the cruise is not the final cost, as you'll be paying to eat at any of 10 additional-fee restaurants in addition to all those other not-included costs, like drinks.

5. Mobility. The elderly, those not in great shape and even some little kids may find it daunting navigating the ships. It's hard to overstate how big they are and how much mileage you put on going from one place to another.

Friday, February 5, 2010

New for 2010: Holland America's Nieuw Amsterdam

USA Today

Line: Holland America

Maiden voyage:  July 4, 2010

Home ports: Venice and Barcelona (through October); Fort Lauderdale (winter)

Passengers: 2,106

The buzz: The second ship in Holland America's Signature-class series will be similar to its two-year-old sister, the Eurodam. Like the earlier vessel, it will have a new pan-Asian restaurant called Tamarind on one of the top decks and a casual Italian restaurant on the Lido deck, and it's also bigger than its predecessors with one more deck than the 10-deck Vista-class series. As with the Eurodam, cabins also have gotten a new décor. Gone are the floral patterns of old, replaced by a calmer, more monochromatic design. The Nieuw Amsterdam, notably, is the fourth Holland America ship to bear the name since 1906.

Itineraries: 10 & 12-night Mediterranean cruises (from $1,700); 20-night trans-Atlantic cruise (from $1,999); 7-night Caribbean cruises (from $849).

Information:  1-800-826-4333 / Cruise Marketplace / Holland America Cruises

Solo Travelers Getting a Break

The Vancouver Sun

If you're fancy free and love to wander, the price might finally be right to travel solo.

Instead of punishing travellers who prefer to go alone with hefty surcharges, the travel industry is starting to woo them with deals that tickle their wanderlust without ravaging their wallets.

"The tour industry is making way for the single traveller," said Margie Jordan, spokeswoman for the American Society of Travel Agents.

"This is nothing that's going to go away. The single traveller is going to have as many opportunities as anyone else."

For years, most travel deals were based on two people travelling together.

"Single travellers would see a price online and we've had to break the news that if you're going by yourself, it's 150 to 200 per cent more," said Jordan, CEO of ASAP Travel. "They were left high and dry."

But times are changing and Jordan said cruise lines in particular are stepping up.

MSC Cruises is currently offering trips that waive the dreaded single supplement, which accounts for the price hike.

"And Norwegian Cruise Line is introducing 'Studio' staterooms built and priced solely for the single traveller," she added. "It is actually something new in the cruise industry."

Maria Miller of Norwegian Cruise Lines said the 4,200-passenger Epic, to launch in July, is equipped with 128 studio staterooms designed to give the solo traveller a room of one's own.

With research showing 35 million adults take solo vacations but only five per cent opt for cruises, Miller said the potential is huge.

"There's a sizable market out there, but discontent around the single surcharge," she explained.

So, solo prices on the Epic will not include a single surcharge.

"And we're talking solo, not singles," Miller said, distinguishing solo travellers from the meet-and-mate crowd.

Kate Moeller of Club Med North America knows a thing or two about changing demographics.

"We used to be really a singles destination, but then we became more family-oriented," she said.

Moeller said Club Med's Solo Savings program waives the single supplement to accommodate the solo traveller at certain resorts.

"We have these deals in specific theme weeks in specific resorts," she said.

Jordan said the cruise industry is likewise sensitive to change.

She added that other cruise lines are waiting on the success of Norwegian's solo experiment.

"Now when refurbishing in dry dock, they add balcony staterooms. But I wouldn't be surprised if you saw Carnival Cruises or Royal Caribbean follow suit by introducing studio cabins," she predicted.

"My guess is that eventually the others will jump on board."

Thursday, February 4, 2010

MSC Offers Baseball, Big Band Theme Cruises out of Fort Lauderdale

Orlando Sentinel

MSC Cruises is featuring baseball themed Caribbean cruises aboard the MSC Poesia departing from Fort Lauderdale.

The Baseball Greats voyages that include free interactive guest/player activities, player-hosted trivia game, question-and-answer sessions with the players, autograph session, and a guest pitching contest.

Players also host. Player lineup will be announced at a later date. Among the Baseball Greats cruises is a Nov. 14, seven-night Eastern Caribbean sailing to St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Nassau.

MSC Cruises will also feature Big Band cruises that showcase the 16-piece Les DeMerle Big Band with vocalist Bonnie Eisele. In addition to performances, the band will present a Big Band Jazz Concert and DeMerle will give a lecture on the Big Band Era.

The Big Band theme will be featured during a nine-night Canada/New England voyage from Quebec City to Fort Lauderdale on Oct. 23.

MSC Cruises’ MSC Poesia will host five “Baseball Greats” Fort Lauderdale cruises during its 2010-2011 Caribbean season.

The cruises include free interactive guest/player activities. Guests can participate in a player-hosted trivia game, question-and-answer sessions with the players, and a pitching contest. In story-telling sessions players some candid revelations about “characters” of the game. Players will also host pitching, hitting, fielding and base running clinics.

The free autograph session at the end of the baseball themed cruises is extremely popular. The player line-up on these itineraries will be announced at a later date.

Baseball theme cruises depart Nov. 14, Dec. 5, Jan. 9 and 23, and Feb. 6.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Princess Cruises Prepares For Balcony Bonanza with Massive Price Reductions

PR Web

As the key Wave booking period approaches, award-winning Princess Cruises has announced a selection of offers in its 'Princess Sale' that will see more cruisers book a balcony stateroom or mini-suite than ever before.

Manchester, UK (PRWEB) January 6, 2010 -- As the key Wave booking period approaches, award-winning Princess Cruises has announced a selection of offers in its 'Princess Sale' that will see more cruisers book a balcony stateroom or mini-suite than ever before.

Princess Cruises grew its business in the UK by over 10% in 2009, and the line is looking to continue this success in 2010 by launching offers that mean cruise holidays with Princess are better value than ever. The offers are available from Monday 28 December, with prices reduced by up to £800 per couple from that day, as well as offers of up to $200 per couple free onboard spending money, and the line is supporting travel agents with a multi-million pound marketing campaign.

With more affordable balcony staterooms than any other cruise line, Princess is expecting to book a record number of passengers in accommodation with a private outside space, which many now regard as a basic luxury. Passengers pay as little as £60 for an upgrade from an oceanview to a balcony stateroom on a 9-night Caribbean fly-cruise on Emerald Princess. Upgrades from a balcony stateroom to a mini-suite cost as little as £95 per person.

Some of the Specials During the Princess Cruises Summer Balcony Bonus:

"As the market is changing, many passengers now expect a private balcony with an outside view as standard," said Pieter van der Schee, Head of Brand Marketing for Princess Cruises. "Balcony staterooms have become much cheaper and we are expecting a record number of bookers in the key Wave period to take advantage. Our 'Princess Sale' will see massive price reductions on 28 December, making cruising even better value than ever before," he continued.

    * From 28 December, prices are coming down by as much as £800 per couple on Grand Princess sailings from Southampton, plus passengers receive up to $200 per couple free onboard spending money. Cruises to the Med start from £1,269 per person for 14 nights, with upgrades from an oceanview to a balcony stateroom for as little as £175pp, including $200 free onboard spending money per couple. A 7-night Iberia cruise starts from £649 per person.

    * On every 14-night Grand Princess cruise from Southampton to the Mediterranean, passengers can choose from free car parking or free coach transfers to and from the ship.

    * Ruby Princess Mediterranean cruises in summer 2010 also have massive reductions from 28 December, with as much as £400 per stateroom taken off. The 12-night cruises on Princess's latest superliner cost from £1,399pp with up to $200 per couple free onboard spending money.

    * Princess is waving the flight supplement for regional flight departures to its popular Caribbean fly-cruises onboard Sea Princess in winter 2010/11 with flights available from 9 UK departure airports. There are also price reductions of £750 per couple plus $200 per couple free onboard spending money, as 15-night fly-cruises start from £1,469pp.

    * Many more cruises will have their prices reduced on 28 December, including cruises to Scandinavia from Southampton, as well as fly-cruises to the Far East, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and Alaska cruises. For example, 9-night Alaskan fly-cruises will be reduced by up to £1,000 per couple, with prices starting from just £1,199 per person with up to $200 per couple free onboard spending money.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Royal Caribbean: Promising Start to 'Wave Season'

The Wall Street Journal

It appears Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCL) sees calmer water ahead.

"Wave season is off to a promising start," Chief Executive Richard Fain said Thursday in a conference call with analysts. Wave season, which typically runs from January through March, is prime time for consumers-- stuck inside during winter--to start booking their cruise vacations.
Royal Caribbean said since the beginning of September, new bookings have been running about 30% higher than the same period a year ago. The company added current price levels are also ahead of the same time last year across the majority of its product groups. Echoing predictions of several industry watchers, the cruise operator expects European bookings to generally be a growth area for 2010.

Shares of the cruise company received a jolt after the company posted a surprise fourth-quarter profit and projected first-quarter earnings well ahead of analysts' expectations. Shares were recently up about 1.6% to $25.84. The stock has nearly tripled in the past year.

For the first quarter, Royal Caribbean expects earnings of 25 cents to 30 cents, while analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, on average, projected 3 cents. Profit for all of 2010 is pegged at $2 to $2.20, including 39 cents related to a legal settlement, while analysts forecast $1.48. Analysts' estimates typically exclude items.

The second-largest cruise-ship operator by market share, behind Carnival Cruises (CCL), said it continued to see improvements in the booking environment and expects net yields to rise about 2% in the current quarter, and by 3% to 6% this year, in contrast to last year's sinking yields that were hurt by lower pricing and promotions. Meanwhile, the decline in net yields has slowed, with Royal Caribbean expecting an upturn in the current quarter and year.

Royal Caribbean--whose brands include Celebrity, Pullmantur and Azamara Cruise Lines -- reported a profit of $3.4 million, or 2 cents a share, compared with $1.5 million, or 1 cent, a year earlier. The company in November expected a 5-cent loss, a bit wider than analysts expected at the time.

Revenue was flat at $1.5 billion, while the number of passengers carried rose 9.5%. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters most recently expected $1.44 billion.

Net yields, or revenue per available passenger cruise days, fell 7.2%, at the upper end of company expectations. Strength in both ticket and onboard revenue helped boost net yields from the previous quarter. Net cruise costs fell 10.5%.

Addressing some of the negative publicity surrounding its decision to return its ships to its Labadee, Haiti port immediately after getting clearance, Fain said the company "agonized over the idea of the people taking their holiday so near the devastation."

"In the end, we decided that the moral imperative demanded that we bring the people of Haiti much-needed relief supplies and equally needed tourist and economic activity from Caribbean cruises."

Bernstein Research analyst Janet Brashear wrote in a note that the "litmus test" for the company's decision from a business perspective will be Royal Caribbean's brand image with customers and their willingness to return to cruising in the Caribbean and Haiti. "So far, there appears to be very little impact," she wrote.

Royal Caribbean Cruises launched the world's largest passenger ship, the Oasis of the Seas, with a capacity of 5,400 guests last month, despite the weak economy. Fain said Oasis, along with its Solstice-class vessels, are generating "very healthy returns."