Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Repositioning Voyages a Big Hit with Travelers

The Ponte Vedra Recorder

Transocean and transatlantic voyages are in vogue among today’s cruise ship travelers.

Some companies, like Princess, Royal Caribbean and Holland America Line have numerous ships crossing the Atlantic or the Pacific this spring, from ports in North and South America.

Azamara Club Cruises

Azamara Journey — From Miami to Barcelona, departing April 11; from Rome to Miami, departing Nov. 15.

Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Century — 14 nights from Miami to Barcelona departing May 20; 14 nights from Barcelona to Miami departing Oct. 25; Celebrity Equinox — 14 nights from Fort Lauderdale to Rome departing April 19; from Rome to Fort Lauderdale sailing Oct. 31; Celebrity Constellation — 14 nights from Barcelona to Fort Lauderdale departing Nov. 6; Celebrity Eclipse — 13 nights from Southampton to Miami departing Oct. 31.

Costa Cruises

Costa Atlantica — 17 nights from New York City to Copenhagen departing May 5.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Magic — 14 nights cruises departing from Port Canaveral to Barcelona departing April 10; 14 nights from Barcelona to Port Canaveral, sailing Sept. 18.

Holland America Line

Eurodam — 16 days from Fort Lauderdale to Rome departing April 3; Noordam — 13 days from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona departing May 14.

MSC Cruises

MSC Poesia — 18 nights from Fort Lauderdale to Hamburg departing April 27; 18 nights from Kiel to New York departing Sept. 4.

Norwegian Cruise Lines

Norwegian Epic — Seven day transatlantic crossing, a maiden voyage, from Southampton to New York departing June 24.

Oceania Cruises

Insignia — 15 nights from Rio de Janeiro to Barcelona departing April 3; 15 nights from Barcelona to Rio de Janeiro departing Dec. 6; Nautica — 24 nights from Bangkok to Beijing departing March 1; 35 nights from Cape Town to Singapore departing Dec. 11; Regatta — 14 nights cruises from Miami Florida to Barcelona departing March 21; 14 nights from Barcelona to Miami departing Nov. 13.

Princess Cruises

Crown Princess — 14 days from Fort Lauderdale to Rome departing May; 14 days from London on to New York departing Sept. 3; Grand Princess — 15 days cruises departing from Fort Lauderdale to London departing April 9; 16 days from London to Ft. Lauderdale departing Sept. 25; Ruby Princess — 16 days from Ft. Lauderdale to Barcelona departing April 19; 16 days from Venice to Fort Lauderdale departing Oct. 8; Star Princess — 18 days from Ft. Lauderdale to Copenhagen departing April 24.

Royal Caribbean Cruises International

Navigator of the Seas — 14 nights cruises departing from Miami to Rome departing April 10; 14 nights from Rome to Fort Lauderdale departing Oct. 23; Independence of the Seas — 14 nights from Fort Lauderdale to Southampton departing April 11; Voyager of the Seas — 14 nights from Galveston to Barcelona departing April 18; 14 nights from Barcelona to Galveston departing Nov. 7; Adventure of the Seas — 13 nights from San Juan to Barcelona departing May 2; 14 nights from Barcelona to San Juan departing November 28; Jewel of the Seas — 13 nights from Miami to Harwich departing May 6; 14 nights from Harwich to Boston departing Sept. 4.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wedding Cruises Increase by 60 Percent

Hartford Courant

More brides are going to sea than ever before. Some even take along a lot more than the groom.

One New York bride plans to sail in May with more than 100 guests, according to Norwegian Cruise Line spokeswoman Courtney Recht.

On the briny, wedding business has increased by as much as 60 percent in the last decade, the 21 maritime members of Cruise Lines International Association report. The attraction, presciently noted years ago in a Royal Caribbean International survey, was that 95 percent of vacationers rated cruises as "extremely or very romantic," compared with landlubber vacations.

Another reason is convenience. According to the cruise association, almost 35 percent of the group's 16,000 agents say their clients want to combine a wedding with a honeymoon; more than 23 percent say the top reason for a cruise wedding is value.

As a setting for romance, more than 80 percent of agents say nothing beats the Caribbean and Bahamas as favorite wedding destinations.

Today it's a lot easier to tie the knot at sea or in ports around the globe. More cruise lines now offer shipboard wedding packages, amenities and wedding-planning services, including legal marriages performed by ships' captains.

The notion of nautical nuptials practically was codified in 1998, when Princess Cruises, the "Love Boat" line, launched bona fide weddings at sea, performed by a ship's captain. According to spokeswoman Carol Maglione, more than 6,000 couples have taken vows at sea or in port since then. Princess' weddings at sea are official, because the line's vessels are registered in Bermuda, which recognizes all marriages in international waters.

Besides weddings, many lines also offer honeymoon and vow-renewal packages, bachelor and bachelorette parties, even programs for "popping the question," the ultimate engagement party at sea.

Carnival Cruises, which saw a 60 percent increase in wedding packages in the last decade, anticipates that 2,400 couples will marry aboard its "Fun Ships" this year, according to the line's spokesman, Vance Gulliksen.

And options on all lines can read like a vast menu of choices.

Shipboard ceremonies on Carnival, for instance, are available on embarkation day in U.S. ports and many Caribbean cruises. Prices for Carnival's Just for the Bride & Groom package start at $1,195 and include an official civil ceremony, a champagne toast with keepsake flutes, flowers for both bride and groom, a wedding cake with cake topper, pre-recorded wedding music, a decorated bridal aisle and photographic services.

Add some guests, an hourlong open bar and hot and cold hors d'oeuvres, a traditional two-tiered wedding cake and coffee service, and the cost increases to $1,635.

Celebrity Cruises' most popular wedding package is the Nautical Nuptials program, featuring a captain-led wedding ceremony at sea offered on all Celebrity ships except Celebrity Xpedition.

Since 2008, even intimate Azamara Cruise Lines' vessels have made marriage at sea legal on their ships with captain-led wedding ceremonies. Couples tying the knot with Azamara and Celebrity captains can choose from packages that include anything from private receptions in the ship's specialty restaurant to cake, champagne and more. Basic captain-performed wedding packages start at $2,500.

Costa Cruises' weddings take place while the ship is in port, either onboard or on land, with the company's wedding planners taking care of all the details.

Crystal Cruises' romantic options include a candlelight dinner on the veranda of the couple's suite, onboard florists, a portrait studio and private shore excursions.

Brides and grooms on Disney Cruises Line can exchange vows aboard the ship or step ashore for a romantic beach-side ceremony on the line's private island paradise, Castaway Cay.

With 300 nuptials a year, Norwegian Cruise Lines boasts an array of options to turn the basic wedding into an extravaganza. The line offers two wedding packages — Onboard Aisles and On Shore Aisles — available in ports in the United States, Canada, Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico and Bermuda.

Both include a ceremony conducted by a local official plus all the features of a wedding: music, cake, wine.

Onboard Aisles packages start at $1,100 a couple (for shipboard weddings held in most Southern U.S., West Coast and ports of Canada cruises) to $1,450 (for Grand Cayman, St. Maarten and Northeast U.S. ports). The package includes priority embarkation for the couple and their guests (if the wedding is on embarkation day), snacks and refreshments upon embarkation, a ceremony conducted by a local official, recorded music, a wedding coordinator, a basic bouquet, a matching one-bloom boutonniere, professional photography service for one hour, one 8-by-10 photo, a private website to view and order photographs, gifts and favors, a wedding cake, one bottle of private-label Champagne and a keepsake certificate.

On Shore Aisles ranges from $1,450 in a colonial chapel in New Orleans to $2,450 in various locations in Florence, Rome or Venice.

On Royal Caribbean Cruises, betrothed couples can exchange vows while climbing the ships' rock walls or ice skating or even catching the waves on the shipboard surf simulator. The line's Royal Romance package features an hour wedding ceremony aboard ship or onshore on embarkation day.

Shoreside venues include hot-air balloons, the glaciers of Alaska cruises, medieval European castles and an Italian vineyard.

As if hand-holding for the nervous bride and groom weren't enough, some lines and travel agents now provide registry service. With all these options, it's not hard to see why brides are going overboard for onboard ceremonies.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Azamara Club Cruises Focuses on Exotic Destinations

Sun Sentinel

Cruise line changes its name, raises fares to include certain beverages and services

Mega cruise ships carrying thousands of passengers and offering extreme sports are all the rage, but they are not everyone's idea of a good time.

Some passengers are turned off by big ships. They have no interest in exploring crowded Caribbean ports, surfing on a Flow rider or dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Azamara Club Cruises is the latest company to go after older, affluent travelers who favor exotic port destinations and require all of the comforts of a boutique hotel.

"When you're a small ship you can get to places the big ships can't go," Azamara CEO Larry Pimentel said.

Other cruise lines, including Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Silversea Cruises specialize in small-ship cruising with a high level of service, including a butler who will cater to passengers' personal tastes.

Started in 2007, Azamara has two ships — the Journey and the Quest. In December, the company changed its name from Azamara Cruises to reflect the club-like atmosphere passengers will find onboard, Pimentel said.

The company's new direction hinges on what Pimentel calls "destination immersion."

"We're doing more overnights and longer stays," in ports of call, he said. Giving guests two, sometimes even three, consecutive days to tour cities will position Azamara to rival land-based tour companies, Pimentel added.

There's also an increased focus on offering tour excursions that passengers may not find on other lines, such as a Ferrari driving tour in Italy.

And starting next month, many amenities will be included within cruise fares, such as a lunch and dinner wine selection, in-cabin dining, gratuities, and shuttle buses to city centers in port.

Cruise fares average about $250 per person per day, with most itineraries ranging from seven to 14 nights.

To adjust for the now-included products and services, Pimentel said the company raised cruise fares about 24 percent over a 12-week period, a move met with criticism from some passengers and travel agents.

"The new price increases do not equate with the extras offered," said a member, known as frontrow487, on an Internet message board. "We feel priced out and wish you had kept the status quo."

Pimentel responded to the complaint during a recent Question and Answer forum he hosted on, a website for passengers, saying, "We regularly look at the pricing offered by our competitive set, and think Azamara Club Cruises represents an excellent value, which we find vital to retaining our valued guests."

Azamara Cruise Lines differs from some of its established competitors. It has fewer ships in its fleet. In many cases, rival lines visit more obscure ports of call and offer world cruise itineraries that give passengers the option of sailing for months at a time.

Pimentel says there's enough room in the small-ship market for one more. "We don't all go to the same destinations at the same time," he said.

What makes Azamara different, he says, is that "It's a little bit of a secret, and it's a newer line."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cruising Tradition Revived

Montreal Gazette

Passengers may bring guests on-board

Princess Cruises is bringing back an old tradition, but with a new twist.

Once you could bring your family and friends on-board to say goodbye in style before the cruise ship sailed. Princess's Bon Voyage Experience will allow passengers to invite friends and relatives on-board for a four-course lunch with wine, a ship tour and a souvenir photo.

Here is the part I like. The passengers and guests will have priority boarding and will be able to spend about four hours together before the ship sails.

But there will be a cost: each guest will be charged $39, which can be applied as a credit toward a future cruise.

For the guest, it's a good deal for the price. For Princess, it's a better deal. It may be the first time many guests step on a cruise ship, and they may become future customers for Princess Cruises.

The program will debut next month in Los Angeles and cruises departing from Fort Lauderdale before expanding to New York, San Francisco and Seattle.

The cruise ships will not have hundreds of guests roaming their decks just before departure. The number of guests is capped at 50. You can reserve spots well in advance or up to six days prior to departure.

In other Princess news, the cruise line's owners, Carnival Cruises Corp., have reached an agreement with Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri for two new prototype ships - 20 per cent larger than other Princess ships and with a capacity of 3,600 passengers in double occupancy, similar in size to the Carnival Dream, the largest ship in the Carnival fleet.

The first Princess ship will be launched in spring 2013, the second a year later. These will be the first new ships for Princess Cruises since the launch of the Ruby Princess in fall 2008. Princess caters more to an adult audience.

Norwegian Cruise Lines is getting ahead of the game when it comes to announcing ship deployments for 2011 and the winter of 2012. NCL will base its first ship in Copenhagen, in 2011 for nine-day Baltic cruises. The Danish port city was one of my favourite cities on my last Baltic cruise. It also is close to Scandinavian and Baltic ports, so you spend less time sailing to them.

NCL Cruises also announced plans to sail year-round out of New Orleans for destinations such as Costa Maya, Cozumel, Roatan Bay and Belize City.

Celebrity Cruise Lines will be opening an Internet café - it sounds more like an Apple store - on the Eclipse when it launches in April. The iLounge, as the line is calling it, will be set up with 26 computers, will offer courses and will sell Apple products. If it proves successful, I expect iLounges will be rolled out through the rest of the Celebrity Cruises fleet.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

New Luxury Ship from Seabourn to go Around the World in 109 Days

USA Today

Seabourn has announced plans for an unusually exotic world cruise to take place in 2012 on the 450-passenger Seabourn Quest.

The still-to-be-built ship, scheduled to debut in mid-2011, will set sail on Jan. 5, 2012 from Fort Lauderdale on the 109-night voyage, which will start with a trip down to South America followed by an eastbound crossing of the Atlantic Ocean to Africa and then Asia before  a loop back to the Middle East and Europe.

The voyage will include stops in a number of new-for-the-line ports, including Port Elizabeth, South Africa and remote St. Helena Island.

Other port calls scheduled for the voyage in South America and Africa include Devil's Island, French Guiana; Recife, Salvador Da Bahia and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil; Walvis Bay, Namibia; Cape Town and Durban in South Africa; and Maputo, Mozambique.

Among stops in Asia: Singapore; Ho Chi Minh City and Chan May in Vietnam; Keelung (Taipei); Shanghai; Hong Kong; Phuket, Thailand; and Port Kelang (for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia).

The ship also will call in Cochin, Mormugao (Goa) and Mumbai in India; Khasab, Salalah and Muscat in Oman; Dubai; Safaga (for Luxor), Sharm el-Sheikh and Alexandria, Egypt; Aqaba, Jordan;  and Corfu.

While global in its reach, the world cruise from Seabourn Cruises does not include a complete circumnavigation of the globe. It'll end in late April 2012 in Venice.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Cruise Lines Offering Boatloads of Enticements

Chicago Sun-Times

If you’re planning a cruise vacation this year, get ready for higher prices, better entertainment, water parks and one of the most innovative concepts to come along in a while: rooms designed for solo travelers on the Norwegian Epic, without the supplemental charge that single passengers on cruises have traditionally paid.

“I think it’s genius,” said Cynthia Boal Janssens, chief blogger at “I’m amazed with so many new ships coming on line that this hasn’t been done sooner. Lots of single people cruise and want to cruise, but right now, if you are going on a cruise as a single person and you occupy a double cabin, they charge you an additional fee for doing that, sometimes as much as 200 percent.”

The Epic, which launches this summer, will offer 128 studios for singles. The cabins open onto a lounge area where solo travelers can socialize.

Paul Motter, editor at, said he thinks the single studios “will take off. We have a whole message board on CruiseMates for people seeking cruise companions. It’s a huge potential market.”

Motter said another emerging trend in cruises is more brand-name entertainment. For years, mediocre musical revues with names like “Salute to Broadway” were standard fare on ships, to the point where they “kind of became a joke,” Motter said.

In contrast, the Epic will feature Blue Man Group and Second City improv shows. Royal Caribbean Cruises' megaship, Oasis of the Seas, which launched last fall, offers a complete production of “Hairspray.”

Motter said “Hairspray” is “the first time a cruise ship has fully licensed a Broadway production. And it’s a really good production, on par with a national touring company.”

Oasis was the “it” ship of 2009, attracting enormous publicity as the largest cruise ship ever built. It carries up to 6,300 passengers and 2,100 crew members, with facilities that include an ice rink, golf course, volleyball and basketball courts, a 1,300-seat indoor theater and seven “neighborhoods,” including a boardwalk and a mini-Central Park. There’s so much to do onboard that when the ship pulls into a port, “a lot of people don’t get off,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown of

The cruise industry will launch a dozen new ships this year, but, Brown said, “Nothing will compete with Oasis.”

Ships debuting in 2010 include a sister ship of Oasis called Allure of the Seas, a new Queen Elizabeth from Cunard, and Celebrity Eclipse, the third in a series of Celebrity ships that started with the Solstice in 2008 and the Equinox in 2009.

Despite all these new ships coming onto the market during a recession, the cruise industry has managed to keep them full. In 2009, ships sailed at 104 percent capacity on average, meaning that every room was occupied and some rooms were shared by more than two people, according to Cruise Lines International Association, an industry group with 25 cruise lines representing 97 percent of cruise capacity in North America.

At the same time, the number of passengers keeps increasing: 13.01 million people cruised on CLIA ships in 2008, 13.44 million in 2009 and a projected 14.3 million will sail in 2010.

“Maybe we are not recession-proof, but we are recession-resistant,” said Richard Sasso, CEO of MSC Cruises and marketing director of CLIA.

One way cruises have kept ships full is by dramatically increasing the number of international passengers, to make up for slow growth in the North American market. The number of passengers from outside North America has doubled to more than 3 million a year since 2003, while the number of U.S. and Canada cruise passengers has increased by just 30 percent to 10.29 million.

Discounts have brought customers in, too. Cruise prices go down when demand is weak — just like airfare — until every cabin is filled.

But the low prices of 2009 are starting to disappear. “Fares are going up, for sure,” said Brown, the editor.

One sign of change: More passengers are booking further in advance. In 2009, the average booking window for a cruise was 4.6 months before the departure date, and 39 percent of passengers were booking their trips less than four months out, Sasso said. For 2010, the average booking window already has increased to five months out, and only 30 percent of clients are booking less than four months before their departure.

What does this mean for consumers?

“As the ship fills up, the prices go up,” said Motter, the editor. “They give you the best prices six months to a year out, and at the very end, if there are still empty cabins, they discount them. The best way to get the best deal on a cruise is to book early. Almost all the cruise lines offer price guarantees, so if you see a price lower than what you booked, they will honor that.”

On the other hand, you can still find last-minute bargains in places where the market is “really soft,” said Brown. “Eastern Mediterranean, Greek Isles, Turkey. For the Mexican Riviera, I’m still seeing $299 departures on seven-day trips.”

Don’t forget to check social media when planning a cruise. More cruise companies and cruise Web sites are using Twitter and Facebook to highlight deals and trips. Cunard Cruises even has a YouTube channel where fans can watch construction progress on the new Queen Elizabeth, as well as videos of James Taylor performing on another Cunard ship, Queen Mary 2.

Another long-term trend in cruising is the increase in family-friendly programs and attractions. In the last 10 years, the median age of cruisers has dropped from 57 to 47, according to Bob Sharak, CLIA’s executive director.

“Multigenerational groups — the groups that bring adults, kids and grandkids — are bringing down the average age,” said Mimi Weisband, spokeswoman for Crystal Cruises.

One feature on new ships that younger passengers are sure to love is the water park. Carnival Dream, which launched last year, has an aqua park called WaterWorks with a 300-foot-long water slide, the longest water slide at sea.

A new ship from Disney Cruises, the Dream, launching in January 2011, will have a 765-foot-long water coaster, the AquaDuck, that will wrap around the perimeter of the ship’s top deck, with one loop jutting 13 feet over the side of the ship, 150 feet above the ocean.

Other innovative features on the Disney Dream include virtual portholes for windowless staterooms that will offer live views of the sea and sky from video cameras mounted around the ship. The Dream also will have an adult lounge called Skyline with changing backdrops offering views of famous skylines around the world.

Cruises also keep offering more and more sophisticated programming. In late 2009, Celebrity Cruises' ships launched a series of enrichment seminars and activities called Celebrity Life. In addition to fitness classes and spa treatments, the programs include cooking classes, wine-tastings, stargazing, scrapbooking and lectures on art and history.

Cruise itineraries keep changing, too. Crystal Cruises’ new port calls include Kuwait City, Bandar Abbas in Iran, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, Sevastopol in the Ukraine and Port Elizabeth in South Africa cruises, with new excursions that include South African wineries and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Princess Cruises will visit 17 new ports in the next two years, including Abu Dhabi, Tangiers in Morocco and Xiamen, on the southeastern coast of China. A “Highlights of Germany” tour offered by Princess this year will include two nights in the town of Oberammergau to see the famous Passion Play that villagers only perform once a decade.

Janssens, the All editor, says river tours of Europe are also increasingly popular. “They’re replacing the bus tour of Europe,” she said.

Brown of CruiseCritic agreed, adding that ships designed for river cruising are “much more stylish than they used to be,” with “much nicer cabins, tech toys like DVD players, French balconies, elaborate furnishings and better food.”

Janssens said the small and medium-size ships from lines like Silversea, Star Clippers and Crystal Cruises are especially appealing for older, more traditional travelers.

“They may not have big-name shows, you don’t have all the razzle-dazzle, but there’s a lot of elegance with this type of cruising — lovely dinners and you meet so many well-traveled people,” Janssens said. “They tend to be more luxurious, and you go to interesting places that the big ships can’t reach, where there aren’t 10,000 people in port.”

While megaships like Oasis may get the headlines, Janssens theorized that “people who like small ships are becoming even more loyal to them as big ships get bigger.”

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Fastest Growing Cruise Destination is . . . The Persian Gulf?

USA Today

It wasn't by accident that Costa Cruises chose Dubai in the Persian Gulf as the location for last week's naming of its newest ship, the Costa Deliziosa. The gleaming tourist and business hub is turning into a boom town of sorts for the cruise industry.

Costa CEO Pier Luigi Foschi noted at the event that the Carnival-owned line was moving 140,000 cruisers through the city this winter, a 40% increase from last year and more than three times the number of just three years ago.

"The business grew fast," says Foschi, ticking off details of the company's rapid, four-year expansion from one ship to three in the region.

Perpetually sunny and warm, the Persian Gulf is proving a popular winter getaway for cruise fans from Europe, in particular, as well as Middle Easterners and smaller numbers of Americans, despite its location near several troubled countries including Iraq and Yemen.

For a European cruiser, the Persian Gulf is closer than the Caribbean and offers an appealing mix of culture, history and modern conveniences, not to mention luxury (Dubai's sparkling new airport puts those in cruise hubs Miami and Fort Lauderdale to shame, and the beach-lined city boasts some of the world's most elaborate resorts).

Dubai's top tourism official, Hamad Bin Mejiren, told cruise writers in Dubai last week for the Costa event that the city expected to see 575,000 cruise passengers by 2015. That's more than double the 263,000 that arrived in 2009, he noted.

As recently as 2001, Dubai was getting just 7,000 cruise passengers a year.

The naming of the Costa Deliziosa last week was a first of its kind in an Arab city -- and, officials say, a harbinger of things to come.

Costa already is basing its two newest ships -- the Deliziosa and sister Luminosa -- in Dubai this winter (both vessels sailing seven-night Gulf voyages that include stops in ports such as Muscat, Oman). It also has been operating 18-night cruises between Dubai and Savona, Italy, on the Costa Europa, though the voyages came to an abrupt end last week after the ship was involved in an accident in Egypt.

The trend of cruises around the Middle East also got a big boost in January as industry giant Royal Caribbean began its first season of voyages in the region. Royal Caribbean's 2,112-passenger Brilliance of the Seas, now sailing weekly out of Dubai on seven-night trip to Oman, Bahrain and other parts of the United Arab Emirates, was docked next to the Costa Deliziosa during last week's ceremony.

How significant will cruising in the Persian Gulf become? Clearly, Dubai is betting big. The naming of the Costa Deliziosa last week coincided with the official unveiling of a new cruise terminal at Dubai's Port Rashid that can accommodate up to four cruise ships at a time.