Bob Hoelscher

April 17, 2018 Update – Group Cruise News

 
 

Bob Hoelscher
Published April 17, 2018

Welcome! Cruise lines’ “private islands” in the Caribbean have been around now for several decades, mostly offering a secluded, very pleasant beach party experience, a barbecue luncheon at no extra cost, plus the availability of water and beach sports. However, as ships have become more and more massive, crowding of existing facilities has become increasingly apparent, while familiarity with the “beach day” for veteran cruisers like me, regardless of the line involved, has served to make them rather generic. Thus I was most interested to explore Harvest Caye, an island retreat off the coast of Belize that was developed relatively recently by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., for the exclusive (at least at present) use of the guests of its three lines…Norwegian, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas. Promoted as a new concept of resort-style destination, the facility officially opened in November, 2016, although my first opportunity to visit was on this past March 20th during a call of Norwegian Jade. Incidentally, this is the only Belizean port that features a lengthy cruise pier adjacent to the guest amenities.

Was I impressed? Indeed I was, and I expect most cruisers will readily concur. First, this place is huge. 2,400 passengers (more or less) aboard the mid-sized Jade couldn’t put a dent in the expansive facilities, as row after row after row after row of bright blue beach chairs were completely vacant as I wandered around with my trusty camera. With larger vessels like Norwegian Bliss arriving soon and on the drawing boards for the near future, somebody at NCLH was obviously smart enough to make Harvest Caye big enough to easily accommodate future needs. Furthermore, in addition to being anything but crowded, the island is beautifully landscaped, spotlessly maintained, and features a seven-acre white sand beach that is sure to please the most ardent sun worshippers.

Here also is just about the largest swimming pool I have ever witnessed, reportedly covering 15,000 square feet and offering a swim-up bar for those with a water-borne thirst. There is no charge to use the pool, beach and poolside chairs, or visit the wildlife conservation area, which includes a butterfly garden, aviary and educational center. Not being a beach person myself, I spent quite a while photographing the butterflies instead. A shopping village features retailers selling name-brand merchandise and local crafts, but it is not done to excess like some other Western Caribbean ports like Cozumel and Costa Maya. And numerous excursions, classy private beach and pool cabanas, as well as a variety of recreational facilities are available at reasonable extra cost for those so inclined.

Available tours feature the island’s wildlife and mangrove estuaries, as well as a quiet electric boat cruise; excursions to the nearby mainland for visits to Mayan ruins and archaeological sites, a spice farm, rural Belizean villages, plus rainforest river tubing and jungle rafting; or underwater sightseeing for snorkelers on the world’s second largest barrier reef. Active guests can also enjoy beach volleyball, or (at extra cost) paddle boarding, parasailing, kayaking, ziplining from the Flighthouse (in the appealing, photogenic form of a lighthouse), and a ropes course. One difference from other typical “private island” days worth noting is that no free beach barbecue is provided…guests, after all, are within walking distance of their ship and, of course, unlimited eats on board. However, there are half a dozen convenient food and beverage outlets on the island, including the indoor/outdoor, two-story Landside Bar & Grill, developed in partnership with Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville.” Harvest Caye definitely gets a “thumbs up” from me.

AIDA Cruises has announced that bookings are now open for the third AIDA World Cruise. On October 28, 2019, AIDAaura will depart Hamburg for a voyage around the globe to 41 ports in 17 countries on four continents in 117 days. Many destinations will be visited for the first time in AIDA history. The highlight of the trip is the New Year in Sydney, with the city’s famous holiday fireworks display over the impressive skyline of the Australian metropolis. Christmas Eve will be spent in in Tauranga, on the subtropical North Island of New Zealand, where guests will decorate palm trees instead of traditional firs. In other news, aboard AIDAprima in March, the line awarded donations of €10,000 each to three heroines of everyday life. Bettina Landgrafe, Anja Gehlken and Sylke Hoß were each honored at a gala on AIDAprima by Europe’s largest women’s magazine for their volunteer commitment and moral courage. During their travels, the winners provided AIDA guests with emotional insights into their work and current projects. Finally, AIDA has received the award for the best entertainment on board cruise ships as part of the “Golden Sun 2018” gala by sonnenklar.tv, before 1,500 invited guests. Borris Brandt, AIDA Entertainment Director, and an “AIDA Stars” ensemble received the award on behalf of all employees of AIDA Entertainment on board and ashore. www.aida.de/

American Cruise Lines kicked off its 2018 West Coast season on April 7th with American Constellation’s inaugural cruise in the Northwest. The new ship departed on a Tulip-themed cruise in Puget Sound, roundtrip from Seattle. Having doubled its Puget Sound and Alaska capacity with two ships sailing in 2018, and plans to further increase capacity in 2019, American has positioned itself to offer the widest range of itineraries in the region of any small ship line. American has 5, 8, and 11-day itineraries in Puget Sound, and 8, 11, and 15-day itineraries in Alaska. In 2018, the line is further distinguishing itself in the region, as American Constellation will be the only fully stabilized small cruise ship in Alaska this summer. In other news, its first new ship of 2018, American Constitution, successfully passed sea trials last week in Chesapeake Bay. With the U.S. Coast Guard aboard, the vessel underwent speed trials, an endurance run, and was thoroughly tested in all areas of safety and maneuverability. Her inaugural cruise from Baltimore this Wednesday, April 18th, will also be the line’s first “American Revolution Cruise”…a new 10-night itinerary around Chesapeake Bay. For the remainder of 2018, the new ship will stay on the East Coast, where it will run a series of trips in summer and fall from Boston and New York. www.americancruiselines.com/

American Queen Steamboat Company, through June 30, is offering savings of up to $3,000 per stateroom on a September 9th American Queen cruise from Red Wing, Minnesota (near Minneapolis and St. Paul). This “Heartland Heritage Experience” and Mark Twain-themed sailing will feature his words and wit brought to life onboard by tribute artist Lewis Hankins. Elsewhere, the line has announced its participation in the 2018 Great Steamboat Race in Louisville on May 2. The U.S.-flagged American Duchess, the first all-suite paddlewheeler on U.S. waters, will race alongside Belle of Louisville and Belle of Cincinnati on the Ohio River in a competition that has been held annually since 1963. The 14-mile course on the Ohio River starts and finishes at the Clark Memorial Bridge. The first boat to cross the finish line will be presented with the set of 12-point Silver Antlers at a post-race ceremony. www.aqsc.com/

Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line marked the arrival of the newest addition to its fleet, Grand Classica (most recently Costa neoClassica), with a welcome ceremony on Friday, April 13, followed by an inaugural two-night sailing to Grand Bahama Island. The ship was met with a pierside serenade by the Bak Middle School of the Arts Jazz Band. A group of travel agents, media and loyal guests enjoyed her first sailing to The Bahamas, experiencing the vessel’s onboard amenities, entertainment and dining options, along with shore excursions on Grand Bahama Island. With Grand Classica joining Grand Celebration (Originally Carnival’s Celebration), the line features two-night cruises and Cruise & Resort Stay Packages departing year-round from the Port of Palm Beach. Combined, the two ships are expected to carry more than 500,000 passengers annually to the island’s port city of Freeport. www.bahamasparadisecruise.com

Carnival Cruise Line is now accepting reservations for the 133,500-ton Carnival Panorama, which will kick off its year-round, seven-day Mexican Riviera schedule from Long Beach, California, on December 14, 2019, becoming the first new Carnival ship to be homeported on the West Coast in 20 years. Prior to the launch of seven-day service, the vessel will offer a special one-time, three-day cruise to Ensenada from Long Beach on December 11, 2019. Carnival Panorama will offer a three-port itinerary departing every Saturday to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta. Elsewhere, on March 26, Carnival Paradise returned to year-round service from Port Tampa Bay following an extensive month-long dry dock that added a variety of spaces and innovations, including a new water park, 38 new staterooms, 98 balconies added to existing accommodations, and an array of the line’s iconic food and beverage concepts. Next, Christine Duffy, the line’s president, has been selected to participate in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference (JCOC) hosted by the Secretary of Defense. As a JCOC participant, Duffy will join other business leaders in an intense week-long agenda from June 10 to 16, engaging with senior military officials and U.S. Service members. By visiting key military installations and participating in tactical training exercises, she will gain a better understanding of the roles and mission of the U.S. Armed Forces, their skills, capabilities and equipment employed in defense of the nation. In other news, on March 28 at a Fincantieri shipyard in Italy, Carnival officially took delivery of the new 133,500-ton Carnival Horizon, the 26th ship in its fleet. The 3,954-passenger ship then repositioned to Barcelona, Spain, where it departed on April 2 for an inaugural 13-day voyage, the first of four sailings from the European port. After a trans-Atlantic crossing to New York, a pierside overnight gala and naming ceremony will feature the ship’s godmother, musical artist and actress Queen Latifah. A summer schedule of four-day Bermuda and eight-day Caribbean sailings from the “Big Apple” will then precede the vessel’s shift to PortMiami for a year-round schedule of six- and eight-day Caribbean cruises beginning on September 22. Incidentally, reflecting a commitment to providing guests with the widest variety of choices at sea, the line has dramatically expanded its retail offerings on Carnival Horizon, featuring the fleet’s most expansive retail space showcasing top brands like LeVian, Victoria’s Secret and, for the first time, Michael Kors, Kate Spade, Breitling and Hublot. The vessel is distinguished by its two-level, mall-style shops located along the ship’s atrium on decks 4 and 5. Finally, Carnival has added another 20 voyages to Cuba aboard Carnival Paradise from Tampa in 2019, complementing the 11 cruises to the island taking place aboard the vessel through next year. The new voyages are in addition to the 17 recently announced Cuba cruises aboard Carnival Sensation departing from Miami in 2019, indicating that more and more travelers see cruising as a great way to experience the destination. www.carnival.com/

Carnival Australia has announced that Carnival Splendor’s 2019 sailings are now open for sale. Fares are currently available for cruises departing between November 25 and December 28, 2019. These sailings offer the opportunity to sail on Carnival Splendor immediately after her dry dock in Singapore, where she’ll be given a range of new dining experiences tailored to the local tastes of Australian guests, plus a brand-new waterpark. Also, Carnival Australia is giving cruise lovers an added incentive to book their next adventure at sea by offering guests up to $300 onboard credit per cabin on a range of select sailings between May 3, 2018, and December 30, 2019, when booked by May 7, early next month. www.carnivalaustralia.com/

Celebrity Cruises is offering a new range of experiences designed in collaboration with renowned adventurer Ben Fogle. The new excursions are an expansion of the line’s “Ben Fogle’s Great Adventures” excursion series currently offered in Europe. The program will now also enable guests to experience culture, history, famous sights, wildlife and adventure at ports of calls throughout the Caribbean and Alaska. Also, the line has entered into a first-of-its-kind cruise industry partnership with Forbes Travel Guide in an effort to tap into the guide’s 60 years of expertise to assist in refining Celebrity’s current guest experience. Integrating its efforts to assess and verify services and facilities at the finest hotels and resorts in the world, Forbes Travel Guide will now be sharing the same standards to support Celebrity in the brand’s ongoing quest to ensure service excellence. www.celebritycruises.com/

Celestyal Cruises has announced the appointment of three new members of the company’s marketing and sales team: Maria Moreau, Brand Marketing and Social Media Executive, North America; Roger Poulard, Business Development Manager, Northeast USA + Eastern Canada; and Kelly Predmesky, Business Development Manager, Southeast USA + Caribbean. www.celestyalcruises.com

CroisiEurope recently launched its first-ever Africa product with land-and-cruise packages through South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Botswana. New reservations will receive $572 off per cabin on select fall and early winter departures from this September through December, with prices starting at $6,033 per person. www.croisieuroperivercruises.com/

Crystal Cruises’ fifth luxury river vessel, Crystal Ravel, was officially handed over to the company on April 12 in Wismar, Germany, at MV WERFTEN shipyard, where each of her predecessors were built. Crystal president and CEO, Tom Wolber, took the “keys” to the vessel while welcoming her to the fleet. In other news, the line is unveiling more than two dozen new “Crystal Getaways” for three of its river ships, sailing between May and November of this year. The new collection for the all-suite, all-balcony, all-butler Crystal Bach, Crystal Mahler and Crystal Ravel feature multiple overnights in a number of cities on six to nine-day voyages. The new itineraries sail along the Danube and Rhine rivers, with calls in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, Slovakia, Belgium and the Netherlands. The company has also announced that renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa will join Crystal Serenity’s June 19th “Baltic Bliss” sailing from Stockholm to London. Planned for the sailing are special dinners, curated menus, book signings and other celebrations hosted by the master chef, whose Silk Road and The Sushi Bar (on Crystal Serenity) and Umi Uma (on Crystal Symphony) are the only Nobu restaurants at sea. During the sailing, guests will have several opportunities to personally mingle with Nobu and indulge in his signature cuisine. www.crystalcruises.com/

Cunard has unveiled its November, 2019, to June, 2020 program, which includes the line’s first ever Christmas celebrations in Australia, sailing through the heart of the Amazon River, a new World Voyage, and more overnights in port. Travelling almost 150,000 nautical miles, Cunard liners will call at 123 destinations in 48 different countries, including 10 maiden calls for the company’s current fleet. In other news, Cunard has announced a line-up of expert speakers for its second annual “Transatlantic Space Week” this fall. The nine-night voyage on Queen Mary 2 departs New York on October 7 and arrives in Southampton on October 16, once again coinciding with International World Space Week, which has taken place from October 4, to 10 ever since its United Nations declaration in 1999. www.cunard.com/

Emerald Waterways is now accepting bookings for its newest itineraries, small yacht sailings of the new, 36-guest Adriatic Princess II along Croatia’s dramatic Dalmatian Coast in the Adriatic Sea. The line is offering eight-day sailings as well as 11 and 16-day land and sea packages between April and October, 2019, with pricing starting at $2,995 per person, double occupancy. In other news, a new customer loyalty program, “EmeraldEXPLORER,” was announced this month. The program is designed to reward guests for their loyalty through a system of points, which are accrued by completing cruises with Emerald and allowing guests to climb the tier system with each trip taken to receive more benefits. All members of EmeraldEXPLORER, regardless of their tier level, receive member-only savings and offers on sailings; $100 discount on referrals to friends for both the referrer and the friend; advance notice of brochure releases; a subscription to EmeraldEXPLORER magazine; a complimentary piece of luggage, and invitations to special events. All of the line’s guests will be automatically enrolled in the EmeraldEXPLORER program upon completing their first sailing, and earn points based on itineraries and cabin types. Finally, the line is promoting two departures of a new, one-week “Lower Danube Waltz” itinerary between Vienna and Belgrade, with ports also including Mohacs, Pécs, Osijec and Novi Sad. www.emeraldwaterways.com/

Holland America Line’s Denella Ri’chard, senior director, trade communications and engagement, was named as one of The Network Journal’s 25 Influential Black Women in Business. Ri’chard, who also is a member of the cruise line’s Sales Leadership Team, was honored by the magazine at a luncheon in New York City on March 16. In other news, HAL has announced the continuation of its partnership with the Seattle Mariners through the 2018 MLB season. As a primary component of the partnership, the line is the presenting sponsor of the “Salute to Those Who Serve” on-field recognition program honoring men and women of the U.S. military. Additionally, for the fifth consecutive season, each strikeout thrown by a Mariners pitcher during a home game will earn a donation from HAL to Seattle Children’s Hospital Uncompensated Care Fund under the “K’s for Kids” program, an effort which has amounted to more than $100,000 to date. Elsewhere, HAL’s “Ready Set Sail” promotion features pre-paid gratuities, reduced deposits and rates on nearly all of the cruise line’s worldwide itineraries. Guests who book a HAL cruise by June 14 are eligible to receive the offer, and guests who book a suite also will receive up to $300 onboard spending money per stateroom. All cruises between September 1, 2018, and August 1, 2019, excluding Grand Voyages and Grand Voyage segments, are eligible for the promotion. Next, to further strengthen its commitment to the transformative power of travel and the belief that connecting people from different cultures opens minds, builds connections and inspires shared humanity, HAL has establishing the Shared Humanity Award, to be given annually. The award will be presented to a leader and change-maker who has dedicated their life to inspiring others to see that the things that unite us are greater than those that divide us. HAL president Orlando Ashford bestowed the first such award on Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the former Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, in recognition of his lifetime spent championing equality, inclusion and peace. The Archbishop attended a program on April 4 aboard Amsterdam in Cape Town during a stop on its Grand World Voyage. Ashford presented a $40,000 donation on behalf of the line to the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation in commemoration of the award. Finally, In advance of World Art Day on April 15, HAL announced that it is developing a unique art experience on board its ships and on shore during cruises. Launching this summer through partner ArtLink, the new fleetwide program will give guests the opportunity to participate in a number of interactive art events, to delve deeper into the cultures they visit by being introduced to a region’s iconic art and craftwork, and to take home genuine mementos of their experience. The program will be centered in an on-board gallery space exhibiting works by emerging artists curated from the destinations visited by the ships, then the collection will gradually be replaced by changing exhibitions of photographs, sculptures, crafts, paintings and drawings curated to reflect the regions of the world. www.hollandamerica.com/

MSC Cruises has announced a new partnership with award-winning Spanish chef Ramón Freixal. The partnership was launched during an MSC Cruises event at Freixa’s two Michelin Star restaurant in Madrid at Hotel Unico, and will introduce main dishes and tapas developed by Chef Freixa across the fleet, as well a selection of dishes designed especially for the Christmas and New Year menus. Plans are also underway to launch a gastronomy cruise for gourmands across the world in search of an ultimate food and travel experience. In other news, the line is introducing a digital cruise personal assistant as a new feature of the “MSC for Me” digital innovation program. This new guest service, developed in partnership with Harman International, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Samsung Electronics, and a leader in connected technologies for automotive, consumer and enterprise markets, will debut on MSC Bellissima, currently under construction at the STX France shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, France. The company also announced that the vessel will be christened in the port of Southampton, U.K., on March 2, 2019. Also, MSC has launched a signature collection of spa treatments, created with LAJATICA vinotherapy products from Bocelli Wines. Exclusive to the MSC Aurea Spa, the treatments debuted on the Miami-based MSC Seaside, and will soon be introduced on MSC ships across the fleet. Strengthened by the anti-aging and firming properties found in grapes, these facial and body treatments are made with natural extracts from the Bocelli family vineyards and blended with Tuscan plants and essential oils. MSC has also launched a new “Drinks on Us” promotion for MSC Seaside and MSC Divina Caribbean sailings that includes a wide-selection of complimentary drinks included with their cruise fare. For new bookings made now through May 31, guests sailing in the Caribbean can stay refreshed with a selection of free unlimited non-alcoholic beverages including canned or fountain soda, bottled or canned juices and bottled water, as well as alcoholic drinks including bottled and draft beers, wines by the glass and house brands of vodka, rum, gin, and whiskey…reportedly a value of more than $250 per person. Sailings start at $509 per person for an interior stateroom, with the “Drinks on Us” package included as part of the cruise fare. And, of course, MSC Armonia ran into the pier in Roatán, Honduras, happily with no major consequences! www.msccruises.com/

Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest fleet addition and fourth “Breakaway-Plus” class ship, Norwegian Encore, will offer Eastern Caribbean cruises beginning in fall, 2019, that are now on sale. For her inaugural season, Norwegian Encore will depart Miami every Sunday from November 17, 2019, through April 12, 2020, on seven-day voyages to San Juan, St. Thomas and Tortola. Elsewhere, the line’s “Distinctive Voyages” offer has now been extended through May 31. On select seven-day or longer cruises, guests receive five additional amenities that include a 120-minute phone call package, 250-minute Internet package, $50 credit per stateroom that can be applied towards shore excursions in each port, up to $400 in air credit and $100 hotel credit for a pre- or post-cruise stay. The offer is also combinable with the “Free at Sea” promotion, providing guests up to $5,000 in total value on their next cruise vacation. www.ncl.com/

Paul Gauguin Cruises is reportedly the first cruise line to visit the port city of Vairao in Tahiti Iti, which is the smaller of two landmasses comprising the island of Tahiti, offering a wild coastline, marae (temples), Polynesian culture, and surfing fame. Tahiti Iti is scheduled on 7-night “Society Islands & Tahiti Iti” voyages that depart and return to Papeete and visit the Society Islands of Huahine, Motu Mahana (Taha’a), Bora Bora, and Moorea, as well as Vairao, departing June 30, August 25, October 6, and November 3, 2018. A special sailing of the 10-night “Society Islands & Tuamotus” voyage, departing this September 19, also includes a call at Tahiti Iti. The line has now debuted its new “2019 Voyages” brochure featuring Tahiti, French Polynesia, Fiji, and South Pacific itineraries. The piece presents sailings of Paul Gauguin, which offers an elegant yet casual ambiance, luxury accommodations, gourmet dining, trademark Polynesian hospitality, and all-inclusive value. www.pgcruises.com/

P&O Cruises Australia’s Pacific Jewel emerged from her 10-day dry dock in Sydney during mid-March. 110 contractors working over 120,000 hours fitted the 70,310-ton vessel with 200 pieces of new furniture, 500 pieces of artwork and accessories, 6000 square meters of carpet and 2000 square meters of paint and wall-covering. In other news, support from the P&O Pacific Partnership has ensured that Vanuatu’s women’s volleyball stars, senior player Miller Pata and Linline Matauatu have the chance to make their Island nation proud by taking home a Commonwealth Games medal. The Partnership, funded by voluntary contributions from P&O guests, stepped in to support the team’s accommodation as they need to stay outside the Games Village in Coolangatta because athletes being accompanied by children are unable to stay in the village. Miller is a mom with a six month old baby. Already ranked among the top four Commonwealth Games volleyball nations with Australia, Canada and New Zealand, the Vanuatu team is being supported with the cost of accommodation outside the village as a base to launch their campaign. www.pocruises.com.au

Poseidon Expeditions’ 114-passenger vessel Sea Spirit will benefit from advanced technology when the ship is equipped with new retractable fin stabilizers next year. The company has announced that the 4,200-ton vessel will be retrofitted with Rolls Royce Zero Speed Stabilizers during her scheduled dry dock in May, 2019, in Lisbon, Portugal, just prior to the commencement of the 2019 Arctic season. www.poseidonexpeditions.com/

Princess Cruises has announced that three ships, including the line’s 143,700-ton, 3,560-guest flagship, Majestic Princess, will sail to and from Adelaide over the 2019-2020 Australian season. A history making three international round-trips will depart from Adelaide, with highlights including a new 18-day Fiji cruise on Golden Princess and a new 55-day Indian Ocean and South Africa Odyssey cruise on Sun Princess. Elsewhere, beginning this May on Caribbean Princess, guests sailing to the Caribbean will experience a new immersive cultural experience with “Rhythm of the Caribbean,” reportedly “an authentic dive into island life…with enticing cuisine, signature cocktails, exhilarating entertainment, enrichment and authentic regional experiences.” Guests can also take advantage of insider tips on excursions at each port, dance beneath the stars to Caribbean rhythms, and immerse themselves in one-of-a-kind cultural activities, from concerts to crafts to presentations from local experts such as shark and treasure hunters. Next, Chef Pierre-Marie Leprince, the line’s Director of Guest Culinary Experience, has been honored with the distinction of Master Chef of France by the culinary organization, L ’Association des Maîtres Cuisiniers de France. He was inducted into the association at the organization’s 63rd International Congress in Macau on March 12. Chef Leprince is the only U.S.-based chef de cuisine to be awarded this year and one of only two U.S.-based chefs overall to be named in 2018. Leprince is one of 30 chefs from around the world to be admitted this year into the prestigious association, whose mission is to “preserve and spread French culinary arts, encourage training in cuisine, and assist professional development.” In other news, on March 28, Sapphire Princess emerged from an extensive two-week dry dock in Singapore, having been upgraded with enhanced onboard spaces and product innovations. Completing a season cruising throughout Asia, Sapphire Princess then departed on a 28-day voyage from Singapore to London, before beginning European voyages to destinations in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe. Also, guests aboard the March 25th Caribbean sailing of Regal Princess voted musical comedian Tom Franek as Princess Cruises’ “2018 Entertainer of the Year.” Four finalists were selected from hundreds of talented performers…comedians, magicians, vocalists, tribute bands and novelty acts…who entertain guests on the line’s stages each year. These top artists performed to enthusiastic audiences during the cruise, and then guests cast their ballot to select the winner. This year’s competition brought a record-breaking number of guests out to vote, a nod to the level of talent among the finalists. And finally, Princess has announced the 2018 “Encounters with Discovery at SEA” speaker series program, which welcomes a variety of celebrities and notables to share their experiences on board with guests on select sailings. From astronomy, history, culture, wellness, sports and entertainment to pop culture, the Encounters with Discovery at SEA speakers will educate, inspire and entertain guests on the high seas. The program is curated as part of the line’s partnership with Discovery, which launched in 2014 and features regional destination specialists, as well as naturalists and experts in their fields. www.princesscruises.com/

Scenic has announced the appointment of Kara Weller as Head Discovery Team Leader for its first “Discovery Yacht,” Scenic Eclipse. Weller holds Bachelor and Masters’ degrees in Wildlife Biology and has spent the past 20 years educating cruise guests on the highlights of Antarctica and the Arctic while working as an expedition leader and naturalist lecturer. Having worked on more than 150 cruises, she is joining the Scenic Eclipse team from Silversea Expeditions. Weller will be responsible for managing the vessel’s 16-member “Discovery Team,” facilitating Zodiac and kayak excursions, guiding onshore explorations, and hosting onboard lectures on the Antarctic and Arctic regions. She will be assisted by a group of highly experienced naturalists, including a marine biologist, glaciologist, historian, ornithologist and geologist, as well as a fisheries and underwater expert, dedicated kayaking guides and Zodiac drivers. Elsewhere, following the recent announcement of a second “Discovery Yacht” being added to the Scenic fleet, the company has expanded its itineraries to include a 21-day Northwest Passage exploration; a 13-day adventure through one of the world’s most geographically-isolated regions, Russia’s White Sea; plus two opportunities to take in numerous ports along North America’s east coast, including Halifax and New York. Limited to 200 guests and departing August 15, 2020, “Across the Northwest Passage” will follow a route between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans that was previously almost always impassable due to the dangers of the ice-heavy waters. With the highest ice-class rating of any luxury ship (Polar Class 6), Scenic Eclipse will make its way from Copenhagen, along the coast of Greenland and through the Canadian Arctic Islands until reaching Nome, Alaska. And Scenic has just released its 2019-2020 brochure detailing the new destinations and itineraries for its expanded Eclipse fleet and offering a range of special early-bird offers, including an option to book now and save up to 10% off full fares. Other specials include a complimentary Deposit Protection Plan (normally $250); Early Payment Discount, ranging from a $300 to $1,000 per person fare reduction, with the larger savings on the “Antarctica in Depth” itinerary; free airfare for the 21-day “Antarctica, South Georgia & Falkland’s Islands” adventure; and solo traveler savings of up to 50% on select cruises. Deadlines range from August 31 to October 31, 2018, space is subject to availability and discounts are combinable with most other offers. www.scenicusa.com/

Seabourn is headed back to Alaska and British Columbia in 2018 with a new lineup of guided “Ventures by Seabourn” optional, for-charge shore excursions. The excursions will enable guests to explore the natural beauty and wildlife of the 49th State and Canada’s Inside Passage via double sea kayak, Zodiac, catamaran and hikes. From exploring Misty Fjords, Holgate Glacier and the Inian Islands to hiking Mendenhall Glacier, Rainbow Falls and the Perseverance Trail, all “Ventures by Seabourn” trips are led by knowledgeable expedition teams. Elsewhere, the line’s newest vessel, Seabourn Ovation, achieved an important milestone with the completion of its final round of sea trials in the Mediterranean off the coast of Italy. The ship departed the Fincantieri shipyard in Genoa on March 14 for four days at sea, during which a team of officers and engineers tested the ship’s technical and mechanical systems. Seabourn Ovation returned to the yard on March 18, where staff and workers are putting the final touches on the vessel. The delivery ceremony is on schedule to take place on April 27. In other news, Seabourn’s “Extraordinary Opportunity Event,” features savings and value-added amenities on select 2018 and 2019 cruises, for bookings made through June 12 on select voyages departing in 2018 and 2019: complimentary two Veranda Suite category upgrade; complimentary Veranda Suite for Ocean View Suite category upgrade; shipboard credit of up to $500 per suite; air credit offer of up to $500 per person for roundtrip flights booked through the line’s “Flight Ease” program; 50% reduced deposit; and up to 15 percent additional savings on combination cruises. Finally, Seabourn is preparing a new dining experience for guests to savor in the open sea air…“Earth & Ocean at The Patio”…an a la carte dinner venue developed by consulting Chef Anton Egger to entice guests with candlelight seating and a sophisticated menu celebrating authentic local favorite foods from around the world. Set to debut aboard the new Seabourn Ovation in May, the poolside al fresco culinary option will be offered during dinner service and will be fleetwide by spring, 2019. www.seabourn.com/

Silversea Cruises’ Silver Whisper is to undergo extensive renovation between December 8 and December 19 during a dry dock in Freeport, Bahamas. The announcement follows the opening of sales for Silversea’s pioneering World Cruise 2020, which will see Silver Whisper travel to all seven continents, including Antarctica. The ship’s latest enhancements will be implemented with a similar design and features as can be found on the line’s recently delivered flagship Silver Muse, as well as on the newly renovated Silver Spirit. In other news, starting this month, Silversea is including free, unlimited Wi-Fi access to every guest across its fleet. Since January, 2016, guests have received at least one hour of free Wi-Fi per day, but the new policy will now provide each guest booked in standard suites with free unlimited standard internet access. Guests in larger suites will enjoy free unlimited premium internet access for up to two devices simultaneously per guest. Finally, Silversea will be celebrating a significant anniversary this June…10 years of luxury expedition cruising. www.silversea.com/

Star Clippers has announced that it is currently taking bookings for all late spring and summer 2019 sailings, as well as fall 2019 ocean crossings, aboard its three tall sailing ships. Summer sailing destinations include the Eastern and Western Mediterranean aboard Royal Clipper and Star Flyer, and the waters around Malaysia aboard Star Clipper. In the Mediterranean, Star Clippers is offering a new Greece itinerary celebrating the popular musical Mamma Mia, while in Indonesia a new sailing route takes guests to Brunei and ports along the island of Borneo. www.starclippers.com

Tauck, on April 10, officially welcomed both Treasures and Esprit back into its riverboat fleet in Amsterdam, following a massive reconfiguration of the vessels’ interior spaces that has resulted in enlarged cabins and reduced passenger count. Treasures and Esprit are the last of Tauck’s four 110-meter ships to undergo the radical transformation. Tauck’s two similar vessels, Sapphire and Emerald, were similarly reconfigured a year ago, and returned to service in time for their 2017 sailing season. With the project’s completion, Tauck has continued to prioritize larger cabins and roomier public areas for its guests, rather than maximizing passenger count. Treasures and Esprit were gutted in a “down-to-the-studs” refurbishment, with the most dramatic change occurring on their Ruby (middle) Decks, where 30 150-square-foot cabins in each ship’s original configuration were replaced by 20 larger cabins measuring 225 square feet. With the total number of cabins reduced from 59 to 49, each ship’s overall capacity has decreased from 118 passengers to 98 per vessel, a 17% reduction. www.tauck.com/

UnCruise Adventures has expanded its theme cruise offerings in 2018 with the addition of an Alaska Insider theme, which features a variety of experts that have “lived and breathed Alaska.” The small ship cruise line has released its full theme cruise schedule with adventures planned for marine biology, photography, storytellers, ornithology, craft beer, nostalgic music, wine and wellness. www.uncruise.com/

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s S.S. Beatrice has been readied for her inaugural cruise along the Danube, where she’ll debut a major bow-to-stern transformation, including yacht-like finishes, an elegant grand staircase, two additional dining venues—Schubert’s and Max’s, two new Grand Suites, a second Owner’s Suite and several connecting rooms. www.uniworld.com

Windstar Cruises has revealed the latest chef and sommelier team in its series of culinary themed cruises setting sail this year, as well as the addition of a star sommelier to a previously announced sailing in Norway. Celebrated Seattle Chef Maxime Bilet and Chicago-based Sommelier Belinda Chang are slated to join the program, which hand-picks acclaimed culinary experts to share their knowledge with travelers, for a “Hidden Harbors of the Côte d’Azur” cruise, departing Nice, France, on June 20. Sommelier Katie Bell will collaborate with Chef Evan Hanczor in August. www.windstarcruises.com/