Bob Hoelscher

February 19, 2018 Update – Group Cruise News

 
 

Bob Hoelscher
Published February 19, 2018

 Welcome!  Every so often I like to remind readers why I do not provide information on the cruise industry’s numerous “best” rewards touted by various publications, organizations and recipients.  There are so many of these erstwhile plaudits floating around, frequently praising different operators for the same “bests,” that it is virtually impossible for the average traveler to figure out which companies really excel in one category or another.  Why?  First, it is an undeniable fact that all such awards are highly subjective, simply depending upon who is doing the voting, so if those who have (ostensibly) voted happen to have different standards or objectives that you or I do, they are sure to arrive at different conclusions than we would have.  There are also distinct possibilities that ever-present but “under the radar” considerations of a political nature or of advertising revenues have paid a role in selecting ‘winners,’ or the ballot box has simply been “stuffed” by those standing to gain in one way or another from anointing their favorites as the ‘best.’

 

I still remember when the (failing) TWA under the administration of a notorious corporate raider received a nationally-promoted award for “best service,” when virtually everyone in my home city of St. Louis, where TWA was the primary air carrier, knew that their service was just this side of awful.  My guess was that “stuffing” the ballot box was the last ditch effort of TWA’s employees to keep their jobs.  When some organization actually insures that the voting for its awards have been conducted in a manner that is statistically significant, I might actually take some stock in the results, but I’m not holding my breath.  Please be assured, however, that I not only believe that there are a lot of good, well-run companies to choose from in the marketplace, but also that some of them surely do deserve the highest accolades.  Nevertheless, there are just too many industry awards out there that are apparently based more on fluff than substance, thus making it virtually impossible to use an enumeration of such plaudits as a real, reliable indicator of excellence.

 

Incidentally, this time around I had planned to review an Asian cruise which I took last month, but the trip unfortunately turned out to be a significant disappointment, so that subject will have to wait until I return to the region on a different ship in the future.  Nevertheless, I definitely found some fascinating places to visit there, including Singapore, Bangkok, Hanoi and Hong Kong.  This week I’m heading to Florida for Western Caribbean cruises on both Costa Deliziosa and Norwegian Jade, with half a dozen Grapefruit League spring training baseball games in between.

 

 

 

Adventure Smith Explorations is showcasing polar bears and northern lights, as well as skyscraper-high glaciers, cavorting whales and following in the footsteps of intrepid explorers on its expanded 2018 menu of small-ship voyages and overland journeys into the frozen Arctic north.  www.adventuresmithexplorations.com

 

AIDA Cruises’s AIDAprima‘s recent trip around the Canary Islands and Madeira featured a special guest on the daily talk show in the onboard theatre.  Julia Cissewski, staff member of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and chairman of “Orangutans in Need,” received an AIDA donation check of €10,000 from Captain Detlef Harms.  Cissewski won a gala on board AIDAprima last year from Europe’s largest women’s magazine for her volunteer work and moral courage.  The Leipzig-based “Orangutans in Need” association is committed to protecting and preserving free-living orangutans on Borneo and Sumatra.  In her talk with the vessel’s entertainment manager, Silvia Minardi, Cissewski gave interested guests fascinating and emotional insights into the organization’s work, commenting “The donation from AIDA will go to an orangutan sanctuary in Borneo, home to some 300 orangutan orphans, who have lost their mothers due to rainforest deforestation.”  In addition to Cissewski, five other European heroines were honored for their unique commitments.  Each award winner can look forward to AIDA’s support of €10,000 for her project, plus a trip on AIDAprima.  In other news, for the first time in Hamburg this season, there will be the opportunity for those interested to visit two AIDA ship classes in just one day for €49 per person by touring both AIDAperla and AIDAsol.  During organized tours on May 5, June 2 and August 18, visitors get insights into the public areas, discover different cabin variants, explore the restaurants, and have a buffet lunch aboard AIDAperla.  All new AIDA customers or customers who have not traveled with AIDA within the past five years will receive a credit balance of €50 if they book an AIDA sailing within six weeks of their visit.  Furthermore, this year AIDA will also be offering theme-specific ship visits for the first time, such as a family day, an asparagus (!) party, a wellness special and a culinary tour.  AIDAperla will be homeported in Hamburg beginning in March for seven-night Western Europe trips to Southampton, Le Havre, Zeebrugge and Rotterdam, while AIDAsol offers four-night short trips to Amsterdam and Dover this season in April, May, September and October, as well as a 17-day June trip from Hamburg to Iceland, Spitsbergen, Norway and the Lofoten Islands.  www.aida.de/

 

American Queen Steamboat Company’s 2018 season highlights include the availability of Family Suites onboard American Queen, new American Duchess itineraries on the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, as well as on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers; plus “Pacific Northwest Adventure theme cruises on American Empress that offer soft-adventure activities.  Furthermore, the line’s 2019 itineraries are now available for booking, and its new 2019 brochure is now available.  www.aqsc.com/

 

Guests of Carnival Australia’s Carnival Legend enjoyed a bit of Australia Day fun ahead of their cruise to the South Pacific, thanks to giant “kangaroos” bouncing with excitement at the entrance of Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal.  The whimsical “kangaroos” have previously appeared all over the world at festivals and special events.  Then, on February 6, Melbourne welcomed the 2600-guest vessel to her new home port for the first of a record 16 sailings over 2018 and 2019.  Carnival Legend will undergo an A$57 million upgrade in May to further ‘Melbournise’ the ship with FunShip 2.0 features. This includes an Alchemy Bar, the Mexican-inspired BlueIguana Cantina and Tequila Bar, and Guys Burger Joint, curated by Californian restaurateur and Food Network TV personality Guy Fieri.  On February 7, the line also announced that Carnival Splendor will join its Australian fleet in Sydney during December, 2019, becoming the newest and largest ship to be home ported year-round in Australia.  www.carnivalaustralia.com/

 

Carnival Cruise Line’s 2,124-passenger Carnival Miracle kicked off a year-round program of seven-day cruises from Tampa in late January, doubling the line’s capacity at the port.  Carnival Miracle will offer the only year-round, longer-length cruise program from Port Tampa Bay, joining Carnival Paradise, which operates year-round, four to eight-day voyages to the Caribbean and Cuba.  Together, the vessels will carry an estimated 280,000 passengers annually from Tampa.  Then on February 10, Carnival announced significant initiatives designed to further bolster its position on the West Coast:  the deployment of the new 133,500-ton Carnival Panorama to Long Beach in 2019, its first brand new ship to be based in Southern California in 20 years; the grand re-opening of its 146,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Long Beach Cruise Terminal; plus a multi-million-dollar port development project in Ensenada, Mexico, that will provide guests with one-of-a-kind experiences ashore.  www.carnival.com/

 

Celebrity Cruises’ new Celebrity Edge was floated out of her dry dock at the STX France shipyard on January 23.  The vessel will spend her inaugural season sailing alternating seven-night eastern and western Caribbean itineraries, beginning November 21 from Fort Lauderdale, before heading to the Mediterranean for a variety of seven to 11-night sailings from such cities as Barcelona and Rome (Civitavecchia) in 2019.  In other news, in a historic ceremony hosted on board Celebrity Equinox, Francisco Vargas and Benjamin Gray became the first same-sex couple ever to be legally married at sea on a major cruise line.  The grooms were joined by their immediate family for an intimate ceremony officiated by Captain Dimitrios Manetas.  Next, the new “Celebrity Discovery Collection” of shore excursions will first be offered in the Western Mediterranean, with more tours being added globally throughout 2018.  Reportedly designed with both the seasoned wanderer and the new-to-cruise in mind, the tours will range from eclectic, off-the-beaten-path adventures to programs that take travelers to the must-see locales of every port, all designed to provide immersive experiences in a small group setting for a maximum of 24 guests.  Finally, Celebrity is continuing its work to assist Galapagos National Park by planting more than 30,000 trees on Santa Cruz Island in Los Gemelos, thereby helping to conserve this pristine archipelago that’s home to flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world.  With the goal of inspiring guests and collaborators to help with conservation efforts within the region, the public private partnership (PPP) signed in 2014 was made possible over the last three years with the support of 14,300 guests, crew and community at large, far exceeding goals by 150 percent.  The efforts reinforce Celebrity’s commitment to the region and the shared passion of guests who sail onboard.  Among the seeds sown out of the collaborative project are Scalesias, Cat’s Claw, Galapagos Miconia, and Thin-leafed Darwin’s Shrub.  Reforestation preserves the natural ecosystem in the Galapagos Islands and regenerates areas that have been affected by humans and by introduced species.  The most planted tree remains the Scalesia trees, as their forests are home to many species of endemic birdlife found only in the Galapagos.  www.celebritycruises.com/

 

Celestyal Cruises is welcoming David Beasley as Manager, Contact Center and Business Intelligence, North America, reporting to President Leslie Peden.  The line’s call center will report to Beasley, as will all administrative and group functions.  Prior to joining Celestyal, Beasley served as Manager, Commercial and Operational Support at Wendy Wu Tours, Inc., where he led the operations and reservations team, as well as commercial and pricing strategy.  www.celestyalcruises.com

 

CroisiEurope is introducing three original Mediterranean cruises on board the newly renovated La Belle de l’Adriatique.  Guests will be treated to the sights and flavors on three, eight to 10-day itineraries visiting Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Sicily and Israel:  “The Best of the Mediterranean,” “Mediterranean Colors” and “Cyprus & The Holy Land.”  Each itinerary will make stops in the major coastal cities and historical towns of the Eastern Med, and feature excursions to natural sites filled with rich cultural heritage.  Cruise departures will begin in November with prices starting at $2,375 per person.   www.croisieuroperivercruises.com/

 

Crystal Cruises has unveiled its 212-page guide to its global itineraries, the Worldwide Atlas for 2018 and 2019. The brochure features the comprehensive collection of voyages aboard Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, including programs ranging from six to 129 days, maiden calls and immersive destination experiences.  Elsewhere, Crystal Luxury Air recently completed a refurbishment of its Bombardier Global Express Jet XRS that includes a completely revamped connectivity platform as well as new entertainment options for its guests.  The jet also now boasts new carpeting, new window treatments, new seating and wood finishes to all cabinets and doors.  The aircraft, which flies on-demand worldwide charter routes for up to 12 guests, features three cabins with flexible configurations, and can accommodate business needs and leisure travel alike, with sleeping berths for up to six.  In other news, Crystal River Cruises is introducing 10-day “Enchanting Moselle” itineraries aboard Crystal Bach, round-trip from Amsterdam through Germany and the Netherlands, beginning May 28, 2019, through December 24, 2019.  The voyages will feature five new ports of call through the vineyard-flanked Moselle River, one of the most beautiful stretches of river in Europe.  Guests can experience the famed vintages of the Moselle Wine Region in Bernkastel, the medieval charm and Roman ruins of Trier, and the stunning architecture of Reichsburg Castle in Cochem.  Furthermore, new destinations to be included along the Rhine River include Bonn, Beethoven’s birthplace; Dusseldorf, the cultural and fashion hub of Germany; the historic war museums of Arnhem, Netherlands; and returning favorite Koblenz, at the point where the Rhine and the Moselle meet. www.crystalcruises.com/

 

Cunard and The New Yorker magazine have partnered to offer guests an opportunity to explore the world of cartoons while aboard Queen Mary 2.    During select 2018 trans-Atlantic crossings from June to November, celebrated cartoonists of the magazine will host drawing sessions, workshops, hands-on demonstrations and caption contests for passengers.  The New Yorker, known for its single-panel cartoons, has offered a signature mix of news, culture, and the arts since its founding in 1925.  In other news, and for the second time, Queen Mary 2 was featured on “Vacation Creation with Tommy Davidson and Andrea Feczko,” which aired on February 17 on ABC stations in select markets around the country.  The episode highlighted Queen Mary 2’s annual Transatlantic Fashion Week Crossing, which includes a glamorous array of fashion shows, exhibitions, and lectures.  The ship is scheduled to set sail for New York Fashion Week on September 2, joined by undergraduates from the University of Westminster, who became the first in the world to showcase their collection on the official London Fashion Week schedule earlier this month.  The university is known for producing some of the most talented and creative fashion professionals in the business, with notable alumni including the designer Vivienne Westwood; Michael Herz, Artistic Director at Diane von Fürstenberg; Stuart Vevers, Creative Director at Coach; as well as Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative officer and president.  And just today, Cunard is announcing that Queen Elizabeth will be based in Australia for an unprecedented 101 days over the 2019-20 summer season, sailing on six round-trip cruises from Melbourne and two from Sydney.  Featured will be itineraries to South Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea between December, 2019, and March, 2020.  The new deployment will be almost double the length of Queen Elizabeth’s scheduled 54-day season “Down Under” early next year, which will see the ship sailing from Sydney and Melbourne during February and March of 2019.  http://www.cunard.com/

 

Disney Cruise Line will offer special engagements of two popular attractions in 2019…”Star Wars Day at Sea” and “Marvel Day at Sea” on two of its ships, sailing across the Caribbean and Bahamas.  www.disneycruise.disney.go.com/

 

Emerald Waterways is now accepting bookings for its 2019 river cruise season.  Guests booking any 2019 sailing before this April 30th will pay 2018 fares and receive an additional discount of $1,000 per couple on sailings of 15 days or longer, and $500 per couple on sailings of 8 to 14 days.  And for a limited time, the line is offering free air or $1500 off 12-day or longer itineraries, or $495 airfare or $1000 off itineraries of 8 to 11 days of river cruising along the Mekong and Irrawaddy Rivers in Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar.  This offer is based on space availability and also ends on April 30.  Emerald’s newly expanded roster of cruises and tours in Southeast Asia includes nine different river cruise itineraries.  www.emeraldwaterways.com/

 

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines is offering four sailings “To the Top of the World” in 2018-19, which take in remote parts of Northern Europe.  Guests can see dramatic landscapes, abandoned ghost towns, icebergs or the Northern Lights, on one of these adventures to Arctic Russia, remote Spitsbergen, Greenland and Norway, beginning this June.  As an added bonus, guests booking one of these cruises by March 1 can benefit from either a free all-inclusive drinks upgrade or up to £200 free shore tour credit.  www.fredolsencruises.com

 

French Country Waterways has released its 2018 brochure, detailing luxury canal sailings in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or, the Upper Loire, Alsace-Lorraine, and Champagne.  New for 2018, both Champagne and Alsace-Lorraine sailings will now be available all-season long.  The Champagne route takes guests through the Marne Valley, while guests sailing through Alsace-Lorraine will explore a region that, although thoroughly French, shows German roots in much of its architecture.  www.fcwl.com/

 

Holland America Line is expanding the guest experience on its “Alaska Land+Sea Journeys” with the addition of new guest accommodations at its Denali operation. The 99-room addition will feature the first-ever junior suites at the resort, and is expected to be open for the 2019 summer cruise season. The 55 new junior suites will have balconies, larger living areas and greater amenities for guests.  The new rooms are an extension of Holland America Line’s overland Alaska experience to Denali, which includes the McKinley Chalet Resort hotel and Denali Square shopping, dining and entertainment complex. The addition will be located just west of Denali Square, offering views of Mt. Healy and Denali National Park.  Elsewhere, “foodies” and those interested in gastronomy will now be able to embark on a culinary journey during three exclusive 2018 HAL “America’s Test Kitchen” feature cruises:  the May 6th seven-day Alaska Inside Passage cruise on Westerdam; the July 7th 14-day Northern Isles on Zuiderdam; and the September 22nd seven-day Canada & New England on Veendam.  Zuiderdam recently earned a perfect score of 100 on a surprise United States Public Health inspection on January 27 at Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale), at the start of an 11-day Panama Canal and Caribbean cruise.  Over the past four years, several Holland America Line ships have achieved a perfect score of 100 more than 23 times.  In other news, following inaugural season island-hopping throughout the Caribbean from Port Everglades, Nieuw Statendam, scheduled to be delivered on December 1, will cross the Atlantic Ocean in late April, 2019, and spend the summer and fall exploring northern Europe and the Mediterranean.  The new “Pinnacle Class” ship will homeport in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, for the summer.  Offering a collection of seven and 14-day itineraries to the Norwegian Fjords, the Baltic, Iceland and North Cape, in September Nieuw Statendam will head south on a 12-day cruise from Amsterdam to Rome (Civitavecchia), make three, 10-day round-trip cruises exploring the eastern and western Mediterranean, then depart on October 27 for a 14-day voyage back to Fort Lauderdale.  Next, the long-time partnership between Holland America Line and FOOD & WINE magazine is expanding, with a collection of culinary-themed EXC Tours (shore excursions), that explore food, wine and culture in some of the world’s hottest gastronomic locales.  Twenty-three new shore excursions are now available for booking on select 2018 cruises to the Mediterranean and Northern Europe, and guests will have the opportunity to take hands-on cooking classes, go on culinary walking tours, visit wineries, sample street food, explore local hideaways, and more.  Similarly, this September HAL will inaugurate a new approach to cruising for travelers looking for thoughtful and immersive ways to see the world.  Offered on the 1,258-guest Maasdam, EXC In-Depth Voyages will explore some of the most interesting corners of the globe on 16 itineraries ranging from 12 to 34 days, using renowned experts, local scholars and customized Zodiac tours to immerse guests in the experience.  With EXC In-Depth Voyages, each journey will offers a variety of themes and choices for guests to tailor their exploration:  photography; science and nature; arts and culture; food, wine and spirits; history and perspective; and active exploration. Guests are free to focus on one area of interest or combine their passions through onboard enrichment and shore activities.  And finally, the HAL sales team has launched a new trade promise, “Committed to Your Success,” which pledges the line’s commitment to providing comprehensive support to its travel partners and an exceptional cruise experience for their clients.  The department will reportedly work to uphold the promise under the guidance of key members of the sales team, led by Eva Jenner, Vice President of Sales.  www.hollandamerica.com/

 

Hurtigruten is celebrating 125 years in exploration travel, and travelers can reportedly join in the festivities by booking a discounted cruise operating from April 1, 2018, through March 31, 2019, “to some of the world’s most unchartered territories.”  For a limited time, travelers can ostensibly “explore rugged natural beauty while kayaking through Antarctica’s icebergs, hiking in pristine environments in The Americas, or encountering wildlife in Norway and The Arctic” at special rates, but the information I‘ve been given is unfortunately so confusing that readers will have to wait until my March GCN Update or contact the line directly to get the real story.  www.hurtigruten.com/

 

MSC Cruises is enhancing its range of cruises from the United Arab Emirates with the introduction of a second ship, MSC Lirica.  Featuring new extended cruises of 11 and 14 nights, MSC Lirica will be making her debut in the UAE this November, offering longer itineraries, two overnight stays in Dubai, as well as cruises to India for the very first time.  MSC Splendida will also sail the UAE region during winter 2018/2019, offering shorter 7-night itineraries.  Elsewhere, MSC will be bringing NFL’s Miami Dolphins alumni to the sea on a Dolphins Fan Cruise departing March 17 aboard the new MSC Seaside.  The result of a new three-year partnership between MSC and the team, the annual themed Fan Cruise will introduce activities and opportunities for fans to interact with Dolphins’ alumni in person. For the March sailing, prices start at $699 per person for a balcony stateroom.  www.msccruises.com/

 

Norwegian Cruise Line, on January 31, marked the start of construction for its newest ship. Norwegian Encore, which is slated to sail the Caribbean from Miami seasonally beginning in late 2019.  Company executives gathered at the Meyer Werft Laser Center in Papenburg, Germany, and cut the first plate of steel, marking the ceremonial start for the vessel, which is due for delivery on October 31, 2019.  Elsewhere, Norwegian’s “Distinctive Voyages” program has been extended through March 31. On select nine-day or longer cruises, guests will receive five distinct offers: 120-minute phone call package, 250-minute Internet package, $50 credit per port shore excursion, up to $400 in air credit and $100 hotel credit.  The offer is also combinable with “Free at Sea” offers, giving guests up to $5,000 in value.  Finally, Norwegian has announced new cruises to Cuba and the Caribbean aboard Norwegian Sun, round trip from Miami, which combine the rich history of Cuba with some of the brand’s most popular tropical destinations in just one journey of seven, nine or 13 days.  Departures for this coming fall begin in early September.  www.ncl.com/

 

P&O Cruises Australia has honored the country’s remarkable junior philanthropist, 13-year-old Campbell Remess, the founder of Project 365 and Kindness Cruises, as the line’s “Homegrown Hero of the Year.”  Through his generosity of spirit in helping and inspiring others in need, Campbell has reportedly captured the imagination of millions of people in his home state of Tasmania, across Australia and around the world.  In other news, the winners of P&O’s 2017 Flagship Achievers program were treated to a special dinner at Matt Moran’s ARIA restaurant in Sydney, the evening before boarding Pacific Explorer for their Australia Day cruise prize, celebrating the occasion with a game of “barefoot bowls” on Explorer’s iconic bowling green.  The Flagship Achievers incentive program rewards the line’s top 20 achieving agents for the year.  www.pocruises.com.au

 

Paul Gauguin Cruises has announced its line-up of six Wildlife Discovery Series lecturers aboard 2018 voyages, as part of its partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society.  WCS has been saving wildlife and wild places worldwide for over 120 years, aiming to protect the world’s largest wild places in 16 priority regions that are home to more than 50 percent of the world’s biodiversity, while ensuring a positive impact on millions of people.  The line’s Wildlife Discovery Series is a program giving guests of Paul Gauguin the opportunity to learn about marine wildlife and habitats from some of the world’s most fascinating scientists and conservationists.  Lecturers share their research and expertise during presentations aboard select sailings. www.pgcruises.com/

 

Poseidon Expeditions is offering new destinations, additional departures of favorite journeys and if booked by November 1, discounts of up to 15 percent on most 2019 and 2020 itineraries.  New cruises off Scotland’s coast and more Arctic and Antarctic departures are featured.  In other news, guests on three July, 2018, departures aboard the nuclear-powered  icebreaker 50 Years of Victory, the most powerful ever built, will reap the advantages of scientific inquiry and exploration shared by distinguished scientists, scholars and photographic adventurers on roundtrip voyages from Murmansk, Russia, to the geographic North Pole.  www.poseidonexpeditions.com/

 

On February 12, Princess Cruises announced its fourth Culinary Cruise, which features noted food journalist Bill Esparza. The culinary cruise will sail the est coast from Los Angeles aboard Ruby Princess from March 22 to 26. Esparza will bring along notable chefs Sabina Bandera and Carlos Salgado to collaborate with the line’s award-winning culinary team for a week of unique gastronomy experiences including chef-led cooking demonstrations, tequila tastings and cocktail making tutorials, custom shore excursions and Q+A sessions.  In other news, Princess is promoting a sale on its most popular destinations, including Alaska, the Caribbean, Europe and Japan.  During “Summer on Sale,” guests who book can save up to 40% per person on select cruise launch fares, plus third and fourth guests in a stateroom can book with fares as low as $399, and all guests book with a low deposit of 10% of cruise fare per person.  Finally, renovations and program enhancements have been completed to Princess Cays, the line’s exclusive island destination, which now offers the “ultimate fun-in-the-sun experience,” including “surfing” with MedallionNet Wi-Fi, making it the only cruise industry private island to offer connectivity ashore.  Located on the southern tip of the island of Eleuthera in the outer Bahamas, Princess Cays has offered a beachside hideaway to guests since 1992.  The beach is situated on approximately 40 acres, including more than a mile and a half of pristine, white-sand shoreline, and is a featured call on both Princess’ Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries.  www.princesscruises.com/

 

Scenic’s new “Discovery Yacht,” Scenic Eclipse, will soon be joined by a sister, Scenic Eclipse II, to launch in 2020.  Scenic Eclipse II will embark on her maiden voyage from Athens to Lisbon, before her debut sailing season, which will include the European and Russian Arctic, a region of diverse wildlife and habitat.  Itineraries will include such remote destinations as Russia’s White Sea, the Northwest Passage, rarely-visited Southern Greenland, the stark beauty of the Bering Sea, as well as Alaska, both coasts of Canada, the USA, Cuba, Central and South America, plus several sailings to Antarctica, the Falklands and South Georgia.  In related news, on January 31, Scenic Eclipse was floated out from its berth at Uljanik Shipyard in Pula, Croatia.  With much of its exterior construction complete, the ship has now begun the fitting-out process.  The 228-guest luxury yacht is slated to begin its first season on August 31 with a 15-day Mediterranean itinerary from Athens to Venice. A christening event is being planned shortly thereafter.  www.scenicusa.com/

 

Seabourn’s new Seabourn Ovation, scheduled to launch in May, will invite guests into 300 spacious suites across an array of layouts and sizes, each complete with its own private veranda and fashioned with design elements, innovative touches and luxury amenities created by hospitality designer Adam D. Tihany.  Following the launch of the new vessel, the line’s guests will be able to enjoy an expanded menu of more than 41 individual departures in Europe.  Across the fleet, four of Seabourn’s five ships will visit more than 175 different European destinations on cruises spanning seven to 45 days.  Furthermore, Seabourn Ovation’s initial 2018 schedule of distinguished onboard “Seabourn Conversations” speakers and personalities will include Sir Tim Rice, Dr. Andrew Weil, Michael Teitelbaum, Armando Manni, Warren Fahey, Dean McFlicker and Grant Harrold. www.seabourn.com/

 

Silversea Cruises has introduced its new “My Photo Academy” on sailings to Antarctica aboard Silver Cloud, utilizing the ship’s new Photo Studio as a hub for the multifaceted enrichment program.  With amazing landscape and wildlife as the backdrop, guests will have the opportunity to elevate their photographic prowess by learning how to take and edit pictures like a professional.  In other news, Silversea has announced a new collection of ballet and opera-themed sailings for 2018 and 2019.  Designed to blend culture and travel for a more immersive experience, these five, seven to 13-day voyages will feature evocative opera performances by the renowned Accademia Teatro alla Scala and classic ballet performances by soloists from such legendary companies as the State Academic Bolshoi Theater of Russia.  Along with lectures and Q&A sessions, guests will have the chance to mingle with the artists at a signature cocktail party.  www.silversea.com/

 

Un-Cruise Adventures is launching seven new land-based packages this spring which offer guests a chance to extend their Alaskan adventure by four or five nights through a new partnership with Alaska Alpine Adventures.  The packages, which feature Anchorage, Girdwood, Seward, and Kenai Fjords National Park, are now available in conjunction with sailings beginning in April.  Starting at $2,345, the pre- and post-cruise programs feature a variety of activities, such as a scenic train ride and river float through the Chugach Mountains, a hands-on dogsled adventure with Iditarod mushers and dogs, guided hikes across ice fields, wildlife viewing, wilderness hikes, mountain biking and more.  www.un-cruise.com/

 

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, onboard the May 25th sailing of its “Remarkable Rhine” Jewish Heritage program, will present a series of lectures by Leora Raikin, a South African-born international speaker, artist, curator and author.  Her lectures recount the emotive artwork of her great uncle, David Labkovski, who chronicled his life through a series of paintings that detail how his thriving Jewish community was turned upside down by the Holocaust.  Elsewhere, on two “Floating Art Workshop” cruises, sketch artist Larry Aarons will serve as art instructor and mentor on the June 28th sailing of “Imperial Waterways of Russia” and the October 21st sailing of “Venice & the Gems of Northern Italy.”  And 2018 “Floating Paint & Wine Workshop” departures will feature award-winning artist and teacher Davi D’Agostino, who will join Uniworld guests on select itineraries as art instructor and mentor, conducting workshops that will feature an introduction to acrylic painting methods and insightful tips.  Finally, Uniworld is offering an “Inspirational India Sale” with savings of $2,500 per person on its “India’s Golden Triangle & the Sacred Ganges” itinerary when booked by March 31.  www.uniworld.com

 

Vantage Deluxe World Travel is introducing new 2018 and 2019 “Imperial Russion Waterways:  Moscow & St. Petersburg” river cruises aboard what is being termed “one of the most up-to-date vessels sailing the Volga and Neva rivers today.”  In other news, the company is offering a Winter Sale on 2018 European River Cruises, with prices beginning at $2499 per person, plus free airfare for all cabins on select trips and departures.  Also available are solo cabins with no single occupancy surcharge.  Next, Vantage has announced 2019 departures of its “Grand European Sojourn,” which combines its “Majestic Rivers of Europe” and “Passage to Eastern Europe & Transylvania” itineraries.  Furthermore, new 2018 departures of “Classic France Along the Seine” and “Holiday Magic in Paris Along the Seine” have recently been added.  These value-priced November and December departures start at $2,699 per person, and offer 2-for-1 international airfare.  Finally, on select 2018 departures of Vantage’s “Great Northern Discovery:  Baltic Capitals & St. Petersburg” cruise, savings of $2,598 per couple are being offered which reflect a lower trip cost and free international airfare.  Similarly, free international airfare savings of up to $3,798 are available on June or July departures of the company’s “Hidden Gems of the British Isles & Ireland” cruise program.  www.vantagetravel.com/pr

 

Windstar Cruises will launch a new Onboard Cruise Consultant program to help guests plan future cruise experiences and drive recognition and benefits supporting travel professionals.  The first OCC began duties on Star Legend’s February 3 itinerary from Bangkok to Hong Kong.  Within the next few months, three more OCC’s will join Star BreezeStar Pride and Wind Surf.  Benefits of booking onboard with the OCC include reduced deposits starting at $200 per booking, compared to the normal deposit of 15% of cruise fare; 5% “Onboard/Welcome Home” new booking savings off the cruise fare; plus 5% “Yacht Club Member” savings off the cruise fare after promotional adjustments.  Also, with Windstar returning to Alaska in May after a hiatus of more than 20 years from sailing in the region, the line has announced that four new cruise tours are available that combine the best of Alaska’s interior along with a cruise:  “Denali & Alaskan Wilderness” – 18 days from Fairbanks to Vancouver; “Alaskan Explorations & Denali” – 15 or 16 days from Vancouver to Fairbanks; “Pacific Crossing & Denali” – 17 days from Tokyo (Yokohama) to Fairbanks; and “Denali & Aleutians” – 20 days from Fairbanks to Tokyo.  The new programs start at $4,269 per person, while newly announced “Signature Expeditions” are designed to bring guests even closer to the action with experiences like kayaking to explore glaciers with experienced glaciologists and marine biologists guiding the way.  www.windstarcruises.com/