Bob Hoelscher

March 18, 2018 Update – Group Cruise News


Bob Hoelscher
Published March 18, 2018

Welcome!  Consistency should be a concern for all of the lines I have cruised on more than once (except for Windstar, which was superb both times) since I began my second career as a cruise and travel writer back in 2011.  I’ve even been disappointed occasionally by companies I particularly enjoy, such as those I’ve frequently commended in GCN, as well as in the pages of The Group Travel Leader and Select Traveler.  What brought this subject to mind were two recent sailings…one in Asia with a generally highly respected “premium” line, and a second in the Western Caribbean with an unrelated and a bit less exalted Europe-based company…both, however, with significant industry presences.  Surprisingly enough, the former outing did not remotely approach expectations and could charitably be termed mediocre at best, while the second, after a decidedly unpleasant voyage which I experienced with the line in late 2016, turned out to be just the opposite, a fine product that was thoroughly enjoyable.  As they say, “whodathunkit?”…certainly not me in either instance!  Although it’s important to note that both examples involved different vessels within their respective fleets than the one(s) on which I’d previously sailed, that such a disparity should exist at all is cause for wonder, if not downright puzzling.  Needless to say, it also creates a difficult challenge for writers like me whose goal it is to provide readers with the most accurate picture of any given cruise operator as is humanly possible.  One would think that most lines would employ experienced “mystery shoppers” to give their head offices realistic, unbiased evaluations of what is actually taking place at sea, but what do I know?


Another potential problem is simply the fact that any cruise review provides only a “snapshot” of a particular ship on a specific date and itinerary, and guests may find something substantially different when they come aboard the same vessel six months or a year later.  Without the consistency I seek, they may find a different captain, a completely new crew, a chef with vastly different talents, entertainers of lesser or greater talents, etc., etc., all of which have the ability to make for an experience that can be much at odds with the one that guests have read about and expect to again be the case.  Even Douglas Ward’s excellent Berlitz Guide to Cruising, which is filled with useful information and objective reviews of hundreds of ships, and is pretty much the industry’s “bible,” frequently contains specific details about any given vessel that are no longer true, although they likely once were.  The amount of time it takes for Ward and his staff of knowledgeable writers to cruise aboard and evaluate every vessel in the constantly-increasing cruise industry fleet, keep up with ongoing ship renovations and refurbishments, as well as their sale or transfer to other lines, plus the production requirements of creating a comprehensive annual publication, together require almost an astronomical amount of “lead” time.  These factors virtually provide assurance that when a new guide is released for sale each fall, some of the information included will no longer be accurate.  As a result, those who consult “reviews” by me and other professional writers should be aware that everything may not be exactly as reported when it comes time for guests to actually embark upon their cruise vacations, and understand the reasons why none of us consciously attempt to mislead our readers.




AIDA Cruises, the market leader in cruises from Germany, features departures from Hamburg, Bremerhaven, Kiel and Warnemünde.  AIDAnova, the first cruise ship of a new AIDA class, will make her maiden voyage at the beginning of December this year.  During the spring seasons of 2021 and 2023, two sister ships with a size of over 180,000 gross tons and about 2,700 cabins will follow.  This next generation of vessels will reportedly combine innovation and advanced offerings that will differ from ships in the existing fleet.  More than 40 different restaurants and bars will take guests on board into completely new dining experiences, and versatile entertainment offerings have been designed to inspire.  In excess of 20 different cabins types will be available, from the Penthouse Suite to spacious family cabins and single cabins with balconies.  In other news, Nicole Langosch has taken over the command of AIDAsol, becoming the first woman to rise to the position of captain in the AIDA fleet, as well as the highest ranking woman on a cruise ship in Germany.  Having completed her nautical studies in Leer, Langosch worked for a container shipping company in New Zealand and the European Parliament in Brussels, and has been with AIDA for the past ten years.  The line currently employs 14 female nautical officers aboard its fleet.  Elsewhere, anyone wishing to attend AIDA’s big event at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg on August 31 had to be quick.  It took only one day for the 25,000 available tickets for the gala “AIDA Open Air” christening show of AIDAnova to be sold out.  Next, AIDA is continuing its ongoing commitment to social, cultural and charitable projects in 2018.  On March 9, Hansjörg Kunze, Vice President of Communication & Sustainability, handed over a donation of €42,265 in Berlin for the reconstruction of a primary school in Dinagat in the Philippines by the Reiner Meutsch Foundation FLY & HELP.  The donation is part of the proceeds of a charitable raffle that AIDA traditionally holds on board the AIDA fleet at the turn of the year.  Heavy flooding had destroyed many schools in the region in December.  And finally, guests aboard AIDAstella can now look forward to enjoying a new ice cream bar, installed during the vessel’s dry dock refurbishment earlier this month in Dubai.  Guests will be able to put together their own favorite ice cream concoction from countless delicious ingredients.  Also added during the refit was a new Game Center for youngsters and the lighting system for the entire guest area was equipped with energy-efficient LED bulbs.  AIDAstella will be based in Palma de Mallorca this summer for a series of 10 and 11-day Mediterranean sailings.


American Cruise Lines has announced that construction has begun on American Harmony, a sister ship to American Song and the second ship in its “Modern Riverboat Series.”  American Song will make her inaugural cruise this fall on October 6 on the Mississippi River, at which time ACL will have three newly-built vessels plying the Mississippi.  When she debuts in 2019, American Harmony will take over on the Mississippi for her sister ship, which will then reposition to the Columbia & Snake Rivers.


American Queen Steamboat Company has added three summer Lower Mississippi voyages aboard American Duchess…New Orleans Tricentennial Celebration Cruises from Memphis to the “Crescent City” departing on June 24 and July 8, as well as a northbound trip between the two ports beginning on July 1.  Prices begin at $1,999 per person.  In other news, the line has announced the release of its 2019 brochure. This full-color, 100-page brochure presents a comprehensive overview of itineraries and river cruise offerings for the eighth season of the U.S.-flagged company and its American QueenAmerican Empress and American Duchess riverboats.


Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Fascination resumed its year-round schedule of seven-day southern Caribbean departures from San Juan in mid-February, following a multi-million-dollar dry dock that added a variety of the company’s iconic food and beverage concepts.  Similarly, Carnival Paradise is now undergoing another extensive, multi-million-dollar refurbishment that is adding a wide variety of facilities, including a new water park, 38 new cabins, 98 balconies to existing staterooms, and new food and beverage outlets.  Following the month-long dry dock in Freeport, Carnival Paradise will resume its year-round schedule of four to eight-day cruises from Tampa on March 26.  Next, for its new Carnival Horizon, the line’s in-house entertainment team has partnered with leading creative directors from Broadway, Los Angeles and London’s West End to create three new shows…Soulbound, Celestial Strings and Vintage Pop…when the ship enters service next month.  A fourth show, Amor Cubano:  A Caribbean Dance Romance, has been brought to Carnival Horizon following its debut on Carnival Vista last year.  In other news, Carnival will offer 17 new sailings to Cuba aboard Carnival Sensation in 2019.  The five-day Cuba voyages will be the line’s first to operate round-trip from Miami and feature a call in Havana as well as stops at popular Caribbean and Bahamian ports, including Grand Turk, Grand Cayman, Nassau, and the private destinations of Half Moon Cay and Princess Cays.  Elsewhere, Grammy award-winning musical artist, television and film actress, author and entrepreneur, Queen Latifah, has been named the godmother to Carnival Horizon.  Latifah will participate in the ship’s official naming ceremony during an invitation-only overnight gala onboard the vessel in New York City on May 23.


Celebrity Cruises has announced the addition of “Hollywood Hot Glass” onboard their ships, which expands on the brand’s previous hot glass programming with a new hands-on element.  “Hollywood Hot Glass” will host an initial, live glassblowing demonstration at The Lawn Club on designated sailings, then guests will be able to register for their own Hot Glass Class, available throughout their itinerary, where they’ll work with a Hot Glass Instructor to create their own art pieces.  Elsewhere, the line’s new Celebrity Edge will feature four complimentary main restaurants, each intended to represent the different cuisine it serves and the ambience it offers. The Cyprus Restaurant, the Normandie Restaurant, the Cosmopolitan Restaurant and the Tuscan Restaurant will reportedly offer more intimate dining experiences, being smaller in scale, while offering more seating per guest than any other ship in Celebrity’s fleet.  The vessel will also offer two exclusive Suite and “AquaClass” restaurants, seven new specialty restaurants, plus 11 bars and lounges.  In other news, Celebrity’s entire fleet positioned around the world and in all global offices, “Rang the Bell on the 7 Seas” in honor of International Women’s Day, March 8, celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.


Celestyal Cruises has revealed its extended 2019 and new 2020 itineraries.  Next year, the line will extend its season into December and return to Istanbul for the first time since 2016 with its new seven-Day “Eclectic Aegean” itinerary, and six departures from October 21 through November 25.  This “eclectic” cruise includes an overnight stay in Istanbul; a call at Volos, Greece, for excursions to the mountains of Meteora; at Canakkale, Turkey, for tours to Troy and Gallipoli; at both Heraklion and Santorini; and, at Mykonos, the ship will depart at 2:00 a.m. so guests can fully enjoy the local island nightlife.  Celestyal has also announced the launch of five, seven-day “3 Continents” cruises during December, 2019, from Piraeus (Athens), with calls at Alexandria and Port Said, Egypt; Ashdod, Israel; Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey; Limassol, Cyprus; and Rhodes, Greece.


Crystal Cruises has announced that oceanographic expert Jean-Michel Cousteau will share tales and experiences from his lifetime of underwater exploration on three Crystal voyages this spring, fall and winter, joining one sailing each aboard Crystal Symphony (November 8th “Amazon Discovery,” round-trip from Fort Lauderdale); Crystal Serenity (March 12th “Far East Vistas” from Manila to Singapore); and Crystal Esprit (December 9th “West Indies Yachting Explorer,” round-trip from St. Martin).  On March 6, Crystal revealed new details of its upcoming expedition yacht, Crystal Endeavor during a press briefing at the Seatrade Cruise Global Conference in Fort Lauderdale.  At 19,800 GRT, the all-suite, purpose-built polar class yacht will reportedly be “the largest, most spacious expedition yacht in the world.”  Also announced were details and images of the most extensive redesign in Crystal Serenity’s history.  This October, the ship will enter dry dock for a three-week refurbishment that will transform accommodations, dining options, technological advancements and public spaces.  Elsewhere, on March 8, Crystal River Cruises welcomed Crystal Debussy to its fleet, bringing it to four luxury ships since the company launched its program of river experiences in 2016.  Crystal River Cruises has also unveiled its comprehensive 2018-2019 Crystal River Cruises Atlas.  The brochure is designed to showcase every facet of the Crystal River brand, including destination highlights of the 35 separate itineraries available along the Danube, Rhine, Main and Moselle rivers.  Finally, Crystal has renewed its Platinum Level Partnership with the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). The organization is the world’s largest association of travel professionals and travel agent advocates, with chapters operating globally in support of agents who specialize in selling tours, cruises, hotels, air travel and more.


Cunard, in partnership with the Greatest Generations Foundation, will pay tribute to the forgotten heroes of World War II, honoring our nation’s veterans with a special enrichment program on board a Queen Mary 2 trans-Atlantic crossing this summer that will travel from New York to London from July 20 to 27.  In other news, the line has established a partnership with Rocky Mountaineer to offer guests rail experiences in the Canadian Rockies, either before or after a Cunard Alaska cruise. Recently, Cunard announced that it will return to Alaska in 2019 for the first time in over two decades.  Elsewhere, Cunard will be taking on a distinctly Aussie flavour, as the line is partnering with four leading Australian companies ahead of a February and March season “Down Under” for Queen Elizabeth…fashion brand R.M. Williams, Australia’s iconic Akubra hats, Melbourne-based boutique whisky distillery STARWARD, and the acclaimed national dance company, Australian Dance Theatre.  Speaking of new partnerships, Cunards is now collaborating with, the world’s largest online family history resource, to offer guests the opportunity to trace their family history on Queen Mary 2’s seven-night trans-Atlantic crossing this November 4-11.  Four genealogists from Ancestry will assist guests in learning who they are and where they came from, as well as how to sift through census and military records, and determine their ethnic mix through AncestryDNA.  Finally, Cunard’s “Oceans of Discovery” voyage program featuring sailings from November, 2019, through April, 2020, aboard Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria will call at 123 destinations in 48 different countries, including 10 maiden calls in Japan, Australia and Papua New Guinea.


Disney Cruise Line, during summer, 2019, will offer new itineraries and visits to seven new ports in Europe, including a first-ever round-trip cruise from Rome and first-time calls at destinations in Sweden, France, Spain, Denmark and Northern Ireland.  Visits to the Mediterranean are scheduled in early summer and to northern Europe in late summer.  Sailings to Alaska, the Caribbean and the Bahamas will continue, and new cruise lengths will be featured aboard Disney Fantasy.  The Disney fleet will have three new vessels setting sail in 2021, 2022 and 2023.  Each new ship will be approximately 140,000 gross tons and each is currently planned to include about 1,250 guest staterooms.  In other news, beginning on March 9, “Rapunzel’s Royal Table” aboard Disney Magic, sailing from PortMiami, now offers guests an all-new dining experience inspired by the story of Disney’s “Tangled.” The first table service restaurant themed to “Tangled” that features characters and live entertainment transports diners to the “Kingdom of Corona” for an evening of music and interactive fun featuring Rapunzel and the mischievous “Snuggly Duckling Thugs.”


Emerald Waterways is promoting 12-day “Imperial Charms of Russia” river cruises on the Volga River aboard the chartered Rossia, sailing between St. Petersburg and Moscow.  The line is offering complimentary, round-trip airfare to guests who book any 2019 departure of this itinerary by May 31, 2018.  After this date, guests will receive a reduced airfare of $295 per person.  Sailings are available from May through September, 2019, and rates begin at $3,945 person, double occupancy.  Elsewhere, Emerald was featured during the week of March 5 to 9 on the popular television game show Wheel of Fortune.  Furthermore, the brand has announced its first foray into ocean cruising with a new yacht sailing itinerary along Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast in the Adriatic Sea.  Set to launch in 2019, the eight-day “Islands of Dalmatia” cruise will ply the waters between Trogir and Dubrovnik, Croatia.  Guests on these cruises will take in destinations along the Adriatic Coast and learn about the region’s topography, comprised of thousands of off-shore islands and coastlines dotted with limestone mountains and ancients cities and towns.  22 departures will be offered from April through October, 2019.


Holland America Line has announced that, due to overwhelming popularity, “O’s Reading Room” is being added to all 14 ships in the fleet around the world.  Introduced as part of special onboard programming developed in partnership with O, The Oprah Magazine, by this May guests on all HAL ships will have the opportunity to read the latest book club selection and participate in discussions on board.  Also, HAL is tapping into the expertise of one of the world’s most acclaimed wine critics, James Suckling, to curate an extensive new wine list that will be featured on all ships in the fleet.  As the line’s official Wine Curator, Suckling will lead the design and development of the premium line’s wine offerings and provide wine selection tips on the menus and wine lists of all shipboard dining venues and bars.  The new lists are expected to be in place fleetwide by the end of 2018, in time for the launch of Nieuw Statendam.  And the line is elevating sushi chef Andy Matsuda to its Culinary Council, led by Master Chef Rudi Sodamin.  In other news, HAL is introducing a new retail experience on board its ships to better align with its ongoing brand evolution.  The multi-faceted retail plan introduces new products and services, including an expanded logo collection, locally cultivated items, a new Fujifilm photo space and new supplier partnerships.  To launch and oversee the new program, Patrick Kells has been appointed director of retail, reporting to Kelli Coleman, vice president, onboard revenue, photo and retail.  Next, following the success of its highly acclaimed “Frozen Planet in Concert” that was produced in partnership with BBC Earth, HAL is debuting “Planet Earth II in Concert” on nearly all ships in the fleet.  Combining live music with a backdrop of breathtaking footage from the new BBC Earth television series “Planet Earth II,” the exclusive show immerses guests in some of the most spectacular landscapes and animal habitats on Earth.  And finally, HAL’s Nieuw Statendam, set to debut this December, will feature distinct stateroom enhancements.  The newest 2,666-guest Pinnacle-Class ship will have eight more staterooms than sister-ship Koningsdam, and all categories have been reimagined from top to bottom to showcase more innovative touches and additions.  Among noticeable enhancements will be the redesigned Pinnacle Suite, as well as reconfigured Family Staterooms, although stateroom hallmarks introduced on Koningsdam, including single-cruiser accommodations, will be retained.


Hurtigruten, celebrating 125 years in exploration travel, is offering discounts on cruises operating through March 31, 2019.  Last month I noted that I had been given confusing information on details of the promotion, so please access the line’s website for applicable sailings.


MSC Cruises has unveiled plans for its winter 2019-2020 season, including:  MSC Grandiosa, will come into service and spend her inaugural winter season in the Mediterranean; MSC Sinfonia will offer 11, 12 and 14-night cruises in the Mediterranean, including one to Israel; MSC Meraviglia will begin cruising from Miami and offer three itineraries from New York in October, 2019; Ocean Cay, the line’s new private island will open in 2019, and offer 40 acres of  beaches for its guests cruising the Caribbean; MSC Bellissima will enter service in March, 2019, and begin sailing to the Middle East during the following winter; and MSC’s 2020 World Cruise on MSC Magnifica from Civitavecchia will be a 116-night journey to 40 destinations and 23 countries.  In other news, MSC has now opened bookings for the new MSC Grandiosa, the first ship in the company’s “Meraviglia-Plus” generation.  Among other features of the vessel will be two new “Cirque du Soleil at Sea” shows created exclusively for the ship; a Mediterranean-style promenade with an LED Sky spanning 323 ft., which will display vistas day and night; new family activities and entertainment; and 12 onboard dining venues.  Finally, MSC has just announced that MSC Armonia will homeport in Miami for a series of seven-night itineraries  including Cuba beginning December 10, 2018.  This development will mark the first time that MSC will sail from the U.S. to Cuba, and the first time that the line will base three ships concurrently at PortMiami.  MSC Armonia will sail from Miami on Mondays, call in Montego Bay (Jamaica), Georgetown (Cayman Islands), and Cozumel (Mexico) before arriving in Havana on Saturday and staying there through Sunday before returning to Miami.  The vessel was the first ship in MSC’s $250 million “Renaissance Program,” having been extensively renovated in late 2014.


Norwegian Cruise Line’s new Norwegian Bliss, its first ship custom-built with features and amenities designed for Alaska cruising, emerged from the Meyer Werft building dock in Papenburg, Germany on February 17, then departed Papenburg on March 13 for her conveyance along the Ems River, arriving in Eemshaven, The Netherlands the following day.   Measuring 994 feet long, 136 feet wide, and at a gross registered tonnage of 168,028, Norwegian Bliss will be the largest cruise vessel ever to sail Alaskan waters, beginning in late May.


Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., has announced that it has met the company’s goal of raising $2.5 million for the Hope Starts Here  hurricane relief program.  In less than four months, the program received more than $1.25 million in donations from the company’s team members, guests, travel and business partners, which the company has matched in order to assist All Hands and Hearts-Smart Response, a non-profit organization focused on natural disaster relief by rebuilding safe schools on five Caribbean islands.  On March 7, the company also unveiled the design of the new, dedicated Norwegian Cruise Line terminal at PortMiami.  Pending final approval by the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners, the project will commence this May, and is scheduled for completion by the fall of 2019, when the new Norwegian Encore will make her debut in Miami with seasonal cruises to the Caribbean.


P&O Cruises Australia’s Pacific Aria, during her recent New Guinea Island Encounter cruise, sailed near the submerged wreckage of AE1…the Royal Australian Navy’s first submarine…which was recently discovered near Rabaul, ending a 103-year old mystery since it disappeared with its crew of 35 Australian, British and New Zealand sailors on September 1914, during World War I.  Also, the line’s Pacific Jewel has just completed a makeover in which the 70,310-ton vessel was fitted with a range of new features and furnishings, including an outdoor barefoot lawn bowling green first introduced on Pacific Explorer last year.


Pearl Sea Cruises is offering complimentary pre-cruise packages for new bookings on fall, 2018 Cuba sailings from Fort Lauderdale.  The package includes a one-night premium hotel stay and transportation to the ship, plus the line also promises savings of up to $3,000 off per stateroom on select sailings this fall, and is waiving port charges and fees. The 11-night “Cuba Cultural Voyages” are scheduled in November and December, with additional sailings in 2019.  Stops are made in Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Casilda, El Cobre, and Santiago de Cuba.  Pearl Mist guests experience an all-inclusive cruise with onboard lecturers and experts, guided shore excursions, cocktails every evening, and beer and wine served with lunch and dinner.


Princess Cruises has announced a “Come Back New Sale,” offering guests free gratuities, bookings with a $100 refundable deposit, and a savings of up to $300 per person on flights booked through “Princess EZair.”  The sale offers deals on cruises to popular destinations including Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, Panama Canal, California Coast, Australia & New Zealand, Southeast Asia, Canada & New England, South America, as well as World Cruise voyages, and runs through May 2.  In other news, the line and Fathom Travel have announced additional impact sailings, now to be known as “Travel Deep” cruises, in 2018 to the Caribbean These group opportunities allow guests to make an impact while traveling, and provide assistance and support to local communities in a variety of ways such as on-shore opportunities to connect with those living on the islands of the Caribbean, and to realize the rewards of lending a helping hand to those in need.  Ships and future sailing dates are Caribbean Princess on May 26, June 30, July 28 and August 18, as well as Royal Princess on November 17.  Finally, Princess has announced a new culinary shore excursion program in collaboration with food lifestyle brand Bon Appétit, offering guests the opportunity to indulge in culinary experiences inspired by their surroundings while cruising to destinations around the globe.


Riviera River Cruises will honor Omega World Travel Founder Gloria Bohan as godmother of the company’s new all-suite Robert Burns when the ship is christened on April 3 in Vienna. The Robert Burns will be the first vessel added to the U.K.-based company’s fleet in 2018 after the European river cruise operator launched four ships in 2017.


Scenic is continuing its growth in the North American market with the purchase of one of the continent’s leading tour operators, Mayflower Tours.  Scenic began as a luxury tour operator in 1986, adding upscale river cruises in 2008, and is now an industry leader with more than 800 escorted itineraries in 66 countries, 22 river ships, and two new “Discovery Yachts” currently under construction.  Mayflower began in 1979 with similar efforts in the U.S., and today offers hundreds of deluxe tours and cruises in 52 countries.  The acquisition will continue to run as a separate entity, named Mayflower Cruise & Tours, with many of the same people, same executive team and same focus.  Also, in preparation for the maiden voyage of its first “Discovery Yacht,” Scenic Eclipse, the company has now filled four key onboard operational positions.  As regards its European river cruises, Scenic is currently offering 2018 prices for those booking a 2019 cruise.  Furthermore, guests choosing any European sailings of 12 days or longer, or sailings of any length on the Rhine River, the Danube River between Nuremburg and Budapest, or Russia’s Volga River, can choose to fly free or enjoy $1,000 per person savings on their fares.  Guests on eight to 11-day itineraries on any of the European itineraries receive either free flights (standard suites) or $495 flights (balcony suites) to Europe, or they can choose fare savings of $500 per person.  Solo travelers are being offered 50% off all single supplements on any European sailing from April through November.  


Seabourn has launched a “Global Partner Appreciation Event” in March to demonstrate its support of the travel professional community worldwide.  Through the end of this month, the line’s global sales teams in North America, the United Kingdom, Europe and Australia are reinforcing and strengthening their commitment to travel professional partners through an increased number of activities, including seminars, webinars, conferences, events and in-person meetings.  Elsewhere, actress and singer Elaine Paige will serve as godmother to the new all-suite Seabourn Ovation during the vessel’s naming ceremony on May 11, in the harbor of Valletta, Malta.


Silversea Cruises’ Silver Spirit has made her final port call before undergoing an extensive lengthening project in Italy.  Docking in Dubai on February 22, the ship completed an eight-night cruise from Mumbai.  The vessel entered dry dock at the Fincantieri shipyard in Palermo on March 5, where she will remain until May 1 while undergoing a large-scale refurbishment. The ship has now successfully been cut in two, a prebuilt 49-foot-long segment has been inserted into the vessel’s midsection, and Silver Spirit is now being reconnected, making her the first luxury ship to be lengthened in this manner.  In other news, the line has identified three new “Tale Tellers” for its 2019 World Cruise 2019…celebrated creatives who will each illustrate one of the nine segments of the extended voyage.  Steve McCurry, Alain de Botton, and Sophy Roberts will each embark Silver Whisper for a segment of the 52-port voyage, joining Paul Theroux, Pico Iyer and four other “Tale Tellers” who have yet to be announced.  Each will host a series of lectures for guests while on board and produce a literary journal or artwork inspired by their destination areas.  Elsewhere, Silversea has announced that renowned primatologist Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas will join two 2019 Silver Discoverer voyages on June 24 (Darwin to Bali) and July 9 (Bali to Singapore) as a guest lecturer.  Internationally recognized for her studies and work with the orangutans of Indonesian Borneo in their natural habitat, she is considered the world’s foremost authority on the orangutan.  For each guest on these two special sailings, Silversea Expeditions will donate $100 to the non-profit Orangutan Foundation International.  And on March 8, the line announced the opening of general sales for its pioneering 140-day, 62-port, 32-country World Cruise in 2020.  Departing Fort Lauderdale on January 6, 2020, Silver Whisper will reportedly be the first ship to visit all seven continents, including Antarctica, on a world cruise.


Star Clippers will start and end its next Indonesia sailing season with 14-night sailings between Singapore and Bali, and during the months of May through October offer an assortment of seven, 10 and 11-night sailings round trip from Bali covering eastern and western Indonesia.


Tauck has announced details of its 2019 small ship cruising plans, with the Connecticut-based company set to increase its passenger volume by 40% next year. To realize its goal, Tauck is adding five new small ship itineraries, increasing the number of ships featured in its fleet, and sailing more charters with its partner cruise lines.  Among the new cruises in Tauck’s 2019 lineup are a nine-day “Arctic Allure: Spitsbergen  and the Midnight Sun” program utilizing the Ponant ship Le Boréal, an 11-day “Legendary Scottish Isles, Edinburgh and Glasgow” (with Ponant’s Le Champlain, and a 20-day “Cruising Down Under,” which combines hotel stays with a nine-night New Zealand cruise aboard Ponant’s Le Lapérouse.  Tauck is also adding  North America to its cruise portfolio, with an eight-day “Alaska’s Inside Passage” itinerary aboard  Ponant’s Le Soléal and a 12-day “Cruising the Great Lakes: Chicago to Toronto” journey that includes an eight-night cruise aboard Ponant’s Le Champlain.


UnCruise Adventures is currently promoting its 2019 Galapagos cruises, with five departures scheduled aboard La Pinta…April 4, May 30, June 27, July 25, and October 17.  The eight-day    “Darwin’s Discoveries—the Galapagos Islands” program begins in Guayaquil, Equador, and concludes in Isla Baltra for a transfer back to Guayaquil or the option of a Peru/Machu Picchu extension.


Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s new sister brand, U by Uniworld, is reportedly “the first river cruise dedicated to the next generation of travelers seeking immersive experiences along the world’s most popular rivers.”  Uniworld’s original age restriction has been removed to “give more adults the opportunity to experience the new line.”  Plans are also in the works for a new ship, which will expand U by Uniworld beyond Europe to the Mekong River in Vietnam.


Vantage Deluxe World Travel is promoting a “Great Northern Discovery: Baltic Capitals & St. Petersburg” program aboard the high-tech Variety Voyager, which accommodates up to 72 guests in 36 cabins, all of which have individually controlled A/C and ventilation, minibars, flat screen TVs, DVD players.


Guests of Windstar Cruises’ 51-day “Grand Mediterranean adventure will embark the 310-passenger Wind Surf on July 7, 2019, in Europe’s westernmost port of Lisbon, Portugal, prepared for an epic adventure visiting numerous ports across the culturally-rich Mediterranean.  Wind Surf is the world’s largest sailing ship at 14,745 gross tons, 617 feet in length with 26,881 square feet of new sails soaring 220 feet skyward.  The sailing will conclude in Barcelona on August 27, marking eight weeks of discovery spanning nearly 9,500 nautical miles.  Also, Windstar’s second season for its 212-passenger Star Legend in Asia will kick off in the fall of 2018 after her inaugural Alaska season this summer.  The return to Asia for Windstar in 2018-19 will bring four new cruises, as well as the recurrence of four of the company’s most popular cruises from its 2017-18 season sailing in the region, for a total of 27 sailings for travelers to choose from.  Windstar has increased departures for Japan cruises timed with its cherry blossom and fall foliage seasons.  New Asia itineraries include a comprehensive exploration of China; an Asian “pop culture” journey from Tokyo to South Korea and Beijing; a Thailand and Malaysia cruise featuring beaches and big cities; plus a new Indonesian itinerary, including magical Bali.