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April 29, 2016 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome!  Earlier this month I was fortunate to cruise aboard the 15,000-ton Paul Gauguin on one of its frequent, one-week Society Islands sailings, round-trip from Papeete to the exotic islands of French Polynesia.  The flagship of Paul Gauguin Cruises’ two-ship fleet, this luxury vessel makes its home in the South Pacific year-round, sailing to some of the world’s most picturesque and breathtaking tropical isles.  Elegantly appointed and beautifully maintained, Paul Gauguin hosts only about 300 guests, offering outstanding service, fine food, ample island entertainment, a featured lecturer (an anthropologist and archaeologist on our sailing), plus all beverages (except for a few premium liquors and vintage wines) and gratuities are included.  And, as I have mentioned on previous occasions, one of the most enjoyable aspects about traveling on upscale cruises like this one is the host of fascinating shipmates that one is sure to encounter…experienced world travelers with lots of interesting stories to tell, many of them leaders in their respective fields.  Among those on this cruise was a research M.D. leading studies in diseases of the brain, a top university professor of chemistry, and a world-renowned orchestral and opera conductor and his pianist wife…a truly delightful couple with whom I, a fan of classical music, became fast friends and spent much time during the week.

Our itinerary included two days in Bora Bora, where I embarked on exceptional excursions by both land and catamaran; Tah’aa…here a delightful barbecue and beach day on the tiny, private islet of Motu Mahana was appreciated by all; Huahine, probably the most lovely and unspoiled tropical paradise I’ve ever experienced personally; plus two days in Moorea, where I enjoyed both an island hike and a lagoon cruise featuring a swim and snorkeling with rays and black-tip sharks.  Although this cruise is not inexpensive, it’s also is several notches above your ordinary vacation, so I (and many others) recommend it highly.  The line is currently offering a “50% off” promotion from brochure rates, which also includes round-trip air fare from Los Angeles on Air Tahiti Nui, which was quite pleasant as airlines go.  Should you plan to arrive early and spend a couple of days in Papeete itself, you’ll also have time to explore Tahiti and take in its scenic and other visitor attractions.  A more extensive review of the cruise will be featured in my “Changing Horizons” column in The Group Travel Leader’s August issue.


Avalon Waterways’ will boast a fleet of 14 “Suite Ships” in Europe and Southeast Asia with the addition of Avalon Passion and Avalon Imagery II.  Those booking a 2017 cruise by May 31 this year will receive free flights or savings of 10% on Europe and Southeast Asia itineraries, or 5% off on China and South America cruises.  In other news, on April 13 in Linz, Austria, the line christened its 12th “Suite Ship,” Avalon Passion.  Acting as the vessel’s godmother, Jill Ellis, head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, led the christening ceremony.  Also, Avalon is teaming up with two of Europe’s rising culinary stars, the Wrenkh brothers, to design new “Avalon Fresh” dining experiences.  On each cruise, the company also brings a local chef on board to interact with guests and prepare a special dinner.  Finally, a new, special-interest “Active Discovery on the Danube: cruise will include such offerings as a hiking tour to retrace the route of World War II smugglers, a guided hike on the Danube Trail, beer tasting at an abbey brewery, a visit to the Mauthausen concentration camp and another with a count at Clam Castle., a canoe tour down the Danube, biking from Spitz to Durnstein, a meeting with an apricot orchard farmer and a Viennese cooking class.

Carnival Cruise Line celebrated the arrival of New Orleans’ newest cruise ship, Carnival Triumph, with an April 4 event featuring representatives from four charitable music organizations competing for $35,000 in donations.  The vessel represents a 34% capacity increase on the line’s four and five-day cruise program from the Crescent City.  Together with Carnival Dream, which operates year-round seven-day voyages, Carnival is expected to carry 450,000 passengers annually from the renovated Erato Street Terminal.  Elsewhere, the company has announced an exclusive multi-year partnership with the NFL’s Houston Texans, making Carnival the “Official Cruise Line” of the NFL franchise, while expanding the line’s presence in the Texas market.  To introduce the partnership and the arrival of Galveston’s newest cruise ship, a special “Mom’s Dash to the Splash” event will be held aboard Carnival Breeze when she makes her Texas debut on Mother’s Day, May 8.  In other news, the line has been named the first recipient of the Port of Seattle’s “Program Innovator Award,” and has also received the port’s Green Gateway Partners Award, honoring the company’s commitment to environmental stewardship.  Next, Carnival has extended the length of time its ships spend in Cozumel, Mexico, on more than 750 sailings.  On “Cozumel Plus” itineraries, guests will now have access to a variety of new excursions, many taking place on Mexico’s mainland, including swimming with whale sharks, visiting centuries-old ruins and swimming in hidden caverns, thus complementing nearly 50 existing tours.  Next, the line, along with the Canaveral Port Authority, hosted a special event on April 20 to celebrate the arrival on the Space Coast of the 130,000-ton Carnival Magic, and mark the official grand opening of the ship’s new Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse, designed by Food Network star Guy Fieri.  And finally, on April 28 at the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy, Carnival Cruise Line took delivery of its newest and largest ship, the 133,500-ton Carnival Vista.  The 3,954-passenger vessel will reposition to Trieste, Italy, where it will depart on its maiden voyage on May 1, beginning a summer schedule in Europe that runs through October.  Following a 13-day trans-Atlantic crossing, Carnival Vista will operate a pair of 11-day cruises from New York in November, then launch year-round Caribbean service from Miami later that month.

Celebrity Cruises is adding ‘Xcelerate,’ which it terms “cutting-edge, high-speed internet capability,” across its entire fleet, excepting only its dedicated Galápagos Islands expedition vessels.  Xcelerate will reportedly make it easier for guests to stay connected while on vacation, with higher-speed internet at sea allowing faster web browsing, accelerated page loads, and more dependable video streaming capabilities.  In other news, the line has named Peter Giorgi Chief Marketing Officer.  Giorgi will oversee the “Modern Luxury Lives Here” brand campaign, as well as all aspects of Celebrity’s global marketing platforms, brand strategy and development, digital marketing, social media, research, loyalty, direct marketing and advertising.  Giorgi most recently served as Head of Global Advertising for Airbnb.  And on April 20, in celebration of the achievements of women who hold leadership positions across Florida, The Commonwealth Institute of South Florida honored the state’s top 50 women-led businesses at its 11th annual luncheon.  Celebrity’s president and CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, who has led the brand since late 2014, took top honors and Celebrity was named 2016’s number-one woman-led business in Florida.  Shortly thereafter, South Florida Business Journal identified Lutoff-Perlo as one of the area’s top 25 influential business women for 2016.

Cunard will pay homage to one of the most renowned Hollywood icons when Queen Mary 2 showcases highlights from the world’s largest Marilyn Monroe collection, presented by celebrity auction house Julien’s Auctions, on the line’s trans-Atlantic crossing from New York, August 9-16.  Also scheduled are an appearance and photo opportunity with Monroe impersonator Suzie Kennedy.  In other news, the line is promoting a “New York Departures Sale,” featuring savings of up to 35% on select trans-Atlantic crossings, New England and Canada, Caribbean, ‘Grand’ and ‘Exotic’ Voyages on Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth.  The sale applies to new bookings made until May 31.

Disney Cruise Line will sail on new itineraries and to new ports in 2017, including first-time visits to destinations in Alaska (Icy Strait and Hubbard Glacier) and Europe (Amsterdam and Stonehenge).  Disney Fantasy will sail from Port Canaveral on new, longer 10 and 11-night cruises to the southern Caribbean.  Bookings opened to the public on April 14.

Emerald Waterways has planned an “InfoSession” for group leaders, families, friends, travel agents and tour operators in Phoenix, Arizona, at 6:00 p.m. at the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel, 50 E. Adams Street.  RSVPs are requested.  In other news, the line has announced the launch of its new “Emerald Active” program, giving guests the option to engage in more physical pursuits such as guided bike and hiking tours, on six of its most popular European itineraries.  In line with its nearly all-inclusive pricing structure, these excursions are being offered to guests at no additional charge.

Fathom, Carnival Corporation’s 10th and newest brand, is now operational.  The line’s Adonia (operated by U.K. subsidiary P&O) returned from her inaugural voyage to the company’s current “impact travel” destination, the Dominican Republic, on Sunday, April 24.  Fathom’s debut was reportedly a “major success” for hundreds of travelers on the weeklong journey, which provided guests with volunteer opportunities working alongside people in need in the D.R.  This writer is currently aboard Adonia for the subsequent sailing, and will report on the operation in the next Group Cruise News Update.

Holland America Line’s tradition will continue when Her Majesty Queen Máxima of the Netherlands christens its new, 2,650-guest Pinnacle-class ship Koningsdam, in a ceremony in Rotterdam on May 20.  Members of the Dutch Royal Family have previously launched 11 Holland America Line ships.  Koningsdam will spend the summer sailing from Amsterdam on itineraries to Norway, the Baltic and Iceland.  And on April 22, The Port of Seattle presented the hometown cruise line with its sixth consecutive Green Gateway Award, as well as the Technology Innovator Award, in recognition of its significant environmentally-oriented efforts.

Hurtigruten has announced the appointment of Cathy Swift as the line’s new Marketing Director North America, based in the company’s Seattle office.  Her past included 26 years of marketing experience with TCS World Travel and Story Worldwide, including programs for Lexus, Microsoft, and Disney.

MSC Cruises’ PR department had advised me that a BIG announcement was coming, and BIG it certainly was.  On April 6, the line announced that it has signed a letter of intent with STX France for the construction of up to four huge new, liquefied natural gas-powered cruise ships, each exceeding 200,000 tons in size. The four ships, the first one of which is scheduled to be delivered in 2022, will be based on a next-generation prototype and will form what will be known as the “World Class” of MSC’s ships.  In other news, the line is also introducing “next generation connectivity” across its entire fleet, along with new internet packages designed to provide guests with fast, reliable access to the web.  Working with internet specialist Marlink, the upgrades are being added to MSC’s 12 existing vessels, as well as its new MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside currently under construction.  Guests will be able to select from three different packages based on their individual web and social media needs.  The “Social Package” will have 24/7 access to social networks on one device, at $4.50 per day or $16.50 for a 7-night cruise, while the “Surfer Package” will feature access to the internet on up to two devices at  $11 per day or $33 for a 7-night cruise.  Finally, the “Streamer Package” package will allow full internet and social media access, including audio and video streaming, with access for up to four devices, at $22 per day or $66 for a 7-night cruise.

Norwegian Cruise Line celebrated the keel laying ceremony at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, on April 5 for the line’s first vessel designed for the Chinese market,  Norwegian Joy, scheduled to enter service during summer, 2017.  During the ceremony, the first of 80 blocks that will comprise the 168,800 gross ton vessel was lifted into the covered building hall, officially marking the start of the ship’s assembly.

Oceania Cruises is expanding its array of cruise itineraries for the 2017 summer and 2017-18 winter seasons with 172 itineraries, nearly 120 of which have not been offered by the line previously, that will visit more than 370 different ports of call.  Guests who book one of these sailings before September 30 this year will receive a complimentary “OLife Choice” amenity package with free unlimited internet access and a choice of free shore excursions, free unlimited house beverage package or free shipboard credit.

Princess Cruises has reached an agreement with Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri to build two new ships that are scheduled to enter service in 2019 and 2020.  Elsewhere, the line has inaugurated new “Discovery at Sea Tours of the Year” awards, honoring top-ranked Discovery and Animal Planet shore excursions in Alaska and Europe from the 2015 cruise season. Winning tour operators were recognized at a special ceremony aboard Royal Princess in Fort Lauderdale.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises has added free, intercontinental roundtrip Business Class air for all guests to its other inclusive elements such as unlimited shore excursions, wine and spirits, internet access, gratuities, ground transfers and pre-cruise hotel stays.  The free Business Class air is available from 26 U.S. and Canadian gateway cities, regardless of what category of suite is booked, on European, Asian and South American voyages.  The line’s four-ship fleet will make more than 100 voyages during the 2017-18 season, including an unusual 30-night, summertime excursion through Canada’s Northwest Passage aboard Seven Seas Navigator.

Seabourn celebrated a milestone in the construction of its new Seabourn Encore with the ship touching water for the first time on April 4.  The ship is now at its outfitting dock at Fincantieri’s Marghera shipyard in Italy, where it is undergoing final construction until scheduled delivery at the end of 2016.  In other new, the line is enhancing its “Ventures by Seabourn” expedition program in Northern Europe this summer, with programs entitled Puffins, Eiders and Guillemots on Vigur Island, explored by Zodiac; Fjord Journey through Prins Christian Sund; and Extensive Fjord Exploration to Trollfjord.  Furthermore, its “Seabourn Conversations” onboard enrichment and special guest entertainment program will feature a number of UNESCO advisors and consultants leading conversations on culture, heritage, history, and the importance of sustainable tourism in preserving World Heritage Sites across the globe.

Silversea Cruises celebrated one year to go until the christening of its new flagship Silver Muse on April 19.  To mark the milestone, commemorative events took place on board all eight of the line’s ships around the world.  Elsewhere, Silversea has announced that internationally- recognized scientist, conservationist and educator Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas will serve as a guest lecturer aboard Silver Discoverers October 18 expedition cruise from Balikpapan to Singapore, which will explore the exotic islands of Indonesia.  In related news, the line is introducing a $499 roundtrip economy air add-on from more than 50 gateways in the U.S. and Canada for six Silver Discoverer voyages sailing in October, November and December to Asia and the Indian Ocean.  Finally, Silversea is also offering business class air upgrades for $199 each way on transoceanic flights from over 50 U.S. and Canadian cities on new bookings made through June 10 on 18 select, all-inclusive Mediterranean voyages.

Tauck celebrated the christening of the company’s new Grace riverboat on April 3 in Maastricht, the Netherlands. The launch comes as Tauck is more than doubling the size of its European riverboat fleet, from four vessels at the start of 2014 to nine later this year with the June christening of another new ship, the Joy.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection has opened its 2017 European river cruises for booking with early-booking savings expiring May 30.  Guests who deposit by that date will save $150 to $750 per person, while those who pay in full will save $300 to $1500 per person.  Next year, the line’s new S.S. (Super Ship) Joie de Vivre will debut on the Seine.

Viking Ocean Cruises’ second ship, Viking Sea, embarked on her maiden voyage from Istanbul to Venice on April 4.  The vessel is currently on her way to be officially christened on May 5 on the Thames River in Greenwich, England.  Following the christening, Viking Sea will spend her maiden season sailing itineraries in Scandinavia, the Baltic, as well as the Western and Eastern Mediterranean.

Windstar Cruises has scheduled 11 new “Private Events” in Europe for 2016.  Featured programs, both new and returning, will be offered in Tarragona, Spain; Molde and Bergen, Norway; St. Petersburg, Russia; Ephesus, Turkey; Culloden, Scotland; Seydisfjordur, Iceland; Porto, Portugal; Agadir and Tangier, Morocco; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Katakolon, Greece; and Portofino, Italy.