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April 3, 2016 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome!  In this Update, I also welcome MSC Cruises, news of which will now appear regularly in GCN in the future.  MSC has been one of only two major lines with which I’ve had difficulty establishing a regular and ongoing relationship, but that is happily all in the past.  Now there’s only one big company remaining from which I’ve inexplicably not been able to pry regular press releases, despite countless attempts…releases containing information that readers really need to make decisions on planning their future group sailings.  Please be assured that I’ll keep on trying, however.  Also, finding myself recently with a few free afternoon hours between other activities in Seattle, I dropped in on the corporate offices of Un-Cruise Adventures, where I had most enjoyable conversations with both Sarah Scoltock, the line’s Director of Communications, as well as the captain of Wilderness Adventurer, one of three Un-Cruise vessels docked nearby while being readied for the 2016 season.  I’m eagerly awaiting sampling the line’s adventure-oriented product in Panama and Costa Rica this fall, including a canal transit and four exotic national parks, aboard the 64-guest Safari Voyager.



American Cruise Lines is expanding its Columbia and Snake Rivers offerings by introducing a 5-day “Highlights of the Columbia River” itinerary, as well as adding four additional dates to its 8-day “Columbia and Snake Rivers” program aboard Queen of the West.  ACL is also reducing the ship’s capacity to 100 passengers, following up on its previous announcement of lower pricing aboard the vessel.  In other news, the line’s new fully-stabilized, ocean-capable vessel being built at Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Maryland is now reportedly 11 weeks ahead of schedule, with anticipated delivery during the first quarter of 2017.  This 170-guest ship will feature 350-square-foot staterooms with private balconies and butler-delivered room service, plus carry a number of Zodiacs and kayaks to allowing guests additional exploration opportunities.

American Queen Steamboat Company has announced a series of 2016 “Vineyards, Vintages and Varietals” theme cruises onboard American Empress, showcasing the extraordinary products of select Washington and Oregon wineries.

Carnival Cruise Line has announced its fall 2016 Carnival LIVE lineup featuring country music star Sam Hunt and comedians Chris Tucker and Jim Gaffigan. Carnival LIVE shows are held while vessels are docked in Cozumel, Nassau, and for the first time this year, Grand Cayman and Montego Bay.  Tickets for these performers’ appearances range from $30 to $75 for general admission, and from $100 to $250 for VIP tickets.  Next, Freeport Bahamas Adventures Ltd., which each year provides thousands of Carnival guests with landside experiences in Freeport, The Bahamas, has been named the line’s “Tour Operator of the Year.”  The company was selected from hundreds of tour operators that work in tandem with Carnival to offer guests offerings ashore throughout the Caribbean, Bahamas, Mexico, Canada and the U.S.  Furthermore, chef and restaurateur Guy Fieri, creator or Guy’s Burger Joints on the line’s ships, has expanded his seagoing offerings with a new smokehouse and barbecue venue aboard Carnival Magic.  Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse is a casual, open-air eatery on the ship’s Promenade Deck, which features a variety of BBQ favorites smoked on board over hickory and cherry wood using Guy’s signature recipes, rubs and spices.  Finally, the RedFrog Pub & Brewery on the line’s newest and largest ship, Carnival Vista, will offer guests a choice of three hand-crafted beers brewed on board.  This, the first brewery at sea in North America, is the result of a unique collaboration between Carnival and Miami-based Concrete Beach Brewery, an Alchemy & Science brand, and an independently operating subsidiary of The Boston Beer Company.

Celebrity Cruises will premiere its new “A Taste of Film” program on two more ships:  Celebrity Summit and Celebrity Millennium, joining Celebrity Infinity, which debuted its new “Rooftop Terrace” as the setting for “A Taste of Film” last December.  The two vessels will emerge from dry dock this spring with the new venue as well as other enhancements.  According to the line, “‘A Taste of Film’ presents films that evoke a specific cultural, culinary or destination experience, paired with cuisine that brings the scenes on the screen to life through guests’ taste buds.”  In other news, Celebrity has unveiled a series of new destination experiences, including tours of Greece curated by the company’s Greek officers, opportunities to discover local markets with an expert chef, adventure-oriented programs with a noted world adventurer, and such ‘bucket-list’ tours as racing along the French Riviera in a Lamborghini.  The company is also hiring dedicated ‘”Destination Insiders,” seasoned world travelers who will help create unique, off-the-beaten-path land experiences for the “Celebrity Private Journeys” shore excursion program aimed at its more adventurous guests.  Furthermore, Celebrity has announced the planned acquisition of Galápagos Islands tour operator Ocean Adventures and its two ships, the 48-guest Eclipse and the 16-guest catamaran Athala II.  The move expands the line’s guest capacity in the Galápagos by 64%, supplementing the 100-guest Celebrity Xpedition.

Cunard’s 2017 Voyages and 2018 World & Exotic Voyages Programme” will reportedly feature a greater number of voyages and more destinations than ever before.  In 2017, the Cunard fleet will travel over 207,000 nautical miles, visit 93 destinations in 32 different countries, and will include four maiden calls for the current fleet…Souda Bay, Greece; Sibenik, Croatia; Brindisi, Italy; and Praia da Vitoria, Portugal.  Highlights include overnight calls in eight cities, including St. Petersburg, Venice and Barcelona; 18 evenings in port, including Dublin, Monte Carlo and Boston; 14 roundtrip New York sailings; two “World Voyages,” one on Queen Mary 2 and one on Queen Elizabeth; and a 22-port South America voyage on Queen Victoria. Cunard has also announced that it will be adding Britannia Club staterooms to Queen Victoria in her next dry-dock, scheduled for June 2017,

Disney Cruise Line has announced plans to build two additional ships at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Germany. The new vessels are scheduled to be completed in 2021 and 2023.  In other news, the line’s guests can celebrate Star Wars adventures and characters during additional Star Wars Day at Sea in 2017, as Disney Fantasy special sailings expand to both Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries and increase to 15 cruises, up from eight in 2016.

Emerald Waterways’ 2017 Preview brochure is now available, and includes details on two new ships…Emerald Liberté will sail on the Rhône & Douro Rivers on an 8-day “Sensations of Southern France” itinerary between Lyon to Arles, and Emerald Radiance will travel round-trip from Porto, Portugal,  on 8-day “Secrets of the Douro” trips.  The line’s 2017 river cruises are available at 2016 prices through April 30, in addition to savings of up to $1,000 per couple.

Fathom, Carnival Corporation’s newest brand, has announced four additional social impact activities available to travelers visiting the Dominican Republic aboard its Adonia.  In addition to those activities previously announced…from building water filters for Dominican homes to helping a women’s cooperative produce artisan chocolates…travelers may now select from projects focused on improving homes and common areas in impoverished communities; working with special needs rehabilitation therapy patients; assisting arts and crafts entrepreneurs at a women’s cooperative; and connecting one-on-one in the homes of Dominican host families.  Fathom has also unveiled new travel agency partnerships with World Travel Holdings; Cruise One;; Travel Leaders Franchise Group; Nexion;,and  Finally, the line will devote its July 17 Dominican Republic voyage to the exploration and study of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).  Fathom is committed to increasing interest in these topics to help build confidence among children and young adults to pursue and succeed in STEM studies. The line will also host this year’s Clean Tech Competition, a unique worldwide research and design challenge for pre-college youth.  The seven-day charter sailing will prepare educators of all grades, as well as staff members of colleges specializing in teacher education.

French Country Waterways, an American-owned company that has been providing barge tours throughout the French countryside for more than three decades, has announced savings of 30% on select, six-night summer departures from Dijon aboard the luxury barge Adrienne, the six crew members of which cater to just twelve guests.  High-season rates begin at $4,476.50 per person.

Holland America Line was named among the “World’s Most Ethical Companies” for the fifth consecutive year by Ethisphere Institute, a leading business ethics think tank.  In other news, guests who make a new booking with a future cruise consultant while on board a Holland America Line ship will now earn double the onboard spending credit, up to $400 per person. Travel professionals will continue to be protected on all bookings made during a cruise.  Also, the line’s Eurodam earned its 10th consecutive perfect score of 100 on a recent routine United States Public Health inspection on March 20 at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, making it the first ship in company history to receive as many consecutive perfect scores of 100.  And the line is strengthening its presence on Mexico’s Pacific Coast for the 2016-17 season by increasing the number of departures and returning a larger ship to the region.  From October through next February, the 1,916-guest Westerdam will sail a series of 13, seven-day cruises roundtrip from San Diego, including two holiday departures in December.  Finally, HAL took delivery of its new Koningsdam, the first Pinnacle-Class ship in the fleet, on March 31, and celebrated further with an official Handover Ceremony, luncheon and shipyard workers party aboard the ship on April 2.  Both events took place at Fincantieri’s Marghera shipyard in Italy. The vessel will next make its way to Civitavecchia (the port for Rome) for its Premiere Voyage departing April 8.  Following a series of Mediterranean sailings, Koningsdam’s official naming ceremony will take place in Rotterdam on May 20, before the ship heads to its summer home port of Amsterdam for a series of northern Europe and Baltic cruises before returning to the Mediterranean in September.  In the fall, the ship will head across the Atlantic Ocean to Fort Lauderdale, where it will be homeported at Port Everglades and spend the winter season in the Caribbean. The 99,500-ton vessel accommodates 2,650 guests and features HAL’s first purpose-built accommodations for families and solo travelers among its 1,331 staterooms and suites.

Hurtigruten has begun the process of upgrading four of its eleven Norwegian Coastal ships, as well as adding a new expedition ship, the MS Spitsbergen, its first acquisition in ten years.  The extensive refurbishments of the first two, Kong Harald and Polarlys, have been completed and are reportedly receiving extremely positive reviews from guests. The makeovers of Nordkapp and Nordnorge will be completed in April and November, respectively.  The new look, termed the “New Artic Interior,” includes the replacement of each ship’s interior and furnishings typical of the ‘90s with a modern Scandinavian interior, plus the ongoing transformation of the onboard restaurants to the “Coastal Kitchen concept,” featuring seasonal ingredients offering the freshest Norwegian food available.  Finally, the line is now finishing a near-complete reconstruction of Spitsbergen, which was built in Portugal in 2009, and is now undergoing adaptation for polar waters, with upgrades to cabins, suites and public spaces for her 320 guests, as well as adjustments to power plants and emissions.

MSC Cruises has announced a new partnership with celebrated pan-Asian chef and international culinary pioneer, Roy Yamaguchi.  The innovative Japanese-American celebrity chef will initially introduce a specialty pan-Asian restaurant on board the cruise line’s new next-generation ship, MSC Seaside. This latest announcement furthers MSC’s ongoing commitment to international fine dining and adds to the line’s existing partnerships with award-winning chefs Carlo Cracco, Jean-Philippe Maury and Jereme Leung.

Norwegian Cruise Line has announced a number of itineraries for the 2017-2018 fall/winter season.  In the Caribbean, Bahamas and Florida, Norwegian Getaway will return to the U.S. from the Baltic and sail seven-day Western Caribbean cruises from Miami every Sunday from October 29, 2017, to April 22, 2018, while the recently enhanced Norwegian Gem will alternate 10 and 11-day Eastern Caribbean cruises from New York, October 21, 2017, through April 17, 2018.  In Europe, Norwegian Spirit will go into dry dock in early 2017 for significant enhancements and remain in Europe for the following fall and winter, with 10-day Canary Islands departures scheduled from Barcelona from November 23, 2017, to April 24, 2018.  In Canada & New England, adding to the previously announced seven-day round-trips from New York City during fall foliage season, Norwegian Gem will also be offering a 10-day Eastern Canada and Quebec departure, also from New York.  In other news, Norwegian current (through April 10) “Free at Sea” promotion is providing double the onboard bonus offerings, as guests who book a new cruise vacation in a balcony or mini-suite stateroom can choose two complimentary amenities to enjoy during their cruise.  Guests who book a suite or “The Haven” receive all four free amenities.  Furthermore, the line has released details on its new Western Caribbean destination experience, Harvest Caye, Belize.  Designed to feature an authentic Belizean environment with easy access to Southern Belize, Harvest Caye is set to provide a variety of amenities and eco-activities, the country’s only cruise ship pier, and the opportunity for guests to easily depart for an excursion to Mayan ruins, river rafting, nature or cultural immersion tours beginning this November.  Next, Norwegian has established a new partnership with, a full service honeymoon registry website that allows friends and family to contribute to gifts to be delivered onboard a couple’s honeymoon sailing.  Instead of a traditional wedding registry for household items, couples can register with the site for experiences to enhance their cruise, such as a couples’ massage at the Mandara Spa, a romantic dinner at one of Norwegian’s specialty restaurants, or an adventurous shore excursion.  Engaged couples can even have friends and family contribute to their cruise fare.  Finally, the line’s Pride of America returned to her homeport of Honolulu on March 26, following a three-and-a-half-week dry dock, during which she received extensive ship-wide enhancements, including newly designed public spaces, completely new venues and refreshed décor in all staterooms.  Pride of America’s renovation is a part of “The Norwegian Edge,” a $400 million investment program designed to “set a new standard of excellence for the Norwegian brand encompassing the entire guest experience.”

Paul Gauguin Cruises has released its new “2017 Voyages” brochure featuring Tahiti, French Polynesia, Fiji and South Pacific itineraries pf Paul Gauguin.  In 2017, new itineraries include a 16-night Fiji to Bali voyage that departs April 29, 2017, and the reverse, 17-night Bali to Fiji cruise departing June 7, 2017.  On July 26, 2017, the line will present its third Reunion Cruise, a special 10-night Cook Islands & Society Islands itinerary featuring a number of special events, including a festive dinner, cocktail and block parties, opportunities to mingle with senior staff and crew, and more. Throughout 2017, the Wildlife Conservation Society will offer onboard educational programming…a Wildlife Discovery Series for adults about marine science and wildlife conservation in the South Pacific and beyond, and a Stewards of Nature program during the summer and holiday seasons to inspire families and children to value nature through experiential learning.  The company is currently offering savings of 50% off standard, all-inclusive cruise fares on all 2017 voyages, plus included round-trip airfare from Los Angeles.

Poseidon Expeditions has announced schedules and rates for its 2017 Arctic and 2017-18 Antarctic seasons aboard the 114-passenger luxury expedition ship Sea Spirit.  Founded in 1999, the company has expanded its products and services in recent years to include cruises to diverse areas of the Arctic and Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands/Malvinas.  Furthermore, the line is offering savings of $1,000 to $2,000 per person and complimentary hotel nights and charter flights on bookings made before April 30, for either of two summer, 2016 departures to the North Pole, July 10-23 and August 1-14.  Travel is aboard one of the most powerful icebreakers in the world, the nuclear-powered 50 Years of Victory.  

Princess Cruises‘ is offerings travelers cruises and “Land & Sea Vacations” in Alaska, the Mediterranean, British Isles, and Scandinavia & Russia, during its “Summer on Sale” promotion, through April 21.  Guests who book can save up to 50% per person on original fares, plus receive up to $200 in onboard spending money per stateroom.  In other news, the line has announced a destination initiative designed to provide guests with the most meaningful, authentic and unique opportunities ashore.  The “Global Partners + Local Experts” program is an element of the company’s recently announced “Come Back New Promise” effort which features a multi-million-dollar array of new product innovations.  The experts will include partners from ports, tourism boards, tour operators and port agents.  A related announcement concerns the line’s “Come Back New Sale,” offering guests up to $600 in complimentary onboard spending money and the opportunity to experience the line’s newest “Come Back New Promise” onboard enhancements.  The sale, which runs through May 12, offers special fares on cruises to the line’s most popular destinations, plus guests can book with a deposit of only $100, while third and fourth guest fares in the same stateroom are available from just $199 per person.  Next, Princess has announced its longest Japan cruise season yet with an array of voyages from Tokyo and Kobe in 2017 that circumnavigate the country, visiting the top-rated cultural ports.  With 39 departures and a capacity of 75,000 guests aboard Japanese-built Diamond Princess, the upcoming season offers a 27% increase over 2016.  Furthermore, the line has debuted a new interactive mobile experience, “Places to Sea,” a “swipe-to-like” technology tool that takes users on a visual journey through destinations, activities and culinary experiences to match them with a specific travel personality and cruise destination recommendations.  Developed by the cruise line’s advertising agency, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, “Places to Sea” was designed for all Android and iOS smartphone mobile devices.  And next summer, six Princess Cruises’ ships will sail the waters of Alaska, offering multiple itinerary options and specialized experiences through the line’s “North to Alaska” program, including the new “Cook My Catch, an exclusive culinary program allowing guests to return from select Princess fishing excursions to have the chef prepare their own catch of the day for dinner.  Finally, guests aboard the March 6 sailing of Caribbean Princess voted singer, dancer and musician, Nathan Foley, as Princess Cruises’ “Entertainer of the Year.”  Australia native Foley has 23 years of stage and television experience.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises has promoted Serena Melani to Captain of Seven Seas Mariner. The first female captain in the Regent Seven Seas Cruises fleet, Captain Melani, age 42, is one of just a handful of women to ascend to the rank of captain in the cruise industry.  Melani, a native of Italy’s Tuscany region, embarked February 21 on her maiden voyage as captain, a 12-night South American trip from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro.  In other news, the line’s new Seven Seas Explorer will feature an exclusive collection of bath amenities from Guerlain in all Penthouse Suites and above when the vessel enters service in July, becoming the first cruise ship to offer complimentary amenities from the renowned French perfume house.

Seabourn’s new Seabourn Encore touched water for the first time on March 4, as it began the trip from its dry dock to its outfitting dock at Fincantieri’s Marghera shipyard in Italy, where it will undergo final construction until the ship is delivered at the end of 2016.  The line has also entered into an agreement with celebrity mixologist Brian Van Flandern to transform the onboard spirits across its entire fleet with upgraded bar offerings, new cocktail menus and more.

Silversea Cruises has announced that industry veteran Christian Sierralta has joined the company as vice president of national accounts and Latin America sales.  He will be responsible for advancing the strategic organization and growth of the national accounts portfolio for the U.S., Canada and Latin America, as well as leading overall sales and marketing initiatives in Latin America.  Sierralta will be based in the company’s Miami office, reporting to Mark Conroy, managing director for the Americas.  In other news, the line is offering a new collection of specialty voyages entitled “Exclusively Yours – Enriched Voyages.”  These theme cruises, set to take place in late summer and fall this year, will feature a complimentary onboard program of entertainment and enrichment activities, as well as complimentary shore excursions included on select sailings.  Program highlights include opera presented by the renowned Accademia Teatro alla Scala, ballet performances by acclaimed soloists from the State Academic Bolshoi Theater of Russia, and culinary voyages hosting noted Relais & Châteaux Chefs.

Tauck, which reportedly pioneered the first family-specific river cruises with an itinerary on the Danube in 2010, and added new family cruises on the Rhone and Rhine in subsequent years, is now introducing a fourth family river cruise on a fourth European river. The company’s new eight-day “Family Fun Along the Seine: Paris to Normandy” will debut next year as Tauck doubles its family river cruising capacity, expanding from 10 departures this year to a total of 20 departures in 2017.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is offering “Cruise + Air” savings of from $1,000 to $2,500 per person through April 30 on select 2016 itineraries, when booking economy or business class air.  Applicable are departures of 8-day “Castles along the Rhine” sailings between Basel and Amsterdam, 8-day “Bordeaux, Vineyards and Chateaux” departures round-trip from Bordeaux, 10-day “Gems of Northern Italy” trips from Milan to Venice, and 15-day “European Jewels” cruises between Budapest and Amsterdam.  The line is also promoting “Floating Photo Workshops,” available on select 2016 itineraries and dates.  In the Far East, a Mekong river cruise and tour in Vietnam and Cambodia is available at savings of $250 per person (with deposit) or $500 per person (with full payment), and a China river cruise and tour offers savings of from $200 to $300 per person (with deposit) or $300 to $500 per person (with full payment).  Discounts on both itineraries require booking by April 30.

Viking Ocean Cruises is offering 50% discounts on Christmas and New Year’s Cruises in the Mediterranean aboard Viking Sea.  The 15-day Christmas voyage from Venice to Barcelona departing December 13 is now priced from $3499, and rates on the 13-day New Year’s sailing, round-trip from Barcelona, begin at $2999.  $445 air fare add-ons are available from Boston, New York, Newark, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  In other news, the line’s third ship, the 930-passenger Viking Sky,, was “floated out” on March 23, marking a major construction milestone when a new ship touches water for the first time. The traditional ceremony took place at Fincantieri’s Ancona shipyard, just one day before the company took delivery nearby of its second vessel, Viking Sea, which will officially debut to guests this monthToday (April 3), Viking Sea is setting sail from Istanbul and will make her way through the Mediterranean and into the Atlantic 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 and the Baltic, as well as the Western and Eastern Mediterranean.  Viking Sky is scheduled for delivery in early 2017.  The company has also announced that it has placed an order with Fincantieri for three additional sister ships, which will bring Viking’s total number of ocean vessels to six by 2020.

Windstar Cruises has announced the promotion of Belinda Bennett to Captain of its 148-passenger motor-sail yacht Wind Star.  Bennett, 39 and a British citizen, is the first woman and first black person to operate at the helm of a Windstar Cruises vessel since the company’s inception in 1984.  She resides in Southampton and claims the distinction of being among just a few British woman cruise passenger ship captains, as well as a pioneer for minorities working in the cruise industry. Her maiden voyage as Captain set sail in the Caribbean on January 30.