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August 15, 2017 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome!  I have a big fall and winter travel schedule planned, which includes seven different cruises in Europe, Central America, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and China that I’ll be reporting on during the coming months, including voyages involving several different lines and destination areas on which I have not previously reported.  However, since I haven’t been at sea since a May Alaska sailing, I don’t have much to report on this month from personal experience.  Accompanied by my good friend ‘Di’ Varnell, I did enjoy a whitewater rafting trip here in Washington State on the Sauk River, but that’s a bit alien to the focus of the GCN blog.  I would, however, like to express my appreciation to the cruise professionals that best keep me advised of what is happening with the lines they represent.  Although most, but not all of the companies that send me press releases do a good job in keeping me (and consequently, you) informed of the latest cruise industry news, there are three that really stand out…Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, plus an independent PR agency, Gillies and Zaiser, that counts Scenic, Emerald Waterways and now Star Clippers among its clients.  Since I am not a believer in the vast majority of cruise industry ‘awards,’ no plaques will be issued, but I’d still like to express my appreciation to my friends at all three organizations for jobs well done!



American Queen Steamboat Company’s American Duchess was christened in New Orleans on August 14 in a gala ceremony on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River.  The 166-guest vessel, the first all-suite paddlewheeler on America’s rivers, has now officially joined the company’s fleet, along with Memphis-based American Queen and American Empress, based in the Pacific Northwest.  Marissa Applegate, daughter of AQSC Chairman and CEO John Waggoner, is the godmother of American Duchess.  Ms. Applegate broke a bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon on the boat’s hull, culminating the festivities.


Carnival Cruise Line celebrated its partnership with the Port of Mobile and greater Mobile community on July 24 by hosting a “Seuss-a-Palooza” event for kids attending the YMCA of South Alabama Summer Camp program.  The event aboard Carnival Fantasy, which is homeported year-round in Mobile, was highlighted by a “Green Eggs and Ham Brunch” with The Cat in the Hat and Friends, a Seuss-a-Palooza Story Time and Parade, plus other Dr. Seuss–inspired activities that are featured on Carnival cruises.  During the event, Carnival made a $20,000 donation to the YMCA of South Alabama.  Also, on July 31, the line celebrated its commitment to the greater Charleston (SC) community and to mark National Ice Cream Month by hosting a “FunDay Sundae” celebration on board Carnival Ecstasy for kids from the Connie Maxwell Children’s Home. The event, which was attended by 40 children between the ages of 11 and 16, included water park fun, lunch, a magic show and an ice cream sundae bar with “almost endless” toppings.  During the event, Randy McManus, campus director of the home, accepted Carnival’s charitable donation of $20,000 to support the organization’s mission of providing hope for area children and families in need since 1892.  Elsewhere, multi-platinum and Grammy-nominated recording artist and award-winning songwriter Nick Jonas has been announced as the latest performer in the “Carnival LIVE Concert Series,” performing aboard Carnival Liberty and Carnival Victory on November 17 and 18, respectively, while the ships are docked in Nassau.


Celebrity Cruises has announced its most recent cruise industry first, as a female seafarer will now be navigating the Galapagos archipelago as captain.  A native of Ecuador, Nathaly Albán will command Celebrity Xploration as master of the recently revitalized catamaran.  With a total of 12 years of experience sailing throughout the Galapagos, Captain Albán has worked on several ships in the region, first joining the Celebrity family in 2006 as third officer onboard the 100-guest Celebrity Xpedition.  Continuing the brand’s dedication to advancing the role of women in leadership, Albán’s appointment follows that of Celebrity Summit’s Captain Kate McCue.


Cunard has welcomed its first booking by a same-sex couple, following a recent Supreme Court ruling enabling same-sex marriages in Bermuda, where Cunard’s fleet of ships is registered.  The ruling means that Cunard, which has offered weddings on its ships for the past five years and has married over 250 couples, is among the first British cruise lines to be able to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies at sea.  Elsewhere, Cunard is honoring the 50th anniversary of its longest serving ocean liner, Queen Elizabeth 2, with a special voyage onboard Queen Elizabeth.  The 50th anniversary of this much-loved ship will be remembered as Queen Elizabeth sets sail from Southampton on Friday, September 8, for a 17-night voyage including Venice’s iconic canals, Mount Etna in Sicily and Corfu’s leafy beauty.  Angus Struthers, Cunard’s Vice President, commented that “This Mediterranean cruise is perfectly timed to pay tribute to QE2’s launch and naming by HRH Queen Elizabeth II 50 years ago.  When QE2 came into service in the 1960s, many critics said she wouldn’t last a decade in the age of the jet, but her unique design as a dual-purpose ship meant that she was versatile enough to operate both as a transatlantic liner and a cruise ship.”  Incidentally, this writer spotted the retired QE2 docked while (hopefully) awaiting a second career, and still looking regal despite some faded paint, in the harbor of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, this past January.


Emerald Waterways is currently promoting 2018 holiday season sailings.  A 15-day “Christmas Markets of Europe” cruise, which will visit many of Europe’s famed Christmas markets, departs from Amsterdam on December 4, 2018, and concludes on December 18 in Budapest.  Prices start at $3,595 per person, double.  The line is also offering travelers shorter sailings, with eight-day itineraries:  “Danube Delights Christmas Market” from Budapest to Nuremberg, departing December 8, and the “Danube Explorer Christmas Market” from Munich to Budapest departs on December 1.  Prices for the eight-day sailings start at $2,295 per person, double.  Guests booking the 15-day cruise by September 1, 2017, will receive free round trip airfare, and guests booking an eight-day cruise will fly for $495 per person.  Paying in full by October 31, 2017, reduces the cost of the sailing by up to $400 per couple for the eight-day programs, and up to $800 for the 15-day trip.


Holland America Line will offer eight ships and 19 Panama Canal cruises to choose from between this fall and spring, 2018.  In addition to full transits, Zuiderdam will offer two Southern Caribbean & Panama Canal ‘Sunfarer’ itineraries that feature a partial canal transit.  Full transit sailings will range from 14 to 23 days.  During the 2017-18 season, HAL is expecting to carry more than 400,500 guests through the Central American man-made marvel.  In other news, the line is reinventing the traditional dessert buffet by introducing a “Chocolate Surprise” parade on the last gala evening of every cruise.  Rather than guests having to make their way to the buffet and wait in line for a sweet treat, “Chocolate Surprise” will bring bite-sized confections to guests in the main public areas as they enjoy the evening’s entertainment.  After dinner, waiters will parade through the Promenade decks with trays of chocolate desserts, passing them out to guests in the bars and lounges as they listen to music or enjoy a cocktail.  The nearly hour-long parade will be the newest addition to HAL’s growing list of culinary innovations that put unconventional twists on traditional events.  This writer will be cruising aboard Maasdam in January, and will report soon after on this interesting concept.  Next, HAL’s “Explore4” promotion is back, with four offers on more than 600 cruises scheduled from March, 2018, through April, 2019.  Travelers looking to book a cruise or Alaska Land+Sea Journey for next year or beyond can take advantage of benefits which include complimentary beverages and specialty dining aboard ship, as well as reduced deposits and free or reduced fares for friends and family.  Suite bookings also receive onboard spending money.  Bookings must be made by this November 17.  Finally, guests on the November 29 “O, The Oprah Magazine Adventure of Your Life Cruise” aboard Koningsdam will be joined by “SuperSoul 100” members and thought leaders, including clinical psychologist, best-selling author and international speaker Dr. Shefali Tsabary, as well as author, speaker and life coach Tim Storey.  O, The Oprah Magazine books editor Leigh Haber also will be on board the 11-day Caribbean sailing leading “O’s Reading Room,” a book club discussing a book to be named in advance of the sailing.


Norwegian Cruise Line’s Marc McArthur, head mixologist aboard Norwegian Escape, took home the gold on June 20 in the semi-finalist round of the Diageo World Class Bartender of the Year competition and was awarded the title of Diageo Global Travel’s Best Bartender in the cruise industry division.  Elsewhere, guests looking to visit Cuba can now plan 2018 adventures aboard Norwegian Sun, which will be homeported in Port Canaveral starting next May, following a dry dock enhancement.  The vessel’s new all-inclusive four-day cruises to Cuba will depart Port Canaveral each Monday beginning May 7, and feature a call on Key West on Tuesdays, followed by an early morning arrival in Havana on Wednesdays, allowing guests the opportunity to experience a full day and night of exploration.  Finally, the line has revealed features and amenities for Norwegian Bliss, the line’s sixteenth ship, which will sail to Alaska and the Caribbean with select voyages to the Mexican Riviera beginning in June, 2018.  The vessel will reportedly boast many firsts at sea, including the largest competitive race track aboard a seagoing vessel, an open-air laser tag course, a multitude of dining options, bars and lounges, innovative youth programs and more.   At approximately 167,800 gross tons and accommodating some 4,000 guests, Norwegian Bliss is currently being constructed by Meyer Werft in Papenburg, Germany, and is scheduled for delivery in spring, 2018.


Paul Gauguin Cruises is presenting Paul Gauguin’s December 23 voyage this year as a “White Christmas” on French Polynesia’s white-sand beaches, and ringing in the New Year on the South Seas in festive style during the December 30 cruise.  The 7-night “Tahiti & the Society Islands” holiday cruises depart Papeete, Tahiti, and sail to Huahine, Taha’a (Motu Mahana), Bora Bora and Moorea in the Society Islands.  The December 23 sailing also features lectures by Wildlife Conservation Society scientist Martin Robards, PhD, who is Director of the WCS Artic Beringia program.


Poseidon Expeditions recently turned its hand to filmmaking, resulting in the receipt of two awards from some 15 honors handed out at the 3rd Russian Fulldome Festival and Planetarium Conference 2017, held June 13-15 in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Yaroslavl, Russia.  The company’s 360º VR film, Our North Pole 360, took awards in the categories Best Fulldome Short Film and People’s Choice Award (short film). This state-of-the-art 360º virtual reality video experience uses pioneering techniques to share the North Pole realm with an online audience.  Much further south, the company is offering savings of $2,000 per person on most cabins and suites on three, 11 and 13-night, 2017-18 departures to Antarctica aboard Sea Spirit.


Princess Cruises has released the results of its eighth annual Relaxation Report, which has revealed that when it comes to relaxation and sleep, “many Americans are in need of a wakeup call.”  According to results of the survey by Wakefield Research for the line, Americans aren’t carving out enough time in their days for sleep or relaxation, with approximately half (49%) reporting they aren’t getting the sleep they need and 78% saying they don’t set aside time to relax each day.  Relaxation and sleep go hand-in-hand, and the lack of both appears to be catching up with Americans.  Rather than getting the most enjoyment out of their vacation, working adults take an average of four days off per year just to catch up on sleep.  Whether it’s a full vacation or even just a few minutes of downtime, learning how to carve out more “me” time is clearly becoming a necessity.  Even going on vacation doesn’t guarantee better rest, according to the survey, which found that 63% of Americans frequently struggle to get a good night’s sleep even while on vacation.


Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. has introduced a new lineup of business-ready features for its agent reservation system, Espresso.  The new series of enhancements is the latest in the company’s continuous rollout of intuitive tools and services to the program, added every year since its launch in 2015.  Espresso’s new features include functions to easily facilitate a search for connecting staterooms; obtain downloadable guest documentation; make back-to-back bookings; plus reinstate and reschedule groups.  The combination of Espresso’s features is designed to enable agents’ success in selling all three of the company’s lines…Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises.


Royal Caribbean International has launched a new online travel agent training program, “Royal Caribbean University.”  Reportedly the comprehensive platform offers professionals a highly visual, interactive and mobile-friendly approach to online learning, where they can reinforce their knowledge and success in selling Royal Caribbean to earn a coveted “degree” in adventure and an enhanced lineup of rewards.  The new educational resource has been designed to continue the line’s promise to deliver the most reliable and up-to-date information about itineraries, features, services and tools.


Scenic’s new Scenic Eclipse, its first “Discovery Yacht,” will offer guests a choice of 10 dining experiences…”Elements,” the main restaurant featuring Italian, steak & seafood; “Chef’s Table,” an invitation to degustation dining; “Koko’s” Asian Fusion restaurant and sake bar; “Sushi @ Koko’s,” an authentic Japanese experience; “Teppanyaki @ Koko’s,” private dining with an open Teppanyaki grill; “Lumière,” contemporary French fine dining and Champagne bar; “Azure Bar & Café,” relaxed all-day grazing; “Epicure,” learning in a dedicated cooking emporium; “Yacht Club,” poolside grill, buffet and bar; and in-suite dining with a comprehensive 24-hour menu.  Also featured will be eight bars and lounges.  The 228-guest mega yacht is scheduled to be delivered next August.  Scenic is offering special incentives for guests booking early, with those paying the cruise fare in full by October 31 receiving an additional discount of $500 or $1000 per couple.  In other news, the line is helping guests get a head start on booking the best choices of departure dates and itineraries, as well as enjoy several fare incentives, by announcing pre-brochure release offerings for its Southeast Asia departures beginning July, 2018, and continuing through April, 2019.  The company will also be introducing a new itinerary, an 11-day “Luxury Mekong and Temples Discovery” cruise and tour.  Guests booking by the end of this month will receive free flights on all Mekong River sailings of 13 days or longer, as well as on the 14-day “Mystical Irrawaddy” and 18-day “Mystical Myanmar” itineraries, or $700 off per couple on 11-day Irrawaddy and Mekong cruises.  Finally, Scenic’s recent redesign of two of its France-based “Space Ships,” Scenic Diamond and Scenic Sapphire, feature numerous improvements, including reducing the number of cabins and guest to 78 and 155, respectively, while keeping the same crew count. Also added were “Culinaire,” a private cooking emporium offering tailored cooking classes, as well as an innovative therapeutic salt lounge, which reportedly offers guests a non-invasive way to feel energized and healthier while relaxing.  This humidity and temperature-controlled room was handcrafted from salt bricks to create a micro-climate of a natural salt mine.  Its three inclined lounging chairs are separated by light curtains for privacy, while low-level lighting and calming music promote the natural relaxing effects of the salt.  Guests on board the two vessels are free to use the rooms as they wish, spending up to a recommended 45 minutes in the peaceful environment.


Seabourn is offering new “Extended Explorations” voyages aboard Seabourn Sojourn during her fall, 2018, and winter/spring, 2019 season, designed for those who prefer longer cruises and more exotic destinations.  “Extended Explorations” voyages will include a range of itineraries ranging from 12 to 128 days in length, visiting exotic locales and more than 30 new ports in the South Pacific, Hawaii, Australia & New Zealand, as well as Africa & Southeast Asia.  “Extended Explorations” are intended to offer travelers a variety of ways to uncover new destinations by allowing them to have an in-depth experience in a specific region or easily move from one region to another.  The line believes that adding a week, month, or an entire season offers many benefits, including the opportunity for overnight stays in major ports with accommodations both on board and ashore.  In other news, Seabourn is expanding its reach to millions of travelers in the U.S. and Canada by joining the Sabre travel marketplace, one of the largest e-commerce platforms connecting suppliers and buyers worldwide.  Travel agents subscribed to Sabre will now have the ability to seamlessly book the line’s full inventory via Sabre Cruises, an intuitive booking capability within the Sabre Red Workspace.  Sabre’s cruise interface will allow agents to browse ships within a graphics-rich reservation workflow, to shop and book Seabourn’s itineraries to all seven continents and more than 300 harbors and marquee ports around the globe.  In addition, travel agents can get detailed information about the line’s offerings, amenities and pricing.


Silversea Cruises’ expedition ship Silver Explorer will debut a collection of seven 10 to 14-day voyages through the Americas from late February through May, 2018, tracing a path north from Ushuaia, Argentina, all the way up the Pacific coastline to Vancouver, British Columbia.


Star Clippers will soon be giving away two Asia sailings so agents can discover exactly what their clients are experiencing:  relaxing on the teak decks of a Star Clippers’ tall ship as it sails along the waters around Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore.  The two winning agents, each with a companion, will be able to enjoy the sea breeze filling the sails and a view from a crow’s nest, should they be so inclined.  Agents booking guests on any 2017-2019 Asia sailing with Star Clippers this month automatically receive one contest entry per booking with no limit to the number of entries.  The line explores Indonesia with seven, 10, 11 and 14-night sailings aboard Star Clipper. The 14-night itineraries sail between Singapore and Bali, while shorter sailings depart round trip from Benoa, Bali.  Highlights of the seven-day sailings include a trip to Komodo National Park, home to the “dragon” that shares its name, as well as Pantai Merah, one of only seven pink beaches on the planet; the chance to snorkel among brightly colored tropical fish on the uninhabited island of Gili Kondo; a visit to the tiny island of Satondo and its surrounding coral reefs; and opportunities to explore coffee plantations, temples, palaces, markets and even a bat cave from Benoa.  Sailing dates run from October, 2017, through October, 2018, with prices start at $1,630 per person, based on double occupancy.  In other news, the company has announced the appointment of Jeri Hamilton to the role of Business Development Executive for the Northeast region, reporting to Terri Haas, Vice President of Sales.  In this role, Hamilton will focus on developing individual and group business, incentive business and charters, and can be reached at  Hamilton comes to her new position with more than 15 years’ experience working in the cruise industry.  She previously served as Inside Sales Manager for Scenic Cruises in Boston, where she pioneered the brand’s first full charter sales initiative to the U.S. market, and spent eight years as Director of Sales and Marketing for Signature Travel Network in Marina Del Rey, California.


Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is inviting singles to book from its selection of 2018 “Solo Traveler cruises with a waived or reduced single supplement.  Featured itineraries include its 8-day “Bordeaux, Vineyards & Châteaux, 10-day “Gems of Northern Italy,” and 25-day “Ultimate European Journey” programs.  In other news, the line’s newest itinerary for 2018, “Remarkable Rhine,” will present a mix of art, action and special encounters during a nine-day River Empress journey from Basel to Amsterdam.  Featured will be special access to museums, an array of active adventures onshore, and authentic regional cuisine.  Finally, the company’s “2018 Generations” program, which features specially-priced cruises planned around breaks from school, will be filled with exclusive activities for kids from 4 to 17 years old, and include dedicated “Family Hosts.”


Viking Cruises has expanded its portfolio of partnerships with premier cultural institutions, with a summer season of events around the country.  Viking has signed on to sponsor the U.S. tour of the acclaimed English boys choir LIBERA, as well as the Ballet Sun Valley international festival this summer.  The company has also extended its sponsorship of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at The Hollywood Bowl for the fifth consecutive season.  These new partnerships build on Viking’s commitment to drive cultural insight and personal enrichment, with current partners that include National Geographic’s “Genius,” PBS’ MASTERPIECE, TED, The Metropolitan Opera, the BBC, Highclere Castle, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, Oslo’s Munch Museum, and St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre, among others.  Bravo!


Windstar Cruises made a promise to the travel agent community in 2016 with a new program named “Star Promise.”  This agent-centric initiative was intended to “set Windstar on the course to be the best travel agent partner in the industry for small ship cruising.  The Star Promise initiative revolves around four cornerstones of delivery:  an Extraordinary Guest Experience for travel agents’ clients; Fresh Sales Tools and Support to help travel agents build their Windstar business; Outstanding Educational Programs for both veteran Windstar agents and agents new to selling Windstar; and Excellent Agent Service every day, every interaction, every reservation.  Star Promise also gives Windstar an internal stake in the ground emphasizing its company-wide commitment to travel agents and the value they bring to cruise commerce.”  Results for Star Promise reportedly show that Windstar has been successful at making travel agents’ jobs easier to sell and manage client cruise vacations on the line’s six small ships.  Improvements on all fronts have apparently contributed to the success, including executive-level commitment to putting agents first; expansion to global deployment with new cruise destinations including Asia, Alaska, and Canada/New England; and 24/7 agent access to book and manage reservations through a new online booking engine.  Incidentally, this writer is eagerly awaiting a Wind Surf sailing from Barcelona to Lisbon in October, which, if it is anywhere near as excellent as my cruise aboard Star Legend in 2015, should prove to be an outstanding experience.