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August 18, 2015 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome!  Since I’ve been spending the summer based in Anchorage, Alaska, I’ve become even more aware of the spectacular scenic treasures available to visitors throughout the 49th State.  Consequently, I’d like to suggest that any readers thinking about planning an Alaska cruise for their groups should definitely consider a one-way voyage that either begins or concludes in one of the ports that allows a land component to be added to the trip…Seward or Whittier.  As fine as the round-trip sailings from Seattle, Vancouver and San Francisco might be, they really just cover the famed “Inside Passage” and a very small portion of the state itself.  In reality, only by spending at least several days touring Alaska’s interior by rail, motorcoach and/or air can one gain a more complete understanding of the extent of this vast wilderness, the people and wildlife found here in America’s last frontier, and the variety of magnificent experiences that it has to offer the visitor.  Your travelers are sure to thank you for offering them this opportunity!

American Queen Steamboat Company’s holiday sailings of American Queen on the Mississippi River to and from Memphis and New Orleans will begin this Thanksgiving and continue throughout December.  Featured will be Christmas markets with seasonal, locally produced crafts and goods in ports along the river, while special entertainment will include strolling carolers in St. Francisville, departure serenades from the levees of Vicksburg and Natchez, and the “Steamboat Syncopators” singing holiday favorites throughout the journey.  Savings of 30% are being offered in all stateroom categories for double occupancy, as well as a $1,999 solo traveler rate in categories F and G only.

Carnival Cruise Line’s new social media Internet packages, offering access to a variety of popular Web sites for $5 a day, are now available on more than half of the line’s ships, with fleetwide implementation scheduled by the first quarter of 2016.  Furthermore, the line’s new mobile app with an innovative “chat” feature, currently available only on Carnival Breeze, has reportedly been very well received, with a third of the ship’s guests actively using the app during their cruise. The app is expected to be available on five additional ships by the end of this year, and fleetwide by summer, 2016.  Currently available on 13 ships, Carnival’s enhanced Internet access offers increased bandwidth and speed, while the $5 daily social media package provides unlimited access to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Pinterest and other sites, with discounted plans available for the entire cruise.

Celebrity Cruises has introduced new “Evenings Around the World” shore excursions, 14 offerings that begin after the sun goes down in the Caribbean.  Included are jazz, bonfires and boat parties in Cozumel, Mexico; wine tasting at the Caribbean’s first winery in Willemstad, Curacao; live Caribbean music on sunset cruises along Aruba’s coastline; and horse-drawn carriage tours along cobblestone streets and past historical mansions in Cartagena, Colombia.

Celestyal Cruises’ newly enhanced seven-day Cuba Cruises include shore excursions, an unlimited bar and beverage package, taxes, port charges and gratuities, at rates starting from $1529 per person, for sailings from November, 2015, through April, 2016.  Soon to begin the line’s third year of sailing to Cuba, the 1,200-passenger Celestyal Crystal’s itinerary includes an in-depth stay in Havana and other ports of call including: Cienfuegos, Maria La Gorda, Santiago de Cuba and Montego Bay, Jamaica.  Travelers can embark either in Havana or Montego Bay.

Cunard has termed August  “World Adventure Month,” with savings of up to 40% for guests who book 2016 World or Exotic Cruises on Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria or Queen Elizabeth.  Additional savings include a shore excursion credit of up to $500 per person and 50% reduced deposit, but only when bookings are made this month.

Disney Cruise Line is introducing “Halloween on the High Seas” this September through October on most voyages of all of its ships.  These “extra-spooky celebrations” will feature Halloween-themed parties, entertainment and décor, including “The Pumpkin Tree.”

Emerald Waterways has lowered fares on all of its 2016 European itineraries, with savings up to 21% off 2015 prices.  Solo travelers can save up to 40% off 2015 pricing. Furthermore, singles are being given the opportunity to travel without any supplemental charge on six selected European sailings through July 17, 2016, when booked by the end of this month.

Holland America Line has added professional dancers and Mirrorball Trophy winners Tony Dovolani and Kym Johnson, along with celebrity personality Carson Kressley and TV mom Florence Henderson to the “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” Champions Cruise departing Ft. Lauderdale on January 10, and to the January 3rd theme cruise the week prior.  These voyages aboard Nieuw Amsterdam will mark the final chances for HAL guests to experience “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” programming.    

Hurtigruten is promoting the fresh, locally-sourced Norwegian cuisine served aboard its 11 coastal vessels with a new cookbook entitled “Norway’s Coastal Kitchen.”  The recipes, compiled by the line’s chefs, range from traditional Norwegian dishes to modern twists like lightly fried king crab with kale salad. The cookbook is being published in Norwegian, as well as in English, German, French and Chinese Mandarin translations.  Also, Hurtigruten’s complete 2016-17 Norway brochure has just arrived from the printer and is now available.

Mayflower Tours is offering free trans-Atlantic airfare for its new “Enchanting India with a Ganges River Cruise” program in 2016, featuring accommodations aboard the 56-passenger, all-suite Ganges Voyager II, built earlier this year.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s new Norwegian Escape will be decorated with hull artwork created by marine wildlife artist Guy Harvey.  More than 1,000 feet in length from bow to stern, scenes of underwater creatures will feature Harvey’s signature sailfish and Caribbean sea life including sting rays, sea turtles, whale sharks and a variety of tropical fish.  Norwegian Escape, soon to be the largest ship in the Norwegian fleet, was floated out of a covered building dock in Papenburg, Germany, on August 15.  The 4,200-passenger, 164,600-ton vessel, which has been under construction in the dock since September, 2014, is scheduled to enter Eastern Caribbean service from Miami on November 14.  In other news, the line has announced new itineraries for its fall/winter, 2016/2017 deployment, including cruises to Asia onboard Norwegian Star, with itineraries departing from Istanbul, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney and Auckland.  This will mark Norwegian’s return to Asia and Australia for the first time since 2002, and first-ever visits to the Gulf and India.  Norwegian Epic will continue to spend her summers in Europe and return to the U.S. in the fall, offering a variety of Caribbean and Bahamas itineraries from Port Canaveral.  South American cruises will range in length from seven to 20 nights, with embarkations in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago (Valparaiso), Chile; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  Norwegian Spirit will be home-ported in Europe year-round, sailing through the Eastern and Western Mediterranean with departures from Barcelona, Istanbul and Venice.  In addition, Norwegian Jade will now sail seasonally in the winter months from Tampa to the Caribbean, while Norwegian Jewel will sail two new 14-day Panama Canal sailings between Los Angeles and Miami in February, 2016, and two in February, 2017.  Finally, Norwegian’s “Freestyle Choice” promotion is scheduled to expire at the end of this month, although several past date extensions may point towards the possibility of yet another one.

Paul Gauguin Cruises, operator of the 88-guest Tere Moana, has announced savings of up to $1,450 per person off previously advertised prices on select cruises during the vessel’s coming Caribbean and Latin American season.  Included are a seven-night departure from Philipsburg, St. Maarten, to Colόn, Panama, a seven-night cruise from Colón to Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica, and an eight-night voyage from Colón back to Philipsburg.  Also, the line is offering savings of up to $3,400 per person off previously advertised rates on an 11-night “Cook Islands & Society Islands” itinerary, as well as nine departures of its seven-night “Tahiti and the Society Islands” cruises of its 332-guest flagship Paul Gauguin this coming winter.

Princess Cruises is bringing a version of televised singing competitions to its showrooms on the high seas with a new program entitled “The Voice of the Ocean.”  Show components throughout each cruise will include auditions, mentor rehearsal sessions, “I Want You” chairs, three team coaches and a live finale performance by up to nine contestants, hosted by the cruise director, with guests choosing the winner.  In other news, according to the line’s sixth annual “Relaxation Report,” over half (54%) of Americans spend their vacation days dealing with personal obligations such as family emergencies, doctor’s or dentist’s appointments, and sick days for their children or loved ones, rather than actually vacationing.  Furthermore, the mere thought of asking their boss for a few extra days off causes more stress than asking for a pay raise, for nearly a quarter (22%) of American workers, according to the recent survey by Wakefield Research for Princess.  Stress triggers are on the rise, with nearly one-third of those surveyed becoming stressed at the mere thought of relaxing, up from 28% in 2014, while 42% frequently feel guilty about relaxing, up from 38% last year.  For more than a third of Americans (36%), it’s reportedly even more difficult to find time to relax than to live within their budget.

Seabourn’s new Seabourn Encore, set to launch in late 2016, will feature 300 suites, ranging from nearly 300 square feet plus a private veranda of up to 74 square feet for standard suites, to upwards of 1,300 square feet for “Wintergarden” suites, which will feature verandas of nearly 200 square feet.

Tauck is adding a fourth European river cruise itinerary designed specifically for families to its collection of “Tauck Bridges” journeys for 2017.  The company is doubling its family river cruise departures from ten next year to 20 in 2017.

Un-Cruise Adventures new 100-page brochure of small ship adventure and river cruises details its 20 itineraries and land tour extensions through April, 2017, in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, Columbia and Snake Rivers, Hawaii, Mexico, the Galápagos Islands, Costa Rica and Panama.  Deck plans are included which provide an overview of the line’s fleet of yachts and small ships accommodating from 22 to 88 guests. 

Viking River Cruises is offering special round-trip air fares starting at $95 per person in conjunction with its springtime, 2016 programs in France.