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December 1, 2015 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome!  First, it’s been obvious that “Black Friday” sales have now reached even the cruise industry in a big way, as numerous offers came my way that were only valid over the Thanksgiving weekend, ending on November 30.  Secondly, and as indicated in the two previous GCN Updates, I recently ended up on a Norwegian Jade trans-Atlantic sailing at an extremely attractive price when a similar voyage on another popular line didn’t materialize as anticipated.  Having cruised with Norwegian several times during the past few years, I was expecting a good trip across the pond, but it turned out to be substantially better than that, probably the best sailing (or at least among the best) I’ve ever experienced on a “mass market” ship.  I was truly surprised and pleased that Norwegian Jade was as exceptional as it was.  The food in all the venues I sampled was excellent, the service was outstanding, the number and variety of activities offered aboard ship was incredible, and the vessel itself is in topnotch shape.  The entire operation resembled a well-oiled Swiss clock.  Since the ship was originally assigned to service in Hawaii, however, the Hawaiian-themed décor, as attractive as it surely is, is also a bit incongruous for a vessel that has been in Europe for a year, and will be homeported in Houston this winter.  Regardless, during drydock next fall, as much of the Hawaiian artwork and decorations as can practically be replaced apparently will be.


Although there are obviously still beaucoup opportunities for guests to part with their $$$ on optional services, products and activities, Norwegian has apparently made a decision to not be as aggressive in promoting them as in the past.  At no time did I feel any pressure to make purchases of optional items, which was definitely not the case aboard a “premium” line’s vessel on a longer cruise earlier this year.  Norwegian has also reportedly upgraded the food served in the main dining rooms, so there really wasn’t much need to pay the surcharges in other “Freestyle” dining venues for a “meat and potatoes” single person like me, unlike those guests wishing a romantic dinner or to celebrate a special event.  I had dinner frequently in the very attractive Grand Pacific Dining Room, and found the (no extra charge) steaks served there to consistently be the largest and best cuts of meat that I’ve ever been served in the “main dining room” on any ship, including the high-end ones.  The line has, however, instituted a $7.95 delivery charge for room service, so I didn’t avail myself of that opportunity, even though it is a relatively minor point in the aggregate, considering the low cruise price and other “freebies” being offered.  All in all, this was a most enjoyable voyage!



American Queen Steamboat Company has announced savings on several 2016 departures:  up to $2,000 on two 23-day American Queen “Mighty Mississippi” sailings between St. Paul and New Orleans, or vice-versa; $800 on April, one-week American Empress Columbia and Snake River cruises; plus a “Thanksgiving Day Special” valid through December 5 which offers “2 for 1” pricing on American Queen nine-day “Big Band” and “Antebellum South” programs from New Orleans on February 21 and 28, respectively.

Carnival Cruise Line is now serving Heavy Seas’ pirate-themed Loose Cannon and Crossbones Beers aboard Carnival Pride, which sails seven-day cruises year-round from the Port of Baltimore.  More than a dozen locally-brewed craft beers and microbrews are now being featured from cities and states where the line’s ships are homeported.  In other news, the line has announced its initial 2016 “Carnival LIVE” lineup, with Journey, Trace Adkins, Gladys Knight, and KC & The Sunshine Band entertaining guests on 11 different ships next year.  Performances are held in the ships’ main theaters and are offered on cruises departing from eight U.S. homeports, with concerts taking place while vessels are docked in Cozumel, Nassau and St. Thomas.  Also, Carnival is promising holiday season shipboard appearances by “The Grinch,” part of the line’s Seuss at Sea program in partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises.  Decked out in his signature “Santy Claus” costume, the renowned green character will appear on all Carnival holiday cruises throughout December.  Never a fan of the holidays, the cantankerous curmudgeon will be up to his usual tricks in an attempt to “stop Christmas from coming” by playfully disrupting the on-board festivities, stealing items from crew members throughout the ships, and participating in the end-of-cruise holiday shows.

Celebrity Cruises’ “Suite Class” guests will begin in January to enjoy personal butler service, an exclusive restaurant named Luminae, a private lounge featuring a dedicated concierge, plus “Delectable Delights” delivered to suites daily and Bulgari bath amenities.  Also, starting on December 16 onboard Celebrity Solstice, “Suite Class” travelers will have access to Michael’s Club, an exclusive lounge offering complimentary cocktails, appetizers, as well as a dedicated concierge.

Celestyal Cruises has announced that it has completed the installation of 43 new balconies on Celestyal Crystal:  26 new balconies were added to staterooms on Deck 6, and 17 new balconies were added to staterooms on Deck 7.  Eight of the ship’s existing balconies were refurbished and extended.  Following the refurbishment, Celestyal Crystal now has 43 balcony junior suites, eight balcony suites and two imperial balcony suites.  Refurbishment of other Celestyal vessels is ongoing, including 21 junior suites, nine suites and the remaining 227 outside cabins on Celestyal Olympia, as well as a number of upgrades to her public areas.  All the cabins and the public spaces on Celestyal Nefeli will be also redecorated.

Cunard has revealed plans to transform Queen Mary 2’s Winter Garden into an elegant and versatile new venue: the Carinthia Lounge, named after the line’s historic Carinthia ships, during QM2’s refit next May and June.  Also, on the heels of QM2’s first-ever “Jazz at Sea” Transatlantic Crossing with Blue Note Records, Cunard has announced that Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter, Gregory Porter, will be headlining the third Blue Note jazz-themed crossing of the Atlantic on October 25, 2016.

Disney Cruise Line has announced that Tangled: The Musical premiered aboard Disney Magic during her November 11, four-night Bahamian sailing, and will continue to be presented on the vessel’s four and five-night Bahamas and Western Caribbean cruises from Miami during 2016.

Emerald Waterways is offering savings of up to $640 per person with its “Suite Deal Value Package” for bookings of a Panorama, Grand, or Owners’ One Bedroom suite on sailings from March through August, 2016, with a reduced deposit of $250 per person through December 20.  An extended drink package, free “Discover More” tours, and an onboard credit to use in the salon or spa are also included in the price.

Holland America Line, anticipating the launch of Koningsdam in April, is creating a series of short videos entitled “Countdown to Koningsdam” to provide construction updates as the ship nears completion.  Hosted by inaugural cruise director Jonathan Rogers, each video features one of the ship’s officers or a Holland America Line executive who will discuss ongoing developments on board the line’s newest vessel, currently being built in Italy.  Videos as they are released will be available at  Secondly, HAL’s Eurodam earned its ninth consecutive perfect score of 100 on a routine United States Public Health inspection on October 25 in Fort Lauderdale. This is the first time in the company’s history that a ship has achieved this distinction.  Finally, the line has promoted Amy Barnett to the position of division sales director for the East.  In her new role, she will be responsible for planning, organizing and directing sales programs, as well as analyzing and implementing strategic and tactical initiatives to increase sales in North America through a team of 16 business development managers and four sales coordinators.

Hurtigruten is adding Midnatsol to its Antarctica fleet for the 2016-2017 season, more than tripling the line’s guest capacity to the White Continent, while introducing a pricing model with early-booking fares as low as $5,750 for a 17-day sailing, plus an additional 5% discount for past Hurtigruten guests.  Midnatsol’s ten, 15 to 18-day soft adventure cruises from September, 2016, to April, 2017 will depart from Punta Arenas, Chile, or Montevideo, Uruguay, and include such destinations as Patagonia, the Falkland Islands, Chilean fjords, the Magellan Strait and Cape Horn.  Also, the line has taken an additional 10% off already-discounted prices for a total savings of up to 35% during its Black Friday Sale, which runs through December 3. The sale offers discounts on all 2015 and 2016 “Classic Coastal Voyages” along Norway’s west coast; all 2016 and 2017 “Discovery Style Voyages” to Antarctica aboard Midnatsol; and all 2016 and 2017 Midnatsol repositioning sailings from Europe to Africa, across the Atlantic, and along the coast of South America.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s new Norwegian Escape, its largest ship to date and the first in its “Breakaway Plus Class,” – was christened on November 9 in Miami.  International music star “Pitbull” served as godfather for the vessel and performed a pier side concert.  Norwegian has also announced a new Affinity Groups Program, effective now for bookings on sailings of January 1 and beyond, and offering guaranteed amenity options plus an enhanced tour conductor policy for affinity groups of seven to 199 staterooms.  Options include (A) a tour conductor policy of two complimentary berths for every 14 paid guests; or (B) a tour conductor policy of one complimentary berth for every 14 paid guests, plus the choice of an “Ultimate Beverage Package” or pre-paid service charges for the first and second guest in each stateroom; or (C) a tour conductor policy of one complimentary berth for every 14 paid guests, plus two choices from the following options per stateroom:  250 minute internet package; $50 per port shore excursion credit; 20 image photo package; $75 onboard credit; $75 fundraiser credit; $75 bonus commission; group cocktail party; or up to a four-day specialty dining package.

Oceania Cruises is expanding its culinary enrichment program for the upcoming Caribbean season by adding new curriculum to The Culinary Center and new Culinary Discovery Tours.  The new programs, developed by longtime Director of Culinary Enrichment Chef Kathryn Kelly, will debut on Riviera starting in December.

Paul Gauguin Cruises is offering a holiday bonus of $500 to $1,000 shipboard credit on January through June, 2016 voyages aboard Paul Gauguin in Tahiti, French Polynesia, and the South Pacific when reserved by December 31, 2015.  Furthermore, deposits have been reduced to $100 per person.  Shipboard credit can be used for treatments in the Deep Nature Spa, purchases in La Boutique, or to book shore excursions:  $500 shipboard credit per stateroom on seven-night Tahiti & the Society Islands voyages; $750 shipboard credit per stateroom on 10-night Society Islands & Tuamotus voyages and 11-night Cook Islands & Society Islands voyages; $1,000 shipboard credit per stateroom on 14-night Marquesas, Tuamotus & Society Islands voyages.  The line is also offering savings of 50% off standard all-inclusive cruise fares on all voyages of both its ships, plus included airfare from Los Angeles on Paul Gauguin itineraries.

Princess Cruises has introduced “Cat’s First Cruise”, a new web video series featuring Cat Greenleaf, three-time Emmy award winner and host of Talk Stoop with Cat Greenleaf.  The 20-part short video series, designed as a resource for vacationers interested in taking their first cruise by highlighting the Princess experience both onboard and ashore, is available at  Princess has also created a second new video series starring award-winning chef and restaurateur Curtis Stone, explaining his vision behind SHARE, the line’s recently announced specialty restaurant that encourages connecting with others during a meal, which will debut in December aboard Ruby Princess and Emerald Princess.  The eight-part SHARE series can be found at  Furthermore, Princess has announced its lineup of 2017 European cruise vacations, including the inaugural sailings of the line’s newest ship, Majestic Princess.  The season features six ships sailing 153 departures of 64 itineraries to 119 destinations in 27 countries.  Debuting in April 2017, Majestic Princess first sets sail with five to 28-day Mediterranean voyages from Barcelona, Athens and Rome.

Scenic is expanding its geographic offerings for 2016 into the heart of Southeast Asia with eight new itineraries exploring the culturally rich Mekong River destinations of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.  Along the delta between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap, guests will see floating canal villages, paddy fields and picturesque islands, as well as 12th-century Angkor Wat and the World Heritage cities of Luang Prabang and Hoi An, plus iconic temples, Buddhist art and the gold and diamond-encrusted Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar.  The company’s new Scenic Spirit will accommodate guests in 34 private balcony suites at sizes up to 861 square feet, on programs ranging from eight to 27 days.

Seabourn has announced plans to return to Alaska beginning in 2017, reportedly as a response to guest demand and having not deployed a ship there for 15 years.  Seabourn Sojourn will offer a series of 11, 12 and 14-day itineraries sailing between Vancouver and Seward.

Silversea Cruises is offering its guests a chance to gain unique insights into the culture, history, and people of Ghana on a six-day, pre-cruise option to Silver Cloud’s March 16 West Africa voyage, a 16-day sailing from Tema (Accra) to Barcelona.  Highlighting the “Accra & the Ashanti Kingdom” land adventure is the rare opportunity to participate in the Festival of Akwasidae.  Set within the walls of the royal palace in Kumasi, this centuries-old ceremony honors the community’s ancestors and will be presided over by the 16th king of the Ashanti people, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II.

Un-Cruise Adventures has recently been awarded 102 permit entries per year into Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park for a five year period beginning in spring, 2016.  The line’s six small ships carrying 22 to 84 guests will explore the renowned maritime sanctuary, accompanied by a National Park Service ranger, on weeklong Southeastern Alaska sailings.  In other news, travelers to Alaska will now have the opportunity to extend a 2016 Un-Cruise experience on shore with two new land tours, a Denali Park & Knik River Adventure tour and a train journey through Canada and the Pacific Northwest aboard the Rocky Mountaineer.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s new 2016 “India’s Golden Triangle & the Sacred Ganges” 13-day cruise/journey is reportedly nearly sold out, although space is still available on a handful of dates, and 2017 departures are now open for booking.

Vantage Deluxe World Travel has announced the launch of “Vantage Adventures,” allowing guests to experience small ship cruises and land tours featuring “immersive cultural discoveries and more active excursions.”  Bookings are now open for 2016 and 2017 programs offering 21 destinations around the world, including Africa, China, Burma, Vietnam, India, Australia and New Zealand, Peru, the Galapagos, Antarctica, Iceland, and Cuba.  No more than 18 to 26 travelers will be accommodated on each departure.

Viking Cruises has announced five new Viking Star Caribbean and Eastern Seaboard Itineraries for 2016 and 2017, including an 11-day “West Indies Explorer,” roundtrip from San Juan; an “Eastern Seaboard Explorer” from Montreal to New York; “In The Wake Of The Vikings” from Bergen to Montreal; plus other sailings from New York to San Juan, and San Juan to Barcelona.