Skip to site content
Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader

December 15, 2016 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome!  Here’s hoping that you, your colleagues, friends and family members will soon be enjoying a memorable holiday season, as well as a prosperous 2017!  After returning from Buenos Aires on December 18, and a brief stay in my motor home back in Pasco, Washington, I’ll be spending New Year’s Eve on a ‘red-eye’ flight from Seattle to New York, then departing immediately for Abu Dhabi and a Celebrity Constellation nine-night Arab Emirates sailing that commences on January 2.  I’ll look forward to telling you all about it here in GCN, as well as in my Group Travel Leader “Changing Horizons” column in the near future.  Later during a very busy January, I’ll spend a couple of days in the “Big Apple,” attend the annual American Bus Association Marketplace in Cleveland…always an outstanding event, then continue on to Orlando for three nights before embarking on a Norwegian Epic week-long Caribbean sailing from Port Canaveral.  This will be my first opportunity to sample one of Norwegian Cruise Line’s ‘studio’ cabins…accommodations found on all of their newer vessels that have been especially designed for single travelers, thus allowing them considerable savings over being required to pay for an additional, non-existent “traveling companion” in a standard stateroom.


In addition to all the postings below, both Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., and Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. have announced that they have received U.S. government approval to begin “people-to-people” cruises from Florida to Cuba in the near future.  All three of the Norwegian brands (Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises) will inaugurate sailings next year.  The company’s first cruise to Cuba will depart PortMiami on Oceania Cruises’ Marina on March 7, beginning a series of select Caribbean itineraries featuring calls on Havana, including a number of multiple-day stays.  Seven Seas Mariner, of the Regent Seven Seas Cruises fleet, will call on Havana during two cruises in April, while Norwegian Sky will offer a selection of four-day voyages that will overnight in Havana in May.   Two RCC lines…Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises…will also provide guests with sailings direct to Cuba.  The former’s newly revitalized Empress of the Seas will make its first visit to Cuba during a five-night cruise departing Miami on April 19.  The ship will then reposition to Tampa and offer two itineraries with calls on Havana departing on April 30 and May 20, both of which are now open for sale.  Empress of the Seas will be homeported in Tampa for the 2017 summer season, offering a series of four and five-night sailings that will reportedly also include port calls to destinations in Cuba, but details have not yet been released.  And although I seldom receive press releases from Azamara, I’ll let you know as soon as I hear something definite from them.


Finally, during this joyous time of the year, I’d like to thank all of my readers for helping keep GCN ‘afloat,’ as it were.  Included, of course, are the numerous cruise line public relations executives who keep me constantly supplied with their news items, and assist me with getting affordably aboard an interesting variety of their ships.  Without their valuable assistance, I would be unable to present the important information that group coordinators, travel agents and tour operators need to know…on a monthly basis and in an easily-digested format…in order to help plan their group departures and keep abreast of the cruise industry in general.


Happy Holidays (and calm seas) to one and all!



Adventure Smith Explorations has announced a variety of new cruise programs for 2017, including an eight-day “Iceland:  Journeys in the Land of Ice & Fire;” an 11-day “Cuba by Land & Sea;” an eight-day “Glories of Spain & Portugal;” a nine-day “Pure Panama” program; six to 15-day Alaska itineraries aboard the new National Geographic Quest, as well as on National Geographic Sea Bird and the 12-guest Dream Catcher; and finally, a nine-day “Belize to Tikal” trip also featuring National Geographic Quest.  AdventureSmith is also offering specials on two upcoming winter sailings when booked by January 31…20% discount on a nine-day Amatista Amazon River Cruise from Iquitos, Peru, and $700 savings on a “Tahitian Affair Cruise” aboard the luxury, 24-guest Island Passage.


American Queen Steamboat Company has announced new five and six-day “50s and 60s Remembered” theme voyages on the Mississippi River aboard American Queen, round trip from New Orleans, with prices from $799, as well as a nine-day “Big Band” cruise, starting at $1399.  All three are scheduled for February, 2017.


Carnival Cruise Line’s newest and largest ship, Carnival Vista, arrived at Port Miami on November 28 to begin a year-round schedule of six- and eight-day Caribbean cruises.  To officially welcome the vessel to its homeport, Captain Stefano Battinelli and PortMiami Assistant Director Fred Wong participated in a traditional maritime plaque exchange prior to the inaugural departure.


Celebrity Cruises celebrated the first piece of steel being cut at the STX France shipyard on November 21 for its newest vessel, Celebrity Edge, initiating the line’s first new ship class since 2008.  Next to come, Edge’s sister ship will be named Celebrity Beyond.  In other news, Celebrity has revealed the first of its 2018-2019 itineraries, starting with new European and Alaskan cruises, the first to open for sale.  The line will also be expanding its itineraries in the Arabian Peninsula, India, and the Far East, as well as in South America and to the Panama Canal, while calling on new ports in Australia, New Zealand, and the Caribbean during 2018 and 2019.  In total, the company will be sailing to 282 destinations in 77 countries across all seven continents, including new ports of call, 188 overnights in 41 cities, and 28 double overnight stays in seven different ports.  In other news, Celebrity has introduced a trade loyalty program dubbed Celebrity Rewards in North America.  For every qualified booking made on or after January 1, travel agents who enroll in the program and register their Celebrity bookings can earn an unlimited number of points and redeem them for a reloadable gift card.


Costa Cruises will be sharing insider tips and tricks with its guests through “Bravo Chef: The Show,” a new cooking experience starring onboard executive chefs in the preparation typical Italian regional recipes and international dishes. The culinary presentation has debuted on Costa Pacifica and will gradually be extended to seven more Costa vessels.  A “show kitchen” set is created on the main theater stage, with cameras projecting the cooking action onto large screens.  Fleetwide, every day Costa ships reportedly serve 520 representative dishes from 18 different regions of Italy.  The line has also announced that authentic, top-quality Italian mozzarella will now be produced directly onboard its ships, using an innovative steam and electricity-powered machine, plus the key ingredient of cow and buffalo milk curd that comes from the Salerno area.


Crystal Cruises has announced the appointment of 20-year industry veteran Kris Endreson as the director of sales and marketing for the company’s growing air division, including Crystal Luxury Air and Crystal AirCruises.  Endreson will be based in the Miami branch office and report directly to Marc Cavaliere, senior vice president of all Crystal aviation ventures.


Cunard has announced a new “Upgrades on Us” promotion.  Until February 28, new bookings on select voyages will receive free double upgrades from inside to balcony accommodations, 50% reduced deposit, free drinks in Grill Suites, and past guests will receive free gratuities. Travelers can select itineraries on a wide range of voyages on all three Cunard Queens.  In addition to “Upgrades on Us,” Cunard will extend the early booking benefit for 2018 World and Exotic Voyages and offer an onboard credit opportunity of up to $700 per stateroom for new, seven to 24-night 2018 Exotic Voyage bookings made by February 28.  In other news, the line has partnered with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), the world’s largest provider of wine and spirits qualifications, to launch the first ever WSET certified wine and spirit courses to be available on its flagship ocean liner, Queen Mary 2.  WSET works with “Approved Programme Providers” in over 70 countries to offer its qualifications to interested enthusiasts and industry professionals, ranging from Level 1 Awards in Wines, Spirits and Sake to the prestigious Level 4 Diploma in Wines and Spirits.  The partnership with Cunard is the first time WSET courses will be available to guests on a transatlantic or ‘round-the-world’ cruise line.  Courses will initially be available on Queen Mary 2’s westbound trans-Atlantic crossings and “World Voyage” trips, with plans to extend courses to Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth later in 2017.


Emerald Waterways is inviting travelers to join its Emerald Liberté Christening Cruise on the Rhône River in France, departing next September 30 from the beautiful city of Lyon.  Special events onboard will be included in the price, which starts at $3,345 per person.


Holland America Line, with President Orlando Ashford in attendance, hosted the 21st annual South Florida Business Leaders’ Luncheon for the benefit of Seafarers’ House, aboard Zuiderdam last month at Port Everglades, Florida.  Elsewhere, HAL in 2017 will celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Half Moon Cay, its private island experience located in the Bahamas.  To commemorate the event, the line is introducing a new Lobster Shack eatery, as well as several island updates and upgrades that were in place for the first ship call last month.  The new Lobster Shack will be permanently located near the “I Wish I Could Stay Here Forever” bar, and will, for a nominal fee, serve fresh grilled lobster with Caribbean coconut beans n’ rice and a rum-jerk butter glaze.  In other news, HAL guests can now experience more of the world’s natural wonders through the cruise line’s exclusive partnership with BBC Earth.  Performances and interactive programs currently are available on Koningsdam, Noordam, Rotterdam, Oosterdam, Zuiderdam and Eurodam and will be rolled out to the rest of the fleet (except Prinsendam) by March.  The new offerings immerse guests in BBC Earth’s award-winning experiences, including “Frozen Planet Live,” a unique concert based on the BBC Earth “Frozen Planet” television series.  Additional activities include “Inside Earth” documentary films, gameshows, trivia, children’s activities and BBC Earth feature cruises.  Finally, HAL’s annual “View & Verandah” promotion has returned, featuring a variety of perks on select 2017 and 2018 cruises, as well as “Alaska Land+Sea Journeys.”  Guests who book one of the eligible voyages by February 28 will receive a stateroom upgrade; onboard spending money up to $500 per stateroom, depending on cruise length and stateroom category; plus up to 10% off select “Journeys Ashore” excursions.  In addition, guests who book a suite will receive prepaid room gratuities.  The “View & Verandah” offers are available on all cruises departing from March 30, 2017, through April 28, 2018, excluding Grand Voyages or segments thereof.


MSC Cruises celebrated the “float out” of MSC Seaside at the Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy on November 26.  One of two new mega-ships that MSC is bringing into service between next June and December, MSC Seaside will homeport in PortMiami beginning in December, and will sail year round in the Caribbean, making a total of five of its vessels to serve the region.


Guests of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Dawn, sailing from New Orleans, were the first to explore Harvest Caye, the line’s new Caribbean destination in Southern Belize, on November 17.  Located one mile offshore, Harvest Caye has been designed to offer the Caribbean traveler an authentic Belizean experience highlighting the country’s beauty and nature, along with amenities including a large pool, private luxury beach villas, a variety of eco-activities and interactive wildlife programs, plus a cross-island zip line for the adventurous. This resort-style port of call, developed by parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., is the only location in Belize that features a cruise ship pier.  Elsewhere, the line has announced the naming of iconic Chinese-American singer, songwriter, music producer, actor, and film director, Wang Leehom, as Godfather of its new 3,850-passenger vessel, Norwegian Joy.  Slated to arrive this coming summer with home ports of Shanghai and Beijing (Tianjin), Norwegian Joy will be the company’s first purpose-built ship for the Chinese market.  Leehom will also represent NCL China as its brand ambassador through television and radio commercial campaigns, as well as on social media.  Next, the latest extension of Norwegian’s “Free at Sea” promotion now includes an option to select free shore excursion credits in unlimited ports of call.  From now through January 16, guests can choose from up to five free offers when they book a new cruise of three days or longer.  Those who reserve an oceanview, balcony or mini-suite category stateroom get two free choices, while those booking inside staterooms or solo traveler studio staterooms can choose one free offer.  Guests who book a sailing in a suite or “The Haven by Norwegian” receive all five amenities.  Separately, travelers who book a new, seven-day Pride of America inter-island Hawaii cruise in any category may select one of five bonus offers.


Oceania Cruises has introduced its “2018 Europe & The Americas Collection,” offering more than 100 voyages and 85 itineraries, 71 of which are new.  Calling on 218 destinations across four continents, the programs spend close to 90 percent of their time in port, with more than 60 voyages featuring overnight or double-overnight port stays.


Princess Cruises opened its 2018 European cruise vacations for sale on December 1, itineraries which will feature the line’s new “Local Connections” educational and enrichment program designed to connect guests with local residents having expertise on varied subjects.    Other 2018 highlights will include the maiden call of Sapphire Princess to the region, as well as roundtrip British Isles voyages aboard Royal Princess that depart from Le Havre, the ocean port serving Paris.  Five Princess vessels will sail to 115 destinations in 35 countries, on 168 departures of 57 different itineraries.  Elsewhere, Princess will increase 2018 capacity in Alaska by 15%, as seven Princess ships will offer 130 cruise departures, more than 75% of which will include Glacier Bay National Park.  Departures have been scheduled from Seattle, San Francisco, Vancouver, and Whittier, plus numerous cruise/tour options will provide guests the opportunity to stay at the five Princess Wilderness Lodges in the interior of the 49th Stare.  New for 2018, Island Princess will feature a full season of calls to Icy Strait Point on every seven-day northbound “Voyage of the Glaciers” itinerary, plus there will be two 12-day roundtrip sailings from Los Angeles.  Next, for the first time in four years, Princess will offer summer Caribbean cruises, including Panama Canal transits, in 2018. The 3,192-guest Caribbean Princess will sail a full summer season of trips ranging from seven to 20 days. The April to October summer program will features 47 departures, roundtrip from Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale).  And for the line’s 2018 Canada and New England cruise season, two of its newest ships…Regal Princess and Royal Princess…will sail for the first time together with departures from New York and Québec City, offering 10 departures of four itineraries, visiting 12 destinations.  In other news, Princess is touting “Sailabration” gift packages, with savings of up to 25 percent off of retail prices, available through its online booking management tool, “Cruise Personalizer,” at  New packages include “Pamper Me” with a day at the Lotus Spa, “Breakfast Lovers” with a deluxe balcony breakfast, plus “For the Birthday Guy,” “For the Birthday Girl,” “Share the Love,” and “Salty Sea Days.”  Finally, the line has announced a “Shore Excursions Best Price Guarantee” that will be available on thousands of tours in ports the cruise line visits worldwide.  If guests who book their tours with Princess pre-cruise find an equivalent, publicly-available shore excursion advertised elsewhere at a lower price, they will receive 110% of the difference in the form of non-refundable onboard credit.  The guarantee applies to all destinations except Asian, Southeast Asian and Japanese ports, and excludes private vehicle and driver excursions worldwide.


Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ new 750-guest Seven Seas Explorer, following a successful launch and inaugural season in the Mediterranean, arrived at PortMiami on December 2 and will spend this winter sailing 10 Caribbean cruises.  The ship began its inaugural season in the region with cruises on December 4 and 14, both sailing roundtrip from PortMiami.  The vessel will then head west with a 16-night Panama Canal crossing from Miami to Los Angeles, before returning to South Florida on February 4 to use PortMiami as its homeport for five back-to-back, 10-night roundtrip voyages, including two that will call on Harvest Caye, the new resort-style destination in Belize.


Royal Caribbean International, in partnership with award-winning chef Michael Schwartz, has introduced a new menu at 150 Central Park onboard Harmony of the SeasAllure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas. Guests can enjoy Schwartz’s approach to American fine dining with a signature cocktail…the Central Park Martini…and choose from a variety of appetizers, entrées and dessert including a tableside cheese cart for a $45 cover charge, all inclusive.  In other news, RCI has made it into the Guinness Book of World Records with its “North Star” attraction aboard its Quantum-class ships. The “North Star” is a one-of-a-kind experience that takes guests on a journey high above the sea.  According to the line, “this glass observation capsule gently rises more than 300 feet in the air and rotates upwards and over the sides of the ship to provide the most breathtaking, 360-degree views imaginable,” apparently helping it to break the record for “Highest Viewing Deck on a Cruise Ship.”


Scenic is teaming up with Trek Travel, an active vacation company specializing in luxury cycling vacations, in order to offer guests the opportunity to be more active, burn calories, and take in some of Europe’s most stunning scenery from the seats of top-rated Trek bicycles.  Guests on seven-night “Bike & River Cruise” sailings will enjoy use of Trek Domaine 5.9 carbon road bikes on 15 to 60 mile explorations, with daily route support and experienced bicycling guides, as well as the luxury amenities and extensive inclusions already provided by Scenic.  Nine May to September departures will be split between “Gems of the Danube,” which sails between Budapest and Nuremberg, and “Rhine Highlights,” which runs between Amsterdam and Basel.  Fully-inclusive fares for the “Bike & River Cruise” sailings start at $6,499 per person, double.


Seabourn has announced that International recording artist and best-selling Soprano Sarah Brightman will serve as godmother of the line’s newest luxury vessel, Seabourn Encore, when the ship is named at the port of Singapore on January 7, 2017.  Brightman will preside over a festive evening ceremony attended by guests and crew departing on the ship’s 10-day maiden voyage destined for Indonesia.  The vessel will go on to spend her maiden season sailing the Pacific Rim in Australia and New Zealand, before returning to Europe in April to spend summer in the Mediterranean.  The line took delivery of Seabourn Encore on November 30 during an official handover ceremony at the Fincantieri shipyard in Marghera, Italy.  Soon thereafter, on December 2, the company also celebrated the keel laying for sister ship Seabourn Ovation during a ceremony held at another Fincantieri yard in Sestri, Italy. Scheduled to debut in the spring of 2018, the 40,350-ton ship will be configured with one additional deck and expanded public areas, and will carry 600 guests, double occupancy.  In other news, Seabourn has named Gerald Mosslinger as its new vice president of hotel operations, responsible for the line’s overall marine hotel operations, including culinary, guest services and administration, as well as entertainment.  He previously spent more than seven years with the company, and most recently served as vice president, food and beverage, for Holland America Line.  Next, a new series of “Seabourn Conversations” has been announced for the 2017 cruise season. The onboard enrichment and special guest program will host distinguished speakers and personalities from the fields of journalism, government, preservation, and the culinary arts, to include Tim Rice, Lord Digby Jones, Dr. Clive and Dr. Geraldine Finlayson, Chef Daniel Sherlock and the “World Wine Guys,” Chef Darren McGrady, the Hon. Frank Murkowski, Michael Moss, Chef Hartmut Handke, Alexander Heffner, Walter Robinson and Julia Gillard.  And finally, the line has named Chris Austin as Senior Vice President, Global Sales and Marketing, to be based in Seattle and responsible for Seabourn’s overall marketing efforts, brand management, sales, and public relations.  Austin spent the past 30 years of his career with Starwood Hotels & Resorts, most recently serving as Vice President, Global Leisure, Luxury & TMC Sales.


SeaDream Yacht Club has announced the opening of reservations for its 2018 spring sailings. Featuring numerous secluded harbors and ports of the Caribbean, the 112-guest mega-yacht sisters SeaDream I and SeaDream II will offer 24 voyages in the turquoise waters of the Leeward and Windward Islands, January through April, 2018.


Silversea Cruises recently celebrated ‘one-year-to-go’ until Silver Cloud’s inaugural voyage as an ice-class expedition ship, following refurbishment and conversion that is due to be completed in November, 2017.  The inaugural voyage will be to Antarctica, with a capacity of 200 guests, while subsequent cruises in non-Polar regions will accommodate up to 260 guests. Elsewhere, the line has entered into an exclusive partnership with the Plateno Group in China for brand marketing and sales of Silversea Cruises throughout mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.


Windstar Cruises has appointed Christopher Prelog to the position of Vice President of Fleet Operations.  Beginning in January, Prelog, who has more than 20 years of cruise-related job experience, will be responsible for the line’s overall hotel operations including culinary, entertainment and guest services, as well as oversight of all administrative, nautical and port purchasing and logistics.  He most recently held the position of Vice President of Hotel Operations and Hotel Entertainment at Seabourn.  In other news, Windstar has unveiled its “2017-2018 Winter Voyage Collection,” which includes eight new itineraries visiting exotic ports in Asia and Arabia, and seven new sailings to smaller ports in the Caribbean, Costa Rica and Panama.  At the same time, the line has launches a “Star Perks Event offering travelers a choice of a free pre/post hotel stay, beverage or Wi-Fi package, or up to $1,000 shipboard credit on nearly 300 Windstar sailings aboard five of its six vessels in 2017 and 2018.  For example, the 212-guest, all-suite Star Legend’s new itineraries will include 12 sailing dates from 10 to 18 days in length, departing October to April and featuring numerous maiden port calls.  The new itineraries visit not only cosmopolitan cities like Dubai, Singapore, Bangkok, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo but also smaller ports and villages, unspoiled islands, and exotic shores of Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, South Korea, Borneo and the Philippines.  Incidentally, last year I absolutely loved my Star Legend cruise, and I expect that you will, too!