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February 15, 2016 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome!  Now that Valentine’s Day 2017 is history and the Presidents’ Day Weekend will be here in short order, I trust that most readers, like this writer, are looking forward to the return of Daylight Savings Time on March 12, and the arrival of spring (at least officially) just over a week later.  It’s been a tough winter in many parts of the country, including here in the Pacific Northwest, but at least many of us involved with cruising in one regard or another have had an opportunity to escape to warmer climes on a voyage or two.  Most recently, I was able to spend a very pleasant week in the Caribbean aboard Norwegian Epic, as I wanted to sample one of Norwegian’s unique and quite comfortable ‘studio’ singles…and the weather turned out to be ideal throughout.


Next up for me will be an eastbound trip across the pond on Holland America’s new Koningsdam in early April, during which I hope to be able to interview senior officers on the challenges and opportunities they encountered in getting adjusted to a brand new vessel, for an expanded “Changing Horizons” column in The Group Travel Leader later this year.  As it turned out, the last time I tried this, and in fact was able to get a great interview with the captain of the then-new Carnival Magic several years ago, we had to pull the piece due to the Costa Concordia accident, which occurred soon thereafter, and the feeling that the time was just not right to publish the thoughts of another Italian captain that were recorded shortly before that unfortunate incident took place.


Also, I hope many of you were able to see the Nova presentation on PBS last week featuring the design and construction of Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ new Seven Seas Explorer, which entered service last summer.  Although occasionally a bit overly dramatic, the show did provide an excellent portrayal of how a new state-of-the-art cruise vessel comes into being, in this case through the efforts of the staff at Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri, largely at the company’s Genoa yard, as well as through its subcontractors elsewhere in Europe.  At any rate, it was certainly gratifying to see a highly respected national media outlet feature an entirely positive picture of the cruise industry.




American Queen Steamboat Company’s parent company, HMS Global Maritime, has welcomed former Maritime Administrator Paul ‘Chip’ Jaenichen, Sr., of the U.S. Department of Transportation, as its new Chief Operating Officer.  After a decorated career with the U.S. Navy and the Maritime Administration, Jaenichen will be responsible for ensuring that HMS Global Maritime excels in every facet of transportation, safety, security and mechanical operations.  Prior to joining the company in January, Captain Jaenichen, a retired, 30-year career naval officer, was appointed by President Obama to serve as Maritime Administrator in July, 2014, and previously served as both Deputy and Acting Maritime Administrator from 2012 to 2014.  Elsewhere, the line has added two new one-week sailings in 2017 on its new vessel, American Duchess, “Life on the Mississippi” theme voyages from St. Louis to Red Wing, MN (for Minneapolis) departing July 30, and a return voyage from Red Wing to St. Louis departing August 6.  Finally, AQSC is offering savings of up to $3,140 per stateroom on two early April Pacific Northwest sailings of American Empress on the Columbia and Snake Rivers.


Carnival Cruise Line has announced that the private Bahamian destination of Princess Cays has been added to the itineraries of six of its ships, beginning in May, 2017.  Carnival vessels are expected to make 40 calls to Princess Cays in 2017 and 98 in 2018.  The facility is operated by Carnival’s sister company Princess Cruises.  Elsewhere, the line will reposition three of its newest and largest ships to new homeports during September, 2018.  Carnival Vista will move to Galveston and offer two different, one-week Caribbean itineraries, Carnival Breeze will reposition to Port Canaveral and operate seven-day cruises year-round, and Carnival Magic will shift to Miami, where it will alternate Sunday departures of Eastern and Western Caribbean sailings.  In other deployment news, Carnival Splendor will offer a 14-day Alaskan voyage, round-trip from Long Beach, California, August 25 to September 8, 2018.  Next, for the inaugural season of its newest ship, Carnival Horizon, debuting in April, 2018, Carnival is reportedly assembling an array of diverse itineraries featuring destinations throughout the Mediterranean and Caribbean.  The vessel will also offer a series of four-day Bermuda cruises from New York during spring and summer, 2018.  Currently under construction in Italy, Carnival Horizon will offer a groundbreaking bike-ride-in-the-sky attraction called SkyRide, an IMAX Theatre, and an extensive WaterWorks aqua park featuring a water tube slide called Kaleid-o-slide.  Innovative accommodations will include spa cabins with exclusive privileges at the Cloud 9 Spa, extra-roomy staterooms in the Family Harbor, and tropical-inspired Havana staterooms and suites with exclusive daytime access to a Cuban-themed bar and pool.  Also, the Charleston (SC) based Carnival Ecstasy underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation in January that added a variety of the line’s signature dining and beverage facilities, including “Guy’s Burger Joint,” “BlueIguana Cantina,” “Alchemy Bar” and “Cherry On Top.”  A similar makeover of New Orleans-based, 130,000-ton Carnival Dream recently added “Guy’s Pig & Anchor Barbecue Smokehouse,” “Pizzeria del Capitano” and “Bonsai Sushi,” in addition to “BlueIguana Cantina” and “Alchemy Bar.”


Celebrity Cruises has announced an exclusive partnership with design expert Nate Berkus, naming him Design Ambassador for the brand’s newest “Edge Class” vessels.  Berkus will bring his personality to the launch of Celebrity Edge, hosting a series of introductory “Edge Class” events with Celebrity’s President and CEO, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, and Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Richard D. Fain, beginning next month.  In other news, Celebrity has formed a partnership with LGBTQ+ vacation entertainment company R Family Vacations to offer one-of-a-kind experiences tailored to the LGBTQ+ community.  The line will organize exclusive entertainment, gastronomic adventures, and unique events to be hosted by R Family co-founders Gregg Kaminsky and Kelli Carpenter, which will include a private welcome reception, sail away mixer, invite-only nightly dinners, exclusive shore excursions, and special entertainment including LGBTQ+ comedians and musical performances.


Costa Cruises has launched a new “Vintage Costa” collection of clothes and accessories dedicated to the historic graphics and logos of the Italian cruise company.  The exclusive creations of streetwear, handbags and fancy goods are only available in Costa’s onboard shops.  “Vintage Costa” items have been designed to meld a modern design with the style of Costa’s communication campaigns of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s to create a balance between innovation and tradition.


In late January, Cunard’s Queen Victoria made her maiden voyage through the “Meeting of Waters,” becoming the largest passenger ship to ever sail the Amazon, cruising between the dark Rio Negro and the pale Amazon River in Manaus, Brazil.  Manaus marked the sixth out of 32 ports on Queen Victoria’s 41,000-nautical-mile, 120-night World Voyage.  Elsewhere, the line’s first North American commercial aired during ABC’s Ocean Treks with Jeff Corwin on Saturday, February 4.  Through July, Cunard will be featured on select episodes of Ocean Treks and Vacation Creation, two new programs that highlight cruising and why it is the best way to see and learn about the world.  In other news, Cunard has announced that fashion celebrity Iris Apfel will join its line-up of fashion icons set to sail onboard Queen Mary 2 for the line’s second annual “Transatlantic Fashion Week,” August 31 to September 7, 2017.  Headlining the cruise is designer Julien Macdonald OBE, who will be joined by other prestigious names in style including fashion historian Colin McDowell OBE and consultant to the international fashion industry Gail Sackloff OBE, as well as top models from Storm Model Management.


Guests of Disney Cruise Line will celebrate “Marvel Day at Sea” aboard Disney Magic during eight special voyages from Miami departing January through April, 2018, following the premiere of the event on seven sailings from New York City this coming fall.  New character interactions and an immersive show with “Doctor Strange” are scheduled to take center stage in the lineup of entertainment throughout each day-long “Marvel Day at Sea.”  The line will also be introducing “Beauty and the Beast,” a brand-new musical production inspired by Disney’s live-action adaptation of the animated classic, aboard Disney Dream, beginning this coming November.


Emerald Waterways is launching three new ships in 2017, almost doubling the size of its fleet.  The 186-passenger Emerald Destiny will begin sailing the Rhine and Danube Rivers in April, the 138-guest Emerald Liberté is set to start sailing the Rhone and Saône Rivers in France during April, while the 112-guest Emerald Radiance will sail the Douro River in Portugal beginning in May.  Elsewhere, in a special group promotion on select 2017 European river itineraries booked by March 31, the line is offering a “1 for 7” tour conductor group credit, plus a $795 airfare for all staterooms or free air for suite bookings.  And for all 2018 sailings, Emerald is launching its “Exceptional Group Value Program,” an amenity points program that allows travel agents to select from onboard amenities, marketing dollars or savings on bookings “to help make Emerald the most compelling choice for a client’s group trip.”  Exceptional Group Value (EGV) points can be earned for every group sailing booked, with point amounts based on destinations and sailing dates, and can be used to customize a package that’s ideal for each group.  Groups booked by this March 31 also receive $500 savings per person for 8 to 14 day sailings, $1,000 savings per person on sailings of 15 days and longer, as well as 2017 base pricing on all 2018 cruises.


Holland America Line’s president, Orlando Ashford, has been elected chair of The Executive Leadership Council, the pre-eminent national organization composed of current and former black CEOs, senior executives, entrepreneurs, global thought leaders and board members of Fortune 1000 and equivalent companies.  Ashford’s term as chair extends through December 31, 2018.  Elsewhere, in honor of World Cancer Day held on February 4, HAL announced that the guests and employees of the company have raised more than $5 million to date for cancer support through “On Deck” programming that began in 2006.  Currently the “On Deck for a Cause” program benefits six international cancer organizations located in the United States, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom.  In other news, HAL has entered into an exclusive partnership with O, The Oprah Magazine in order to unite the power of travel with O‘s deep commitment to connection and personal growth.  Oprah Winfrey herself, the publication’s editor at large Gayle King, and others will join the inaugural O, The Oprah Magazine “Share the Adventure Cruise” to Alaska from Seattle, July 15 to 22.  Four additional O, The Oprah Magazine “Adventure of Your Life” sailings featuring magazine-inspired activities will be scheduled aboard select HAL ships through 2018.


Norwegian Cruise Line’s new Norwegian Bliss, the brand’s 16th ship, will seasonally homeport in Miami during winter, 2018, after her inaugural summer season in Alaska. Beginning on November 17, 2018, the vessel will sail seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruises each Saturday, calling at St. Thomas, Tortola and Nassau.  In other news, Norwegian has announced to travel professionals an “Upgrade Advantage” program that will henceforth allow guests to bid for an upgraded stateroom category after their final payments have been made.  Being initially launched on its largest ships (Escape, Breakaway, Getaway and Epic) as well as Pride of America, the program will be expanded to cover the remainder of the fleet by the end of June.  Next, the line has unveiled an enhanced loyalty program, Latitudes Rewards, including enhanced benefits across all tiers of repeat guests, plus the addition of two new elite tier levels for the most frequent cruisers, Platinum Plus and Ambassador.  New complimentary benefits include a bottle of sparkling wine for all Latitudes Rewards guests, shore excursion discounts for Silver members and above, bottled water for Gold members and above, free internet minutes and more.  All Latitudes Rewards guests receive priority check-in, key card recognition and enhanced onboard discounts.  Elsewhere, the line will be extending its offering of weekly roundtrip cruises from Miami to Cuba aboard Norwegian Sky through December, 2017. Together with the five previously announced cruises in May, these 25 additional sailings will feature an overnight stay in Cuba’s historical capital of Havana.  Norwegian Sky will sail four-day roundtrip cruises from Miami each Monday, which will also include a call on Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian’s private island in the Bahamas. The ship will dock in the heart of Havana, and Norwegian will offer a selection of 15 half and full-day OFAC-compliant shore excursions, including a farm to table dining experience, exploration of the flora and fauna of Soroa, touring modern Havana in an American classic car, and more.


For bookings made through March 31, Oceania Cruises is offerring travelers included airfare, free unlimited internet, and a choice of up to eight free shore excursions, a free house beverage package, or up to $800 in shipboard credit on all 2017-18 sailings.  And for $99, the line is also offering a premium economy air upgrade.


Poseidon Expeditions is offering early booking discounts of as much as 20% through the end of July for Arctic and Antarctic cruises in 2018-19.  The company offers May through September cruises in the Arctic, as well as October through February itineraries in the Antarctic, all aboard the all-suite, 114-passenger expedition ship Sea Spirit.  Applying the early booking discount, Arctic rates in 2018 begin at $6,596 per person, double, or $10,204 per person to Antarctica.


Princess Cruises has launched the retail availability of its “Princess Luxury Bed,” offering consumers the opportunity to bring what it calls “the ultimate night of sleep at sea” to their homes.  Developed in collaboration with board-certified sleep expert, Dr. Michael Breus and HGTV designer Candice Olson, the bed has been designed to combine sleep science with top contemporary design.  Through 2018, the line will be rolling out more than 44,000 “Princess Luxury Beds” to every stateroom across the fleet.  The total package available to consumers includes the plush mattress, pillows, comforter, linens, pads and toppers, and begins at $1,799, while mattress prices alone are priced from $999.


Royal Caribbean International is reportedly now the only cruise line in the world with onboard PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) “Five Star Dive Centers,” which allow guests to become certified scuba divers as part of their vacation, in order to explore some of the hundreds of shipwrecks found in Caribbean destinations like St. Thomas and the British Virgin Islands.  Other diving destinations available via RCI cruises include some of the most renowned coral reefs throughout the region, including the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world.  In other news, RCI has expanded its Caribbean itineraries available from Tampa, this year through November 4, to include new four and five-night cruises aboard Empress of the Seas, with day and overnight visits to Havana, Cuba, along with stops in Key West, Florida, and Cozumel, Mexico.  All departures are now available for booking.


Scenic is promoting an 11-day, fully-inclusive “Ultimate Antarctica” program aboard Scenic Eclipse, its first luxury “Discovery Yacht” launching on August 31, 2018.  The new 228-guest ship (capped at 200 for Antarctica sailings) is scheduled to operate six departures from Ushuaia, Argentina, December, 2018, through February, 2019.  In other news, Scenic is redesigning its river cruise “Space-Ships” based in France for 2017 to include a private cooking emporium offering tailored onboard cooking classes.  Featured will be individual cooking stations, a cheese and wine cellar, plus real-time cameras and screens to ensure that each participant can see every cooking move in detail. Fresh ingredients sourced from local markets will help introduce guests to regional recipes based on each specific cruise itinerary.


Seabourn has opened for sale its maiden season itineraries for Seabourn Ovation, the newest addition to the luxury cruise line.  Scheduled to enter service during spring, 2018, the ship will sail on a variety of voyages in and around Europe next year between May and November, calling at ports throughout Northern Europe, the United Kingdom and the Mediterranean.


SeaDream Yacht Club’s summer, 2017 season, beginning in May, will feature more than 30 itineraries and include secluded Mediterranean’s destinations so small that they are visited only by the company’s 112-guest luxury mega-yachts, SeaDream I and SeaDream II.  Crew-led shore excursions are available in many ports which staff members call home, while in others, the chef welcomes guests to assist him in collecting fresh local seafood and produce for the evening meal.


Silversea Cruises has designated February as its Travel Agent Appreciation Month.  During the month, each time a U.S. or Canadian travel professional obtains a new booking on any of 55 eligible Silversea voyages, he or she will receive a $250 Gift Card.  In other news, the line has announced that Barbara Muckermann has returned to the company in the role of chief marketing officer.  Based in the Monaco office, she reports to chairman Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio on strategic and brand initiatives, and to CEO Roberto Martinoli on operational matters.  Muckermann previously spent nearly four years at Silversea as senior vice president of worldwide marketing and sales, Europe.  Most recently, she was CEO of Yonderbound, an online travel company she founded in 2012.  Her 15-year career in marketing and communications also includes serving as senior communications advisor for Cruise Lines International Association and chief marketing officer for a major European cruise line.


On January 26, Viking Ocean Cruises took delivery of Viking Sky, the company’s third ship, at Fincantieri’s shipyard in Ancona, Italy.  On February 25, the vessel will set sail from Rome’s port at Civitavecchia on her maiden voyage.  After sailing spring itineraries throughout the Western and Eastern Mediterranean, Viking Sky will make her way to officially be christened on June 22 in Tromsø, Norway, and continue her initial season sailing itineraries through Scandinavia and the Baltic.  In September, the ship is scheduled to cross the Atlantic on her way to the Americas and the Caribbean.


Windstar Cruises has announced that Peter Tobler, a 30+ year veteran of the hospitality, travel and cruise industries, has joined the small-ship line as Director of Marine Hotel Operations.  In his new position, Tobler will be responsible overseeing hotel management for the six ship fleet, including food and beverage operations, revenue, product development, service standards, and employee training and development.  Previously Tobler held positions as vice president of culinary/food and beverage, managing worldwide operations for Princess Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line, as well as director of food and beverage operations for luxury operators Seabourn and Cunard.  In other news, the line’s Star Legend earned a perfect score of 100 on a recent routine United States Public Health inspection during the vessel’s first call at San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the beginning of her Caribbean season.  Elsewhere, the line is building a travel-culinary partnership with the renowned James Beard Foundation, in part to raise awareness of the epicurean delights to be discovered in ports around the world.  As the foundation’s exclusive cruise line, Windstar will be involved as a sponsor of the 2017 James Beard Awards in Chicago; JBF’s “Taste America” events, two-day affairs in ten different cities around the country, including fundraising dinners and complimentary culinary tastings; the “JBF Celebrity Chef Tour,” a dinner series in more than 20 cities; and “Chefs & Champagne,” JBF’s annual summer tasting party in the Hamptons.