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Groups on Cruises: Awards and announcements

Cruising with Avalon Waterways will become an even more “suite” experience in 2014, when the river cruise ship company unveils three more “Suite Ships”: Avalon Poetry II, Avalon Illumination and Avalon Impression. The addition of these vessels, plus two new Suite Ships scheduled to be unveiled this spring — Avalon Artistry II in April and Avalon Expression in May — will bring the fleet’s Suite Ship total to eight. Each suite on all eight ships features a balcony that provides travelers large windows, a sliding glass door and a seating area.

At press time, Vantage Deluxe World Travel was scheduled to officially launch its new River Splendor on March 14 at an inaugural event in Antwerp, Belgium, with Miss Belgium, Noémie Happart, serving as the vessel’s godmother in a traditional naming ceremony. The following day, River Splendor will depart on a four-day inaugural voyage along the Rhine River to Amsterdam. The new vessel is part of a $120 million fleet investment program that will double the size of Vantage’s river cruising fleet by 2014.

American Cruise Lines has added a new feature to its Website,, which offers a real-life look inside the company’s newest vessel, the paddle wheeler Queen of the Mississippi. The new virtual tour gives site visitors 360-degree views of staterooms and public spaces, including the Paddlewheel Lounge and the dining room. Plans for virtual tours of the line’s other ships are under development.

• Other News •

Windstar Cruises’ owner, Xanterra Parks and Resorts, has reached an agreement with Seabourn to purchase three of its ships: Seabourn Pride, Seabourn Legend and Seabourn Spirit. The expansion will double the size of Windstar’s recently renovated fleet of three sailing yachts, making the company a leader in small ships carrying 300 or fewer passengers. The delivery of the three all-suite vessels, which each hold 208 passengers, will take place over the next two years in the Mediterranean, with Seabourn Pride being the first to enter Windstar’s fleet in April 2014.

Also in 2014, Disney Cruise Line will offer an expanded variety of European cruises highlighting the Greek Isles and will be departing for the first time from homeports in Venice, Italy, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

SeaDream Yacht Club has announced a new group-savings program that provides a 15 percent group discount on select voyages in Europe and Costa Rica and a 20 percent group discount on select voyages in Asia. In addition, SeaDream is offering groups a sixth stateroom free for the tour conductor.

• Diverse Honors •

Holland America Line (HAL) earned eight 2012 Readers’ Choice Awards from consumer publication Porthole Cruise Magazine, including Best Alaska Itineraries, Best Shore Excursions and Best Private Island. World Ocean and Cruise Liner Society members also named HAL the Best Overall Cruise Value in 2012 for the 20th consecutive year in its Best Cruise Value Awards.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises was named the 2012 Best River Cruise Line in Cruise Critic’s Annual Editors’ Picks Awards. American Cruise Lines was voted the World’s Leading Small Ships Cruise Line in the 2012 World Travel Awards. The same organization selected Star Clippers as the World’s Leading Luxury Sailing Cruise Company and the World’s Leading Green Cruise Line. Condé Nast Traveler magazine readers have voted Crystal Cruises first in Service, Cuisine, and Design, and No. 1 overall among all small, midsize and large cruise lines in the magazine’s 2013 Gold List.

Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure named Seabourn the Best Small-Ship Cruise Line, for the third and fourth consecutive years, respectively. For the sixth year in a row, Princess Cruises earned top honors as the Best Cruise Line in Alaska in the annual Travel Weekly Readers’ Choice Awards. And Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.’s tropical island CocoCay has been awarded a Gold-Level Eco-Certification by Sustainable Travel International.