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Groups on Cruises: Springtime at sea

Each year, guests aboard  Princess Cruises’ ships attend thousands of performances by a wide variety of entertainers: comedians, magicians, tribute bands and specialty acts. But this spring, only one performer will be able to claim the first-ever title of Entertainer of the Year.

Passengers aboard Ruby Princess’ Entertainer of the Year cruise, the April 8 sailing to the eastern Caribbean, will cast ballots to help bestow the honor. To narrow down the field in advance of the cruise, the line’s entertainment department will select four top finalists based on passenger surveys and onboard audience response.

Princess Facebook fans can also get into the act by helping to choose a fifth entry, the Facebook Favorite.

Selection of the finalists was complete in January, at which time video clips of each act were posted on Princess’ YouTube and Facebook pages so fans could see the entertainers who are up for the award.

Aboard the April cruise, guests will be able to see live performances from each finalist and then cast a ballot for their favorite. The winner will be announced on the final night of the cruise and will receive a cash prize, select onboard perks, and the title of 2011 Entertainer of the Year.

Exotic cruises, top marks for Holland America
When Holland America Line’s (HAL) Volendam heads to Asia in 2013, the ship will sail a series of 14-day itineraries between Singapore and Hong Kong; and Kobe (Osaka), Japan, and Hong Kong, as well as a roundtrip Kobe cruise.

Guests will have the opportunity to also visit Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand and Cambodia, with the option of taking an overland tour to the Great Wall of China. Nine voyages are scheduled from December through April that offer extended port calls and overnight stays at such historic cities as Bangkok, Thailand; Shanghai and Beijing, China; and Tokyo, Japan.

In other news, World Ocean and Cruise Liner Society members named HAL the Best Overall Cruise Value 2011 for the 19th consecutive year in recognition of the line’s premium cruise experience.

“To continue to earn this award for nearly two decades and to be acknowledged by the members of the World Ocean and Cruise Liner Society is an honor,” said Richard Meadows, HAL executive vice president. “Holland America Line is dedicated to continuously evolving our product and our brand, and this award shows us that our guests appreciate our efforts.”

HAL has also received nine 2011 Readers’ Choice Awards from Porthole magazine, including Best Alaska Itineraries, Best Medium-Sized Ship for the Nieuw Amsterdam and Best Private Island for Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas.

Carnival expands at Port Canaveral & New Orleans
Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) has launched the industry’s only four- and five-day Bahamas/Caribbean program from Port Canaveral, Fla., aboard Carnival Ecstasy. The ship’s schedule includes 78 annual voyages from the Space Coast encompassing two different four-day itineraries, along with two different five-day choices.

Four-day “long weekend” cruises depart Thursdays and visit Nassau and Half Moon Cay, or Freeport; five-day voyages depart Mondays and Saturdays, calling at Nassau, Freeport, and a choice of Half Moon Cay or Key West.

Carnival Ecstasy underwent a multimillion-dollar refurbishment in 2009 that added new facilities and features, including a WaterWorks aqua park with a 300-foot-long spiral water slide, a tropical-theme resort-style main pool area, a Serenity adults-only retreat and 98 balconies that were added to existing staterooms.

Rates start at $329 per person for four-day voyages and $349 per person for five-day departures. The new program strengthens the line’s position as Port Canaveral’s largest cruise operator with three year-round ships carrying approximately 600,000 guests annually.

Carnival Sensation also offers three- and four-day Bahamas cruises. And Carnival Dream offers seven-day eastern and western Caribbean voyages.

Both the 2,052-passenger Carnival Elation and the 2,974-passenger Carnival Conquest have been repositioned to the Port of New Orleans to operate year-round departures, equaling Carnival’s pre-Katrina presence in the city. The line expects to carry nearly 340,000 passengers annually from the Crescent City.