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January 15, 2016 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome!  Last Wednesday I returned from a 10-day/9-night Celebrity Constellation cruise of the United Arab Emirates and Oman, which was happily an outstanding trip, following a lengthy but disappointing outing with another line in December.  Frankly, I was amazed by how extraordinary a destination area this is…we spent a day and a half in Abu Dhabi, two days in Muscat, a day in Khasab (like Muscat, in Oman), plus three full days in Dubai.  The weather was absolutely ideal; everything in the region appears to be spotlessly clean, neat, and safe; there are no slums or squalor and no panhandlers or poverty whatsoever; the sightseeing is excellent and the mosques are eye-popping; everybody is friendly, welcoming, and respectful; plus fine shopping opportunities and beautiful beaches are everywhere.  My long-time friend and frequent traveling companion, ‘Gig’ Gwin (who has been to every country on earth) and I agreed that Dubai is the most astounding, incredible city we’ve ever seen.

I’m convinced that if it weren’t so far distant…12 time zones from my home in Washington, nine from the East Coast…this would certainly be a top destination area for American groups.  However, even though it was a 14-hour, nonstop flight back to New York City on Etihad Airways from Abu Dhabi, air fare wasn’t any more expensive than a normal trip to Europe, and cruise prices are comparable to anywhere else.  This was also my first experience with Celebrity Cruises since the fall of 2010, and I was pleased to reconfirm past impressions that this is a line that truly has its act together.  Staterooms, shipboard service, dining options and food, activities, entertainment, and shore excursions on Celebrity Constellation were all excellent, and the cheerful, ever-smiling crew members were most accommodating.  Look for a more detailed report on this sailing in a future issue of The Group Travel Leader.




American Queen Steamboat Company has reported record-setting bookings for the inaugural season of its new all-suite American Duchess, scheduled to debut on the Mississippi River this June.  The vessel will feature three 550-square-foot Owner’s Suites, four 550- square-foot Loft Suites, two 450-square-foot Deluxe Suites, plus Veranda Suites and Interior Suites. Single-seating dining will be available in two venues, The Grand Dining Room and The Grill Room, showcasing regionally-inspired cuisine.  Fares begin at $1,499 per guest, based on double occupancy.


Carnival Cruise Line has announced that a new 133,500-ton ship, which will be the third vessel in the company’s Vista class, will join its fleet in late 2019.  The ship, under contract with Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri, was originally designated for the P&O Cruises Australia brand.  In conjunction with this change, Carnival Splendor will be transferred to P&O Australia in late 2019.  The new ship will reportedly offer many of Carnival’s most popular guest features, as well as a number of new innovations unique to this vessel.  The ship’s name, homeport and itinerary details will be announced at a later date.  In other news, the line will be continuing its “Carnival LIVE” concert series with a shipboard concert by seven-time Grammy Award-winning country music artist Carrie Underwood aboard Carnival Imagination, while the ship is docked at Catalina Island on April 4, during a four-day cruise departing from Long Beach, California on April 2.  Tickets are currently on sale at


Celebrity Cruises’ holiday concert in St. Maarten, which featured Demi Lovato, marked the first-ever international performance for “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest.” This was also the first time Celebrity EquinoxCelebrity EclipseCelebrity Summit and Celebrity Reflection were docked together in one port.


Cunard has produced a new brand film entitled “Everything you wanted, nothing you expected” to support its 2017 booking campaign.  Shot over seven days by creative agency Alpha Century and launched online on December 21, the film transports viewers through a tour of Queen Mary 2 by following the journey of 12 actual Cunard guests as they cross the Atlantic between Southampton and New York City.  The new film can be viewed at


Disney Cruise Line has announced that “Star Wars Days at Sea” will return in 2018 with 15 special Disney Fantasy sailings to the Caribbean from January through April.


Through March 31, Emerald Waterways is offering all guests booking a Balcony Suite, including a Panorama Balcony Suite, Riverview Suite, Grand Balcony Suite and Owner’s One Bedroom Suite, on any 2017 Europe river cruise itinerary, free round-trip airfare from major U.S. and Canadian gateways.  Guests booking a stateroom cabin category on a Europe itinerary will be eligible for a reduced airfare rate of $795 per person.  Suite guests wishing to book their own air will receive $1,000 air credit in lieu of flights, or $600 for guests booking staterooms.


Holland America Line is launching “Explorations Central,” or EXC, as it will be called. The multifaceted EXC experience will combine an array of travel resources with enrichment opportunities for guests in order to make their travel experience more engaging and meaningful.  EXC will also feature the transformation of the Crow’s Nest on some ships to create an “Explorations Central” venue as a resource and engagement center.  Programming for EXC will begin early this year and will roll out across the entire fleet by the end of 2017.  The EXC shipboard center will debut aboard Westerdam in April following a scheduled dry dock, and will be expanded across the rest of the fleet through 2018.  In other news, the most recent installment of HAL’s Specialist Training Courses for travel professionals is “Selling and Sailing in the Mediterranean.” The program takes 15 to 20 minutes to complete and includes information about features and benefits of the line’s Mediterranean cruises. The course also provides information to help travel partners become more familiar with major ports in the region, identify which clients are likely to book a Med cruise, and close sales.  Furthermore, the company’s has redesigned its “PartnerSHIPS” travel professional portal at to be more user-friendly so agents can better sell Holland America Line cruises and Land+Sea Journeys.  Next, HAL has unveiled an integrated communications program that “promotes travel as a positive force in changing perspectives and inspiring shared humanity.”  The multimedia campaign invokes travel as having the “Power to Change the World” and will appear in broadcast advertising, social media, web-based media, sales initiatives and marketing collateral materials beginning this month.  New ads will run as part of a national television commercial campaign, featuring a 60-second spot that opens with historical black-and-white scenes of immigration, marking the late 19th-century birth of Holland America Line as transport for European emigrants to the Americas in search of a better life.  Finally, HAL’s new Koningsdam earned a perfect score of 100 on its first routine United States Public Health inspection conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on December 20, during a call at San Juan, Puerto Rico.  During 2016, five of the line’s ships previously received perfect scores, including MaasdamVeendam, Noordam, Eurodam and Westerdam.  Four ships earned scores of 99, including Nieuw Amsterdam on December 22. Eurodam was the first ship in company history to receive 10 consecutive perfect USPH scores when it received its inspection last March.


Norwegian Cruise Line has announced its 2018 and 2019 deployment.  Highlights include Norwegian Escape sailing to the Caribbean and Bermuda from New York, Norwegian Breakaway cruising to destinations in Scandinavia and Russia from Copenhagen, Norwegian Bliss sailing to Alaska from Seattle, plus new ships in several seasonal homeports sailing to the Caribbean.  In other news, the line has named South Florida-based Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, its “2016 Elite Agency of the Year,“ Cross Culture Tours its “Tour Operator Partner of the Year,” and Air Canada Vacations its “Wholesale Tour Operator of the Year.”  Also, Norwegian has announced the successful completion of the retrofitting of new exhaust gas cleaning systems on Norwegian Pearl and Norwegian Gem, aimed at significantly reducing air emissions and the ships’ environmental footprint.  Five scrubbers were installed on each ship, one per engine, covering the whole propulsion system.  Collectively, they are capable of reducing the emission of sulfur to air up to 99 percent and also reduce 85 percent particulate emission to the air.  The new technology will reduce the equivalent of approximately 1,500 tons of sulfur oxide gas in the years to come.


Paul Gauguin Cruises is now offering guests of Paul Gauguin wedding ceremony and renewal of vows packages at Motu Mahana, the line’s private islet off the coast of Taha’a, for $315, or at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa, for $950.


Poseidon Expeditions, which focuses on polar cruise adventures, is offering savings from $3,300 to over $8,000 per couple on a fall, 2017 cruise aboard the 114-guest, all-suite m/v Sea Spirit into the Southern Ocean.  The 20-day program, beginning November 6 in Ushuaia, Argentina, is being promoted as the “Ultimate Wildlife Expedition: Antarctica Peninsula, South Georgia & Falkland Islands.”


Princess Cruises is promoting an Anniversary Sale running through February 28, which offers up to $600 onboard spending money per stateroom on select cruises and cruise/tours departing summer, 2017, through spring, 2018.  Those guests booking a balcony category stateroom or higher also receive free specialty dining.  Furthermore, when booking various 2017-18 voyages, guests can reserve a new stateroom category featuring VIP amenities and exclusive dining with a new “Club Class Mini-Suite.”  In other news, the line, in partnership with Discovery Consumer Products, has announced plans to expand its “Discovery at Sea” program with reimagined youth centers, including new experiences and center designs to help young Princess explorers learn, play and create fun and memorable memories while on a cruise vacation.  This multi-million investment is currently rolling out fleet-wide through 2018, with program implementation taking place early this year and new center designs planned for installation during scheduled ship renovations.  Princess will also will be the first Carnival Corporation brand to feature the “Ocean Medallion,” a wearable device powered by a first-of-its-kind interactive technology platform within “O·C·E·A·N” (One Cruise Experience Access Network). The “Ocean Medallion” is intended to provide “a new level of personalization that will deliver an enhanced guest experience previously not available in the global vacation industry.”  “Ocean Medallion Class” will be available beginning November onboard Regal Princess, followed by Royal Princess and Caribbean Princess in early 2018.  The “Ocean Medallion” will reportedly have no discernible technology…no on-off switch, no charging, no menu to navigate, and can be worn as a pendant on a wristband in a clip or simply placed in a pocket to show enhanced services and personalized experiences without guests having to push a button or take any action.  Prior to the cruise, guests will be able to detail their personal needs and preferences in order to personalize their onboard experience in advance.


Regent Seven Seas Cruises, so far the only North American luxury cruise line to be granted permission to offer voyages to Cuba, has added Havana to two identical Caribbean voyages aboard Seven Seas Mariner departing from Miami on April 11 and 18, 2017.  Both will overnight in Havana, plus call on the new resort-style destination of Harvest Caye, Belize, as well as Costa Maya, Mexico.  Included Havana area tours will offer guests an authentic Cuban experience that explores the people, music, art, history and culture of the island and are in compliance with the Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (OFAC) regulations.  In other news, the line is preparing a year-long, fleet-wide celebration to mark the company’s 25th anniversary this year, selecting 25 cruises that will feature a variety of exclusive activities and events developed specifically for its silver jubilee.  For example, guests on these sailings will have the opportunity to partake in a special lunch buffet by traveling down a red carpet extending from the Compass Rose restaurant into the galley, where guests will interact with onboard chefs.


Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. has received a perfect score of 100% for the second consecutive year on the 2017 Corporate Equality Index (CEI), a national benchmarking survey and report on corporate policies and practices related to LGBT workplace equality, administered by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.  Royal Caribbean is one of 517 major U.S. businesses which earned top marks this year.  Elsewhere, the company’s latest Sustainability Report has documented its commitment to environmental stewardship and improved efficiencies across its fleet.  2015 marked the completion of its 10-year “Save the Waves” goals, which focused on emissions and waste reduction, as well as increasing the number of shore excursions that met an internationally recognized sustainability standard.  Over the past decade RCL built its most efficient cruise ships and reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 25%.  In 2015, 17 ships reported 100 percent re-purposed waste on certain itineraries.  In the report, RCL noted the expansion of its Advanced Emissions Purification program, as well as a new set of goals for the year 2020 that were established with input from the company’s conservation partner, World Wildlife Fund.


Scenic marked the official start of construction of its new “Discovery Yacht,” Scenic Eclipse, with a steel cutting ceremony at the Uljanik Shipyard JSC in Pula, Croatia. The 228-passenger luxury vessel, designed especially for polar expedition cruising conditions, is scheduled for its maiden voyage in August, 2018.  Scenic Eclipse will feature a near 1:1 guest-to-staff ratio, all-verandah suites that range from 350 to 2,500 square feet, six restaurants, numerous bars and lounges, a 5,000-square-foot spa, a gym, multiple pools, a 240-seat theatre, two helicopters and a seven-seat submarine.


In 2017, Seabourn will be headed back to Alaska for the first time in 15 years, and guests will reportedly be offered many new optional shore excursions and “Ventures by Seabourn” guided kayak and Zodiac tours exploring the 49th State.  Seabourn Sojourn‘s series of 11, 12 and 14-day itineraries will sail from Vancouver and Seward starting this June.  Available shore excursions will include dog sledding, floatplane sightseeing, wildlife viewing, and fishing for Alaskan salmon, while “Ventures by Seabourn” trips will be guided by teams of scientists, scholars and naturalists.  In other news, the line has unveiled details of its latest “Signature Savings Event,” offering savings and value-added amenities on a selection of voyages throughout 2017 and 2018 in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Antarctica and Patagonia, Atlantic crossings, Arabia and India, Asia, Canada and New England, the Caribbean, the Panama Canal and South America.  Featured are complimentary veranda suite upgrades; $1,000 per suite shipboard credit for penthouse and premium suites; $400 per suite “Ventures by Seabourn” credit on 2017 Alaska voyages; $500 per person round-trip air credit; added savings of up to 15% on combination voyages; and 50% reduced deposits.  Also, on January 7, the company formally introduced Seabourn Encore to its fleet at an evening pierside ceremony in Singapore.  International recording artist Sarah Brightman presided over the naming ceremony as godmother of the new 600-guest ship, the first of the line’s two new all-suite vessels.


SeaDream Yacht Club’s glossy new 36-page, 2017 brochure illustrates the 16th season of its twin mega-yachts, SeaDream I and SeaDream II.  Featured subjects include cuisine, land adventures, wellness and fitness, the vessels’ water sports marinas, and the line’s unique itineraries.


Silversea Cruises has appointed Joe Leon as its new vice president of field sales for North America. Based in the line’s Miami office, he will report to Mark Conroy, Silversea’s managing director for the Americas.  With 14 years of travel industry sales management experience, Leon will have primary responsibility for developing and implementing strategic sales initiatives and new processes for enhancing support to the travel agent community.  Prior to his appointment at Silversea, Leon was senior director of business development and travel agency sales for Regent Seven Seas Cruises.  In other news, the line completed a major renovation of Silver Whisper in the Bahamas prior to the departure of its 116-day, 2017 World Cruise from San Francisco on January 6.  The renovation represents the third phase of a $170 million fleet refurbishment program, the largest in the company’s history.


Un-Cruise Adventures is inviting travelers to take a new wellness-themed cruise during spring. 2017. Three such sailings have been planned in Alaska and one in Mexico’s Sea of Cortés, during which two guest experts will coordinate a week of special programs focused on fitness, nutrition, and overall well-being.  The small ship cruise line recently released its full theme cruise schedule, with other adventures planned for marine biology, photography, alumni, ornithology, craft beer, nostalgic music, wine and a chairman’s cruise.


Viking Ocean Cruises has announced that its fourth ship, Viking Sun, was “floated out” at Fincantieri’s Ancona (Italy) shipyard on December 15, marking a major construction milestone and the first time that the new vessel touched water.  Viking Sun, the fourth of the company’s six ocean cruise ships on order, will debut in late 2017, sailing voyages to Cuba and the Caribbean before embarking on a 141-day World Cruise spanning five continents, 35 countries and 66 ports.  Viking’s ocean ships are each 47,800 tons, with 465 cabins that accommodate 930 guestsAlso, the line’s new itineraries will offer guests opportunities to embark in Miami, Mumbai, Bangkok, Beijing, Bali, Sydney, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Vancouver, with itineraries ranging from eight to 23 days in length.  Featured programs include “Turquoise Seas of the Western Caribbean;” “Panama & Central America;” “Atlantic Crossing;” “Passage to India;” “Across the Bay of Bengal;” “Capitals of the Far East;” “Southeast Asia & Hong Kong;” “Komodo & the Australian Coast;” “Bangkok, Bali & Beyond;” “Australia & New Zealand;” “Far Eastern Horizons;” “North Pacific Passage”; and “Alaska and the Inside Passage.”


Windstar Cruises will continue to sail through the original Panama Canal locks, which have been hailed an engineering marvel due to their elegant design and the fact that the locks are filled and emptied by gravity, without the use of pumps.  Even though a new set of Panama Canal locks opened for business last summer, creating an additional lane of traffic aimed at allowing mega-ships to transit between the Atlantic and Pacific, the line is noting that “bigger isn’t always better.”

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