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July 15, 2017 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome!  This month I’m featuring comments from my old college buddy, Jon London, who with his wife Bess are extremely experienced cruisers.  Earlier this year they enjoyed back-to-back Caribbean sailings of Royal Princess and Celebrity Eclipse, so were in a great position to provide some interesting and constructive comparisons between the two vessels.  I’m indebted to good friends like Jon who are fully capable of providing different perspectives on their cruising experiences than my own.


“I remember that you mentioned that you would be interested in hearing what I thought of Royal Princess.  The answer is that I liked it very much, even more than the Celebrity Eclipse which we cruised on the prior fourteen days (and I liked the Eclipse also).

“On the boards, I’ve seen comments about the size of Royal‘s staterooms.  We had a standard balcony cabin that seemed well designed, quite adequate for our needs, and had a very large closet.  The only negative was the balcony itself, which was considerably smaller than the one on the Eclipse.  It was possible to face chairs outward on the Celebrity balcony; on the Royal they could only face sideways.

“Food was exceptionally good on the Royal.  The Ocean Terrace offered small plates that included excellent lobster rolls at lunch on sea days.  The pizzeria was convenient and very good.  I found the food in the buffet to be varied and tasty.  The only negative of the buffet was that it only had three serving lines.  I liked Celebrity’s approach of multiple stations, each with distinct fare, better.  Food in the main dining room was good, but not exceptional.  The servers there did their jobs professionally, but did not seem to exhibit the degree of warmth and hospitality that we experienced on Celebrity (or on Holland America either, for that matter).

“The Royal is the largest ship we’ve sailed, but it did not seem congested.  The only exception was the first day following the boat drill when it took 45 minutes to get an elevator back to our cabin.  Entertainment was great on both ships, but Princess takes the edge in this category.  The Royal had three male singers who each deserved a national career, or at least a place on Broadway.  Also, a two-piece pop group called “Rhapsody” performed each night in the atrium, and I found them to be the best such group I’ve ever seen.  Also performing in the atrium nightly was the best piano entertainer I’ve ever enjoyed, and he was also the youngest, no more than 25 (usually these guys are in their fifties or sixties).

“Speaking of the atrium, it was very impressive.  Princess has outdone itself here with the International Cafe, wine bar, and Ocean Seafood Terrace all surrounding it.  We especially enjoyed the cappuccino and pastries in the International Cafe.  All in all, we had a great time on both ships, and the two itineraries included a total of two days each on Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire, three of our favorite islands.  We’re booked on Holland America’s Westerdam twenty-four days from Rome in August.  Then we do a twenty-one day from Singapore next January that hopefully will finally get Bess to Bali.  She’s always wanted to go there, but fell ill on the day we visited aboard Celebrity Millennium in 2013.”




American Queen Steamboat Company sold out a newly announced, nine-day/eight-night Kentucky Derby Cruise within 24 hours.  The sailing will depart from Louisville next April 29 aboard American Duchess.


Carnival Cruise Line hosted a bon voyage reception at Port Tampa Bay on June 29 to mark the line’s inaugural cruise to Havana, Cuba, aboard Carnival Paradise.  The event was a celebration of Cuban culture, music, cuisine and libations, featuring the “World’s Largest Cuban Sandwich at Sea” and a $25,000 charity donation to Tampa’s Ybor City Museum Society.  The voyage marked the first of 12 four and five-day cruises, each with a daytime and overnight call at Havana.  Additional cruises in the series include departures of July 13; August 14, 24 and 28; September 7, 21 and 25; and October 5, 9 and 19; as well as May 3, 2018.  Five-day voyages add a stop in either Cozumel (Mexico) or Key West (Florida).  In other news, Carnival joined forces with Operation Homefront on July 5 to thank men and women in uniform by hosting the world’s first “social media powered barbecue” for military troops at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.  This unique summertime feast featured burgers whose buns were lasered with more than 15,000 messages of thanks received via tweets and internet posts to service members using a one-of-a-kind culinary laser printer.  Deshauna Barber, godmother to Carnival Vista and the first woman serving in the military to be named Miss USA, joined Carnival Chief Maritime Officer William Burke and Operation Homefront president and CEO Brigadier General (retired) John I. Pray Jr., in personally serving nearly 2,000 burgers to military personnel.  Carnival also donated $25,000 to help the organization fulfill its mission of building strong, stable and secure military families.


Celebrity Cruises, on June 21, observed the ceremonial keel laying for Celebrity Edge in Saint-Nazaire, France.  An 875-ton block was lifted into the air and the traditional coin was placed in the dock before the block was lowered into position.  Leaders from both Celebrity Cruises and STX France were present at the event to celebrate the next stage in the construction of the new vessel, which will be homeported in Fort Lauderdale and is scheduled to make her first sailing on December 16, 2018.  And for the fifth consecutive year, Celebrity’s fleetwide wine program has been recognized by the Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards with nine awards in 2017.  The publication recognizes wine lists which “feature a well-chosen assortment of quality producers along with a thematic match to the menu in both price and style.”  This is the fifth year that cruise lines have been included in the awards, which have been used to recognize the world’s best wine lists since 1981.


CroisiEurope’s new African Dream, which will begin sailing in December in Southern Africa, is currently being finalized on the Harare shipyard in Zimbabwe.  This unique river vessel will be completed next month and will have to travel 1000 km. across the African savanna to reach its home port in Kasane, Botswana.  Measuring 131 feet long by 26 feet wide, African Dream will be cut into two units for transportation on the only trailer in Southern Africa capable of supporting such a load.  Cruising along what are reportedly the most beautiful bends of the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers, the company will be offering an exclusive 4-day/3-night cruise-safari, followed by a 5-day/4-night stay in its five-star Cascades Lodge which will include land-based safaris as well as a day at Victoria Falls.  Facilities aboard African Dream include eight suites accommodating 16 guests, plus a panoramic restaurant, lounge bar and rooftop terrace serviced by eight crew members.  A second ship is already planned for 2018.


Crystal Cruises has announced a new Platinum Level Partnership with the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), becoming the only luxury cruise line at the Platinum partnership level.  The organization is the world’s largest association of travel professionals and travel agent advocates, with chapters operating globally in support of agents who specialize in selling tours, cruises, hotels, air travel and more.  Through this partnership, Crystal will participate in annual ASTA events, including its Global Convention, which brings together representatives from more than 100 countries.  The affiliation with ASTA also enables travel professionals from agencies and companies of all sizes to easily access information and materials from Crystal through ASTA’s marketing initiatives and communications.


Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth met the Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time on July 6, off the coast of Scotland.  The rendezvous of the two ships which share the same name and were both christened by The Queen, took place in the Moray Firth during Queen Elizabeth‘s 13-night cruise of the British Isles.  Elsewhere, the line, along with the Canadian Maritime Heritage Foundation and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, will award the third annual Samuel Cunard Prize for Vision, Courage and Creativity to former Canadian Prime Minister, The Right Honorable Paul Martin, who will receive the award on August 10 on board Queen Mary 2 while she is docked in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  The Samuel Cunard Prize was inaugurated in 2015 to celebrate the company’s 175th Anniversary in the ancestral home of its founder, Sir Samuel Cunard.  The award acknowledges an extraordinary individual who demonstrates the qualities exemplified by Cunard throughout his life.


Emerald Waterways christened the latest addition to its fleet of river ships, Emerald Radiance, on June 16 in Porto, Portugal, from which the vessel will sail on the Douro River.  Gill Williams, a U.K. travel agent, served as Godmother.  2017 has been a busy year for the line, during which it is welcoming three new “Star-Ships” to its fleet, bringing the total now to seven.  Emerald Destiny was christened in May in Vienna and Emerald Liberté is scheduled to be christened in Lyon, France, in September.  Radiance has a capacity of 112 guests and a crew-to-guest ratio of 1:3.  In other news, the brand is launching a new series of on-board programs later this year and in 2018, including yoga classes, smartphone photography workshops, and exclusive dinners with local celebrity chefs.  Next, for 2018 bookings received by September 1, the line is offering air fare to Europe for $495, plus additional savings of up to $800 per couple when payment is submitted in full by October 31.  Restrictions apply.  Also, Emerald is celebrating Bastille Day by extending free airfare to all customers to book new cruises with the line to France in 2018 by this August 31.  The eight-day “Sensations of Southern France” program is being featured, along with extensions to Paris or Nice that result in 11-day packages.  And finally, the company has announced three new itineraries for 2018, including “The Charms of Holland and Belgium,” “The Classic Rhine,” and “The Majestic Rhine.”


Holland America Line’s Linda Springmann, based in the line’s Seattle headquarters, is moving into the newly created role of vice president, onboard revenue, to provide dedicated focus on initiatives related to revenue across HAL’s fleet of ships.  Most recently Springmann was Holland America’s vice president, deployment and tour marketing.  During her threedecades in the industry, she has held roles in a variety of areas, including itinerary planning and product marketing for several cruise destinations, and most recently for HAL’s AlaskaLand+Sea program.  


Norwegian Cruise Line welcomed its newest cruise ship, Norwegian Joy, to her new home port of Shanghai, China, following maiden calls to Singapore, Qingdao, Shenzhen and Hong Kong.  On a four-day preview voyage that departed from Shanghai on June 10, Norwegian welcomed more than 1,700 VIP members and guests of Alibaba Group, the world’s largest online and mobile commerce company.  The line also began accepting transactions on the Alipay platform on a trial basis during the sailing, and subsequently, announced that this payment solution would be available to guests on board all public Norwegian Joy sailings.  On June 27, the vessel, Norwegian’s first custom-designed ship for the Chinese market, was christened in Shanghai during a gala ceremony by the ship’s Godfather, singer songwriter, music producer, actor and film director, Wang Leehom.  In other news, Norwegian has updated its ship deployment for summer, 2018.  Norwegian Sun will now reposition to Port Canaveral and offer all-inclusive four day cruises to Havana and Key West, plus three-day cruises to the Bahamas, while Norwegian Jewel will rejoin the line’s fleet sailing to Alaska, with seven and nine-day sailings from Seattle, Seward and Vancouver.  Finally, Norwegian recently revealed the lineup for the brand’s 2017-18 “Meet The Winemaker Cruises,” a selection of departures aboard Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Dawn during which guests will have the opportunity to wine and dine with leaders of the winemaking industry.  The full series was revealed during the first Winemaker Dinner cruise of the season, held this month on Norwegian Escape and featuring Antonio Hidalgo, President of Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana.  Hidalgo represents the 8th generation of this sherry winery, family owned and operated since 1792.  Norwegian’s Winemaker Dinner series is hosted at the line’s onboard wine venues… The Cellars, a Michael Mondavi Family Wine Bar…and is in celebration of the line’s ongoing partnership with the family and other beverage partners, including Moët Hennessy.


Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. has announced that cruises to Cuba operated by its three brands will continue under the new guidelines laid out by the Trump Administration.  All of its cruises to, and shore excursions in Cuba are in full compliance with regulations set forth by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control, and the company will be working with the Administration to comply with any changes to those and any other regulations that may result in the future.


Oceania Cruises recognized four-year-old Lorenna D’Amore Nogueira and six-year-old Henrique D’Amore Nogueira as the “Youngest World Cruisers” on June 28 in New York.  The children traveled with their parents, Drielle and Diego, on the line’s 2017 “Around the World” sailing on Insignia, roundtrip from Miami.  The cruise departed on January 6 and concluded on July 6, at which time the family returned to their home in Brazil.


Paul Gauguin Cruises has announced its 2019 voyages in Tahiti, French Polynesia, Fiji, and the South Pacific.  Paul Gauguin will return to Fiji on two voyages in 2019 that also feature Tonga, the Cook Islands, and the Society Islands.  The 13-night voyage departs Papeete, Tahiti, on September 7, 2019, and the 12-night reverse itinerary departs September 21, 2019, and calls at the same ports except for Beqa Island, Fiji.  The vessel will also be repeating its other varied itineraries in 2019:  the seven-night “Tahiti & the Society Islands;” 10-night “Society Islands & Tuamotus;” 11-night “Cook Islands & Society Islands;” and 14-night “Marquesas, Tuamotus & Society Islands.” The new-for-2018 “Society Islands & Tahiti Iti” seven-night itinerary will also be back in 2019.


Princess Cruises new flagship Majestic Princess arrived in Xiamen, China, on July 3, after a 37-day journey from Rome along the “Silk Road Sea Route,” which featured cultural programs and performances for guests under the theme “Telling the Chinese Story along the Silk Road Sea Route.”  The vessel then continued its voyage by visiting Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo, Osaka, Seoul, and arrived at her Asia homeport in Shanghai on July 9, where she was officially named by Yao Ming and his wife, Ye Li, on the following day.  Majestic Princess commenced her first cruise from Shanghai on July 11.  During 2018, two 14-day “Grand Asia” voyages aboard the ship between Shanghai and Singapore, including visits to Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and Hong Kong, will be available to guests throughout the world.  The first departs Shanghai on February 25, with the second departing Singapore on March 11.  From September, 2018, to March, 2019, Majestic Princess will sail itineraries from Sydney and Auckland on voyages from six to 13 days in length, and will call at ports in New Zealand, Tasmania, Fiji and other islands in the South Pacific.  In other news, Princess has announced a special offer for third and fourth guests to make it easier for cruisers to bring family and friends onboard.  For all “Ocean Medallion” Caribbean cruises on Regal Princess and Royal Princess sailing from this November through April, 2018, the line is offering a special $99 price for third and fourth passengers.  Finally, through September 12, the line’s “Sun Dreched Deals” sale offers special savings to sunny cruise destinations for departures from this fall through spring, 2018.  Guests can choose from more than 264 warm weather sailings to the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, Panama Canal, California Coast, Australia & New Zealand, South Pacific, Southeast Asia, South America and World Cruise, with fares up to 30% off.


Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. has announced that Weather Decision Technologies, Inc., reportedly the world’s leading decision support and weather analytics company, will implement its “WeatherOps” risk mitigation system on each of RCL’s 47 vessels across all subsidiaries, including Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises, and in their emergency operations centers in Miami, as of November, 2017.  WDT’s WeatherOps platform was chosen to support the company’s global cruise line operations after real-world validation and the approval of each captain in each division.  RCL’s shore side team in Miami also will utilize WeatherOps to support captains across the fleet and ensure that logistics and weather safety across all aspects of the company’s operation are handled with respect to any weather hazards or delays.


Royal Caribbean International has engaged multi-platinum selling band DNCE for a live musical performance to celebrate the “Great American Eclipse, a phenomenon 99 years in the making.”  On August 21, DNCE will headline Royal Caribbean’s solar eclipse viewing party with a surprise guest aboard the seven-night “Total Eclipse Cruise” on board Oasis of the Seas.  The vessel is scheduled to position itself along the eclipse’s path of totality where the moon completely masks the sun for a few minutes of total darkness.  Guests booked on the sailing can visit Royal Caribbean’s website and reserve complimentary seats for the concert by logging on to their reservation.


Scenic, working in partnership with PBS National Sales, has announced its sponsorship of the fourth season of “The Great British Baking Show” on PBS, one of the most popular programs on the BBC, which airs on Fridays at 9:00 p.m., and began on June 16.  In other news, the line is promoting two “Rediscovery Voyages” aboard its new “Discovery Yacht,” Scenic Eclipse, to showcase the vessel’s array of onboard amenities and activities:  the company’s Inaugural Transatlantic Crossing, departing Barcelona on September 22, 2018, and ending in Miami 14 days later, and an eight-day South America coastline sojourn from Guayaquil to Valparaiso, embarking on November 16, 2018.  Prices start at $6,495 and $3,295 per person, double, respectively.  Also, the line has announced a “Summer Sale” offering incentives to travelers who book select 2018 sailings.  All European-itinerary cruises departing next year in June, July and August are eligible for free economy roundtrip air from major gateway cities for all balcony suites on sailings of eight to 10 days, and free economy roundtrip airfare for any suite category on sailings of 11 days or longer.  Guests can choose from any of Scenic’s itineraries on the Rhine, Main, Moselle, Rhône, Danube or Seine rivers, with cruises ranging from eight to 24 days.  As an added bonus, those who pay for the trip in full will save an additional $500 per couple on eight to 10-day sailings, and $1,000 per couple on 11-day or longer sailings.  “Summer Sale” savings are good on bookings made by August 31.  Finally, Scenic is offering a complimentary, eight-day 2018 Europe cruise for two to any travel agent who makes three 2018 Europe river cruise bookings between July 1 and August 31.  The offer is restricted to one cruise per agent and is not applicable to group bookings.


Seabourn will feature new worldwide itineraries for the fall, 2018, and winter, 2019, seasons, including 37 sailings to hidden harbors, marquee ports and “must see” cities accessible only by smaller ships.  Guests will also have the opportunity to sail aboard Seabourn’s newest ships, Seabourn Encore, which launched in late 2016, and Seabourn Ovation, which is scheduled to debut in May, 2018.  The fall and winter seasons will offer travelers 103 departures of seven to 66 days in length, visiting exotic destinations in South America and Antarctica, India, Arabia, Australia and New Zealand, plus Southeast Asia, along with such perennial favorites as the Panama Canal, Canada/New England, and the Caribbean.  The line has also announced a new series of “Seabourn Conversations” for its 2017-2018 cruise schedule.  The onboard enrichment program will host distinguished speakers and personalities from a variety of fields including journalism, government, preservation and the arts.  Among the celebrities to be featured include Margaret Trudeau, Paul Deegan, Arturo Sandoval, Richard Stone, John Pizzarelli, Steve Wozniak, Brad Goreski, Grant Harrold, Sir Tim Rice and Jeffrey Archer.  Two sailings will separately feature world-renowned jazz musicians Sandoval and Pizzarelli, who will entertain guests onboard Seabourn Quest and Seabourn Sojourn.


Silversea Cruises is offering onboard enrichment programs featuring renowned artists, experts and guest speakers for opera and ballet fans, food and wine connoisseurs, bridge players, wellness enthusiasts and lifelong learners throughout 2017.  Elsewhere, the line has established a new leadership training academy aimed at recruiting and developing high-quality talent to join its expedition teams.  Featured on every expedition voyage, teams will include knowledgeable and experienced specialists in the areas of wildlife, biology, anthropology, geology, history, and other disciplines to give lectures, run workshops, lead Zodiac trips and guide nature walks to ensure an enriching experience for guests.  The multiphase training initiative begins with remote skills development through webinar sessions focusing on various aspects of working as a Silversea expedition guide, including life at sea and guest relations.  Practical experience will deal with the fundamentals of boat handling, first aid, and safety at sea courses and certification.  Participants will be invited to train for approximately six weeks aboard the newly refurbished Silver Cloud when the ship joins the expedition fleet in mid-November for her first season in Antarctica.


Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection has introduced “The Masterpiece Collection,” a selection of 2018 European voyages with airfare included, which require booking by this September 30.  Also included are scheduled transfers to and from airports; farm-to-table dining onboard; unlimited beverages, including premium spirits and wine; bicycles and Nordic walking sticks; an onboard fitness center, including yoga and TRX; gratuities onboard and onshore; ship-wide Wi-Fi access; and exclusive shore excursions in each city.  Also, the line has extended its offer of 2018 Early Booking Savings through September 30.  Guests who book and pay in full will save 10%, plus River Heritage Club members receive an additional 5% off their cruise fares.  Finally, those travelers who choose from a selection of 2017 or 2018 cruises to China, Vietnam & Cambodia, India or Egypt and book by September 30 will receive 15% off* their total cruise fares, and River Heritage Club members will save an additional 5%.


Viking Cruises’ third ocean ship, Viking Sky, was officially christened on June 22 during a public celebration in Tromsø, Norway.  The 930-guest, 47,800-ton Viking Sky received a warm welcome with coordinated water cannons from Norwegian “redningsskøyten” boats, music from local bands, and flag-waving Tromsø residents.  Located above the Arctic Circle on Norway’s northwest coast, Tromsø is a popular destination for viewing the northern lights, as well as a key port of call on Viking’s “Into the Midnight Sun” program, which sails between Bergen and London, allowing guests to explore the northernmost reaches of Scandinavia.  In related news, the line has recently also announced a new itinerary that will allow guests the opportunity to explore the far north in Norway’s winter, during a peak period for aurora borealis sightings.  Sailing between London and Bergen starting in January, 2019, “In Search of the Northern Lights” will reportedly establish Viking as the first U.S. cruise line to offer a full-length itinerary in the Arctic Circle during the winter season.


Windstar Cruises has launched a new series of back-to-back cruises…“Star Collector Voyages”…which are described as longer and more in-depth sailings from 14 to 34 days that feature few repeated ports.  Included are “Arabia & Anicent Spice Routes,” 34 days from Athens to Singapore; “The Grandeur of Southeast Asia,” 28 days from Singapore to Bangkok or the reverse; “Sailing Among Dragons: China & Japan,” 28 days from Singapore to Beijing (Tianjin); “The Best of China, Korea and Japan,” 28 days from Hong Kong to Tokyo (Yokohama); “Crossing to the Caribbean Saints,” 21 days from Lisbon to Philipsburg, St. Maarten; “Classic Caribbean Havens & Harbors,” 14 days from Philipsburg to Colón, Panama; “Caribbean Beaches and Costa Rican Cloudforests,” 14 days from Bridgetown, Barbados to Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica; and “Caribbean Explorations,” 14 days round-trip from Philipsburg.  All Star Collector Voyages include free daily laundry service.  Elsewhere, amusingly enough, Windstar is offering “Tips for How to Handle Your Liquor at Sea,” six suggestions for shipboard imbibing that have been compiled by Peter Tobler, the line’s new director of marine hotel operations.