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July 7, 2015 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome!  This update features a “Guest Cruise Review,” submitted by a shipmate I met on my recent Oosterdam trans-Pacific sailing.  This well-written and interesting piece should also help our readers to familiarize themselves with a small-ship, specialized-interest line based in Seattle that operates eight vessels but is not very well known across the country, interestingly named Un-Cruise Adventures.  Hopefully this will be just the first of many such contributions offered by Group Cruise News readers to share with their colleagues.  All submissions are welcome at, although I cannot guarantee that everything I receive will be included in future updates, especially if comments should center primarily on complaints rather than providing reasoned, constructive criticism.

Carnival Cruise Line is creating a series of monthly, behind-the-scenes promotional videos shot at the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy, where its new 3,954-passenger Carnival Vista is under construction.  The line is also partnering with Affinity Gaming to offer new benefits to members of Affinity’s A-Play Player’s Club at 11 Affinity-owned casinos in Nevada, Colorado, Missouri and Iowa. and

Guests of Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Xpedition, which cruises the Galapagos Islands year-round, recently participated in a major Ecuadorian national effort to break a world reforestation record by encouraging its citizens to plant more than 647,000 trees in one day.  In other news, the line is joining MGM Resorts International in a joint loyalty program which will allow Celebrity’s Captain’s Club and MGM Resorts’ M life members to choose from premium offers featuring each company’s products.  And finally, Celebrity will henceforth be inviting its guests to customize their vacations by bundling a variety of amenities into its cruise prices through a new “Go Big, Go Better, Go Best” program.  Passengers can choose from beverage packages, unlimited internet access, prepaid tips, and/or $150 in onboard credit per person, with the option to create an all-inclusive vacation.  “Go Big” includes one perk, “Go Better features two perks, and “Go Best includes all available perks and an upgrade to a premium beverage package for guests booking an outside stateroom category and higher on some 470 sailings departing between this October and April, 2017.

Celestyal Cruises’ Celestyal Crystal collided with the Marshall Islands-flagged tanker STI PIMLICO in the early morning hours of June 27.  Happily, all passengers and crew members of both vessels were safe and uninjured, but the cruise ship suffered structural damage that required inspection and repair before continuing with its scheduled itineraries. Depending on where they boarded Celestyal Crystal, all passengers were accommodated with transportation, hotel lodging, sightseeing excursions, and/or a shorter cruise on a sister ship, in addition to a full refund of their cruise fare and a complimentary, future seven-day cruise, valid until the end of 2016.

Cunard has announced that Grammy Award-winning vocalist Natalie Cole will headline its first-ever “Blue Note”” jazz-themed, trans-Atlantic cruise, scheduled to depart October 29 on the line’s flagship, Queen Mary 2.  Cunard has also put together a program of festivities to celebrate its 175th Anniversary when Queen Mary 2 calls on Boston and New York next week.  The company’s first trans-Atlantic crossing, as well as the first scheduled mail and passenger service across the Atlantic, took place In July, 1840, when Britannia set sail from Liverpool, England, towards Canada and the U.S. with Samuel Cunard and his daughter on board.  On June 12 in Boston, an 11-foot, 1881 model of Cunard’s Servia will be put on display in the newly renovated Cunard Building on State Street, QM2’s Captain Kevin Oprey will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a matinee Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway Park, and a gala fireworks display at about 9:45 p.m. will mark QM2’s departure for New York.  In the “Big Apple” on July 14, Captain Ospey will ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange, and a promised “sound and music show spectacular” in front of the Statue of Liberty (viewable from Battery Park) will commence about 9:30 p.m., as QM2 begins her return trip across the Atlantic. 

Holland America Line was recently awarded a Port Metro Vancouver 2014 Blue Circle Award for its ongoing commitment to sustainability by striving to reduce emissions and shrinking its carbon footprint. Similarly, the Port of Seattle has presented the line with a Green Gateway Award for helping protect the environment by not discharging ballast water in Puget Sound and using marine sanitation devices on board its vessels.  Elsewhere, seven of HAL’s ships will explore the Caribbean on cruises that sail roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale during the 2015-16 season, while Veendam will assume the line’s roundtrip departures from Tampa.  Furthermore, bookings are now being accepted for Holland America’s new Koningsdam, for seven to 11-day Caribbean voyages from Fort Lauderdale from November 2016 through March 2017.  On Saturday, July 4, HAL’s Rotterdam made its milestone 100th call at the Port of Rotterdam, greeted by sprays of water from welcoming port boats and a visit by the ship’s godmother, Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet of the Netherlands.  Finally, the line has broken ground on a new “Base Camp” complex at its McKinley Chalet Resort near Alaska’s Denali National Park that is expected to be complete in time for the 2016 Alaska cruise season.

Hurtigruten is buying a new 320-guest expedition ship, temporarily named Norway Explorer, that was built in Portugal in 2009.  A major renovation will include adaptation for polar waters, upgrades to cabins, suites and public spaces, and adjustments to power plants and emissions to meet Hurtigruten’s standards.  The ship will join the line’s fleet along its Norwegian Coastal Voyage route, replacing Midnatsol, which is scheduled to join Fram in Antarctica for the 2016-17 season.

Norwegian Cruise Line is expanding its current “Freestyle Choice“ promotion to now include guests who book inside staterooms or studio singles for sailings through December 22.  The line is also offering a “Holiday Bonus Days” offer of up to $200 in onboard credit for guests who book a new reservation through July 15 for a cruise during the 2015 holiday season.  Elsewhere, parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Is expanding its presence in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific islands with the establishment of a sales and marketing center based in Sydney.  The office will represent all three of the company’s lines, including Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Scenic, Australia’s operator of all-inclusive European river cruises, has announced three additions to its 2016 itineraries, including an eight-day “Iconic Danube” from Passau to Budapest, a 21-day “Christmas Markets with Paris and Prague,” and a 21-day “Gems of the Seine and Breathtaking Bordeaux.”

Seabourn will be partnering with photographer Geoff Steven, director of the Our Place World Heritage Collection, an official partner of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.  Through the partnership, Steven will capture images of less photographed World Heritage Sites at destinations where Seabourn ships visit, and serve as a guest lecturer in the “Seabourn Conversations”onboard enrichment program.

SeaDream Yacht Club’s pair of 112-guest yachts will return to the Caribbean for the 2015-16 winter season, featuring 12 sailings showcasing St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Martinique, Guadeloupe and St. Lucia…three round-trip sailings from Bridgetown, Barbados, and nine trips between Bridgetown and Marigot, St. Martin.

Tauck is publishing a new “First-Timer’s Guide to River Cruising” intended to answer questions common to prospective cruisers. The 24-page, color brochure is available free of charge through the company’s website.

Un-Cruise Adventures executive Tim Jacox has been promoted to the position of president and chief operations officer.  Jacox, a 30+ year veteran of the industry, has been with the company for 14 years in management, sales and marketing roles.

Viking Cruises’ Viking Sea will be offering a new “Secrets of the Southern Mediterranean” itinerary during January and February, 2017, cruising from Rome to Barcelona, Malta, Tunis, and Algiers.



Guest Cruise Review

By:  Megan Willcox, Sydney, Australia

Ship, Date and Destination:  Un-Cruise Adventures’ Wilderness Explorer, May 16, 2015, to Alaska

We met briefly over breakfast on the Oosterdam during its repositioning cruise from Sydney to Vancouver in April. You asked me to send you an email of our experience of Un-Cruise after our Alaskan adventure cruise, so here I am – finally.

Our trip on the Wilderness Explorer far exceeded any of our expectations. We were blessed with beautiful weather so that contributed greatly to the good experience.  We had morning fog on the only port day, which was in Wrangell – nothing much to see or do there, though the native house was interesting.  The sun was up at about 4.30 and didn’t go to bed again until about 9.30, so long, long days with many of us getting up early with the light – in time for the 7am stretch class/yoga session before breakfast.

The ship was a totally different experience from the huge Oosterdam.   Wilderness Explorer is nearly 40 years old but still going strong, if lacking in some of the refinements that larger ships offer, with slightly cramped cabin conditions, especially the bathrooms, but we managed.  It was, after all, billed as an adventure cruise.  We 61 passengers (76 is the capacity) were very well catered for by 25 crew, including the boat crews, expedition crews and hotel staff.  We generally sailed of an afternoon and anchored late at night, ready for activities the next morning.

On No. 2 deck there was a pleasant lounge and bar area where each night there was a cocktail hour before dinner.  Nibbles were always provided as this time included a briefing from the expedition leader as to the next day’s activities.  We paid for our own drinks, but at $8 for a glass of wine I thought it was very reasonable, especially as the glasses were very generous at 4 glasses to a bottle.  The lounge looked out on to the forward deck area which was also a popular place to gather, especially as there was a hot tub there.

Food was abundant and very good, especially considering they had to take on all their supplies at the beginning of the one-week trip.  We had a master chef, a sous chef, a pastry chef and a kitchen hand, and then the “wait” staff, as well as Jose the bartender and his offsider, and the hotel manager.  The wait staff doubled as housekeeping staff and cleaned the cabins daily.  There were three options for dinner – meat, fish or vegetarian. They catered also for one vegan and one person with a nut allergy, so they did really well.  We were told there are usually gluten-free requests, but none on our cruise.  The bartender made up a non-alcoholic punch every day, as well as a margarita of the day which went down well with a lot on board.  I stuck with a NZ wine which suited me admirably. They had beers on tap which went down well with the blokes after a big day of “bushwhacking”.

The captain was a character.  He was assisted by a first mate, second mate, engineer +1, and boat crews, but it was the boat crews (skiffs, zodiacs, rubber duckies or whatever you like to call them), and the captain with whom we interacted most – apart from the expedition crew.  The captain was very affable and very much hands-on and knew all passengers by name.  He helped in launching the kayaks, attended the stretch classes, and made sure he was seen around the place, including on a stand-up paddle.  They have an open bridge policy, so we were interested to be on the bridge as we navigated our way through mini icebergs coming and going to Sawyer Glacier.

Then there were the expedition crew – their fearless leader, 2IC and 4 others.  They were all so knowledgeable and so willing to share their knowledge and to help us all have a wonderful experience.  The 2IC has TWO marine-based degrees (one in marine biology and not sure of the other), and others were similarly qualified in things geological/glacial/marine, etc.  They knew all the marine animals, birds, ducks, etc.  We had a few after-dinner lectures on various topics, such as the life cycle of a salmon, etc.  All very interesting.  We were about a month too early for the salmon “running” which is apparently a great time to see bears as they pick them off as they are heading upstream.

On our first full day we got up close and personal with Sawyer Glacier.  I guess the ship was about 1.5km from the glacier, having travelled at 1-2 knots through lots and lots and lots of lumps of ice, mini icebergs, for quite some time until it stopped.  After lunch we got into the skiffs and had about 1.5 hours out on the water, able to touch the bits of ice as they floated by, to hear the glacier cracking internally – damned loud – and to see it calving from about 500m away.  Just phenomenal stuff I never thought I’d experience.  On the way into the glacier we saw a black bear on the rocks feeding on mussels and the beauty of a small ship is that we could just slow right down and nose in towards the rock and just sit there and watch him.  He wasn’t too concerned about us at all.  Another day we saw several grizzly bears from the comfort of the ship, though some of the early-morning kayakers got to see one of them from just off the beach.  We also saw mink, harbour seals, porpoises and humpback whales, as well as numerous birds and ducks.

Activities on other days were plentiful and it was a matter of choosing between an intertidal stroll, 2-3 hour short hike, 10-mile hike on some days, skiff rides most days for those less adventurous, stand-up paddling, or kayaking – or nothing at all.  A couple of hardy souls even went snorkelling one day.  We kayaked on 4 days for about 2 hours each time, though on the second-last day it was longer than that as the ship dropped off two groups of kayakers – we were with the slow group – then the ship headed off to anchor and we had to paddle up to it, so about 3 hours of paddling, nearly 7kms, but stopping to look at waterfalls and other things on the way.  It was beautiful because that was in Misty Fjords National Monument with sheer granite cliffs shooting up on either side of us, all carved out by a glacier aeons ago.  We saw starfish on the rocks just under the water, lots of mussels and other sealife.  Kayaking was made easy with the ship’s Ezi-Dock system which is basically a floating platform with rollered grooves that can accommodate 4 kayaks at a time, so we could sit in the kayak and get comfortable, adjust our pedals, adjust the skirt which stops water dripping in from the paddle, and then 2 of the crew would gently push us out in the water.  Reverse process coming in – too easy.  You’ll see what I mean on the slideshow below.

Getting in and out of skiffs was easy too and I was very impressed with the crew’s attention to safety and comfort.  The crew certainly went out of their way to make sure everyone had a wonderful experience.

I really can’t say enough good stuff about it.  It certainly was one of our great travel experiences, if not the greatest, and I was sorry when we had to go back to Vancouver, but all good things come to an end and I’m sure our experience was all the better for the beautiful, mild weather.  I hope my comments are some help.