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June 15, 2017 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome!  At the time that I compiled last month’s GCN Update, I mentioned that I was heading for Alaska aboard Holland America Line’s Oosterdam.  This year, spring once again proved to be an ideal time for a cruise to the 49th State, in this case a one-week, round-trip sailing from Seattle, May 14 to 21.  Just over 2,000 guests enjoyed splendid weather, visits to Juneau, magnificent Hubbard Glacier in Yakutat Bay, Sitka, Ketchikan, and an evening in Victoria, British Columbia.  Although this writer has embarked previously on numerous Alaska cruises on a variety of lines, excellent food, a wide variety of onboard entertainment options (including a personal favorite, the Lincoln Center Stage) and exceptional shore excursions combined to make this one of the most memorable.


In addition to glacier viewing, our sightseeing, chosen from extensive lists of alternatives, included sea kayaking, exploration of pristine beaches and beautiful island rain forests (sans the rain) both via smaller watercraft and on foot, an air/sea trip to Misty Fjords National Monument, plus a wonderful evening exploring the uncrowded, extensively illuminated Butchart Gardens in Victoria.  This particular itinerary did not feature the famed “Inside Passage,” but it did offer sunshine and bright blue skies, lengthy hours of daylight (impossible in September), Alaska before countless land travelers arrive beginning Memorial Day weekend (although cruise vessels were already out in force) and the inevitable June mosquito hatch, plus exceptional “shoulder season” pricing.  A specially-commissioned audio-visual program, complete with live music and incredible photography from BBC Nature, was also presented one evening in the main showroom to celebrate HAL’s 70 years of exploring Alaska.  Only the service in Oosterdam’s two-deck main dining room and Lido buffet was not up to the line’s usual high standards, but this detracted little from a travel experience that overall was very fine, and would make a great choice for a wide variety of groups and organizations.



Adventure Smith Explorations is offering the new, small expedition ship National Geographic Quest on cruises in Pacific Northwest waters that feature three different routes through the San Juan Islands.  The company is promoting the San Juan archipelago as its top pick for autumn cruising this year, as the islands’ 408 miles of shoreline offer easy access to off-ship activities in this wildlife lover’s paradise.  The San Juans are located just off Washington State’s coast north of Seattle and east of Victoria, British Columbia.  Sailing among the 172 named islands here, guests can expect to meet pods of orcas feasting on salmon, as well as seals and sea lions lounging on rocky islets; view black bear and deer amid deep evergreen forests; and experience the highest concentration of bald eagles in the “Lower 48.”


American Queen Steamboat Company is offering savings of up to $1,400 per stateroom on Thanksgiving and Christmas season departures of its three river vessels.  Included are a variety of themed sailings from Memphis to New Orleans, New Orleans to Memphis, Memphis to Nashville, and round trips from Vancouver, Washington (across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon), New Orleans and Nashville.


Carnival Cruise Line has unveiled “Carnival Studios,” a state-of-the-art, 44,500-square-foot rehearsal venue in Davie, Florida, near the company’s Miami headquarters.  Three years in development, Carnival Studios will bring entire bands, casts, and technical teams from every ship together shoreside for intensive rehearsals as a team, while providing additional opportunities to conceptualize new shows on site.  More than 500 entertainers and performers will convene at Carnival Studios to rehearse new shows that are constantly being rolled out across the fleet.  The expansive space encompasses eight dedicated music studios, five full-stage dance studios, a training room, a green room and offices for the line’s entertainment department, many of whom will be relocating to the Davie campus.  Elsewhere, late last month, the line celebrated American Craft Beer Week by introducing “Miami Guava Wheat,” a special one-of-a-kind, tropical-flavored beer served exclusively at Carnival Vista’s RedFrog Pub & Brewery, the first brewery aboard a North American-based cruise ship.  In other news, Carnival will provide its guests with more laughs than ever in 2017, hosting a record 25,000 shows at its Punchliner Comedy Clubs across its 25-ship fleet.  Boasting more comedians and performances than any land-based comedy club in the U.S., the ocean-going clubs feature an extensive lineup of comedians who perform 30-minute shows multiple times during each voyage, with at least two comedians appearing each night.  All shows are offered on a complimentary basis.


Furthermore, Naturama Tours & Adventures, which each year provides thousands of Carnival guests with experiences ashore in Mexico, has been named the line’s Tour Operator of the Year.  Twenty-six companies were also recognized with Carnival’s Leading Tour Operator Award, and nine shore excursion operators were honored with Best Innovative Tour Awards for conceptualizing and developing excursions that showcase the unique attributes of their particular destinations.  Next, Carnival has booked comedian Chris Tucker for two shows this fall aboard Carnival Breeze on September 21 and Carnival Liberty on September 22, while the ships are docked in Nassau, as part of the Carnival LIVE Concert Series.  The line has also launched a new pay-over-time program that allows guests to pay for their cruise in three monthly installments.  “Carnival EasyPay” allows guests’ cruise payments to be automatically deducted from the credit card on file and applied to their current balance, interest-free over a three-month period.  Guests simply make their initial cruise deposit and then the balance of their cruise is charged in three equal payments which are taken out automatically on the same designated day for three consecutive months. Finally, Carnival has announced the appointment of three senior officers for its newest ship, the 133,500-ton Carnival Horizon, which is currently under construction at the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy and set to debut in spring, 2018:  Captain Luigi De Angelis (22 years with the line), Chief Engineer Rosario Capilli (27 years with Carnival), and Hotel Director Pierre B. Camilleri (now in his 13th year with Carnival).


CroisiEurope is introducing “Family Club” cruises.  In addition to the company’s standard inclusion of all meals, unlimited beverages and excursions on all programs, the new Family Club product allows children under 16 to cruise for free (or at a 30% discount on “Croatia and Montenegro”), and includes a second cabin so that families can stay together on board.  Children will also participate in supervised water games and activities, plus perform the cruise’s closing show for all to enjoy.  This offering is available on four different 2017 itineraries:  “Croatia and Montenegro;” “The Douro Valley (Portugal) and Salamanca (Spain);” “Andalucia:  Traditions, Gastronomy and Flamenco;” and “Venice and its Lagoon.”


Emerald Waterways is inviting guests to “master cell phone photography” with professional photographer Jack Hollingsworth aboard the line’s October 14, 2017, departure of its “Sensations of Southern France” itinerary from Lyon to Arles.  In other news, the company, which introduced its “EmeraldACTIVE program” for younger travelers in 2016, will now be adding 17 new EmeraldACTIVE excursions and inclusions on nine of its most popular European itineraries during the 2018 sailing season.  The line is also adding three new itineraries on the Rhine River in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium to their 2018 lineup.


Holland America Line has opened bookings for the “Premiere Voyage” and 2018-19 inaugural Caribbean cruise season of its Nieuw Statendam. The line’s second Pinnacle Class ship is currently is under construction at Fincantieri’s Marghera shipyard in Italy, and is due for delivery in Venice on December 1, 2018.  After leaving the yard, the vessel will depart from Rome (Civitavecchia) on December 5 for its “Premiere Voyage” with guests, a 14-day trans-Atlantic crossing to Fort Lauderdale, then spend the winter season cruising roundtrip from South Florida on seven-day Caribbean itineraries, with select three, four and 10-day options.  In other news, for the 2017-18 Mexico cruise season, HAL’s Oosterdam will join Westerdam onround-trip itineraries from San Diego, California.  From this September through next February, each ship will sail 11 seven-day cruises calling at Mazatlán, Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  Also, HAL has received approval to begin sailing to Cuba from Fort Lauderdale, starting with the December 22, 12-day holiday cruise and continuing with departures through next April aboard Veendam, thus becoming Carnival Corporation’s third line to be approved to sail to Cuba.  Nine seven-day itineraries will feature the capital city of Havana, and three of these will add another Cuba call at Cienfuegos, including the holiday cruise.  Depending on the departure involved, cruises will include the Cuba ports, as well as a combination of other Caribbean ports, including Amber Cove, Dominican Republic; Belize City, Belize; Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico; George Town, Grand Cayman; Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos; Key West, Florida; and Montego Bay, Jamaica.


Next, on May 28, HAL celebrated “National Burger Day” by serving gourmet and veggie burgers at Dive-In at the Terrace Grill, featuring them on the menus in the Pinnacle Grill and The Dining Room, plus in a featured demonstration in America’s Test Kitchen.  With 20 hamburger options onboard, including vegetarian portobello and black bean “burgers,” the line reportedly serves more than 4,000 burgers on a seven-day cruise.  My personal favorite is the “Cannonball”…messy to eat, but delicious!  Furthermore, HAL and O, The Oprah Magazine’s “Share the Adventure Cruise” is adding Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout, comedian Rita Rudner and O, The Oprah Magazine books editor Leigh Haber to the list of celebrities who will be on board the July 15 sailing to Alaska.  And finally, the line is adding more ways for its sales team to connect with travel professionals through the Facebook and Twitter platforms under the handle “HALpartnerSHIPS.”  Featuring Eva Jenner, HAL’s Vice President of Sales, as well as other members of the trade team, the social media channels provide travel professionals with tips, inside information, guidance for navigating the travel partner portal, plus instant access to company sales executives and peers.  In addition to Jenner, HALpartnerSHIPS Facebook and Twitter pages feature President Orlando Ashford; Senior Director, Trade Communications and Engagement Denella Ri’chard; Senior Director, National Accounts North America Charles Dunwoody; and the HAL team of business development managers.  


Katarina Line introduced Avangard, reportedly one of the most luxurious vessels of its fleet, with her maiden voyage on May 20.  Avangard, the second among four new builds to begin their journeys under the line’s flag this year, was constructed in Croatia, and is 50 meters long, 8.7 meters wide, with accommodation for 36 passengers in 18 double cabins.  In 2017, Katarina Line is also celebrating its 25th anniversary.


MSC Cruises has revealed the names and concepts for the two exclusive “Cirque du Soleil at Sea” shows that will be performed on board the line’s new next-generation flagship, MSC Meraviglia.  The artistic entertainment specialist will create a total of eight original shows exclusively available on MSC’s Meraviglia-generation ships coming into service between June 4, 2017, and fall, 2020.  Cirque du Soleil has so far created two very different shows, Viaggio and Sonor, each with a different concept, ambiance, storyline, costumes and make-up.  With two performances each night, six nights a week, guests will have the opportunity to see both productions on each sailing.  In other news, the line officially took delivery of MSC Meraviglia at the STX France shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, France, on May 31. The ship’s flag ceremony was attended by Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic, and other high-level dignitaries from the French government.  Then, during a gala ceremony on June 3, the vessel was christened in Le Havre by international screen legend and godmother of all of MSC’s ships, Sophia Loren.  At 171,598 tons and a maximum guest capacity of 5,714 (4,488 at double occupancy), MSC Meraviglia is both the biggest ship to ever be built by a European ship owner and the biggest to debut in 2017.  Furthermore, she is also the first of six new ships due to come into service between 2017 and 2020 under MSC’s current investment plan.  Four of these six vessels will be built by STX France, further reinforcing a long-standing partnership that has already produced all 13 vessels in the line’s current fleet, and allowed the Company to grow by 800% from 2003 to 2013.  If that wasn’t enough, the two companies have also signed a new memorandum of understanding firming up the order of two 200,000-ton, LNG (liquid natural gas)-powered mega cruise ships, with options for two additional vessels.  The four ships will become MSC’s “World Class.”  Among other innovations, they will be equipped with a new generation of LNG-powered engines, as well as a new generation waste water treatment system.  All World Class ships will feature 2,760 staterooms and a maximum occupancy of 6,850 guests, the highest passenger capacity in the global cruise fleet. The first two vessels to be delivered in 2022 and 2024 (the options are for 2025 and 2026) will have a length of 1,083 feet and a beam of 154 feet.  Talk about really BIG news!


National Habitat Adventures has added the 16-passenger Ocean Spray to its fleet of privately chartered ships in the Galapagos Islands.  As the newest expedition yacht in the company’s “Classic Galapagos” portfolio, this 113-foot motorized catamaran is a high-performance vessel designed for stability and maneuverability in landing sites that are inaccessible to larger ships.


Norwegian Cruise Line and Meyer Werft celebrated the keel laying of Norwegian Bliss at the yard’s facility in Papenburg, Germany, on May 24.  During the ceremony, one of the keel blocks of the 167,800-ton vessel was lifted into the covered building hall, signifying a major milestone in the ship’s construction.  Norwegian Bliss is due for delivery in April, 2018, and will be custom built with features and amenities for “the ultimate Alaska cruise experience.”  Andy Stuart, the line’s president and chief executive officer, was present in the hall and laid the traditional “lucky coin” before the block was lowered into place.


Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. and the Port of Seattle opened the new Bell Street Cruise Terminal at the port’s Pier 66 building in a celebration on May 23.  The newly renovated terminal features three times the square footage within the same walls of the prior facility, and is custom designed to handle the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Bliss, which will be the largest cruise vessel on the West Coast when she arrives for the 2018 cruise season.  An estimated $30 million dollars in improvements were made to the terminal as part of a joint agreement between the two organizations.


Paul Gauguin Cruises has launched a “We Put the ‘Ah’ in Tahiti”  promotion that offers up to a $500 Shipboard Credit on select staterooms for eligible Tahiti, French Polynesia, and South Pacific sailings when booked through July 31.  As an added bonus, deposits have been reduced to $250 per person.  Furthermore, the line has recently released its 72-page, 2018 “Tahiti, French Polynesia and the South Pacific” brochure.


Poseidon Expeditions’ polar cruising ship, the all-suite, 114-guest Sea Spirit, has repositioned to Nuuk, Greenland, to begin her 2017 Arctic season, following a $2.5 million-plus refurbishment of all 54 suites during a recent dry dock in Vigo, Spain.  This was the final phase of a full-ship refurbishment that began two years ago with restoration of the ship’s public areas. In charge of this last phase of interior refurbishment was Nedgé Louis-Jacques of Tomas Tillberg Design & Associates of Weston, Florida, specialists in marine architecture and design.  Subsequently, anticipating the potential landscape challenges of icy West Greenland in the spring, the company used its experience and contingency planning to successfully transfer more than 200 guests via helicopter on May 31.  Following a short Zodiac cruise from Sea Spirit, anchored in Ikertoq Fjord in West Greenland, the transfer took place on a grassy field near the abandoned village of Sarqardlit, about 35 nautical miles west of the intended disembarkation point in Kangerlussuaq.  The initial morning helicopter transfer, involving 90 passengers, was necessitated by sea ice blocking the final miles of eastern Søndrestrom Fjord and the planned disembarkation of the vessel’s guests in Kangerlussuaq, from where they were to fly home from West Greenland’s only international airport, located at the far eastern end of Søndrestrom Fjord.


Scenic’s two river cruise brands, Scenic and Emerald Waterways, are now offering travelers a new Deposit Protection Plan.  Working in conjunction with the brands’ River Cruise Travel Guarantee introduced previously, guests who need to cancel or change a cruise for any reason can now reallocate their non-refundable deposit for use toward an alternative future sailing.  Deposit protection can be purchased for $125 per person and must be purchased at the time the deposit is due.  Guests must rebook within 24 months of cancellation, the coverage is non-transferable, and it applies to cruise and tour deposits only, not air deposits.  Elsewhere, the keel laying and coin fixing ceremony of Scenic Eclipse, the line’s new “Discovery Yacht,” took place on April 28, marking the official start of the ship’s construction. In a ceremony at Uljanik Shipyard JSC in Pula, Croatia.  In related news, luxury travel agent Anne Crawford of Coastline Travel Advisors, a Virtuoso agency based in Southern California, was named the winner of the company’s Scenic Eclipse Contest, and will receive the grand prize of a 10-day Eastern Mediterranean cruise for two aboard Scenic Exlipse, including round-trip business class air tickets.  Finally, the line is including free airfare for guests booking its 13-day “Treasures of the Mekong” cruises, which feature the cultures and histories of the cities, towns and villages that reside along the banks of the 2,700-mile long, six-country river.  The offer, encompassing 25 U.S. gateways for bookings made by July 31, is valid for the few remaining departures in 2017 and through April, 2018.  The 13-day, all-inclusive program aboard the 68-guest Scenic Spirit, sails between Siem Reap, Cambodia…home of the 12th-century Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument…and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.


Seabourn has announced major enhancements to the travel experience offered aboard Seabourn Odyssey, including the addition of its signature restaurant, The Grill by Thomas Keller, and a new “mindful living” program created by Dr. Andrew Weil.  The programs were launched following a recently completed dry dock period for the vessel, during which The Spa was refreshed, new equipment was added to the Fitness Center, all suites were recarpeted, and Seabourn’s new luxury mattresses were installed.  Newly designed furniture was placed in the Wintergarden, forward Owner’s and Signature Suites; new carpeting, furniture and teak flooring were added throughout the ship; and woodwork was refinished.  In other news, following the launch of the line’s exclusive partnership with acclaimed English musical theatre lyricist, Sir Tim Rice, Seabourn has announced that his production of “An Evening with Tim Rice” is now playing on all of its existing ships, and will also debut on Seabourn Ovation when she is launched in 2018.  Elsewhere, this summer Seabourn is returning to the 49th State for the first time in 15 years, which began with an 11-day “Ultimate Alaskan” voyage departing from Vancouver on June 1 aboard Seabourn Sojourn.


Un- Cruise Adventures has announced its 2018 schedule of small ship cruises, highlighted by a new adventure itinerary on the Columbia and Snake Rivers, plus a fresh lineup of programs and an expanded selection of ships in Alaska.  The 88-guest Legacy will be transformed into an adventure-equipped ship to offer kayaking, paddle boarding, skiff excursions, hikes on remote trails, whitewater rafting down the Deschutes River, as well as other active adventures.  New for 2018, the ship will head to Alaska from April through mid-August, then sail on the Columbia and Snake Rivers from August through November.  Based in Seattle, the line operates eight adventure ships, plus a partner vessel in the Galápagos, which carry 22 to 88 guests in Alaska, coastal Washington, British Columbia, the Columbia & Snake Rivers, Mexico’s Sea of Cortés, Hawaii, the Galápagos, Costa Rica and Panamà.


Viking Cruises is celebrating two decades on the world’s waterways.  Founded in 1997, Viking now boasts the world’s largest fleet of river cruise vessels, including the two new “Viking Longships” which were launched in March.  Having debuted its small ship ocean cruises in 2015, Viking now also has three 930-guest sister ships and will add a fourth by the end of the year.  To commemorate its 20th anniversary, Viking has released a new video, “Celebrating 20 Years of Exploration,” in which Founder and Chairman Torstein Hagen reflects on the company’s history, from its start with four river vessels in Russia and the launch of the “Viking Longships,” to the introduction of Viking Ocean Cruises.


Windstar Cruises has announced eight new itineraries in Northern Europe and 12 new Mediterranean programs, bringing the line’s total itineraries in Europe for 2018 to 40.  26 new European ports are also being added.  The sailings, running April through October, will include numerous “small ship-only” experiences, like cruising the narrow Trollfjord in the Lofoten Islands, docking in downtown London near the Tower of London, and visiting exclusive San Remo on the “Riviera of Flowers,” known as Italy’s Monte Carlo.