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June 18, 2015 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome!  Top items for this update include a brand new cruise line from Carnival Corporation & plc, good news for single travelers from the Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, and new group emphasis on the part of Windstar Cruises…see details below.  As always, your feedback on Group Cruise News… or on any ship or cruise itinerary that you or your group has recently experienced…will always be appreciated.  E-mail me at

Adventure Smith Explorations is venturing into new waters. The small-ship cruising specialist has engaged the 178-foot three-masted schooner Panorama, which was built in 1993 and renovated in 2009, to carry American travelers in Cuban waters and meet the island nation’s people for the first time in over 50 years.  Beginning this December and scheduled into April, 2016, a series of eight-day “Cuba People to People Cruises” aboard the 49-passenger sailing vessel will begin and end in Miami with round-trip flights to Havana.  Stops in five ports along Cuba’s western and southern shores are featured in the itinerary.

American Queen Steamboat Company is offering a flat rate of $1999 for category F and G accommodations on selected sailings of American Queen through September 19.

Azamara Club Cruises’ two 686-passenger vessels will be dry-docked early in 2016 for what is being termed “complete makeovers”…Azamara Journey in January and Azamara Quest in April.  Reportedly, all staterooms and suites, dining rooms, public spaces and spas will be refurbished, and new, open-air Pan-Asian restaurants will be added to the ships’ existing culinary choices.  Having cruised aboard Azamara Journey myself, these enhancements are sure to make an already superior product even better.

Carnival Corporation & plc has launched a new brand called fathom in a travel category it is calling “social impact travel,” apparently an ocean-going, international version of what the tour industry terms “voluntourism.”  Designed to offer consumers “authentic, meaningful impact travel experiences to work alongside locals as they tackle community needs,” fathom is being designed in conjunction with long-term partner countries, beginning with the Dominican Republic, which is not only known for spectacular beauty, but also for an average annual household income of only about $6,000.  More than two million Dominicans do not even have access to piped water.  fathom will operate as a standalone brand, the tenth line in the Carnival Corporation global family.  Beginning in April, 2016, fathom will offer seven-day voyages from Miami aboard Adonia, a 710-passenger vessel redeployed from the company’s P&O Cruises in the U.K. for the start-up of the new operation.  Depending on their interests and skills, travelers will be given opportunities to choose from a range of social impact activities and experiences both onboard and onshore.

Carnival Cruise Line has announced deployment changes in two key homeports, Galveston, Texas, and Port Canaveral, Florida, in time for next summer’s cruise season.  Carnival Breeze will reposition to Galveston on May 8, 2016, and Carnival Magic to Port Canaveral on April 23, 2016, several months earlier than previously announced.  Carnival Breeze will assume Carnival Magic’s year-round schedule of seven-day day Galveston cruises, while Carnival Magic will take over Carnival Valor’s current seven-day Port Canaveral cruise program.  In turn, Carnival Splendor will assume Carnival Breeze’s six and eight-day Caribbean schedule from Miami on May 1, 2016.  Carnival Valor will offer a new series of five and eight-day departures from Port Canaveral beginning on June 4, 2016 instead of in October, 2016, as previously announced.  Got that?  I think this is called a “round robin.”

Celebrity Cruises has unveiled a “Grass is Greener” campaign to “highlight the brand’s most iconic, compelling attributes.”  The “Lawn Club,” a half-acre of real grass aboard its ships, is the backdrop for the program.  The line has also re-launched a shore excursion website especially created for travel partners that is intended to allow them to better plan their travelers’ vacations with added tools and destination information.

Emerald Waterways has expanded its 2016 offerings to include a 16-day itinerary exploring Vietnam and Cambodia along the Mekong River.  A 16-page brochure, available online as well as by mail, offers details on the itinerary, shore excursions, the ship and optional extensions.

Holland America Line’s Noordam assisted 41 persons on June 10 aboard the disabled, 79-foot sightseeing boat Baranof Wind, which was experiencing mechanical troubles near Johns Hopkins Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.  Noordam lowered a tender, which collected 40 tourists and one park ranger.  In other news, six of the line’s ships will sail 11 full transits of the Panama Canal and one ship will offer 14 itineraries that feature both the southern Caribbean and partial transits, from this fall through spring, 2016.  During the 2015-16 season, HAL’s full and partial transits are expected to carry more than 44,500 guests through the lakes and locks of the famed engineering marvel.  Finally, on a recent routine United States Public Health inspection in Juneau, Alaska, HAL’s Statendam achieved a perfect score of 100, marking the ship’s third consecutive perfect rating.

Hurtigruten has unveiled a new travel agent website, including the “Amundsen Explorer Club” agent certification program and a variety of support materials.  The line is also offering a deal on its six-day, southbound “Norwegian Coastal Voyages” through sailings of August 17 this summer, including a free pre-cruise hotel night, savings of up to 35% off brochure rates, and cabin upgrades.

Norwegian Cruise Line has introduced new “Specialty Dining Packages” that allow guests to experience the line’s signature onboard specialty restaurants, as well as the flexibility to choose the number of nights they’d like to purchase, for one set price. Norwegian guests sailing fleetwide beginning August 7 can buy packages ranging from three days to the length of their entire cruise, with pricing starting at $59 per person for a three-day package, when purchased online prior to sailing.

Scenic Cruises has announced that travel industry veteran Richard Hickey will also now serve as the line’s director of national accounts, in addition to his current position as business sales director for the Southeast U.S. Region.  Hickey, based in Miami, will now work with large accounts and consortiums that promote Scenic’s river cruises on a national scale, as well as seek out new sales channels.  He can be reached at .  Elsewhere, Canadian travel specialist, author and television personality Claire Newell  has been named the godmother of Scenic’s newest vessel, Scenic Opal.  Newell, the owner and president of Travel Best Bets, will be Canada’s first Scenic godparent.

Seabourn has announced a new schedule of accomplished lecturers for its “Seabourn Conversations,” the line’s onboard enrichment and special guest entertainment program.  Prominent speakers scheduled to sail during late 2015 and early 2016 include Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak, Forbes Media Chairman and Editor-in-Chief Steve Forbes, and famed American journalist Dan Rather.

SeaDream Yacht Club is continuing to enhance its “Wine Voyages” with the announcement of Elisabeth Dønheim as wine director effective September 1. In this role, the accomplished sommelier and chef will lead concept development of the wine program in collaboration with the line’s departments, onboard crew and vintner partners worldwide.  Dønheim most recently served as hotel manager of Norway’s Hotel Angvik, known for delivering one of that country’s most innovative culinary experiences.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection has waived the single supplement on many of its top-selling 2015 and 2016 river cruises in Europe, enabling solo travelers to cruise the continent’s waterways while enjoying significant savings.  As a single traveler myself, and even though I understand fully the economics of the cruise industry, it still galls me occasionally to have to pay for a second person who isn’t there.  Although Uniworld’s offering are not inexpensive, they are surely among the best, so this is a significant move.  A partial list of cruises with waived single supplements include:  Burgundy & Provence (Avignon/Lyon, eight days), with departures through April 17, 2016; Bordeaux, Vineyards & Châteaux (Bordeaux round-trip, eight days), with departures through  May 1, 2016; Enchanting Danube (Budapest/Passau, eight days), with departures through May 15, 2016; European Jewels  (Budapest/Amsterdam, 15 days), with departures through November 15, 2015; Castles Along the Rhine (Basel/Amsterdam, eight days), with departures through May 11, 2016; and Venice & the Gems of Northern Italy (Venice round-trip, eight days), with departures through May 22, 2016. 

Windstar Cruises is focusing more than ever on catering to meeting groups with the launch of Star Breeze and Star Legend, both featuring renovated meeting space large enough to accommodate all 212 guests on board, and sporting the latest A/V equipment to host formal meetings.  The line is also attempting to appeal to meetings and corporate business travel with an all-inclusive, no hidden fees approach, including a special cocktail party for each group.  Since Windstar is a small-ship company which accommodates fewer than 300 passengers aboard its vessels, charters can feature a whole week docked shore-side, serving as a floating hotel in the heart of a city, or custom, special-interest itineraries like golf or music-themed cruises.  In other news, Windstar is visiting 13 new ports within eight new Caribbean itineraries during the 2015-2016 season, which will also mark the first time Windstar has sailed from San Juan, Puerto Rico, its only current U.S. port of call.