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June 6, 2016 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome!  This month I’d like to present an idea for what could be an exciting new destination area for consideration by those cruise line executives who are also GCN readers.  In April I was fortunate to spend several days exploring the beautiful island of Guam, which, as a U.S. Territory, is our country’s farthest outpost in the Pacific.  In addition to the military bases for which Guam is well-known, however, the island also has much to offer the vacation traveler…exceptional scenery and beaches, fine hotels and restaurants, frequent festivals and special events, plus friendly, welcoming people who are proud to be U.S. citizens.  English is spoken everywhere, greenbacks are the local currency, and numerous familiar stateside business concerns have outlets here.  Even the airport is well designed and very attractive.  Furthermore, there are more than enough other exotic and highly interesting islands nearby to assemble an outstanding cruise itinerary…Rota, Saipan, Tinian, Yap and Palau.  However, what Guam does not have currently is a modern, well-located cruise port, as the existing, seldom-utilized facility is an inconvenient commercial shipping port in a remote area.  Since Guam is in the same time zone as Sydney and Melbourne, it would also help if, say, Delta or Quantas were to offer through air service via Guam between the U.S. mainland and Australia, which would surely draw travelers from both countries to the island as an attractive gateway for cruising, as well as a convenient stopover point for a continuing journey.  Currently, those flying between Guam and the “Land Down Under” must connect in Manila, Tokyo or Honolulu, all substantially out of the way.  Consequently, should these thoughts interest an enterprising cruise line, considerable work would likely be required to encourage the development of a suitable pier and expanded air service, but the potential rewards could easily justify the effort.


Secondly, in the previous GCN Update, I reported that I was then aboard Adonia for only the second ever sailing of Carnival Corporation’s new Fathom line, which is currently alternating “voluntourism” trips to the Dominican Republic with “people to people” cruises to Cuba, both surely laudable programs in concept.  Although I promised to report on my findings this time around, it soon became evident that this brand-new operation, other than the physical condition of the vessel itself, was not yet ready for “prime time” in virtually every significant service and programming category.  Since what I witnessed was nowhere near as polished as any of Carnival Corporation’s other, well-established operations, coupled with the company’s proven record of success in whatever market segment it has entered, it would be unfair of me to criticize an innovative and worthwhile project that was obviously still a “work in process.”   Hopefully, I will soon be able to provide a much better assessment of Fathom as I receive reports of the line’s progress during the coming weeks and months.


Finally, I’m sorry for the slight delay in posting this update.  Unfortunately, Microsoft hijacked my laptop to install Windows 10 at night, which seriously affected my cursor and prohibited me from doing a host of standard functions…copying or moving material, selecting font and type size, using any “drop down” menu, etc.  I had to learn the procedure for dumping Windows 10 and reverting to Windows 8, but now everything is back to normal.


Adventure Smith Explorations’ programs in the Galapagos on the 20-guest sister yachts Eric and Letty as well as the new luxury, 20-passenger Origin, have now been supplied with SUP (stand-up paddle boarding) equipment.  Guests can pursue paddle boarding along with kayaking in Gardner Bay on Floreana Island, Cerro Brujo on San Cristobal Island, Tagus Cove on Isabela Island, and Darwin Bay on Genovesa Island.

American Cruise Lines has revealed that its newest coastal cruise vessel, now being built at Chesapeake Shipbuilding of Salisbury, Maryland, will be named American Constellation. Construction is reportedly nine weeks ahead of schedule, and the ship is scheduled to be delivered next April.  The ocean-capable vessel will be fully stabilized and have the capacity to accommodate approximately 170 guests.  In other news, the line has announced that its newest and largest ship currently, America, embarked on its inaugural season on the Mississippi River from New Orleans on May 7.  America, with a capacity of 185 guests, brings the ACL fleet up to eight small ships…four paddlewheelers and four coastal cruisers.

American Queen Steamboat Company is offering a flat rate of $2,499 per person on double occupancy cruise fares for American Queen cabin categories AA or A, a flat rate of $2,249 per person (double occupancy) for cabin categories B, C, D, or E, and a flat rate of $1,599 per person (double occupancy) on categories F or G, valid on the following 2016 voyages: 7/03, 7/17, 7/24, 8/07 and 8/21, when booked by June 30, subject to availability.  Also, AQSC has released a 76-page, 2017 brochure featuring cruises of both its American Queen and American Empress riverboats, and announced early-booking savings of from $100 to $500 per person (double occupancy) on a host of 2017 departures on new, paid-in-full bookings made by September 30.  Finally, the line is promoting savings of $500 per person on American Queen 2016 holiday-season voyages departing on November 20 and 27, plus December 4, 11, 18 and 25.  This offer expires on September 1, and is only valid on new, paid-in-full bookings.

Avalon Waterways has announced that its two new 36-guest “Suite Ships” on the Irrawaddy and Mekong Rivers will be the primary focus of a 14-day itinerary, “Golden Myanmar & the Alluring Irriwaddy,” featuring a 10-night cruise from Bhamo to Bagan with hotel stays in Yangon.

Carnival Cruise Line, in preparation for its new year-round program of three and four-day voyages from Port Canaveral beginning later this year, has given Carnival Valor has an extensive renovation that added a variety of dining and bar concepts, including Guy’s Burger Joint, RedFrog Pub, SkyBox Sports Bar, RedFrog Rum Bar, BlueIguana Tequila Bar and Alchemy Bar. The new spaces were added during a dry dock between April 23 and May 8.  Also, the line is touting the new Carnival Vista’s two-level Cloud 9 Spa as “featuring an array of chill-worthy amenities,” including an infrared sauna and Hammam Chamber, as well as special “experience showers” that reportedly provide a soothing fragrance element, plus a large heated whirlpool, four steam chambers and a high-tech indoor cycling studio.

Celebrity Cruises has announced that the capability of presenting movies under the stars, new specially curated menus, redecorated suites and a modernized Italian steakhouse have all been added to Celebrity Millennium during a drydock refreshing in May, duplicating enhancements that Celebrity Summit and Celebrity Infinity have received in recent months.

Costa Cruises is now welcoming children vacationing onboard Costa Diadema with internal and external areas completely dedicated to cartoon character Peppa Pig.  Created in collaboration with the Leolandia amusement park, which since 2015 has been hosting permanent themed attraction “Il Mondo di Peppa Pig” (“The World of Peppa Pig”), and Entertainment One, the new Peppa Pig themed layout will be completed across nine other ships in the Costa fleet this summer.

Crystal Cruises has announced that it has entered into a partnership with HCP/Aboard Publishing, a subsidiary of the Miami Herald Media Company, to create coffee table-style books for Crystal Cruises, Crystal River Cruises, Crystal Yacht Cruises, Crystal Exclusive Class of ocean ships and Crystal Residences, Crystal Luxury Air and Crystal AirCruises.  Also, the line has named travel industry veteran Walter Littlejohn Vice President and Managing Director of Crystal River Cruises.  The line’s first luxury river ship, Crystal Mozart, will begin sailing on the Danube River from Vienna on July 13, and over the next two years, Crystal River Cruises will add six additional luxury new builds, beginning with river yachts Crystal Debussy, Crystal Mahler, Crystal Bach and Crystal Ravel during the summer of 2017.

Cunard has announced the “Big Balcony Event,” which features upgrades for balcony staterooms, Princess Grill and Queens Grill suites on all three Cunard ‘Queens.’  Until July 26, guests can book a balcony stateroom for the same fare as an oceanview stateroom, and for an additional $50 can be upgraded to the next balcony category on select trans-Atlantic crossings, New England & Canada, Caribbean, Europe and Exotic Voyages.  Also featured is a “Free Grill Suite Upgrade” offer on select trans-Atlantic Crossings, where a Princess Grill Suite can be reserved for the price of a Club Balcony, or a Queens Grill Suite can be reserved for the price of a Princess Grill Suite. Guests booking Princess and Queens Grill Suites also receive free gratuities.

Disney Cruise Line will return to New York with sailings to the Bahamas and the Canadian coast in the fall of 2017, including a new seven-night Canada itinerary.  San Diego will serve as a home port with cruises to Mexico, and departures will again be offered from Galveston to the Caribbean and Bahamas.  Bookings are now open.  Also, new entertainment and experiences are in store for Disney Wonder guests after the vessel is transformed this fall. Headlining the enhancements are imaginative spaces for children, including the “Marvel Super Hero Academy;” a jazzy restaurant named Tiana’s Place; and an English pub.

Emerald Waterways’ 2017 river cruise brochure is now available, which includes details on eight-day “Sensations of Southern France” sailings on the new Emerald Liberté, and eight-day “Secrets of the Douro” voyages aboard the new Emerald Radiance.  Furthermore, the line’s fifth ship to sail the Rhine, Main and Danube will be the newly announced Emerald Destiny, set to launch next April.

Fathom has announced additional sailing dates, extending Adonia’s stay in the Caribbean region through December, 2017.  Furthermore, guests who book one-week “social impact” cruises to the Dominican Republic through November 16, 2016, can book fares starting at $499 per person (double occupancy) for an inside cabin.  Outside cabins are $599 per person, balcony cabins are $699, and suites are $2,499, all double occupancy, while third and fourth passengers get 50% off double occupancy fares.

Holland America Line, on May 20, held a dedication ceremony for its new Koningsdam in Rotterdam.  Her Majesty Queen Máxima of the Netherlands officially blessed the bell and named the ship in front of invited dignitaries, cruise guests, travel partners and media.  Also, guests on HAL’s Alaska Land+Sea Journeys can now experience new dining, entertainment and amenities at the Denali Square complex located at the line’s McKinley Chalet Resort near the entrance to Denali National Park.  To celebrate the Denali Square grand opening, HAL presented the Denali Borough School District with a $20,000 check to be spent on modernizing interactive classroom technology.

MSC Cruises has announced that three and four-night short cruises of MSC Divina will depart Miami next month on July 2 and 5, with prices starting at $279 per person.  Also, seven-night, all-inclusive packages are available on the vessel for select 2016-2017 winter sailings and 2017 summer sailings to the Eastern and Western Caribbean.  Rates beginning at $897 per person for a balcony stateroom include unlimited drinks, wi-fi, and a shore excursion, and bookings must be made by July 9.  In other news, the Swiss-based, privately-owned cruise line has released initial details of an exclusive island destination, the Sir Bani Yas Island beach oasis, which will enhance the cruise line’s winter 2016-2017 cruise itineraries in the Arab Emirates.  The 1.5 mile-long stretch of land on this natural island, just off the southwest coast of Abu Dhabi, has been transformed into a beach oasis destination, exclusively for MSC Cruises guests.  Located on a smaller island connected to the main island by a wooden boardwalk, MSC Cruises’ guests will reportedly experience golden beaches complete with hundreds of palm trees, shaded cabanas and more than 2,000 sunbeds.  Other key features will include a private space for MSC Yacht Club guests offering finger food and refreshments; an MSC Aurea Spa area; sports facilities, including beach volleyball and tennis; a family and kids-dedicated area; a Bedouin tent offering arts and crafts created by local communities; and a lounge space with a bar and live music.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s ongoing “Free at Sea” program, now valid through June 30, allows guests to choose from up to five free offers.  Those who book a new five-day or longer sailing in an oceanview, balcony or mini-suite category stateroom can select two choices from four onboard amenity offers, including free unlimited beverages, a free specialty dining package, free shore excursion credits, and a free 250 minute wi-fi package.  Also, a Friends & Family Sail Free” offer allows 3rd and 4th guests to sail for free on select dates.  Travelers booking inside staterooms or studio staterooms for solo travelers can choose one free offer. Guests who book a sailing in a suite or “The Haven” will receive all five free amenities.  In other news, Norwegian has revealed details of the enhancements that will await guests at the company’s 250-acre private island oasis, Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas.  Included are new larger- scale restaurants and amenities; a new half mile oceanside boardwalk that will span the length of the shore with more than 100,000 square feet of pathway; a half-acre entertainment and activity complex, featuring a stage for live music, games and entertainers; basketball and volleyball courts, complete with bleachers; ping-pong tables; a shaded picnic area; a new air-conditioned reception area where guests can plan their day, reserve activities, rent board games and have access to changing rooms; plus guests seeking adventure will soon be able to experience a new zip line course featuring more than 1,000 feet of zip line.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. has announced that it will quadruple the current bandwidth across its Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises fleets in the coming months to meet the rising internet expectations of guests, as part of a long-term strategic agreement to significantly enhance the internet experience onboard all of its 23 ships.  

Guests of Princess Cruises will soon be able to choose a new premium stateroom category featuring VIP amenities and exclusive dining with the line’s new “Club Class Mini-Suite,” beginning this December.  This elevated category will reportedly feature perks including access to new “Club Class Dining,” a reserved dining area with expedited seating and expanded menu options, as well as priority embarkation and disembarkation.  In other news, the line’s 2017 cruise vacations to Europe will include the inaugural sailings of its newest ship, Majestic Princess.  The season will feature six ships sailing to 119 destinations from all corners of the Mediterranean to the northernmost tip of Europe…64 itineraries on 153 cruise departures, visiting 27 countries.  Debuting next April, Majestic Princess’s maiden European sailings will include five to 28-day Mediterranean voyages from Barcelona, Athens and Rome.  Princess is also currently offering a “Red, White & Blue Sale” through July 6, featuring savings on cruise vacations departing from North America to the Caribbean, California Coast, Mexico, Canada & New England, Panama Canal and Hawaii.  Prices begin at $89 per guest, per day, first and second guests receive free stateroom gratuities, and bookings can be made with a reduced deposit of $100 per person.  Finally, the line has announced its Americas cruise programs for fall, 2017, through spring, 2018, including sailings to the Caribbean, Panama Canal, Mexico, Hawaii, and the California Coast, and ranging from three to 28 days.  In total, 11 ships will offer 230 departures on more than 30 itineraries visiting 70 destinations.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises luxurious new Seven Seas Explorer will enter service in royal fashion with Her Serene Highness Princess Charlene of Monaco scheduled to serve as the ship’s godmother at a gala christening event in Monte Carlo on July 13.  Also appearing for a 40-minute performance during the event will be renowned Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.

Scenic’s new 2017, 172-page European River Cruise Brochure is available in both hard copy and downloadable versions at  2017 highlights include the rebuild of three of its “Space-Ships” in France to add “Scenic Culinaire,” an onboard cooking school offering immersive courses in the culinary traditions of the Rhône and Bordeaux regions; a reduced guest count of 155; and the addition of two new Royal Owner’s Suites at 506 square feet each.  New theme cruises include cycling journeys, French culinary experiences, and new combination voyages.  For those booking a 2017 sailing by this September 30, the line is offering free and reduced airfare on all departures, ranging from free to $995 per person.  Selected departures in March, April, and October through December, 2017, are available with no single supplement on any suite, or solo travelers can book a standard suite on selected sailings between May and September and receive 50% off the single supplement.  In other news, one of the early adventures scheduled for the company’s first “Discovery Yacht,” Scenic Eclipse, will be exploring the ancient treasures of the Eastern Mediterranean, with 10-day sailings in September, 2018 and June, 2019.  Full itineraries are expected by February, 2017, although some details are already in place, including helicoptering over Mount Etna and using an on-board, seven-seat submarine to visit the sunken ships of yesteryear in the blue waters of the Med.  The luxury mega yacht will boast 114 suites, ranging from 344 square foot Verandah Suites to the 2,500 square foot, two-bedroom Owner’s Penthouse Suite.

Seabourn is expanding its partnership with Swarovsky Optik to offer high-quality optical instruments aboard every vessel in its fleet. The partnership will provide Swarovski Optiks, including binoculars and spotting scopes, to guests and expedition staff to use on Seabourn QuestSeabourn Sojourn and Seabourn Odyssey, as well as on Seabourn Encore when it launches in December.  The line has also announced the opening of its new signature restaurant, The Grill by Thomas Keller, aboard Seabourn Quest.

SeaDream Yacht Club has announced the launch of its newly redesigned website, with updated imagery and content as well as improved navigation and optimization for mobile devices.  Also, the line is offering seven new Wine Voyages for its 2017 season, featuring yachting ports of the Mediterranean on seven to eleven-day sailings.  Incidentally, 2016 marks the company’s 15th aniversary.  Founded by Norwegian entrepreneur Atle Brynestad and still independently owned, SeaDream operates 112-guest sister ships, SeaDream I and SeaDream II.

Silversea Cruises has set three new “Culinary Expedition Voyages” for 2016 and 2017 aboard the all-suite, 132-guest Silver Explorer.  14-day “Epicurean Adventures Along the Humboldt Current,” featuring the coasts of Peru and Chile, will set sail October 31, 2016, and October 25, 2017, from Guayaquil, while the 11-day “Atlantic Europe’s Epicurean Journey” will depart Lisbon next May 20.  Also, the line has unveiled its new “2017 Voyages and Expeditions” digital brochure, which showcases a program of over 260 itineraries exploring seven continents and more than 800 destinations aboard its fleet of nine ocean and expedition ships.  Finally, for new bookings made through July 31 on select voyages sailing to the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Asia Pacific, South America, Antarctica, Galápagos, Africa, and the Indian Ocean, Silversea is bringing back its “Silver Select” program with enhanced savings options.  Guests selecting an ocean voyage may choose from a $1,500 per suite onboard spending credit that can be used for shore excursions, spa treatments, specialty restaurants, and more; or a two-category suite upgrade; or 50% off a second suite.  Alternately, on expedition sailings, travellers may select either of the latter two choices.

Tauck has announced that its 2017 small-ship cruising plans will include 17 all-inclusive voyages on Norway’s fjord-studded coast.  The 10-day itinerary features a week-long cruise aboard Ponant’s 466-foot Le Soléal, with included overnight hotel stays and guided sightseeing at either end in Bergen and Oslo.

Un-Cruise Adventures has released its full deployment schedule for 2017, highlighted by a new “Pure Panamá” cruise as well as updated Galápagos Islands and Columbia River wine itineraries.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is offering travelers the opportunity to explore Europe by both river and bicycle through a partnership with active travel company Butterfield & Robinson, for voyages on the Danube River.  Also, for 2017 European departures, the line is promoting early-booking savings of up to $1,500 per person with full payment at time of booking through October 31, or savings of up to $750 per person with deposit at time of booking through next January 16.

Viking Ocean Cruises has announced that its fourth ship, Viking Sun, will spend her maiden season sailing the company’s first-ever world cruise, spanning 141 days and visiting five continents, 35 countries and 66 ports, with 12 port overnights.  Dearture is scheduled for December 15, 2017, from Miami.  Also, in gala ceremonies at Greenwich, England on May 5, the company’s Senior Vice President, Karine Hagen, christened its new Viking Sea.

Viking River Cruises’ latest offering provides travelers who reserve a 2016 or 2017 voyage by June 30 with 2 for 1 cruise fares, plus up to free air on 2016-2017 European river itineraries; up to 2 for 1 air on all Russia departures; or airfare from only $495 per person on China programs. 

Windstar Cruises has announced “Star Promise,” a new travel agent partner initiative aimed at making it easier for travel agents to successfully sell and manage reservations for the line’s six luxury vessels.  Windstar reportedly surveyed 20,000 travel agent partners, listening and creating “Star Promise” in response to their constructive feedback.  Windstar also recently introduced its “2017 Voyage Collection,” including two new cruises added to dozens of existing itineraries visiting more than 150 ports of call in some 50 countries, and featuring 13 new ports for 2017.