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March 15, 2016 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome!  On March 9, Oceania Cruises’ Marina pulled into the Sierra Maestra cruise terminal in Havana, carrying 1,250 guests, marking the first time that a major North American cruise brand traveled to Cuba, which is sure to become one of the most requested and desirable Caribbean cruise destinations as relations between the U.S. and the formerly “off limits” island nation (hopefully) continue to normalize during the coming years.  Although there have been past visits here by Adonia of the short-lived, one-ship Fathom line as well as Celestyal Cristal of Cyprus-based Celestyal Cruises, departures of which can be booked either from Montego Bay, Jamaica, or directly from Havana, relatively frequent cruises will soon commence from Florida that feature at least two days and an overnight in the Cuban capital, on ships of such mainstream lines as Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean.  Oceania itself has two more sailings to Cuba this month and six scheduled for autumn.  And while I have yet to make the journey myself, it’s certainly on my “bucket list,” so I look forward to having the opportunity sometime in the not-too-distant future, as I assume is also the case for many readers.


This month we also welcome CroisiEurope to regular coverage in Group Cruise News.  Although this very substantial company, based in France, is not heavily marketed to the American public, and consequently is not very well known on this side of the Atlantic, it is a definitely a leader in serving the specialized needs of group clients and providing charters for countless travel agents and tour operators on rivers and waterways throughout Europe.  In fact, if you’ve been on any river cruise on the continent before, you’ve surely seen one or more of their vessels along the way, although you likely did not realize the connection.  They are also members and active participants in the NTA (National Tour Association), and most recently attended that organization’s 2017 Travel Exchange in St. Louis.  To give readers an idea of the scope of their operation, here’s a summary of their fleet and the destinations they service:  15 ships on the Rhine, Main, Moselle and Danube; three covering Paris and the Seine; three on the Rhône and Saône; two on the Garonne and Dordogne; five on the Douro; one each on the Elbe (Germany), the Loire (France), the Guadalquivir and Guadiana (Spain), and the Po (Italy); three in Russia on the Volga; seven small barges on the canals of France; two that operate coastal cruises; five on the Mekong in Southeast Asia; and more on the way, including one in Africa!  Look for added information in future Group Cruise News updates and in my “Changing Horizons” column in The Group Travel Leader.  




Adventure Smith Explorations has announced that a new, 16-guest luxury motor yacht, Natural Paradise, recently joined the extensive fleet of more than 25 diverse vessels available to the small ship cruise company for island-hopping explorations of the Galapagos archipelago.


Carnival Cruise Line has now received approval to sail to Cuba.  Daytime and overnight visits to the Cuban capital of Havana will be added to 12 four and five-day Carnival Paradise voyages from Tampa beginning this June.  Four-day cruises will depart June 29, July 13, August 24, September 7 and 21, plus October 5 and 19, 2017, as well as May 3, 2018.  Five-day voyages will depart August 14 and 28, September 25 and October 9, 2017, and will also include a stop in either Cozumel or Key West.  Elsewhere, the line is expanding its “Carnival Journeys” enrichment cruise series with 13 new 12 to 14-day seagoing adventures departing from ports along the East and West Coasts and the Gulf of Mexico in 2018 and 2019.  The new voyages are in addition to its previously announced nine to 15-day “Carnival Journeys” cruises departing in 2017-18.  In other news, the 2,052-guest Carnival Sensation recently completed a multi-million-dollar renovation in Freeport, The Bahamas, emerging with a variety of Carnival’s iconic food and beverage concepts, as well as a new nautical-themed children’s play area.  Following the two-week-long dry dock, the vessel resumed its year-round schedule of four and five-day cruises from Miami on February 23.  Finally, in a time-honored maritime tradition, a ceremony was held on March 10 aboard Carnival Horizon at the Fincantieri shipyard in Marghera, Italy, during which a commemorative coin was welded to the ship’s mast to mark a significant construction milestone.  The coin ceremony, the origins of which can be traced back to ancient Romans who believed that attaching coins to a ship provided divine protection, signifies the successful completion of Carnival Horizon’s exterior outfitting.  The 133,500-ton vessel is set to debut in Europe on April 2, 2018.


Celebrity Cruises has created a new Galapagos website, offering in-depth insights into the archipelago of volcanic islands made famous by Charles Darwin. The new site reportedly “highlights unique experiences exclusive to Celebrity, opening guests up to an unrivaled wealth of information regarding the region and the brand’s unparalleled offerings.” 


Costa Cruises and the Costa Group recently celebrated the official start of a memorandum of understanding with Mercy Ships which aims to develop synergies in different fields to support the accomplishments of the charity organization.  Mercy Ships operates the hospital ship Africa Mercy, which is currently in Cotonou-Benin, West Africa.  According to this agreement, the Costa Group will develop specific guest activities to promote Mercy Ships tasks on board the 26 ships of its combined fleet (Costa Cruises, Costa Asia and AIDA Cruises) and provide reciprocal volunteer opportunities for officers, staff and crew members of both organizations.  The Costa Group also made an immediate donation of €100,000 to advance the Mercy Ships mission.


During summer, 2018, Disney Cruise Line will offer new itineraries to new ports in Europe, including first-time visits to destinations in both Italy and Ireland.  Also, new experiences designed for guests of all ages are scheduled to be added to Disney Fantasy this May.  Featured will be Star Wars and Marvel-themed areas for the youngsters, as well as luxury shopping at new onboard venues for the adults.


Emerald Waterways has named award-winning Canadian newscaster Coleen Christie as the godmother of the company’s newest “Star Ship,” Emerald Destiny, making her its first Canadian godparent.  Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia and raised in Victoria, B.C., Christie’s career both on and off the screen has included working as a news anchor in Vancouver, hosting for the CTV network, and working as a producer/creative director in television promotion and marketing.


French Country Waterways is offering a savings of $1000 per person on two six-night cruises featuring the food and wine of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or wine-growing region, aboard the 18-passenger luxury barge Esprit.  Applicable departures are August 27 and October 1, 2017.


Holland America Line’s Eurodam earned its 11th consecutive perfect score of 100 on a routine United States Public Health inspection conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on January 14 at Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale), Florida.  The run of perfect scores is a record in both the cruise industry and company history.  Sister ship Oosterdam also earned a perfect score of 100 on a USPH inspection held on March 3 at Tampa, Florida.  In other news, HAL is honoring its Master Chef and culinary consultant Rudi Sodamin, the creator of “Sel de Mer” aboard Koningsdam, by launching the French brasserie as a “pop-up” in the Pinnacle Grill and naming it “Rudi’s Sel de Mer.”  Six ships in the fleet will feature the “pop-up” once on seven-day cruises and twice on cruises longer than 10 days, including Eurodam, Nieuw Amsterdam, Noordam, Oosterdam, Westerdam and Zuiderdam.


The Croatian Katarina Line is offering discounts of €50 and €100 on a variety of ‘small ship” departures from Split, Dubrovnik and Opatlja this May and June.


MSC Cruises, looking forward to the christening of its MSC Meraviglia in Le Havre, France, on June 3, has advised us of the following “fun facts” about the new megaship:  “Meraviglia means ‘a wonder’ in Italian.  At full capacity, the ship can accommodate 5,714 guests.  The ship offers 12 distinct dining venues, serving a range of international dining options including five speciality restaurants.  There will be will be exclusive world-class entertainment with 12 Cirque du Soleil at Sea performances each week.  75% of all staterooms have a balcony and family modular connected staterooms can be joined together to accommodate up to 10 guests.  The ship will be the 5th ship in MSC Cruises’ fleet to feature a Swarovski staircase.  The ship will feature a Mediterranean-style promenade featuring multiple bars, restaurants and shops, as well as the longest LED Sky Screen at sea which will broadcast atmospheric images and entertainment 24-hours a day.”  Sounds REALLY big!


Norwegian Cruise Line’s Wade Cleophas has won the title of “2017 BACARDÍ Legacy Cruise Competition Bartender of the Year,” besting competition from more than 2500 entrants representing 13 different cruise lines.  The finals took place in Miami on February 13 in a live competition judged by a panel of experts from the beverage industry.  Somewhat related is Norwegian being recognized as having the Best Beer Program and the Best Wine Program out of all hotels, cruise lines and casinos at the 2017 Vista Awards on February 28 during the VIBE Conference, the premiere conference for on-premise beverage executives.  Norwegian was the only cruise line honored at the event.  In other news, the line is partnering with the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and Nova Southeastern University’s Guy Harvey Research Institute to host a conservation-themed cruise on Norwegian Escape, departing October 21 from Miami, with the goal of fostering a more sustainable future for the world’s oceans.  Elsewhere, Norwegian’s guests will now have added entertainment opportunities to enjoy this summer on three of the line’s newest ships, with the theatrical dining experience “Cirque Dreams & Dinner” being expanded to Norwegian Getaway for her summer season in Europe, while a new dining format and show elements are being added to enhance the existing production on Norwegian Breakaway this month and on Norwegian Epic in April.  Another new entertainment adventure experience onboard four Norwegian ships is entitled “Escape The Big Top,” in which “Guests can experience the magic of an escape room with a twist, as they put their critical thinking skills to the test in a physical adventure game to solve challenges and beat the clock.  An onboard carnival takes an unusual turn when an act goes wrong.  It’s then up to the guests to solve the clues and escape the spell before the time runs out.”  This complimentary event can apparently run up to an hour in length.  Next, Norwegian Pearl returned to her seasonal homeport of Miami on February 27, following a two week dry dock, during which every stateroom and many of the ship’s public areas were revitalized and modernized.  The renovation was a part of “The Norwegian Edge” investment program.  And Norwegian Joy, the second ship in the line’s Breakaway Plus Class and soon to be the line’s first ship custom designed for China, was floated out of Meyer Werft’s covered building dock II on March 4 in Papenburg, Germany, where the 168,800-ton, 3,850-passenger ship has been under construction since September, 2015.  She will now move into the final phase of construction with delivery taking place on April 27.  On the promotional front, Norwegian’s long-running “Free at Sea” campaign has now been extended through April 10, and currently offers up to $2,800 in added-value amenities plus 50% reduced deposits.


Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. has announced that it has reached an agreement with Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri S.p.A. to construct the next generation of ships for its Norwegian Cruise Line brand.  Four ships are on order for delivery in 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025, with an option for two additional ships to be delivered in 2026 and 2027.  The four 140,000 gross ton ships will each accommodate approximately 3,300 guests.  Reportedly, a priority of the prototype design is energy efficiency, with the aim of optimizing fuel consumption and reducing the impact on the environment.  Details on the ships’ features will be announced at a later date.


Oceania Cruises has scheduled an additional series of journeys to Cuba aboard Insignia in November and December this year, which are now open for reservations.  Ranging in length from six to 13 days with departures from Miami, these voyages include the line’s first calls to Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, in addition to Havana.  Oceania is also bringing the flavors and heritage of traditional Cuban cooking on board, with the introduction of Cuban menus on all Cuba sailings, which began with Marina’s inaugural voyage to the island nation that departed on March 7.  Mirroring its culture and people, Cuban cuisine has been described as “a vibrant combination of spicy, sweet, and savory elements.”


Paul Gauguin Cruises, in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), has announced that guest scientists Emily Darling, Associate Director of WCS Global Marine Programs, and Sangeeta Mangubhai, Director of WCS Fiji, will lecture as part of the new Wildlife Discovery Series program aboard its Paul Gauguin.  Darling and Mangubhai will share their research and expertise on coral reefs and climate change, conservation challenges and opportunities in Melanesia, and WCS conservation approaches in Fiji, during the vessel’s Bali to Fiji voyage departing on June 7.


Princess Cruises has announced that Island Princess will be its fourth ship to feature the “Ocean Medallion,” which will debut for next year’s Alaska season on May 16, 2018.  The wearable device, powered by a first-of-its-kind interactive technology platform within the “One Cruise Experience Access Network,” reportedly enables a new level of personalization and delivers an enhanced guest experience not previously available in the vacation industry.  Elsewhere, the line has revealed details on its longest Japan cruise season yet with an array of voyages from Tokyo and Kobe in 2018 that circumnavigate the country and visit top cultural ports.  With maiden Japanese port calls to Ishinomaki, Iwakuni, Niigata, Sakata, Toba and Yokkaichi, along with visits to South Korea, Taiwan, China, Russia, Hong Kong and Vietnam, the sailings will allow guests to explore the wonders of UNESCO World Heritage sites and participate in some of Japan’s largest and most celebrated cultural festivals and special events.  Cruise/tour itineraries will also take travelers into the heart of Japanese culture in Kyoto and Tokyo, and include visits to Togendai, Lake Ashiand and Mt. Fuji.  A total of 63 voyages are now open for sale on the Japanese-built Diamond Princess, departures from April through December, 2018 that range from four to 23 nights in length and feature 38 destinations in seven countries.  In other news, the latest Princess sales promotion is offering free pre-paid gratuities on select cruises from fall, 2017, through spring, 2018, plus savings of up to $300 on airfare to select destinations and a free spa treatment for applicable suite bookings.


Scenic is offering special incentives to travelers who book any of the company’s Southeast Asia departure between August and December, 2017, based on availability and for new bookings only.  Included are free air from 25 U.S. gateways or $2,000 savings per couple on its 13-day “Treasures of the Mekong” and 14-day “Mystical Irrawaddy” itineraries, and $1,000 per couple savings on the eight-day “Luxury Mekong” and 11-day “Luxury Irrawaddy” programs.  The culturally-rich Mekong and Irrawaddy River destinations of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand are featured.  In other news, Scenic has announced the appointment of Joelle Davis, to the newly-created position of Vice President of U.S. Brand Management.  In this role, Davis will be responsible for product marketing and pricing, digital marketing, competitive analysis, sales training, event management, lead development and creative services.  Davis, a 22-year industry veteran previously with Grand Circle Corporation, will be based out of Scenic’s Boston office.  Finally, Scenic is promoting its one-of-its-kind “River Cruise Travel Guarantee,” which is provided to guests at no charge on every sailing.  Backed by respected Chubb Insurance, the guarantee automatically covers every guest on the commencement of their cruise for any delays or cancellations due to weather, natural disasters, mechanical breakdowns or labor strikes.  Coverage also includes high/low water issues that often plague the industry, plus approved claimants receive direct monetary refunds, up to $750 (CA$1,000) per day with a maximum of seven days, or $5,250 (CA$7,000) per guest, instead of the industry standard of future cruise credits.


Seabourn has selected the first three winners of its “Extraordinary Worlds” Cruise Giveaway for travel professionals who are IATAN/CLIA cardholders:  Bruce Godwin of Vacations To Go in Houston, Texas; Jeanne Sibley of Frosch Travel in Larkspur, California; and Linda Terrill of Brownell Travel in Birmingham, Alabama.  Other agents who make a qualified booking for a Seabourn cruise through this September 30 will be automatically entered into the contest, and will be eligible to win one of the four remaining Seabourn voyages for two.


SeaDream Yacht Club is scheduling nine “Wine Voyages” for the 2018 season, which have been designed to showcase picturesque yachting ports of the Mediterranean and Caribbean paired with “ultimate wine experiences” on five to ten-day sailings.


Silversea Cruises has announced that Italian fabrics supplier Faliero Sarti has created a selection of exclusive scarves to celebrate the launch of the line’s ninth ship, Silver Muse, next month.  Guests will be able to purchase the scarves from the onboard boutique during voyages on the vessel, providing unique mementos of their journeys.  In related news, on February 27 the line celebrated the successful completion of Silver Muse’s sea trials, conducted from the Fincantieri shipyard in Genoa where the ship is currently nearing completion.  As of its christening on April 19, the ship will be led by Captain Alessandro Zanello, the youngest officer ever to be appointed a captain by the company.  Captain Zanello has been working with Silversea since 1999 and in that time has worked on board all vessels in the fleet.  The galley will be led by Executive Chef Anne-Mari Cornelius, who joined Silversea in 2005, while Cruise Director Jimmy Kovel will oversee activities and entertainment on board during the inaugural season.  Elsewhere, Silversea has appointed Barbara Staiger as vice president of strategic partners, responsible for maximizing revenue opportunities and increasing market share with key accounts, and reporting to Christian Sierralta, vice president of national accounts and Latin America.  Staiger has over 23 years of experience within luxury cruise industry, spending 18 years as a sales director for Regent Seven Seas Cruises and five years as vice president of key accounts.  Finally, on February 22, Silversea made the first-ever cruise ship call on Bangladesh, when Silver Discoverer visited Maheshkhali Island.  Reportedly greeted by a fleet of motorized rickshaws, guests were ferried into town to explore an ornate temple and then attend a welcoming ceremony of song and dance presented by local school children.  The three-day stopover in the country also included visits to Hiron Point, Charaputia, Harbaria and Kokilmoni, as well as explorations of the Sundarbans mangrove forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its population of Bengal tigers.


Viking Ocean Cruises celebrated the maiden voyage of its third ship, Viking Sky, from Rome’s Civitavecchia port to Barcelona on February 28.  Sister ship to Viking Star and Viking SeaViking Sky is beginning her initial season sailing itineraries throughout the Western and Eastern Mediterranean before heading north for scheduled summertime Scandinavian and Baltic itineraries. Viking Sky will cross the Atlantic this fall and will finish out the year in the Americas and Caribbean. 


Viking River Cruises celebrated 20 years of growth by welcoming two new additions to its fleet of “Viking Longships” on March 7.  During ceremonies that took place at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers in Koblenz, Germany, Viking Hild and Viking Herja were officially christened and now join Viking’s fleet of more than 60 river vessels sailing the world’s waterways. Viking Hild will sail the Rhine River this spring on a new “Paris to the Swiss Alps” program, and later this year both new ships will sail the company’s “Danube Waltz” and “Rhine Getaway” itineraries.


Un-Cruise Adventures will begin sailing a new “Pure Panamá” adventure cruise itinerary next month, offering an off-the-beaten-path exploration taking travelers beyond the Panamá Canal into jungles and tropical islands.  The newly refitted, 62-guest Safari Voyager is scheduled to sail between Colón and Panamá City or the reverse from April to November, with the new 8-night “Pure Panamá: Cultures, Coasts & Canal” program featuring a full transit of the Panamá Canal, bird watching along the Chagres River and a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Fort San Lorenzo.  “Adventure Savings” of $450 per couple are available to travelers making a new reservation until May 31 for cruises departing June 16 through October 27.