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March 2, 2016 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome!  Although I normally feature information and a photo here on a specific cruise line or ship, this month I decided to include a note on a closely related topic, without which we’d all have a tough time reaching the port cities from which our voyages depart.  Consequently, readers might be interested to know that, in addition to 2016 being the centennial celebration of the U.S. National Park Service, it is also the 100th birthday of Boeing Aircraft, makers of the reliable 737s, 747s, 757s, 767s, 777s and 787s that set the standard for commercial air transportation worldwide.  In recognition of this milestone, the extraordinary Museum of Flight in Seattle is currently showcasing the history and development of Boeing over the past century, plus visitors also get to experience the magnificent collection of aircraft and related exhibits that in my humble opinion make this one of the top three air museums in the country, the others being the pair of dedicated Smithsonian Institution facilities in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.  So, if your travel plans this year include a voyage to or from Alaska, or even a river trip on the Columbia and Snake Rivers, you’ll be well advised to add a stay in Seattle, and, among the city’s numerous other attractions, plan a visit to the Museum of Flight, and possibly also a tour of Boeing’s massive aircraft assembly plant in nearby Everett.


American Cruise Lines has announced lower prices for its Columbia and Snake Rivers itineraries aboard Queen of the West.  The new pricing structure, which starts at $1975 per person, is the first of its kind for the company, and is designed to broaden appeal to value-seeking cruise travelers wishing to travel on the older of the line’s two vessels plying the route in 2016.  Queen of the West is being joined in the Pacific Northwest this year by American Pride, the newest ship on the river at only three years old.

Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Magic will shortly be undergoing an extensive, multi-million-dollar dry dock that will add a variety of dining and bar facilities, including Guy’s Burger Joint, RedFrog Rum Bar, BlueIguana Tequila Bar, Pizzeria del Capitano and Alchemy Bar.  Currently sailing from Galveston, Texas, Carnival Magic will reposition to Port Canaveral, Florida, in April to begin year-round Caribbean departures from that port.

Crystal Cruises has entered into an option agreement with the SS United States Conservancy that could bring the historic ship back into service.  Under the agreement, the line would cover all the costs associated with preserving the vessel while it undertakes a technical feasibility study to determine what it would take to get United States back in service.  Needless to say, the ship would have to be extensively rebuilt to meet modern maritime regulations, although Crystal would reportedly maintain several original features such as the Promenade and Navajo Lounge.  New engines and sophisticated marine technology would have to be installed to maintain her title as the fastest cruise vessel in the world.  The proposed new United States would have an 800-guest capacity, with 400 suites, dining, entertainment, spa and other other luxury amenities that were part of the ship’s storied history.  Potential itineraries would include transatlantic voyages from New York, as well as international voyages around the globe.  The feasibility study is expected to be completed by the end of the year.  In the interim, the SS United States Conservancy will apparently continue to expand its efforts to amass archival collections with the intent of creating ship displays and other educational programs. Planning is also underway for a land-based museum featuring a wide range of original artifacts and historical components from the vessel.  (Please note that I am indebted to my friends at the Steamship Historical Society of America, from whose February Ahoy! e-newsletter I was able to obtain this important information.)

Cunard has announced that Mary Matalin and James Carville will set sail as “Insights” speakers onboard Queen Mary 2 departing from New York on July 1 on a round-trip cruise.  The vessel will visit Halifax and overnight in Boston for guests to experience the city’s famed Independence Day Celebration.  Matalin and Carville are two of America’s most well-known political voices and political consultants, as well as authors of two bestsellers, All’s Fair: Love, War, and Running for President and Love & War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana Home.  The couple will join guests for a discussion titled “Perspectives on the Modern Presidency.”  In other news, the line is promoting a “Spring Savings Event,” featuring up to 2-for-1 savings on select 2016 voyages aboard Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria, and Queen Elizabeth.  The offer applies to new bookings made until April 15, and includes trans-Atlantic crossings plus Mediterranean, New England & Canada, Caribbean and Northern Europe cruises.

Emerald Waterways is promoting an Early Booking Offer for groups of 10 or more people on its 2017 European river cruises.  Bookings of a Panorama Balcony, Grand Balcony or Owner’s One Bedroom Suite receive a $1,000 air credit per person, while bookings of an Emerald Stateroom or Emerald Single Stateroom receive a $500 air credit per person.  Additional group discounts may also apply.  This offer ends on March 31, 2016.  In other news, the line will introduce Portugal sailings in 2017 on its newest “Star-Ship,” Emerald Radiance.  Cruising the Douro River, this 8-Day round-trip itinerary from Porto will offer options to extend in Lisbon or Madrid.  Bookings made by April 30, 2016, will be eligible for savings of $500 per couple.  Finally, for bookings through March 31 of any suites on 2016 European river cruises, Emerald is offering savings of up to $2,000 per couple.

Holland America Line has now raised more than $4.7 million for cancer support through its “On Deck” programming.  The current “On Deck for a Cause” effort benefits six international cancer organizations located in the United States, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom.  Also, in honor of the 120th anniversary of the Klondike Gold Rush, HAL has launched a “Find Your Gold” giveaway that will award five winners an authentic gold nugget valued at approximately $1,000 each.  There is also a concurrent contest for the company’s travel professional partners.  The giveaway runs through September 2, and the five winners are scheduled to be selected mid-September in a random drawing.  A second HAL contest, this one with partner Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery, offers the chance to win a Caribbean cruise for two in an ocean-view stateroom, and is being run both in stores through March 31 and online at  Finally, Holland America has appointed Denella Ri’chard to the position of director, trade communication and engagement.  In this newly created role she will be responsible for supporting travel agent partners worldwide, with particular focus on the United States and Canada, plus oversee trade communications, the PartnerShips website, HAL Academy and all other internal and external training programs.  Ri’chard, based in Seattle at company headquarters, will report to my friend Joe Slattery, senior vice president, global marketing and sales.

Hurtigruten has added 12 new “Cultural Voyage” cruises for this spring, featuring Norway’s music, art and cultural history while guests travel along the country’s coastline.  Planned for April and May, these departures will follow the same itinerary as the company’s “Classic Coastal Route,” with the addition of 17 concerts, art tours and lectures to add a more in-depth educational element to the sailings.  In other news, Hurtigruten is introducing a complimentary photography and digital media program that will be available on all Midnatsol voyages to Antarctica from November, 2016, through March, 2017.  Offered in conjunction with Stavanger Foto, one of Norway’s largest photography vendors, the program will include lectures on basic still and video photography techniques; tips and tricks for handling cameras in extreme conditions; and an introduction to wildlife photography with in-field sessions to practice subject selection and image composition.  The line is also launching an innovative educational program modeled specifically for children traveling to Antarctica.  The complimentary “Young Explorers Program,” available aboard Midnatsol, is best suited for ages 7-13, and was designed using the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) guidelines.

Norwegian Cruise Line has unveiled the English and Chinese names for “the world’s first purpose-built cruise liner for the China market” (Norwegian and Princess appear to both be vying for this title…see below). The new ship has been named Norwegian Joy, translating into Chinese as 喜悦号 (Xǐ Yuè Hào).  With a capacity of 3,900 guests, the new Breakaway Plus-class vessel is scheduled to debut in China during summer, 2017.  In other news, for bookings through March 15, Norwegian’s “Free at Sea” promotion is providing double onboard amenities.  Guests who book a new, five-day or longer cruise vacation in an oceanview, balcony or mini-suite stateroom can choose two of four complimentary offers…unlimited beverages, a specialty dining package, shore excursion credits, or 250-minute Wi-fi package.  Additionally, Norwegian’s “Friends & Family Sail Free” offer allows 3rd and 4th guests to sail for free on select dates.  Guests who book a suite or “The Haven by Norwegian” will receive all four free amenities, along with “Friends & Family Sail Free,” for up to $2500 in added value.

Princess Cruises has announced that Captain Dino Sagani has been named master of its next new ship, Majestic Princess, leading a senior officer team with more than 100 years of seagoing experience among them. The vessel’s relief Captain will be company veteran, Captain Craig Street.  Captain Sagani has served on board Princess ships for over 21 years, having commanded Sea Princess, Dawn Princess, Sapphire Princess, Diamond Princess and most recently as relief captain on board Royal Princess and Regal Princess. Sagani was born in Trieste on the North East Adriatic coast of Italy.  Also, Majestic Princess, “the first cruise ship built and designed specifically for the China market” (Princess and Norwegian appear to both be making the same claim…see above), will also be the first ship in the fleet to debut a new livery design featuring the company’s well-known logo, which is scheduled to roll out fleetwide over the next few years.  In other news, Princess has launched “Cook My Catch,” a culinary experience offering guests the ability to enjoy their very own catch of the day while on vacation in Alaska, and is available on Princess cruise vacations during port calls in Juneau and Ketchikan, as well as on select Princess Land & Sea Vacations.  As guests return from their fishing excursions, they select their preferred preparations and accompaniments to be prepared by the culinary team.

Royal Caribbean’s new 227,000-ton Harmony of the Seas, nearing completion at a shipyard in St. Nazaire, France, will reportedly exceed her current record-holding sisters, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, by some 1,700 tons and nearly 100 passengers, in the process becoming the world’s largest cruise ship.  Scheduled to debut this May, the vessel’s amenities will include a “Bionic Bar” where robots serve the drinks, an ice rink, a 10-story water slide, and “Virtual Balconies” for inside cabins without windows.  (NOTE:  I am again indebted to the SSHSA’s February Ahoy! e-newsletter for this item.)

On February 22, Seabourn marked a major construction milestone for its newest vessel, Seabourn Encore, with the traditional coin ceremony at the Fincantieri shipyard in Marghera, Italy, where two commemorative gold coins were welded to the ship’s mast.  Seabourn Encore is scheduled to begin sailing this December.  The line is also offering a selection of “Combination Voyages” in Europe this summer, allowing guests who combine two or more cruises to receive additional savings of up to 15 percent.

SeaDream Yacht Club is offering group agreements that require just seven staterooms on many voyages, with the tour conductor occupying the seventh double occupancy stateroom, as well as the ability to lock-in current fares during a group’s promotional period, a choice of added amenities, plus customized creative marketing support.  SeaDream’s policies have been designed for groups of up to 18 staterooms aboard either of its twin, 56-stateroom mega-yachts.

Silversea Cruises has announced the appointment of industry veteran Mark Conroy as head of the company’s Miami office, which has responsibility for the Americas.  The line has also modified some itineraries for its Mediterranean voyages in 2016.  Full details of all sailings are available at  Silversea is currently rolling out a special pair of rewards to express its appreciation for travel agents in the Americas throughout the month of March.  And the company has unveiled its collection of “Scuba Diving Expedition Voyages” for 2016 and 2017, offering diving enthusiasts the chance to explore some of the world’s most remote underwater destinations at top diving sites in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans.  The 120-guest, all-suite Silver Discoverer will feature 20 voyages offering fully complimentary scuba diving opportunities for experienced divers in such regions as the Maldives, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Palau archipelago, and the Andaman Islands.  In addition to an onboard dive master, these itineraries will feature a team of experts, including marine biologists, environmentalists, ecologists, and geologists to enlighten guests with their extensive knowledge of the areas being visited.

Un-Cruise Adventures has updated 2016 itineraries on the Columbia and Snake Rivers for its 88-guest Legacy, and increased its number of wine cruise departures to seven this year.  The “Ameritage! Four Rivers of Wine & History” program includes a wine expert on board and visits Oregon and Washington wineries for tastings and tours, while its “Legacy of Discovery” itinerary has added a stop in Richland for a tour featuring Hanford Reach and the Terra Blanca Winery.  In other news, the company has expanded its theme cruise schedule in 2016 with the addition of Chairman’s, Alumni and National Park Centennial themes.  Guests can now choose from ten theme cruise options while sailing on small ship cruises in Alaska, Costa Rica and Panamá, Mexico’s Sea of Cortés, coastal Washington, plus the Columbia and Snake Rivers.  This year and next, theme cruises will feature photography, marine biology, ornithology, craft beer, wine, Lewis & Clark, and music/entertainment.  Un-Cruise Adventures’ fleet of boutique yachts and small ships carry 22 to 88 guests on adventure and river cruises lasting one to three weeks.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is offering free economy air transportation to Europe for bookings made through March 31 on select 2016 itineraries and dates:  two departures of ten-day “Tulips and Windmills” cruises from Amsterdam to Antwerp; four departures of eight-day “Castles Along the Rhine” sailings from Basel to Amsterdam; two departures of eight-day “Enchanting Danube” cruises from Budapest to Passau; and three departures of 15-day “Splendors of Italy” programs from Milan to Rome.

Vantage Deluxe World Travel has announced the launch of River Voyager, its newest river cruise ship, hitting European waters this month. The 442-foot vessel, constructed in The Netherlands, carries 176 passengers in 92 cabins, most with floor-to-ceiling windows opening to private balconies.

Viking River Cruises has welcomed the latest additions to its fleet with the christening of six new “Viking Longships” during a waterfront celebration in Amsterdam.  Recognizing the contribution the travel trade has made to the growth of the river cruise industry, Viking honored six of its key partners by naming them as ceremonial godmothers for the new vessels.  Of the six new Longships, four will be deployed on Viking’s most popular Rhine, Main and Danube River itineraries; the remaining two will sail the Seine River on the line’s “Paris and the Heart of Normandy” program.  Later this month, Viking will also debut a seventh new river ship for 2016, Viking Osfrid, which was specifically built for the Douro River, and will bring the company’s total number of ships in Portugal to three.