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May 16, 2015 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome!  In my last Update, I covered basically the first half of my trans-Pacific cruise aboard Holland America Line’s Oosterdam.  This time around, I am happy to report that after very enjoyable calls at both Nawiliwili (Kauai) and Honolulu (Oahu), Hawaii, followed by five additional (and still pleasant) days at sea, we arrived as scheduled in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Sunday, May 10. 

I particularly appreciated the day in Honolulu, where I had made arrangements to get together with Jon London, an old college buddy who lives on Maui with his wife Bess, who he actually met on a Mediterranean cruise I took him on over 25 years ago.  Jon was gracious enough to fly over for the day and rent a car for our transportation.  Also, with advance assistance from the great staff of the National Park Service on Oahu, Jon and I were able to visit one of our newest park sites, not yet open to the public, Honouliuli National Monument, which will preserve the site of a large Japanese-American internment camp during World War II.  The friendly park rangers who showed us around also took us to the fascinating Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, then Jon and I climbed Diamond Head for a bit of exercise and to experience great views of Waikiki and the rest of the city.

Last time I mentioned that the crew of Oosterdam was experiencing some problems with the ship’s air conditioning system.  Please let me assure you that everything was not only brought back to peak operation in short order, but staff members repeatedly checked with me to make sure that the AC situation in my (otherwise topnotch) stateroom had been handled to my satisfaction.  Throughout the cruise, onboard service, food, entertainment and activities program were all uniformly excellent, plus I have never seen a vessel better maintained that this one has been.  All ports of call were interesting and well chosen, as indicated by the fact that of the approximately 20 shipmates that I interviewed, each port was the “favorite” of at least one guest.  To sum up, my 23 days aboard Oosterdam constituted an exceptionally rewarding travel experience.

American Queen Steamboat Company’s “Bourbon” voyage of American Queen, July 4 to 12, will feature distillery tours from the makers of Jim Beam, Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve.  Onboard tastings and lectures will be provided by Buffalo Trace representative, Don Flinn, and the author of Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage, Michael Veach.  “Celebrating an American Icon,” a nine-day voyage from St. Louis departing August 22, will include a tour of Mark Twain’s hometown in Hannibal, Missouri, onboard lectures from historians, and special appearances by Mark Twain tribute artist Lewis Hankins. “Big Band” theme cruises have also been scheduled on September 5 from St. Paul to St. Louis, and on September 12 from St. Louis back to St. Paul.

Avalon Waterways, one of the Globus family of brands, has unveiled a new tool, the Group Leader Portal at, which is focused on supporting group leaders 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The line’s 2016 cruise season will include a return to the Nile River aboard Mayfair, and a new ship partnership on the Amazon River with Amazon Discovery.  Furthermore, Avalon is providing travelers two new, 36-passenger “Suite Ships” on the Irrawaddy and Mekong Rivers, Avalon Siem Reap and Avalon Myanmar, as well as small-group discovery experiences on the Yangtze River.  Avalon is also growing its culinary, wine and beer-themed offerings by more than 300%, offering its guests for 2016 six wine-themed itineraries, three beer-focused special interest cruises and one departure “to help travelers indulge in their culinary cravings.”  For those with an interest in art or music, the line has also unveiled a series of six “Arts & Culture” cruises for 2016.  And there will even be two departures for those passionate about exercise.  The first, departing July 16, 2016, will focus on wellness and healthy living, while the second, an August 20, 2016 departure, will provide golf enthusiasts the chance to swing their clubs along the Danube.

Carnival Corporation & plc has teamed with several of its global cruise brands to pledge $200,000 to relief efforts in Nepal in the wake of April’s devastating earthquake.  The company is working through Mercy Corps, the Disaster Emergency Committee and Save the Children to support on-the-ground teams distributing emergency supplies and aiding rebuilding efforts targeting the most affected families in Kathmandu and surrounding areas.

Carnival Cruise Line will expand capacity on three and four-day Bahamas cruises in Port Canaveral by 34 percent, and deploying its newest class of ship on seven-day Caribbean voyages from the Space Coast in 2016.  Carnival will also reposition the 102,000-ton Carnival Victory on the line’s five-port, seven-day southern Caribbean cruise schedule from San Juan, beginning in November, 2016.  The line has recently created what it calls a “fast-paced, fun video” to provide a “sneak peek” at the spaces and activities to be available on Carnival Vista, its newest and largest ship to date, set to debut in May, 2016.

Celestyal Cruises is now offering its 2015/2016 Cuba Cruise brochure, either by digital download or in print. The brochure combines Cuba and cruise vessel photography with port of call highlights, new extended sailing dates, and detailed deck plans. This will be Celestyal’s third operating season in Cuba, with seven-night cruises beginning December 18, continuing through April 11, 2016, and weekly departures from both Havana and Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Celebrity Cruiseshas received Silver Level “Autism Friendly” certification from Autism on the Seas, the leading travel organization catering to vacationers with autism and other developmental disabilities. The designation qualifies the line’s efforts to accommodate guests with autism and developmental disabilities for inclusion and participation in its cruise vacations, including the employment of dedicated onboard youth staff specially trained in autism awareness by AotS.

Cunard has announced that former Secretary of Defense, Dr. Robert Gates, will sail with flagship Queen Mary 2 as a featured guest for the “Cunard Insights” program, during her August 11 trans-Atlantic crossing from Southampton to New York. 

Disney Cruise Line vessels will be enhanced this fall with two new interactive youth areas, one themed to Star Wars and another to Disney Infinity. Also a whimsical sweet shop serving handmade gelato and the “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique” will debut after Disney Dream undergoes dry dock in October.

Emerald Waterways is offering 2015 pricing to guests who book 2016 sailings by May 29, resulting in savings of up to $1,000 per couple.  It’s “Summer Savings” program for 2015 European river cruises has been extended to May 22, and the line has also announced savings of $1,500 for singles booking a Splendours of Europe” voyage for this June, July or August, when booked by May 30.  Finally, new pricing has been established for its 2016 “Tulips” cruise starting April 26, 2016, featuring the flowers in bloom and the celebration of King’s Day, at some $1060 less than originally.

Holland America Line has made it easier to experience the line’s Alaska cruises and Land+Sea Journeys with the launch of a new application for tablets. Those using an Apple, Android or Windows tablet can search key words such as “Holland America Alaska” in their respective app store and download the application for free.

Hurtigruten’s “Great Antarctica Expedition,” departing November 29, is a 20-day adventure that offers voyagers a quest to the bottom of the world, at rates ranging from $11,783 to $21,579 per person, double occupancy. The same itinerary is available for November 27, 2016.  I’ve done it myself, and enjoyed it immensely!

Norwegian Cruise Line has announced that many of its Asian dining venues, including Shanghai’s Noodle Bar, Jasmine Garden and Chin Chin, can now be enjoyed on a complimentary basis across the fleet.  Also, beginning next January, all guests sailing aboard Norwegian Sky from Miami will enjoy free unlimited beer, wine and premium spirits on their cruises.  Furthermore, Norwegian has extended its “Freestyle Choice” promotion through the month of May, with the newly added option of free wi-fi internet access.

Princess Cruises will home port five ships in Australia to sail its largest-ever program offering in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific for the 2016-2017 season. Princess will introduce the 3,082-guest Emerald Princess to the market, with Golden Princess returning to sail from Melbourne and Sun Princess, Sea Princess and Dawn Princess rounding out the fleet and expanding the line’s in-market capacity by 20 percent.  In other news, Princess has also announced its 2016-2017 Americas cruise itineraries, with sailings ranging from three to 28 days to the Caribbean, Panama Canal, Mexico, Hawaii, the West Coast and Canada & New England, plus land and sea vacations. In total, 10 ships with 255 departures on 62 itineraries are scheduled to visit more than 80 destinations between September, 2016, and April, 2017.  Princess’ new, as yet unnamed ship currently under construction in Italy, will be based in Shanghai, China year-round when introduced during summer, 2017. The 3,600-guest vessel will be the first year-round, international ship designed and built specifically for Chinese guests.

Elsewhere, actress Jill Whelan, one of the stars of The Love Boat television show, has been named “Celebrations Ambassador” for Princess, a role that has been created to “help spread the message that special occasions become extraordinary when celebrated on one of the company’s cruiseships or in a spectacular destination.”  And guests aboard Ruby Princess received a special welcome on May 6, as a team of Alaska sled dogs “pulled” the ship into the Port of Juneau, marking the vessel’s maiden voyage in Southeast Alaska.  Finally, the line has debuted its 2016-2107 “Exotics” program featuring cruise destinations around the globe. With 58 departures ranging from three to 111 days, the diverse deployment includes four ships sailing on 38 itineraries throughout six continents, visiting 70 destinations and 40 countries. Guests will be able to book cruises to South America, Southeast Asia, Japan and China.

Scenic Tours/Cruises has unveiled a new but familiar name…Scenic. The rebrand comes after an extensive 12-month project when the name Scenic Tours was no longer perceived as an accurate description of the company’s extensive product offerings.  Australian author Kathy Lette, godmother to the new Scenic Jasper, joined Scenic Chairman Glen Moroney at the ship’s christening ceremony for media and travel industry leaders from Australia, New Zealand and North America in Vienna on April 21The line is ofering incentives for new bookings by May 31, including free flights from selected North American cities for river cruises in France sailing from June through October of 2015, and 2015 prices for 2016 sailings.

Seabourn has informed us that construction on its newest luxury vessel, the 600-guest Seabourn Encore, began in Italy on April 13.  The line has also released a new video featuring designer Adam D. Tihany discussing the modern design elements he has fashioned to greet guests of the new ship, which is scheduled to launch in late 2016.  In other news, Seabourn has announced its schedule of cruises for the fall, 2016, and winter, 2017, seasons, encompassing 28 different itineraries and 104 departures of seven to 89 days in length, visiting destinations on all seven continents.  Furthermore, the line has announced a partnership with renowned American chef and restaurateur Thomas Keller, the culinary inspiration behind a trio of Michelin-starred restaurants. And “Ventures by Seabourn is a new series of Zodiac and kayak shore excursions debuting this summer on three Northern Europe voyages of Seabourn Quest, featuring excursions launched directly from the ship’s fold-out watersports marina.

Tauck has unveiled its 2016 collection of small ship ocean cruises.  Next year the Connecticut-based company will offer 15 cruises aboard nine ships in Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, Asia, Australia, Alaska, Antarctica and Latin America.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection has extended its “Cruise + Air Savings” offer through May 31.  For families, Uniworld is also offering savings of 50% for accompanied youngsters from four to 18 years of age.  The weakened Euro seems to be making both headlines and late bargains in 2015 for North American travelers.  With Uniworld’s “Double Early Booking Savings,” guests receive double the regular early season savings by either paying in full by May 31, for savings of up to $1,600 per person, or making a deposit and saving up to $800 per person.

Vantage Deluxe World Travel has a new website address (following) for information on all of their products.         

Viking River Cruises’ newest itinerary, “Poland, Prague and the Elegant Elbe,” allows guests to cruise to through areas of eastern Germany, as well as visit the revitalized cities of Warsaw and Kraków.  Another new itinerary, scheduled to debut in 2016, is entitled “Paris, Burgundy & Provence,” and will be a 12-day program.  New dates have been added for the 2015 “Imperial Cities of Europe” program, and Viking now has available a “2016 Group Guide,” detailing its policies for the coming year on group discounts and amenities, as well as complimentary fares.

Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze was christened on May 6 in Nice, France. The christening ceremony and pier-side champagne celebration marked the 212-guest vessel’s introduction to the Windstar fleet, the second of its three new all-suite power yachts, as well as the start of her inaugural voyage through France, Monaco, and Italy.