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November 15, 2016 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome! First a technical note…simply because of my other regular writing assignments generally being due towards the beginning or end of the month, I have decided to post this and future Group Cruise News updates between these projects, in the middle of each month. Hopefully this will enable me to avoid as many competing and concurrent demands on my time as possible, and give each different task as much of my full attention as is possible. Your understanding is much appreciated, as now at age 68 I’m simply not quite as enamored of late-night work sessions as I was when younger. Also, may I take this opportunity to wish readers a most Happy Thanksgiving, during which you can, like me, reflect on all the extraordinary friends and travel experiences that we have been privileged to enjoy.


Among these experiences last month were a couple of weeks in the magnificent Canadian Rockies decorated with brilliant fall colors, as well as a most enjoyable voyage aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America, visiting the four major Hawaiian Islands…Oahu, Maui, the “Big Island” of Hawaii, and Kauai. Although I had been to our 50th State many times previously, including a pair of port calls on a trans-Pacific sailing, this was the first time I had done it on the only large cruise vessel that is not only home-ported in Honolulu year-round, but is also registered in the U.S. This is a product that is likely different from every other cruise that readers have likely taken, as it is extremely port intensive to allow guests plenty of time to experience all the primary charms that Hawaii has to offer without the otherwise inevitable packing and unpacking, hotel changes, and inter-island airport hassles. As an American-flagged vessel, there are also no customs or immigration procedures to be endured, there is no casino aboard ship (or elsewhere in Hawaii), and the (non duty-free) shipboard shops are open in port. Guests experience little actual time at sea, since travel between islands is done at night except for wonderful afternoon cruising along Kauai’s beautiful Na Pali Coast. Planners of the itinerary and the Pride of America crew both deserve considerable praise for delivering a very fine product, which I’ll be covering in greater depth in my “Changing Horizons” column in The Group Travel Leader early in 2018.      


Finally, I was most pleased to receive a press release from Celebrity Cruises, announcing the line’s sponsorship of the Miami Beach Gay Pride Festival and Parade next April. Similarly, Emerald Waterways is sponsoring its first “LGBT Danube Explorer” cruise next July. Although I’m not a member of the LBGTQ community myself, I heartily applaud ‘outreach’ efforts of this type.  The recent election season has proved once again that all Americans of goodwill, reason and rationality need to concentrate every day on respecting our countrymen and women, regardless of their gender, creed, race, color, faith, heritage or sexual orientation, to counter the words and deeds of those unfortunate individuals who apparently have difficulty understanding that diversity is the real strength of our nation, and that only by building bridges and working together can we truly create “liberty and justice for all.” As regards the controversial victory of Donald Trump, I found him to be most gracious, thoughtful, humble and well-intentioned during CBS’ 60 Minutes interview on November 13, during which he exhibiting a much more nuanced persona than during the campaign. As long as this was an honest portrayal of his real feelings, and he is indeed willing to respect those with alternative positions by compromising in order to reach workable solutions that are at least reasonable to honorable Americans throughout the political spectrum, his administration will undoubtedly have the potential to initiate very positive change for the country.  Time will tell, but (and I’m speaking from my progressive viewpoint) we owe him the chance to prove himself and his true agenda.




Adventure Smith Explorations is promoting voyages to Alaska aboard a brand-new, 100-passenger expedition ship, Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Quest, set to launch June 26, 2017. The nature-intensive, 15-day Seattle-to-Sitka itinerary will explore the coast of British Columbia and into Alaska’s Inside Passage. Pricing begins at $9,390 per person double.


American Queen Steamboat Company has announced that reservations are now open for voyages on its new all-suite American Duchess. Guests wishing to be among the first to sail on the 166-guest luxury paddlewheeler can now view itineraries and book voyages along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, which will commence on July 3, 2017. American Duchess will have five different suite category options, including Owner’s Suites and Loft Suites at 550 square feet, Deluxe Suites at 450 square feet, Veranda Suites ranging from 240 to 330 square feet, and Interior Suites ranging from 180 to 220 square feet.


Carnival Cruise Line has signed an agreement with landlord Urban Commons and the City of Long Beach, California, to expand the city’s cruise terminal facility to accommodate larger ships and enhance operational capabilities. The deal will nearly triple the size of Carnival’s current terminal facility from approximately 66,000 square feet to 142,000 square feet. Carnival has operated the terminal since 2003 using an area of a Geodesic Dome that formerly housed Howard Hughes’ famed “Spruce Goose.” In other news, the line will expand capacity in two key markets with Carnival Miracle operating seven-day Caribbean cruises from Tampa and Carnival Splendor offering week-long Mexican Riviera cruises from Long Beach, beginning in 2018. Prior to launching service from their new homeports, both ships have extended Panama Canal cruises scheduled for January, 2018, featuring a variety of ports throughout the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. Carnival Splendor will also operate 14-day Hawaii cruises round-trip from Long Beach. Next, to celebrate the U.S. arrival of its newest and largest ship, Carnival Vista, the line held an overnight gala event on November 4 in New York featuring a concert for Operation Homefront military families by the Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year, Carrie Underwood. The event also included the ship’s official naming ceremony with Miss USA Deshauna Barber, the first woman serving in the U.S. military to hold the title. Finally, on November 9, Carnival Fantasy arrived at its new homeport of Mobile, Alabama, to launch a schedule of year-round, four and five-day cruises to Mexico.


Celebrity Cruises, as noted above, will be joining the crowd from April 7 to 9, 2017, as presenting sponsor of Miami Beach’s popular Gay Pride Festival and Parade. Celebrity is the first-ever cruise partner to support and champion this important celebration of South Florida’s LGBTQ+ community.


Costa Cruises conducted a series of awareness-raising activities in October on board its ships deployed in the Mediterranean to coincide with breast cancer prevention month. The initiatives were staged in support of the “Pink is Good” project carried out by Italy’s Fondazione Umberto Veronesi to prevent and cure breast cancer. Also, on October 25, the line and its partner Barilla paid tribute to pasta across its fleet in observance of the annual World Pasta Day, established in 1998 by the Union of the European Industrial Pasta-Manufacturers Association and the International Pasta Organization. Creations of two renowned chefs, Melissa Kelly and Daniel Evangelista from the “Pasta World Championship” organized by Academia Barilla, were served aboard Costa ships. Finally, Costa is investing in the “Scuole di Mestiere” (Schools of Trades), a project aimed at providing its shipboard staff with specific training of the highest level, with a focus on “Italy’s finest.” The “Scuole di Mestiere” consists of a series of top-quality workshops and master’s courses, designed in collaboration with some of Costa’s partners, including the Universitá del Caffé illy, Cantine Ferrari, Academia Barilla, CAST Alimenti…the school of trades of taste, and the Universitá degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche (UNISG Pollenzo). By the end of 2016, the line will have trained more than 90 shipboard managers on the values, vision, professionalism, quality and know-how of these brands, symbols of Italian excellence.


Crystal Cruises has announced the appointment of Kris Endreson as the director of sales and marketing for the growing company’s air division. Endreson will oversee both of Crystal’s air brand experiences from the Miami branch office, reporting to Marc Cavaliere, senior vice president of all Crystal aviation ventures. As Crystal’s air division continues to expand with recently announced 15 to 29-day global itineraries for Crystal AirCruises that will begin next August, as well as a second Global Express Jet to join the Crystal Luxury Air fleet next year, Endreson’s 20-year track record of cruise and luxury travel industry experience is expected to bring significant expertise to Crystal’s executive team.


Disney Cruise Line has announced that guests of Disney Magic on select sailings from New York City during fall, 2017, will have the opportunity to celebrate the adventures of legendary “Super Heroes” and “Super Villains” from the Marvel Universe during a new, day-long “Marvel Day at Sea” celebration. In other news, the line is introducing the Dutch island of Bonaire into its lineup of itineraries for early 2018. Limited-time engagements in Puerto Rico and California, plus a variety of cruises from Florida will offer guests the opportunity to visit ports of call in the Caribbean, Bahamas and Mexican Riviera from January through May.


Emerald Waterways has announced its first ever lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender river cruise, set to sail on the Danube River next summer. The eight-day “LGBT Danube Explorer” departure from Budapest on July 29 will includes stops in Bratislava, Vienna and Passau before concluding in Nuremberg. The sailing, with pricing from $2,545 per person, double, includes a free premium drinks package.


Three top Holland America Line executives joined a distinguished group of Seattle community leaders for America Cancer Society’s “Real Men Wear Pink” event during October. The line also presented a check for $25,000 to Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Uncompensated Care Fund on October 1 at the Seattle Mariners’ home game at Safeco Field. Next, HAL is celebrating the 15th anniversary of its “Holland America Line Academy” for travel professionals. To commemorate the milestone, a new Panama Canal and More Specialist Training Course and a cruise sweepstakes have been introduced. Travel partners who complete the course by November 30 will automatically be entered into an anniversary sweepstakes to win a seven-day cruise for two to any HAL destination in 2017. In other news, HAL President Orlando Ashford was honored by Bethune-Cookman University at the fourth annual Mary McLeod Bethune Legacy Awards Gala in Daytona Beach, Florida, on October 20. Ashford, who received the Leadership Award, was recognized for his dedication and continuous contribution to education and the community. Finally, the line was presented with an Alyeska Award by the Alaska Tourism Industry Association for the cruise line’s new Denali Square complex at the McKinley Chalet Resort. The Alyeska Award is presented to a business or organization for its outstanding leadership, professional excellence and group contribution to the Alaska travel industry.


Croatian small-ship operator Katarina Line has announced that a new luxury vessel, Aquamarin, will join its fleet in 2017. The 138-foot ship will accommodate up to 39 guests. 


Norwegian Cruise Line intends to pioneer a new era of Alaska cruising beginning in June, 2018, as the company’s next new vessel, Norwegian Bliss, will be the first cruise ship to be custom-built with features and amenities designed for sailings to the 49th State. The third ship in the line’s Breakaway-Plus class, Norwegian Bliss will be home-ported seasonally in Seattle and, at approximately 167,800 gross tons, accommodate some 4,000 guests. The first steel was cut for the ship on October 28 at the Meyer Werft Shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, where the company’s 16th vessel is being constructed. Norwegian will continue its tradition of featuring original artwork on its ship’s hulls, as the signature art designed by one of the world’s premier marine life artists, Wyland, will be featured on Norwegian Bliss. Entitled “Cruising with the Whales,” the artwork will feature the image of a mother humpback whale and her calf as the design’s centerpiece, in order to signify the beauty of Alaska and the importance of conservation. Next, the line has announced that Camille Olivere is joining the brand as Senior Vice President of Sales effective November 30. Most recently Senior Vice President of Partner Brands at World Travel Holdings, Olivere originally joined the Norwegian sales team in 2009 as Vice President of Sales.  In 2012, she was promoted to Senior Vice President, achieving significant growth in the company’s charter business and leading efforts to re-energize the brand’s travel agency advocacy. In other news, one of the line’s largest ships, Norwegian Epic, has begun her winter season from Port Canaveral, Florida, sailing a series of Eastern and Western Caribbean and Bahamas itineraries ranging from three to seven days in length. The vessel recently returned home to the U.S. from a year spent in Europe, where she underwent an extensive renovation as a part of “The Norwegian Edge” fleet revitalization program. Finally, the line’s long-running “Free at Sea” promotion is currently scheduled to run through November 30, although there have been many previous extensions.


Oceania Cruises has unveiled more than 30 new itineraries, ranging in length from nine to 34 days, for the 2017-18 winter season aboard the line’s Regatta, Marina, Riviera, and Sirena. Included are sailings visiting the South Pacific, Tahiti, Australia, South America, the Caribbean and Panama Canal. In 2017, Oceania is also introducing a new “Snowbirds in Residence” program offering extended vacations for residents of northern climes looking to escape the cold and snow for warm weather, tropical breezes and palm trees. Furthermore, the line has created “a new selection of artistic, coffee-table style brochures” for 2017-18, including “The Best of Europe,” “North America,” “The Exotics,” “The Tropics,” and finally “Savor the World,” Oceania’s new signature culinary and brand brochure. Finally, the company has announced that it will soon be the only upscale cruise line to homeport a ship in New York City, with more than 20 planned voyages beginning in 2017. Sailing from Manhattan’s west-side, 48th Street cruise terminal, Insignia will offer a series of round-trip and open-jaw sailings to New England, Canada, Bermuda, Greenland and Iceland.


Paul Gauguin Cruises has announced its line-up of distinguished Wildlife Discovery Series lecturers aboard eight voyages of the Paul Gauguin in February, June, August, October, November and December, 2017, as part of its partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society.


Poseidon Expeditions, which focuses on polar cruise adventures north and south, is restaging a summer, 2016 adventure to provide a more in-depth, focused look at what it calls the “glistening gem of West Greenland–Disko Bay.” The nine-day voyage, “Disko Bay and West Greenland: Birthplace of Icebergs,” departs May 22, 2017, aboard the 114-passenger expedition ship Sea Spirit, with rates starting at $3,995 per person. Guests board the ship in Nuuk, the country’s capital of some 16,000 souls, and disembark in Kangerlussuaq, the airline arrival/departure city. Included in the cruise rate is the flight from Kangerlussuaq’s international airport to Nuuk for embarkation.


Princess Cruises revealed its new livery to the American public when Royal Princess arrived in Ft. Lauderdale on October 22. The ship is the first to sail with the new branded hull design, which was added during her recent dry dock in Civitavecchia, Italy. The 3,600-passenger vessel is currently sailing the Caribbean. In other news, the line has appointed Negin Kamali to the position of Director, Public Relations. Ms. Kamali brings nearly 17 years of expertise in the public relations field, developing communications strategies and managing public relations programs for major consumer brands like Mattel, Nestlé and a portfolio of wine brands within Ste. Michelle Wines Estates including Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste. Michelle. As an executive director in the Los Angeles office of Golin, she also managed the Princess Cruises and Cunard Line accounts. Next, the line has announced a partnership with three-Michelin-star Chef Emmanuel Renaut to develop the cruise line’s next specialty restaurant concept. “La Mer – A French Bistro by Emmanuel Renaut” will debut aboard the new Majestic Princess in the China market during April, 2017. Following the previous partnership appointment of Michelin-starred Chef Richard Chen, whose interpretation of classic Cantonese dishes will be featured in “Harmony,” Majestic Princess will reportedly be the only cruise ship sailing from China that will offer two specialty dinner menus designed by Michelin star chefs. In another dining-related development, the company’s Fleet Director of Guest Culinary Experience, Pierre-Marie Leprince, has been invited to join the College of the Canyons Culinary Arts Advisory Committee, based in the line’s hometown of Santa Clarita, California. Elsewhere, the steel cutting ceremony of the bow section for the line’s fourth Royal Class ship was held November 3 at the Fincantieri shipyard in Castellammare di Stabia, Italy. This newbuild design follows sisters Royal, Regal, and Majestic Princess(es), and is scheduled for delivery in 2019. Also, Princess is currently offering up to $250 in free onboard spending money for veterans as well as active, retired or disabled military personnel as a “thank you” for the service of the men and women of the American and Canadian militaries. This military benefit is available on any cruise, any time of the year, and can be used to purchase a wide variety of amenities and services. Finally, the line has announced it has been awarded a 2016 Acquia Engage Award in the Digital Experience category for the cruise line’s “Princess@Sea” mobile technology service. The Acquia Engage Awards recognize exceptional sites and digital experiences that organizations are building with the Acquia Platform.


Regent Seven Seas Cruises is reportedly upgrading its gourmet dining experience fleet-wide by transforming its signature restaurant, Compass Rose, into what is being termed “the largest specialty restaurant at sea.”  The new concept and menu for Compass Rose will offer a fully customized epicurean experience with a wide variety of gourmet options available nightly. Also, to provide additional food-oriented enhancements for when the line’s newest luxury vessel, Seven Seas Explorer, makes its North American debut next month in Miami for its inaugural Caribbean season of 10 and 14-night sailings, RSSC is developing new classes for the onboard Culinary Arts Center and new Gourmet Explorer Tours at select ports of call. Finally, the line has completed a major refurbishment of Seven Seas Voyager, giving the ship both new décor and a new collection of production shows for its Constellation Theater.  The ship underwent an extensive, 25-day update as part of RSSC’s $125 million fleet-wide refurbishment program, and is currently underway on a 23-night Barcelona to Dubai voyage that departed on November 9.  The ship now offers the same style and attention to detail now featured on Seven Seas Explorer and Seven Seas Navigator, providing all of the company’s vessels with a consistent look-and-feel.


Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. is rolling out the next phase of Espresso, its travel agent reservation system, touting significant new capabilities designed to create, increase and manage group business with the company’s three major brands, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises.


Royal Caribbean International’s newest class of ships will be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and introduce the use of fuel cell technology to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A memorandum of understanding has been signed with shipbuilder Meyer Turku for the new class of vessel under the project name “Icon,” with ships to be delivered in 2022 and 2024. In the interim, the line will begin testing fuel cell technology on an existing Oasis-class ship in 2017, and will also run progressively larger fuel cell projects on new Quantum-class vessels being built during the next several years. Next, Royal Caribbean and the Madison Square Garden Company announced a new marketing partnership on November 1, naming RCI as the Official Cruise Line of the New York Knicks, New York Rangers and the Arena Concert Series at Madison Square Garden. And on November 4, the line’s three Oasis-class ships, the three largest cruise vessels in the world…Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and the new Harmony of the Seas…came together for the first and possibly only time to celebrate the U.S. arrival of the latter ship’s debut in her new permanent homeport of Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale), Florida, from which she sailed on the following day. The mammoth, 227,000 gross-registered-ton Harmony of the Seas spans 16 guest decks, carries 5,497 guests (double occupancy), and features 2,747 staterooms. The vessel’s naming ceremony was conducted by her Godmother, Brittany Affolter from Teach for America Miami-Dade, who was selected for her work in inspiring South Florida’s next generation to “dream big, think differently and challenge the status quo.” Finally, multi-platinum selling band DNCE joined inaugural guests to provide entertainment onboard during the ship’s “Ultimate Friendsgiving” Caribbean cruise.


Scenic, beginning in 2017, will offer a “River Cruising Travel Guarantee” for every guest without charge. The line has partnered with a major global insurance company to put together an insurance plan that 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. In other news, Scenic has hired Christine Sustreanu, a 20-year veteran of river cruising with Grand Circle and Uniworld, as Managing Director of Global River Cruise Operations, for both the five-star Scenic brand and its sister line, four-star Emerald Waterways. Sustreanu will oversee all aspects of guest services, ranging from how travelers are met at the airports to finding new ways to exceed guest expectations. Also, cruise industry veteran Joni Rein has been appointed Vice President of Sales & Marketing USA, based in the company’s Boston office. Rein intends to work closely with the sales field staff and the agent community to continue to grow the brand awareness. She comes to her new position with a total of 33 years in the travel industry and 20 years cruise experience, most recently as Vice President of Worldwide Sales for Carnival. Next, to celebrate its 30th birthday…Scenic began as an Australian-based motor coach tour operator in 1986, and is now a global brand encompassing three product lines serving thousands of guests…the company is inviting both new and past U.S. guests to share in the observance with several special river cruise promotions. Offers, depending on itinerary and date, include business class air from $1495 to $2995; premium class air from free to $595; free economy air from 20 major gateways available on all Seine and Bordeaux river cruises, as well as 15-day or greater Rhine, Main and Danube sailings; economy air for $495 from 20 gateways on all eight-day Rhine, Main and Danube sailings; savings of $2000 per couple on all eight-day sailings or $3000 per couple on all French sailings and 15-day or greater Rhine, Main and Danube sailings; plus three free nights in Prague on the eight-day Nuremburg to Budapest itinerary. Finally, to give travel agents a chance to experience Scenic Eclipse, the line’s 228-guest luxury “Discovery Yacht” when it launches in 2018, Scenic has announced a river cruise booking contest for travel agents, running until April 30, 2017. The grand prize is a Deluxe Verandah Suite on the 10-day Eastern Mediterranean Treasures cruise from Venice to Barcelona, departing on September 18, 2018, and includes two roundtrip business class tickets, taxes and transfers, together worth more than $20,000.


Seabourn’s newest luxury vessel, Seabourn Encore, has reached an important milestone with the completion of its final round of sea trials off the coast of Italy in the Adriatic Sea. The ship departed the Fincantieri shipyard in Marghera on November 4 for three days at sea, during which a team of officers and engineers tested onboard technical and mechanical systems. Staff and workers are now attending to the final touches before Seabourn Encore is delivered at the end of this month.


Silversea Cruises has announced that Freddy I. Muller has rejoined the company as vice president of corporate & incentive sales for the Americas. Muller held a previous position with Silversea as director of charter & incentive sales for six years, and was recently employed by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. He will be based in the company’s Miami office, reporting to Mark Conroy, managing director for the Americas. In other news, the line has released details of the culinary experiences awaiting guests aboard its new Silver Muse, due to launch in April, 2017. With just months to go before the christening of Silver Muse in Monaco, the eight restaurants on board its flagship are being promoted as offering “more dining options than any other ultra-luxury cruise ship, offering an unrivalled selection for guests.”


Tauck is expanding its relationship with Celia Sandys, the granddaughter and biographer of Winston Churchill, who was his frequent traveling companion during her teen years, and subsequently wrote five books about the celebrated British prime minister. Sandys already speaks to Tauck groups traveling on three of the company’s itineraries that visit London. In her new role, however, she will serve as a brand ambassador for the company, appearing on its behalf at selected consumer and travel agent events in the U.K. and U.S., and assisting in outreach programs to its agents and prospective guests.


Viking Cruises welcomed its first ocean-going ship, Viking Star, into the New York harbor on October 13 as part of its inaugural North American voyage. The 930-guest vessel docked at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal after sailing past the Statue of Liberty and a reception by New York Fireboats. On October 11, Viking officially commemorated the line’s first U.S. port of call in Boston on the way to begin operating the company’s new itineraries exploring the Americas and the Caribbean. Elsewhere, in celebration of the company’s 20th anniversary, Viking has issued a challenge called “Your Ship Has Come In: Viking Million Dollar Voyage,” which gives qualified travel agents who sell the line’s river or ocean cruises through the end of March, 2017, the opportunity to win a $1 million prize.