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October 19, 2015 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome!  The rapid expansion of cruising in the China market is much in the news this time around.  Secondly, although this correspondent is not generally a fan of cruise industry awards, simply because far too many of them are given on the basis of opinions that are extremely subjective, decided by the limited readership of this or that publication, subject to obvious attempts at “ballot box stuffing” or the influence of advertising revenue, and thus can be anything but statistically valid, there were several reported this month that have been shared with you below, simply because in my humble but (again) admittedly subjective opinion, these awards were truly deserved by the recipients!  As always, readers are invited to e-mail me at with comments or questions.


Guests of Adventure Smith Explorations who book the company’s eight-day “Costa Rica & the Panama Canal” program aboard the 62-passenger National Geographic Sea Lion will receive a $500 per person or $1,000 per cabin air credit on the November 28 or December 12 departure.  Also, on select 2015 and 2016 departures, guests will receive a complimentary one-night, pre or post Panama City extension, as well as a complimentary hotel night in Panama City at the end of the voyage.

American Queen Steamboat Company is offering “2 for 1” special pricing on remaining American Empress cabins for three Columbia River Sailings next month…November 7 from Clarkston, WA, to Vancouver, WA…right across the river from Portland, OR, plus November 15 and 22 round-trips from Vancouver/Portland.  Also, for 2016 voyages of either American Queen or American Empress, guests who book early and pay in full will save up to $800 per stateroom (up to $2,000 per stateroom for three-week American Queen “Mighty Mississippi” sailings).  Finally, AQSC has recently added a five-day, Big-Band-themed, Lower Mississippi River voyage aboard American Queen, round-trip from New Orleans, over the February 18 to 22 weekend.

Carnival Corporation & plc expanded its operations in Cozumel, Mexico, on October 8, opening a third berth on the company’s pier at Puerta Maya.  Reflecting an investment of more than $20 million, the new “arm” added to the company’s existing pier now allows three ships to be moored at the terminal at the same time.  To mark the occasion, Carnival Breeze, Carnival Freedom and Carnival Triumph became the first trio of ships to use the new three-berth pier, which will accommodate any ship across Carnival Corporation’s ten brands.  With 3.3 million cruise guests annually, Cozumel is now the busiest cruise destination in the Caribbean, currently the world’s largest global cruise market.  In 2014, about 1.5 million Carnival Corporation guests visited Puerta Maya on 25 different ships across six of the company’s brands.  However, on the opposite side of the globe, the company has also announced plans to expand its operations in China with the deployment of two additional cruise brands there in 2017.  Carnival Cruise Line and AIDA Cruises will join Costa Cruises and Princess Cruises in the Chinese market, making Carnival Corporation the first company to operate four brands in China, which is expected to eventually become the world’s largest cruise market.

Carnival Cruise Line has signed a multi-year agreement with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints that includes in-stadium promotions, community partnerships, onboard game-day festivities, social media activities and advertising opportunities.  Apparently a gridiron fan with diversified loyalties, Carnival, Texas’ largest cruise operator and the “Official Cruise Line of the Dallas Cowboys,” provided a day of football-centered fun at the “Ultimate Cowboys Fan Fest” held this past weekend at Klyde Warren Park in Dallas.  More than 6,000 fans showed up to enjoy a full schedule of activities, capped off by a free hour-long concert by country music star Trace Adkins.  Away from the sports world, the line is launching a new air program designed to provide its guests with maximum value, choice and convenience when making air arrangements for their cruises.  The “Fly2Fun” program will reportedly allow guests to customize their air reservations with a wide range of options, including the ability to specify a preferred air carrier, departure point, specific flight schedule and class of service, with immediate confirmation being provided once a reservation is made.  Also, as noted above, the line will begin operations in China starting in spring, 2017, with one vessel based there year-round that will offer cruises marketed to Chinese guests.  Some aspects of the shipboard experience will be modified to cater to Asian tastes.

Celebrity Cruises plans to contract with Water Cooler Group’s Media Storm LLC, the second largest independent media agency in the U.S, to manage media buying and planning.  As part of the agreement, Water Cooler Group’s Analytics Division JubaPlus will also provide the line with advanced data analytics and media mix modeling.  Elsewhere, Celebrity is upgrading the facilities on two of two “Millennium Class” ships.  During this month’s scheduled drydock, Celebrity Infinity is receiving a new, 12th-deck “Rooftop Terrace,” featuring modular furniture within a “garden-like” metal design, a large film screen with stereo surround sound, and food service facilities. The drydock work will also include renovations to the ship’s Penthouse and Royal Suites, and conversion of the ship’s specialty restaurant to Celebrity’s signature Tuscan Grille.  Celebrity Summit will follow with a similar drydock scheduled for next March.

Cunard has announced that Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Gregory Porter will be performing on board Queen Mary 2 during its “Blue Note” jazz-themed cruise departing on October 29.  Porter will be joining by such fellow musicians as Grammy Award-winning pianist and record producer Robert Glasper, trumpet player Keyon Harrold, tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland, guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Kendrick Scott.  In other news, Cunard is currently promoting “The Ultimate Upgrade,” offering free stateroom upgrades, free gratuities and a $150 deposit per person on select 2016 voyages of Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth.  Applicable new bookings can be made between October 1 and November 30 on trans-Atlantic crossings, Mediterranean, Northern Europe or Iberian Peninsula and Canary Island cruises sailing from May 10 through December 22, 2016.

Disney Cruise Line will return to destinations in the Caribbean and Bahamas on a variety of itineraries in early 2017, most departing from Florida ports, but also a minority from San Juan and Galveston.  Bookings opened to the public on October 8.

Emerald Waterways has extended its “Fly Free/$495” air promotion until October 31.  “Fly Free” to Europe is being offered to guests booking Grand Balcony and Owner’s One-Bedroom Suites, and a $495 air fare per person for all other cabin categories, for all 2016 sailing dates.   And in addition to the information shown in our last update for the current series of “Emerald Waterways InfoSessions,” two dates have been added:  5:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 18, in Georgetown, TX, and an online webinar at 8:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, October 27.  Please RSVP at the website shown if you would like to participate in either of these programs.  Finally, the line has been awarded “Best Value-For Money River Cruise” in Cruise Critic’s 2015 Editors’ Picks Awards.

Holland America Line will be collaborating with Washington’s Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery to create “BLEND,” a wine-tasting venue aboard its new Koningsdam that will enable guests to create their own blend from a selection of five barrels of single-vineyard red wine.  Elsewhere, the line is supporting CLIA’s October “National Plan a Cruise Month” with “Explore 4” savings, shipboard credits and three cruises that will be given away in CLIA’s #CruiseSmile sweepstakes.

Norwegian Cruise Line is teaming up with travel journalist Peter Greenberg and the Tri-Crown Production Group to produce a new weekly 30-minute television series entitled Dream Quest with Evette Rios. The 26-episode series is appearing as part of the CW Network’s “One Magnificent Morning” Saturday morning block during in its 2015-2016 season.  The line has also announced that a performer known as “Pitbull” will serve as godfather and headline performer for the christening ceremony of its newest ship, Norwegian Escape, in Miami on November 9.  This writer is too old and classical music-minded to have even heard of Mr. “Pitbull,” whose real name is reportedly Armando Christian Perez, but I’m sure that his fans will be out in force for the festivities.  At least I’m confident that the ship itself will be something special!  Next, the line will introduce its first purpose-built ship customized for the China market in 2017.  Currently under construction, the ship will feature accommodations, cuisine and onboard experiences that cater to the vacation preferences of Chinese guests.  The new vessel will be the second of Norwegian’s “Breakaway Plus” class and feature the line’s signature “Freestyle Cruising.” Finally, the renowned tribute show, Legends in Concert, has been transferred to Norwegian Pearl after five years aboard Norwegian Epic.  A staple of Las Vegas’ center strip for the past 32 years, Legends in Concert’s tribute artists aboard Norwegian Pearl will pay homage to Madonna, Elton John and Tina Turner.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. has opened its first Pacific Region office, a new sales and marketing center based in Sydney, which will represent the company’s three brands…Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.  Industry veteran Steve Odell heads the office as Senior Vice President and Managing Director for Australia & New Zealand.

O.A.R.S. has introduced an upscale, 11-day adventure cruise/tour program featuring two nights at a hacienda near Quito, one night on Santa Cruz Island, and seven nights aboard the 90-foot luxury yacht Reina Silvia while island-hopping through the magnificent Galápagos Archipelago.  Ample time is included ashore for exploring and hiking through the spectacular island scenery and wildlife, kayaking along shorelines, and snorkeling with sea lions, turtles and marine iguanas.  Reina Silvia accommodates 12 to 16 passengers in six air-conditioned cabins.

Paul Gauguin Cruises is helping celebrate CLIA’s “Fall in Love With Cruising” campaign by rewarding guests who book a 2015 or 2016 sailing this month aboard Paul Gauguin or Tere Moana with a $100 per-person shipboard credit.  The line is also offering savings of 50% off standard, all-inclusive cruise fares on all voyages of both ships, plus included airfare from Los Angeles on Paul Gauguin itineraries.

Princess Cruises is currently promoting a “Sun Drenched Deals” sale on 2016 trips to sunny cruise destinations, with savings of up to $1,000 per stateroom on more than 130 sailings to the Caribbean, Mexican Riviera, California Coast and Hawaii, plus free onboard spending money of up to $300 per stateroom.  Travelers who book a balcony, mini-suite or suite will receive a $150 onboard credit per stateroom for six or seven-day cruises, or $300 per stateroom for cruises that are ten days or longer.  Those who book an interior or oceanview stateroom will receive $50 onboard credit per stateroom on six and seven-day cruises, or $100 per stateroom for ten-day cruises or longer.  Bookings require a deposit of only $100 per person.  In other news, on October 10 aboard Crown Princess, the line premiered a new musical revue entitled Magic to Do, from the Oscar, Grammy and Tony Award-winning composer of Wicked, Pippin and Godspell, Stephen SchwartzMagic to Do is also scheduled to debut aboard Ruby Princess and Emerald Princess in late fall.  And last but not least, Princess has announced that its new ship now under construction, a sister ship to Royal Princess and Regal Princess, will be named Majestic Princess.  The new vessel will be based in China year-round beginning in summer, 2017, and become the first vessel built specifically for Chinese guests, incorporating a blend of international and Chinese features.  Befitting her dedication to the Chinese market, Majestic Princess will also carry a Chinese name on the hull, 盛世公主号 (Shèng Shì Gōng Zhǔ Haò)…an interpretation selected by Carnival Corporation & plc’s China employees, which has the suggestive meaning of “Grand World” or “Grand Spirit.”  The 143,000-ton Majestic Princess is being built at the Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy, and will be home-ported in Shanghai, carrying 3,560 guests for cruises to Japan and Korea.

Un-Cruise Adventures was named by Cruise Critic as the best cruise line for adventure in its 2015 Editors’ Picks Awards.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is offering free air fare on select (April and May) 2016 departures of its all-inclusive, 15-day “Splendors of Italy” cruise/tour, for bookings made by October 31.  The line is also touting the three well-deserved accolades that it received in Cruise Critic’s 2015 Editors’ Picks Awards…“Best River Cruise Line,”  “Best New River Ship:  SS Maria Theresa,” and “Best River Line Shore Excursions.”  In this writer’s experience, if one wants the best in a European river cruise vacation, only Australia-based Scenic gives Uniworld a run for the money.  Incidentally, for bookings received by October 22, Uniworld has savings of up to 50% available on 22 departures of six different, 8 to 15-day European itineraries.

Viking Cruises:  Recently, Cruise Critic, CNN and Yahoo! have all apparently named the 930-guest Viking Star as the “Best New Ocean Ship.”  Sounds like the right choice to me!

Viking River Cruises is offering aFirst-Time River Cruiser Special” on its 15-day, 2016 “Grand European Tour” sailings, with savings of up to $1,000 per couple on “2-for-1” cruise pricing and up to $2,000 per couple on roundtrip international air, including transfers.  Also, the line is now operating cruises featuring the “Golden Land of Myanmar,” formerly known as Burma, allowing guests to visit the ancient cities and temples along the Irrawaddy River as well as the capital city of Yangon (Rangoon).

Windstar Cruises has announced a new partnership with Xanterra sister brand VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations in order to feature new “Italy Tour & Cruise” land and sea programs.  Windstar has also recently partnered with Xanterra sister companies AEG and Ritz Carlton to promote its “Rising Stars Travel Agent Challenge.”