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September 16, 2017 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome!  This month I’m going to begin only with an easy-to-swallow request for your consideration and action.  With the massive destruction caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in Texas, the Caribbean and Florida, one is again reminded that one of the best way to aid in both physical and economic rebuilding efforts after such natural disasters is simply to bring new business into the affected communities.  As group travel planners, readers now have the unique opportunity to do just that, by planning new trips and cruises to these areas.  First, outstanding values are going to be readily available during the coming months from cruise lines in all price ranges that are anxious to fill their ships at a time when media reports may tend to scare off potential travelers with misconceptions that “everything has been destroyed.”  Secondly, hotels and resort properties in the Houston/Galveston and South Florida regions, similarly affected by the same erroneous reports, are also facing the prospects of filling thousands of excellent but unsold guest rooms…either unaffected by the storms or subsequently refurbished…during the upcoming winter/spring season.  And they will be happy to give you and your group members an excellent ‘deal’ in order to help those efforts.


So within the remaining months of 2017 and on into 2018, you can still plan a “last minute” group cruise to beautiful, exotic ports like St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, Dutch/French St. Maarten/St. Martin, San Juan (Puerto Rico), the Turks and Caicos, plus others in the path of Irma, including Havana, Cuba, and Key West in the (usually) Sunshine State.  Even if you have other trips planned, and were not intending to shepherd your travelers to the Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico in the upcoming months, you can easily add a sailing as your organization’s painless contribution to the relief efforts.  If you include a stay of two or more nights in or near any of the popular Florida or Texas ports of embarkation before or after the voyage, and include visits to some of the countless visitor attractions found in both states, you are also sure to help make a positive impact on the local economy there.  Having been aboard Holland America Line’s Oosterdam a couple of years ago during a port call in Vanuatu just a few short weeks after that South Pacific island was similarly devastated by a fierce typhoon, I know firsthand how incredibly sincerely our visit, sightseeing and purchases…plus even some cash donations, including those from HAL…were appreciated by the local population.  Furthermore, although everything was admittedly not yet “back to normal,” the vast majority of the clean-up efforts had already taken place, everyone was working hard to rebuild where necessary, plus the sun was shining brightly on Vanuatu, both literally and figuratively.  You have a similar opportunity to not only help out, albeit a lot closer to home, but provide a unique travel experience for your group members as a result.




Adventure Smith Explorations has advised that space is still available for the 2017 holiday season on small-ship cruises to such destinations as Antarctica, Baja California, Costa Rica, the Galapagos and Cuba.


American Queen Steamboat Company has announced the christening and maiden voyage of its newest vessel, American Duchess, on August 14.  Godmother Marissa Applegate, daughter of John Waggoner, the line’s Chairman and CEO, broke a bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon on the boat’s hull, culminating the ceremonial festivities. The 166-guest vessel then embarked on her maiden voyage from New Orleans to Red Wing, Minnesota.


Avalon Waterways is inviting travelers to experience the destinations, cultures and stories found along Southeast Asia’s Mekong and Irrawaddy rivers.  The line will be introducing a new “Suite Ship” in 2018, Avalon Saigon, on two new Mekong itineraries, an 18-day “Heart of Cambodia & Vietnam” and a 21-day “Ultimate Southeast Asia & the Majestic Mekong.”


Carnival Cruise Line has added five more voyages of Carnival Paradise featuring extended calls in Havana during 2018.  The new voyages include three five-day cruises to Havana and Cozumel or Key West departing February 17, July 2 and September 5, 2018; a six-day sailing featuring Havana and Grand Cayman departing August 26, 2018; and an eight-day voyage with stops at Havana, Grand Cayman and Cozumel departing August 18, 2018.  All of the voyages include a day-long call and overnight in Havana, with the eight-day cruise offering two full days at the historic Cuban capital.  Elsewhere, Carnival will introduce its first-ever teppanyaki dining venue, Bonsai Teppanyaki, when the new, 133,500-ton Carnival Horizon debuts in Europe during spring, 2018.  Teppanyaki is a traditional method of Japanese cooking, the name of which is derived from the combination of the words “teppan” or iron plate, with “yaki” meaning grilled or pan-fried.  In other news, the line, its parent company, Carnival Corporation & plc, as well as the Micky and Madeleine Arison Family Foundation are pledging a minimum of $2 million to relief and rebuilding efforts in the Gulf Coast region in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in the United States since 2004.  Carnival Cruise Line and Carnival Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Carnival Corporation, are each donating $500,000 to Harvey disaster relief efforts, for a total donation of $1 million from the company.  Carnival Corporation & plc Chairman Micky Arison and his wife Madeleine are matching the corporation’s commitment with a $1 million donation from the Micky and Madeleine Arison Family Foundation.  Subsequently, Carnival Corporation & plc, the Miami HEAT Charitable Fund, and the Micky and Madeleine Arison Family Foundation pledged up to $10 million in funding and in-kind support for relief and rebuilding efforts in Florida and throughout the Caribbean following Hurricane Irma.  The Micky and Madeleine Arison Family Foundation is making an immediate donation of $2.5 million to Direct Relief, UNICEF and the United Way of Miami-Dade County to support the most urgent relief needs in the wake of Hurricane Irma.  The Carnival Foundation and the Miami HEAT Charitable Fund are each pledging to raise a combined $5 million in funding for relief and recovery efforts.  Carnival Corporation Chairman Micky Arison and his wife Madeleine will match that commitment up to a total of $5 million from the Micky and Madeleine Arison Family Foundation, including that organization’s initial donation.  As part of the company’s Hurricane Irma relief fundraising efforts, Carnival Cruise Line is embarking on humanitarian efforts to deliver critical supplies to the most deeply affected areas of Florida and the island nations in the Caribbean that were impacted.  The brand is deploying 11 ships to provide affected ports in the region with crucial supplies and the most immediate necessities, including food, water, clothing, diapers, medical supplies and generators, among other items.  Scheduled as part of ongoing cruise itineraries, the humanitarian aid efforts will benefit impacted destinations across the region, including Grand Turk, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Antigua-Barbuda and affected Bahamian islands.  Carnival Corporation and its full portfolio of global brands are also encouraging both guests and employees to support the recovery efforts in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean. and


Celebrity Cruises, in conjunction with Canyon Ranch SpaClub, has launched a new wellness program, “Mindful Dreams.”  This curated program invites travelers to experience new treatments, products and sleeping aids.  Guests also receive nutrition advice on the best culinary choices to aid in sleep, as well as access to expert lectures and special instructional classes promoting a holistic approach to mindful sleep, both on land and at sea.  In other news, the line has announced a partnership with the Regional Maritime University (RMU) in Ghana.  For the first time in cruise industry history, female bridge officers will be openly recruited from a West African country through the new Celebrity Cadet Program in partnership with RMU.  Along with the announcement, the brand is also welcoming the first official new crew member from the program, RMU Cadet Nicholine Tifuh Azirh, who will be joining the bridge team onboard Celebrity Equinox.  Elsewhere, Celebrity has shared the sad news of the passing of Captain Apostolos Bouzakis, who had been with the company for 27 years.  Only 51 years of age, Captain Bouzakis left behind a wife and two young children, who were with him when he passed, while home in Greece on vacation.  Next, the line’s newest culinary partnership, this one with Fine Cooking magazine and its Public Television series, Moveable Feast, is introducing “Moveable Feast with Celebrity Cruises.”  In celebration of the partnership, Celebrity is scheduling “Moveable Feast Signature Sailings” with two of the series’ talented chefs.  The first features Miami chef and James Beard Award winner Michelle Bernstein on a 7-night journey through the Caribbean, departing this December 16 on Celebrity Equinox, while a 7-night Bermuda getaway onboard Celebrity Summit with James Beard Award-nominated chef Bryan Voltaggio departs April 29, 2018.  On each sailing, guests will have the opportunity to meet the chefs, attend chef-led cooking demonstrations, and join them on selected excursions.  Finally, Celebrity is asking travelers to help Hurricane Irma relief efforts, and, along with its sister lines, is matching contributions up to $1 million in its partnership with World Vision to assist communities devastated by the killer storm.  Visit to make a donation.


CroisiEurope, in response to increasing market demand on the Mekong River, has just inaugurated its newest ship, the Indochine II, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  The vessel accommodates 62 guests in 31, 194-square-foot cabins, each with a 43-square-foot private balcony.


Crystal Cruises has images available of the newest addition to the Crystal River Cruises fleet,  Crystal Bach, via the following link:  Also, the line’s owner, Genting Hong Kong, has just announced the appointment of travel industry veteran Tom Wolber as the President and CEO of Crystal Cruises.  Wolber brings over three decades of experience in general management, operations, new-build construction and business development to Crystal, where he will oversee the company’s most significant expansion since its founding in 1988.  He is joining Crystal from the Walt Disney Company, where he served in various executive roles for 28 years, 10 of which were with Disney Cruise Line as Senior Vice President of Operations.


Cunard has announced a “Three for Alll” sale on over 100 voyages sailing between May and December, 2018, on all three of the line’s ships. The sale includes free stateroom upgrades, free gratuities, and a $150 reduced deposit.  In addition, the promotion includes free drinks for those booking Princess Grill and Queens Grill Suites.  Guests can take advantage of  “Three for All” until this November 30 on trans-Atlantic crossings, Northern Europe, Iberia & Canary Islands, Mediterranean, New England & Canada, and Caribbean voyages.  The line is also adding additional 2019 voyages, including a range of North American and European sailings from the months of April through December across the Cunard fleet.  In 2019, Cunard will see the highest visibility of its three “Queens” in decades on both the east and west coasts of North America.


Emerald Waterways is celebrating four years since it launched its first collection of river cruises through Europe’s waterways.  Since then, the Australian river cruise brand has experienced steady growth, expanded its fleet from two ships to seven, added itineraries in Asia, France and Portugal, and continued to introduce active excursions and onboard enrichment activities.  In other news, the line’s “Exceptional Group Value Program,” an amenity points program that allows agents to select from onboard amenities, marketing dollars, incremental commission, or savings on bookings, is now offering even more options for group travel.  Guests who book a group of five cabins or more for 2018 sailings before the end of this month can now choose between two promotions:  free airfare on all cruises of 15 days or more and $495 airfare on all cruises of 8 to 14 days; or $500 savings per person on all riverview suites and $1,000 savings per person on all balcony suites.  Furthermore, groups that pay in full by October 31 will also save up to an additional $800 per couple.  Finally, on its 2018 “Sensations of Southern France” itinerary, Emerald is offering a complimentary night in Lyon, including hotel and a city tour, plus free airfare to France.  Bookings must be made and deposited by October 31, and conditions apply.  Those paying in full by that date will save an additional $200 per person.


MSC Cruises has celebrated the latest milestone in the company’s nearly $10 billion expansion plan, the float out of MSC Seaview on August 23.  The ceremony, held at Fincantieri’s Monfalcone shipyard in Italy, officially marked the first time the mega ship has touched water, and the final phase of her construction.  MSC Seaview is the second of the line’s Seaside Class ships, and set to enter service in June, 2018, which will mark the company’s third new vessel in just 12 months, beginning with MSC Meraviglia this past June and then MSC Seaside in December.


Princess Cruises is offering a special “3 for Free” cruise sale to entice travelers to book select six to 60-day cruises and cruise-tours departing from summer, 2018, through spring, 2019.  The “3 for Free” promotion features free stateroom location upgrades, enabling guests to get the best preferred stateroom available within that stateroom type for the lowest possible fare; free onboard gratuities; free onboard spending money up to $600 per stateroom; plus a reduced $100 per person refundable deposit.


Royal Caribbean International is teaming up with actress and avid traveler Shay Mitchell to be the brand’s “Adventurist,” defined as an adventure adviser and storyteller. In addition to embarking on journeys with the brand and sharing her stories, Mitchell will collaborate on developing a series of destination experiences for the “ultimate Caribbean cruise,” which will be revealed this fall.  Elsewhere, as noted above under Celebrity Cruises, the line is leading the charge in the Royal Caribbean organization’s matching up to $1 million in contributions from the public for relief efforts to aid communities impacted by Hurricane Irma.  Visit to make a donation.  As of Friday, September 15, RCI had evacuated 1,700 people; provided 5,539 gallons of fresh water; delivered more than 20 pallets of medical supplies, 7,831 gallons of milk, and 6,270 pounds of ice; and rescued 39 animals.


Seabourn has named Stig Betten as captain of its newest vessel, Seabourn Ovation, and Helmut Huber as hotel director.  Betten will oversee all operations of the line’s newest vessel, which is scheduled to launch in May, 2018, in Italy.  He began his seagoing career in 1997, initially with a Norwegian seismic exploration company, joined Seabourn in 2001, and has worked his way up the ranks from Second Officer to Captain.  Huber will oversee the hotel department, which includes suites, housekeeping, and food & beverage services.  After almost 10 years at sea, he acquired several degrees and certificates, served in management positions at luxury hotel properties, returned to the cruise industry in 2007, and joined Seabourn in 2015.  Elsewhere, the line is attempting to make travel easier for its guests with a newly launched web app, “Seabourn Source,” available on a complimentary basis aboard every Seabourn ship.  Featured is up-to-the-minute access to daily cruise details via smart phones, tablets or laptops, allowing users to instantly review daily activity and entertainment schedules; peruse menus and meal times for all onboard dining venues; track port times, including arrivals and departures; learn about onboard spa treatments and wellness classes; browse and book shore excursions; connect to paid satellite internet; and stay on top of shipboard account records.  Next, on September 1, the line marked a major construction milestone with a traditional coin and launch ceremony for its newest ship, Seabourn Ovation, at the Fincantieri shipyard in Sestri, Italy.  Seabourn Ovation is set to welcome guests and begin sailing during May, 2018.  And finally, Seabourn will mark 30 years of cruising in 2018 with a 30th Anniversary Celebration.  To kick-off the festivities, the line is offering a range of savings and value-added enticements on select voyages departing through March 31, 2019, for bookings made this fall by November 14.  A variety of offers include complimentary Veranda Suite three category upgrades; complimentary veranda upgrade for ocean view category; complimentary 300-minute per person internet package; $300 per person air credit; $300 per suite shipboard credit; 50% reduced deposit; and up to 30% combination cruise savings.


SeaDream Yacht Club has appointed Ricardo “Rich” Ramirez as Sales Director, responsible for overseeing the line’s Pacific Northwest territory, including Northern California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Western Canada.  Combining 25 years of sales experience representing leading luxury hotels worldwide, Ramirez will focus on upscale travel advisors, including such partners as Virtuoso, Signature and Ensemble, corporate meeting and incentive travel planners, non-profits, country, wine and yacht clubs.  Elsewhere, the line has announced immersive sailings around Cuba for the spring, 2019 season.  Itineraries aboard the 112-guest mega-yacht SeaDream II will depart directly from Havana or Cienfuegos and circumnavigate the island.


Silversea Cruises’ new Silver Muse will sail roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale on January 3, 2018, on an immersive 69-day “Grand Voyage” to some of the most culturally enriching places in the Southern Hemisphere, completely circumnavigating South America and visiting 34 ports in 14 countries.  In other news, the line and photographer Steve McCurry have announced a global creative partnership that will chronicle Silversea’s fleet and portfolio expansion designed to take guests to some of the world’s most intriguing and remote destinations.  McCurry, recognized as one of the foremost photographers of his generation, is best known for his portrait of a green-eyed Afghan refugee girl in National Geographic.  A master of visual storytelling, McCurry has traveled the world for four decades capturing images of vibrant cultures and the human experience.  His color photographs have appeared on international magazine and book covers, in major gallery and museum exhibitions, and in permanent and private collections worldwide.  Also, Silversea will soon be introducing a new production show, Grande Amore, on the stages of its five ocean ships.  Themed around the world of opera, it will celebrate love and beauty with traditional opera, classical crossover and popular selections.  The show will feature new musical tracks recorded for Silversea by London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, while the songs will be performed live by the “Voices of Silversea” ensemble, many of whom are vocalists with experience garnered in the opera houses of Europe, as well as shows from London’s West End and Broadway.  The production will reportedly be staged with contemporary costuming, visual effects, and a neoclassical set design evoking ancient Rome.


Un-Cruise Adventures has released its 2018 brochure, at 148 pages the line’s biggest ever.


Vantage Deluxe World Travel is offering cruises of the Seine River from Paris to the coast of Normandy and back on its new, 13-day “France Culinary Delights: Paris to Normandy” itinerary for 2018.


Viking Cruises, ahead of its first-ever World Cruise scheduled for this winter, has announced that Viking Sun will sail the globe on the company’s second such extended voyage, which will span 128-days, five continents, 21 countries and 44 ports, with 10 port overnights.  Departing on January 3, 2019, on the soon-to-be delivered fourth vessel in Viking’s ocean fleet, this journey will mark Viking Sun’s second voyage around the world.