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September 30, 2015 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome! This time I have a happy story to tell for single travelers who sometime feel neglected when cruise discounts are made available. After a second failed attempt to get myself on a trans-Atlantic voyage of a popular cruise line on which I’m particularly interested in providing coverage for our readers (not one of those discussed below), I was faced with arriving in Barcelona from a Mediterranean sailing aboard Windstar Cruises’ new Star Legend next month without the ongoing arrangements for which I had set aside a couple of weeks of my time. Norwegian Cruise Line and its “Freestyle Choice” promotion came to the rescue, however! Happily, Norwegian also had a trip across the pond scheduled to depart just one day earlier, meaning that I would need one less hotel night in Spain, so I thought I’d just see what kind of a “deal” I could find on the internet as a “general public” single passenger traveling alone, not as a cruise writer.

Wonders never cease!  For the 16-night sailing to Houston, I found a single rate for an inside cabin for only $673.50, plus port taxes and fees of $127.63, for a total of $801.13, and they gave me 250 minutes of free internet time to keep in touch with the rest of the world while at sea. Needless to say, this works out to an incredible $50.07 per night, which is less than you’d pay for a single room at many Motel 6 locations, without umpteen meals and snacks every day, a complete program of entertainment and activities, access to full shipboard resort facilities, as well as visits to Madeira, St. Thomas and Miami along the way…all of which will be included aboard Norwegian Jade. Thanks, Norwegian!

American Queen Steamboat Company is offering a 30% discount for double occupancy in any category, and a $1999 single rate in categories F and G only, for its Country & Blues Music Cruise from Nashville to Memphis departing October 31. Similar savings are also available on American Queen’s Holiday-Christmas Markets Mississippi River sailings, from New Orleans to Memphis on November 28 and December 12, from Memphis to New Orleans on December 19, and New Orleans round-trip on December 26. Also, the line’s new 76-page, 2016 brochure, which highlights its upcoming fifth season with American Queen and American Empress riverboats, is now available.

Avalon Waterways has launched a new television advertising and online video campaign that invites travelers to sail the rivers of Europe on its vessels. The television spots, the first in the company’s history, can be seen on HGTV, the Travel Channel and BBC America. Viewers are being offered savings of up to $1,500 per couple on Avalon’s European cruises when bookings are made by November 10.

On September 17, Carnival Cruise Line officials presented an oversized check for $5 million to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, representing the funds raised for St. Jude over the past two years, and two years ahead of schedule. Carnival has raised $8 million in total for the hospital since the start of their partnership in 2010, and has announced an additional $10 million goal by 2020, while continuing its role as the hospital’s “Official Celebration Partner.” In other news, along with the City of Mobile, Carnival has announced that Carnival Fantasy will operate a year-long schedule of four and five-day cruises to Mexico from the Mobile Cruise Terminal beginning in fall, 2016. Prior to this deployment, the 2,056-passenger ship will undergo a multi-million-dollar refurbishment to add several elements of the line’s “Fun Ship 2.0” product enhancement program.

Celestyal Cruises will continue its successful homeporting program begun this year in Turkey, for at least another two years, with embarkation available from Istanbul, Izmir and Kusadasi. A new ship, Celestyal Nefeli, will replace Celestyal Odyssey, as her charter agreement will be concluded this October. Celestyal Nefeli, formerly named Gemini, accommodates a maximum of 1,074 cruisers, and was originally built in 1992 in Spain. She will be delivered to Celestyal in February and refurbished prior to the commencement of the 2016 cruise season. Of her 400 cabins, 277 are outside and 123 inside. Incidentally, according to Greek mythology, Nefeli was a goddess of hospitality and a nymph of the clouds.

Cunard has appointed London-based SMC Design to lead the development of Queen Mary 2‘s interior spaces for her forthcoming major refit in 2016. The Cunard flagship will undergo a multi-million dollar, 25-day extensive refurbishment next May and June that will introduce new interior designs and guest experiences. In the past, SMC has worked on ships ranging from small luxury yachts to some of the largest ships ever built, and has a lengthy history with Cunard, leading previous refit projects of QE2, Cunard Countess and Cunard Princess, as well as being involved in the designs for its current fleet.

Emerald Waterways has chartered an A-ROSA river vessel for three “Delights of France” cruises departing July 9, 19 and 29, 2016. Cities to be visited include Avignon, Arles, Viviers, Tournon, Vienne, Tournus, Chalon-Sur-Saone, Beaune, Macon and Lyon. Also, the line has chartered the 56-passenger Irrawaddy Explorer for two programs featuring its newest destination, Myanmar on the Irrawaddy River. Travelers can choose from 16-day cruise and land roundtrips from Yangon on August 27 and November 7, 2016, or 10-day cruise-only departures from Mandalay to Yangon on September 1 and November 12, 2016. Finally, as noted in our last update, the line is continuing its series of “Emerald Waterways InfoSessions” in eight additional cities in order to introduce group coordinators and the travel trade to its programs. Drinks and snack will be served at all events, which will begin at 6:00 p.m. local time, except for Dallas and Burlington at 7:00 p.m. Presentations will be given on Tuesday, October 6, in Teaneck, NJ; Wednesday, October 7, in San Antonio, TX, and West Orange, NJ; Thursday, October 8, in Dallas, TX, and Hartford, CT; Tuesday, October 13, in Fort Worth, TX; Wednesday, October 14, in Houston, TX; and Tuesday, October 20, in Burlington, MA. Please RSVP at the website shown if you would like to participate in any of these programs.

Both Holland America Line’s Noordam and Veendam recently received perfect scores of 100 on routine United States Public Health Inspections, the former on July 21 in Skagway, Alaska, and the latter on August 29 in Boston. Veendam also earned a near-perfect score of 99 on a Health Canada inspection in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, on July 21.

Hurtigruten has announced the winner of its “Name our Newest Ship” Facebook contest – the MS Spitsbergen. Spitsbergen is the largest island in Norway’s Svalbard Archipelago, located above the Arctic Circle. Chosen from more than 15,000 names received from around the world, the winning entry was submitted by Erlend Baldersheim, who lives near Bergen, Norway. In other news, the line has added a new a la carte dinner menu on nine of its coastal voyage ships, allowing guests to choose the regular three-course menu or upgrade to the two- to five-course a la carte menu for a fee starting at $19. Like its set menus and buffet meals, offerings on the a la carte menu will change seasonally to reflect the availability of local produce, seafood and meats. Hurtigruten’s new brochure, available online, details its voyage and land opportunities for 2016, as well as more than 45 optional excursions and seasonal early booking discounts of up to 25%. Finally, the line’s latest promotion is “The Northern Lights 5-Day Sale” from September 28 to October 2, with savings of up to 40% off regular prices on all winter sailings of its “Classic Winter Coastal Voyages” along Norway’s west coast, through March 31, 2016.

Nature-travel specialist Natural Habitat Adventures has announced the addition of a new ship to its Galapagos fleet for 2016. Origin, a 142-foot, 20-passenger sustainable yacht, brings the company’s chartered fleet to four.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s new Norwegian Escape, to debut this November, will offer shopping in two name-brand boutiques, LACOSTE and Carolina Herrera, the first at sea for each brand, as well as the first boutiques to be designed specifically for a Norwegian vessel. Also, the line had a busy week at the Meyer Werft Shipyard in Papenburg, Germany. On September 15, the first piece of steel was cut for construction of the second ship in its “Breakaway Plus” class, set for delivery in spring, 2017. Then, on September 18, Norwegian Escape, soon to be the largest ship in the fleet, departed the Papenburg yard for her 24-hour-long conveyance along the Ems River. Norwegian Escape, at 1069 feet in length and 136 feet in width, is the first of the line’s four “Breakaway Plus” class vessels that are on order at Meyer Werft.

Seabourn celebrated the keel laying of its new Seabourn Encore on September 15 at the Fincantieri shipyard in Marghera, Italy. The vessel is scheduled to launch in late 2016.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is offering “Cruise + Air” savings of $1,000 to $2,500 per person on select European waterway itineraries and departures, when booked by October 31. The line has also announced 2016 itineraries and departure dates on which single supplements have been waived: six dates of the 8-day “Enchanting Danube;” two dates of the 10-day “Tulips & Windmills;” seven dates of the 8-day Paris & Normandy;” seven dates of the 8-day “Bordeaux, Vineyards & Chateaux;” eleven dates of the 8-day “Castles on the Rhine;” and two dates of the 13-day “Imperial Waterways of Russia.” Also, complimentary economy airfare is being offered on selected departures of the latter program, cruising between Moscow and St. Petersburg, when booked by October 31.

Viking River Cruises is offering savings of $1,400 per couple on the line’s 15-day “Grand European Tour” between Amsterdam and Budapest on sailings during March and April, 2016.

Windstar Cruises is offering savings up to 60 percent plus two complimentary hotel nights through its “Sail and Stay” package, available on select 2016 European sailings. Also included are one complimentary transfer to or from the yacht, transfer fees and gratuities associated with the hotel, plus a complimentary local “Private Event” onshore. This offer expires on December 11. In other news, the line celebrated the winners of its “2015 Rising Stars Challenge” campaign earlier this month at the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. Windstar’s four top-selling travel agents were treated to a VIP weekend in Hollywood with tickets to the awards show, accommodations at the Ritz Carlton, fine dining and more.