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September 8, 2016 Update – Group Cruise News

Welcome! I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the cruise industry’s ‘best’ rewards touted by various publications, organizations and recipients have become pretty worthless. There are so many of these erstwhile plaudits floating around, frequently praising different operators for the same ‘bests,’ that it is virtually impossible for the average traveler to figure out which companies really lead the pack in one category or another. Why? First, it is an undeniable fact that all such awards are highly subjective, simply depending upon who is doing the voting, so if those subscribers, members or employees who have (ostensibly) voted happen to have different motives, standards or vested interests than you or I do, they are sure to arrive at different conclusions than we would have. There are also distinct possibilities that ever-present “under the radar” considerations of a political nature or of advertising revenues have paid a role in selecting ‘winners,’ or the ballot box has simply been ‘stuffed’ by those standing to gain in one way or another from anointing their favorite as the ‘best.’

I still remember when (failing) TWA under the administration of a notorious corporate raider shockingly received a nationally-promoted award for “best service,” when virtually everyone in my home city of St. Louis, where TWA was the primary air carrier, knew that their service was just this side of awful. My guess was that ‘stuffing’ the ballot box was the last ditch effort of TWA’s employees to keep their jobs. When some organization actually insures that the voting for its awards have been conducted in a manner that is statistically significant, I might actually take some stock in the results, but I’m not holding my breath. Please be assured, however, that I not only believe that there are many good, well-run cruise lines for travelers to choose from, but also that some of them surely do deserve the highest accolades. Nevertheless, there are just too many industry awards out there that are apparently based more on subjectivity rather than real substance, thus making it virtually impossible to use an enumeration of such honors as real, reliable indicators of who is truly the ‘best.’

Last Saturday I boarded Holland America Line’s Eurodam in Venice for 12 days of cruising the Mediterranean, including calls at Dubrovnik, Kotor, Corfu, Salerno, Civitavecchia (for Rome), Livorno (for Florence and Pisa), Monte Carlo, Toulon and Barcelona. I’m looking forward to reporting on the experience in the next Group Cruise News Update, as well as in a future “Changing Horizons” column in The Group Travel Leader. Happy travels!

Carnival Cruise Line has announced that ship classification society Lloyd’s Register has bestowed the “ECO Notation” designation on the new Carnival Vista, marking the first of the line’s ship to achieve this distinction. The notation recognizes that Carnival designed, built and operates the vessel in a manner that exceeds current maritime statutory environmental regulations. Carnival Vista was engineered to reduce emissions and meets all current regulations for nitrous oxide and sulfur oxide discharges as well as particulate emissions through the use of low-sulfur fuel, particulate filters and exhaust-cleaning systems. The ship also has the first Intelligent Power Management System installed on a Carnival vessel. The system optimizes diesel engine operational settings to reduce emissions and conserve fuel.

In other news, Carnival and its parent company, Carnival Corporation, are giving a total of $250,000 to charitable organizations to support their efforts on behalf of victims of the Louisiana floods. The cruise line is donating $125,000 and its parent company is matching that amount through its Carnival Foundation charitable arm. Furthermore, Carnival Corporation Chairman Micky Arison and his wife Madeleine have matched the $250,000 donation through their family foundation. Recipients include the American Red Cross, Louisiana Association of United Ways and Save the Children. In addition, guests sailing on Carnival cruises from New Orleans have the option to donate when they check in for their cruise and Carnival employees are also being encouraged to donate. Elsewhere, for the first time, the line will offer a 14-day Alaskan adventure round-trip from Long Beach, California, departing September 2, 2017, aboard Carnival Miracle. In addition to a full-day sailing Glacier Bay and Carnival’s inaugural call to Icy Strait Point, the cruise will feature the Alaskan ports of Ketchikan, Skagway, Juneau and Sitka, as well as Vancouver, British Columbia. Carnival Legend will also offer 38 seven and eight-day Alaska voyages in 2017 and 2018, either round-trip from Seattle or from Vancouver to Seattle. Next, fans of Spike TV’s “Lip Sync Battle” will soon be able to channel their inner rock star at sea, as a replica of the program has been added to the company’s entertainment lineup. An exclusive partnership with Spike TV,Lip Sync Battle Carnival” will recreate the opportunity for contestants to live out their music-star fantasies by facing off in head-to-head competition. Elsewhere, Carnival Imagination is undergoing an extensive multi-million-dollar renovation this month that is adding a variety of the line’s newest food and beverage concepts, before the ship resumes its year-round schedule of three and four-day Baja cruises from Long Beach, California. And last but certainly not least, as part of a new multi-ship order announced by parent Carnival Corporation & plc, the line is scheduled to take delivery of two new 180,000-ton cruise ships in 2020 and 2022, which will be the largest in the fleet. Both ships will be powered by liquefied natural gas, marking the first time that an LNG-powered cruise ship will be based in North America. The two vessels, with an approximate passenger capacity of 5,200 each, based on double occupancy, will be constructed in Finland by shipbuilder Meyer Turku.

Celebrity Cruises is touting new culinary experiences available on board its ships, including a new Japanese restaurant “Sushi on Five”…a Concierge Class Luncheon at the start of each sailing…fresh, locally-sourced Alaska King Crab on sailings featuring the 49th State…plus chef-led culinary excursions offered in more than 40 regions across the world. For guests with special dietary needs, in November Celebrity will introduce “Dine Aware,” the only standard for the food and beverage industry which focuses on food allergy and intolerance communication and experiences. Also, Riedel Glassware will be Celebrity’s exclusive glassware, to be featured in its main dining rooms fleetwide by the end of 2016. In other news, the line’s holiday guests can enjoy a performance by pop artist Demi Lovato in a concert outside of Port St. Maarten on December 28. Tickets are available on Celebrity’s official website on a first come, first serve basis for guests sailing the Caribbean on Celebrity Equinox, Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Summit and Celebrity Reflection. Finally, the company has added more Mediterranean sailings for 2017, as well as new onboard activities and dining. Next year Celebrity will offer 40 European itineraries, 109 “Uniquely Celebrity Shore Excursions” in the region, and 61 overnight stays in 19 different European cities.

Costa Cruises’ new “Keep it Simple” promotion gives guests the option of a flat-rate “Best Fare” that is stripped of extras or an “Amenity Fare” that includes onboard credits and kids-sail- free options. The capacity-controlled rates are available on select Caribbean and Mediterranean ships and cruises through fall and winter, 2016-17. Rates start at $449 for seven-night cruises in the Mediterranean, while 10-night sailings in the Caribbean begin at $799.

Cunard’s recently-announced 2018 program features a new lineup of special event cruises, including high profile speakers and themed excursions. As an incentive to book early, Cunard is offering a complimentary drink package and pre-paid gratuities in Princess an Queens Grill Suites, as well as up to $250 onboard credit per stateroom for guests who book by June 30, 2017. Furthermore, the line is offering a “Three for All” sale on over 170 voyages departing between May, 2017, and January, 2018, on all three Cunard Queens. The sale features free stateroom upgrades, free gratuities, $150 reduced deposit, as well as free drinks in Princess and Queens Grill Suites, and runs through December 1, 2016. Only new bookings on trans-Atlantic crossings, New England & Canada, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Northern Europe and Iberia & Canary Island voyages are applicable.

Emerald Waterways is waiving its single supplement on all of its remaining 2016 European river cruises Furthermore, in addition to the online seminars previously announced, the line has scheduled 13 “InfoSessions” across the nation later this month, to begin at 5:30 or 6:00 p.m.: Tuesday, 9/13 (Atlanta, GA, and Portland, OR); Wednesday, 9/14 (Tacoma, WA); Thursday, 9/15 (Charlotte, NC, and Seattle, WA); Tuesday, 9/20 (La Jolla, CA, and St. Louis, MO); Wednesday, 9/21 (Austin, TX, and Chicago/Northfield, IL); Thursday, 9/22 (Milwaukee/Brookfield, WI); Tuesday, 9/27 (Westchester/West Harrison, NY); and Thursday, 9/29 (West Conshohocken/Philadelphia, PA, and San Luis Obispo, CA). Complimentary drinks and snacks will be served, and RSVPs are required.

Holland America Line has launched a series of new “Academy Specialist Training Courses” for travel professionals, to provide them with comprehensive tools for selling the company’s cruises. The initial course is “Alaska and the Yukon: The Great Land = Great Sales for You,” which is now available on the line’s “PartnerSHIPS portal.” Those who complete the course by November 18 will be automatically entered into a sweepstakes for a chance to win an Alaska cruise for two in a verandah stateroom.

MSC Cruises has revealed the name of its second Meraviglia-generation mega-ship, which will be called MSC Bellissima and enter service in the spring of 2019. The announcement was made on September 2 at STX France’s shipyard in Saint Nazaire, as the company celebrated the “float out” of MSC Meraviglia, due to begin cruising in June of next year.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s current “Free at Sea“ promotion has been extended, and is available for bookings made through September 18. In other news, the line is enhancing its “NETTOUR“ program to provide tour operators with added flexibility, effective October 1 for new groups sailing January 1, 2017 and beyond. For further information, operators are requested to contact Jodi Danyluk at And the new Norwegian Joy, currently under construction, promises no less than 28 different food and beverage outlets on board. The new Breakaway-Plus Class vessel, purpose-built for China, is scheduled to begin sailing from Shanghai on June 28, 2017.

Oceania Cruises will celebrate two special voyages in 2017. The line’s annual, culinary-oriented Jacques Pépin Cruise will depart London aboard Marina on June 2 for a 10-day European sojourn to Copenhagen, while Riviera will host the 14th Oceania Club Reunion Cruise, departing from Athens on April 19 for a 10-day round-trip Mediterranean voyage.

Princess Cruises’ seventh annual Relaxation Report has revealed that Americans are using valuable vacation time for things unrelated to vacation, such as catching up on sleep and running errands. According to the survey, 72% of working Americans take at least one day off a year just to sleep, and 40% take five or more days off per year for the same purpose. If they are not using vacation time to sleep, 68% of Americans (up from 54% in 2015) admit they’ve used a vacation day for something other than vacation, including 37% for family emergencies, 36% for doctor’s or dentist’s appointments, 31% on sick days for their children or family members, 23% for home projects, and 23% for running household errands. Elsewhere, Princess and DMI Soundtracks have announced a 14-track musical companion to the line’s onboard show, Magic To Do, from Oscar, Grammy and Tony award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz. Now available on CD, digital download and through streaming services, the album is the first of its kind by a cruise line. Magic to Do originally debuted in the Princess Theater aboard Crown Princess in October, 2015, and is now also available aboard Ruby Princess and Emerald Princess.

Seabourn is offering travel partners the opportunity to win one of seven cruises for two with its “Extraordinary Worlds” Cruise Givewaway. Those partners who make a qualified booking by September 30, 2017, will be automatically entered into the program. In other news, the line, in partnership with The Onboard Spa by Steiner, has created a fleet-wide “mindful living program” offering guests a holistic spa and wellness experience that integrates physical, social, environmental and spiritual well-being. The new “Spa and Wellness with Dr. Andrew Weil” program is reportedly the first-ever of its kind at sea. The new program will be led by a “Wellness Guide,” who will be a certified yoga and meditation practitioner.

SeaDream Yacht Club is promoting charters of its two vessels, which accommodate up to 56 couples in an ambiance resembling cruising aboard a private yacht. With a maximum of 112 guests served by 95 staff members, itineraries are available in the Mediterranean from May to October, and in the Caribbean from November to April.

Un-Cruise Adentures’ 2017 brochure, featuring new itineraries and ‘wellness’ departures, is now available. Among programs being offered are ten departures of an updated nine-day trip in Quito, Ecuador, and the Galápagos Islands, including two days exploring the city and seven days cruising the islands on the 48-guest La Pinta.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection has waived or reduced the single supplement onselected departures of 30 different 2017 itineraries. Furthermore, the line has extended itsfree economy air” promotion for 2017 Europe and Russia bookings made through November 4. Complimentary air transportation is being provided for all stateroom categories on programs that are 13 days or longer, and for category 2 and higher on trips of 12 days or fewer. Uniworld is also offering 2017 early-booking savings for Europe and Russia of up to $1,500 per person for payment in full by October 31, and up to $750 per person for space deposited by January 16. Conditions apply on all of these discounts, so check to see which program(s) will be most beneficial for you and your fellow travelers.

Windstar Cruises is offering 22 itineraries between May and November, 2017, on more than 120 sailings, including two new itineraries featuring Croatia, Slovenia, and Montenegro…eight- day “Quintessential Croatia” and 12-day “Marvels of the Croatian Coast & Greece” programs. The line is also doubling capacity on its “Around Iceland” cruises that sail round-trip from Reykjavik.