The Cruise Cafe

Welcome to Cruise Cafe. The great new place to find out the latest in the cruise business. Whether it be the latest specials, great new itineraries or information on cruise ships or cruise lines. Feel free to add comments on your experiences too. You can always find out more at or by calling us at 1-800-788-2545. For the latest specials, follow us on Twitter at

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Royal Caribbean Announces Independence Itineraries

Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas, currently in the dry dock phase of construction at Aker Yards in Finland, will begin service in mid-May (that's 2008, by the way; Liberty of the Seas, its Freedom-class sibling, launches this May) -- and will be based in Southampton, sharing space with the likes of Cunard's Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth 2.

The 158,000-ton, 3,634-passenger ship will be the largest ever to be based in England by Royal Caribbean. Independence of the Seas will, in its maiden season, offer two main itineraries. The 14-night "Mediterranean Treasures" features ports of call such as Gibraltar, U.K.; Barcelona, Spain; Nice, France; Florence/Pisa, Italy; Sardinia, Italy; Lisbon, Portugal; and Malaga and Vigo, Spain. The "Italian Mediterranean" cruises, also two-weeks long, will call at Gibraltar; Cannes/Monte Carlo, France; Florence/Pisa; Rome and Sardinia, Italy; Seville and Vigo, Spain; and Lisbon, Portugal.

There will also be a handful of Canary Islands trips. Offered in late fall, these cruises will be 11 nights long.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Oceania Is Sold - No Major Changes Expected

Oceania Cruises, the three-ship line, has been acquired by Apollo Management, a New York-based private equity fund. The cost? A cool $850 million (as a contrast, Carnival Corporation last week sold its three-ship Windstar; the tab was $100 million).

The good news is that Oceania Cruises will continue to operate with its same management team -- including Frank Del Rio, chairman and chief executive officer, and Bob Binder, its president. The sale does give the cruise line a nice cash infusion; we predict they'll be making an announcement soon about building new ships.

This isn't Apollo's first venture into the travel industry. The company has also invested heavily in hotel organizations such as RockResorts and Wyndham International, along with Miraval, an upscale spa destination.

In a statement, Steve Martinez, a partner at Apollo, noted that "Frank Del Rio has built a world-class cruise company in just a few short years, and we are delighted to have the opportunity to forge this strategic partnership with him and the highly talented management team at Oceania Cruises. We look forward to supporting the company’s growth and success." Indeed, Del Rio, who formerly helmed Renaissance Cruises, launched Oceania in 2002 with a $14 million investment.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Carnival Sells Windstar

Carnival Corporation, owner of Windstar Cruises, announces today it has sold the boutique line to Ambassadors International for $100 million.

Windstar, which actually was a wholly owned subsidiary of Carnival Corp.'s Holland America Line, will join Ambassadors' Majestic America Line; MAL operates noted U.S. river and coastal cruise vessels such as Delta Queen Steamboat, Queen of the West, Empress of the North, and American Queen, among others.

This move follows Carnival Corp.'s strategy of divesting itself of niche-oriented cruise lines; Swan Hellenic, the one ship U.K.-based line, is another that is leaving the Carnival portfolio this year.The Seattle-based Majestic America was created by Ambassadors in 2006 when it acquired two lines: American West Steamboat and the vessels of Delta Queen.

Windstar Cruises' three ships include the 312-passenger Wind Surf, and the 148-passenger Wind Star and Wind Spirit. The deal is slated to close in second quarter 2007, according to the Carnival Corporation announcement. Windstar will continue to operate the ships in the short term.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Disney Announces Expansion

The Walt Disney Company plans to expand its successful cruise business by adding two new ocean liners, President and CEO Bob Iger announced today. Scheduled to launch in 2011 and 2012, the ships will more than double the passenger capacity for Disney Cruise Line® to meet the sustained demand for Disney's family cruise vacations.

The new 122,000-ton cruise liners will be two decks taller than the existing 83,000-ton ships, the Disney Magic® and the Disney Wonder®. Each ship will have 1,250 staterooms. Specific design plans and itineraries for the yet-unnamed ships are still in development and will be unveiled at a later date.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Carnival Postpones Triumph's Move to New Orleans

A second Fun Ship won't be heading to the Big Easy this year after all. Carnival Cruise Lines announced today that Carnival Triumph, which was originally scheduled to shift to New Orleans this August, will remain in Miami at least through April 2008.

According to a company statement, misperceptions about the city's tourism readiness post-Katrina prompted Carnival to re-evaluate the timeline for adding a second ship to the homeport; Fantasy is currently (and will remain) stationed there for four- and five-day Western Caribbean voyages.

Bob Dickinson, Carnival president and CEO, is quoted as saying, "There are lingering misconceptions by the vacationing public as to the recovery of New Orleans' tourism infrastructure, which has necessitated a re-evaluation of our timeline for adding a second ship to that port.

"We are committed to New Orleans and, not only will the Fantasy remain there, but we will continue our efforts to build consumer interest in cruising from New Orleans and to counter some of the erroneous perceptions of the city that are currently posing a challenge. In the meantime, we do not feel the timing is right to place a second ship there just yet."

Chris Bonura, the Port of New Orleans' communications manager, tells us that port officials are disappointed that Carnival has decided to delay the arrival of the Triumph, but encouraged that they are still committed to bringing the ship to New Orleans at a later date.

"We also understand that many travelers continue to have misconceptions about the city's recovery. The French Quarter and other parts of the city where tourists congregate are back in full swing with hotels, restaurants and attractions reopened and eager to welcome visitors."

The 102,000-ton, 2,758-passenger Triumph was originally scheduled to homeport in New Orleans starting in August for weeklong Western Caribbean cruises. Instead, Carnival will expand its Exotic Eastern Caribbean offerings from Miami; beginning August 25, 2007, Triumph will sail seven-day Exotic Eastern Caribbean cruises from Miami weekly, rather than every other week.

Royal Caribbean Gives Suites Royal Treatment

The suite life just got sweeter: Though every stateroom onboard Majesty of the Seas' was enhanced during its recent $36 million bow-to-stern makeover with new bedding, drapes and flat-screen televisions, Royal Caribbean took the 73,941-ton, 2,356-passenger ship's suites a step further with a completely new look and upgraded amenities. The initiative will go fleetwide by August 2007.

The program comes on the heels of the fleetwide rollout of the line's new bedding, which kicked off on Freedom of the Seas last year. All cabins are now outfitted with new mattress frames (no more sagging!), nine-inch-thick spring mattresses and mattress pads to close the gap between pushed-together twins. The beds also have 220-thread-count long-staple cotton-blend sheets and two micro-fiber pillows (they're like clouds ... we tested them!), plus one decorative pillow, a duvet with cotton-blend covers and bed skirts.

All of Majesty's suites -- Grand Suites, Owners Suites, Royal Family Suites, Royal Suites and Junior Suites -- were completely overhauled during the refurbishment. The revitalization includes:

  • New wall linings, cabinetry, fixtures, mirrors, wood cappings and decorative rails
  • Samsung plasma TV's
  • Pillow menus (in conjunction with the line's new bedding program)
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi access
  • Enhanced bathroom amenities, such as upgraded towels, shampoo and soap by Explore!
  • Additional room at the vanity desk and upgraded deck furniture.
  • Upon arrival, guests receive a complimentary bottle of wine, fruit basket and Evian water. Throughout each cruise, different amenities will be offered, such as coffee and tea service, and binoculars.

Upping the accommodations ante runs in the family: Royal Caribbean's sister cruise line, Celebrity, offers suites holders special amenities such as welcome Champagne and express luggage delivery -- and its signature Concierge Class cabins emphasize luxury touches: fresh flowers, afternoon canapes, pillow-top mattress, duvets, Egyptian cotton towels, Frette bathrobes. Balconies are outfitted with higher-quality furnishings, including a table big enough for outdoor dining.

Majesty of the Seas re-launched February 12 and will sail three- and four-night sailings to the Bahamas, which include a stop at Royal Caribbean's private island CocoCay.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Carnival Names Upcoming New-Builds

Carnival Cruise Lines has announced the names of its upcoming 130,000-ton, 3,652-passenger new-builds: Carnival Dream and Carnival Magic.

Dream and Magic -- scheduled to launch in October of 2009 and June of 2011 respectively -- represent a new class for the line. These ships will be Carnival's largest ever, and will feature innovative onboard amenities and facilities (though the line is tight lipped thus far as to what they will be).

These ships are two of four currently on order, all being built by Italy's Fincantieri. The 110,000-ton, 2,974-passenger Carnival Freedom is slated to debut in Europe next month (March 5); the 112,000-ton, 3,006-passenger Carnival Splendor is scheduled to enter service in July of 2008.

Uniworld's River Cruises Aim to Draw Families

In a move that's unquestionably unique in the sedate niche of European river cruising, Uniworld has just announced its plan to expand its market to families. River cruises, particularly throughout the waterways of Europe, have long appealed almost entirely to more mature passengers looking for a more sedate cruise experience. Uniworld's move represents a distinct change in the passengers themselves and the onboard lifestyle by adding an entirely new segment in the market.

Specifically, the program will apply to two different itineraries. A nine-night "Castles Along the Rhine" sailing travels between Amsterdam and Basel. Another nine-night option is a Paris-based trip along the Seine to Normandy -- and back.

Though river vessels, unlike cruise ships that cover coastal territory in Europe, aren't designed or built to accommodate the vast needs of young 'uns, Uniworld is creating some special options and features to appeal to kids. Onboard activities will be broadened to include painting workshops, language lessons, and cuckoo clock and dessert demos. One room will be dedicated to games (PS2 stations will be added). Mealtimes will feature kid-tested faves like pizza, pasta and macaroni and cheese.

As well, shore excursion offerings are broadened from the usual Uniworld menu. On the Rhine trip, a call at the medieval town of Speyer typically features a walking tour; on these cruises, passengers can also visit the Speyer Museum, which is filled with trains, boats and planes (a full-size 747 and submarine among them). In Rudesheim, passengers typically attend a Riesling tasting. Instead, families will visit the fabulous Siegfried's Mechanical Museum, home to one of the largest collections of self-playing musical instruments in the world.

These river voyages are aimed at families with kids in the 8 - 18 age range and are not suitable for younger tykes.

Both of the trips are fairly inclusive, with accommodations, meals, onboard events and activities, and the majority of shore excursions part of the package. The cruises are available in June, July and August for the "Castles Along the Rhine" itinerary, and for the full season with the Paris and Normandy cruises.

For more information on Uniworld's River Cruise Products, call us at 1-800-788-2545 or visit us at

Barge Hits Carnival's Fantasy - Cruise Canceled

A barge hit Carnival Cruise Lines' 70,367-ton, 2,056-passenger Fantasy yesterday morning on the Mississippi River near New Orleans, according to the Times-Picayune.

Fantasy was on its way back to New Orleans from a Western Caribbean cruise when a rice barge, one of six being pushed by a towing vessel, struck the cruise ship's hull leaving a 30-ft. gash. Nobody was hurt in the accident, and after the collision Fantasy was able to continue on safely to the Erato Street Cruise Terminal in New Orleans.

The accident prompted Carnival to cancel the next five-night Western Caribbean cruise scheduled to depart yesterday evening. According to the Times-Picayune, officials had hoped to get the cruise underway and passengers had embarked -- but it was eventually determined that repairs would be too lengthy as the collision penetrated the ship's steel plating.

Passengers expecting to set sail were allowed to stay onboard for the evening, and all services from dining to entertainment were operational.

All passengers booked on the canceled voyage will receive a full refund as well as a discount of 25 percent on a future cruise of three, four or five nights. Passengers who booked air independently will be reimbursed $200 per person for flight-related expenses.

Fantasy's next cruise -- scheduled to depart on Thursday, February 15 -- is expected to sail as planned. We'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


The Scholar Ship today announced the lease of a 29,000-ton ocean liner that will become the first oceangoing education program developed specifically for an international student body. The application deadline for the September voyage is April 30.

The Scholar Ship will transform the 660-foot (201 meters) ocean liner to accommodate 600 undergraduate and graduate students in a multicultural academic and living environment. The ship, which will be re-named The Scholar Ship, has 389 staterooms that can accommodate 778 students and faculty, as well as 416 crew members. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. provides funding and operational support for The Scholar Ship.

The Scholar Ship will make its maiden voyage in September 2007 from Piraeus (Athens), Greece and sail westward on a compelling itinerary that includes stops in Lisbon, Portugal; Panama City, Panama; Guayaquil, Ecuador; Papeete, Tahiti; Suva, Fiji; Sydney, Australia; Shanghai, China; and Okinawa and Kobe, Japan. In addition to the program’s extensive onboard curriculum, each port of call provides a distinct educational platform from which students engage in academic field study, shore excursions, and independent travel.

“Finding a vessel we could transform into an oceangoing campus was a unique challenge,” said Michael Bonner, chief operating officer of The Scholar Ship. “We wanted a ship with ample public space, expansive outdoor deck areas, comfortable staterooms, and appropriately sized rooms to conduct classes. After nearly a year of reviewing dozens of alternatives, we found a vessel that is ideally suited for our program. It is a classic ocean liner with a deep-draft hull, spacious rooms and decks designed specifically for longer global voyages.”

Seven highly respected international universities have collaborated on the development of The Scholar Ship’s rigorous onboard and port programs. The Scholar Ship’s Consortium of Academic Stewards includes the University of California, Berkeley (United States), Macquarie University (Australia), Fudan University (China), Tecnológico de Monterrey (Mexico), Al Akhawayn University (Morocco), University of Ghana (Sub-Saharan Africa), and Cardiff University (United Kingdom).

Program fees are approximately USD $20,000 per semester. A two-million dollar scholarship fund has been established for the 2007/2008 academic year to broaden the availability of this program to students from diverse backgrounds. Scholarships will be awarded based on academic merit and economic need.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Super Bowl Weekend Kicks Off at Sea

Okay, guys, we know it didn't go over so well when you asked your wives to reschedule the yearly cruise vacation because embarkation fell on the most important day of the year -- Super Bowl Sunday. But you can relax because the big game is getting touchdown treatment, even at sea. What's your cruise line doing to celebrate the beer, the hot wings, the commercials and, oh yeah, the game? Read on....

In addition to showing the game in various lounges and bars, including the huge 270-square-ft. LED screen on Carnival Liberty, Carnival will be offering beer specials -- with buckets of beers available at an especially discounted rate -- along with food stations at all viewing venues with chicken fingers, southwestern-style egg rolls, coconut shrimp, steak sandwiches and other fare.

Holland America
The game will be shown in theaters fleetwide as well as on in-stateroom TV's and other monitors located in various areas around the ships -- including the sports bar, natch, but also in the Explorations Cafe and other bars/lounges. Look for decorations featuring the battling teams' colors from balloons to streamers. There will be special buffets.

Note: Due to the location of Ryndam (at sea in the South Pacific this Sunday), satellite transmission of the game may not be available. A spokeswoman for the line tells us that HAL will make every effort possible to make the satellite link work in order to air the game.

Norwegian Cruise Line
The big game will be televised in one venue on all ships (location varies depending on the ship). Drink specials (including a special drink themed to each team) and game-appropriate food will be served, including tortilla chips with salsa and cheese dip, popcorn, hot dogs, pizza, chicken wings, and nachos. In addition, there will be special activities and prizes throughout the game.

Football fans onboard Caribbean Princess, Crown Princess, Sea Princess and Grand Princess will be able to follow the action, broadcast by ESPN International, on 300-square-ft. super-size "Movies Under the Stars" screens. Tailgate treats include specially prepared chili, pigs in a blanket, hamburgers and pizza. Most Princess ships without "MUTS" screens will also show the game (depending on satellite availability) and host game-related parties in one or more of the ship's public lounges.

And ladies -- if you're not into the sport, we suggest heading up to the spa. He'll never know you're gone (until he gets the bill...)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

NCV Ship Runs Aground in Antarctica

Norwegian Coastal Voyage's Nordkapp ran aground in the wild waters of Antarctica -- a region so remote that gaining the help of a tow, so to speak, could prove challenging.

Thankfully, all has ended well. The 11,386-ton, 325-passenger Nordkapp, which ran aground yesterday near Deception Island, one of the South Shetland Islands, spent the night anchored near land. No injuries were reported and passengers and crew were not in danger, according to a company statement.

The ship had nearly completed its cruise (a 19-day expedition from Santiago to Argentina's Ushuaia, with a flight to Buenos Aires) and was on its way back when it struck submerged rocks. Nordkapp was able to clear the rocks under its own power and has not been found to be leaking oil or other fluids. There is some damage to the outer hull but it's minor. The ship is in no danger of sinking or listing.

However, its 294 passengers, 165 of which are from the U.S. and Canada, are being taken off the ship as a precaution. Actually, Nordkapp's pretty lucky in that regard because sister ship Nordnorge was sailing in the general vicinity. Passengers will be taken aboard via tender transfers.

There are already passengers onboard Nordnorge, which sails the same region this time of year, but there's plenty of room onboard for the new folks because these ships aren't allowed to sail full. The line restricts the capacity of the 490-berth ships to 325 -- and based on the current passenger load, they were able to accommodate those stranded aboard Nordkapp.