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

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Carnival Bans Bringing Aboard Nonalcoholic Drinks

Carnival moved this week to ban passengers from bringing nonalcoholic drinks onboard.

"What we've been told by our embarkation vice president is that there was abuse of the previous policy," says Carnival's Vance Gulliksen. "That's why the new policy is more restrictive." No additional details were available about the nature of the abuse.

This means that water, juice and soda are as off-limits as vodka, gin and beer.

Folks who require special beverages for medical reasons must bring a note from the doctor in order to bring their drinks onboard.

Carnival's not even the first line to implement such a restriction. In a little noticed policy shift, Royal Caribbean already prohibits bringing nonalcoholic beverages onboard.

This began in the early 2000's when cruise lines, following Royal Caribbean's move to prohibit folks from bringing liquor onboard, began tightening their rules. While the change at that time was clearly made with an eye toward forcing folks to buy their liquor onboard, a positive trend emerged: It also cut down on ridiculous and dangerous consumption -- at least to some degree.

For more information on cruise line beverage policies, contact us at 1-800-788-2545 or visit our web site at

Shipyard Report: Progress on Cruising New-Builds

Holland America's Eurodam, now under construction at Fincantieri's Marghera shipyard just outside of Venice, achieved a major milestone this weekend when the first block of its keel was laid. The laying of the keel, the underwater part of the ship -- its foundation in essence -- marks the first significant stage of shipbuilding. A priest was on hand to offer a blessing for the ship, a ceremony that is part of Italy's shipbuilding tradition.

Following the first block, of course, are the rest, as shipyard workers, guiding huge cranes, lower the other modular sections into place. The pieces slot in place as if part of a giant jigsaw puzzle.

The 86,000-ton, 2,044-passenger Eurodam, a prototypical ship representing Holland America's new Signature class, will launch in June 2008.

Celebrity's prototypical Solstice underwent a similar ritual in mid-March. Shipyard workers at Meyer Werft, in Papenburg, Germany, began laying its keel. Each block that makes up the 122,000-ton, 2,850-passenger Celebrity Solstice, weights more than 430 tons, is 16 meters long, nearly 37 meters wide and stands eight meters tall! An 800-ton crane is needed to put them into place.

Celebrity Solstice, the largest ship ever built in Celebrity's fleet, will debut in October 2008.

And in other ship building news, the 112,000-ton, 3,000-passenger Costa Serena, which will be delivered May 15, successfully completed one of its final milestones: sea trials. That ship, which has been under construction at Fincantieri’s yard in Genoa, headed out to sea to test its systems, machinery and engines. CostaSerena will be christened in Marseilles on May 19.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Move Over Genesis ... Bigger Ship on Horizon?

If you think the plans for Royal Caribbean's Genesis class are wild, wait until you hear about Princess Kaguya, a city-at-sea concept that's been presented to Finland's Aker Yards, according to media reports. If financed and ultimately built, the ship would measure 370,000 tons; that's more than one-and-a-half times the size of Genesis (222,000 tons).

It's not a cruise line behind the idea, but a company called Japan Contents Network Inc., whose CEO Hajime Tanaka has launched three golf courses and a Formula One circuit. And the 20-deck ship itself would operate differently from the cruise ships most travelers are used to. In addition to carrying a maximum number of 8,400 passengers, up to 10,000 visitors could board in each port to partake of its urban amenities. JCN has even considered selling some rooms as residences.

The proposed design on its project Web site,, includes:
  • Three independent, different "class" hotels, each with 1,200 rooms.
  • A multipurpose hall of 6,000 square meters, nearly 65,000 square ft., for holding trade shows and conventions, concerts, indoor sporting events, etc.
  • A shopping mall 300 meters long, almost 1,000 ft. A whopping 55 restaurants: 20 for passengers, 20 for visitors, and five in each of the three hotels (15 altogether).
  • A "Cruising Amusement Park" (no specific details are given at this point).

An itinerary plan page on indicates a year-round world-cruise-like lineup -- covering much of Asia and Europe, and crossing the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans -- with the ship spending several days in each port.

Majestic America Line Embraces Enrichment Trend

That cruise travelers want more than to merely see the world -- learning is fundamental, too -- may not be the newest trend afloat, but it's one that continues to evolve. Now, Majestic America Line is joining in the crusade for onboard enrichment, with a comprehensive fleetwide program in 2007.

First, a primer: If Majestic America Line doesn't sound familiar, that's because the cruise line is somewhat new; Delta Queen Steamboat and American West Steamboat combined under the umbrella last year. Majestic continues to sail well-known vessels such as the Delta Queen, Mississippi Queen and Empress of the North.

Throughout the year, Majestic America will bring more than 28 regional experts onboard these and other ships at various port stops to share their knowledge with guests. An expert might be a photographer, an award-winning historian or a story teller.

For example, on a call at Clarkston, Washington, on the Columbia River, a presenter will share personal insights, history and culture of the local Nez Perce Indians. A fishing and cannery lecture will be offered on cruises to Alaska's Inside Passage. At a stop in a Hannibal, Missouri, hometown of Mark Twain, local students portraying Tom and Becky from "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" may perform a scene onboard from the book.

Majestic America Line will also provide Discovery Guides onboard each voyage -- similar to the naturalists that sail on expedition cruises. Discovery Guides will call out points of interest along the river, comment on wildlife and be available to guests at any time for one-on-one discussions. All lectures, and some commentary, will be broadcast on stateroom TV's; informational maps, DVD's, pamphlets and books will also be available.

Majestic America Line sails its river boats in three regions of America: the Mississippi, Ohio and tributary rivers; Pacific Northwest's Columbia, Snake and Willamette rivers; and Alaska's Inside Passage.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Oceania Confirms Plans to Build Two New Ships

The as yet unnamed 65,000-ton, 1,260-passenger ships will be delivered in fall 2010 and summer 2011. They'll be built at Fincantieri’s shipyard in Genoa at a cost of $500 million apiece (which works out to about $400,000 per berth; think about that when you hit the hay on one of these new vessels). There's also an option on a third ship.

The size of course is significant in that the new ships will hold 80 percent more passengers than the existing Oceania vessels. The line's popular country club ambience -- basically defined as an atmosphere conducive to social interaction amongst passengers -- won't change.

Oceania also divulged its plans for dining and entertainment onboard the new ships. Each will have six different restaurants (the Grand main dining room plus four specialty eateries). In addition to the established Polo Grill steakhouse and Italian Toscana faves that are found onboard the existing trio of Regatta-class ships (which includes Insignia and Nautica), there will also be an elegant French bistro and a Pan-Asian restaurant.

All dining rooms will continue to follow Oceania's open seating tradition and, indeed, the planned ships have enough restaurant space that 150 percent of the passengers onboard can all sit down at basically the same time.

And remarkably, there will be no surcharge to dine at any of them.

Other nifty facts?

  • Cabins will be significantly bigger -- roughly 50 percent larger in standard categories. There will be 630 staterooms and suites; 96 percent will feature outside views, and 93 percent will have private verandahs.
  • Cabin types are much broader than on the line's existing ships. For instance, there will be two owner's suites (2,500 square ft. apiece, each two stories high, outdoor Jacuzzi); six vista suites (at the front of the ship), 14 Oceania suites (1,000 square ft., located on top deck and amidships), 125 penthouse suites (500 square ft.) and 438 concierge level balcony staterooms (about 300 square ft.).
  • Oceania's Spa will be much larger.
  • The ship will move at a cruising speed that's 20 percent faster than the existing vessels. "You still can’t water ski behind them," quipped Del Rio, "but they are faster." This will give itinerary planners more flexibility….
  • Oceania, building on its reputation for superb cuisine, will introduce the Food and Wine Culinary Enrichment Center onboard; like the kitchen theater setup pioneered by Holland America, it too will revert to a cinema when not in use for food demonstrations, workshops, cooking classes and wine tastings.
  • Bathrooms -- a weakness on the current ships -- will be "state of the art and as fine as one could have at sea."
  • Other public spaces will range from signature Oceania touches -- Martinis, Horizons and the Grand Staircase -- to new ones (The Patio).

One of the most interesting pieces of today's announcement involved the new deployments that will launch once ships number one and two are in service. According to Oceania president Bob Binder:

  • The new ships will sail on the line's most popular itineraries. For instance, the first will take over Regatta's routes, while the second will replace Nautica.
  • As a result of the added ships, Oceania will place a vessel in Alaska for the very first time.
  • One of the Regatta-class ships will be repositioned to Australia/New Zealand for an entire winter season.
  • There will be even more possibilities in Europe because during spring, summer and fall there will be four Oceania ships trawling its waters.
  • And another vessel will most likely be homeported out of Los Angeles and sail West Coast-based trips -- to South America, Hawaii, and Mexico.

But you'll have to wait. Oceania won't even begin to take reservations until sometime in 2009, Binder said. There is some good news: He anticipates that fares for the new ships will be right in line with those for the classic ones.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Carnival Plans to Build Terminal in Roatan

If you've never called at (or heard of) Honduras' Roatan, that's about to change. Carnival Corporation has announced that it will build and operate a brand-new cruise terminal in the Western Caribbean port. Development is expected to begin this fall and will wind up sometime in the summer of 2009.

Carnival Corp. is at the forefront of revamping the Caribbean -- a cruise region that's been losing steam. In an effort to keep new ships coming in and people coming back, the company has been building new ports or at least creating new experiences. A recent example of this strategy is Grand Turk. Though smaller ships and luxury lines such as Crystal and Silversea called at the small island in the past, Carnival Corp. positioned it as a mainstream port by designing a brand-new cruise terminal that's a destination in its own right, with retail shops, a recreation area right on the beach and a huge pool.

The $50 million facility in Roatan, which will be called "Mohogany Bay - Roatan," will also be more than just a pier. In the works are:
  • Two berths capable of accommodating post-Panamax vessels -- and up to 7,000 passengers daily.
  • A 35,000-square-ft. Welcome Center featuring retail shops, restaurants, bars, a nature trail, a 60-ft.-high lighthouse and a lagoon with cascading waterfalls.
  • A transportation hub with the ability to accommodate taxis, rental cars and tour buses.

With Roatan and Grand Turk, Carnival Corp. is following in the footsteps of Costa Maya, a self-made destination that was carved out of the jungle expressly for cruise passengers. What's different about Roatan, however, is that lines are already going there, including Celebrity and NCL, and Carnival Corp. lines Carnival, Holland America, Princess, Costa and P&O. But up until now, it has been considered more exotic than mainstream.

Within five years of operation, "Mohogany Bay - Roatan" is expected to host 225 cruise ship calls and 500,000 passengers annually, according to a company statement.

For more information on cruises that call at Roatan, please call us at 1-800-788-2545 or visit or web site at

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Carnival to Offer Big Prizes in Casino Tourneys

Carnival Cruise Lines and the Ocean Players Club, a casino rewards program for cruise passengers, have joined forces to host 20 slot and blackjack tournaments throughout 2007 (next tournament: March 22, slots, Imagination). Total prize money will be more than $100,000.

The tournaments will be held on 19 different three- to eight-day Carnival cruises operating through October 2007. In November, the schedule will culminate in a special "Grand Final Event" aboard the Carnival Freedom, currently the line's newest ship.

Each of the 19 preliminary tournaments offer $5,000 in cash prizes, with a first prize of $2,500 and a complimentary cruise for two on Carnival Freedom's November 12 voyage to participate in the Grand Final Event. There, gamblers will vie for $20,000 in cash prizes for the slot tournament and $10,000 in cash prizes for the blackjack tournament. Entry fees are $50 for the 19 prelim rounds and $100 for the final event.

Participants can check dates and pre-register for the tournament on the Ocean Players Club Web site.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Princess Dual Christening Honors Moms & Daughters

In an homage to mothers and daughters, Princess Cruises has named iconic legends to christen its newest ships -- Emerald Princess and Royal Princess -- when they debut in a unique joint ceremony in Greece's Santorini. The ceremony takes place on May 12 -- which is Mother's Day weekend.

Florence Henderson, perhaps better known as Carol Brady on television's long-running "The Brady Bunch," and Marion Ross, who played the beloved Mrs. Cunningham on the even longer-running "Happy Days," will serve as godmothers of Emerald Princess. The actors who played their fictional daughters -- Susan Olsen, who played Cindy Brady, and Erin Moran, the irrepressible Joanie Cunningham, will, in turn, christen Royal Princess.

As part of the Mother's Day celebration, Princess is also hosting a contest in which a real mother and daughter get a chance to win "The Ultimate Mother and Daughter Mediterranean Escape." The lucky team will sail on Emerald Princess' May 5 Greek Isles/Mediterranean voyage. The winners will be announced on April 12.

Interesting tidbit: Florence Henderson, Marion Ross and Erin Moran also share the distinction of guest-starring in episodes of The Love Boat, which was set on Princess Cruises' original Pacific Princess.

The 113,000-ton, 3,080-passenger Emerald Princess is the latest in the Grand-class series of ships and will feature many of the evolutionary programs and amenities introduced last year by its sibling, Crown Princess, including the fabulous piazza-style Atrium with on-site bakery, The Sanctuary spa retreat, and alternative eateries that range from a seafood-steakhouse to a sushi bar.

The 30,000-ton, 710-passenger Royal Princess (currently sailing under the Swan Hellenic flag as Minerva II), will join Princess' fleet of pathfinder vessels -- those like Tahitian Princess and (today's) Pacific Princess, whose small size enable them to visit more exotic ports of call. The ship will conclude service as a Swan Hellenic ship in April and then undergo a dry dock refurbishment that will add Princess hallmarks.

Royal Caribbean Reveals Handful of Liberty Twists

In an announcement today, Royal Caribbean revealed a handful of options not only new to Liberty of the Seas, but also new to the fleet. In particular, the cruise line is clearly targeting health-conscious and family travelers, as well as honeymooners. Among the new options?
  • Vitality, a program aimed at health and wellness enthusiasts, will blend a variety of facets, from seminars and fitness offerings (such as Tai Chi and acupuncture) to spa-style cuisine.
  • In expanding its Adventure Ocean program for kids, Liberty of the Seas will feature a few new twists, such as Adventure Theater by Camp Broadway. The affiliation with Camp Broadway, a well-known children's theater group in New York will expose younger passengers to theater arts -- weaving folktales, music, dance and cultural elements. Teens can explore the theater too, but also can take part in D.J. classes hosted by the Scratch DJ Academy. For younger passengers, the line's Fisher-Price's Chefs on Deck lets them learn to cook. And families can team up together to build their own ship in Build & Grow, a program with Lowe's as an affiliate.
  • Cruise weddings are increasingly popular, and Royal Caribbean's new Explorer Weddings, again to debut on Liberty of the Seas, adds a twist to its existing Royal Romance packages: Passengers can wed on an Alaskan glacier, in a hot-air balloon, while surfing on Liberty’s FlowRider or scuba diving on the ocean bed. This is available to those renewing vows as well (stay tuned for a news item offering further details).

Liberty of the Seas and sister-ship, Freedom of the Seas, will alternate between seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries, with Liberty departing on Saturdays (from May 19) and Freedom on Sundays from Miami. Both itineraries include stops at Royal Caribbean's private destination Labadee, Haiti, before returning to Miami. Liberty's Western Caribbean itinerary calls in Cozumel, Mexico; George Town, Grand Cayman; and Montego Bay, Jamaica; while the Eastern Caribbean itinerary calls in San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Philipsburg, St. Maarten, allowing for a third day at sea to take advantage of all the ship has to offer.

The two Freedom-class ships will be joined by a third, Independence of the Seas, when it debuts in Europe in May 2008.

For more info on Liberty of the Seas, check out or call us at 1-800-788-2545.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Cruise Lines Embrace iPods and MP3's

Both Holland America Line and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, in announcements last week, are planning to incorporate special onboard -- and onshore -- features into iPod- and MP3-ready formats.

Holland America is offering free downloads of its ships' art tours, available for each of the fleet's 13 ships. Every piece of art -- from the Art Deco pieces dating from the original Nieuw Amsterdam in 1938 on ms Amsterdam to the "Carnival in Venice" sculptures on ms Zuiderdam -- is catalogued and described. Topping the free "podcasts," passengers who don't have video iPods or MP3 players can borrow, free of charge, one of the devices onboard. To get your art tour, visit the Holland America Web site.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises' offerings are different in that they focus on ports of call. These audio walking-tours feature cities on Mediterranean itineraries; other destinations are in production. Narrated by Elyse Weiner, an Emmy-winning foreign news producer, current tours include Venice, Rome, Pompeii, Florence and Barcelona. Produced and distributed by iJourneys for Regent, the 1.5-hour tours will be available to rent at a cost of $14.95 per destination. You can have the tour put into your personal device or rent one on the ship; the cost is the same.

If two cruise lines in one week's worth of announcements have adopted the technology, it's a pretty good bet that we'll be hearing about more ways to use your iPod or MP3 player ... while on a cruise vacation.

Carnival Inaugurates Carnival Freedom!

The weather cooperated, a fuse did not.

While sunny skies led to a crystal clear night in Venice for the naming ceremony of Carnival's brand-spanking-new Carnival Freedom on Sunday, a blown fuse in the sound system of the ship's ornate Victoriana showroom delayed the event for nearly an hour.

The ship's British cruise director livened things up, wisecracking to the crowd of European travel agents, press and dignitaries with updates on the situation. And after an Italian translation to the mostly Italian crowd, he jokingly translated for the benefit of Germans in the audience how to say "the sound system is kaput."

After a temporary microphone setup was hastily arranged, Carnival bigwigs entered the theater accompanying the general vicar of Venice, Fincantieri shipyard Chairman Corrado Antonini, and Carnival Freedom Captain Orazio D'Aita. Kathy Ireland, the ship's godmother, came next, and she elegantly towered over the men. Carnival President and CEO Bob Dickinson -- who gave a brief intro in Italian as an homage to our locale -- noted that Freedom is the eighth ship built for Carnival by Fincantieri, starting with the construction of Destiny in 1996, which like the Freedom was built in Marghera, just outside Venice. Three more Carnival ships will emerge from the same Italian shipyard, including Carnival Splendor, which debuts in June 2008.

As Ireland christened the ship she declared, "My heart will always cherish this ship and everyone who experiences her will always be in my prayers. God bless everyone who comes in contact with this vessel." The crowd applauded as the champagne bottle smashed on cue. The ceremony was followed by a show production, "A Ticket to Ride," featuring hits by The Beatles.

Carnival Freedom, the 22nd ship in the Carnival fleet, will spend its first eight months in Europe, including inaugurating Carnival's first visits to Greece and Turkey. The ship will sail a series of 12-night cruises before heading to Miami, where itineraries will focus on the Caribbean. Carnival Freedom will return to Europe in 2008. For more information on this fabulous ship, please call us at 1-800-788-2545 or visit

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Canada Immigration -- Make Sure You Check Rules

Boomers heading for Canada to embark on an Alaska or Canada/New England cruise had better revisit their memories. Let's say you got busted for smoking marijuana in college. But that bit of youthful indiscretion may come back to haunt you now, in a most surprising manner.

You are considered "unfit" to enter Canada. In the words of the Canadian government, you are "criminally inadmissible." This applies to anyone as well who has been convicted of a DUI, shoplifting, driving dangerously, simple assault ... or anything that can be considered a "misdemeanor" in the United States. It doesn't matter if it was 40-some-odd years ago. It doesn't matter if you've been going to Canada for the last 20 years with no problem. If you have a record, you won't get in now.

What does this mean if you're planning to cruise there? Bad news: If you're turned away at the border because you're "criminally inadmissible," you won't be seeing a refund on your cruise fare. Even if you have insurance.

"We advise visa and passport requirements," says Erik Elvejord, spokesperson for Holland America Line, which operates several Alaska cruises departing from Vancouver and Canada/New England voyages from Montreal. "If a guest is denied entry into a country because of current requirements, it's unfortunate, but we don't provide refunds for it."

It isn't that the laws are any tougher than they have been over the last 40 years, it's the technology that's better. Canadian immigration officers can plug into your history in the same way that local cops can. This is the result of a post 9/11 agreement between the U.S. and Canada, and it's been very effective.

It's long been known that U.S. immigration procedures are difficult, but entering Canada for U.S. citizens has been a snap. Until now.

Steve Dasseos, chief executive officer of, says that no insurance policy will cover it either.

"Every policy has a clause that excludes government regulation or prohibitions. Every policy. It might be worded differently in each, but no policy will cover it."

For example, TravelGuard's exclusion says: "In addition to the General Exclusions, this coverage does not cover loss caused by: ... (vii) any government regulation or prohibition..." TravelEx's policy, worded differently, says: "Benefits are not payable for Sickness, Injuries or losses of You, Your Traveling Companion, Business Partner or Family Member: ...k) resulting from a governmental regulation or prohibition..."

Even a "cancel for any reason" policy won't be of help here, because the terms require that you cancel a minimum of two days before your trip begins, meaning two days before you leave your home.

If you think you might be at risk, there are ways that you can "rehabilitate" yourself. It can, however, take up to 18 months; even fast-tracking it can still take up to six. It requires going to a Canadian consulate and filing a ton of paperwork (including court documents, current police statements that you're "clean," your own statement as to why you were convicted and three letters from "persons of standing in the community"). It can cost up to $1,000 CDN, depending on the infraction.

What if you board in New York and your cruise ends in Montreal, and you're in an "Inadmissible Class" and don't know it? Lucy Perillo, who operates Canada Border Crossing Services, an agency which helps expedite the "rehabilitation" process, says that your first clue will be that you can't get off the ship for your shore excursions in Halifax or Prince Edward Island. And it will be computerized, in the system. When you get to Montreal, you will be allowed to transit to the airport, usually accompanied and put into a secure area. If you had planned on two-night post-cruise stay, forget it.

"It's also important to note," she says, "that Canada doesn't require a passport for entry. We still accept a photo ID and certified birth certificate. The U.S. requires a passport for re-entry. Some people mistakenly think that by using the photo ID and birth certificate, their entry to Canada will be easier. It's not. If you're in the system with a past conviction, the form of ID you use doesn't matter." For more info:

For more information on the infractions considered serious enough to make you "criminally inadmissible," and the steps you need to take to rehabilitate yourself, check