The Cruise Cafe

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Monday, April 30, 2007

Avalon Waterways Christens Two New Vessels in Europe

European river cruise company Avalon Waterways welcomed two new additions to its fleet this week: Avalon Imagery, christened in Nuremburg, and Avalon Tranquility, christened in Trier (Germany's oldest city).

The launch of the ships marks a prosperous run for river cruising -- an antidote for those who choose to avoid the mega-ships plying the oceans of the world. It is one of the fastest-growing segments in cruise travel (according to a company statement, more than 90 percent of the Avalon Imagery's staterooms and 85 percent of the Avalon Tranquility's staterooms have already sold out for the 2007 season).

Imagery and Tranquility join sister ship Avalon Tapestry, which debuted just last year; the three are among the most modern, well-equipped riverboats in Europe. Each of the two new ships boasts all-outside cabins that accommodate a maximum of 170 guests. In addition, each also has a fitness center, a forward observation deck, in-cabin satellite television, individual climate control, hair dryers and mini-bar.

All three Tapestry-class boats incorporate a new "silent drive system," which puts the wheelhouse at the rear, allowing for quieter navigation -- and a much more spacious and useable outside top deck. The voyages are marketed to North Americans and feature all English-speaking staff and crew, Internet access, and wine with all (open-seating) dinners.

Avalon Tranquility's 2007 voyage calendar includes 8- to 17-day cruises to Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Amsterdam and Paris, while Imagery's schedule offers 15-day roundtrips between Amsterdam and Budapest.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Princess Cuts Back on Tahiti Sailings in 2008

Princess Cruises has announced that as of 2008, Tahitian Princess will no longer be stationed year-round in the South Pacific. The ship will still sail French Polynesian itineraries throughout winter, spring and fall -- but will spend the summer in Alaska.

Why has Princess decided to move the ship after sailing out of Papeete year-round for years? The reason, says Princess spokeswoman Julie Benson, is that Alaska is booming -- not just for first-timers but also for second-, third- and fourth-timers. And those who've been there and sailed the traditional itineraries -- you know, the Ketchikan-Juneau-Skagway run from Seattle or Vancouver -- are looking for a more unique experience. And off-the-beaten-track cruising is, Benson says, what this ship (and its nearly identical sisters Pacific and Royal Princess, too) is all about.

As such, Tahitian Princess' 2008 Alaska season will offer a "connoisseur" itinerary, a full two weeks with eight ports of call. In addition to the tried-and-true Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka and Victoria, the ship will also visit lesser known places such as Kodiak, Seward and Valdez. It's the first time that the latter three have been included on a full season's worth of port calls. The season runs approximately June through September.

The ship, too, is distinctive. The former R-series vessel is more of a boutique hotel than mainstream liner, measuring just 30,277 tons and carrying only 680 passengers. It's intimate and elegant -- when you board the ship, a grand staircase reminiscent of the Titanic with wrought-iron railings is a dramatic focal point of the lobby -- but offers the same range of dining options and onboard activities you'd find on a larger, more modern ship such as Sapphire or Crown Princess.

For the rest of the year, Tahitian Princess will be based at its traditional homeport in Papeete, and will return to vaunted ports like Huahine, Raiatea, Bora Bora and Moorea during 10-night itineraries.

When Princess began Tahitian Princess sailings way back in 2002 they were bound by a government agreement to base the ship there full time (this came about because Renaissance Cruises, which had launched the vessel, had used financing from the French government to build it in the first place and then had signed a 10-year agreement to keep it in the region).

The agreement, which required that Princess keep Tahitian Princess there for five full years, has now expired and, says Benson, we actually sailed more voyages than the agreement called for. But, she adds, "We love Tahiti and so do our customers, but we want to offer them something else."

HAL Reveals New Twists on Eurodam

Details are eagerly awaited on Holland America's Eurodam, the first in its future Signature class of vessels and in Seattle earlier this month, executives offered a few teasers about new stateroom design concepts.

On this 86,000-ton, 2,044-passenger ship -- it's about the same size as those in the Vista class (Zuiderdam, Westerdam, Oosterdam and Noordam) yet carries 126 more passengers due to an extra deck -- one entirely new concept is a series of 10 staterooms tucked behind the Crow's Nest lounge on Deck 12. These will feature French-style verandahs -- which in essence is a way to describe very narrow balconies that aren't wide enough for chairs and tables but at least come with doors that open to the outside.

There also will be a series of four "panorama" staterooms -- with floor-to-ceiling windows -- that face forward. These are located on Deck 10. As well, in a departure from the Vista-class strategy, Eurodam will have fewer mid-level suites (such as mini-suites) but will have a few more expansive suites than usual.

Pieter Rijkaart, HAL's new-builds director, showed us renderings and swatches that reflect the new decor and described the overall scheme as being minimalist (like many of today's new boutique hotels). Expect leather furnishings, dark carpets, light walls and bathrooms equipped with granite countertops.

All cabins, from insides to standards with balconies, will reflect the contemporary vibe though with varying color schemes. Staterooms will feature more monochromatic designs than the floral schemes used in the past, with rich wood tones, nickel fixtures and simple contemporary colors. In inside staterooms, for example, expect blond maple furniture and a recessed area behind the bed painted sky-blue with a sheer overlay to create a "false" window -- and a lighter ambience. Deluxe verandah suites, meanwhile, will feature richer furniture (a walnut shade), charcoal gray seats and white drapes, with pops of color like powder blue and orange.

Statistics-wise, 86 percent of cabins are outsides; of those, 67 percent come with balconies. All staterooms and suites will feature Signature of Excellence amenities including Euro-top Mariner's Dream beds, waffle robes, Egyptian cotton towels, DVD players and flat-screen televisions, makeup mirrors with halo lighting, massaging shower heads, professional-grade hair dryers, fresh flowers and free fruit baskets.

Eurodam launches in June 2008; the ship will sail a series of Baltic cruises before repositioning across the Atlantic for autumn Canada/New England itineraries. It will winter in the Caribbean. To sign up for our Hot Deals newsletter or for more information on the Eurodam or other Holland America's ships, visit us at or call 1-800-788-2545.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

HAL's Zaandam Goes Green

Holland America's Zaandam, which arrived in its homeport of Seattle today for the launch of its Alaska season, is celebrating Earth Day in an innovative way. The 60,906-ton, 1,440-passenger ship, which just returned from a two-week dry-dock in British Columbia, has just been outfitted with brand-new, cutting edge emission reduction technology. The technology is essentially a modification to the exhaust stack on the ship; a scrubber was installed during a recent two-week dry-dock, which will reduce engine emissions -- using seawater.

Here's how it works: The "scrubber," which is installed into the smoke stack, isn't a brush as you might imagine but instead a number of technologies that mix the hot gasses from the engine exhaust with very small droplets of cool seawater to "scrub" away sulfur oxide and other matter (such as tiny particles of solid or liquid suspended in gas) that pollute the air and potentially cause adverse health effects.

Since this scrubber uses 400 tons of seawater per hour, it cannot be stored onboard the ship. The seawater is treated to separate any solid particles and associated petroleum hydrocarbon compounds, a spokesman for the line tells us, and discharged back into the sea (it is drawn in via a pump in the engine room).

Zaandam is actually the cruise industry's guinea pig in this experiment -- the astounding $1.5 million tab for the test run is being paid not only by Holland America but also by other cruise lines and government agencies.

The reason for the experiment, says Holland America chief Stein Kruse in a statement, is that the technology "could dramatically change not only the cruise industry but the entire maritime industry by reducing ship engine emissions."

The $1.5 million seawater scrubbing system was developed by Krystallon, a joint venture between fuel supplier BP Marine and fuel, lubricant and water quality testing company Kittiwake Developments Ltd. Other funding for the project was provided by an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)/West Coast Collaborative grant, a $100,000 contribution from Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, the Port of Seattle, the Port of Vancouver, Environment Canada, British Columbia Ministry of the Environment and the B. C. Clean Air Research Fund.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Carnival Repeals Nonalcoholic Drinks Ban

Carnival Cruise Lines, which earlier this year implemented an amended beverage policy declaring bring-aboard water, juice and soda to be as off-limits as liquor, has changed its mind. The line, according to a spokesman, has "been re-examining the policy and have decided to continue to allow limited quantities but to monitor the situation."

The ban, put into effect as test effort, was the result of what Carnival folks felt was quantity abuse -- folks bringing cases and cases of beverages, and rolling ice chests onboard.

Still, Carnival's retreat doesn't mean it'll put up with abuse from multi-case-packing passengers. In its revised policy, the line notes that "Guests may bring small quantities of non-alcoholic beverages." And don't miss the fact that in addition to liquor, which already is banned from bringing onboard in most cases, "All liquor, excessive quantities of wine and non-alcoholic beverages, to be determined at the discretion of security and embarkation personnel, will be confiscated and discarded without compensation."

Monday, April 16, 2007

Pride of Hawaii becomes Norwegian Jade

Pride of Hawaii will continue her seven-day roundtrip Honolulu cruises through the January 28, 2008 cruise. The ship will enter wet dock on February 6 where she will receive modifications including the addition of a casino and new hull artwork. The ship will be re-named Norwegian Jade and will be showcased during inaugural events in both Los Angeles and Miami. After a series of repositioning cruises, the ship will arrive in Barcelona for her first 12-day cruise beginning on March 30, 2008.

Norwegian Jade will be the first of the fleet to arrive in Europe, staying through the end of November. The ship will sail a unique mix of 12-, 13- and 14-day Eastern and Western Mediterranean cruises, beginning with a number of 12-day cruises departing from Barcelona, Istanbul, and Athens (Piraeus) with a variety of ports including Rome (Civitavecchia), Naples, and Venice, Italy; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Ephesus, Turkey; Mykonos, Santorini, Iraklion, Crete, Corfu and Katakolon, Greece; and Alexandria, Egypt.

As a Jewel-class ship and a sister to Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Pearl and Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Jade features all the attributes of NCL's purpose-built ships for Freestyle Cruising. Norwegian Jade features a vast array of accommodations including the very popular Villa complex at the top of the ship. This "ship within a ship" complex features two luxurious Garden Villas with their own private gardens and sun decks, 10 Courtyard Villas sharing a private courtyard, pool and sundeck on deck 14, and a spectacular top-of-the-ship Owner's Suite. Here, guests can enjoy an exclusive private haven while still experiencing all the amenities, and Freestyle flexibility, of a big ship. The ship features multiple lively public rooms, 10 restaurants, NCL's Bar Central area - the brand's popular new entertainment concept first introduced on Norwegian Jewel and impressive on board amenities.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

MSC Cruises Introduces VIP Cabins

The introduction of MSC Cruises' upcoming MSC Fantasia in the autumn of 2008 -- and MSC Serenata in the spring of 2009 -- will also mark the launch of a new concept for the Italian line: "La Dolce Vita."

The main premise of "La Dolce Vita" (Italian for "the sweet life") is a new class of accommodations for these two vessels -- the line's biggest ships ever, measuring 133,500 tons and carrying over 3,000 passengers: 100 cabins on each will offer dedicated butler service, a first for the line. These select staterooms will also come with their own reception area, pool and solarium, plus private access to the health center and spa.

MSC's move to add exclusive accommodations -- a "luxury" experience on an otherwise "mainstream" vessel -- follows an industry trend. Celebrity Cruises' Concierge Class cabins, for example, are premium oceanview staterooms with plusher furnishing and priority luggage service, among other perks. Norwegian Cruise Line offers Courtyard Villas on Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Jewel and Pride of Hawaii; these multi-room suites come with butler service and surround a private pool and sun deck. And Italian line Costa Cruises, MSC's chief competitor, recently introduced spa cabins onboard CostaConcordia; booked passengers get treatment packages, special in-room bath products and direct access to the Samsara Spa facility.

At this point, it's unknown whether "La Dolce Vita" will be expanded to other ships in the fleet. A spokeswoman for the line tells us that for now, the concept is only planned for Fantasia and Serenata as these two post-Panamax ships are designed to accommodate it.

For more information on MSC Cruises, please visit or call us at 1-800-788-2545.

NCL Withdraws Pride of Hawaii from ... Hawaii

Norwegian Cruise Line, which gambled and now has apparently lost in its bid for a supreme presence in Hawaii, announced that it will transfer Pride of Hawaii, its newest addition there, to Europe. The move is effective as of February 2008 and the Pride of Hawaii will be re-flagged for its move to Europe; the ship will be registered to the Bahamas..

While it's no big surprise that NCL America's ambitious plan for American-crewed ships in Hawaii has been floundering, the announcement is dramatic.

According to NCL's statement, "Substantial 2006 losses, reported in February of this year, have been caused by downward pricing pressure in the Hawaii market following the addition of Pride of Hawaii to the fleet last summer, and the steep increase in the amount of foreign-flagged competition entering the Hawaii market from the West Coast."

NCL president and CEO Colin Veitch is quoted in the release as saying that "We take this action with regret, but sure in the knowledge that a temporary retrenchment is the right thing to do for the good of the business and the good of Hawaii in the long run. We remain committed to building a strong U.S.-flag cruise business homeported in Hawaii, and we need to make sure that our other two ships, Pride of Aloha and Pride of America, are able to achieve acceptable profitability before we can confidently re-introduce Pride of Hawaii."

For passengers who have booked cabins on Pride of Hawaii in February 2008 and beyond, NCL is offering a $50 onboard credit per stateroom; the credit applies for those who rebook by May 1, 2007, on Pride of America, Pride of Aloha or any ship in the NCL fleet. Guests choosing to cancel will receive a full refund.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Princess Intros New Culinary Enhancements on Emerald, Royal

Something's cooking over at Princess Cruises: The line has announced fleetwide culinary enhancements that will debut on the 113,000-ton, 3,100-passenger Emerald Princess and 30,000-ton, 710-passenger Royal Princess, both launching this May in a dual ceremony in Santorini, Greece.

The most noticeable changes involve the ships' main dining room menus. On tap are brand-new dishes, including more ethnic fare than before (Pan-Asian, Mediterranean, Latin American), such as Orient Sesame Coated Seared Tuna over Spiced Cucumber. Other extras include bite-sized desserts, specialty sandwiches and a greater number of healthy Lotus Spa options. Pan-seared, grilled and braised items will be prevalent. And for the carb-lover in all of us, there will be a wider choice in breads such as flatbread and focaccia, and whole grain.

The physical menus, too, will receive an upgrade: look for a new layout in bound leather (and modern white-on-white china).

Savor these additional details:

  • Better breakfast options. Slept in? No problem: Princess will now offer breakfast favorites at lunchtime in a "Late-Late Riser" category; offerings will change daily and are available in the main dining room only.
  • Enhanced buffet service. At all meals, tables will be preset with cutlery and napkins -- one less thing to carry back from the food stations. Also, servers will offer table service of not only bar drinks but also self-service items like juice and water.
  • Special touches. If you've sampled the fresh-from-the-oven cookies at Crown Princess' atrium cafe, you'll be just as stoked as we were to learn that the snack is going fleetwide; all ships will now offer an afternoon "cookies and milk break." You'll find the snacks in the atrium and also on deck, where servers will walk around with the gooey goodies and dispense milk from five-gallon containers worn via a backpack. Another great, fresh option: in-cabin delivery of Princess' tasty, thin-crust pizza -- made to order and available whenever your ship's pizzeria is open (hours vary by ship).
  • Redesigned cuisine in the alternative restaurants. Another concept that was road-tested on Crown and is now being rolled out fleetwide via this enhancement is that of revamped offerings in alternative restaurants. The line's signature Sabatini's Italian trattoria will offer the same head-spinning number of courses -- but each will be a little lighter, to keep the experience more of a tasting than a gorging. And all of Princess' steakhouses will adopt the steak-and-seafood theme introduced at Crown Princess' Crown Grill (the names of the existing steakhouses won't change).

The new initiatives will roll out to the rest of the fleet gradually over this and next year.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Celebrity Mercury Next in Line for Upgrade

Last year's massive refurbishment of Celebrity Century was widely thought to be a test case for the line -- the success of which would determine whether its siblings Celebrity Mercury and Celebrity Galaxy would get a new life as well. Well, the initiative must have passed the test: Celebrity Cruises has announced a refurbishment for Mercury. Celebrity Mercury

The 71,545-ton, 1,814-passenger ship will enter a six-day scheduled dry-dock on April 13, 2007, in San Francisco for its overhaul; though not on as grand a scale as Century (that redo took about five weeks and cost $55 million), there are significant changes planned including:

  • New verandahs: Like Century, Mercury will get new balconies; 14 verandahs will be added to 210-square-ft. staterooms on the aft end of the ship. (As a comparison, Century received 314 new verandahs, 14 new suites and 10 new staterooms.)

  • New boutiques: The ship's "boutique boulevard" will be transformed with fresh additions. Beauty, the line's first "cosmeceutical" store (pairing science with cosmetics), will feature products from Dr. Brandt, DermaNew, Freeze 24/7, Fekkai, L'Occitane, MD Skincare, Origins and StriVectin -- picture a Sephora at sea.
    The boulevard will also include Boutique C, Celebrity's by-appointment-only jeweler; an upscale branded-apparel shop; and a destination shop selling merchandise reflective of the ship's current sailing region (Mercury splits its time between Alaska and Hawaii, and will embark on the line's first season in Australia/New Zealand in December).

  • New gym gear: All fitness equipment (cardio and strength training) will be upgraded; cardio machines will feature individual TV's. The pool deck will also receive all new flooring.

  • New carpeting and bedding: Carpeting will be replaced in the main restaurant, Martini and Champagne bars, Cova Cafe, Fortunes Casino, guest corridors, staircases, and the main foyer. Celebrity will also continue the roll-out of its new bedding program; the new bedding is already in place on Celebrity Millennium and Celebrity Century, and will be implemented fleetwide by the end of July 2007.

Celebrity's Senior Vice President of Marine Operations John Krousoloudis tells us that "the work being done onboard Mercury is designed to enhance the overall ambience and guest experience."

Celebrity Mercury will re-enter service on April 20 with a seven-night Pacific Coastal cruise roundtrip from San Francisco. For more information, check out or call us at 1-800-788-2545.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Carnival Introduces Festive Fantasy-Class Enhancements

Carnival Cruise Lines, which has subtly updated, but avoided dramatic revolutionary change on its middle-aged Fantasy-class series of ships, now has plans for a dramatic re-do. In its upcoming "evolutions of fun" program, which will take place in stages on the ships during scheduled dry-docks (and will be fully completed by 2009), key enhancements include:
  • The addition of 50 interconnecting cabins, aimed at families traveling together, on each ship.
  • An adults-only Serenity area (similar in concept to that found on Crown Princess and the soon-to-be-launched Emerald Princess).
  • Children's water parks.
  • Redesigned sun decks.
  • Updated Club 02 and kid-gathering facilities for teens and 12- to 14-year-olds, respectively.

An overhaul of the 12,000-square ft. spasShips considered part of Carnival's Fantasy class include Ecstasy, Elation, Fascination, Imagination, Inspiration, Paradise and Sensation. Fantasy, the original, was launched in 1990.

The ships have already been refreshed in certain ways; in a program that began in 2005, staterooms were remodeled, public areas were made over, and additions, such as nine-hole mini-golf courses, New York-style delis in the Lido restaurants, and updated sound and lighting systems in performance venues, have already been made.

Imagination and Inspiration are the first ships to get the new stage of enhancements; the expanded and updated pool deck, including the water park and serenity area, will be added to those vessels during dry-docks this fall. The remaining ships will get the upgrades during scheduled dry-docks in 2008 and 2009.Some aspects of the "Evolutions of Fun" enhancements have already been completed on the Fantasy, Ecstasy and Fascination and partially executed on the Sensation, Elation and Paradise. By 2009, the entire Fantasy-class fleet will be completed including the fabulous new transformation of open deck areas.

Other upgrades, incorporated fleetwide, include the Carnival Comfort Bed sleep system with plush mattresses, luxurious duvets and high-quality linens and pillows, a variety of cuisine enhancements, as well as Wi-Fi Internet access in virtually all public areas and cellular phone service.

Monday, April 02, 2007

NCL Introduces Nintendo's Best-Selling Wii Fleetwide

Norwegian Cruise Line's announced that it will be the first line to offer the Wii, Nintendo's incredibly popular, interactive gaming system, onboard all its ships, may be controversial for families cruising together. Sure, kids reluctant to cruise because of the prospect of losing a week of video gaming -- we know you're out there! -- can now stay in touch. Parents hoping for some family togetherness and a temporary disconnection from high-tech toys may be disappointed.

Still, NCL's announcement is just the latest in a series of different products, services and amenities that cruise lines are integrating these days for the "don’t want to leave home without it" brigade. Shipwide cell phone access and faster Wi-Fi are others.

At NCL, the Wii is currently available on Norwegian Pearl, as well as Pride of Aloha, Pride of America and Pride of Hawaii, its three NCL America vessels; NCL plans to have the system installed fleetwide by next month.

How does it work? Wii, a gaming system that integrates a classic video game experience with a wireless, motion-sensing joystick (in a tennis game, for instance, you would "swing" the racket by swinging your arm), will be located in the atrium and other public rooms, allowing guests to gather and play against each other in various sports games while crowds view the game on large video screens. Each ship's Kid's Crew facility will also feature two Wii consoles (Sorry parents, no grown-ups allowed!). The ships will also host tournaments and other activities.

All onboard systems will equipped with the "Wii Sports" package, offering five distinct sports games: tennis, golf, baseball, boxing and bowling. Other games available on the ships include Wii Play, WarioWare: Smooth Moves and Excite Truck.