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, May 31, 2007

Celebrity Orders Another Solstice Class Ship

In a move that surprised even industry insiders, Celebrity Cruises announced that it would add another Solstice- class ship to its existing three vessel shipyard order. The new ship will enter into service in fall 2011.

The original order, placed with Germany's Meyer Werft Shipyard in 2005, called for three 118,000-ton, 2,850-passenger vessels. The first, Celebrity Solstice, is due in fall 2008; Celebrity Equinox will debut in summer 2009; and Celebrity Eclipse is slated to launch in 2010.

The new ship will be identical to the other ships in the class in most ways -- but not all. For instance, the price has gone up: Celebrity paid $640 million for Solstice, Equinox and Eclipse; it will pay nearly $800 million for the fourth, as-yet unnamed ship. As well, the new vessel will be ever-so-slightly roomier than the other three; it'll measure 122,000 tons instead of 118,000 and yet carry the same passenger capacity.

Celebrity's Solstice class of ships will be distinctive beyond the fact that they're significantly larger than any other vessels in the fleet. Though few concrete details have been revealed, the ship will, according to the cruise line, feature larger-than-average standard staterooms; 90 percent of cabins will be outsides and of those 85 percent will have balconies.

NCL and Carnival Go to E-Tickets

Following a system adopted by Princess Cruises in September 2006 -- and long embraced by the airline industry with e-tickets -- Carnival Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Line have announced that they will begin offering guests the convenience of all-electronic cruise documents.

Carnival's "MyDocuments" Web portal and NCL's paperless system will give paid guests 24-hour online access to their cruise docs and the ability to make any necessary changes in "real time." Here's how it works:

  • Guests will be able to print boarding passes and luggage tags, check on shore excursions, etc. up to 60 days prior to sailing with NCL. Upon payment with Carnival, guests will have full access to their online documents, including printable luggage tags for assigned cabins; excursion booking opens 180 prior to sailing. Customers who have purchased an air/sea package through Carnival will also be able to view air schedules within 75 days of their departure date.
  • Carnival cruisers who prefer the traditional snail mail process will still have the option of having paper documents mailed to them 30 days prior to their scheduled sailing date. NCL, however, will be going completely paperless. Guests who have already paid for their NCL cruise will be notified via e-mail that their e-docs are ready for inspection. No Internet access? NCL will print and send boarding passes to guests who booked directly with the line (not through a travel agent).
  • Don't lose your booking number. It's required for access, along with passenger name, ship and sailing date.

In an interesting note, neither line mentioned the potential environmental benefits of a paperless system in their statements. Why not save a tree while you cruise? Print your e-boarding pass on recycled paper.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Royal Caribbean Appoints First Female Captain

Royal Caribbean has named a new captain for its Monarch of the Seas -- the first female in the industry to command a major cruise ship!

Cruise captainship has long been a male-dominated profession (think back to Vikings and pirates), but Swedish mariner Karin Stahre-Janson has been working her way up to it. She has been with Royal Caribbean in a variety of officer-level roles since 1997; her current position as the commander of Monarch is a promotion from Staff Captain, a title she held onboard Serenade and Majesty. Prior to that, she worked for nine years in cargo shipping, primarily on petroleum and chemical tankers -- another male-dominated industry.

Stahre-Janson discovered her love for sailing at the age of 7 when her parents gave her a small boat, and cultivated her passion at sailing camp. While growing up, she also took -- and taught -- sailing lessons and competitively raced tall ships. She graduated from the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden with a bachelor's degree in Nautical Science and obtained an Unlimited Masters License enabling her to command any ship of any size (maybe Genesis is next...).

Interestingly, Stahre-Janson already completed a tour of duty onboard Monarch, sailing three- and four-night Baja cruises; she'll resume command in August. A spokesman for Royal Caribbean tells us that the line waited to announce Captain Stahre-Janson's appointment per her wishes -- she wanted to get settled in aboard Monarch and with her new crew before fielding the inevitable interviews that would come after the news got out.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

SS United States May Sail Again

The skipper of the cruise line that owns the long silent SS United States says he's not giving up on the ship.

Colin Veitch, chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Lines, said in an interview yesterday that he still believed that bringing the ship back to life would be "a fantastic project." He has rough-draft plans to maintain the ship's classic look while adding a deck or two and modern amenities.

In years to come, he said, the storied 55-year-old ship will sail around the world, make trips from the East Coast to California through the Panama Canal, cruise the Hawaiian Islands and, possibly, make an occasional run on its old transatlantic route. And it will earn a profit.

Because of its history, the ship will command premium fares, he said. But none of that will happen this year - or next.

While NCL Corp. Ltd. has made no announcement about the vessel, which it bought in 2004, Veitch said that he had no interest in selling the ship and that a caretaker had been hired to "look after her." He made his comments in response to a reporter's questions.

Silversea Goes Fleetwide with Bow-to-Stern Wi-Fi

Luxury line Silversea Cruises has expanded its wireless Internet access; Wi-Fi, which was once available only in select "hot spots" onboard such as in suites and public areas, has now gone from bow to stern. This means that Silversea guests can access e-mail and Web sites (via enabled laptops and PDA's) no matter where they are onboard -- fleetwide.

Carnival was the first line to offer bow-to-stern Wi-Fi, test-piloting the program onboard Carnival Valor and then expanding it fleetwide. Though some newer ships, like Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, are wired for all-over access, Carnival and Silversea are the only lines at this point offering shipwide wireless Internet on each and every ship in their fleets.

This is the latest but not the first technological enhancement Silversea has made for passengers who want to stay connected while cruising. In 2006, the line teamed up with SeaMobile, a global wireless voice and data communications provider, to offer at-sea cell capabilities to cruisers with GSM, CDMA and GPRS devices (GPRS is the platform that handheld PDA devices, such as BlackBerrys, work on).

Friday, May 11, 2007

Eight Carnival Vessels Get New Names

Carnival Cruise Lines has announced that its eight Fantasy-class vessels, which as we previously reported will all be undergoing significant refurbishments, will also be getting new names.

The official monikers of Fantasy, Ecstasy, Sensation, Fascination, Imagination, Inspiration, Paradise and Elation will be "dramatically" transformed into Carnival Fantasy, Carnival Ecstasy, Carnival Sensation, and so on. Newer ships, such as those in the line's Conquest and Spirit classes, are already named in this fashion (the Fantasy-class ships were built throughout the 1990's).

The shift in nomenclature is being planned in conjunction with the line's $250 million "Evolutions of Fun" product enhancement initiative. During each ship's scheduled dry-dock, its name as it appears on the hull, bow, stern and upper deck areas will be modified; various marketing materials, such as brochures, will also reflect the "new" name.

Following the alterations, 20 of 22 Carnival ships will feature "Carnival" in their names, with only Holiday and Celebration remaining as one-name ships. We wondered if the exclusion was indicative of the future of its two oldest vessels, but a Carnival spokesman tells us that it simply didn't make sense to re-brand these ships as they are not a part of the Fantasy class and hence not part of the "Evolutions of Fun" initiative.

Imagination and Inspiration will be the first to get the new enhancements and longer names; that will happen this fall. By 2009, the entire Fantasy class will be updated. For more information, check out or call us at 1-800-788-2545.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Will Grand Cayman Anchor Ban Affect Cruises?

Grand Cayman, known for spectacular diving along its walls, reefs and wrecks, is taking a hard stance on the protection of its coral reef system: Cruise ships are now banned from anchoring at the Spotts Dock because of damage to living coral reefs caused by anchors and chains. As such, cruise lines whose ships are assigned to this secondary harbor will have to maintain their position using engines rather than anchors.

The Spotts Dock facility, located 4.5 miles from George Town as the crow flies, is used as an alternate port when seas are too rough (according to the Associated Press, some ships also use Spotts Bay as an overflow area on particularly crowded days); cruise ships don't actually "schedule" calls there. The ban had been in place previously, but was reinstated by the Government and Port Authority of the Cayman Islands effective April 19 after officials noticed ships were anchoring again.

A spokesman for Carnival Cruise Lines says that its ships generally anchor in George Town harbor and tender at the port, but have used the alternative Spotts Bay area to anchor and operate tenders during inclement weather. Under the new ban, ships can no longer anchor in Spotts Bay -- but they can stay on engine power -- and this is what the line intends to do.

In fact, a spokesperson for Grand Cayman's Government Information Services, Ariana Rahamut, tells us that all of the cruise ships regularly calling in Cayman should have the ability to hold position with their engines alone -- and indeed use their engines to hold position to some extent even when anchored. Rahamut also told us that if a cruise line chose not to utilize the area that would be a "deliberate decision" on its part.

Why would a cruise line choose not to stay stationery when they have the capability to do so? One thought on our part is fuel costs. Holland America spokesman Erik Elvejord tells us that a ship would actually use about the same amount of fuel to hold position as to cruise, because you still have to move out in the ocean -- the ship wouldn't be completely still. However, the decision to use Spotts Bay or cancel a call would be based on safety of the guests, tender operation and the ship: "It would depend mostly on how rough the seas were and could we get guests safely ashore. I would expect it is the same for others [cruise lines]."

At this point, no cruise lines have announced or are anticipating any canceled calls due to the ban.

The once living reefs at the George Town anchorage point are now almost completely destroyed. In Spotts, because the ships anchor much less frequently (a few times a year as opposed to multiple ships on an almost daily basis) much of the coral reef is still alive. However, every time ships anchor they add to the destruction. The ban on anchoring is intended to preserve the remaining live coral in this area.

According to Grand Cayman's government Web site, a cruise ship anchoring for one day can destroy nearly one acre of intact reef with its anchor and chains.

New Cruise Line Debuts! Azamara is Part of Royal Caribbean/Celebrity

A brand-new cruise line joined the ranks as Celebrity Cruises announced that its newly refurbished Celebrity Journey will be the flagship of Azamara Cruises. Journey, which set sail on its first cruise yesterday, will be joined by sister ship Celebrity Quest in October. Both ships have been renamed Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest, respectively.

The announcement was made by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Chairman Richard Fain while on Celebrity Journey, which arrived at the New York area's Cape Liberty Cruise Port after a massive -- and intense -- four-week refurbishment at Freeport's Grand Bahama Shipyard.

Celebrity, which took on Journey and Quest after parent company RCCL acquired the Spain-based Pullmantur, had originally planned to fold these 30,777-ton, 710-passenger boutique ships into its Celebrity Xpeditions sub-brand -- but it changed its mind. "We learned that these ships don't just constitute a slightly more upscale product than Celebrity," Fain said. "They are so distinct they deserve a line of their own."

Company executives have been frank about the fact that Azamara will compete primarily with Oceania Cruises. Celebrity President Dan Hanrahan told the assembled throng of travel agents and media in the ship's Cabaret Theater today that this style of cruising would be unlike anything ever offered by the line. As such, it not only deserved its own moniker but also would carve out a new cruise category: Azamara will, he said, be a "deluxe" cruise line (typically, cruise fleets are described as contemporary, premium or luxury; deluxe fits in between premium and luxury).

Azamara's distinctions from Celebrity Cruises include:
  • The line will be operated by its own team of onboard and corporate executives and hotel directors; some of them come from Oceania.
  • Azamara will, however, share a sales staff (and travel agency base) with Celebrity. It has also pulled its workforce from Celebrity's other ships....
  • Totally new innovations include all open seating dining and a pair of new alternative restaurants -- Prime C, a steakhouse; and Aqualina, featuring Mediterranean cuisine.
  • All cabins will have butler service and receive "concierge class" extras (on Celebrity, butlers and concierge class benefits are limited to higher priced categories).
  • In contrast to other lines -- where shore excursion personnel typically exist to sell, well, shore excursions -- these two ships will feature "excursion experts" who will offer more comprehensive information about ports of call.

Journey and Quest are both part of the R-series family of cruise ships. These ships comprise eight nearly identical English country house hotel-style vessels, which are operated under the auspices of Renaissance Cruises. When that line went bankrupt, the ships were sold to a variety of cruise lines, including Oceania, Swan Hellenic, Princess and Pullmantur. As a result of consolidation, the eight ships are now owned solely by Princess, Oceania and Celebrity/Azamara.

After a maiden season of New York-based cruises to Bermuda, Azamara Journey will embark on pathfinder type voyages to more off-the-beaten-track ports of call. In fall and winter, the ship will cruise to South America.

Upon its debut, Azamara Quest, which will undergo a similar massive refurbishment, will sail exotic Caribbean itineraries; Quest will be in Europe in 2008.The line is planning to introduce its first world cruise in 2010.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Carnival Announces Splendor Details

When Carnival Cruise Lines' 113,000-ton, 3,006-passenger Carnival Splendor launches in July 2008, it will represent a new class of ship for the line -- and new details are now emerging about the ship's amenities and itineraries.

Splendor, which the cruise line previously announced would feature the fleet's largest spa, will also introduce Carnival's first "spa staterooms." Sixty-eight staterooms will surround the 21,000-square-ft. health and fitness facility. Cruisers who book these special cabins will have exclusive access to the spa and other perks such as priority spa appointments and free fitness classes. Occupants will also get unlimited use of the thermal suite and thalassotherapy pool -- Carnival's first -- covered by a glass dome.

Dedicated spa cabins are a new trend in the spa evolution; Carnival Corp. line Costa Cruises was the first in the industry to offer dedicated spa cabins when its CostaConcordia launched last summer. CostaSerena, which launches next month, will also have them.

What else is in store for Splendor? The ship will also operate Carnival's first-ever Northern Europe program, a series of 12-day voyages that will operate July 13 through August 30, 2008; ports of call include Copenhagen, Warnemunde (Berlin), Helsinki, St. Petersburg (two days), Tallin and Amsterdam.

Following its Northern Europe cruises, Carnival Splendor will sail a one-time 12-night Mediterranean & Greek Isles cruise before repositioning (via a 16-day trans-Atlantic) to Ft. Lauderdale for weeklong Exotic Eastern Caribbean cruises, calling at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, St. Thomas and St. John, San Juan, and Nassau.

For more information on the Carnival Splendour, visit us at or call us at 1-800-788-2545.