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

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Will Windjammer Barefoot Cruises Sail Again?

It's been no secret that Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, one of the last family-owned cruise lines in America, has been struggling mightily to survive. The company has been arrears with vendors, port facilities and even its own crew are owed back wages; ship maintenance has deteriorated to such a serious degree that its own captains reportedly won't sail their vessels.

And yet, even since August, when the situation was so bad that in order to free up ships for sail representatives from Windjammer's Miami office flew down to places like Panama and Costa Rica with fists of cash to pay off venders for foodstuffs and other supplies -- just so the week's cruise could depart -- the company seemed to be hanging on. Rumors flew -- all unsubstantiated as Windjammer's officials did not respond to calls for clarification, with a minor exception -- that there was a deep pocketed buyer in sight.

And yet, the end appears to be near. The fleet's four ships are all stranded, at least for now; Yankee Clipper is in Trinidad, Manadaly is in Panama, Polynesia is in Aruba and Legacy, its flagship, is in Costa Rica. The company has unofficially made clear that cruises are canceled for the next week and possibly beyond.

The Windjammer Web site no longer seems to exist. The company has famously not been communicating with passengers booked on near term voyages and certainly hasn’t started to become more forthcoming this past week -- and naturally, speculation of the direst form ensues.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Celebrity Cruises and Riedel Crystal Raise a Glass to the Fine Art of Wine Tasting

Celebrity Cruises, the world's top-rated premium cruise line, is pairing with Riedel, the crystal manufacturer known worldwide for designing the most finely tuned drinking instruments for every level of wine sophistication. Guests on seven Celebrity Cruises vessels have the opportunity to experience official Riedel comparative wine workshops while at sea. Celebrity is the first company that Riedel has sanctioned to conduct its seminars.

"We constantly strive to deliver a comfortably sophisticated vacation to our guests, and becoming the first cruise line to offer the unforgettable Riedel tastings onboard is a tremendous opportunity for us," said Celebrity Cruises' Vice President of Entertainment Lisa Lutoff-Perlo. "Wine appreciation seminars have become increasingly popular among our guests, and the Riedel comparative wine workshops give us the ability to offer them a new level of our extraordinary Celebrity style."

Earlier this year, 16 Celebrity Cruises sommeliers traveled to Riedel's headquarters in Austria for intensive training on the company's history, philosophy, and products. They will lead glass tastings on Celebrity Century, Celebrity Constellation, Celebrity Galaxy, Celebrity Infinity, Celebrity Mercury, Celebrity Millennium and Celebrity Summit.

The hour-long workshops will be offered once per sailing for a fee. During tastings, guests will sample and compare multiple fine wines in Riedel's Vinum glass collection and depart with a set of four glasses. Guests can carry the glasses home, or, if they live in the United States, Canada or Europe, they may choose to have the glasses shipped to them.

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

Luxury Line Silversea Plans Adventure Cruises

Luxury leader Silversea Cruises is getting into the adventure business.

The super-posh, small-ship line, known for its impeccable service and $1,000-a-day price tags, yesterday announced that it had bought the World Discoverer, a well-known expedition vessel.

The move is the latest sign of the growing demand for far-flung adventures among the wealthy, both by sea and on land. Upscale adventure travel of all types has been booming in recent years.
The World Discoverer has a strengthened, ice-rated hull that allows it to venture into the most remote regions of the globe, including Antarctica -- an increasingly popular destination that most traditional cruise ships can only view from a distance.

Silversea, which operates four traditional luxury vessels and has a fifth on order, appears to be tackling the adventure cruising niche with gusto. In its announcement this morning, the line said it planned nothing short of being "best in class" in the category. It says it plans a multi-million dollar facelift for the World Discoverer to bring it up to Silversea standards. Changes include reducing the number of passengers per voyage from 175 to 140.

Of course, some would argue that the shipboard pampering for which Silversea is known -- "ultra-luxury," it's often called -- doesn't quite fit on an adventure cruise. The whole idea of adventure cruising is that it's all about the destination, not the Good Life on board the ship.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Celebrity Plans Bigger Cabins on Future Ships

Celebrity CEO Dan Hanrahan says veranda cabins on the 2,850-passenger Celebrity Solstice, the first of four "Solstice Class" ships that begin launching in December, 2008, will be 15% larger than their counterparts on the line's current vessels.

The 122,000-ton ship, the line's biggest ever, also will have a new category of cabins for spa lovers known as AquaClass. Situated next to the ship's AquaSpa, as Celebrity calls its spas, the cabins will come with unlimited access to the spa relaxation room, aromatherapy and steam room.

Still, perhaps the biggest news is that vacationers who book one of the 130 AquaClass cabins (which make up less than 10% of the 1,425 cabins on the ship) will dine in their very own, exclusive dining room dubbed Blu. That'll make Celebrity the only line besides Cunard that has two classes of dining on its ships (passengers who book Cunard's most expensive cabins have long eaten in separate, more exclusive dining rooms -- a tradition that goes back years at that line).

Unlike on Cunard ships, however, access to Solstice's exclusive restaurant won't be based on how expensive your cabin is, says Hanrahan. Indeed, the AquaClass cabins won't necessarily be the most expensive on board, he says. Instead, the restaurant and AquaSpa cabins taken together offer a package aimed at people with a "spa mindset" who want to focus their vacation on pampering and wellness.

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

A New, More Adventurous Way to Cruise in Hawaii

Luxury line American Safari Cruises says it will launch high-end, seven-night voyages around the islands in December, 2008 aboard a 39-passenger luxury yacht.

The ten-year-old company is already well-known in Alaska, where it was a pioneer in small ship adventure cruising and operates several small luxury yachts that explore the nooks and crannies of the state's glacier-lined coast. The line plans to bring the same flexible cruising style to Hawaii that it promotes in Alaska, bending itineraries to follow whales or dolphins or dodge iffy weather.

"We've built our reputation on spontaneity," says Dan Blanchard, the line's CEO, who has explored the Hawaiian islands extensively by private boat. "Our style makes it possible to explore Hawaii without having to be at a specific port at a specific time. We can gunkhole, stop in out-of-the-way bays and coves, and be ready for whatever experiences may come along."
American Safari will offer its Hawaii trips on the 150-foot-long Safari Explorer, one of two vessels joining its fleet in 2008 (bringing its total to six). The company is the first to attempt small ship cruises in the islands in more than two decades.

One obvious hurdle for the company is Hawaii's reputation for rough waters, which can make the crossings between islands a rocky one on smaller ships. But American Safari vice president Tim Jacox says the Safari Explorer was built with Hawaii's seas in mind and features stabilizers that should diminish the effect of the waves.

Jacox also notes that the ship will stick to the more-protected leeward side of the cluster of islands around Maui, including Maui, Molokai and Lanai. The itineraries are one way between Kailua-Kona on the Big Island and Kahului on Maui, thus requiring only one major crossing between islands.

The first cruise begins Dec. 19, 2008. Prices start at $3,995 per person, based on double occupancy.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Carnival's Frightfully Fun Halloween Promotion

Halloween is always a fun and memorable time aboard Carnival Cruise Lines’ ships. And with the “Frightfully Fun” promotion, guests sailing with Carnival can enjoy a variety of fun-filled activities, everything from costume contests and Halloween-themed giveaways to scary movies, and, of course, trick or treating, with candies and other goodies from M&M’S®.

The “Frightfully Fun” promotion, which is also sponsored by Coca Cola, will be held on all Carnival voyages departing between Oct. 13 and 30, 2007. Guests sailing on Carnival during the period are encouraged to bring their costumes and they can compete for a variety of prizes during the always-interesting costume contest and parade. Carnival crew members will be dressed in costume, as well, and guests can have their photos taken with Carnival’s own “Fun Ship” Freddy. Guests ages one to 14 are also invited to go trick or treating along the ships’ promenades and through various public rooms and areas, stocking up on M&M’S® signature candies, including MILKY WAY®, SNICKERS®, SKITTLES®, STARBURST® and TWIX®, all along the way.

“At Carnival, Halloween is always a special occasion and the ‘Frightfully Fun’ festivities provides guests of all ages with a unique and memorable way to celebrate this festive holiday, with activities and other events not found anywhere else,” said Vicki Freed, Carnival’s senior vice president of sales and marketing.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

NCL Limits New F3 Series to Two

News came this week from France's St. Nazaire -- home of Aker Yards France and a major location for new cruise ship building -- that Norwegian Cruise Line, which already has a firm order for two versions of an entirely new series of mega-ship, will not pick up an option for a third. What makes this puzzling is in the timing of the announcement. That's because just last month NCL announced a major new partnership with Apollo Management, LP -- which owns Oceania. Apollo has invested $1 billion in the company that would, in part, be used to actually fuel further expansion.

Indeed, according to the official NCL/Apollo press release, "the new investment, in the form of common stock alongside NCL's existing sole shareholder, Star Cruises ("Star"), is designed to strengthen NCL's balance sheet and its ability to continue to expand what is fast-becoming the youngest fleet in the industry, and to evolve further the company's successful Freestyle Cruising concept first introduced in 2000."

The series of twins, dubbed F3, has already sparked much interest. The ships, measuring 150,000 tons and carrying 4,200 passengers, are the biggest ever commissioned by NCL. While few details have yet been announced, one major new feature has been revealed: All staterooms will have balconies. That's a first-ever for the industry, at least in terms of big-ship cruise lines. As well, the new ship design will, according to NCL, "offer 60 percent more passenger space than the largest ships built so far by NCL, and will use that space to introduce a major leap forward in the flexibility and variety of the cruise experience ...."

For more information on Norwegian Cruise Line, visit us at or call us at 1-800-788-2545.

Royal Carribean Launches New French Line

If hanging out with French-speaking vacationers is your sort of thing, you might want to check out the news today from Royal Caribbean, which plans a new cruise line catering to the French.

The new brand, CDF Croisieres de France, will debut in May, 2008 with a single ship, the 752-passenger Blue de France. The vessel will sail a Mediterranean itinerary out of the French port of Marseille during the summer and spend its winters in the Caribbean sailing out of the Dominican Republic.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., the parent company of Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Cruises, is just the latest to tap into the growing demand for cruises among Europeans. Just last week, Carnival announced plans for a new Spanish cruise line, Iberocruceros. Carnival also has pumped big bucks in recent years into its Italy- and Germany-based brands, Costa Cruises and AIDA Cruises, and Royal Caribbean also recently acquired Spanish-based Pullmantur.

The Blue de France, for those wondering, is a 26-year-old ship that has been sailing for Pullmantur as the Holiday Dream. Those with long memories will remember it as Hapag-LLoyd's original Europa.

Royal Caribbean says the ship will get a thorough overhaul -- to the tune of 30 million euros -- to transform into something unmistakably French in ambiance. Expect French decor, French food and, yes, a completely French-speaking staff.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Green Ships for Blue Highways

Described as "possibly the greatest evolution in boats since the advent of steam," an ingenuously simple concept that combines sun and wind power with sophisticated computer systems is set to transform the future of navigation.

Solar sailing -- the idea of using solar and wind energy to propel ships -- can cut a ship's fuel costs by up to 90 percent and significantly lower its environmental impact. The new technology, which is already used in Sydney Harbor, can be applied to everything from cruise ships to 500,000-tonne water transport tankers and small unmanned military vessels.

The concept is the brainchild of Robert Dane, an Australian doctor from the small fishing town of Ulladulla in New South Wales. A keen sailor and rower, Dane was watching a solar-powered boat race in Canberra in 1996 and noted that the winning boat used a solar panel inclined towards the sun.

Dane started working on this idea and developed a flexible wing sail covered in solar panels. The steel and plastic structure was not only able to exploit both solar and wind power, but could also adapt to sudden changes in weather by folding onto the ship's roof. Thus the sail would not destabilize the boat, but the solar panels could still collect energy.

By combining Solar Sail technology with conventional engines, Dane had come up with a versatile solution that would allow ships to run on wind, sun, batteries or fuel, or any combination of these.

And the future? The possibilities seem limitless: from luxury private yachts to tanker ships, the prospects of saving fuel, reducing pollution levels and increasing passenger comfort means that the Solar Sailor concept could go a long way on tomorrow's blue highways.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

No Quick Rebound for Storm-Wrecked Costa Maya

It'll take a full year to rebuild the docks at Costa Maya -- twice as long as initially estimated.

Officials at the popular port along the Yucatan Peninsula, which received a direct hit from Hurricane Dean last month, now say it won't reopen until September, 2008. And even then only two of the three berths for cruise ships will be back. Work on the third berth will drag into 2009. Reconstruction begins next Monday.

Cruise lines are replacing port calls at Costa Maya for the next year with stops in Progreso, Mexico; Roatan, Honduras; Cozumel and even Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ban on Cuban travel an endangered species?

Despite a long-standing ban, thousands of US tourists travel to Cuba behind Washington's back.

This hidden travel is among reasons US presidential hopeful Barack Obama says he wants to lift sanctions against travel to Cuba. Growing numbers of US Senators and Representatives agree.

Traveling to Cuba is not illegal for Americans but provisions of the "Trading With the Enemy Act" prohibit spending money there without authorization. If caught, unauthorized US tourists can face civil fines of up to US$55,000, though many settle for smaller amounts.

The U.S. Treasury Department issued 40,308 licenses for family travel last year, almost all to Cuban Americans, and the Cuban government counts these travelers as Cubans, not Americans.

And what about when Fidel Castro leaves the scene? Speculation is that the US government would then scrap the travel ban and bring some significant changes to Cuba.

The American Society of Travel Agents recently estimated that nearly 1.8 million Americans would visit in the first three years following an end to the travel ban.

We have it on good authority that the cruise lines are poised and ready for Cuba to open up as well. A significant infastructure to support Cuba as a port is already in place.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

First Oceangoing Academic Program For Multi-Cultural Student Body

The Scholar Ship, the first oceangoing study-abroad program developed specifically for an international student body, made its maiden voyage from Athens, Greece on September 5, 2007. More than 200 undergraduate and postgraduate students from 35 countries will travel to four continents over 16 weeks.

The Scholar Ship, backed by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., and supported by seven international universities, will immerse students and faculty in an intercultural living and learning environment aboard a 201-meter ocean liner specially equipped for the academic program.

Students and staff embarked on The Scholar Ship in Piraeus, Athens on a westward course to Lisbon, Portugal; Panama City, Panama; Guayaquil, Ecuador; Papeete, Tahiti; Auckland, New Zealand; Sydney, Australia; and Shanghai, Macau and Hong Kong in China. Ports of call provide extensive educational opportunities for students through a port program in which students participate in academic field study, community service and independent travel.

Seven international universities collaborated in the curricula development for The Scholar Ship, including the University of California, Berkeley and Macquarie University in Sydney, which has been designated to award academic credit to students. Other participating "Academic Stewards" include Fudan University, China; Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico; Cardiff University, United Kingdom; Al Akhawayn University, Morocco; and the University of Ghana.

Program fees are approximately $20,000 per semester. A $ 2 million fund has been established for the 2007/2008 academic year to broaden the availability of the program to students from diverse backgrounds. Grants are awarded based on academic merit and economic need.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Say Goodbye to Carnival's Celebration

Or should we say hasta la vista?

Carnival says that after many years of faithful service, its second oldest ship, the 1,486-passenger Celebration, finally is leaving the fleet, though it isn't going away completely.

It's new home: Spain. The 20-year-old vessel will join Madrid-based Iberocruceros, which is a joint venture Carnival has put together with a Spanish company to bring cruising to the Spanish-speaking masses.

Built in 1987, the Celebration is one of just two ships left in Carnival's fleet that date back to the 1980s, when mass-market cruising was just getting going. The other: The 22-year-old Holiday, now sailing out of Mobile, Ala. No word on that one, but if you're a big fan you might want to book it soon.