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, December 30, 2007

NCL Rolls Out Freestyle ... 2.0

Freestyle 2.0 is a fleetwide initiative to upgrade several aspects of the guest experience, including dining, staterooms, and onboard activities and amenities; NCL will also revamp its tiered Latitudes past passenger program. The initiative is the result of customer and travel agent feedback, and is being helped along, at least financially, by the $1 billion investment Apollo Management made in the company earlier this year.

Freestyle Dining is the largest component of the current Freestyle Cruising movement, and that will not change -- most of the 2.0 improvements involve food and beverage. In fact the line expects to spend $50 million on dining-related upgrades before its next new-build (the first in the prototype class now known as F3) launches in winter 2009.

NCL will upgrade mattresses, sheets, pillows, duvets, towels and bathrooms in all cabins on all ships. Coffee makers will be added to any cabins in the fleet that don't already have them, and all suites will get sofa beds. Guests booked in balcony cabins and mini-suites will receive priority check-in and disembarkation, a personal escort to their staterooms, and a special "At Your Service" hotline (not a concierge, per say, but a team of folks who can field questions and delegate requests).

And suite and Courtyard Villa holders, who already receive perks such as butler and concierge service, will get extra benefits including a private breakfast and lunch menu available in the Courtyard and in Cagney's Steakhouse; previously, the Courtyard had only light snacks for breakfast, such as pastries and fruit.

The line will launch NCL "U" -- an education and enrichment program that will offer new classes, including organic cooking, improv with Second City, and how to be a bartender or sommelier. The health and wellness program will be expanded, and even the pool deck experience is getting an overhaul -- each deck chair will have a flag on it so when you need a cool drink, you don't have to signal or wait for a bartender. Chilled towels and Evian spritzes will also find their way poolside.

Some of the enhancements are already in place on Norwegian Gem. Though there's no target date for a complete fleetwide rollout (it will take time as dry dock is required for some ships -- especially in the lido eateries), NCL CEO and President Colin Veitch says Freestyle 2.0 changes will be largely implemented on all ships by the summer of 2008, and that more details on specific additions and changes will be revealed in the coming months.

Rowdy Dad Kicked Off Queen Mary 2

Think nothing exciting ever happens on a Cunard cruise ship? Think again. A British paper is reporting that a fight broke out this week between passengers on the line's famed Queen Mary 2, prompting officials to kick a 32-year-old father off the ship.

Britain's Daily Mirror says Anthony McNamara of Essex, England -- dubbed the "fight dad" by the tabloid -- had to leave his nine-year-old daughter on board with his parents after the line told him to pack it up and go home. McNamara, who admits to being involved in the fight, had to find his own way back from the British Virgin Islands, where the ship was sailing, the paper says.

There are scant details on the cause of the fight, but McNamara tells the Mirror he was only defending himself. "I was the victim and for that I was thrown off the ship," the paper quoted him as saying.

An official from Cunard would only tell the paper that two passengers were "disembarked" and that the incident was being investigated.

Baggage Ban on Batteries Begins

To help reduce the risk of fires, air travelers will no longer be able to pack loose lithium batteries in checked luggage beginning Jan. 1, the Transportation Department said Friday.

Passengers can still check baggage with lithium batteries if they are installed in electronic devices, such as cameras, cell phones and laptop computers. If packed in plastic bags, batteries may be in carryon baggage. The limit is two batteries per passenger.

The ban affects shipments of non-rechargeable lithium batteries, such as those made by Energizer Holdings Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co.'s Duracell brand.

"Doing something as simple as keeping a spare battery in its original retail packaging or a plastic zip-lock bag will prevent unintentional short-circuiting and fires," Krista Edwards, deputy administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said in a release.

The Federal Aviation Administration has found that fire-protection systems in the cargo hold of passenger planes can't put out fires sparked in lithium batteries.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A Wind-Powered Ship with a Fuel Surcharge?

This fuel surcharge thing is out of hand. How do we know? Even Star Clippers, which operates three sailing ships powered by the wind, plans to add one to customer bills to compensate for the soaring cost of oil.

See the problem here? The ships are powered by the wind -- not oil! And last we looked, wind was still free.

The Star Clippers fuel charge, which kicks in Dec. 17, will be $8 per person per day -- $3 per day higher than lines such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean that do use oil to propel their ships. Hmmmm.

In Star Clippers' defense, their ships use fossil fuels to power the generators that keep the lights on at night. And sometimes when the wind goes slack the ships fire up gas engines to keep on schedule. But c'mon, now, an $8 per person fuel surcharge for that?

Meanwhile, oil prices have plunged over the past week. They're down to under $88 a barrel from nearly $100 a barrel when major lines began adding fuel surcharges last month. So far, though, no line has reduced their fee.

Disney Cruise Line to Sail to St. Croix, Tortola

It can be frustrating being a Disney Cruise Line lover -- at least if you like diversity in your ports of call.

The line only offers a handful of itineraries, and the trips can get old for the die-hard Disneyphiles who sail on them year after year.

But here's the big news: Starting in 2009, Disney is mixing it up with two new Disney Magic itineraries that will include the line's first stops in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.

The ports will replace St. Maarten on the Magic's existing eastern Caribbean itinerary.

For those planning ahead, the new "eastern Caribbean with St. Croix" itinerary to St. Thomas, St. Croix and Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, will depart Port Canaveral, Fla., on the following dates in 2009: Jan. 3, Jan. 31, Feb. 28, March 28, Oct. 10, Nov. 11 and Dec. 5.

The "eastern Caribbean with Tortola" itinerary to St. Thomas, Tortola and Castaway Cay will depart Port Canaveral in 2009 on April 25, May 23, June 20, July 18, Aug. 15 and Sept. 12.

Disney will continue to offer its traditional eastern Caribbean itinerary to St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Castaway Cay in between the new sailings. It also will continue a traditional western Caribbean itinerary.

The new itineraries are already available for booking; prices start at $599 per person. Visit us at or call 1-800-788-2545 to find out more.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Celebrity Solstice Heats Up With Glass Show

The trend of dreaming up innovative firsts for new-builds continues with Celebrity's announcement that its upcoming Solstice will introduce a fresh art program onboard: glassblowing.

The cruise line has teamed up with the world-renowned Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, to introduce cruisers to its traveling exhibit, the "Hot Glass Show." Since 2001, the show has traveled to museums, art fairs and public festivals around the world, but this will be its first foray at sea.

What exactly is the Hot Glass Show? On Celebrity Solstice, three resident "gaffers" -- glassblowing artists -- will conduct live glassmaking demonstrations, lectures and workshops in a custom-designed outdoor studio, located on the ship's upper deck. The gaffers will create items such as vases and bowls as a narrator explains each step in the process and answers guests' questions.

The show will be free and offered several times per voyage, on all itineraries.

Crystal to Wine Aficionados: We're Your Line

Raise a glass to Crystal Cruises, which is upgrading its offerings for wine lovers. The luxury line is putting its entire staff of wine sommeliers through additional training this year so they can pass muster with the worldwide Court of Master Sommeliers.

Crystal spokeswoman Mimi Weisband tells us each and every one of the line's sommeliers will be certified with the Court by next year. Already three out of four have passed the nearly six-hour test for certification, which she says is far from a cakewalk.

"It's like the SATs" for sommeliers, says Weisband. "Our head of Food & Beverage told me he was shaking."

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

Silversea Veteran to Launch New River Cruise Line

Yet another river cruise operator is on the way -- the latest sign of the boom in river cruising.

Jewel River Cruise Line, scheduled to debut in 2008, is the brainchild of Albert Peter, former CEO of luxury-focused Silversea Cruises.

The plans for the company, unveiled this week, include three brands. The most upscale, Jewel River Cruises, will have one ship and offer trips on the Seine river in France starting April 5. The company says the brand's 90-passenger vessel will offer a "boutique luxury" experience.

The company's two other brands, Emerald River Journeys and Princess River Journeys, will have five ships in all and cater to less upscale clienteles. They'll sail in central Europe.

All of the company's ships are existing vessels that it has bought and plans to refurbish. The Jewel River Cruises ship, to be called Jewel River Blue, will undergo a $3.5 million overhaul this winter that will make it the only all-suite luxury river vessel.

The company plans to announce itinerary details and pricing next month. You won't be able to book the trips until January.

Hawaii Superferry Set to Launch This Week

The controversial Hawaii Superferry should be up and running by Dec. 6, barring another last-minute surprise.

The high-speed ferry, designed as a low-cost way to hop between Hawaiian Islands, operated for just two days in August before environmental concerns, protests and a legal ruling shut it down. Hawaii's governor has since signed a law allowing it to resume service while the state conducts a review of the ferry's potential environmental impact.

The ferry can hold 866 passengers and 282 cars. It'll travel between Oahu and Maui in three hours. Inaugural fares are $29 per person, one way, through Dec. 20. After that, fares rise to $39 per person, one way. Fares for cars start at $55, one way.

The company also plans service between Oahu and Kauai but has not set a start date. It faces stiff community opposition on the island.