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, January 31, 2008

Say Sayonara to Norwegian's Pride of Hawaii

This is it, the last week for NCL America's Pride of Hawaii.

As we've written about before, the Norwegian Cruise Line subsidiary had high hopes for the ship when it debuted in the islands less than two years ago. But the American-flagged, American-staffed vessel was plagued by service issues and struggled to gain a following among cruisers. Demand for the ship -- NCL America's third in the islands -- never caught up with supply, resulting in big financial losses.

Norwegian is transferring the Pride to Europe, where the line hopes the vessel will get a better reception (demand for cruises in Europe is booming). But the Pride of Hawaii name, alas, will disappear. After a brief refitting, the 2,224-passenger ship will reemerge in late March as the Norwegian Jade. It'll offer a mix of 12-, 13- and 14-night cruises out out of Barcelona, Athens, London and Istanbul.

The Pride of Hawaii's last cruise around the Hawaiian islands -- for now, at least; Norwegian executives say the ship could someday return to the Aloha state -- finishes on Monday morning.

On These Cruises, It Really is All About the Drinking

Not one, but two -- count 'em -- cruise lines announced plans today for new wine-focused trips.

Small-ship operator Cruise West says it'll launch "taste of the Pacific Northwest" cruises in September on the 84-passenger Spirit of Discovery. The seven-day trips down the Columbia River will highlight the wines and wine regions of Oregon and Washington, as well as the culinary traditions of the area.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises, meanwhile, says it will offer a six-night tour through Australia's top wine regions in November that it's calling the Australia Food and Wine Experience. Featuring overnight stays at boutique hotels, gourmet meals paired with regional wines, and exclusive tastings at well-known vineyards, the trip is designed as an add-on experience to a 13-night cruise. The cruise, on the 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner, departs Sydney on Nov. 19.

Regent says its trip begins with a visit to Australia's Yarra Valley, where local wine experts will lead tastings at vineyards such as De Bartoli, Yering Station, Green Point and Coldstream Hills. Participants then head to Melbourne for a food-focused tour with author and chef Allan Campion, followed by more winery tours in the Hunter Valley, private tastings and cooking classes.

The Regent trip costs $6,495 per person, not including airfare.

As for the new Cruise West sailings, the line says the itinerary -- the third it has announced this year that's focused on wine and food -- will include visits to family-owned wineries and vineyards along the Columbia River; tastings and meals with owners and growers; and tours through winery cave systems.

Other activities include a tractor tour through the Hood River Valley’s renowned family-run Fruit Company, plucking pears and apples along the route; and a private tour with a local farmer through the Hanford Reach National Monument’s towering bluffs.

Cruise West says prices for the trip start at $3,149 per person.

For more information on these once-in-lifetime trips, visit or call us at 1-800-788-2545.

Carnival Fantasy to Get 'Extreme Makeover'

It's upgrade time for the Carnival Fantasy, one of the line's oldest ships.

Carnival says the popular vessel, which sails to the Caribbean out of New Orleans, will go into dry dock this fall for a multi-million dollar "extreme makeover" that includes a new deck top water park.

The long-planned face-lift for the 18-year-old ship also will bring an adults-only pool area, among other upgrades to the top decks.

The 2,052-passenger Fantasy -- the only ship sailing year-round out of New Orleans -- is a favorite of Southerners and Midwesterners who can drive to the port to pick it up. It's the third of Carnival's eight Fantasy Class ships to get such a makeover as the line spends $250 million to revamp its oldest ships. The Carnival Inspiration and Carnival Imagination have undergone a similar overhaul over the past year.

In recent years, Carnival also has revamped the ships cabins with all new bedding and flat-screen TVs, among other improvements that include a new nine-hole miniature golf course, a renovated spa, updated dining rooms and upgraded kid camp areas.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

New Customs Rules Affect Cruise Travelers

Along with a flurry of new rules for travelers this year, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has implemented another item that directly affects cruise travel.

As of February 18, all cruise ships departing from U.S. ports must send a passenger manifest to the department of Customs and Border Protection no less than 60 minutes prior to departure, which means that all passengers must be checked in and onboard prior to that time.

Some cruise lines have taken a proactive role and are implementing the procedure now. Most lines -- Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Regent, Crystal, Oceania, Princess -- have implemented a policy that states you must be processed and onboard at least 90 minutes before sailaway or you can be denied boarding.

Norwegian Cruise Line is formulating its official policy at this time and we will provide an update as soon as we know more; a message to travel agents asked that they advise their clients to be at the pier no less than two hours prior to departure. The message also indicated that if an individual attempted to check in within the 60-minute window, that individual would be denied boarding, but if a planeload of passengers was delayed, causing a late arrival at the port, the captain has the discretion to wait for them and delay departure of the ship.

Almost all of the lines currently require electronic document processing prior to arrival at the port, some within 30 days and some as close as 3 days out from departure. Guests are required to transmit passport and other identification details to speed port check-in and for vetting by authorities. These new customs procedures monitor those who have actually boarded the ship on the day of departure.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Carnival to Betty Boop Fans: We're Your Cruise Line

Themed cruises have been all the rage in recent years, with major lines offering voyages focused on everything from jazz to financial planning. But can you really fill an entire ship with Betty Boop fans?

Carnival seems to think so. The line has partnered with Jason Coleman, Inc., a producer of celebrity-hosted cruises, to launch the Betty Boop Fan Cruise -- billed as the first authentic, fully licensed specialty cruise devoted to the Queen of Cartoons.

The five-day voyage aboard the 2,052-passenger Carnival Elation departs San Diego on Oct. 9, 2008, with stops in Cabo San Lucas and Ensenada, Mexico.

Expect an all-Betty, all-the-time affair, with Betty Boop screenings, themed parties and lectures on Boop collectibles. Mark Fleischer, head of Fleischer Studios and grandson of Betty Boop creator Max Fleischer, will be on board.

Latest Gee-Whiz Ship Feature: Real Grass on Deck

That's right, real growing grass. Have you ever heard of anything so wacky?

Celebrity Cruises says its next ship will feature a country club-like lawn area to be called The Lawn Club where passengers can play bocce ball and croquet; practice their putting; or even picnic with wine and cheese.

"We think it will be just the coolest space on the ship," Celebrity president and CEO Dan Hanrahan tells us. "This is definitely separating us from the pack."

The lawn area is planned as a focal point for the new Celebrity Solstice, launching in December. Hanrahan says it will take up deck space that other lines use for miniature golf courses and other non-pool activities. It will cover about half an acre of the ship's top deck -- a sizable area that is the equivalent of about eight tennis courts.

The Lawn Club will share deck space with another innovative feature that Celebrity announced several weeks ago: The first glass-blowing studio at sea. The deck-top Hot Glass Show, as it's being called, is co-sponsored by the Corning Museum of Glass.

Hanrahan says the new features are all part of differentiating the line as being a step above mass-market competitors. "We wanted to do something more sophisticated."

Storm-Ravaged Costa Maya to Reopen by Summer

Looks like the popular port of Costa Maya will be back on cruise itineraries a lot faster than anyone expected.

Officials at the Mexican stopover say reconstruction of two of the destination's berthing spaces already are more than half finished (58%, to be exact), and they expect the port to reopen by summer.

Hurricane Dean pummeled the fast-growing cruise hideaway last August, causing extensive damage to its pier and facilities, and the destination wasn't expected to reopen until September.

There's no word yet on which cruise lines and ships will return to the port this summer once it reopens, but a Costa Maya spokeswoman says they're in talks with several lines and expect quite a few to put it on their schedule. Before the storm, the fast-growing port -- carved out of the jungle less than a decade ago -- had become a mainstay on the schedules of Carnival and Royal Caribbean, among other lines.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Everything is Bigger in Texas, Including Cruise Ships

Notice anything unusual about the ship to the left?

Yep, those are longhorns on top of the vessel, Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas. And they'll be up there for the next three months as the ship sails out of the longhorn capital of the world: Texas.

Royal Caribbean unveiled the 140-foot-wide horns Sunday to hype the 138,000-ton ship's arrival in the Texas port of Galveston for the winter -- the first time a ship so large has sailed out of the state.

Texas is a growing hub for Caribbean cruises, with ships sailing out of Galveston and Houston. Like previous Royal Caribbean ships to serve the market, Voyager -- with the longhorns attached -- will sail seven-night trips from Galveston to the Caribbean, Mexico and South America.

Got a place for a set of 140-foot-wide horns? If you want them, they can be yours -- as soon as Royal Caribbean takes them down after the winter season (the ship will head to Europe for the summer season in April, sans horns). Royal Caribbean is auctioning the horns off on eBay this week (proceeds will go to the Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation). Just a warning: Royal Caribbean says the horns weigh 600 pounds (for what it's worth, the line says its the largest longhorn set in history).

For more information on Royal Caribbean cruises from Texas, check out our web site at or call us at 1-800-788-2545.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Azamara Drops South America, World Cruise

Azamara Cruises' Azamara Journey won't be returning to South America this winter -- or sailing a world cruise next year. The cruise line announced yesterday that it will redeploy the ship to the Caribbean and Panama Canal from November 2008 through March 2009.

The announcement comes as a surprise because South America is a hot ticket right now -- Carnival, for one, plans to take a ship there (its upcoming Splendor) for the first time next winter. Also, as world cruises continue to grow in popularity, they are often the first to sell out. However, Azamara's guests simply weren't biting.

"We got some strong demand and feedback from guests and travel agent partners," Azamara spokeswoman Tavia Robb tells us. "What we were finding to be the strongest draw is what we have Quest doing now, which is the Caribbean and Panama Canal."

On November 12, 2008, Journey will sail a new, 12-night Western Mediterranean cruise roundtrip from Barcelona. On December 3, the ship will set sail on a 15-night repositioning cruise across the Atlantic to Miami, where it will sail two 16-night Panama Canal sailings followed by a series of 12-night exotic Caribbean cruises. The ship will then head back to Europe as scheduled in March 2009.

The 2008/2009 season in South America would have been Journey's second, and the world cruise its first.

Another Cruise Ship First: Movie Premieres

Passengers on Princess ships the week of Feb. 11 are in for a treat: The movie premiere of Bonneville, starring Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Joan Allen.

The SenArt flick's debut on the line's 16 ships will come two weeks before its official Feb. 29 launch in theaters across the USA. It's the first time a movie has premiered on a cruise ship.

Princess will show the movie in ship theaters and on the giant outdoor LED screens that it has installed on some vessels in recent years, a signature feature at the line. Princess shows films on the screens nightly, a popular program called Movies Under the Stars (see the photo at left to see what the screens are like; it's a shot from the Caribbean Princess).

Bonneville, for those who are wondering, is a dramatic comedy about a woman driving cross country with her longtime friends (in a Pontiac Bonneville convertible) to deliver her husband's ashes for burial. You can see a trailer at

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

NCL, Apollo Close $1 Billion Investment Deal

In September 2007, private equity group Apollo Management agreed to invest big bucks and become a major shareholder in NCL Corporation, Ltd., parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line. Today, it's a done deal -- NCL has announced the closing of a $1 billion cash equity investment.

With this closing, Apollo has become a 50 percent owner of NCL. Star Cruises, NCL's previous sole shareholder, is now a 50 percent owner as well.

According to a cruise line statement, the money and backing will enable the line to implement Freestyle 2.0, a series of fleetwide enhancements announced aboard Norwegian Gem just after its naming ceremony in New York last month. The investment will also help fund continued fleet expansion; two F3 prototypes will be built in France for over $1.1 billion per ship, the first of which will launch in 2009.

"With the Apollo investment," NCL President and CEO Colin Veitch is quoted as saying, "NCL is now in the strongest financial condition we have ever enjoyed in our 41-year history."

Apollo, which already owns Oceania Cruises, also agreed last year to acquire Regent. Meanwhile, another private equity firm, New York-based Court Square Capital Partners, has signed a letter of intent to buy the family-owned Grand Circle Travel; the actual sale is expected to take place in February.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Crystal Cruises Cracks Down on Smokers

Crystal Cruises says it will ban smoking on cabin balconies starting in May, joining the stampede of lines toughening smoking policies.

The award-winning luxury line already bans smoking in most public areas of its two ships, including restaurants, showrooms and most bars. But times are changing, and people want even stricter bans, says Crystal president Gregg Michel.

"The majority of our guests are non-smoking, and travelers are used to more non-smoking environments today," he says. "There is growing discomfort from non-smokers about verandah smoke negatively impacting the enjoyment of their personal outdoor living space."

Crystal follows in the footsteps of nearly half a dozen other lines tightening smoking rules over the past year, including Royal Caribbean, Regent Seven Seas and MSC Cruises. But unlike those lines, Crystal will continue to allow smoking in cabins even as it bans lighting up on cabin balconies. In that regard, the line is taking the exact opposite approach as Royal Caribbean, which implemented a ban this month on smoking in cabins but still allows it on balconies.

Cyrstal's new smoking policy takes effect with the May 7 London-to-Rome cruise on Crystal Serenity and the May 25 Athens-to-London cruise on Crystal Symphony.

Disney Brings Toy Story to the High Seas

It'll be one of the largest productions ever developed for a cruise ship, says Disney. And like nothing cruisers have ever seen.

The Disney Cruise Line will announce today that it has adapted the Disney-Pixar animated film Toy Story into an elaborate musical that will debut on the 2,700-passenger Disney Wonder this spring .

"Toy Story -- The Musical represents the next generation of staged entertainment for Disney Cruise Line," says the line's president, Tom McAlpin. World-class entertainment, he adds, is what "sets us apart from the rest of the cruise industry."

The show will take place once per cruise in the ship's 977-seat Walt Disney Theatre. It includes eight musical numbers that follow the storyline of the original film. It's only the second time Disney has adapted a Disney-Pixar film for the stage (Finding Nemo -- The Musical debuted at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida last year).

The Disney Wonder operates three- and four-night cruises from Florida to The Bahamas.

Monday, January 07, 2008

QE2 Sets Sail on Last World Cruise

One of the world's most famous cruise ships -- the Queen Elizabeth 2 -- set sail Sunday on its final global voyage before being turned into a floating hotel, British media reported.

The vessel left with a fireworks send-off from the southern English port city of Southampton for her last winter trip, the domestic Press Association news agency said.

Her sister ship, the recently-named Queen Victoria, set off on her first world cruise at the same time. Both ships will travel in tandem across the north Atlantic Ocean to New York.

US cruise operator Carnival sold the QE2 for about 50 million pounds (67 million euros, 99 million dollars) in November last year to Istithmar, the investment arm of state-owned tourism company Dubai World.

On return from her final world cruise in April, she will be refurbished and turned into a five-star hotel at a specially-constructed pier on the world's largest man-made island, The Palm Jumeirah.

Launched by her namesake in September 1967, the QE2 is previous owner Cunard's longest-serving ship. The 963-feet (294-metre) long ship weighs 70,000 tonnes and can carry up to 1,778 passengers and more than 1,000 crew.

She has travelled 5.5 million nautical miles -- the equivalent of travelling to the moon and back 13 times -- undertaken 25 world cruises, crossed the Atlantic more than 800 times, and carried more than two million passengers.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Latest Oddball Cruise Activity: Bungee Trampolining

Rock climbing walls. Ice skating rinks. Surfing pools. And now . . . . bungee trampolines.

That's right, flying through the air like you're in a circus show is the latest gee-whiz activity to take off on cruise ships. Royal Caribbean already is experimenting with bungee trampolines on ships, and now Britain-based P&O Cruises says it will install four of the contraptions atop the 3,100-passenger Ventura, which debuts in April.

The trampolines, which allow passengers to soar through the air nearly 200 feet above sea level, are part of what P&O Cruises is billing as the first circus school at sea. Dubbed Cirque Ventura, it will be located on the Ventura's highest deck and run by instructors from the Generating Company, a UK-based circus firm.

In addition to bungee trampolining, passengers who sign up for circus workshops will receive instruction in tight wire, acro balance, clowning, break-dancing, juggling, stilt-walking and the flying trapeze.

P&O says the programs are for passengers eight and older. No word yet on what it will cost.

The Hottest Place to Cruise in 2008 is . . .

The Mediterranean. No doubt about it. A survey of travel agents released last week finds a Mediterranean cruise is the fifth most popular international vacation choice for 2008 -- a big jump from last year when it ranked at No. 10.

Agents say a Mediterranean cruise is now a more popular choice among its travel agency customers than a weekend in London or a week in Jamaica.

The Mediterranean as a cruise destination has been booming for several years, but this is the first time it has finished in the top five in the survey. When agents were surveyed in 2004, the Med ranked way down at 15th place.

Agents say the slumping dollar, which is making a land-based vacation to Europe more expensive, is a factor. "With the dollar performing so poorly, we have been encouraging clients who might have steered away from an expensive European vacation to book a Mediterranean cruise," one agent, Pattie Fanta of Westlake, Ohio, told surveyors. On a cruise, she notes, "your accommodations and meals are fixed" in dollars, so a dropping exchange rate won't hurt you.

For more information on Mediterranean cruises this year, visit us at or call 1-800-788-2545.

Princess Cruises Rolls Out 'Chef Tables' Fleetwide

Everyone knows how much cruisers love to eat, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that the exclusive Chef's Table program Princess Cruises launched last summer on Emerald Princess was a huge hit -- so huge, in fact, that the line plans to roll it out fleetwide.

Princess has announced that the elaborate dining experience, which costs $75 per person, will debut on most other Princess ships within a few months (it's already available on the Crown Princess and Caribbean Princess). The only ships that won't get it right away are the smaller Tahitian Princess, Pacific Princess and Royal Princess.

The Chef's Table program starts with a private champagne-and-appetizer reception for up to 10 people in the ship's galley, hosted by the ship's chef. After that, participants move to a private table nearby in the dining room for a specially prepared, multi-course meal with paired wines. The chef rejoins his new friends for dessert to discuss the meal.