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

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Norwegian Cruise Line Shakes Up Cabin Design

The "new wave" cabins, as Norwegian is calling them, will appear on the line's next generation of ships, the so-called F3 ships launching in 2010. The ship will hold 4,200 passengers at double occupancy. At 150,000 tons, the vessels will be 60% larger than the biggest Norwegian cruisers today, and Norwegian has been promising a revolution in design since it first announced them.

“We have thrown away the rule book with the design of F3," Norwegian's President and CEO, Colin Veitch, says in a statement accompanying the announcement. "Gone are the regimented designs (of typical cabins) and in place are sleek staterooms that are totally outside the box.”

The most revolutionary design element of the new cabins are their curved walls, but they have other differences with traditional cabins, including unusual bathrooms. Each of the main elements of the bathrooms -- the showers, toilets and sinks -- will be separate (indeed, in an unusual move for a cruise ship, the sinks will be outside of the bathrooms in the main part of the cabins).

The cabins also boast what NCL is calling a sophisticated palette of earth-tone colors accented with rich, dark wood, lit with concealed LED lighting and back-lit domed ceilings.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

U.S. Government Plans to Fingerprint Cruisers at Terminals

The U.S. government plans to start fingerprinting foreign travelers -- including cruisers -- as they leave the USA. The proposal, to be unveiled yesterday by the Homeland Security Department, would require cruise lines to collect the fingerprints from passengers as they board ships in Miami and other U.S. ports. Airlines would have to collect fingerprints at airports.

Only foreigners would be fingerprinted, not U.S. citizens. But the requirement could cause delays for everyone at cruise ship terminals. It's also expected to add to the cost of turning around ships in ports -- costs the cruise lines likely will pass on to consumers. The proposal calls for cruise lines and airlines -- not the U.S. government -- to pick up the tab for the fingerprinting.

The cost "is above and beyond our biggest nightmare," a spokesman for the International Air Transport Association said. "This is literally the most expensive security program in the history of aviation." The U.S. government's own projections place the cost at more than $2 billion over 10 years.

Airlines, cruise lines and others will have 60 days to comment before a final requirement is issued. A Homeland Security Department official, Robert Mocny, stated that nothing will change for airline and cruise ship passengers between now and June 2009. Mocny says the proposal is aimed at helping the government track down visitors, including suspected terrorists, who stay in the USA after they are required to leave.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Storm-ravaged Costa Maya Will Reopen in July

It's official: The popular port of Costa Maya will be back on cruise itineraries starting this summer.

The storm-ravaged Mexican destination announced plans today to reopen in July with two fully functional berthing spaces, and it also said all the major lines that have called there in the past have committed to return.

Hurricane Dean pummeled the fast-growing cruise hideaway last August, causing extensive damage to its pier and facilities. At first it looked like the destination wouldn't reopen until this coming September, but by January officials were expressing confidence that they could reopen by summer. Today's announcement sets a specific month and confirms that major lines will return.

Among the lines that Costa Mayan officials say have agreed to return are Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Celebrity, Holland America, Disney and Cunard.

Officials say the rebuilt piers will be capable of handing the industry's biggest cruise ships, including Royal Caribbean's record-setting, 5,400-passenger Genesis vessels debuting in 2009. Officials also announced that a third berth would open at Costa Maya by November.

Monday, April 21, 2008

NCL May Sell Older Ships

According to a Lloyd's List news report, Norwegian Cruise Line could be negotiating to sell three of its older ships. The maritime and transport news publication stated that NCL may sell Pride of Aloha to Pullmantur (a Spanish line owned by Royal Caribbean) and Norwegian Dream and Norwegian Majesty to Louis Cruise Lines (the Cyprus-based line whose ship sank off Santorini last year).

NCL announced in February that it would transfer the Pride of Aloha to parent company Star Cruises on May 11, 2008 (Star and Apollo Management are each 50 percent owners of NCL). But until now, we'd heard nothing about selling that ship or any other to European lines. However, the sales would be in keeping with Norwegian's goal to have the youngest fleet in the industry -- and might help offset some of the financial troubles brought on by NCL America's lackluster performance.

Currently, you can book cruises on Norwegian Dream through October 2008 and Majesty through October 2009. But as we've seen this year with Pride of Aloha and Norwegian Jade, NCL isn't afraid to cancel bookings in order to move a ship.

NCL refused to comment on the potential sales. A statement from a company spokesperson says: "Norwegian Dream and Majesty are both owned by Star Cruises, and Pride of Aloha, under our agreement with Star, is supposed to become owned by Star after we withdraw her from Hawaii. Therefore, we are not in a position to talk about the disposition of any of these ships as they are not ours."

Star Cruises is similarly tight-lipped. A spokesperson tells us via e-mail that "we are unable to provide any comments on the said issues. As a global cruise operator, we do have continuous plans on selling old ships and building new ones to rejuvenate our fleet."

Steamboat Fans Pressure Congress to Save Delta Queen

The Save the Delta Queen Campaign is targeting the leaders of Congress this week in a last-ditch effort to keep the nation's most famous paddlewheeler afloat.

The grass-roots organization is bombarding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip James Clyburn with phone calls, emails and faxes in the hopes of gaining their support for legislation that would continue the historic vessel's long-standing exemption from fire safety rules. The exemption expires in November, and without it, the boat will have to stop sailing.

On Friday, the group delivered petitions in favor of the exemption to Congress signed by more than 5,000 supporters.

Congress has granted the Delta Queen an exemption from the 42-year-old safety rules nine times in the past, nearly always by close-to-unanimous margins. But the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation, Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., has been blocking a further exemption, calling the boat a fire hazard.

Built in 1926, the 174-passenger Delta Queen is the last traditional steamboat carrying overnight passengers on America's inland waterways, and it has a strong following among riverboat lovers. The four-deck, white-washed confection harkens back to a bygone era with its stately wooden cabins and cozy, hardwood-paneled public rooms. But it is precisely these historic charms that are causing the downfall of the paddlewheeler, since they do not meet modern fire safety standards that forbid wooden superstructures on boats that carry more than 50 passengers on overnight trips.

The Save the Delta Queen Campaign, meanwhile, argues that the 1966 fire safety law that is in question was intended to cover ocean-going ships, not riverboats that operate within yards of the shore.

Brace Yourself for Even Higher Fuel Surcharges

It looks like fuel surcharges are here to stay and, if anything, poised to go higher.

On Thursday Norwegian became the latest line to announce plans for a higher surcharge, noting that on May 1 its fees will jump to $9 per person per day for the first and second passengers in a cabin. The fee for any additional passengers in the same cabin will rise to $4 per person per day.

The line has been charging $7 per person per day since November.

The Norwegian hike comes just nine days after Carnival Corp. announced that it will hike fuel surcharges at six lines that it owns, including Carnival, Princess, Cunard and Holland America. The company says fuel surcharges at those lines for the first two people in a cabin will jump to $7 per person, per day -- a $2 increase.

Carnival also is adding a fuel surcharge for the third, fourth and fifth passengers in any cabin, something it did not have before. That fee will be $2 per person, per day.

Future Royal Caribbean Ships Will Boast a 'Central Park'

What mind-blowing innovation does Royal Caribbean plan for its next ship?

The Cruise World has been abuzz over the question for more than a year, and now it finally has an answer: A massive "Central Park" at the center of the vessel that boasts soaring trees, live grass and outdoor restaurants. The entire Central Park area, which will run the length of a football field down the center of the ship and be lined with five decks of cabins, will be open to the air six decks above. In other words, if it's raining outside of the ship, it'll be raining in the ship's Central Park, too. Central Park is designed to be a peaceful place for passengers to hang out during the day, noting that there will be quiet reading corners, a sculpture garden and an area for playing chess. But at night the park will morph into an active gathering space for alfresco dining and entertainment that will include outdoor concerts and street performances.

Another big talker is that the 254 cabins overlooking the park will have balconies, allowing passengers to sit outside at night and people watch. The Royal Promenades on earlier Royal Caribbean ships are lined with three decks of cabins but do not have balconies. Passengers on the top pool decks of the ship also will be able to look down into the Central Park area from a bridge above.

The new area will be the central feature of the line's so-called Project Genesis ships launching in 2009 and 2010. The 225,000-ton Project Genesis ships, now under construction in Turku, Finland, will be the largest cruise vessels ever built. Nearly 50% larger than the current record holders, Royal Caribbean's Freedom class ships, they'll have room for 5,400 passengers at double occupancy.

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Schwarzenegger, Hawaii Governor Oppose Proposed Cabotage Rule Change

The governors of California and Hawaii have publicly decried a proposed cruise ship rule that would entail foreign-flagged ships to remain in a foreign port for 48 hours before continuing to U.S. ports. The new rule is intended to safeguard U.S-flagged ships from foreign competition.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle, both Republicans, co-authored a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, urging that the proposed rule be rejected on the grounds that it would hurt their respective state economies by causing “unintended disastrous consequences and wide-ranging economic damage.”

A change is supported by the likes of NCL America, which was operating three U.S.-flagged ships in Hawaii before shipping two out due in part to foreign-flagged competition, whose ships briefly stop in places like Ensenada, Mexico, to fulfill port-call requirements.

The joint letter also asks the Office of Management and Budget to initiate an economic impact review before any rule changes are implemented.

Hawaii’s democrat congressional delegation supports NCL, stating that the line is at a financial disadvantage because it complies with U.S. labor and environmental law.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Windjammer Barefoot Cruises Officially Out of Business

It likely will come as no big surprise that Windjammer is out of business -- the company has not been sailing since last year -- but the news is now official. According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which regulates Sellers of Travel in Florida, Windjammer Barefoot Cruises is no longer licensed to sell travel in the state of Florida -- effectively putting the kibosh on rumored plans of a renaissance.

Windjammer has made no announcement that it has ceased operations, but the company will be breaking the law if it sells any cruises from its Florida headquarters. Although the CEO of the company promised faithful fans that Windjammer's ships would be operating again sometime in April 2008, no cruises are sailing and the company's offices are dark.

Windjammer experienced financial difficulties throughout much of last year. Vendors, port facilities and even crewmembers did not receive payment; ships were stranded; and a slew of canceled voyages in the fall of 2007 left many would-be passengers searching for refunds. The company's CEO made promises and the Web site cheerfully promoted future voyages, but no Windjammer ship has sailed in months. Cruise line executives did try to renew the license to sell travel last fall but because of the line's financial difficulties, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services insisted that the line put up a $50,000 bond. The company either could not or would not do so, and subsequently lost its license.

Although the Windjammer Web site is still up, the "Plan My Cruise" page is completely blank and none of the phone numbers work. The "Destinations" page lists departures through May 3, but it no longer seems possible to book a voyage.

If you are trying to get a refund for a Windjammer cruise that did not sail, a December press release on its Web site instructs you to fax requests to 305-531-1805. However, that number may or may not be operational. Complaints can be sent to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, but it's unlikely the government agency can get anyone's money back. If you need written proof for your credit card or travel insurance company that Windjammer is no longer licensed to sell travel in Florida, you may contact the government agency at 850-922-2966.

Celebrity to Ban Smoking in Cabins and on Balconies

Celebrity became the latest cruise line to reduce smoking areas on its ships, by banning smoking in its cabins or on balconies beginning October 1.

Citing the rising numbers of hotels and restaurants around the world that are implementing stricter smoking policies, Celebrity said that its new policy will also reduce the number of public areas in which passengers can smoke onboard.

Celebrity Cruises president and CEO Dan Hanrahan said in a statement that approximately 90% of Celebrity’s guests are non-smokers.

“By increasing the number of smoke-free areas onboard while still designating areas for those who smoke, our aim is to make the onboard experience as pleasant as possible for all of our guests,” he said, adding that Celebrity would be the first premium cruise line to implement such a strict smoking policy.

Designated indoor areas where guests can smoke cigarettes will include the port side of one lounge per ship, and a designated slot machine area in each ship’s casino. Celebrity said the new policy would result in “a cleaner, fresher and healthier environment on Celebrity’s ships”.

The new policy also designates certain outdoor areas where guests can smoke, that will differ depending on the vessel. Celebrity said that violators of its new smoking policy could be fined a $250 cleaning fee.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Carnival Increases Fuel Supplement

Carnival made headlines last week for voluntarily agreeing to refund the fuel charges levied on guests who'd booked their cruise prior to the implementation of the fuel charge policy. What the line neglected to mention then was its plans to up the surcharge on new bookings.

Effective for all new bookings made on or after April 21, Carnival's fuel surcharge will increase from $5 to $7 per person per day, based on double occupancy. In addition, a fuel supplement of $2 per person per day will apply to third, fourth and fifth guests in a cabin. Total fuel charges are not to exceed $98 per person per voyage for the first two passengers and $28 per person per voyage for any other passengers sharing the cabin. The fee increase applies to six of the Carnival Corporation's cruise lines: Carnival, Holland America, Princess, Costa, Cunard and Seabourn.

In early March, Royal Caribbean was the first company to voluntarily remove fuel surcharges on guests who'd booked cruises without being informed of the new fees. The change in policy was due to pressure by the Florida Attorney General's Office, which had been investigating the fuel surcharges. At the end of last month, the Carnival Corporation followed Royal Caribbean's lead and reversed its charges as well. At that time, no announcement was made that the line intended to raise the fees on future bookings.

The price hike actually does not make Carnival's fuel surcharge the most expensive in the industry -- Cruise West charges $12 per person per day. However, Carnival can no longer be counted among the cruise lines with the lowest fuel taxes -- that territory now belongs to Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Azamara. Disney is still one of the only major cruise lines to not charge a fuel supplement.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

New U.S. Passport Rules Are Set -- Finally

After what has often seemed like a never-ending odyssey, the new land and sea rules for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) -- a government mandate aimed at tightening border security -- are finally, well, final.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of State released the complete details of the WHTI initiative on March 27th and announced an effective date of June 1, 2009. At that time, a passport or other WHTI-compliant document will be required for entering or re-entering the U.S. through all land and sea points of entry - sort of.

The announcement means that cruise travelers now have 14 months to make preparations for the new travel requirements. Interestingly, though, the specifics of the completed initiative reveal that the final requirements for cruise passengers will actually be less stringent than those imposed on land travelers. That's because passengers on any itinerary that begins and ends at the same U.S. port -- such as a roundtrip Ft. Lauderdale cruise to the Caribbean or a roundtrip Seattle itinerary to Alaska and British Columbia -- will be exempt from the WHTI document requirement.

Passengers on these "closed-loop sailings" will still need to present a government-issued photo ID (such as a driver's license) and proof of citizenship (a birth certificate, certificate of naturalization or similar documentation). Those requirements are already in place for cruise passengers traveling to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or the Caribbean.

The 2009 rules will, on the other hand, impact cruise travelers not sailing roundtrip voyages to and from the same U.S. city. So for those cruising on a Boston to Montreal voyage, or a Los Angeles to Vancouver sailing, a passport -- or other approved secure document denoting both citizenship and identity -- will be required.

Princess Plans to Add Adult-Only Decks to Entire Fleet

Princess plans to add quiet, adult-only deck areas to its entire fleet of ships, expanding the popular Sanctuary spots that debuted on the Crown Princess in 2006.

Only the Crown and Emerald Princess currently have Sanctuary, but the Island Princess, Grand Princess, Star Princess and upcoming Ruby Princess will be outfitted by the end of this year, and the remainder of the fleet by 2010.

These kid-free, low-music zones have become increasingly popular in the last couple years. Cruise lines like Disney and Royal Caribbean have had versions of adult areas on their ships since the 90’s, but Princess took it to the next level.

The Sanctuary is a roped off area that was initially free, but became so popular when the Crown debuted, the line quickly began charging a $10 fee for about four hours of relaxation time.

For the price, cruisers can lounge on plush, outdoor furniture while listening to piped-in spa music, while stewards bring around chilled face towels and Evian water atomizers. For additional fees, guests can order from a “healthy” food and beverage menu or rent MP3 players with pre-loaded relaxation tunes.

Carnival Unveils New Itinerary Out of New York

Carnival plans to shake up its New York operation a bit in 2009 with a new Caribbean itinerary that includes a stop in the Turks & Caicos.

The eight-night voyages, on the 2,124-passenger Carnival Miracle, will include stops in Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos; the private island of Half Moon Cay; and Nassau in the Bahamas.

Carnival has offered eight-night cruises from New York to the eastern Caribbean since 2003, first on the Carnival Legend and then on the Miracle. But until now the trips have stuck to the ports of San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Thomas, U.S.V.I., and Tortola, British Virgin Islands.

Carnival says the Miracle will follow the new itinerary about once a month between May and September of 2009. The rest of the time it will continue to offer the ship's traditional itinerary.

What's behind the new routing? In a statement accompanying the announcement, Carnival said the Turks -- a relatively new port for the major lines -- has quickly become a popular destination with its customers. But another reason the line may be eager to switch to the new itinerary is that it will require less fuel than the Miracle's existing route. Oil prices have been soaring in recent months, forcing Carnival and other lines to pay millions of dollars more in fuel costs.

The announcement comes less than a week after Royal Caribbean said it is ending cruises to Canada from Norfolk, Va. -- an itinerary that uses a high amount of fuel. Three weeks ago Norwegian Cruise Line said it was switching its cruises out of Charleston, S.C., from a Western Caribbean itinerary to a less fuel-consuming Bahamas itinerary -- a move that Norwegian president and CEO Colin Veitch later told USA TODAY was definitely influenced by rising fuel prices.

Get Ready for Tighter Screening at Port Canaveral

Sailing out of Port Canaveral this year? You might want to leave a little extra time for boarding.

The Transportation Security Administration plans to beef up the passenger screening process at the world's third busiest cruise ship port -- a change that could mean longer lines and added delays for vacationers waiting to get on ships.

In a story about the new security measures, the Orlando Sentinel reported that the TSA has assembled a team of security specialists from federal and local agencies who will be randomly deployed at the port to more heavily screen passengers and their bags.

"One day we might have on-site an expert on fraudulent documents and another expert on behavior," a TSA official told the paper. "The next, we might have none or we might have 10 other experts. The idea is to keep things random and unpredictable."

The Sentinel notes that Port Canaveral is the second port in the state where the TSA is upgrading security. The Port of Jacksonville was the first.

The number of people cruising out of Port Canaveral has grown rapidly over the past decade and is expected to continue growing for a least the next few years. Earlier this month the Disney Cruise Line, which has two ships on order, announced plans to base them at the port when they launch in 2011 and 2012. And Royal Caribbean also announced plans this month to base one of the world's largest ships, the 3,634-passenger Freedom of the Seas, at the port starting in 2009.