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

Monday, June 30, 2008

Carnival Welcomes Splendor to the Fleet

Carnival Cruise Lines has officially welcomed a new member into its growing family. In a traditional maritime handover ceremony on Monday, the line took delivery of the 113,300-ton, 3,006-passenger Carnival Splendor from Fincantieri's Sestri shipyard, just outside of Genoa. Splendor becomes the 22nd ship in the fleet.

While the vessel represents a new ship class for Carnival, it's not a complete departure for the line, and passengers will find the standard Carnival features: a large casino, flashy design schemes, a top-notch children's program, and a plethora of bars and discos. The ship's platform isn't entirely new either. It's based on Italian sister line Costa Cruises' Concordia-class ships, the first of which debuted in 2006.

After a stint in the Mediterranean, the line will reposition to the Caribbean, offering seven-night Eastern Caribbean sailings this winter out of Ft. Lauderdale. Carnival Splendor will also offer three South America cruises ranging from 14 to 18 nights, the first ever offered by the line and the voyages we're most excited about.

The ship will then head to its homeport of Los Angeles, offering year-round Mexican Riviera sailings beginning March 29, 2009.

Carnival Splendor debuts July 2 with an inaugural eight-day Western Europe voyage from Genoa to London (Dover). Once in Dover, the ship will be officially named on July 10 by British singer and celebrity personality Myleene Klass.

NCL's Ultimate Touring Newest Freestyle Invention

Norwegian Cruise Line's Ultimate Touring is the cruise line's newest take on shore excursions. The smaller, private tours are targeted for couples or groups up to 18 people, and are available to book onboard or pre-cruise.

"These once-in-a-lifetime tours embody NCL’s Freestyle Cruising by offering guests a completely customized experience to fit their individual needs, interests and schedule," said Colin Veitch, NCL’s president and CEO.

More than 60 percent of cruisers want personalized shore excursion options according to a 2007 study conducted by YPB&R/Yankelovich Inc.

Tours from NCL include: an archipelago speed boat adventure in Helsinki; walking the rooftops of historical buildings in Stockholm; a 4x4 rally experience in Livorno, Italy; a float plane ride over the Maltese Islands; and a six-course tasting menu in Ketchikan, Alaska.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Holland America First to Return to Costa Maya

Good news! The reconstruction of Costa Maya -- a man-made port on Mexico's Riviera Maya that was all but destroyed by Hurricane Dean last August -- is ahead of schedule. In fact, docks have already been rebuilt to accommodate ships as large as Oasis of the Seas. Holland America's Westerdam will be the first ship to dock in Costa Maya on October 31.

Westerdam will also visit Costa Maya on November 21 and December 12. Other HAL ships returning to the port in 2008 include Veendam and Statendam.

New Pregnancy Policies Affect Expectant Mothers

If you are expecting a baby -- and also expecting to cruise -- take note: Several cruise lines have revised their pregnancy policies, which dictate at what point a woman is considered too far along to safely set sail. Until recently, the general rule of thumb was that women could sail until their third trimester, which spans from week 28 until birth (week 27 was the official cutoff for most cruise lines). Now, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Princess, among other lines, have lowered that threshold to 24 weeks, citing risk of premature labor.

The changes have been going into effect over the past few months without much fuss, reminiscent of Royal Caribbean's quiet tweaks to its infant policy last month. In fact, a woman was turned away at the dock for being "too pregnant." Huey Tsao of Washington D.C., who is 26 weeks pregnant, told an Orlando TV station, that at the time she booked her cruise, Carnival's published cutoff was 27 weeks -- and that the threshold was changed unbeknownst to her.

Industry wide, 24 does seem to be the new 27. We did some digging and found, for example, that Norwegian Cruise Line will not permit a woman to board if she is entering her 24th week of pregnancy before the cruise ends. Meanwhile, Disney will refuse passage to women who have entered their 24th week as of their embarkation date. To date we've found one holdout; MSC Cruises still references the 27-week mark on its Web site.

The moral of the story? Read the fine print and double check your cruise line's specific policy before you plunk down a deposit. And if you do intend to sail during the earliest stages of pregnancy, know that you may need to show a physician's note -- confirming that you are in good health and not experiencing a high-risk pregnancy -- even if you aren't yet showing.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Carnival Dream to Replace Glory in Port Canaveral Next Year

Carnival Cruise Lines announced today that its new 130,000-ton, 3,646-passenger Carnival Dream -- the line's biggest ship ever -- will home port at Florida's Port Canaveral, just outside of Orlando.

The ship, currently under construction at Fincantieri's shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy, will debut on September 21 (that's 2009) and will offer a handful of Europe sailings before crossing the Atlantic. Once Stateside, it will offer a few cruises out of New York before heading "home" to Port Canaveral. Carnival Dream's first homeport cruise will depart on December 5.

The ship is an innovative twist on Carnival's tried-and-true ship designs. Features include:

  • The Piazza, an indoor/outdoor cafe and live music venue that has been inspired -- but is not identical -- by Princess' popular piazzas on its newest models.
  • Already recognized as an exceptional choice for families, Carnival ups the ante on Carnival Dream, with the fleet's largest-ever kids' facilities and a WaterWorks aqua park.
  • Among stateroom options Carnival is introducing some new family-oriented cabins, including several with two bathrooms, and others specially designed to accommodate five guests.
  • A wide variety of lounges, bars and nightspots -- including a new dance club concept offering indoor/outdoor access -- will be accessible via an 11-deck-high atrium whose ground level will offer a cantilevered bandstand atop a massive dance floor.

Once ensconced at Port Canaveral, Carnival Dream will sail seven-night Western and Eastern Caribbean cruises. On the former, ports will include Cozumel, Belize, Costa Maya and Nassau. On the latter, the itinerary consists of stops at Nassau, St. Thomas and St. Maarten.

The older and, er, somewhat smaller Carnival Glory, which is currently based in Port Canaveral, will be redeployed to Miami. It'll offer seven night Caribbean cruises from October 3, 2009.

Carnival Dream goes on sale July 1, 2008. For more information, visit us at or call 1-800-788-2545.

Nightclubs on Norwegian's Next Ship Will Have Cover Charges

Would you pay to get into a nightclub on a cruise ship? Norwegian Cruise Line is betting you will.

The line announced last week that its next ship will have several exclusive adult-only, Vegas-style venues that come with a charge.

The as-yet-unnamed, 4,200-passenger vessel, known as F3 and launching in 2010, will have five distinct nightspots in all, including:

-- The Ice Bar. Billed as the first true ice bar at sea, the frozen chamber (illustration above) will feature a bar, walls, tables, stools, glasses and life-size sculptures all made of ice. The exclusive venue will hold just 25 passengers at a time who will be given fur coats, gloves and hats to keep warm (the rooms temperature will not rise above 17 degrees). The as-yet-unspecified cover charge will include the cost of a drink or drinks, the line says.

-- The POSH Beach Club. Think Miami Beach cool. Passengers can purchase a day- or week-long pass to this outdoor venue, which is accessible by a private glass elevator (the price has yet to be determined). During the day, it's open for lounging in the sun on white-cushioned day beds and in private cabanas (with VIP hosts catering to your every whim). At night, it becomes an open air nightclub, complete with VIP bottle service and dancing.

-- Halo, the Über Bar. Garden and Courtyard villa guests have free access to this "exclusive" bar located at the top of the ship, but everyone else on board will pay a yet-to-be-set amount to get in it. The line says the Über Bar (illustrated at right) will showcase the best of the best, from the best liquors around the world to the best art featured and available for purchase with jewelry-clad servers displaying the best jewelry on board for purchase.

-- Bliss Ultra Lounge and Nightclub. This will be an enhanced version of the hopping Bliss nightclubs found on NCL's latest ships, the ones that famously include bowling alleys. At night, expect shadow dancers, a Las Vegas vibe and -- new on the F3 ships -- gaming tables with dealers. NCL says Bliss will not have a cover charge.

-- Spice H20. An adults-only, outdoor complex located at the back of the ship that will include a pool and a huge video screen. During the day, passengers can soak up the sun in lounge beds around the pool while enjoying chill-out Asian tunes and Asian-inspired cuisine in Chinese to-go containers. But at night it turns into an Ibiza-inspired beach club with live entertainment, dancing and dinner served table-side or directly on beds. Like Bliss, Spice H20 will be open to all without a fee.

Royal Caribbean Announces Latest for Oasis of the Seas

Royal Caribbean wowed the cruise world last Wednesday with news that its next ship will have a zip line, a first on the high seas.

The company that pioneered rock climbing walls and ice skating rinks on cruise ships says its latest gee-whiz offering will be located at the back of the much-ballyhooed, 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas, which sets sail in December 2009.

The largest cruise ship ever built also will have a family-focused amusement area called the Boardwalk that will boast a hand-carved merry-go-round, carnival games and a Coney Island atmosphere -- something that has never been tried before on a cruise ship (see illustration above).

The new features, announced at an extravagant press event Wednesday in New York City's Times Square, are just the tip of the iceberg of what the line plans for the ground-breaking, 220,000-ton vessel.

Also announced at the event:

-- The AquaTheater, a massive amphitheater around a pool at the back of the ship that will be the site of water-based acrobatic and synchronized swimming shows (illustration at right). During the day the freshwater pool, the largest and deepest ever on a ship, will be open to passengers for swimming and SCUBA lessons.

-- A Royal Promenade in the center of the vessel that will be twice as wide as the ones found on Royal Caribbean's eight Freedom and Voyager class vessels. The new Royal Promenade also will have a mezzanine level and connect to another new neighborhood just above it, the previously announced Central Park area, by way of a moving bar on hydraulic lifts.

-- Two rock climbing walls on the back of the ship. Royal Caribbean pioneered the concept of rock climbing walls on ships a decade ago with the launch of Voyager of the Seas, but this is the first time that a ship will have two of them.

-- Two-deck-high "loft suites" that will offer expansive ocean views from soaring floor-to-ceiling windows (illustration below). There will be 28, in all.

The Boardwalk area and the expanded Royal Promenade are the second and third "neighborhoods" to be announced for the ship. The previously announced Central Park area with live trees and outdoor restaurants was the first. Royal Caribbean executives have said the ship will have seven neighborhoods in all, though it hasn't revealed when it will announce the others.

Royal Caribbean is promising that Oasis of the Seas will be a "game-changing" vessel that will revolutionize the experience of cruising. At 220,000 tons, it will be more than 40% larger than the largest cruise ship afloat.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Holland America Takes Delivery of Its Biggest Ship Ever

Monday was a big day for Holland America fans as the line took delivery of its biggest ship ever.

The 2,104-passenger Eurodam, the line's 14th ship, is the first of a new class of Holland America vessels that has one more deck than those in the company's last series, the Vista Class, and such innovations as "spa staterooms" that tie into the ship's spa.

The Eurodam will be christened on July 1 in Rotterdam by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, part of three days of festivities planned for the vessel. Its maiden voyage, a 10-night cruise from Copenhagen, Denmark, is set for July 5.

The ship will spend the summer sailing in the Baltic region of Europe before crossing the Atlantic this fall to sail in Canada and New England. It'll spend the winter in the Caribbean.

Among new venues on the ship is a pan-Asian restaurant called Tamarind; a casual Italian eatery, Canaletto; and a pizza outlet dubbed Pizzeria Slice. Other differences from previous Holland America ships include the addition of a new Explorer's Lounge Bar, a new atrium bar area and an enhanced and reconfigured show lounge with theater-style seating.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Surf Simulator Debuts in Grand Turk

Royal Caribbean no longer has the lock on cruise-related surf simulators. While locked on land, cruisers will find the Grand Turk FlowRider -- featuring a concept nearly identical to those found on Royal Caribbean's Freedom, Liberty and Independence of the Seas -- the new centerpiece of the Turks & Caicos' port facility at Grand Turk.

The FlowRider, open to all passengers coming off ships at this increasingly popular Atlantic port of call, is a surf simulator that forms a "wave" by shooting a steady stream of water over a cushioned surface, creating a layer of agua that can be glided across ("surfed" on). You can either lie prone, a la boogie boarding (anyone can do it) or stand up in the traditional surfing style (if you have the balance).

Visitors to Grand Turk can try the simulators for the following rates: $24 for a half-hour of body boarding or $34 for an hour-long stand-up surfing session (passengers using Royal Caribbean's onboard surf simulators pay no extra fee). It's unclear how many rides you'll get in that time period.

Costa Cruises Breaks Record for Longest Pizza Line

They take their pizza seriously at Costa Cruises, the Italian-based line. And now they've gone to an incredible length to prove it.

A length of 725 feet.

In celebration of Costa's 60th anniversary this weekend, a team of 25 chefs in Sydney, Australia helped the company win the world's record for the longest line of pizzas. Officials from the Guinness World Record organization were on hand to certify the 725-foot-long string of 826 pizzas, which was set up along Norton Street in Sydney's Italian quarter.

The cruise line, as one might expect, had an ulterior motive for the stunt: promoting its coming voyages in the region. At 725 feet, the line of pizzas was, not coincidently, exactly the same length as the Costa Classica, which will be based in Asia starting in May 2009.

Costa says the chefs ran through 1,100 pounds of flour, 66 gallons of tomato sauce and 770 pounds of mozzarella cheese during the event. But don't worry: None of it went to waste. The line says that as soon as the Guinness officials signed off on the record the pizzas were shuttled to local charities to feed the homeless and other disadvantaged locals.

Woman Who Has Lived Nine Years Aboard QE2 Seeks New Home

Some people cruise a little. Some people cruise a lot. And then there is Beatrice Muller, the 89-year-old widow from New Jersey who literally lives on the Queen Elizabeth 2.

A legend in the cruise world, Muller has booked back-to-back cruises on the Cunard ship in an endless string going back nine years, and she had planned to keep it up indefinitely.

The problem, of course, is that the 41-year-old QE2 is retiring in November, and as The Times of London reported , Muller is now looking for a new ship.

Muller sold most of her possessions in 1999 when she decided to start sailing full time, and The Times says she refuses to think about returning to land.

“What would I want to do that for?” she asked the paper's Will Pavia this week during an interview while the ship was docked in Southampton, England. "I was married to a wonderful man for 57 years. I have done my penal servitude – I want to travel.”

Muller began sailing on the QE2 full time after her husband died (during a cruise on the ship; the couple already had become regulars). She told The Times her cabin costs about $7,000 a month, which compares favorably to the cost of a retirement home in Florida. But “it’s far more pleasant,” she told the paper. “They don’t organize you like senior citizens’ homes must do."

So where will Muller go? The obvious choice is Cunard's Queen Mary 2 or Queen Victoria, but Princess and Holland America also have globe-trotting ships that might appeal to the endless wanderer. The Royal Princess, in particular, already is accustomed to year-round passengers.

Bermuda Will Let Cruise Ships Open Casinos, Bars While in Port

Bermuda is making some big changes to the rules governing cruise ships visiting the country.

Bermuda's Royal Gazette reports that the nation's legislature has approved a plan to let ships operate shops, bars, casinos and other entertainment venues during the evening while in Bermuda's port -- a significant loosening of longstanding rules that have restricted on-board activity.

The paper says the change is designed to make Bermuda more competitive with other cruise destinations. Many of the cruise ships that visit Bermuda spend multiple nights in port, and some legislators fear the existing rules restricting casino gambling and other entertainment options on ships have diminished the allure of a cruise to the destination.

The move to allow gambling on the ships is controversial in a country where casino gambling is outlawed, and opposition party members fought the change on the grounds that it would open the door to casinos on land, too.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Carnival Freedom to Operate Year-Round From Ft. Lauderdale

Carnival Cruise Lines’ 2,974-passenger Carnival Freedom, which was originally scheduled to operate six- and eight-day Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on a seasonal basis, will now operate the program year-round, following the conclusion of its 2008 Mediterranean program in October.

Carnival Freedom’s year-round schedule from Fort Lauderdale begins November 22, 2008, with six-day cruises departing Sundays and visiting Key West, Fla., George Town, Grand Cayman; and Ocho Rios, Jamaica, while eight-day voyages departing Saturdays alternate to the eastern and western Caribbean.

Eight-day eastern Caribbean voyages visit five ports: San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Thomas/St. John, U.S.V.I.; Antigua, Lesser Antilles; Tortola/Virgin Gorda, B.V.I.; and Nassau, The Bahamas. Western Caribbean cruises include Cozumel, Mexico; Limon, Costa Rica; and Colon, Panama.

According to Lynn C. Torrent, Carnival’s senior vice president of sales and guest services, “The Caribbean is, by far, the most popular cruising region for North Americans. It is easily accessible and affordable, and when combined with attractive, destination-rich itineraries such as these, a Caribbean cruise represents the ideal vacation choice for consumers.”

Torrent noted that while the plan had been for Carnival Freedom to return to Europe in 2009, the strong performance of the line’s entire Caribbean fleet made the new six- and eight-day deployment a compelling choice.

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

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Carnival Launches First Year-Round Cruises Out of Baltimore

Add Baltimore to the list of cities with a major ship. Carnival says it'll begin year-round cruising out of the mid-Atlantic port in September, 2009 aboard the 2,124-passenger Carnival Pride.

The 88,500-ton vessel, the first from any line to be based year-round in the city, will sail two different week-long itineraries departing on Sundays:

-- An Eastern Caribbean itinerary that will include calls at Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos; the private Bahamian island of Half Moon Cay; and Freeport, the Bahamas.

-- A Bahamas/Florida itinerary that will include calls at Port Canaveral, Fla.; and Nassau and Freeport, the Bahamas.

Baltimore will become the 11th port where Carnival operates year-round, joining such cities as Miami, New Orleans and San Diego. But the deployment marks the first time the line has ventured north of Florida with a ship year-round. Until now, the furthest north Carnival had placed a ship year-round was Jacksonville, Fla.

Carnival and other major lines have been moving aggressively in recent years to position ships in a larger variety of cities so that a more customers can reach them by car instead of airplane.

Think Your Gas Bill is Bad? Be Glad You're Not a Cruise Line

There's been a lot of griping the past few months about the fuel surcharges that cruise lines have begun levying on customers. But just how high will they go?

In a new report released Tuesday, UBS analyst Robin Farley offers a detailed look at the impact of higher fuel prices on cruise lines, and it isn't pretty.

Farley estimates industry leader Carnival Corp., the parent company of nearly a dozen lines including Carnival, Princess and Holland America, will spend nearly $2 billion this year on fuel.

The number is nothing if not astounding, given that as recently as five years ago the company's total fuel bill amounted to less than $400 million. In just the last year Carnival's fuel bill is up by nearly $900 million a year -- more than it cost to build the much-ballyhooed Queen Mary 2.

Carnival's smaller rival, Royal Caribbean, is in the same boat, with a fuel bill that Farley estimates will hit $783 million this year, up from $198 million in 2003. Royal Caribbean's fuel bill is up nearly $250 million over the past year.

Put another way, last year fuel accounted for about 17% of expenses at the major lines, up from 11% in 2004, says Farley. And that percentage has rocketed even higher since.

"Since the beginning of 2008, fuel is up another 35-40%, placing additional pressure on costs, and we estimate fuel expenses could account for 20-25% of net cruise costs in 2008," she writes.
Farley says the soaring cost of fuel is the reason cruise line earnings haven't taken off this year, despite a rise in "net yields" -- the amount lines are bringing in per cabin. Net yields, she notes, are rising despite the slowdown in the economy -- a testament to the industry's strength during tough times.

The Latest Gee-Whiz Thing on Cruise Ships: Botox Treatments

Want to look young and beautiful again? You might want to book your next vacation with Norwegian Cruise Line, which is becoming the first line to offer Botox injections to passengers.

In the latest wrinkle in the never-ending game of one-upmanship between major lines, Norwegian says it is pioneering the concept of ship-based Botox, Restylane and Perlane facial treatments in the Mandara-operated spas on its vessels. The treatments are being rolled out on the Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Gem and Norwegian Spirit to start, with plans to launch fleet-wide this fall.

The line says the new treatments are under the supervision of Mandara’s medical director, Brad Herman, a Miami-based, board-certified plastic surgeon, and his team of medically-licensed doctors.

No word yet on what the treatments will cost.