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 28, 2008

Holland America Releases Shore Excursion E-Brochure

Holland America Line is doing its part environmentally by releasing a new Shore Excursion e-Brochure online system for its guests to view and print shore excursion information for booked cruises. Not only can a cruise guest receive up-to-the minute, personalized information that is specific to the guest’s cruise itinerary, but Holland America is saving paper by doing it all online. This technological Web enhancement allows guests to access and update any shore excursion that applies to their cruise itinerary on a 24/7 basis.

“We strive to personalize each guest’s experience and to endeavor to make their interaction with us as easy and enriching as possible,” said Richard D. Meadows, CTC, executive vice president, marketing, sales and guest programs. “By giving our guests the flexibility of printing an e-brochure with their shore excursion options that is tailored specifically to their cruise itinerary, we are able to present the exact information they need — when they need it. Additionally, more and more of our guests applaud our online efforts from an environmental standpoint.”

Besides tailoring the Shore Excursion e-Brochures to each guest’s ship and sail date, the online versions offer readers the same useful information as the print versions but with two newly added and helpful features: tour pricing and excursion departure times.

Celebrity Solstice Nearly Completed

Celebrity's innovative new Solstice is 97 percent completed, according to company sources. The ship will leave its shipyard, Meyer Werft in Papenburg, Germany, today.

The 122,000-ton, 2,850-passenger Celebrity Solstice is an evolutionary new design for the cruise line and features new-to-Celebrity styles of restaurants, spa amenities, stateroom designs and pool areas.

Slated for debut in mid-November, Celebrity Solstice will -- as do all ships built at Meyer Werft -- transit most unusually from the yard to the North Sea by going backwards! This ship presents even more of a challenge for its marine team as it's the largest ever to cruise down the Ems River and the journey is highly dependant on calm weather conditions.

Once Solstice reaches Eemshaven, in the Netherlands, it will dock for outfitting. That's a term used to describe the final processes of getting a ship ready -- loading on furnishings, completing artistic touches and other chores. The ship will also undergo sea trials, which test its readiness on more technical levels.

Carnival Destiny Begins New Short Cruises From Miami

Carnival Cruise Lines yesterday began the new schedule of four- and five-day cruises from Miami on the 2,642-passenger Carnival Destiny, which will not only provide consumers with an exciting new “Fun Ship” vacation option but will also be the largest ship to be deployed year-round on short cruise itineraries.

Additionally, the Carnival Destiny offers nearly 500 balcony staterooms and suites – the most of any ship operating a year-round short-cruise program – providing consumers with unprecedented variety in their accommodation choices.

Carnival Destiny’s deployment to Miami will also further solidify Carnival’s position as the short-cruise leader, with 29 such options from 12 U.S. homeports – the most in cruising. In total, Carnival’s ships will operate nearly 850 departures of five days or less in length with roughly half of its 22-vessel fleet offering short cruise itineraries.

On its new Miami-based schedule, Carnival Destiny departs Thursdays on four-day cruises to Key West, Fla., and Cozumel, Mexico; Mondays on five-day cruises to Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos Islands; and Half Moon Cay, a private Bahamian island; and Saturdays on five-day voyages to George Town, Grand Cayman; and Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

Reservations are currently being accepted for the Carnival Destiny’s new four- and five-day cruise schedule from Miami. For additional information and reservations, call us at 1-800-788-2545 or visit

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Things Looking Up for Jacksonville as a Cruise Ship Hub

Did you know that Jacksonville, Fla. is within a day's drive of one-third of the U.S. population?

The powers-that-be in Jacksonville sure do, and they're wooing cruise lines to use the city's burgeoning port as a hub for "drive-in" cruises that residents of the southeastern USA can reach without flying.

The northeastern Florida port town's efforts got a big boost this week when Carnival deployed a newer and bigger ship at the port, the 2,052-passenger Fascination. The vessel is nearly 40% larger than the line's previous ship in the market, the 1,486-passenger Celebration.

The Jacksonville Business Journal notes this morning that pricier plane tickets, fewer available airline seats and the increased hassle of flying are making the Jacksonville port more attractive to drive-in passengers. But to fully tap its potential, the city needs to move forward with plans to build a new cruise terminal, the news outlet says, noting that a bridge and power lines over the city's St. Johns River limit the size of ships that can call at the current terminal.

The Journal quotes a port official as saying he expects Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean to follow Carnival’s lead once they’re confident that a newer terminal is on the way. The port authority already has bought land for a new terminal and hopes to have it under construction by early 2009.

The Fascination will sail four- and five-night voyages to the Bahamas and Key West, FL.

It's Official: New NCL Cruise Ship Has Hit a Snag

The shipyard building the next generation of Norwegian Cruise Line vessels has confirmed recent media reports that the project has hit a snag.

A statement issued Monday by Aker Yards France says the shipyard is in a dispute with the line over construction costs, and is in the process of trying to find a solution.

"The dispute relates to the ongoing construction of the vessel currently named C 33," the statement says, using the shipyard's code name for the first of two vessels ordered by NCL in 2006. "The dispute is not related to the second of the two ships, named Hull D 33."

The two 4,200-passenger vessels, code-named F3 by NCL, are designed to break new ground for the line both in size and features. At 150,000 tons, the ships will be around 60% larger than the line's biggest ships today and boast innovations such as curved-wall cabins and an ice bar. The vessels are scheduled for delivery in 2010, and for now, at least least, there's no word of a delay.

"While the process to find a solution is ongoing, Aker Yards France aims at continuing the ongoing work on the C 33 vessel, which is approximately 25 percent complete," the yard notes in its statement.

"We regret that we have a situation with a dispute," Jacques Hardelay, president of Aker Yards France, says in the statement. "While we are in the middle of this process, it would not be correct to speculate on the outcome, or on possible alternatives. Our focus is to find a solution, including continuing the planned activities at our yard in Saint Nazaire." The Aker shipyard began work on the first vessel in October 2007 after a ceremony between Aker officials and NCL executive Andy Stuart.

NCL has said it would not discuss the matter.

Celebrity Drops Australia and New Zealand and Adds Charleston and Baltimore

Celebrity Cruises is making some big changes for 2009 by moving two ships closer to home. The line says it is discontinuing its Australia and New Zealand cruise program, effective in 2009.

The line says the Celebrity Millennium will stay in the Caribbean for the winter of 2009 and sail out of San Juan, Puerto Rico instead of heading to Australia and New Zealand. The Celebrity Mercury, in turn, will head to Baltimore and Charleston, S.C., instead of San Juan.

"Australia and New Zealand are charming and beautiful destinations, and we’re confident we’ll return again as our brand and fleet grows," Celebrity’s President & CEO Dan Hanrahan said in a statement. But "our travel agent partners and guests have repeatedly said they want more options to sail with Celebrity from the Eastern seaboard."

The 2,038-passenger Celebrity Millennium will begin taking over the 1,898-passenger Mercury's itineraries as both ships are winding down their summer 2009 season in Alaska.

The Millennium will sail a 12-night wine-themed cruise departing from Vancouver on Sept. 28, 2009, followed by a 16-night Panama Canal cruise on Oct. 10, 2009, from San Diego to San Juan. The Millennium then will offer 10- and 11-night Southern Caribbean cruises round trip from San Juan starting on Oct. 26, 2009.

Passengers with reservations on Celebrity Mercury sailings that are being taken over by the Millennium will be switched the new ship at the same rate.

As for the Celebrity Mercury, it now will sail a 17-night Panama Canal cruise from San Diego to Baltimore on Oct, 23, 2009. It will then remain in Baltimore through February 2010, offering 12-night Eastern Caribbean cruises that call in St. Thomas; St. Kitts; Antigua; St. Maarten and Tortola. The ship also will sail four 9-night cruises that stop in Charleston; Key West, Fla., and Cococay and Nassau, Bahamas.

The Mercury will head to Charleston from February to April 2010, offering 10- and 11-night Eastern and Western Caribbean voyages. Port calls in the Eastern Caribbean itinerary are St. Thomas, St. Maarten, St. Kitts and Tortola; on the Western Caribbean itinerary, Key West; Costa Maya, Mexico; Belize City, Belize; Cozumel, Mexico, and Nassau.

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

World's Largest Cruise Ship Will Have 'Hottest' Nightclub at Sea

Royal Caribbean unveiled the sixth of seven "neighborhoods" planned for its much-awaited, 5,400 passenger Oasis of the Seas -- and it's all about entertainment.

Entertainment Place, as the line is calling the sprawling district, will have everything from a nightclub called Blaze -- billed as the "hottest" at sea -- to a live jazz and blues club named Jazz on 4. There also will be a comedy club called Comedy Live and a dance club dubbed Dazzles.

Royal Caribbean already has announced five other neighborhoods for Oasis. The others: Central Park, an open-air atrium with live trees; Boardwalk, a family-friendly amusement area; Royal Promenade, an indoor mall-like zone; the Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center; and the Pool and Sports Zone.

Royal Caribbean is describing Entertainment Place as a "contemporary night club district," but it'll boast a wide mix of styles. The line says Jazz on 4 will have a prohibition-era Chicago vibe, with rich walnut paneling, plush sofas and chairs and velvety drapes accented with hand-stitched Swarovski crystals. The nightclub Blaze, by contrast, will be oh-so-hot, with doors ‘burning’ with flames and a ‘charred’ threshold.

Royal Caribbean says Oasis of the Seas also will offer guests what it's saying will be some of the most captivating theatrical productions ever created by a cruise line. The 1,380-seat main theater, to be called the Opal Theater, will feature a thrust stage and proscenium extending into the audience, and entertainers will be able to make their entrances from unexpected locations around the venue.

Like the line's Voyager and Freedom class ships, Oasis also will have a Studio B ice skating rink that's home to regular ice skating shows.

Royal Caribbean says Entertainment Place will center around the ship's casino, Casino Royale -- the largest at sea (it'll have 450 slot machines, plus lots of table games). Passengers will enter through two themed walkway entrances - the first showcasing the 40-year legacy of Royal Caribbean International and the second, the Museum of Gaming, which immerses guests in the history of gaming.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

MSC Names Two More New-Builds

While U.S.-based cruise giants like Princess and Carnival seem to be slowing down on the new-building front, Europe's MSC Cruises is showing no signs of letting up. Last month, the rapidly expanding Italian line announced that it had signed on for the construction of two more mega-ships -- and today, the names were revealed.

MSC Meraviglia (marvelous) and MSC Favolosa (fabulous) will be built in France at Aker's St. Nazaire shipyard; the ships are scheduled for delivery in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Meraviglia and Favolosa will be the fifth and sixth vessels in the 93,000-ton, 2,550-passenger Musica class of ships, the first of which (MSC Musica) debuted just two years ago in 2006.

MSC, which caters both to European and North American passengers, now has five new-builds on the docket for construction by 2012. The 133,500-ton, 3,300-passenger MSC Fantasia, the largest ever for the line, will debut this December.

Grand Turk Will Reopen in Early October

Fans of Grand Turk will be relieved to know the port will reopen for business on October 8. The port area, as well as much of the island, was damaged when Hurricane Ike plowed through the Caribbean.

As reported earlier, the cruise ship pier did not suffer any damage. Repairs are needed to the port's restaurant and retail complex, but those should be completed within 30 days. We've heard that the rest of the island has experienced extensive damage, but could not get further information about how long the recovery effort will take.

In addition to repairing its own port area, Carnival will also offer financial and logistical assistance to shore excursion operators on the island, helping them to restore their businesses. When the cruise ships return to Grand Turk, Carnival will run volunteer-oriented shore excursions so passengers and crewmembers can help with the rebuilding efforts around the island.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

MSC Plans First Visits to Bermuda

Bermuda is awfully popular these days. Holland America recently announced new Bermuda itineraries for 2010, and now MSC Cruises is experimenting with a handful of Bermuda cruises in 2009 and 2010.

In spring 2009, MSC will visit Bermuda for the first time ever. MSC Orchestra will depart Ft. Lauderdale on April 25 and spend three days in King's Wharf; the rest of the itinerary includes a stop in Nassau and two sea days.

The new MSC Magnifica (it debuts December 5, 2009) will sail a seven-night "Bermuda -- Paradise in Pink" itinerary on April 17, 2010. Like Orchestra's itinerary the year before, the sailing includes three days in King's Wharf and a day in Nassau. In addition, Magnifica's trans-Atlantic cruise on April 24 will include an overnight stop in King's Wharf.

MSC currently does not have plans for a full season of Bermuda cruises, unlike Holland America, which has scheduled its Veendam to sail regular summer and fall Bermuda cruises in 2010 and 2011.

Disney Cruise Line Magic Upgrading The Cruise Experience

Disney Cruise Line wants to make sure every visit to their cruise ships returns a special and memorable experience to its cruise guests, especially the children who will motivate their parents to return. Disney Cruise Line brought the Disney Magic into dry dock today to begin an exciting collection of enhancements that will help ensure continued customer satisfaction at its highest level. The 2,700 passenger cruise ship will undergo a series of upgrades for guests of all ages.

Here is a glimpse at what’s in store:

Indulgence and Relaxation
Quiet Cove, the serene pool retreat reserved for the enjoyment of adults, will undergo a makeover including upgrades to Cove Café, the pool and the deck area. Cove Café, the ship’s sophisticated coffee lounge, will incorporate a new seating area with plush, comfortable chairs providing the perfect venue to relax while sipping a cup of gourmet coffee. Meanwhile, the adult pool will be outfitted with soothing, cascading waterfalls from the two hot tubs. Teak deck and lounge chairs with plush cushions will line the pool, creating an inviting, stylish ambiance in line with the Vista Spa and Salon.

Fun for the Little Ones
The Oceaneer Club, a Neverland-themed play space for 3-7 year olds, and the Oceaneer Lab, a whacky and interactive laboratory exclusively for 8-12 year olds, will be enhanced with new registration areas that make the check-in process more efficient and hassle-free. This sets the stage for incorporating Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology in the youth activity areas later this year, which will further enhance and streamline the check-in process. The technology uses RFID tags embedded on wristbands, allowing children to simply tap a sensor to check in and out of the clubs.
Even the youngest cruisers will have a splashtacular time in “Mickey’s Splash Zone,” a new toddler water playground inspired by Fantasia’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice. This 385-square-foot extension to the Mickey Pool on deck 9 will feature star- and moon-shaped interactive fountains, a soft play surface and whimsical splash zones; creating an inviting environment for children not yet toilet trained and in swim diapers.

New Conveniences
The guest staterooms onboard the Disney Magic are receiving an infusion of technology with the installation of flat-screen LCD television sets. The new 22-inch units will be mounted on a swivel arm to allow easy viewing from multiple locations within the stateroom.

A leader in the family cruise segment, Disney Cruise Line offers three, four and seven-night itineraries to the Bahamas and the Caribbean. Land/sea vacation packages that include a stay at the Walt Disney World Resort are also available.

For more information on either of the Disney cruise ships, visit or call us at 1-800-788-2545.

Princess Cruises to Open Off-Limit Crew Areas to Tours

Have you always wondered what happens behind the scenes on a cruise ship?

You'll soon be able to find out -- assuming you sail on a Princess ship. The Love Boat line says it will launch what's billed as the industry's first comprehensive "back of the house" tour in November.

Dubbed The Ultimate Ship Tour, the guided explorations will debut on the soon-to-launch Ruby Princess and eventually spread fleet-wide. The tours will take passengers to the engine control room, medical center, print shop, laundry, photo lab and even the bridge.

All good things come with a price, of course, and cruise junkies will have to fork over $150 per person for the three-hour tours, which can be reserved on board vessels at the Passenger Service Desk. The tours will be offered once or twice per cruise, and space will be limited.

The tours include a chance to meet quite a few crew members. One stop, for instance, will be the back stage area of the ship's theater, where passengers will meet cast and production staff who will show them what goes into putting on a show. In the galley area, passengers will meet the executive chef, who will explain the process of preparing meals for thousands of people at a time.

In one of the most unusual stops, the ship's staff captain will accompany passengers to the top deck of the ship to peek inside the ship’s funnel area. At the last stop, on the ship's bridge, tour-goers will meet the captain and learn about the navigational equipment and safety systems on board.

The 3,070-passenger Ruby Princess will be christened Nov. 6 by The Bachelorette's Trista and Ryan Sutter. The 113,000-ton vessel will spend its inaugural season sailing to the Western Caribbean out of Fort Lauderdale before heading to Europe next summer.

Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America to Charge More for Tips

Do the waiters and cabin attendants on Norwegian Cruise Line ships deserve a 20% bigger tip?

Norwegian seems to think so. We have learned the mass-market line plans to raise the daily service charge it bills to passenger accounts from $10 to $12 per person, effective Jan. 1, 2009.

Word of the hike comes as another cruise line, Holland America, also prepares to increase its daily service charge, though by a more modest amount. Holland America spokesman Erik Elvejord says the rumors about a coming increase are true, and the line plans to raise its daily service charge from $10 to $11 per person, effective Oct. 1.

Norwegian's biggest rival, Carnival Cruise Lines, imposes a service charge of $10 per person, per day, and Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen tells USA TODAY he doesn't know of any plans to change it. Royal Caribbean's suggested gratuities (which passengers can prepay before they travel or hand out to crewmembers on board) are at $9.75 per person, per day for regular cabins ($12 for suites).

Princess Cruises raised its daily service charge earlier this year from $10 to $10.50 per person for regular cabins (from $10 to $11 for suites). Princess spokeswoman Julie Benson says the line doesn't have any plans for a further increase.

While the 20% hike in service charges at Norwegian Cruise Line seems steep, Norwegian spokeswoman AnneMarie Mathews notes that the line hasn't raised its service charge since it introduced Freestyle Cruising in 2000.

Princess Cruises Unveils Yoga for Kids

Kids, as they say, are the future. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that cruise lines are lavishing more attention than ever on the little ones. Still, yoga for kids?

That's the Big New Thing last week at Princess Cruises, which announced it is rolling out what it bills as the industry's first yoga program for youngsters.

The free classes will debut fleet-wide this fall and be open to children as young as three years old. The classes will take place in the children's areas of Princess ships instead of the fitness areas where most yoga classes are held, but Princess says parents are welcome to join in with their kids during the sessions. The classes will last 30 minutes to an hour.

The new yoga-for-kids program comes as Princess beefs up other areas of its fitness program. The line also announced this week that it is adding what it calls the industry's first in-room fitness classes -- a Princess-produced morning fitness program shown on cabin TVs. Led by celebrity trainer Gillian Clark, the program also will be shown on the big outdoor Movies Under the Stars screens found on some Princess ships so that passengers can work out in a group setting.

Princess also is bringing Nintendo Wii Fit balance games to its ships (with poolside competitions to be held around the Movies Under the Stars screens).

Oasis of the Seas Will Have First 'Beach Pool' at Sea, Private Cabanas and More

And the latest gee-whiz thing on a cruise ship is . . . a beach. That's right, Royal Caribbean's much-ballyhooed Oasis of the Seas will have its very own "beach pool" that recreates the vibe of a shoreside resort.

The new outdoor area, will include colorful beach chairs and a pool with a sloped entry where passengers will be able to wade into rolling water (see illustration above).

The beach pool will be part of what Royal Caribbean is calling the Pool and Sports Zone -- an area that will stretch across the top of the 5,400-passenger ship and also will include three other pools, more than half a dozen whirlpools, private cabanas and two FlowRider surfing simulators.

The Pool and Sports Zone is just one of two distinct "neighborhoods" that Royal Caribbean is announcing tonight for the 220,000-ton vessel -- the largest cruise ship ever built. The other neighborhood, dubbed the Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center, will offer a wide range of pampering spa treatments and fitness activities (see the illustration of the area's entrance at right).

Royal Caribbean already has announced three other neighborhoods for Oasis of the Seas, which will debut in late 2009. The others: Central Park, an open-air atrium with live trees and outdoor restaurants; Boardwalk, a family-friendly amusement area with a merry-go-round and outdoor water theater; and Royal Promenade, an indoor mall-like zone with bars, eateries and shops. Royal Caribbean says the ship will have seven neighborhoods in all.

The Beach Pool will be atop the ship on one side of Central Park (people on the pool deck will be able to look down into the massive park-like area). Another pool area called the Main Pool will be on the other side of Central Park (see the illustration to the left). The Pool and Sports Zone also will have a Sports Pool and one of Royal Caribbean's signature H2O Zone pool play areas.

The Oasis of the Seas spa will boast new spa treatments not before found on Royal Caribbean ships and other new-for-Royal Carribbean options such as Kinesis group classes. The spa area also will have a Thermal Suite at sea with heated tile loungers, saunas and steam rooms; three couples massage suites and seven individual treatment rooms - the largest collection at sea. Kids and teen passengers, meanwhile, will find their own dedicated spa on the ship.

Royal Caribbean also says the ship will have an adults-only Solarium with yet another pool and six whirlpools (four of them cantilevered over the side of the ship). See the illustration to the right for a taste of the vibe.