Friday, December 9, 2016

More Cruise Lines are Cuba Bound

That's right, the mystique of a visit to Cuba is becoming more of a reality with the announcements this week by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. that they have received approval from the government of the Republic of Cuba to operate cruises to the island nation.

The cruise itineraries will comply with U.S. Department of Treasury rules that permit travel companies to transport approved travelers to Cuba to engage in people-to-people activities as defined by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.
All three of the company’s brands—Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises—will offer U.S. travelers the opportunity to visit Cuba on select sailings starting next year. The voyages will provide guests with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to discover not only the rich culture, history and natural beauty of Cuba, but more importantly experience the warmth and hospitality of its people.

The company’s first 14-day cruise to Cuba will set sail from PortMiami on Oceania Cruises’ Marina on March 7, 2017, followed by two 10-day sailings scheduled to depart on March 21 and March 31. Itineraries feature calls on Havana, including multiple-day calls to allow guests to explore the city and its environs. Seven Seas Mariner, of the Regent Seven Seas Cruises fleet, will call on Havana during two cruises in April 2017. Norwegian Sky will also offer a selection of 4-day voyages that will overnight in Havana in May 2017.

“We are tremendously excited to have all three of our brands receive approval from the Cuban authorities to offer cruises to Cuba from the United States,” said Frank Del Rio, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. “As a Cuban-American and founder of Oceania Cruises, I am incredibly proud that one of Oceania’s vessels will be our company’s first to sail to Cuba. This is truly a dream come true for me, and I cannot wait for our loyal guests to experience the sights and sounds of my hometown of Havana and get to know its rich culture and its warm and welcoming residents.”

Guests sailing on all three brands will have a selection of shore excursions to choose from, all of which offer an authentic Cuban experience that explores the people, art, history and culture of the island. Full itinerary details and on sale dates for voyages that call on Cuba are now available for Oceania Cruises, later this month for Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and on Dec 20 for Norwegian Cruise Line.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Brands
Two RCCL lines, Royal Caribbean Intl and Azamara Club Cruises, will provide guests with travel directly to Cuba for the purpose of providing people-to-people exchanges between guests and Cuban citizens and other travel permitted by current U.S. regulations. With fewer details, the company said it plans to announce its first Florida-Cuba itineraries in the near future.

"Our guests have expressed real interest in having the opportunity to experience Cuba, and we look forward to bringing them there," said Richard D. Fain, chairman and chief executive officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. "Our discussions with our travel partners indicate that Cuba is a destination that appeals to a new generation of travelers."

Marina Image Courtesy Oceania Cruises

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Princess Cruises Introduces Best Price Guarantee on Shore Excursions Fleetwide

While some passengers prefer to go it on their own in port, or contract with private tour operators to save money, they no longer have to do so on a Princess cruise. The premium line has announced its Shore Excursions Best Price Guarantee is available on thousands of award-winning tours in ports the cruise line visits worldwide. The program has launched fleetwide and guarantees if guests find the same shore excursion elsewhere at a lower price, they will receive 110 percent of the difference in the form of non-refundable onboard credit.

“Our new Best Price Guarantee on shore excursions gives guests satisfaction that they are receiving competitive and fair pricing while enjoying an exceptional experience ashore,” said Bruce Krumrine, vice president of shore excursions for Princess Cruises. “We find our guests rate their overall cruise vacation experience higher when they take our shore excursions because we handle every detail for them so they can easily explore the world and take home lifelong memories of the places they visit.”

The new Best Price Guarantee is being announced to Princess guests through pre-cruise e-mails and on Princess.com and is available to guests who book their excursions with Princess pre-cruise. If guests find an equivalent shore excursion at a lower price, the request can be submitted at least seven days prior to the sailing date to shoreexcursions@princesscruises.com for review by the Shore Excursion customer service team. Within two business days, guests will be notified if their request meets the Best Price Guarantee criteria. If it does, 110 percent of the price difference will be applied in the form of a non-refundable onboard credit.

The Best Price Guarantee only applies to shore excursions that are advertised with pricing and publicly available. It applies to all shore excursions, with the exception of Asia, Southeast Asia, and Japan ports, and excludes private vehicle and driver excursions in ports worldwide.

Princess Cruises offers guests more than 4,000 shore excursions in 360 destinations around the globe, on more than 150 itineraries. Discovery™ and Animal Planet™ shore excursions are available as part of the cruise line’s Discovery at Sea™ program, an exclusive partnership designed to create memorable vacation experiences for the whole family. Discovery and Animal Planet Exclusive Tours are unique tours that cannot be booked independently and are available only through Princess Cruises. Now more than 1,000 Discovery and Animal Planet tours are available worldwide.

Image Courtesy Princess Cruises

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Cruise Review: Norwegian Gem

Join the Hendersons as they sail Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Gem for the third time—this cruise embarking in San Juan.

Take a look at the ports of call—Grenada, St. Lucia, Dominica, Antigua, and Tortola in the British Virgin Islands—the dining, entertainment, and especially the upgrades they discovered on board.

Image Courtesy Norwegian Cruise Line

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Seven Seas Explorer Has Arrived in Miami

After its launch and inaugural season in the Mediterranean, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Explorer arrived at PortMiami this week to spend the winter season sailing 10 cruises that crisscross the Caribbean Sea. This marks the North American debut for the all-suite, all-balcony, 750-guest luxury liner.

Seven Seas Explorer will begin its inaugural Caribbean season with a 14-night roundtrip Serene Islands cruise on Dec. 4 and 10-night Caribbean Dawn voyage on Dec. 14 that sail roundtrip from PortMiami. The ship then heads west as Seven Seas Explorer will ring in the New Year with a 16-night Grand Canal Crossing from Miami to Los Angeles with stops throughout the Caribbean and Central America. The ship returns to South Florida on Feb. 4 and will use PortMiami as its homeport for five back-to-back 10-night roundtrip voyages to islands of the Caribbean, Mexico, and Belize, including two voyages that call on the brand new, upscale resort-style destination in Belize called Harvest Caye—a destination developed by parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.

“We’re excited to bring Seven Seas Explorer to PortMiami and provide guests with an incredible opportunity to experience the most luxurious ship ever built with the convenience of departing from a domestic homeport,” said Jason Montague, president and chief executive officer for Regent Seven Seas Cruises. “We are also pleased that Seven Seas Explorer will be the first ship in our fleet to call on Harvest Caye, an exciting new destination in southern Belize filled with stunning beaches, fascinating wildlife, and resort-style amenities, including a sprawling pool with swim-up bar and private luxury beach villas.”

Image Courtesy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Monday, December 5, 2016

Pigeon Forge Encourages Visitors

Yes, this is the Cruise Diva encouraging readers to consider a vacation in a land-locked state. Mel and I plan to visit Tennessee in the near future in a show of support to our fellow Americans who are recovering from serious wildfires in the area. Pigeon Forge officials have shared with us that the city's many attractions, theaters, restaurants, and lodging properties are once again operating as usual and Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner encouraged visitation to the area.

"Many of our city's 6,000 residents, as well as those of our friends and family in Gatlinburg, are dependent on the tourism industry for jobs to care for themselves and their families," said Leon Downey, Pigeon Forge executive director of tourism. "As our communities move forward, our industry has an obligation to our residents and employees to encourage visitation to the area and sustain our businesses."

Pigeon Forge is located next door to Great Smoky Mountains National Park where wildfires ignited Monday night, Nov. 28. Pigeon Forge businesses were not damaged during the fires, and businesses are operating as usual. The city's Winterfest festival continues, including several Christmas shows at various theaters. Dollywood theme park reopened on Friday, Dec. 2. Restaurants and lodging properties are operating on normal schedules.

Dolly Parton announced a new effort by The Dollywood Company and The Dollywood Foundation to establish a fund to assist the families affected by the Smoky Mountain wildfires. The new My People Fund will provide $1000 each month for six months to Sevier County families who lost their homes.

While it won't be a cruise, our next vacation will take us to a part of the country we've only passed through before. We look forward to exploring it more closely and hope you will consider doing so as well.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Holland America Celebrates Two Decades at Half Moon Cay

Next year Holland America Line will celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Half Moon Cay, its award-winning private island paradise in the Bahamas.

To commemorate the event two decades in the making, the premium cruise line has introducing a new Lobster Shack eatery, as well as several island updates and upgrades that were in place for the first ship call in early November. The new Lobster Shack, which Cruise Diva had the pleasure of experiencing a couple weeks ago, will be permanently located near the “I Wish I Could Stay Here Forever” bar and serve fresh grilled lobster with Caribbean coconut beans n’ rice and a rum-jerk butter glaze. Pineapple and Caribbean Sofrito salsas bring out the local flavors. The lobster barbecue will be available for a nominal fee of $20, and Rum punch and other beverages also are available for purchase at the Lobster Shack.

“For the past 20 years Half Moon Cay has been the recipient of numerous accolades ranking it the best private island in the Caribbean, and it continues to be the jewel in our Caribbean itineraries,” said Orlando Ashford, president of Holland America Line. “We are renowned for providing top destination experiences, and all of our guests will enjoy the recent enhancements on Half Moon Cay, including the Lobster Shack that is a fantastic addition to our culinary offerings.”

Island Upgrades Introduce New Water Toys & Refreshed Retreats
During summer 2016, Half Moon Cay underwent several upgrades and welcomed new additions. Water sports are a central focus of any call at the idyllic island, and guests can now get out on the water with new Sunfish sailboats, Hobie catamarans, Aqua Cycle Trikes and Aqua Trax Wave Runners. These join paddleboats, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, snorkel gear and more.

The private beach-side cabanas and two-story villas also received facelifts with new paint, and some new furnishings. The Grand Cabana—the ultimate private retreat on Half Moon Cay—received new d├ęcor as well.

Guests looking for a drink on the beach now have three more satellite locations, and the Captain Morgan on the Rocks bar received new furniture.

The horseback riding tours are among the most popular, and 14 additional horses and two more grazing pastures were added, while the changing rooms at the Ranch were enhanced. Many guests visit the island’s Welcome Center, where new furniture adorns the facility.

All Roundtrip Fort Lauderdale Caribbean Cruises Call at Half Moon Cay
For the 2016-17 Caribbean season, all cruises that sail roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, make a call at Half Moon Cay. Guests on the new ms Koningsdam, ms Eurodam, ms Zuiderdam, ms Nieuw Amsterdam, ms Rotterdam, ms Veendam and ms Prinsendam will be able to visit Half Moon Cay on a variety of itineraries.

Images © CruiseDiva.com

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Seabourn Takes Delivery Of Seabourn Encore

Luxury cruise line Seabourn took delivery of its newest all-suite vessel Seabourn Encore yesterday during an official handover ceremony at the Fincantieri shipyard in Marghera, Italy.

"We have been looking forward to this day for over two years. Seabourn Encore has become a stunning ship that will set a new standard in ultra-luxury cruising," said Richard Meadows, president of Seabourn. "I am very proud of our partnership with Fincantieri, and it has been a great pleasure to work together to transform raw materials into this incredible vessel that will make a great addition to the Seabourn fleet."

Seabourn Encore will be officially christened in Singapore on Jan 7, 2017. International recording artist and world's best-selling Soprano, Sarah Brightman, will be godmother of Seabourn Encore and officially name the ship during the celebration. The vessel will then depart on its Inaugural Voyage, the 10-day Gems of the Java Sea cruise, bound for Indonesia.

Guests of Seabourn Encore will be treated to the line's extraordinary levels of personalized service, with a high staff to guest ratio. The ship carries 600 guests, based on double occupancy, who reside in 300 elegantly appointed suites each with a private verandah. Designed by hospitality design icon Adam D. Tihany who intended Seabourn Encore "to feel more like a luxury yacht," the 40,350-GRT vessel features modern design elements and innovations in keeping with Seabourn's reputation for understated elegance, as well as one additional deck and new expanded public areas. The ship expands and builds on the line's award-winning and highly acclaimed Odyssey-class ships, which featured enhanced accommodations and innovative amenities when they were introduced between 2009 and 2011. New features include The Retreat, a sanctuary designed for guests to relax in private cabanas, with a Spa Treatment Cabana for personalized spa services.

In addition, guests will enjoy superb cuisine, including The Grill by Thomas Keller, the new signature restaurant from three-star Michelin chef Thomas Keller that was introduced on Seabourn Quest earlier this year and will be expanded to the entire Seabourn fleet. A new restaurant for Seabourn, Sushi, makes its debut as a destination for foodies, with a unique look and feel and high-quality dishes served throughout the day.

A new production show, 'An Evening with Tim Rice,' created exclusively for Seabourn in association with Belinda King Creative Productions, will open onboard Seabourn Encore in January 2017, when she sails from Singapore on her inaugural voyage. The new Spa and Wellness with Dr. Andrew Weil mindful living program also debuts on Seabourn Encore in January. Both Tim Rice and Dr. Weil will sail on the inaugural voyage.

Following her inaugural sailing, Seabourn Encore will move onto a 16-day Great Barrier Reef & Gold Coast and back-to-back 16-day Australia & New Zealand voyages. The ship will then reverse the earlier 10-day Gems of the Java Sea cruise to Singapore, proceed on 16-day Jewels of India & Arabia cruise to Dubai, and finish her first season with a 19-day Arabian Gems & Holy Land voyage before ending her winter season at Athens on May 5.

Seabourn Encore will spend summer 2017 along the Mediterranean, with numerous itineraries including a 7-14-or 21-day Mediterranean cruise departing from Piraeus (Athens), Greece on May 6, the 22-day Adriatic & Mediterranean Isles cruise departing June 24, and the 20-Day Mediterranean Encore cruise departing from Barcelona on Aug. 5. The ship will finish summer with the 20-Day UNESCO Gems of the Western Mediterranean cruise on Sept.13 for the start of its autumn season.
Seabourn Encore Pool Deck Image Courtesy Seabourn

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Carnival Vista Launches Year-Round Service From Miami

The Port of Miami welcomed Carnival Cruise Line’s newest and largest ship, Carnival Vista, when it arrived earlier this week to kick off a year-round schedule of 6- and 8-day cruises to the Caribbean. To officially welcome Carnival Vista to its Miami homeport, Carnival Vista Captain Stefano Battinelli and PortMiami Assistant Director Fred Wong participated in a traditional maritime plaque exchange prior to the ship’s inaugural departure.

As the line’s newest ship, Carnival Vista takes cruising to new heights, introducing features such as SkyRide, a suspended open-air cycling experience; the world’s first IMAX® Theatre on a ship; Kaleid-O-Slide, the line’s first water tube slide, part of the ship’s massive WaterWorks aqua park; and the RedFrog Pub & Brewery featuring the first brewery on a North American-based cruise ship.

“Miami has been our home since our company’s inception in 1972 and homeporting the new Carnival Vista here not only provides consumers with a convenient homeport with renovated facilities and numerous operational enhancements but speaks volumes about our confidence in growing this important market,” and said Christine Duffy, Carnival’s president.

Island-Intensive Caribbean Cruises from Miami
Carnival Vista kicked off its new schedule from PortMiami with a special 6-day cruise to Grand Turk, Ocho Rios and Nassau that departed last Sunday. The ship will then launch a year-round schedule of 6- and 8-day cruises beginning with an 8-day voyage departing Dec. 3, 2016. Six-day cruises feature Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, while a mix of different 8-day itineraries visit some of the Caribbean’s most popular destinations, including Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire, Grand Turk, San Juan, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, and La Romana (Dominican Republic). The ship will also offer a combination of one-time voyages, including a 5-day cruise departing Dec. 11 and 7-day voyages departing Dec. 17 and 24, 2016, that offer an exciting selection of ports including the Caribbean’s newest destination, Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic, as well as Mahogany Bay, Grand Turk, Belize, San Juan, St. Thomas, and Cozumel, depending on the itinerary.

In addition to visiting Caribbean destinations, guests can experience all the Carnival Vista has to offer—from the colorful Havana area with tropics-inspired staterooms and suites and Family Harbor with special accommodations and a new family concierge to delicious choices like Seafood Shack and new al fresco options at the Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse, Bonsai Sushi and Cherry On Top, featuring a mixed-to-order premium ice cream bar.

Image Courtesy Carnival Cruise Line

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Make Your Own Warm Chocolate Melting Cake

A story I enjoy telling Carnival Cruise Line executives is about the lady who complained to me that she was served the worst cake ever on a Carnival cruise. It didn't take long to discover that what she described as cake that "wasn't baked" was actually Carnival's signature Warm Chocolate Melting Cake.

One of Cruise Diva's favorite desserts, and one that is available every night on Carnival Cruise Lines' ships, is Warm Chocolate Melting Cake. It's a serious chocolate lover's delight—firm around the edges and gooey chocolate heaven in the middle.

Carnival's latest "Recipe of the Month" is Warm Chocolate Melting Cake and Cruise Diva is happy to pass it along to those of you who love it as much as I do!

Warm Chocolate Melting Cake
• 16 oz dark chocolate
• 16 oz butter
• 10 eggs, divided
• 10 ounces sugar
• 6 ounces flour
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
• Melt the chocolate and butter. Mix the eggs with the sugar and whisk for a few minutes;  add the flour. Combine the egg mixture with the melted chocolate and mix. Then pour into individual greased molds. Bake directly in the oven at 400°F for 14 minutes.
• Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar and garnish with fresh fruit. Serve warm with ice cream.
• Serves 12
Enjoy!

Recipe Courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines
Image © Linda Coffman, CruiseDiva.com

Monday, November 28, 2016

MSC Cruises Celebrates MSC Seaside Float Out

MSC Cruises and Fincantieri, one of the largest shipbuilding groups in the world, have celebrated the float out of MSC Seaside, one of two new groundbreaking mega-ships that MSC Cruises is bringing into service between June and December 2017. The float out is an important milestone in the construction of a cruise ship as it is the moment where the ship first floats on water when the dry dock is flooded and the ship is moved to a wet dock for the final phase of her construction. The exterior of the ship is complete and work moves to complete interiors.

MSC Seaside will homeport in PortMiami as of December 2017 and will sail year round in the Caribbean—further enriching the company’s offering in the region with MSC Cruises having a total of five of the most modern cruise ships serving the Caribbean once MSC Seaside debuts.

“This is another exciting milestone in our ambitious expansion plans as we see the second of our 11 next-generation cruise ships entering the final stages of her construction,” said Pierfrancesco Vago, MSC Cruises’ Executive Chairman. “MSC Seaside has been specifically designed to provide our guests with a unique onboard experience in warmer regions and boasts one the highest ratios of outdoor space in the industry so that guests can enjoy a range of open-air activities such as dining and drinking al fresco, strolling along the promenade, or simply taking in the beautiful sea views from the privacy of one of the many balcony staterooms.”

MSC Seaside is the first of a completely new and innovative generation of cruise ships being built by MSC Cruises leading Italian shipyard Fincantieri. With this new prototype inspired by an elegant beach condo, MSC Cruises is pushing the boundaries with its bold design concept and demonstrates the Company’s continued commitment to put the guest experience at the center of all innovation and product development. Every element of the ship is designed to bring guests closer to the sea with special design features such as a unique 360° ocean level promenade, panoramic glass elevators, and a breathtaking 98 foot bridge on the top deck. In addition, with 73 percent of the staterooms featuring balconies, guests will never be far from a view of the ocean.

MSC Seaside highlights the key distinguishing elements of an MSC Cruises’ experience. An extensive range of comfortable accommodations will meet the various needs of a wide range of cruise guests, including chic aft corner suites as part of the unique beach condo design, clever modular connected staterooms designed for families and groups of up to ten people, and a collection of balcony staterooms with a private terrace overlooking the promenade.

In addition, MSC Cruises has taken its MSC Yacht Club—the ship-within-a-ship concept—to the next level. Located on the prestigious foredecks of the ship and offering a private sun deck, a private lounge and private restaurant, the MSC Yacht Club has been expanded on MSC Seaside to now be over five decks. The MSC Yacht Club will also feature two coveted apartment suites that include a living room and a large balcony with a dining area and private whirlpool.

On board MSC Seaside, the dining experience has been designed to delight with a huge choice of Mediterranean and international cuisines served in 11 different dining venues, including five specialty restaurants. Of these, one is a Pan-Asian specialty restaurant created in partnership with world renowned chef Roy Yamaguchi and two are buffets serving food 20 hours a day, with one designed specifically for families.

The onboard entertainment, another award-winning feature of the MSC Cruises offering, will cater to all age groups and includes a stunning 934 seat theater offering four performances every night. Meanwhile, the interactive aqua park with its four exhilarating slides will provide hours of fun for the entire family, the 394 foot long zip line will appeal to thrill-seekers, and the aft pool will be the perfect spot for those looking for complete relaxation.

In addition to all of the fun that will be had while on board, MSC Seaside will enable guests to experience the Caribbean Sea like never before, while calling at exotic and stunning ports such as George Town in the Cayman Islands, Cozumel in Mexico, and Nassau in the Bahamas. From October 2018, MSC Seaside will also call at Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, the stunning marine reserve private island in the Bahamas, exclusively available for MSC Cruises guests.

At 1059 feet long with a GRT of 160,000 tons, the ship will feature a maximum capacity of 5,179 guests (4,140 guests at double occupancy). MSC Seaside is the first of two identical ships in the Seaside generation. Her sister ship—MSC Seaview—is set to enter service in the Spring 2018 and will be based in the Western Mediterranean, while a third one—reflecting an existing option for one additional Seaside generation ship—would be delivered by 2021.

Image Courtesy MSC Cruises