Thursday, September 30, 2010

NEW! Cruise Review: Emerald Princess

Our avid cruiser and frequent contributor Vincent Finelli shares some good advice along with his encore cruise review of Princess Cruises' Emerald Princess, "Unexpected things can happen on vacation. So go with the flow, rise with the tide, and live."

In a departure from their usual in-depth reviews, Vincent focuses on what may occur on board if a passenger is not feeling well. It's unfortunate but true that not all cruise vacations are perfect. However, all is not lost when caring staff and crew members step up to the plate to make a passenger as comfortable as possible.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tropical Storm Nicole Diverts Royal Caribbean Ships

The National Hurricane Center's 2 pm EDT update on TS Nicole indicated the storm is moving north-northeast near 10 MPH accompanied by an expected gradual increase in the next 24 hours. Currently the storm is about 80 miles northeast of Havana, Cuba, and 225 miles southwest of Nassau. While tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 345 miles, maximum sustained winds are at 40 miles per hour. Nicole is expected to move over the Florida Straits later this afternoon and near or over the Bahamas tonight. Little change in strength is expected before Nicole is absorbed by an extratropical low later today or tomorrow.

Tropical storm warnings have been issued for the Cayman Islands, Cuba, and the northwestern and central Bahamas. Rain accumulation of 5-10 inches is possible in the Caymans and Jamaica, with as much as 20 inches possible in the higher elevations of Jamaica. Rain accumulations of 4-8 inches are possible over portions of southern Florida, the Florida Keys, and the central and northwest Bahamas.

At this time the only cruise ship itinerary alterations that has been announced are Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas and Majety of the Seas. Instead of making a scheduled call at Coco Cay Wednesday, Grandeur of the Seas is visiting Nassau. The remainder of the itinerary is unchanged. Additionally, Majesty of the Seas also will not tender passengers ashore at CocoCay on Thursday. The ship will remain in Nassau overnight and leave at 5 pm tomorrow, returning to Miami to complete its current cruise on Friday as scheduled.

On MSC Cruises It's ‘The More the Merrier’ For Christmas

Because MSC Cruises believes holidays are meant to be shared with families and friends, the cruise line is offering a special “The More the Merrier” rate with significant savings on the Christmas sailing of MSC Poesia in the Caribbean.

The special rate is available on MSC Poesia’s Dec 19th 7-night Western Caribbean sailing from Fort Lauderdale that includes calls at Key West, Florida; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Georgetown, Grand Cayman; Cozumel, Mexico; and a Christmas celebration at sea.

With “The More the Merrier” rate, guests in the first stateroom pay the early booking rate while guests in the second stateroom pay 50% off the early booking rate. For those booking an inside stateroom, for example, rates start as low as $649 per person for the first stateroom and $324.50 per person for the second stateroom. Rates for a balcony stateroom begin at $949 per person for the first stateroom and $474.50 per person for the second. The cruise-only rate is applicable when four guests book two staterooms at the same time. Government fees and taxes are additional. Offer expires on Oct 15. For more information about MSC Cruises, visit them online at MSCCruisesUSA.com, call 877-665-4655, or contact your travel agent.

MSC Poesia features sophisticated and elegant decor, attention to detail, the finest in international entertainment and Italian hospitality, and an eco-friendly design. Of the 1,275 staterooms, 80 percent are outside staterooms and 65 percent have a balcony. The ship has a generous 236,000 square feet of public spaces, two pools and four hot tubs, plus a 13,000-square-foot Balinese spa. Guests can select from four restaurants, including a Sushi Bar alternative dining restaurant.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cirque Dreams® & Dinner Aboard Norwegian Epic: Demand Fuels New Menu & Increased Charges

With the launch of Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Cruise Line also introduced a one-of-a-kind theatrical dining experience, which takes place under the unique Spiegel Tent. NCL describes it as “opulent eccentricity alà entertainment extravaganza presented with an array of world class talent, Broadway acrobatics, a touch of whimsy, and tasteful participation.” It is, they say, “a world where personality and presentation are served with spectacle and celebration in an unforgettable dining sensation… Cirque Dreams® & Dinner.”

In a recent NCL webcast, Andy Stuart, Executive Vice President of Global Sales and Passenger Services, said passengers rave about the show, but the same couldn’t be said about the food. When passengers speak, NCL listens and the result is that Cirque Dreams & Dinner now has a tastier menu and new pricing. A salad trio that includes foie gras with fig chutney is now offered as a starter and the main course is surf ’n’ turf—grilled jumbo shrimp and beef tenderloin. Vegetarians will also find an option. The trio of desserts is a red velvet cupcake, flourless chocolate cake, and vanilla bean pot de crème with wild berries.

With increased demand also comes an increase in pricing. The new charges are $20 for general seating (up from $15) and $30 for premium seating (up from $20).

The new menu makes those of us here at Cruise Diva hungry and we look forwarding to a dinner and a show aboard Norwegian Epic this fall.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Three New “Legends In Concert” Debut on Norwegian Epic

It's time to shake things up a bit aboard Norwegian Epic. Elvis has left the ship and taken Madonna and Tina Turner with him, although we are assured the latter pair are still alive. With their departure, Norwegian Cruise Line has announced that three new "legends" will take their place as part of the ship's Legends in Concert show. Starting this past weekend, the artists making appearances on Norwegian Epic are some of the world's most recognized entertainers–Britney Spears, Rod Stewart, and Michael Jackson. A staple on the Las Vegas' center strip for over 25 years, Legends in Concert is known as the pioneer of live tribute shows and has assembled the greatest collection of live tribute artists and celebrity look-alikes in show business.

Aboard Norwegian Epic Legends in Concert features three celebrity tribute performers taking the stage in the Epic Theater for six 45-minute shows over three days during a 7-day cruise. In addition, a Legends “Unplugged” show is performed on three additional nights in the Manhattan Room, the ship's New York-inspired supper club, providing an unprecedented dining and entertainment experience. The celebrity performers change every four months, keeping the show fresh and exciting.

"The Legends in Concert shows in both the Manhattan Room and in the Epic Theater are extremely well received by our guests,” said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian Cruise Line's chief executive officer. "With the arrival of these three new legendary entertainers, we are offering Norwegian Epic guests fresh and exciting performances from some very talented and well known performers."

Talented, certainly. Well known, well, sort of. Here are the performers' resumes.
Portraying a pop princess is no easy feat, but Katy Draper, originally from Utah, dreamed about it from a young age and was also told that she bore a striking resemblance to Britney Spears. She joined the world famous Legends in Concert show in 2006 at the young age of 22, and has gone on to perform as a "Legend" on the Ellen Degeneres show and has toured with Legends in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Branson, Missouri.

John Anthony (pictured above) is an accomplished performer, musician and popular entertainer who continues to captivate audiences around the world with his tribute to Rod Stewart. While covering a few Rod Stewart songs with his Boston-based band, Anthony discovered the ability to emulate Stewart’s voice and mannerisms. Anthony has been performing as Stewart with Legends in Concert for the past 14 years. He has toured America, Canada, and Japan and is well known as one of the best and
unmatched celebrity tribute artists in the world.

William Hall always knew he would be an entertainer. This San Antonio, Texas native has been performing since he was three years old. Hall attributes his love for music and dancing, along with the influence of his family and friends, as contributing to his decision to perform his tribute to Michael Jackson. Noteworthy career highlights include performing with Diana Ross and for much of the Jackson family in 2004 at father Joe Jackson’s birthday party. He is looking forward to performing on Norwegian Epic and sharing his love and respect for Jackson with his many adoring fans.
For more information on Norwegian Epic (and to book a cruise), please call NCL at 888-NCL-CRUISE (625-2784), visit Epic.NCL.com online, or contact your travel agent.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cruise West Owner, "Heartbroken" For Screwing You Over

Last weekend I happened to read a letter posted on the Avid Cruiser blog from Dick West, owner of the now-defunct Cruise West. In it, West said, "After 64 years our family business has succumbed to the global economy. We are heartbroken that we are going to be disappointing so many wonderful travel partners and guests, many of whom have become part of our extended family over the years. We did everything we could—put everything we had into the business to make it through the Alaska season, but we have reached the end of the road. Things are now out of our hands."

West went on to describe a deal he'd been working that fell through and, as a result, he mortgaged his home to the hilt and lost it. That is too bad, but the Cruise West saga almost mirrors a chapter from the demise of the former-Renaissance Cruises—the chapter that could be entitled "Too much, too soon."

While reading West's letter I couldn't help but wonder if this is the beginning of an apology tour. No crystal ball was necessary, as West has now reached out to the editors of Travel Weekly and Travel Pulse. In calls to them he outlined the steps that were taken to keep Cruise West afloat, including efforts to reach the deal with a private equity firm, drawing the equity out of his home, and working with the line's bank credit card processor. As we know, it was all to no avail. West blames the beginning of the end of Cruise West on the market crash in October 2008 (it's George Bush's fault!). That's when he said the phones stopped ringing and bookings dried up. Then the cancellations began and Wave Season 2009 was a dud. While Cruise West laid off some office staff in late-2008 and removed two ships from Alaska service, that only postponed the inevitable.

Things didn't get better. As a result of their credit card exposure, the bank forced the sale of the Spirit of Oceanus for what West said was, "well below market price, at a distressed price, probably half the price." He also revealed, "Somebody bought the note for the Spirit of 98, the Spirit of Endeavour, and the Spirit of Discovery at a significant discount. We didn't get anything; it went to the bank. They got them for a song. It's heartbreaking. They got such a deal." Could that be bitterness we detect? Kind of like the small child who's terribly sorry for getting caught doing something wrong; not because he did it, but because he got caught.

Are you noticing a trend? It's the fault of the market, the bank, the people who bought the ships, and even guests who either didn't book cruises or cancelled their reservations. West wants consumers to know he's sorry, so terribly sorry, and he's lost a lot. However, there are other losers in this matter as well. West admits that tour operators have gone unpaid for services as far back as 2009 (he was required to pay up front for 2010 tours); fuel suppliers have not been paid; outstanding travel agent commission payments won't be made; and passengers are pretty much out of luck if they paid cash for future cruises. For others, there is some recourse, but not all of them can count on being made whole. (For claims information, see Cruise Diva's Sept 17 blog entry.)

As the co-owner of a small family business, I feel some empathy for the West family. However, no matter how many times West himself says he's heartbroken, that doesn't change the fact that the situation is his responsibility. He told Travel Weekly that his sisters bailed out of Cruise West after their father, the company's founder, passed away in 2005. Since that time, West admits, "I had voting control of the company and was the only one involved in the business. I had been running it since the 90s. I was the one that took it from a small company to the company it was." So much for the company's 'small is better' motto.

Somewhere along the line decisions were made to acquire more ships, to expand the fleet's itineraries beyond tried-and-true regions, and to sail an ambitious world cruise (ironically, on a former-Renaissance Cruises ship). And, most importantly, the decisions were made to do those things with other people's money. West was accepting payments from currently booked passengers to pay for past mistakes, even offering discounts for cruises paid for in cash while the company was sinking in red ink. The mistakes and bad decisions finally caught up with him.

The only people we feel sorry for are the ones who were cruelly deprived of their hard-earned money. I guess that's okay in West's mind, though, because he's treating them "as extended family." We're just glad he's not our relative.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cunard's New Web Videos Showcase A Grand Celebration at Sea

Whoever first said a picture is worth a thousand words never anticipated You Tube. These days, a video is worth much, much more than words. So it stands to reason that in order to highlight their rich travel legacy and luxury cruise vacation experience, Cunard Line recently chose to launch its web video series with a focus on some of its signature offerings, such as world-class entertainment, Cunard Insights enrichment program, and its award-winning Queens Grill and Princess Grill accommodations aboard Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria, and the Line’s newest ship, Queen Elizabeth.

The new video series dynamically presents the grand celebration at sea that defines a Cunard voyage. From the moment guests are greeted on board by the customary white-gloved welcome, to nights filled with show-stopping entertainment and Royal Nights themed balls, guests experience an unparalleled sense of occasion throughout their voyage. The series of web videos can be viewed at Cunard.com/videos and showcases the best of what guests can expect while sailing on a luxury cruise vacation with Cunard. Each installment allows guests to view video of Cunard’s fully modern fleet, as well as commentary from guests on board and Cunard staff, including Entertainment Director Alastair Greener and President Peter Shanks.

The first video in the series highlights Cunard’s world-class entertainment, ranging from West End-style musical productions in the Royal Court Theatre to a resident string quartet in the Grand Lobby, and dancing to a live orchestra in the Queens Room, the largest ballroom at sea on Queen Mary 2.

Videos in the series include:
  • Queens Grill & Princess Grill Suites : a showcase of the elegant and exclusive Grills accommodations, from butler service to private terraces
  • Royal Nights Themed Balls: a celebration at sea where guests dress to the nines and dance the night away to a live orchestra (above)
  • Cunard Insights: an overview of Cunard’s award-winning enrichment program and daytime activities
  • White Star Service: highlights the Line’s signature level of service reflected in every area of each ship
  • Canyon Ranch SpaClub: a look at the first Canyon Ranch SpaClub at sea on board flagship Queen Mary 2
  • Todd English: featuring special guest, celebrity Chef Todd English, talking about his only restaurants at sea
  • Queen Elizabeth Culinary: featuring Cunard Global Culinary Ambassador and Executive Chef Jean-Marie Zimmermann, who expands upon the recent announcement of The Verandah restaurant aboard the Line’s newest ship
“Our web video series showcases Cunard's on board hallmarks, giving viewers a detailed look at what distinguishes the Cunard ocean travel experience," said Peter Shanks, president of Cunard Line.

Additionally, Cunard has launched its Grand Celebration Sweepstakes, which invites guests to enter for a chance to win a luxury cruise vacation on Queen Mary 2 and watch the new web videos to see for themselves why every voyage aboard Cunard is a grand celebration. Viewers also can increase their chances of winning by referring up to ten friends via e-mail. One grand prize of a 7-day Transatlantic Crossing cruise aboard Queen Mary 2 will be awarded by random drawing. The sweepstakes runs until the end of November, and is available on Cunard.com/sweepstakes.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Celebrity Cruises Celebrates Autumnal Equinox by Naming Fifth Solstice Class Ship

In light of the images of sun and shadow conveyed in the names of Celebrity Cruises' stylish Solstice Class ships, the world's top-rated premium brand is marking autumnal equinox by announcing the name of the fifth in its 'Xceptional' series: Celebrity Reflection.

"Selecting the name of the fifth ship in the class led us to reflect back on the significant impact the Solstice Class has had on the cruise industry," said Celebrity's President and CEO Dan Hanrahan. "Our Solstice Class ships offer the finest in premium cruising, with service provided by the best men and women in the hospitality business, as evidenced by the tremendous response from our guests, travel partners and the press, and a continuously expanding series of prestigious awards. There is no question that Celebrity Reflection will deliver an equally outstanding vacation experience for our guests."

Following delivery in Nov 2012, Celebrity Reflection will join Celebrity Solstice, Celebrity Equinox, Celebrity Eclipse, and Celebrity Silhouette, rounding out the $3.7-billion class. Celebrity Reflection will present vacationers with some new features, yet to be announced, along with many of the hallmarks found on some or all of her sister ships, including:

-- The hip "Celebrity iLounge" that made Celebrity Cruises the industry's first Authorized Apple Reseller
-- Uniquely unordinary "Qsine," the first seagoing restaurant to feature a menu and wine list on an iPad®, and an engaging food-as-theater dining experience
-- Celebrity's iconic half-acre Lawn Club, with real, growing grass
-- Ten unrivaled dining venues, including Qsine
-- Modern, stylish interiors designed by some of the world's best architects and designers
-- Hip, cool nightclubs and lounges, including CellarMasters, complete with the industry's first installation of the innovative Enomatic by-the-glass wine serving system
-- One of the broadest and best wine offerings in the industry, served by one of the world's largest staffs of certified sommeliers
-- One of the world's largest permanent collections of original contemporary art, and the industry's first self-guided art tours to be presented on an iPad®
-- Widely varied entertainment, including custom aerial production shows and live music
-- The extensive array of entertaining and enriching onboard programming offered through "Celebrity Life," including instruction on the latest iPods®, MacBooks® and iLife® classes; language learning through Rosetta Stone®; comparative wine tastings with Riedel Crystal, and enrichment presentations with Smithsonian Journeys

Celebrity's fleet currently consists of 10 ships. Its $3.7-billion investment in building five stylish Solstice Class ships between 2008-2012 represents the largest five-year investment in premium cruising. For more information, call your travel agent, dial 1-800-437-3111, or visit CelebrityCruises.com.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Malt Shop Memories Cruise 2011: Good News/Bad News/Good News

A Special Message from Time Life

Time Life, the folks behind the Malt Shop Memories Cruise, are dedicated to making next year's version the absolute best music vacation experience possible. Unfortunately, the original dates they announced for Malt Shop Memories 2011 were a challenge for many of the artists who want to share the experience with fans and passenger alumni as well.

To make sure they could attract the very best line-up of artists possible, they decided to move the date for Malt Shop Cruise 2011 from May 8-12, 2011 to Sept 15-19, 2011. The cruise will depart from Tampa, Florida on the Carnival Inspiration and will sail to Freeport, Grand Bahamas.

The good news is that the cruise has simply been postponed and not canceled. Time Life is working diligently on the line-up and expects to announce it by mid-October, when a new web site will also be launched.

The bad news is that booked passengers will have to change their travel plans and Cruise Diva has already received feedback from readers about the new date being "in hurricane season." Yes, September is indeed in hurricane season, which lasts a full six months of the year; however, course alterations are routinely made as necessary to avoid storms on those relatively rare occasions that they occur.

Now, more good news. There's plenty of time to change your schedule if you've already booked and plenty of time to get onboard if you haven't. Time Life wants you to know, "We apologize to you for changing the dates and departure point for the cruise but we truly felt that we could not bring you the line-up you deserved with our original sailing date. We are looking forward to you rebooking with us for September, and those of you who do will enjoy a special status on the cruise." Additionally, they are working on a new, robust alumni program to honor all of their past guests.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Delicious Competition Indeed; Enter Carnival Magic’s ‘Name the Dish’ Contest

Take a delectable combination of spaghetti, clams, garlic, white wine, olive oil, vermouth, pesto, brioche bread crumbs, cherry tomatoes, and arugula, all topped with shaved Parmesan cheese, and what have you got? That's for you to decide when you “Name the Dish.”

Here’s a delicious way for you to have your name associated with an exciting new dining venue aboard the Carnival Magic when it debuts next spring. Dubbed “The Yummiest Contest Around,” Carnival’s “Name the Dish” contest challenges would-be chefs and foodies to put on their thinking caps–or in this case, their chef’s hats–to come up with a creative moniker for a new mouth-watering menu item described above to be served at Cucina del Capitano, the ship’s Italian family-style restaurant.

The palate-pleasing menu item was developed by Carnival’s master chefs based on a recipe taken directly from Carnival Magic Captain Giovanni Cutugno’s home kitchen. Actually, Captain Cutugno secretly “borrowed” his wife’s treasured recipe and they need help in renaming the dish so she doesn’t find out!

Entries must be 50 characters or less and can be submitted via a special web site, CarnivalMagic.com/contest, from Sept. 21 to Oct. 1. You'll also find information and contest rules there. Five finalists will be selected by a panel of judges with consumer voting beginning Oct. 6. The grand prize winner will be announced on Oct. 15. As part of its ongoing support of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Carnival will donate $1 for each contest entry and $1 per vote. Carnival will also donate $1 for every Facebook fan who “likes” the contest on the site.

In addition to bragging rights and having their entry listed on Cucina del Capitano’s menu, the winner will receive a prize pack containing a pasta pot, Carnival recipe book, apron, and a bottle of wine.

The newly named dish will be among the extensive menu offerings within the 117-seat eatery, which brings the heritage of Carnival’s Italian captains to the table with a décor evocative of a cozy Italian home with wood-beam ceilings, ornate wrought ironwork, and framed archival photographs–many from the Carnival captains’ personal collections.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Veendam "Bermuda" Cruise Re-Routed

As reported today by The Royal Gazette, "Bermuda will be back in business with the airport open, buses running from 6am, and ferries starting at noon."

Hurricane Igor has moved on after lashing the island with winds gusting up to 93 miles per hour and leaving behind extensive property damage. Fortunately there were no major injuries or deaths reported; however, there has been "considerable damage to the electricity distribution system Island-wide."

Therefore, the itinerary for this week's sailing of Holland America Line's ms Veendam, which left New York on Sunday, Sept 19 bound for Bermuda, has been revised as follows:
Sept. 21: Charleston, South Carolina
Sept. 22: Port Canaveral, Florida
Sept. 23: Nassau, Bahamas
Sept. 24: At sea
Sept. 25: At Sea
Sept. 26: New York

Queen Elizabeth II Sits For An Official Portrait For Queen Elizabeth

Confused by that headline? It’s really quite simple. If you look hard enough, you will usually find an official portrait of every ship’s Godmother displayed on board. Sometimes they are in the main lobby, sometimes they are elsewhere, but you can bet this portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will be in a position of honor aboard Cunard Line’s newest liner, Queen Elizabeth.

In line with the Cunard tradition of commissioning appropriate sculpture or portraits for display on board each ship named by a member of the Royal Family, the company commissioned an official portrait of The Queen for the new Queen Elizabeth, due to be named by Her Majesty next month. The new official portrait was unveiled by the artist yesterday at a private event at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

The portrait, which shows The Queen in the Yellow Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace, was painted by 31-year-old, Lancashire-born Isobel Peachey. Although an accomplished award-winning portrait artist, she had never before been commissioned to paint a royal portrait. The Queen granted three sittings for the portrait, a three-quarter length painting which shows her dressed in blue and wearing Queen Victoria’s collet necklace and earrings, which she also wore for her Coronation in 1953.

“At my interview with Cunard, I answered many questions about how I would approach an important commission,” said Peachey. “But it was only at the end of the interview that the subject was revealed as The Queen. This was both a shock and a marvellous surprise.”

Commenting on how the artist was chosen, Cunard’s President and Managing Director, Peter Shanks, said, “Apart from being impressed by the quality of Isobel’s work, which we originally saw on display in the National Portrait Gallery, we were keen to offer the commission to a young artist who had never before had such an opportunity. Isobel is, in fact, the youngest female artist ever to paint the monarch, and the quality of the finished work is such that our confidence has been greatly rewarded.” He added, “It is a truly wonderful picture of Her Majesty. It is even more remarkable when you consider that, lacking a private studio, Isobel executed this magnificent painting in her mum’s attic!”

The Queen will see the finished portrait for the first time on Oct 11th when she visits Southampton to name the new liner Queen Elizabeth. The portrait will hang in a prominent position in the ship’s Grand Lobby. Cruise Diva will be on board to see it as well, and we invite you to mark your calendar to come along for the grand event.

For more information, visit Cunard.com.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Look Inside Carnival Cruise Lines' Funville Blog


We enjoy reading a good blog as much as we do writing our own and we also like to share our favorites. If you scroll down this page, you'll find our "blogroll" in the column on the right-hand side. Every now and then we find one we've missed and add it. Over the weekend we rediscovered a forgotten gem—Carnival Cruise Lines' Funville Blog.

Why is that blog a "gem"? While the entries are somewhat infrequent (averaging about seven entries a month), they are engaging and, dare I say it, FUN to read. Contributors range from cruise directors and dance captains to hotel directors and and bar managers on board Carnival ships. Ashore, they include the Mayor of Funville, a Carnival employee at the cruise line's Miami headquarters, and some "Fun Ship" friends who simply love their floating resort vacations.

The Funville Blog offers a look behind the scenes aboard Carnival's "Fun Ship" fleet, as well as valuable insight into cruising on the world's largest cruise line. You might even find the answer to a question you have in an "Ask Our Bloggers" post.

There's a lot more in the Funville community at Carnival.com, so check out the forums, join a roll call if you're sailing soon, and be sure to read the Funville Blog!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Are You Ready To Go Back To Titanic?

Willtiger Corporation and Azamara Club Cruises are proud to announce Voyages! Titanic 2012, a once-in-a-lifetime experience aboard Azamara Journey commemorating the historic maiden trans-Atlantic voyage of the RMS Titanic. Departing April 9, 2012, from Boston on a 9-night roundtrip itinerary, the voyage will arrive at the location of the final resting place of Titanic on her 100th anniversary and remain for three days, where Azamara Journey will be the exclusive cruise ship to receive live video feeds from a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) deployed from an expeditionary ship alongside. Throughout, guests will have opportunities to immerse themselves in the history and experience of Titanic.

“This exclusive charter, Voyages! Titanic 2012, will be a unique experience to commemorate the most infamous passenger ship in history on its centennial anniversary,” said Bill Willard, president of Willtiger Corp. “We’ll be at the exact site at the exact time one-hundred years after the RMS Titanic met its demise to remember those lost and the ship. Throughout, we will offer guests a deeper understanding of what Titanic’s passenger experienced through a great schedule of enrichment programs and memorials.”

Onboard, guests will be able to participate in three memorial services, a wreath-laying ceremony, as well as presentations by a prestigious line-up of maritime and fashion researchers and historians, executives from international Titanic societies, and survivors’ relatives. Dinner menus also will feature dishes from recipes served aboard Titanic and guests can learn the Irish dance with which the ship’s third-class passengers would have celebrated.

“It is truly an honor to charter Azamara Journey to Voyages! Titanic 2012 and help memorialize one of the most well-known maritime events in history,” said Larry Pimentel, president and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises. “Azamara Club Cruises is dedicated to delivering unique voyages coupled with extraordinary service, and Voyages! Titanic 2012 is an example of the many distinctive itineraries and onboard experiences that we offer.”

In addition to three days at the location of Titanic’s wreckage, Azamara Journey also will call at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where guests can choose excursion options that visit the Titanic cemeteries, the Maritime Museum and other memorial sites in the city that played a pivotal role in this historical event.

Guests of Azamara Journey also will enjoy the cruise line’s extraordinary signature service and more inclusive onboard amenities, such as included gratuities for housekeeping, dining, and bar staff; complimentary bottled water, sodas, specialty coffee, and teas, as well as complimentary boutique red and white wines to accompany lunch and dinner; and English Butler service for suite guests.

The 682-guest exclusive charter aboard Azamara Journey offers guests a European-boutique hotel ambience with extraordinary service, fine cuisine and wines from around the world, and wellness and vitality programs. For more information, visit Voyages-to-Remember.com. Bookings are now available via Voyages! Titanic 2012 reservation line. To make a reservation, call Wilcox World Travel and Tours at 1-800-294-5269.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Cruise West Ceases Operations

Cruise West today announced that they will cease operations on Saturday, Sept 18th. For the last year, Cruise West has aggressively pursued a number of options with interested parties to maintain operations, including investment, selling assets, and selling the company. In part because of the most recent dip in the markets and the continued lack of economic confidence, these options have not come to fruition.

"I have never given up hope that we might be able to find a way to survive by working with the various interested parties. I am absolutely heartbroken that this family legacy has come to an end," shared Dick West, Cruise West's Chairman and Managing Director. "We have a product that appeals to the type of traveler who wants to experience the destination, not the inside of a ship. We have a passionate following of repeat guests and I am particularly distressed that our most loyal guests who have booked with us will now not be able to travel. We have done absolutely everything to maintain operations, but with limited resources and the current tight financial market, we simply cannot continue."

With the exception of the Sept 22 Danube Cruise, Cruise West has canceled all future cruises in 2010 and beyond and Cruise West has taken steps to notify booked guests via phone, email, and through media outlets. "It is with a heavy heart that we close our doors, knowing that guests, travel agents, and partners will not receive the personal attention that they have grown to expect from us," said Dick West. "I want to extend my most sincere thanks to our loyal employees, many of which have been here for decades. I am devastated that, though they have given abundantly of their time and energy, we will be unable to continue delivering memorable experiences," continued West. Last week, Cruise West commenced layoffs of their staff, with a very small staff staying on to help with shutdown efforts.

Our Galapagos partner, Canodros, operator of the Galapagos Explorer II, is working with us to provide an alternate program to our guests already booked. Guests who have booked our Galapagos program for dates in 2011 may contact the operator by e-mail at lmontalvo@canodros.com.

For booked guests who have not yet traveled, Cruise West recommends the following steps:
1. If third-party travel insurance was obtained, a claim should be placed immediately with the insurer.
2. If payment was made by credit card, a claim should be placed immediately with the card issuer.
3. If the payment was made by cash or check, and you have no travel insurance, and the cruise departs from a U.S. port, you may file a claim with Cruise Claims c/o Wells Fargo Disability Management, PO Box 1567, Abingdon, Virginia 24212; phone: 877-371-9700, extension 6059; faxed to: 276-6760152; or sent as an e-mail attachment to: dara.meade@wellsfargo.com. The e-mail should specify the claim is for cruise fare reimbursement.
4. If the payment was made by cash or check, and you have no travel insurance, and the cruise departs from a foreign, non-U.S. port you may file a claim with USTOA, visit their web site at www.ustoa.com.
For travel partners with booked guests, Cruise West recommends that you contact your clients and relay the information above regarding claims.

Hurricane Update from Norwegian Cruise Line

Update Sept 17, 2010 at 9:30 AM

At Norwegian Cruise Line, the safety and security of our guests and crew is of the utmost importance. Therefore, the company is closely monitoring the paths of Hurricane Igor, Hurricane Julia, and Hurricane Karl.

As Hurricane Igor is forecasted to pass over the island of Bermuda this weekend, Norwegian Spirit’s itinerary has changed. The ship will now sail to Orlando (Port Canaveral), Florida and Nassau, Bahamas. The ship will depart Boston today as scheduled at 4 p.m. and spend two days at sea before it arrives in Orlando on Monday, Sept 20 and then to Nassau on Tuesday, Sept 21.

All other Norwegian ships will depart their respective homeports according to the published schedule. Any further updates will be posted to ncl.com.

VH1 & Sixthman Team Up Again for “VH1 Best Cruise Ever” Aboard Carnival Inspiration

If you thought last year’s cruise couldn’t be topped–think again. Next year, Carnival Cruise Lines' Carnival Inspiration will serve as the venue for VH1 Best Cruise Ever, hosted by VH1 and Sixthman. The second annual music festival at sea will feature Train, Lifehouse, Colbie Caillat, The Script, and many more, setting sail from Tampa to Cozumel, Mexico on April 28-May 2, 2011.

Grammy Award winning group Train is ready to set sail! With their recent VH1 UNPLUGGED performance that can now be seen on VH1.com and their upcoming Oct 19th re-release of Save Me, San Francisco Golden Gate Edition (complete with 6 additional tracks) this group has had a sensational year with their hit, “Hey, Soul Sister” which is the #1 most downloaded digital track in Columbia Records’ history.

Returning to the VH1 Best Cruise Ever for a second year in a row is Lifehouse. A VH1 staple, Lifehouse performed their current single “All In” at the “VH1 Do Something Awards” earlier this summer and just announced their headlining fall tour in support of their most recent album Smoke & Mirrors.

Colbie Caillat, a VH1 “You Oughta Know” alumni and a fixture on the road since her debut on the charts in 2006, is currently working on her third studio album. Caillat also just performed the national anthem for this year’s NFL Kickoff game.

Irish trio The Script, known for their “Celtic Soul” sound, are also hitting the deck! No stranger to VH1, The Script are also former “You Oughta Know” artists who taped a VH1 UNPLUGGED earlier this year and are currently promoting their single “Man That Can’t Be Moved,” while gearing up for their fall tour.

Special guests on VH1 Best Cruise Ever also include VH1 “You Oughta Know” artists and returning cruisers SAFETYSUIT, as well other VH1 “You Oughta Know Artist” including Alpha Rev, Mat Kearney, and Thriving Ivory. Also joining the cruise are Civil Twilight, One eskimO, and returning cover band Trailer Park Ninjas. In addition to seeing these artists perform in a unique and up-close-and-personal setting, guests will enjoy VH1-themed onboard activities, contests and more.

After the huge success of the first VH1 Best Cruise Ever, music fans and musicians alike felt the experience provided a rare opportunity to connect with fans and fellow artists on a rocking cruise through the Caribbean. While watching non-stop music shows and experiencing once-in-a-lifetime artist interactions, guests also enjoy all of the amenities and facilities aboard the “Fun Ship” Carnival Inspiration, which offers an expansive water park, exclusive adults-only retreat, resort-style pool, and numerous other features.

Cabins for VH1 Best Cruise Ever go on sale Sept 23rd and start at $799 per person based on double occupancy plus taxes and fees. For more information, go to VH1BestCruiseEver.com.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hurricane Igor Scrambles Bermuda-Bound Cruise Ships

It's still hurricane season and the National Hurricane Center reports today that the large and powerful Hurricane Igor is currently churning out in the Atlantic on a northwest track.

In anticipation, the island nation of Bermuda is preparing for the storm by announcing the closure of its port.

Royal Caribbean International
Update Sept 16, 2010 at 1:00 pm

The Port of Bermuda will be closed beginning Friday, Sept 17 and is not scheduled to reopen until Tuesday, Sept 21 due to the forecasted path of Hurricane Igor. As a result, Royal Caribbean International is altering the itinerary of Enchantment of the Seas' sailing that is scheduled to depart Baltimore, Maryland on Saturday, Sept 18. Enchantment of the Seas will now sail to Nassau, Bahamas, were it will arrive on Monday, Sept 20, and stay overnight until noon on Tuesday, Sept 21.

Although this modification to the itinerary has been caused by weather, which is beyond our control, as a gesture of goodwill and to thank guests for their understanding, Royal Caribbean will provide each stateroom with an onboard credit. Should guests choose to not sail the revised itinerary, they may cancel and will be sent a letter of credit for the amount of the cruise fare paid to Royal Caribbean International. That letter of credit may be applied to a future Royal Caribbean cruise.

No other Royal Caribbean ship's itinerary is currently being affected by Hurricane Igor. Royal Caribbean will continue to closely monitor weather conditions and will update this information if there are any additional itinerary alterations due to the storm's projected path.

MSC Cruises
Update Sept 16 at 3:00 pm

Presently en route to complete a transatlantic crossing, MSC Poesia was scheduled to visit Hamilton, Bermuda, on Saturday, Sept 18 and Sunday, Sept 19 before arriving in New York on Sept 21.

Due to severe weather conditions in the Atlantic Ocean, MSC Poesia will not be calling in Bermuda. Instead, she will sail to Boston, Massachusetts for her maiden-call at 9 am on Saturday, Sept 19 and depart on Sunday, Sept 20 at 7 am. After sailing along the US Coast, she will arrive as scheduled in New York City on Tuesday, Sept 21. This change in itinerary is to ensure the safety of all guests and crew on board.

Norwegian Cruise Line
Update Sept 16, 2010 at 12:30 pm

At Norwegian Cruise Line, the safety and security of our guests and crew is of the utmost importance. Therefore, the company is closely monitoring the paths of Hurricane Igor, Hurricane Julia, and Tropical Storm Karl.

At this time, all ships will depart their respective homeports according to the published schedule. However, Hurricane Igor is forecasted to pass over the island of Bermuda this weekend, possibly affecting the itinerary of Norwegian Spirit's Sept 17 cruise. The ship will depart Boston as scheduled on Friday, Sept 17. Guests will be notified upon embarkation if there are any necessary itinerary changes. As soon as there are updates, we will update NCL.com and notify our guests.

Holland America Line
Update Sept 16, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Holland America Line's Veendam is currently docked in Hamilton, Bermuda and is scheduled to depart on Friday, Sept 17. Veendam will conclude its 7-night cruise upon arrival in New York City on Sunday morning, Sept 19. At that time it will embark passengers for its next weekly Bermuda cruise and depart Sunday evening. Veendam is expected to arrive in Bermuda as scheduled on Tuesday, Sept 21. No itinerary alterations are anticipated at this time.

New Cruise Review, Holland America Line Veendam to Bermuda

Whenever we get an email from our old friend George Hall, we know it's going to be good. In this case, he reports on Holland America Line's Veendam to Bermuda.

George began cruising in 1984, and he and his wife, the lovely Linda, do a minimum two cruise a year. They often take three and this year will be sailing four times. They stopped counting when they reached 50 cruises and sail any and all lines. Generally the ship is their interest, not itinerary, but Bermuda is exception.

George enjoys a cigar now and then and shares his unique insight for those who smoke, as well as commenting on the entertainment, dining, and overall cruise experience.

For anyone driving to the New York piers to sail, George also has some important information on the current parking/embarkation situation.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Norwegian Cruise Line Kicks Off The NFL Season At Sea

Are you ready for some football?

Norwegian Cruise Line will host America’s favorite pastime as the National Football League (NFL) season kicks off this fall by broadcasting 44 NFL regular season games, including three exciting match ups on Thanksgiving Day. In addition to the Sunday and Thursday night games, eight playoff games, the NFC and the AFC conference championships, the ultimate battle for the championship ring—the Super Bowl—will be broadcast on the line’s fleet of Freestyle Cruising ships (except Norwegian Jade, which is sailing year-round in Europe, and Norwegian Gem while the ship is in Europe until October).

Pack your jersey and get ready to support your favorite NFL team while relaxing afloat in one of the many Freestyle venues on board Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Star, Norwegian Sun, Norwegian Sky, Norwegian Spirit, and Pride of America. Here's a hint from Cruise Diva: there's nothing quite like watching a game on the huge screens aboard NCL Jewel-class ships.

Fore more information, or to book a cruise, call Norwegian at 866-NCL-CRUISE (625-2784), visit NCL.com, or contact your travel agent.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cruise Travel: Deals For Cruisers

We don't often "advertise" (at least not for free), but we received a couple offers this week that readers of Cruise Diva might be able to take advantage of. Since we're into sharing good stuff when we find it and you might be considering a cruise vacation, we want you to get the best deal possible. While NCL's offer is short and offers the best deals to big spenders, Carnival's is restricted to MasterCard holders. Each has its advantages.

The race is on with Norwegian Cruise Line's Freestyle Dash

Limited time offer: Book by Sept 17 for reduced deposits and up to $250 in on-board credits.

Norwegian Cruise Line launches its 3-day Freestyle Dash limited time offer on Wed, Sept 15, 2010, with a special preview day for its Latitudes members (past guests) on Tues, Sept 14. Guests who race to book a cruise on any of the line’s 11 Freestyle Cruising ships by Sept 17 can save on Norwegian’s cruise getaways to Alaska; Bahamas & Florida; Bermuda; the Caribbean; Hawaii; and Europe. The 3-day promotion provides half-off standard cruise deposits on select sailings and up to $250 in on-board credit per stateroom, based on cruise length and category.

Guests who book sailings of up to six days and longer will receive $250 in on-board credit when sailing in a Garden Villa; $150 for suites; $100 for mini-suites and deluxe balcony staterooms; $75 for balcony staterooms; $50 for oceanview; $25 for inside and $12.50 for Norwegian Epic’s exclusive Studio staterooms. For sailings of up to five days, guests will receive $100 per stateroom in a Garden Villa; $75 for suites; $50 for mini-suites; $40 for balcony staterooms; $20 for oceanview; $15 for inside and $7.50 for Studio staterooms. The on-board credit can be used toward amenities such as spa treatments to shore excursions; gifts in the duty free shop; and dinners in any of Norwegian’s specialty Freestyle Dining restaurants.

Speed counts during the Freestyle Dash promotion. To book a cruise call Norwegian at 866-NCL-CRUISE (625-2784), visit NCL.com, or contact a travel professional.

This is what you call some good vacation karma

Carnival Cruise Lines says, this is the perfect time to take your first Carnival cruise. Because when you book now through Sept 30, 2010 with your MasterCard® card, you'll get back up to $200 in onboard credit. The longer your sailing, the more onboard credit they'll give you. Use it in the steakhouse or for a spa treatment or on a shore excursion. And at the end of your cruise, you'll get back whatever credit you don't use.

You have a bit more time to take book with Carnival Cruise Lines' offer, provided you have a MasterCard, and you can also take advantage of Carnival's 110% Best Price Guarantee:

• You'll have 48 hours from the time you book to find a lower price
• Carnival will give you 110% of the difference in onboard credit
• Best Price Guarantee only applies to publicly available rates

At Carnival, they feel the fun starts with you knowing you got the best deal possible. You concentrate on your upcoming cruise; they say they'll worry about the rest. Call 1-888-227-6482 or visit Carnival.com for more information.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hurricane Igor: Itinerary Changes, Oasis of the Seas & Carnival Dream

Due to the powerful category four storm Hurricane Igor and the possibility of rough seas, Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines have reversed two ports of call on the itineraries of Oasis of the Seas and Carnival Dream, respectively.

On their altered schedules, the two ships will now visit St. Maarten on Tueday and St. Thomas on Wednesday. Thus far, the remainder of their itineraries are unchanged and the storm hasn't required changes by any other vessels.

Marine Architect Joe Farcus to Concentrate Designs on Costa Ships

The genius behind Carnival Cruise Lines' bold and eclectic ship interiors since 1977 is marine architect Joe Farcus. History, art, and culture all mingle in Farcus' fertile imagination, which results in what he calls "entertainment architecture." Farcus views a cruise ship not as a floating hotel, but as an experience that carries passengers to another time and place. He once told me he creates spaces for passengers "to get away from normal life and recharge their batteries."

A highlight of every Carnival new-ship preview for the media is a tour personally led by Farcus, pictured above explaining an element in his design aboard Carnival Miracle. It is during those tours that we learn what's behind the designs, such as the carpets that drape the ceilings in Carnival Glory's Egyptian-themed casino to suggest a caravan in the desert. Sadly, Farcus hasn't participated in the renovation of Carnival Cruise Lines' older ships and the core elements of his designs, such as those on the iconic Fantasy-class vessels, have become somewhat muddled as a result. That will be happening more often in the future as we've learned that Farcus, who is 66, is cutting back on his work for Carnival Cruise Lines to concentrate more on personal time. He has often worked on several ships at once in the past decade, both for Carnival Cruise Lines and Costa Cruises, the Italian brand under the Carnival Corp umbrella.

While Farcus is the lead architect on Carnival Magic, now under construction and due to enter service next year, he will pass that role to German-based Partnership Design for the next ship, Carnival Breeze, with his only contribution to be the designs for the casino and theater. However, his fans will be happy to know that he'll continue his relationship as lead architect with Costa Cruises.

As Farcus told Travel Weekly recently, "I chose Costa to devote my major work, as this choice better suits my effort and goals," adding that he and Costa CEO Pier Luigi Foschi "speak each other’s language."

While those of us who know him will miss his inventiveness on Carnival Cruise Lines ships, Farcus also told Travel Weekly, "The fact is that there is new management, and it is a putting together its own management style and ideas about what the product should be."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Allure of the Seas: What's New On The Menu

As the second ship in Royal Caribbean International's Oasis-class design, we didn't expect Allure of the Seas, debuting in Dec 2010, to break the mold. We aren't disappointed, although we have a vague feeling that we should be. With a few exceptions, dining options on Allure are pretty much clones of those on Oasis of the Seas, which couldn't be called trend-setting by any stretch of the imagination, although Royal Caribbean calls the ones on the newer ship, "tempting twists to signature Oasis-class restaurants."

Taking a page from Norwegian Cruise Line's menu aboard Norwegian Epic, RCI's Allure of the Seas will introduce Samba Grill, a Brazilian steakhouse that replaces the Solarium Bistro's focus on healthy dinner fare with meats and seafood dishes served table-side and sliced straight off the skewer. The destination restaurant's menu features Brazilian-style dishes, from Picanha cut sirloin steak to Atlantic salmon marinated with sea salt and garlic. While Oasis' Solarium Bistro charges $20 for dinner, Allure's Samba Grill will charge $25. If all you want is the salad bar, the Samba Grill charge will be $15 (but you can probably get the same, or similar salad fixings in the buffet for free). The healthier spa items will continue to be served for breakfast and lunch in the Solarium.

In another NCL-was-there-first move, the Seafood Shack ($8.95 for lunch or dinner) aboard Oasis will be replaced by Rita’s Cantina in Allure's Boardwalk neighborhood. Mexican fare, such as shrimp ceviche tostadas, warm tortilla chips with salsa, and fiesta guacamole, as well as entrées, such as fajitas, fish tacos, and Chipotle-style flautas. RCI says that Rita’s Cantina will also boast some of the best and widest selection of margaritas at sea, offering both authentic and signature concoctions mixed with a choice from the extensive list of quality tequilas, served on the rocks or frozen in a variety of fruit-flavor combinations. In addition, the restaurant will introduce new nightlife to Boardwalk with live guitar music, drinks, and dancing. Rita Cantina’s design will include large open breezeways and an outdoor seating area furnished with high top tables and stools. While Rita's Cantina will be located in the same place as the Seafood Shack on board sister-ship Oasis of the Seas, we hope they re-think the pricing (which hasn't been announced yet). For a seafood meal, $8.95 isn't an unreasonable charge; for Mexican food, it's sort of high.

Also new to Allure of the Seas' Boardwalk scene will be The Boardwalk Dog House, an outdoor hot-dog specialty counter located where The Donut Shop is on Oasis of the Seas. Allure's Donut Shop will remain on Boardwalk in a new location next to the Ice Cream Parlor. At the Dog House, diners can choose from traditional hot dogs, wieners, brats, sausages, and other linked meats, with a variety of toppings to split a long bun. No word yet on whether there will be a charge for the franks 'n beans.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Olly Smith Brews Up Autumn Cocktail Treats

As October 31st and Halloween draws spookily near, the UK’s television drinks expert and celebrity Olly Smith has created four new cocktails to warm up chilly autumn evenings. While Smith isn’t a household name in American, in addition to his television credits he oversees The Glass House on P&O’s Azura, Britain’s newest and largest cruise ship.

Smith says, “On a dark, chilly night there is nothing better than gently brewing spices and spirits. They fill the house with the aroma of comfort and a sense of festivity. Autumn evokes magical smells of crackling fires and glorious tastes like ginger parkin and of course, it’s mulled wine heaven. My recipes here are for old favourites with a twist and new ones which will soon become legendary.”

Dragon’s Blood!
My kids love this–serves two.

10 ml Cassis
10 ml Grenadine
200 ml fizzy water

Garnish with a slice of blood orange.

For the full effect, make matching Dragon’s Blood ice cubes (use the above recipe but replace fizzy water for still, pour into an ice cube tray and freeze as normal).

You can always customise it into a more grown up cocktail by adding a tot of blackcurrant vodka or sloe gin!

(to convert milliliters to ounces, 10 ml=.34 oz & 200 ml=6.76 oz)

Mulled Wine
This is a simple drink to create–and you can easily customise your own version. The key is not to boil the wine, just keep it warm. You can add orange juice, brandy ,and sugar to the base, a clove or two, a knob of fresh ginger, a cinnamon stick, and you can load it with oranges, lemons and limes or try using slices of fresh mango for a tropical twist. The rule of thumb is keep tasting until it’s right–and don’t over do the cloves or they make it bitter!

Mulled White Wine
This couldn’t be simpler, choose a fruity leftover white wine, add freshly chopped pineapple, a few lemon wedges, honey, and a cinnamon stick. Strain and serve with a sliced lemon garnish and sugar to taste (and you can give it a kick with a dose of leftover spirit–brandy, vodka, or Cointreau for an orangey tang).

Olly’s Secret Punch
Gently heat equal measures of leftover port, Cointreau, and Southern Comfort topped up with fresh orange juice in a pan. Don’t let it boil. At the last minute squeeze two halves of blood orange into the pan and toss in the squeezed halves. I prefer not to add sugar as the port makes my secret punch gloriously sweet. Garnish with an orange slice and serve in glass mugs.

Olly Smith will be travelling on Azura regularly throughout 2011 and 2011; for details see POCruises.com. In addition, a variety of Olly’s cocktails are available on Azura this autumn.

Friday, September 10, 2010

'A Taste of Celebration' Cookbook by Holland America Line Master Chef Rudi Sodamin Now Available

While my ability in the kitchen precludes me from joining the ranks of gourmet cooks, I love good food and have a "collection" of cookbooks at home to inspire me. A couple of my favorites are by cruise line chefs and the one I rely on the most is A Taste of Excellence by Holland America Line's Master Chef Rudi Sodamin. So, I was delighted to learn that Chef Rudi has written his third cookbook, A Taste of Celebration, which is now available for purchase in bookstores and aboard Holland America Line's ships, as well as by clicking the link here to order it from Amazon.com. The new cookbook completes the Holland America Line Culinary Signature Collections cookbooks. The first two titles are Sodamin's A Taste of Excellence and A Taste of Elegance.

A Taste of Celebration is filled with Sodamin's inspired recipes for complete menus, from appetizers to desserts, for 16 celebratory occasions. These include 11 holidays: Valentine's Day, Passover, Easter, Mother's Day, Memorial Day, Father's Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year's Eve. Also included are recipes for a Captain's Dinner, Master Chef's Dinner (a Holland America Line signature event), Super Bowl Sunday, birthday or anniversary celebration and a cocktail party. All of the menus feature distinctive four-star favorites from Sodamin's extensive recipe collection. The new cookbook is designed to motivate readers to create memorable meals to celebrate their own special occasions. It features tantalizing photos of each dish to complement the mouth-watering recipes. Sodamin also offers helpful hints from purchasing ingredients to preparing the dishes.

"Once again, Master Chef Rudi Sodamin has produced an original and extraordinary cookbook that will inspire our guests and food lovers to create sumptuous meals on special occasions," said Richard D. Meadows, CTC, executive vice president, marketing, sales and guest programs. "Rudi's distinctive style and innovative ideas have earned Holland America Line numerous culinary awards and set the standard in premium cruise cuisine."

Sodamin is internationally recognized as a food authority and one of the hospitality industry's most innovative chefs. He continues to direct the evolution of fine dining and unique menu options at Holland America Line, including the introduction of alternative dining venues such as the Italian-themed Canaletto and pan-Asian Tamarind, a highly acclaimed, exclusive dining experience on Signature-class ships ms Eurodam and ms Nieuw Amsterdam. Sodamin's ideas have been instrumental in the development of Holland America Line's onboard culinary program, including the popular Culinary Arts Center presented by Food & Wine magazine. The centers enable guests to watch cooking demonstrations conducted by shipboard and celebrated guest chefs, as well as participate in small-group cooking lessons. Each center is equipped with state-of-the art cooking facilities set in a theater with audio-video systems to provide up-close viewing of the demonstrations. Sodamin is a member of the Academy Culinaire de France, Maitres Cuisiners de France and Honoree Member Club des Chefs des Chefs.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

YouTube Launches New Travel Channel Powered by Norwegian Cruise Line

In a very cool move, Norwegian Cruise Line has partnered with YouTube to power the first-ever YouTube Vacationer, a travel-specific channel within the world’s largest online video site providing vacation inspiration with ideas and advice from well-traveled experts, such as Lonely Planet, National Geographic, and Travel Channel. The YouTube Vacationer, located at YouTube.com/vacationer, is also interactive, offering visitors a first of its kind opportunity to create their own “Vacation You” video experience and share it with others.

Here's one from NCL featuring the sensational Blue Man Group...

Norwegian Cruise Line’s signature Freestyle Cruising approach is at the heart of this site, providing users the freedom, flexibility, and choice to interact with more than two million combinations of video content enabling them to create and share their own unique Freestyle vacation experience. When interacting within NCL’s “Vacation You” section of the YouTube Vacationer channel, visitors will select from a series of short video clips that tap into their vacation mindset to produce a customized 60-90 second montage of their ideal Freestyle Cruising vacations. Visitors can then share their personalized “Vacation You” video with friends and family through Facebook, Twitter, or email.

“We are pleased to be working with Norwegian Cruise Line, the innovators in cruise travel, on our first branded travel channel,” said Mark Day, Sales Development at YouTube. “The YouTube Vacationer channel brings the best of our partners’ travel videos into a single destination to help users explore, plan and dream about their next vacations, and it gives users a way to see themselves in a customized vacation video with Norwegian’s ‘Vacation You’ application.”

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cruise West Continues Restructuring Efforts

Even as they were planning to drop a disappointment bomb on some booked passengers, Cruise West—a global leader in small-ship explorations—wrapped up their late-afternoon announcement today with a note of optimism, "Cruise West believes that small is beautiful. Small-ship explorations allow up-close and personal experiences unmatched by the traditional larger cruise lines. For nearly 64 years, Cruise West has provided authentic travel experiences." While that is certainly true, Cruise West further states that their first move as they work towards a restructuring of the company and its operations is the termination of the Spirit of Oceanus’ Voyage of the Great Explorers. While they don't indicate the ship (pictured above), or the company, has been sold (in fact, a new recorded message on the company's telephone line retracts the earlier statement that the cruise line has been sold), they do say that "additional assets may be sold" and other unnamed steps are being pursued towards a restructure. As part of this process, Cruise West has suspended accepting any new bookings.

Not all passengers are immediately out of luck. Cruise West plans to continue to operate its US flag ships and itineraries through October, 2010; Spirit of Endeavour will sail from Seattle on the British Columbia Cruise and the Spirit of ’98 from Portland, OR along the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Cruise West will also complete cruises or land tours already underway in Alaska.

However, what appears to be the final Spirit of Oceanus voyage ended at its scheduled port of disembarkation in St. John's, Newfoundland yesterday so as to "minimize any negative impact to our guests." For those booked Spirit of Oceanus guests who may be affected by this news and who have not yet travelled, Cruise West recommends that you take the following steps:
1. If third-party travel insurance was obtained, a claim should be placed immediately with the insurer.
2. If payment was made by credit card, a claim should be placed immediately with the card issuer.
3. If the payment was made by cash or check, and you have no travel insurance, please send an email to info@cruisewest.com.
Unfortunately, that's all the information we have as the company has indicated that Cruise West executives will not respond to media inquiries or accept interviews at this time.

UPDATE 9/8 at 10:00pm: The Cruise West website has been replaced with the press release, from which the above story was written. That's not a good sign for a company that plans ongoing operations. We wonder if a sale fell through and a bankruptcy filing is in the works.

Cruise West Sold & Suspends Bookings

Is this good news or bad news? We're not sure, but the family operated Seattle-based cruise line noted for its small ship voyages to Alaska is restructuring with new ownership, has suspended new bookings, and temporarily closed its reservations center. That's according to a recorded message I received when calling them this morning. At this time the new owners have not been named and my usual contact could not be reached.

The recording I heard earlier stated that Saturday sailings of Spirit of Endeavor from Seattle, Washington and Spirit of '98 from Portland, Oregon will operate as scheduled and that booked passengers' questions should be directed to info@cruisewest.com.

Reports indicate that the financially troubled cruise line's president and CEO, Dietmar Wertanzl, quietly resigned a week ago. However, the Cruise West website is still operational and that's a good sign.

It is rumored that Cruise West's largest ship, the Spirit of Oceanus (pictured above), is or has been sold, and that the remainder of its current 335-day world cruise is terminating in Saint John's, Newfoundland, where the ship is presently docked.

In addition to Alaska, Cruise West offers cruise itineraries that include Europe, Central America, Mexico, and the rivers of North America.

Florida Lottery Features Royal Caribbean Prize in New 'CRUISE FOR CASH' Game

The Florida Lottery has announced an exciting new Royal Caribbean Intl themed Scratch-Off game: CRUISE FOR CASH. With ticket sales beginning yesterday, the $5 game offers Lottery players the chance to win up to $200,000 instantly. Plus, a second chance promotion on the Lottery's Web site offers players the chance to win a 7-night Caribbean cruise vacation for two aboard one of Royal Caribbean's newest, and world's most innovative, cruise ships - Oasis of the Seas or Allure of the Seas.* The new game is available at Florida Lottery retailers statewide.

"Tourism is a vital part of Florida's economy, and this partnership between the Florida Lottery and Royal Caribbean is a unique opportunity to bring together Florida's public and private sectors to promote one of the state's greatest tourist industries—cruising," said Florida Lottery Secretary Leo DiBenigno. "We expect CRUISE FOR CASH to have a wide appeal among Floridians and visitors to our great state, helping us maximize sales for the enhancement of public education," he added.

Florida continues to serve as the epicenter of the cruise industry nationwide and is home to the top three cruise ports in the country: Port of Miami, Port Canaveral, and Port Everglades. According to the Cruise Lines International Association, the North American cruise industry generated $35.1 billion in 2009, with Florida port embarkations growing by nearly 3 percent—making up 59 percent of the U.S. total.

"We are pleased to be working with the Florida Lottery on the CRUISE FOR CASH game, which helps raise additional funds for education," said Vicki Freed, Senior Vice President Sales and Trade Support & Services, Royal Caribbean Intl.

In addition to four $200,000 top prizes, CRUISE FOR CASH also features more than 1.6 million cash prizes ranging from $5 to $2,500. The game's overall odds of winning are one in 3.87. The game is the latest themed Scratch-Off in the Lottery's game portfolio, offering players instant cash prizes and additional chances to win via a second chance promotion on the Lottery's Web site. Players may enter their non-winning CRUISE FOR CASH tickets in five Royal Caribbean Cruise Package Second Chance drawings to be held from Oct 6 to Dec 15, 2010. Each cruise packages include seven nights aboard the Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas or another Royal Caribbean cruise ship sailing select itineraries.* Winners of the second chance drawings will tour their respective Caribbean destinations in a balcony stateroom, with an ocean view for two. Cruise winners also will receive $1,000 in ship credit and premium accommodations for two at a deluxe hotel prior to departure. There will be a total of 112 cruise packages awarded with this game.

The Florida Lottery offers more than 50 Scratch-Off games at any given time through instant ticket vending machines or on-counter displays at more than 13,000 retailers statewide. Scratch-Off games are an important part of the Lottery's portfolio of games, making up approximately 53 percent of ticket sales and generating more than $396 million for the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund in fiscal year 2009-10. For more information regarding the Florida Lottery, its games and its contributions to education, visit FlaLottery.com.

* Cruise winners will have the option of selecting from various Royal Caribbean Intl cruise vacations, subject to availability and the terms of the CRUISE FOR CASH game.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Museum For Future Cruisers & Mariners

In a nod to maritime tradition, Miami Children’s Museum and Carnival Cruise Lines recently uncorked a confetti-filled bottle to launch a redesigned cruise ship-shaped exhibit where kids can sail on a sea of discovery and learn the secrets behind one of South Florida’s leading industries.

The two-level 1,850-square foot exhibit–the country’s only cruise-themed children’s museum attraction–has been completely renovated and now offers a host of new hands-on, interactive activities that promise oceans of fun while educating kids about seagoing travel and maritime careers. New features on the exhibit’s first level include Puppet Ship Theater, where kids can learn about different maritime careers while putting on a puppet show with a cast of miniature captains, engineers, chefs, and other shipboard personnel. Young visitors also have their moment in the spotlight dressing up and performing as Carnival entertainers with dazzling, sequin-festooned costumes.

A new “What You Can Do On A Cruise” activity includes spinning and matching games that teach kids about the variety of fun on-board happenings as well as sights they might see along the way. Positioned in the “bow” of the ship-shaped exhibit is a cozy seating area where kids and parents can read a book or enjoy a quiet activity. Also located throughout the first level are hands-on tabletop activities and games, interactive wall bubbles, and “fun facts” about the Carnival vacation experience and what shipboard life is like. The exhibit’s second level, which replicates the equipment and technology found on a cruise ship bridge, is just as engaging. Here, children can plot a course in the Caribbean with authentic maps and charts, and listen to actual recordings of officers, harbor pilots, and quartermasters as they bring a vessel into port.

Kids can also see “how low can they go” with a fun limbo exercise, create their own Calypso music with bongos and steel drums that are typically associated with a “fun in the sun” Caribbean cruise or learn about shipbuilding through fun, interactive puzzles. Appropriately, the second level bridge overlooks an adjacent exhibit which replicates the Port of Miami.

The exhibit has been completely renovated, redesigned, and re-engineered to offer a more nautical feel with teak-like flooring, ship railings, portholes and other design elements. The renovation also includes dramatic lighting effects and a colorful mural that re-creates the vantage point of a cruise ship on the ocean, depicting a sea of aqua-blue waters and a Carnival ship on the horizon. Carnival’s exhibit originally debuted in conjunction with the Miami Children’s Museum’s Watson Island grand opening in 2003 and over the past seven years thousands of kids have learned about cruising and maritime careers interacting with the ship-shaped attraction.

“From the beginning, Carnival has been a valuable partner with the Museum, providing a quality exhibit where children and families can play, learn, imagine and create,” said Deborah Spiegelman, the museum’s executive director. “These fantastic new enhancements to the exhibit continue to provide a first class experience for everyone. I don’t know of any other museum that can boast about having its own cruise ship inside.”

The updated Carnival exhibit is one of 14 fun-filled galleries at the Miami Children’s Museum, located at 980 MacArthur Causeway on Watson Island in Miami. Entrance to the exhibit is included with each regular admission to the museum. Admission is $15 for adults and children, $12 for Florida residents, free for children under 1 year old, and admission for museum members is complimentary. For more information contact the Museum at 305/373-KIDS (5437) or visit MiamiChildrensMuseum.org.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Princess Cruises Reveals 2011-12 Panama Canal Season

Since its debut nearly a century ago, the Panama Canal has been considered one of the world’s most important engineering marvels. This 51-mile passageway between oceans can save a ship more than 7,000 transit miles around South America, and never ceases to amaze cruise passengers. Princess Cruises’ ships have long offered a front-row view of the Panama Canal, and in 2011-12 the line will offer 38 cruises to this signature destination, with five different itinerary options.

The Panama Canal’s history adds to its status as a “must see” destination. The single most expensive construction project in United States history at the time, “big ditch” took more than 30 years to build at a cost of about $375 million. The Canal’s lengthy history included construction efforts by two different nations and the creation of an independent Panama. In total, Canal construction involved as many as 80,000 workers and the excavation of around 268,000,000 cubic yards of earth. Today the Canal offers passage to approximately 14,000 ships a year. Princess passengers sailing the Canal will enjoy the amenities of two vessels specifically built for Panama Canal cruising–Coral Princess and Island Princess. The sides of these ships just clear the massive locks that use an average of 52 million gallons of water in each chamber as they eventually lift and lower vessels a total of 170 feet as they pass from the Caribbean to the Pacific during the nine-hour transit.

“Our ships have been transiting the Panama Canal for more than 40 years and, in fact, we even christened Coral Princess as it moved through the Canal,” said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises executive vice president. “There really is no better way to watch the fascinating process as the ship transits each lock than from the decks of our ships – it’s an exceptional way to experience this wonder of engineering.”

Princess’ unique Two-day Canal Experience, available on many longer sailings, combines a full transit of the Canal, including the Miraflores, Pedro Miguel and Gatun Locks, with a second day in Panama at Fuerte Amador. This extra day gives travelers time to explore Panama further with excursions such as riding the Panama Canal Railway, exploring a rainforest, visiting an authentic Embera Indian village or touring bustling Panama City.

Beyond the Panama Canal, these itineraries offer calls in Caribbean Islands, Mexican Riviera resort towns, and a number of intriguing ports in Central America. In Costa Rica, passengers will discover a land of tropical rain forests, lush coffee plantations and white sand coastlines set against a backdrop of majestic mountains. In San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, this scenic fishing village offers beautiful white-sand beaches and ecological richness, while the nearby city of Granada is the oldest city in Central America.

Panama Canal itineraries include:

Panama Canal Two-Day Experience CruisesCoral Princess and Island Princess will feature three itineraries offering Princess’ Two-Day Canal Experience–a full Panama Canal transit combined with a full day at Fuerte Amador on the Pacific side of Panama. The 14-day itinerary sails between Ft. Lauderdale and Los Angeles with calls at Aruba, Cartagena, and Puntarenas (Costa Rica) in addition to the Two-Day Canal Experience. A 15-day option offers an additional call in Puerto Quetzal (Guatemala). And another 15-day option sails from San Francisco to Ft. Lauderdale with calls at Cabo San Lucas, Puntarenas (Costa Rica), Cartagena, and Aruba. Sailings on these itineraries depart between Sept 25, 2011 and April 27, 2012. Coral Princess and Island Princess also offer longer Grand Adventures of 17, 18 and 19 days, sailing to and from Vancouver.

Full Panama Canal Transit Sailings–A new 14-day itinerary between Los Angeles and Ft Lauderdale, offering a full Panama Canal transit plus visits to Cabo San Lucas, San Juan del Sur (Nicaragua), Puntarenas (Costa Rica), Cartagena and Aruba. Coral Princess offers four sailings on this route, with departures on Oct 25 and Nov 8, 2011, Feb 28, and March 13, 2012.

Roundtrip Panama Canal CruisesIsland Princess will sail on this classic 10-day roundtrip itinerary from Ft. Lauderdale, which offers a partial Panama Canal transit to Gatun Lake followed by a call in Colon, plus calls in the Caribbean ports of Aruba, Cartagena, Limon (Costa Rica), and Grand Cayman or Ocho Rios. The ship offers 20 departures between Oct 10, 2011 and April 17, 2012.

Additional information about Princess Cruises is available through professional travel agents, by calling 1-800-PRINCESS, or by visiting Princess.com.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

30 Amazing Days Aboard Silver Shadow: A Circle Australia Adventure

The Outback, Great Barrier Reef, koala bears, emus, wombats, wallabies—the places and words conjure up images in my mind of adventure, romance, and the exotic. And "Crocodile Dundee," of course.

While they might not meet the famous croc-hunting star of the film (he lives in the U.S. these day) those places and sights Down Under are all on the menu for guests sailing aboard Silversea's first-ever voyage to completely circumnavigate Australia. Next year, Silver Shadow will sail on a 30-day, Sydney-to-Sydney voyage. From Jan 19 to Feb 18, the 382-guest, ultra-luxury ship will follow a counterclockwise course around the vast island continent with calls in Brisbane, Whitsunday Islands, Port Douglas, Cooktown, Darwin, Broome, Exmouth, Perth, Albany, Port Lincoln, Adelaide, Geelong, Melbourne, and Hobart (Tasmania).

"It's not often you have the chance to explore an entire continent on one voyage," said Steve Tucker, Silversea's vice president of field sales for North America. "This itinerary will hold great appeal for those who seek unique travel experiences off the beaten path."

Throughout this special voyage, guests will enjoy an exciting enrichment program, headlined by distinguished speakers from the worlds of film, art, nature, academia, winemaking and cuisine:

· Prof. Geoffrey Blainey, one of Australia's best-known historians and commentators, will share his interesting perspectives on the Sydney-to-Darwin segment, Jan 19 to 29;
· Mathew Macartney, executive chef of the Yarra Valley's famed Chateau Yering (a Relais & Châteaux member property), will join the ship Jan 25 to 29, Port Douglas to Darwin, to host culinary presentations;
· Prof. Craig Franklin, professor of zoology at the University of Queensland, will discuss Australian marine wildlife, Jan 29 to Feb 11, Darwin to Adelaide;
· Noel Miller, artist renowned for his landscapes of the Australian outback, will discuss Aboriginal art, Jan 29 to Feb 11, Darwin to Adelaide;
· Lyn Farmer, wine consultant for Silversea and James Beard Foundation Award-winning wine and food writer, will share his expertise, Darwin to Port Lincoln, Jan 29 to Feb 10;
· Jamie Sach, chief spokesperson for the iconic Penfolds Wines, will share his extensive knowledge of the wine industry, Feb 6 to 10, Perth to Port Lincoln;
· Simon Johnson, epicurean expert, will provide insight into Australia's rich abundance of artisan produce, Feb 11 to 14, Adelaide to Melbourne;
· George Francisco, executive chef of Jonah's, one of Australia's oldest and most respected hospitality establishments and a Relais & Châteaux member property, will present cooking demonstrations, Feb 13 to 18, Geelong to Sydney;
· John Stainton, the director and producer who directed all of naturalist Steve Irwin's documentaries, will lecture on Australian film, Feb 14 to 18, Melbourne to Sydney;
· Dr. Mark Elovitz, government advisor, historian and director of the Center for Strategic Geopolitics, will share his insights into world affairs throughout the 30-day voyage;
· Ian Denton, a native Australian and world explorer, will also be on board the entire voyage to host lectures as Silversea's destination consultant.

And to further showcase the region's intriguing cultures, dramatic natural beauty and exotic wildlife, the line is offering two new optional mid-voyage excursions:

** "Kangaroo Island Luxury Eco Expedition": Widely regarded as Australia's Galapagos, Kangaroo Island is brimming with diverse wildlife and natural beauty. Enjoy luxurious accommodation at the South Ocean Lodge and a staff of naturalist guides to lead your exploration of the island's unique attractions. Memorable sightings might include kangaroos, rare Cape Barron Geese, koalas and sea lions. This 3-day adventure is offered from Adelaide. Rejoin ship in Melbourne.
** "Australian Frontiers & Train Journey": Discover the heart of the Australian outback by rail aboard the glamorous Indian Pacific train as you watch unique landscapes unfold. Visit the opal-mining town of Coober Pedy, then travel to Adelaide to enjoy a culinary and wine adventure that takes in the famous Barossa Valley. This 6-day adventure is offered from Fremantle (Perth). Rejoin ship in Adelaide.

Aboard one of Cruise Diva's favorite ships, the elegant Silver Shadow, guests enjoy a crew-to-guest ratio of nearly one to one, an all-inclusive policy that includes a premium assortment of wines and spirits, impeccable service from a courteous and efficient staff, and luxurious onboard amenities. The ship's all-suite accommodations include ocean views, butler service, 24-hour room service; and fine dining features signature dishes by Relais & Châteaux. Silver Savings fares for this special 30-day Australia voyage are available. The optional mid-voyage land programs feature deluxe accommodations (if overnight stays are required), all transportation, transfers, guided sightseeing and some meals. For more information, contact your travel agent or visit Silversea.com.