Sunday, July 31, 2011

Jacksonville, Forget About Those Week-Long Cruises After All

One thing we've liked about our cruises from Jacksonville is the convenience. The city is within an easy drive of many cities in the southeast, including our hometown, and it sure beats the long haul down I-95 to port cities further south.

One thing we didn't like are the short itineraries that call only on Bahamian ports on 4-night cruises and the Bahamas and Key West on many 5-night sailings aboard Carnival Cruise Lines' Carnival Fascination. Don't get us wrong, we like the ship and the ports. It's just that we'd like more options. The planned 7-night cruises, although there were only six of them on the 2011 schedule, seemed like something we'd enjoy. It's just as easy to pack for a week-long cruise as it is for a shorter one. Although we'd pay more for the cruise itself and the parking, it wouldn't cost any more for gas to get to Jacksonville.

Alas, the 7-night cruises have been scrubbed from Carnival Fascination's line up. We suspect the lower fares for the shorter cruises fit more into travelers' budgets in the current economy.

It's a shame, but there's still Port Canaveral, where the choice of 7-night cruises includes Carnival Dream. And, after all, it isn't too much further down the Interstate for those of us who mix up our cruises with a road trip.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

When Is A Cookbook Not A Cookbook?

Answer: When Celebrity Cruises publishes a book with recipes that is elegant enough to display on your coffee table. Known for its culinary leadership and commitment to offering guests the best experience during their vacation time, Celebrity Cruises now invites them to take that experience home, with an immersive new "lifestyle" book, Excite the Senses. In the 400-page volume, Excite the Senses provides an up-close and personal look at Celebrity Cruises' dining experience, complete with recipes, rich photography, and tips for entertaining and hosting friends and family in Celebrity style at home.

"We titled this 'Excite the Senses' because what we offer onboard and what we present in the book centers around ensuring that every aspect of our culinary experience satisfies and appeals to all five senses," said Celebrity's Senior VP of Hotel Operations Lisa Lutoff-Perlo. "Our dining experience goes well beyond appealing to the senses of taste and smell alone; it appeals equally to the senses of sight, sound and touch. It's multi-dimensional, as is the content of the book, so we wanted the title to reflect that."

Inspired by Celebrity's charismatic Vice President of Culinary Operations and James Beard-nominated Master Chef Jacques Van Staden, Excite the Senses offers an inside look at Celebrity's widely varied menus; upscale, modern restaurants, and vast wine program—one of the most extensive in the business—designed to appeal to everyone from the novice to the sophisticated oenophile.

"Excite the Senses is a window into the amazing world here at Celebrity Cruises, and a core part of that world is the culinary experience," said Van Staden. "The dining experience is an essential part of every guest's vacation, and we're committed to making it particularly unique—with every dish prepared fresh, from scratch; customized menus that change daily in the main dining room; and genuine, engaging service. We do all this within chic, stylish restaurants that each have their own identity and overall atmosphere of modern luxury, which is profiled in words and rich photography in the book."

Excite the Senses features more than 250 signature recipes created by Van Staden and team, blended with easy-to-adapt tips and anecdotes from members of the line's highly-skilled, global culinary staff, and informative profiles of vintners and other partners Celebrity hand-picked to create its widely varied dining experiences. Recipes include the intimate, elegant specialty restaurant Murano's "Wild Forest Mushroom Cappuccino"; the future-forward Qsine's "Chocolate Tombstone," and, from Blu, Celebrity's specialty restaurant offered exclusively for guests in its distinctive AquaClass staterooms, "Lump Crab Martini." The beneficial "at-home" tips range from how to create the perfect antipasto and how to read a wine label, to how to pour a perfectly blended cappuccino, and how to orchestrate holiday meals to ensure every dish is served hot and fresh.

"To identify the best tips, we consulted our dedicated shipboard staff," said Van Staden. "And this book is designed to help consumers easily create a little of the artistry and magic we present onboard in their own homes."

Excite The Senses is available at CelebrityLifestyleBook.com, for a purchase price of $59.95 USD. A sneak peek at the book also can be accessed on the site. Sadly, it's not offered on Amazon.com.

Image Courtesty of Celebrity Cruises

Friday, July 29, 2011

Hit The Beach, Avoid The Burn

Take a cruise, any cruise, to a tropical destination and you'll see them. The lobsters—and not the kind on a plate at the Captain's dinner. They are the passengers whose quest for a bronzed, suntanned look went awry.

First off, I'll admit that I sought that seemingly healthy, tanned look in my younger days. I spent hours baking in the sun protected by nothing more than a mixture of baby oil and iodine, which was in vogue during my college years. As a fair-skinned person of Nordic descent, I got my share of burns and paid the price.

Over the years I thought I'd gotten smarter and built up a "base" tan by spending time in a tanning booth and shorter periods in the sun until I could eventually spend long hours at the beach without burning to a crisp. I always wore some type of protection, although it usually had a low SPF (skin protection factor) number that allowed me to tan without the burn.

Even those of us who are not fair skinned need protection. My husband found out the hard way on our first cruise that his ruddy complexion was susceptible to a painful burn in the Caribbean sun. I've even discovered strap marks on my body after a day outside when I was fully clothed.

What's a cruiser to do? After my dermatologist chided me about my past tanning episodes and how they'd "aged" my skin, he recommended the Neutrogena sunblock that is pictured above. With an SPF of 100, it's an extremely effective product (Cruise Diva is not a paid endorser) as long as it's used according to the directions. Apply it at least 15 minutes before you go out in the sun and reapply it after getting wet or toweling off. It's waterproof so it's pretty sweat resistant, but you should apply more after swimming or on exposed skin if you're out in the sun for an extended period. I've been using it for several years and I still get a bit of a tan from simply being outdoors in the summer, but I haven't gotten burned—even after spending an entire day touring sunny Florence, Italy recently.

Should you not heed the warnings, the Mayo Clinic offers these suggestions to alleviate the pain while your skin is healing:
  • Take a cool bath or shower. You can also apply a clean towel dampened with cool water.
  • Apply an aloe vera or moisturizing lotion several times a day.
  • Leave blisters intact to speed healing and avoid infection. If they burst on their own, apply an antibacterial ointment on the open areas.
  • If needed, take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen.
  • Treat peeling skin gently and continue to use moisturizing cream.
Consult your doctor for treatment if severe sunburn covers a large portion of your body with blisters; you experience a high fever or severe pain; or the sunburn doesn't begin to improve within a few days.

If you simply must return home from your cruise with a tan, Neutrogena offers lower SPF products that are equally as effective at preventing sunburn and the subsequent skin damage it causes. Whatever product you use, follow the label directions for the best outcome and enjoy your day at the beach or poolside on your ship.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Norwegian Cruise Line Salutes U.S & Canadian Armed Forces With Enhanced Military Program

We’re always pleased to see members of the armed forces recognized for their service and are especially pleased that this offer includes our Canadian allies as well. Norwegian Cruise Line has launched an enhanced military program offering special rates to members of the U.S. and Canada armed forces that features exclusive rates on select Freestyle Cruising vacations. Cruises include the line’s newest and most innovative ship Norwegian Epic, along with the only U.S. flagged cruise ship, Pride of America. Current featured destinations include 7-day cruises in the Western Mediterranean, Eastern Caribbean, and Hawaii, along with Norwegian Epic’s 13-day transatlantic crossing from Barcelona to Miami on Oct 23, 2011. Active or retired members of the military can chose from numerous sailings in 2011 or 2012. In addition, new sailings will be added on a regular basis.

“Norwegian Cruise Line salutes our military personnel for their commitment, dedication and service,” said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian’s chief executive officer. “We want to make sure that when they are ready for some rest and relaxation, we have special pricing available to show our appreciation and to ensure that they get to spend quality time with their families.”

The offer is valid for new reservations on a range of accommodations from inside staterooms to mini-suites, along with the solo-traveler friendly Studio staterooms on Norwegian Epic (although we hope our servicemen and women won’t be sailing alone). For more information about Norwegian Cruise Line, visit their website.

Image Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ships That Go Bump in Key West

Oops. At least one Carnival Cruise Lines captain will have some 'splaining to do after two of Carnival's "Fun Ships" had a fender-bender in Key West, Florida yesterday.

Thankfully no one was injured in the incident and the damage was minor to each ship's stern after Carnival Fantasy hit her near-twin Fantasy-class fleetmate Carnival Imagination while the former vessel was docking in Key West. As a routine measure in their investigation into the accident, the United States Coast Guard performed alcohol and drug tests on key personnel aboard both ships.

Carnival Imagination (pictured above) had just begun a 7-night cruise from Miami, Florida and Carnival Fantasy will return to homeport in Charleston, South Carolina on Friday. The collision isn't expected to effect either ship's schedule.

Teen Hero Honored by Norwegian Spirirt & The Port of New Orleans

Norwegian Spirit’s Captain Evans Hoyt
presents Alex Giffel with the life ring that
saved a fellow passenger’s life.
Last month Cruise Diva reported on a man overboard incident in the Mississippi River that concluded in a happy ending due to the quick thinking of a teenage passenger aboard Norwegian Spirit. At the time we received some criticism for not having more details to share, but were pleasantly surprised to subsequently find this comment on the Cruise Diva Blog, “My family was on the NCL Spirit when the man jumped from the top deck. We were on deck 7 and my 16 year old son tossed a life ring back. It took 40 minutes to get him out of the water and to the medical center. The NCL Spirit’s crew did a GREAT job for such a rare event.”

We could feel the pride in that father’s words, knowing that his son had helped to save the passenger’s life. However, beyond the young man’s age, we didn’t know much else because his father’s comment was posted anonymously. Thanks to Norwegian Cruise Line and the Port of New Orleans, now we know more and are happy to report it. Last Sunday the cruise line and the port recognized the quick actions of 16-year-old Alex Giffel of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Norwegian Spirit’s rescue team in a ceremony aboard the ship in New Orleans.

And so, here is the rest of the story. Giffel had just started a cruise vacation with his family on Sunday, June 12, 2011, onboard Norwegian Spirit when he witnessed a fellow passenger go overboard into the Mississippi River. Giffel reacted immediately by throwing a nearby life ring to the person in the water while his 21-year-old cousin, Tyler Giffel, alerted the crew. Norwegian Spirit’s rescue team quickly dispatched a rescue boat into the river and rescued the passenger, bringing him back on board to safety.

In Sunday’s ceremony, Captain Evans Hoyt thanked Giffel and as a token of appreciation presented him with the same life ring that he threw to the man in the water. Both the line and the Port of New Orleans also gave him plaques of appreciation.

“Some of us train all our whole lives to respond in an emergency and others are thrust into the situation. In either case, it comes down to the individual having a moment to respond and make the right call,” said Captain Hoyt. “The Giffel family can be proud of the quick response by Alex and Tyler, just as the Spirit team is proud of all the responders onboard whose professionalism and quick response resulted in a life being saved.”

The ceremony, which was attended by the Giffel family, representatives from the Port of New Orleans, and the ship’s senior officers, also honored Norwegian Spirit’s rescue team (pictured here with Alex and Captain Hoyt) for their successful life-saving effort. The group concluded the day with a lunch in Cagney’s Steakhouse.

We’d certainly be proud—and feel safer—to sail on any cruise with Alex Giffel and we extend our best wishes to him and our sincere appreciation for his quick thinking and heroic actions.

Images Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Crystal Cruises Comes Home (Again) for the Holidays

Here's an interesting itinerary change and "two-fer" holiday savings offer we can really get behind. Due to increased demand for a tropical, warm weather itinerary in North American waters for the 2012 winter holiday season, Crystal Cruises is moving its 2012 holiday cruise on Crystal Serenity from the Holy Land to the Caribbean.

As an added bonus, with Crystal's "Save Now, Save Later" promotion, you can save 20% on the 2012 all-inclusive Christmas/New Year's sailing by also booking one of this year's holiday voyages by Sept 15, 2011. The 2011 holiday cruises to either Hawaii or the Panama Canal/Caribbean are also value-priced at up to 58% off brochure fares.

President Gregg Michel explains: "We previously had both our ships in exotic locations for the 2012 holidays. By now moving one of our ships closer to home, we offer a combination of North American and overseas holiday choices. Plus, guests can save even more by making Crystal their luxury holiday for two years in a row."

Departing on Dec 21, 2012, the 14-day Crystal Serenity holiday cruise sails round-trip from Miami for Tortola; Barbados; St. Lucia; Guadeloupe; St. Maarten; St. Thomas; Ponce, Puerto Rico (maiden call); and Key West.

The 14-day 2011 holiday voyages this year, which depart Dec 21, 2011, remain unchanged, providing these options from both U.S. coasts:

-- HAWAII round-trip from Los Angeles (Crystal Symphony): Maui; Honolulu; Kauai; Hilo; Ensenada
-- PANAMA CANAL/CARIBBEAN round-trip from Miami (Crystal Serenity): Cozumel; Grand Cayman; Panama Canal (Gatun); Cartagena; Antigua; St. Barts; Turks and Caicos

To accommodate next year's change from the Middle East, Crystal Serenity's pre- and post-2012 holiday cruises have also been revised. Crystal Serenity now makes a Barcelona-to-Miami Trans-Atlantic crossing on Dec 9, 2012, and follows the holidays with a Jan 4, 2013 Caribbean cruise round-trip from Miami to Tortola; St. Kitts; Point-a-Pitre, St. Lucia; St. Barts; St. Maarten; and Turks and Caicos.

All cruises include complimentary airfare from 24 North American gateways (or air credit), with additional savings for family or friend groups via Crystal's Family Memories Program. For more information visit Crystal Cruises online.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cunard’s Queen Victoria: Back To The Americas

A quiet corner in the Queens Arcade
For those of us on this side of the Atlantic, whether American or Canadian, a cruise on Cunard Line may seem a journey too far and a bit out of our reach. However, if we can’t get to Great Britain or Europe for a sailing in Cunard style, Cunard Line is now offering us another opportunity to do so closer to home. The venerable cruise line plans to reprise Queen Victoria’s Americas Season in late 2011 and early 2012, which includes updated itineraries through the Panama Canal and voyages to the tropical Hawaiian Islands.

During the upcoming Americas Season, guests aboard Queen Victoria can revel in the luxury of time both on and off the ship, with stops that highlight the natural beauty and tranquility of the Panama Canal, Hawaii, the Caribbean, and Mexico. Depending on the voyage, itineraries will include port calls at exotic locales including Costa Rica, St. Thomas, and Honolulu:

• 15-day Panama Canal Explorer (new) departs on Dec 6, 2011 and Jan 30, 2012 from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles, and sails from Los Angeles to Ft. Lauderdale on Jan 4, with stops in Oranjestad (Aruba), Panama Canal transit, Puntarenas (Costa Rica), Puerto Quetzal (Guatemala), Huatulco (Mexico), Acapulco (Mexico) and Manzanillo (Mexico).

• 11-day Roundtrip Panama Canal departs from Fort Lauderdale on Jan 19, 2012, calling on Charlotte Amalie (St. Thomas), St. John’s (Antigua), St. George’s (Grenada), Bonaire (Netherlands Antilles) and a partial transit of the Panama Canal.

• 17-day Panama Canal Treasures departs Feb 28, 2012 from Los Angeles, calling on Manzanillo (Mexico), Acapulco (Mexico), Huatulco (Mexico), Puntarenas (Costa Rica), Panama Canal transit, Oranjestad (Aruba), Charlotte Amalie (St. Thomas) and New York.

• 14-day Hawaiian Adventure departs roundtrip from Los Angeles on Dec 21, 2011 and Feb 14, 2012, calling on Hilo (Hawaii), Honolulu (Oahu), Nawiliwili (Kauai) and Lahaina (Maui), as well as a quick visit to Ensenada (Mexico).

“From the Panama Canal, one of the world’s greatest engineering feats, to some of the most legendary islands, Queen Victoria’s Americas voyages are quickly becoming a new Cunard classic,” said Peter Shanks, president of Cunard Line.

The legacy of Cunard’s ocean liners lives on through Queen Victoria’s Americas Season, combining the brand’s legendary hallmarks with modern age contemporary sophistication to create a unique memorable voyage for each guest. Aboard Queen Victoria, passengers can customize their itineraries according to their interests, with such activities as enjoying traditional afternoon tea served by white-gloved waiters, attending a stimulating Cunard Insights lecture, rejuvenating body and mind at the spa, dressing up for Royal Nights themed balls, sipping cocktails in one of the ship’s sophisticated bars and lounges, or simply relaxing poolside with a good book. For more information, take a Queen Victoria Tour with Cruise Diva, or visit Cunard.com.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

“The Haven” by Norwegian: Posh Accommodations Planned For Project Breakaway

As we reported yesterday, one of Norwegian Cruise Line’s innovations for the 21st Century has been the ship-within-a-ship concept, now branded “The Haven” by Norwegian. Copied by others, Norwegian’s private suite complex is still unique in that their Jewel-class ships (Norwegian Jewel, Jade, Pearl, and Gem) introduced the largest suites at sea—the 5,000 square foot, three-bedroom Garden Villas. While Jewel-class ships have 18 suites adjacent to The Haven and Norwegian Epic sports the largest suite complex at sea with 60, the two ships in the Project Breakaway class will feature 42 suites located on Decks 15 and 16 forward.

Although the square footage for the suite categories isn’t available yet, Cruise Diva is pleased to share renderings of some of Project Breakaway’s most luxurious accommodations. Cruise Diva’s initial impression is that Norwegian’s designers nailed the ‘modern boutique hotel meets the sea’ theme with some stylish yet serene décor.

The most luxurious and largest suites within The Haven are two Deluxe Owner’s Suites, which include an elegantly appointed living room and dining area that also features a wet bar (pictured right). In the bedroom, there is a plush king size bed with pillow top mattress that faces floor-to-ceiling windows and an extra-spacious wraparound private balcony. In the bathroom, there is an oversized bath tub, two modern vanity sinks and a luxury shower. The Deluxe Owner’s Suites can be joined to the Owner’s Suites, creating one grand suite that can sleep up to eight guests.

The 21 Two-Bedroom Family Villas feature two bedrooms and two bathrooms which are perfect for families. The separate living room and dining area (illustrated at left) includes a single sofa bed, writing desk, bar and more. The master bedroom features a luxurious king-size bed, floor-to-ceiling windows and a private balcony. The master bath features separate luxury shower, an oversize oval tub that looks out to the sea, two modern vanity sinks and a variety of bath appointments. The second bedroom includes a double sofa bed and bathroom.

Rounding out the accommodations inside The Haven are the 17 Courtyard Penthouses which feature a king size bed with pillow top mattress, living and dining area, a single sofa bed, writing desk and lots of storage spaces (pictured right).

On other decks throughout the ship, there are eight aft-facing penthouses and 10 forward-facing penthouses. The forward penthouses include a living room and dining area featuring a double sofa bed and writing desk. The bathroom is ultra modern with double bowl sinks, a curved oval bathtub and separate shower.

Norwegian is also continuing with the popular Spa Suites introduced on Norwegian Epic. There are 16 Spa Suites with tranquil spa décor, king-size bed, dining area and an in-suite whirlpool for the ultimate in luxury (at left). These Spa Suites also feature easy access to the adjacent spa and fitness center, as well as complimentary access to the thermal spa suite during operating hours. The bathroom features an oversized spa-like shower with a waterfall shower head and multiple body spray jets, along with a separate handheld shower head and two vanity sinks.

Each of the Project Breakaway ships will be 144,017 gross tons and have approximately 4,000 passenger berths. Scheduled for delivery in April 2013 and April 2014, Norwegian plans more announcements about Project Breakaway throughout the summer, fall and, beyond with the first ship scheduled to open for reservations this October. Information on Project Breakaway can be found at NCL.com/breakaway.

As promised, we have even more suite illustrations to share below:

Deluxe Owner's Suite Bedroom

Deluxe Owner's Suite Bathroom
Two-Bedroom Family Villa Bedroom

Two-Bedroom Family Villa Bathroom
Forward-Facing Penthouse Living Room
Forward-Facing Penthouse Bedroom
Forward-Facing Penthouse Bathroom

For more accommodations images, see Cruise Diva's Norwegian Cruise Line Begins “Project Breakaway” Reveal.

Images Courtesy Norwegian Cruise Line

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Norwegian Cruise Line Introduces “The Haven”

Norwegian Cruise Line introduced the ship-within-a-ship concept to the cruise industry in 2005 with their Courtyard complexes of high end suites offering private areas to relax atop their Jewel-class ships and Norwegian Epic. Now Norwegian has revealed that the exclusive suite complex for its two new Project Breakaway ships will be named The Haven by Norwegian. The company also announced that the suite complexes on five of its ships—Norwegian Epic, Gem, Pearl, Jade, and Jewel—will also be renamed The Haven by Norwegian and released the rendering below that illustrates The Haven’s contemporary, chic Courtyard that will be available on Project Breakaway ships.

“These private enclaves at the top of the ships are home to our most luxurious, well-appointed and spacious accommodations offering the utmost in service and elegance. With the introduction of the suite complex on our Breakaway ships, we felt it was appropriate to brand this space as The Haven by Norwegian to better identify and describe the unique luxury cruising experience we offer,” said said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian’s chief executive officer.

Norwegian’s Jewel class ships (Norwegian Jewel, Jade, Pearl, and Gem) include up to 18 suites as part of The Haven, including the largest suites at sea—the 5,000 square foot, three-bedroom Garden Villas. All of these suites surround The Haven Courtyard that includes a pool, sundeck, hot tub, fitness room, and more. The Haven on Norwegian Epic is the largest suite complex at sea, comprising 60 suites on two private decks at the top of the ship. An additional 15 suites also have access to The Haven. These guests have exclusive access to The Haven Courtyard featuring a pool, two whirlpools, gym, saunas, sundeck, along with a restaurant with indoor/outdoor dining, bar and concierge lounge.

The Haven guests also have an array of amenities, including private butler and concierge service. Norwegian is enhancing the experience in The Haven by expanding existing butler service to 24 hours and having butlers trained and certified by the International Institute of Modern Butlers. The Line is also adding a poolside valet in the Courtyard who will provide more personalized service poolside. In-suite dining has been enhanced to white tablecloth service.

Norwegian ensures that guests staying in The Haven will be pampered with privacy, personalized service and a deluxe array of complimentary amenities so they can experience everything a luxury vacation should offer. The Haven’s exclusive benefits include priority embarkation and disembarkation; distinctive platinum keycard; priority boarding of tenders to shore; in-suite espresso/cappuccino machines; gourmet treats delivered each evening; Bliss Collection by Norwegian™ pillow-top mattress; fine linens, feather duvet and pillow menu; along with plush bathrobes, slippers, oversized towels; and much more.

“When I described the design theme for Breakaway’s staterooms recently I called it ‘modern boutique hotel meets the sea,’” added Sheehan. “Now with The Haven by Norwegian, we truly have our own private boutique hotel on Norwegian Epic, Gem, Pearl, Jade, and Jewel, along with our new Project Breakaway ships, offering the ultimate in luxury and service at sea.”

On the Project Breakaway ships, The Haven, consisting of 42 suites located on Decks 15 and 16 forward, includes a private restaurant (illustrated above), a cocktail bar (pictured right) and a concierge desk where Haven guests can relax, have a drink and make dining, entertainment, or spa reservations through the dedicated concierge. In the center of The Haven, the two-story courtyard area features a pool with a deep end for swimming and a shallow area for relaxing, two whirlpools, and a private sundeck, along with two private massage rooms, changing areas and a sauna. The Haven guests also have direct, private access to the ship’s spa and fitness center.

Each of the Project Breakaway ships will be 144,017 gross tons and will have approximately 4,000 passenger berths. They are scheduled for delivery in April 2013 and April 2014. The first ship is scheduled to open for reservations this October. Information on Project Breakaway can be found at NCL.com/breakaway.

Stay tuned and bookmark the Cruise Diva blog to view some of the sweetest suite images soon to be afloat. We will be sharing them here tomorrow.

Images Courtesy Norwegian Cruise Line

Friday, July 22, 2011

Shower Essentials For Your Cruise

Regular Cruise Diva Blog readers may recall our story last November about An Updated Paper Luggage Tag Solution. We've used those Cruise Luggage Tag Holders from Favors by Serendipity* when boarding a half dozen cruise ships since then and they never fail to draw favorable comments from our fellow passengers about how useful they are. Not only useful, they are sturdy and hold up so well that we plan to use them many more times.

In addition to recognizing the need for luggage tag holders, the creative folks at Favors by Serendipity have obviously taken note of the old cruise director's joke about cruise ship cabin showers being less than spacious—"Don't drop the soap, there isn't room in the shower to bend over to retrieve it"—and have come up with a couple solutions to make those tight showers a bit more cruiser-friendly.

First is the Cruise/Travel Shower Caddy, designed to be perfectly sized for cruise ship showers, whether you bring your own travel size products, or use the ones provided. Custom designed to hold travel size bottles, it's lightweight and flat so it doesn't take up room in your suitcase (or the shower). It also doesn't interfere with any existing shelving, thus doubling or even tripling your toiletry storage space.

The Cruise/Travel Shower Caddy features:

   • 3 Velcro straps that fit any horizontal bar
   • 3 pockets for travel size products
   • 2 pockets for other essentials
   • Side tab with Velcro for razor or shower puff
   • Sturdy loops to be used with suction cup hooks (hooks included)

The Shower Caddy is machine washable and comes in a reusable vinyl pouch. Cruise Diva installed it in her shower at home following the directions (mount on a smooth clean surface by moistening the cups and pushing directly onto wall, then press hooks down for a strong seal) and it's stayed put for days, even fully loaded as illustrated above. To remove, you just raise the hooks to release the seal.

Also in the above photo is the second new product from Favors by Serendipity, the Soap Pocket On-A-Rope. We knotted it to hang it from the Shower Caddy suction hook for illustration purposes, but the rope is lengthy enough to hang freely well below the caddy. In your cruise ship shower, simply find a place to hang the rope, keep your soap in the soft mesh Soap Pocket, and when you lather up you will never drop it again (cruise directors will just have to find something else to joke about in the future). Leave your soap in the pocket after your shower since it dries well between uses.

Both the Shower Caddy and Soap Pocket On-A-Rope are well made and the Cruise Diva family plans to use them on all our future cruises.

*Favors by Serendipity has been in business since 1975 creating everything from handcrafted items to wedding and party favors.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Groundbreaking Ceremony Held for New Grand Turk Downtown Welcome Center

Since its opening in February 2006, the $60 million Grand Turk Cruise Center has served as a gateway to the island, encompassing a two-ship pier, a 14-acre complex offering a variety of shops and restaurants, an 800-foot-long private beach, private cabanas, and a FlowRider simulated surfing attraction. In January, the center unveiled Splashdown: Grand Turk, a 3,500-square-foot attraction commemorating the 1962 splashdown of the NASA’s Friendship 7 Mercury space capsule off the island’s coast.

The Grand Turk Cruise Center is so inviting that many passengers treat it almost as a “Private Island” and fail to leave the area during their port call. That really is a shame because Grand Turk is an enjoyable and unspoiled slice of the Caribbean. However, soon there will be another reason to head out and explore. A groundbreaking ceremony was held late last week for a new $3 million Grand Turk Welcome Center featuring a variety of retail establishments within the island’s historic downtown.

Over a year in development, the project is being funded by Carnival Corporation and is believed to be the largest single private investment in the downtown area. Located at the southeast corner of Front Street and Market Street in downtown Grand Turk, the new Welcome Center (pictured in the aerial rendering above) will encompass a cluster of buildings totaling more than 23,000 square feet of air-conditioned space, including a restaurant/lounge, various shopping outlets, and a tourist information office. Construction is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. Buildings will include design elements patterned after the island’s distinctive architectural style with large picture windows framed by cantilevered wood shutters, ornate ironwork, covered walkways and entrances, a wraparound balcony, and a courtyard that joins the two structures. A large reproduction of a cactus–a signature feature closely associated with Grand Turk–rests atop a red triangular roof of one of the buildings.

Designed by Providenciales-based Projectech Construction Management Services, Ltd., the Welcome Center is expected to be a popular spot with locals and cruise ship guests arriving on the island via the Grand Turk Cruise Center, which is operated by Carnival Corp. This year, the Grand Turk Cruise Center expects to host some 300 cruise ship calls from 16 different cruise brands totaling nearly 640,000 passengers.

Image Courtesy Carnival Cruise Lines

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Celebrity Cruises Invites You to Watch Celebrity Silhouette’s Naming Ceremony

In a first for Celebrity Cruises, the world has been invited to join the premium cruise line as it welcomes Celebrity Silhouette to the stunning Solstice Class of ships. The official naming and ribbon-cutting ceremony will be streamed live on Facebook from Hamburg, Germany on Thursday, July 21 at 11:00 am ET.

Viewers will have a great view of the ceremony by visting Facebook.com/CelebrityCruises and then clicking on the “Livestream” link along the left side of the site (click “more” first if you don’t see the Livestream link right away). The experience will be interactive for online viewers who can post comments to each other throughout the naming. The ceremony will also be broadcast across the Celebrity Cruises fleet so that guests onboard the other nine ships can partake in this exciting event. An archived version of the event will also be available after the ceremony for those who cannot catch it live.

The ceremony will feature Michelle Morgan, the president and CEO of Signature Travel Network, as the Godmother for the new ship. Richard D. Fain, Chairman of Celebrity Cruises and Chairman and CEO of parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., and Dan Hanrahan, Celebrity Cruises President and CEO, will honor Morgan in an exhilarating evening where the traditional champagne bottle is broken on the hull and Celebrity Silhouette’s finest entertainers will deliver a show-stopping performance.

Celebrity Silhouette, the fourth ship in the Solstice Class fleet, will offer a host of new onboard features and amenities for cruisers to truly capitalize on their vacation time. Some highlights include:

• Lawn Club Grill, the first large-ship outdoor, interactive grill restaurant where guests can grill alongside a Celebrity Cruises chef for a $30 reservation fee.
• The Art Studio, a space within The Lawn Club where guests can participate in intimate, hands-on instruction from experts in drawing, painting and beading, as well as the art of food, with plating, tastings, mixology and other culinary-themed classes.
• The Alcoves, a private retreat overlooking the lawn, ocean and coastlines, featuring eight exclusive, cabana-style settings, each designed for two to four guests.
• A new craft beer focus in Michael’s Club lounge, with a variety of unique brews, bites and snacks to complement them, and flat-screen TVs for viewing sporting events.
• The Hideaway, a high-tech, avant-garde treehouse-like spot for vacationers relaxing with their iPads or perhaps reading a good book within cozy, intimate lounging “nests.”
• The Porch, where guests can enjoy quick, casual breakfast or lunch against a backdrop of views of the lawn and sea for a $5 fee.

American Cruise Lines Launches Queen of the Mississippi in Old-Fashioned Style


Now, this is something Cruise Diva would have loved to personally witness—a real honest-to-goodness old fashioned launch of a ship (in this case, techincally a “boat”) into the water. That’s the way ships used to be launched, although not from the side as you will see in the time lapse photos here. This is American Cruise Lines’ launching of the Queen of the Mississippi, a brand new sternwheeler built for the Mississippi and traditional river cruising. On Sunday, July 17th, the launching went picture perfect at nine weeks ahead of schedule at Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Maryland. Pictured above, she is on blocks and ready to go. Below, she makes a big splash. The new riverboat then settled calmly in the water to await the tugboats that nudged her into Chesapeake Shipbuilding’s Outfitting Basin Number 2 where the upper decks and outfitting will be completed.


“The birth of a new ship is a significant milestone,” said Timothy Beebe, Vice President, American Cruise Lines. “Watching the Queen of the Mississippi come to life is a fascinating experience. It’s history in the making and we encourage everyone to tune in as construction proceeds.”

The Queen of the Mississippi launching comes just a few weeks after the riverboat’s two hull sections, weighing nearly 500 tons apiece, were joined together (you can see that right here on the Cruise Diva blog). With the completion of the fourth and fifth decks up next, Queen of the Mississippi’s superstructure will come together quickly, giving shape to the first riverboat built for the Mississippi in many, many years—and which the line promises will be the grandest ever.

The Queen of the Mississippi will boast huge staterooms larger than any former Mississippi riverboat, spacious private balconies and all of the amenities today’s travelers expect, while maintaining the elegance and traditional Victorian appearance of classic Mississippi riverboats. American Cruise Lines will operate the sternwheeler over the entire Mississippi River System, with the option of cruising at significantly higher speeds to make more itineraries possible than ever before on the Mississippi River, with longer visits to the river towns. A number of unique 7-, 10-, and 14-day cruises are planned that take passengers as far as St. Paul, MN on the Mississippi River and Pittsburgh, PA on the Ohio River. visit their website to learn more about American Cruise Lines.

Photos Courtesy of American Cruise Lines

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Oceania Cruises: ‘Riviera’—She Floats

When water first touches the hull of a ship under construction it’s a time to celebrate and Oceania Cruises did just that last Saturday, July 16th, as the line’s new 1,250-guest Riviera reached that milestone and was afloat for the first time. Pictured here, Riviera has moved from the construction dock to her fitting-out berth where shipyard workers will focus on finishing her interiors, which were designed in concert with the renowned team from Y&S of Oslo, Norway.

Riviera’s guests will sail in 625 beautifully appointed and custom-crafted accommodations—some of which are among the largest at sea, ranging from 174 to a whopping 2,000-plus square feet. The top category suites will reflect a chic, residential elegance with designs by Dakota Jackson of New York City and S.B. Long Interiors of Greenwich, CT and furnishings from Ralph Lauren Home. Standard staterooms are stylishly furnished and offer the comforts of home. The ship will also feature a Lalique-designed grand lobby, 10 dining venues and numerous bars and lounges. Facilities will include a full-service Canyon Ranch SpaClub and fitness center and innovative Bon Appétit Culinary Center, as well as the ubiquitous swimming pool and hot tubs.

In her inaugural year, Riviera will cruise the Mediterranean and then cross the Atlantic where she will spend the winter cruising the yacht harbors of the Caribbean. Images of the ship under construction can be found at OceaniaCruisesBlog.com.

Photo Courtesy of Oceania Cruises

Monday, July 18, 2011

Celebrity Cruises “Takes The Keys” To Celebrity Silhouette

It’s official: Celebrity Cruises took ownership of the new Celebrity Silhouette in a celebratory handoff ceremony today with colleagues from shipbuilder Meyer Werft. Richard D. Fain, chairman and CEO of Celebrity’s parent company, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., and Celebrity’s President and CEO Dan Hanrahan participated in the event, which marks the transfer of ownership of the vessel from the shipyard to Celebrity. We assume there was a check involved (a very large chack) in addition to keys and the owner’s pink slip.

Following a formal naming ceremony and preview cruise July 21-23, Celebrity Silhouette will set sail from Hamburg, Germany, on July 23 on a 7-night cruise to Civitavecchia (for Rome), where the ship will present roundtrip 12-night Mediterranean/Holy Land sailings until November, when the vessel will be the first Solstice Class ship to offer cruises from the New York/New Jersey market.

Celebrity Silhouette will enhance guests’ vacation time with a host of industry-first venues and experiences within The Lawn Club, including the interactive “Lawn Club Grill,” where guests can select and grill their own meats side-by-side with Celebrity’s chefs (or have them cooked to order); the relaxing, private, wi-fi-equipped cabanas called “The Alcoves”; “The Porch,” a breezy, casual dining spot offering sandwiches, coffees, and views of the sea and the ship’s lush lawn; and “The Art Studio,” where passengers can bring out their inner artist. The ship also will introduce another entirely new venue, “The Hideaway,” an intimate, quiet space reminiscent of a childhood tree house, and a new twist on Celebrity’s “Michael’s Club,” with a selection of more than 50 beers from around the world, including craft beers. For more information, visit Celebrity Cruises online.

It's Not Too Early To Think About Celebrating The Holidays With Silversea

There was a time when high end department stores like Marshall Field's offered "Christmas In July" sales. Complete with understated décor, for a limited time shoppers had a summertime incentive to begin their holiday gift quest months in advance. These days nearly all retail outlets begin their enticements early, but not quite as early as mid-summer. However, there is one holiday plan that cruise travelers should think about soon and that's their cruise booking.

If you're planning to get away for the holidays this year, Silversea Cruises invites you to wrap yourself in pampering luxury this season with a collection of enticing voyages that span the globe from Africa and the South Pacific to the Caribbean and South America. This year the all-suite, intimate ships of Silversea offer an elegant way to revel in the joy of the holiday season with cruises ranging from nine to 18 days. Designed to be your "home upon the oceans of the world," Silversea's all-inclusive ships feature spacious ocean-view suites, most with private veranda, and the highest level of personalized service. Highlighting the onboard ambiance for these voyages will be festive decorations, parties, menus and entertainment. With the exception of expedition cruises, clergy will be on board to conduct religious services, including a rabbi for Hanukkah. Plus distinguished guest lecturers and destination experts will also be on hand to host enlightening presentations.

"Our holiday voyages are designed to offer an escape from the pressure of deadlines and having to plan parties and prepare meals," said Steve Tucker, Silversea's vice president of field sales for North America. "Instead we offer a stress-free retreat where the focus is on authentic pleasures--discovering new places, making new friends, and spending quality time with loved ones."

Add in "Passport to Luxury" Onboard Spending Credits of up to $1,000 per suite offered on these holiday voyages and you can choose to indulge in a little extra pampering in the spa or use the credit toward a number of other options, including any Silver Shore excursions (none are excluded), premium selections from the Connoisseur's List of wines and spirits, specialty restaurant dining fees, and/or purchases in the Internet Café and onboard boutiques.

The following 2011 voyages offer the perfect setting for celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, or the New Year:

Silver Whisper; Santiago to Fort Lauderdale, 17 Days, Dec 20-Jan 6.
Silver Spirit: Fort Lauderdale to Fort Lauderdale, 14 Days, Dec 20-Jan 3.
Silver Shadow: Sydney to Auckland, 15 Days, Dec 21-Jan 5.
Silver Cloud: San Diego to Fort Lauderdale, 16 Days, Dec 22-Jan 7.

In addition, you can enjoy a traditional American Thanksgiving feast on Nov 24 aboard all Silversea voyages. In the photo above, that's Cruise Diva's traditional turkey being carved aboard Silver Shadow on a previous Thanksgiving cruise from Rio to Buenos Aires.

For more information on Silversea Cruises, Silversea.com.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Princess Cruises: Let’s Make A Deal

Mark your calendar and get ready to score a deal on the “Love Boat” of your dreams. Princess Cruises is offering special fares to some of its most popular warm-weather destinations, including the Caribbean, Panama Canal, Hawaii, and Tahiti, during a 3-day Sale running between July 20-22. Book during the event to save up to $1,000 per couple off Launch Fares, plus as a special bonus, receive as much as $100 in onboard credit per stateroom. Selected fall/winter 2011-12 cruises featured in the sale depart between Sept 21, 2011 and April 27, 2012, which just so happens to be the perfect time for getting away from cold winter weather.

In addition, passengers booking interior or oceanview staterooms can receive an onboard credit of $25 (cruises up to 9 days) to $50 (cruises 10 days or longer), and in balcony staterooms or above can get credits of $50 (cruises up to 9 days) or $100 (for sailings 10 days or longer). All onboard credits are offered per stateroom.

“If travelers are dreaming of getting away to tropical waters, this is a fantastic time to book,” said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises executive vice president. “This sale offers some of our lowest rates to the sunny beaches and colorful islands of these spectacular destinations, so it’s a great opportunity to relax onboard and enjoy the warm welcome of a Princess ship.”

What can you get and where can you go? Examples of savings include:

• 7-day Classic Southern Caribbean for $449 per person, plus up to $50 onboard credit
• 10-day Panama Canal for $899, plus up to $100 onboard credit
• 14-day Hawaiian Islands for $1,199, plus up to $100 onboard credit
• 11-day Hawaii and Tahiti for $1,695, plus up to $100 onboard credit

All cruise prices are per person, and onboard credits are per stateroom. The 3-day Sale runs from 5:00 a.m. PDT on July 20 through 6:59 p.m. PDT on July 22, and is available to residents of the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico. The only downside to the deal is that reservations made during the 3-day Sale require a non-refundable deposit.

Start making your plans. Additional information about Princess Cruises is available through a professional travel agent, by calling 1-800-PRINCESS, or by visiting the company's website at Princess.com.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Norwegian’s Must-See TV

If you forgot to set your DVR to record it when it originally aired, Norwegian Cruise Line’s episode of the Emmy-nominated hit reality series "Undercover Boss" will be rebroadcast tomorrow, July 17, 2011 at 9 p.m. ET (8 p.m. CT) on the CBS Television Network. The show, which first aired on Jan 2, 2011, was seen by more than 14 million people in the US and has also aired in Canada, Australia and Norway. According to Nielsen, Norwegian Cruise Line’s episode of Undercover Boss was the most-recalled brand appearance in a prime-time broadcast show in January.

Relive the suspense as Norwegian’s CEO Kevin Sheehan has his cover blown by a waitress in the Manhattan Room restaurant on Norwegian Epic and his embarrassment as he hosts the line’s signature White Hot Party, where he’s forced to step out of his comfort zone to lead a crowd of more than 1,000 guests in a line dance. Sheehan also spent time on Pride of America in Hawaii, where he worked alongside a deck repairman, John, a fellow New Yorker, who was quite critical of Sheehan’s performance.

“While I may not have performed the tasks as well as our amazing crew during the experience, we’ve received a tremendous amount of support from guests and travel partners as a result of our Undercover Boss episode,” said Sheehan. “I think the viewers were in awe of our amazing ships and phenomenal hard working crew and truly felt a connection with us.”

As an exclusive offer for the rebroadcast of the episode, if you book a Norwegian cruise vacation between July 16 and July 18, 2011 will receive a bonus of up to $200 to spend on board (based on cruise length and category) and reduced deposits for fleet-wide sailings in 2012 and 2013.

And for our friends up north in Canada, Norwegian’s Norwegian Epic will be featured on the season premiere of Discovery Channel Canada’s popular show “Mighty Ships.” For the premiere of its fifth season, “Mighty Ships” will air its Norwegian Epic episode on Wednesday, July 20 at 8 p.m. ET (10 p.m. PT) on Canada’s Discovery Channel.

In the hour-long episode, viewers will have a chance to get an in-depth look at the new 155,873 gross ton ship, including a behind-the-scene look at areas such as the laundry facility, ballast tanks, galley and the bridge. The show follows key ship personnel as Norwegian Epic sails a weeklong Western Caribbean cruise that took place in February. Viewers will see Hotel Director Klaus Lugmaier interact with the 4,200 guests on board; Entertainment Director Simon Murray manage world-class entertainment including Blue Man Group and Cirque Dreams and Dinner™; as well as Captain Hakan Svedung navigate through a narrow harbor with crosswinds.

Each episode of “Mighty Ships” goes on board and behind-the-scenes of a different ship. Season five of Mighty Ships sails like never before, with incredible vessels ranging from the billion-dollar Norwegian Epic to an exclusive look inside the newest missile destroyer in the U.S. Navy, the USS Gravely. Audiences experience a unique combination of “high stakes, high seas and high drama.” The episode will air in the US and internationally in the coming months, so we Americans will be able to see it eventually as well.

Norwegian Epic is currently sailing from Barcelona, Spain to the Western Mediterranean through Oct 23, 2011. Beginning Nov 5, 2011, Norwegian Epic will return to Miami and sail 7-day cruises to the Eastern Caribbean calling on St. Maarten, Virgin Islands; St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; and Nassau, Bahamas. For more information about Norwegian Cruise Line and Norwegian Epic, visit NCL.com.

Photo Courtesay of Norwegian Cruise Line

Friday, July 15, 2011

Celebrity Cruises’ New Celebrity Silhouette Expands “Shopportunities”

Like you, Cruise Diva enjoys spending some of her time at sea indulging in a bit of leisurely shopping. Whether I buy anything or not is irrelevant—it’s the browsing and discovery of new products, as well as the re-discovery of old favorites, that I relish.

Celebrity Cruises seems to have read my mind in their quest to present an innovative onboard shopping atmosphere that makes my cruises more special. So I was pleased to learn that a shopping experience I was first introduced to on Silversea Cruises' fleet nearly a decade ago—and that has sadly disappeared from their ships—is making an appearance on Celebrity Silhouette. When the line’s newest ship sets sail from Hamburg, Germany on July 23rd, its inviting shopping “boulevard” will introduce a boutique dedicated to one of the world’s leading luxury brands: Bulgari.

“Our guests tend to appreciate products that are luxurious and sophisticated, with a modern, contemporary flair, and Bulgari is renowned for consistently delivering that,” said Celebrity’s Senior VP of Hotel Operations Lisa Lutoff-Perlo. “This brand’s recognized commitment to innovative design, style and quality makes it an ideal fit with the Celebrity Cruises product and experience.”

Across its product portfolio of jewelry, watches, accessories, fragrances and more, Bulgari has long been admired for its bold, sophisticated style, meticulous craftsmanship, and unique design. The Bulgari boutique on Celebrity Silhouette will present a wide variety of exceptional jewelry, watches, and sunglasses. I only hope they also carry my all time favorite fragrance (pictured here).

Among the other brands to be found in the plethora of shops onboard Celebrity Silhouette will be Mad Bags, whose handbags are created from textiles such as eco-friendly bamboo, animal-friendly leathers, and hand-woven taffeta silks; Soybu, which blends eco-friendly fibers into the soft, vibrantly colored fabrics of its women’s performance apparel; Eileen Fisher, well-known for apparel boasting a sophisticated, easy elegance; the legendary Tommy Bahama brand of resort apparel; Calypso St. Barth’s, with a self-proclaimed no-fuss approach to chic resort-wear; Mar Y Sol, which creates authentic, handmade accessories using natural materials from Madagascar’s precious forests; Big Buddha, which made its mark through the pop hardware and vibrant colors of its bags and shoes; and La Regale, a leader in special occasion handbags.

Additionally, Celebrity Silhouette will offer an expanded selection of watches, including a boutique space dedicated to the Omega line, in addition to models from Chopard, Fendi Crazy Carats, Longines, Michele, Tag Heuer, and Tissot. Hip sunglasses from category leaders Maui Jim, Oakley, and Ray-Ban will be featured and Celebrity’s private label “Blue Collection” sportswear will be expanded on Celebrity Silhouette. Celebrity Silhouette’s array of cosmetics will include leading brands. Also look for a variety of ethnic gifts and merchandise reflective of the communities and cultures in which the ship is sailing. For more information, visit Celebrity Cruises online.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Godmother For Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Silhouette Revealed

Celebrity Cruises has announced the appointment of Michelle Morgan, CTC, the president and CEO of Signature Travel Network, to serve as Godmother of the cruise line’s newest Solstice Class ship, Celebrity Silhouette. Who is she? Not a celebrity or even famous, Morgan is the first travel industry executive to serve as Godmother of a Celebrity ship and will preside over the line’s first naming ceremony to be held in Hamburg, Germany, on July 21.

A 33-year travel marketing executive, Morgan joined Signature Travel in 1991, when the company had 30 locations in Southern California. Today, it has grown to 350 locations in 38 states and two providences in Canada, with sales exceeding USD $5-billion. The member-owned co-operative has enjoyed explosive growth over the past 20 years. As president and CEO, Morgan has been instrumental in framing the organization's strategic direction, partnership development, marketing, technology, and member services programs. She takes special pride in the fact that her company has the lowest attrition rate of any network.

Morgan takes her place alongside other Solstice Class Godmothers as a courageous breast cancer survivor. Despite enduring two series of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation, she says she didn’t allow the disease to define her.

“Michelle Morgan personifies all of the qualities we seek in our Solstice Class Godmothers: remarkable strength and courage in both her professional and personal life, along with optimism, warmth and a very engaging personality, all of which have made her so admired throughout the industry,” said Celebrity Cruises President and CEO Dan Hanrahan.

Morgan shares Celebrity Cruises’ devotion to the breast cancer cause, through Signature Travel Network’s participation in the industry’s breast cancer awareness month in October, and says Signature’s board will be exploring fundraising programs for breast cancer research this year. Meanwhile, Celebrity Cruises plans to extend its efforts to support the cause, which began in 2008 with its Celebrity Solstice event to raise funds for breast cancer screenings for low-income women, and its sponsorship of the first “Celebrity Sunwalk,” in association with Walk the Walk, a breast cancer charity founded by the Godmother of Celebrity Equinox, Nina Barough. In addition to continuing to work with Walk the Walk in the UK, Celebrity also will introduce a variety of year-long fundraising activities to further support breast cancer research this year.

Following Celebrity Silhouette’s naming cruise July 21-23, the ship will set sail from Hamburg to Civitavecchia (for Rome), Italy, where it will sail 12-night roundtrip Mediterranean/Holy Land voyages through October. The ship will offer Celebrity’s first Solstice Class sailings from the Northeast beginning in November, when Celebrity Silhouette offers 12-night Caribbean vacations roundtrip from the port of Cape Liberty (Bayonne), NJ. For more information, visit CelebrityCruises.com.

Photo: CruiseDiva.com

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Royal Caribbean Embarks on "Revitalization of the Seas"

Settle back with your favorite beverage because this announcement is a biggie. Royal Caribbean plans to invest approximately $300 million to bring the latest innovations to the cruise line's ships across the fleet and introduce the highest guest-rated programs from its award-winning Oasis-class ships. The revitalizations will offer guests a greater variety of new onboard dining and entertainment options, pervasive Wi-Fi, iPod docking stations, and many more amenities, to deliver even more of the "WOW" aboard all Royal Caribbean ships sailing worldwide. Planned through 2014, the revitalizations build on Royal Caribbean's global vacation offering and deliver to guests the Royal Advantage—innovative cruise ships, combined with interesting itineraries and destinations, and friendly Gold Anchor Service.

"The Royal Advantage revitalizations takes many of the best features that we have created in recent years and introduces them across our fleet, offering our guests enhanced vacation choices around the world," said Adam Goldstein, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean Intl. "We never stop trying to make the experience even better, and no other cruise line can offer the same high quality vacation experience with such an array of choices that cater to every guest."

The Royal Advantage revitalizations began with Radiance of the Seas in May 2011, and will be followed by Splendour of the Seas in November. In 2012, revitalizations are scheduled for Vision-class ships including Rhapsody of the Seas (March 2012) and Grandeur of the Seas (May 2012), as well as Radiance-class Serenade of the Seas (November 2012). Each ship will enter dry dock for approximately a month and re-emerge as even better versions of the ships that guests love, complete with new dining venues, entertainment options, technology enhancements and more. That's Radiance of the Sea's new Chef's Table pictured above.

With the cruise line's recently announced 2012-13 deployments, vacationers have the opportunity to enjoy new onboard experiences and itineraries. Revitalized Grandeur of the Seas will offer 7-night Western Mediterranean or 10- and 11-night Greece and Turkey itineraries from Palma de Mallorca, Spain, and Venice, respectively, in summer 2012. Moreover, the newly revitalized Rhapsody of the Seas and Radiance of the Seas will offer additional dining and entertainment options for a cruise or cruisetour in Alaska in summer 2012 or Australia and New Zealand in winter 2012-13.

Among the revitalizations and enhancements to the Vision-, Voyager- and Radiance-class ships throughout the next three years, will be:

• New Technology: Guests will enjoy pervasive Wi-Fi, interactive flat-panel televisions in staterooms, and electronic mustering.
• Digital Wayfinding Systems: Onboard activities, real time updates, customized directions and routing, as well as ship factoids will all be at guests' fingertips with new plasma and L CD touch screen signs prominently placed throughout each of the ships.
• Outdoor LED Video Walls: Oversized video screens will be installed on the pool decks to liven up outdoor entertainment and programming, day and night.
• Royal Babies and Tots Nursery: Safe, fun, and interactive vacation environments will be available in nurseries designed for babies and tots ages six through 36 months.
• New Staterooms: New levels of accommodations, including staterooms ideal for families, will be added.

Additional Dining Options:

• Chef's Table: An exclusive experience co-hosted by the Executive Chef and Sommelier for an intimate wine pairing dinner of five courses.
• Izumi: A pan-Asian cuisine restaurant featuring a sushi bar with hot-rock cooking.
• Chops Grille: Royal Caribbean's signature steakhouse featuring a menu of prime cuts prepared a la minute.
• Park Café: A casual dining venue featuring salads, sandwiches, soups and pastries.
• Rita's Cantina: A casual restaurant offering traditional Mexican fare, a selection of margaritas, and live evening entertainment.
• Boardwalk Doghouse: A casual eatery serving a range of brats, links, wieners and dogs.

In 2013 and 2014, additional Royal Advantage revitalizations will take place on Vision-class ships, including Legend of the Seas and Vision of the Seas, four Voyager-class ships—Navigator of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas, and Adventure of the Seas—and the Radiance-class Brilliance of the Seas. Royal Caribbean also will deliver the Royal Advantage through less extensive enhancements planned for Freedom-class Independence of the Seas, Voyager-class Mariner of the Seas, and Vision-class Enchantment of the Seas.

Currently alternating 7-night South- and North-bound Alaska itineraries this summer before repositioning for its first winter season in Australia and New Zealand, Radiance of the Seas' recent revitalization doubled the ship's onboard dining options among other enhancements. The final and most extensive revitalization this year will be Splendour of the Seas in November, which afterwards will offer 2-, 3- and 4-night Brazil cruises, as well as 7- and 8-night Argentina & Uruguay Cruises from Sao Paulo, Brazil. In early 2011, Oasis of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas, and Liberty of the Seas had received popular enhancements and programs that were introduced aboard the newly launched Allure of the Seas, such as the DreamWorks Experience. Having previously undergone extensive revitalizations in recent years, both Sovereign-class Majesty of the Seas and Monarch of the Seas are currently delivering the Royal Advantage on short Bahamas cruises from Miami and Port Canaveral, Florida, respectively.

For additional information, visit RoyalCaribbean.com.

Photo Courtesy of Royal Caribbean International

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Carnival Has Some “Fun Ship” Cash For You

Carnival Cruise Lines has launched its July Cash Back Sale, offering onboard spending credits of up to $150 per stateroom on a wide variety of 2011-2012 “Fun Ship” voyages. The promotion is available in conjunction with virtually all of the line’s 3- to 9-day cruises to the Caribbean, Bahamas, Mexico, and Alaska departing from a variety of North American homeports between August 2011 and April 2012. Bookings must be made by July 31, 2011, to be eligible for the promotion.

The cash back option is provided in the form of a shipboard credit that can be redeemed once on board. Guests will receive a shipboard credit of up to $50 per stateroom on 3- and 4-day cruises, $100 per stateroom on 5-day voyages, and $150 on 6- to 9-day departures.

The shipboard credit is automatically applied to guests’ on-board accounts when they board their cruise and can be redeemed toward a wide range of shipboard purchases including shore excursions, spa treatments, steakhouse reservations, gift shop items, and more. Any unused funds at the end of the cruise will be returned to guests on debarkation day in the form of a check. The July Cash Back promotion applies to new individual bookings for categories 4A and higher booked using the “Fun Select” fares. Certain restrictions apply. For additional information, visit Carnival.com.

Photo Courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines

Monday, July 11, 2011

Norwegian's Got Your Pizza Order

Norwegian Cruise Line (we understand they prefer the abbreviated “Norwegian” instead of NCL) now offers its popular Pizza 24/7 delivery service, that has been available on Norwegian Epic, throughout its entire fleet. You can experience the same land-based convenience at sea with pizza delivery to almost anywhere on the ship 24-hours a day. Pizza 24/7 is scheduled to roll out to the eight ships departing from U.S. ports throughout July and then in Europe to Norwegian Jade and Norwegian Sun in August. The 16-inch handmade, stone baked pizzas are $5 each and are available with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce; pepperoni; or vegetarian with roasted peppers, mushrooms, red onions and mozzarella cheese.

“Our guests have deemed the 24-hour pizza delivery onboard Norwegian Epic a popular addition to our innovative Freestyle Dining options,” said Michael Flesch, Norwegian’s senior vice president of hotel operations. “We wanted to make it easy and convenient for our guests to enjoy a delicious pizza any time on our ships, whether it’s during a game of bowling, watching a movie in the Atrium, or in the comfort of their stateroom.”

In addition, Norwegian has introduced Norwegian Epic’s room service menu across the fleet with popular breakfast items, assorted soups, salads, sandwiches, desserts, and kid’s menu items. Norwegian’s room service is complimentary throughout the day except from midnight to 5 a.m. when an overnight surcharge of $3.95 is charged per order. If you order only beverages or pizza delivery, you will not be assessed the fee. By the way, Norwegian’s late-night room service fee came as a surprise to us. We support the move, though, as we did over a year ago when Royal Caribbean began charging for after midnight room service. Many mornings we’ve had to dodge fully laden trays set outside stateroom doors with food wasted during the night. Perhaps passengers, especially teenagers, will think twice about ordering food they won’t consume if they have to pay for it.

For further information about Norwegian Cruise Line, visit NCL.com.

Photo Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Do You Want To Dance?

Professional dancers Tony Dovolani, Chelsie Hightower, and Elena Grinenko, of the hit show Dancing with the Stars, have partnered with The Cruise Authority to create the ultimate dance fan experience: Cruise with the Dance Stars. This dance festival at sea will take place aboard Royal Caribbean International’s Freedom of the Seas from Jan 15-22, 2012. Tony, Chelsie, and Elena will dance with guests throughout the Caribbean, from Port Canaveral, FL to Coco Cay, Bahamas; St. Thomas, USVI; and Philipsburg, St. Maarten.

Guests aboard Cruise with the Dance Stars have the chance to take dance lessons from Tony, Chelsie, and Elena, joined by Royal Caribbean’s own professional show dancers; an exclusive dance performance by Chelsie and Tony; private Q-and-A sessions; photo and autograph sessions; private welcome and farewell receptions; and CWDS goodies. One lucky cruise guest will win a 1-hour private dance lesson with Chelsie and Tony. Guests must book via The Cruise Authority in order to enjoy these exclusive dance events.

“The chance to bring Tony, Chelsie, and Elena onboard this cruise is a great honor for The Cruise Authority,” said co-owner of The Cruise Authority, David Bittner. “We believe we are offering fans unprecedented access and an amazing experience aboard this cruise.”

The Cruise Authority is a top producing and award winning travel agency located in Marietta, GA that has been organizing and implementing theme and affinity cruises for over 15 years. Booking has opened and cabin prices start from $1,176 per person plus taxes and fees. Prices include entertainment, meals, and access to all of Royal Caribbean’s amenities. For questions, contact David Bittner 770-952-8300 or dbittner@the-cruise-authority.com.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

It's Getting “Breeze-y” at the Port of Miami


Long known as the “Cruise Capital of the World,” it would be a stretch for the Port of Miami to make that claim in recent years. For some time the port has been bypassed by cruise lines that prefer the waters in Fort Lauderdale, Port Canaveral, and even far-off Galveston for their ships’ homeports. So you can’t blame the Port of Miami for blowing their own horn for snagging a really big ship, even if it’s a bit early.

Although Carnival Cruise Lines' Carnival Breeze is still under construction in Italy and doesn’t begin its Caribbean deployment until November 2012, the Port of Miami is already rolling out the welcome mat with a colorful billboard trumpeting the ship’s new year-round homeport. Located along highway I-395 that connects Miami and Miami Beach, the massive 3,000–square-foot billboard features a banner inscribed with the words “New Carnival Breeze, Unveiling November 2012” partially covering an image of the line’s signature winged funnel.

The 130,000-ton Carnival Breeze—the largest “Fun Ship” to be based in Miami—will launch year-round 6- and 8-day Caribbean cruises Nov 24, 2012. The 6-day cruises will call at Grand Turk, Ocho Rios, and Nassau, while two different four-port, 8-day itineraries will be offered—a southern Caribbean itinerary featuring Grand Turk, La Romana (Dominican Republic), Curacao, and Aruba and an eastern Caribbean route visiting St. Thomas/St. John, Antigua, Tortola and Nassau. Prior to its Miami-based schedule, Carnival Breeze will operate a series of 12-day Mediterranean voyages June 3 through Oct 25, 2012.

As the line’s newest “Fun Ship,” Carnival Breeze will offer such features as an expansive WaterWorks aqua park, Caribbean-themed RedFrog Pub, Cucina del Capitano Italian family-style restaurant, and action-packed SportSquare featuring a ropes course and outdoor fitness area. Also new is a Caribbean-inspired décor that will be carried out in the ship’s public spaces and wide range of stateroom categories. A number of innovations unique to Carnival Breeze will be announced in the near future.

Image Courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines

Friday, July 8, 2011

One Day You Might Cruise From Savannah

You may only think of Savannah, Georgia in terms of what locals call "The Book" (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), but there's a lot more to the city than cemeteries and intrigue. Situated on the Savannah River, just a short distance inland from the Atlantic, Savannah is Georgia's most important coastal port and some believe it would be an ideal homeport for cruises.

As reported last week by WSAV.com, The Savannah city council got an update on the possibility of cruise ships calling the city their home. According to Alderman Tony Thomas, not only one, but several cruise lines are interested. Thomas says he began talks with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines recently and they are interested in Savannah's plans. After approving an expansion of the city's cruise ship task force, the City Council should get answers to their most pressing questions, such as how much a cruise terminal would cost and how much business could downtown merchants expect to see as a result.

Initially, the city would need a temporary terminal. As a passenger on a cruise that called on Savannah several years ago, Cruise Diva can see the need. We were on Hapag Lloyd's Europa, which was able to dock for the day within walking distance to the main downtown area. It was convenient, but there is no actual passenger terminal building there.

Of the three possible temporary terminal locations mentioned (Georgia Ports Authority Ocean Terminals 1 and 2, which already dock large ships and cruise ships that call in Savannah; Hutchinson Island, across the river; and the Savannah River Landing next to the Marriott off River Street), we kind of like the idea of a passenger terminal near Savannah River Landing, but it could result in the type of traffic congestion that is causing so much controversy among the locals in Charleston. The Ocean Terminals would likely be the most practical from a driving and parking standpoint if they could eventually make it permanent.

Alderman Thomas said the additional task force time and funding will move the process along at a faster pace and the cruise industry and City of Savannah could come to an agreement in the next 12 to 24 months. That's really good news for those of us within driving distance of Georgia's most charming and intriguing city.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Carnival Ships "Perfect" From Coast-to-Coast

For the first time ever, two Carnival Cruise Lines ships recently earned perfect scores of 100 during United States Public Health (U.S.P.H.) inspections on the same day.

Carnival Glory and Carnival Paradise each earned perfect marks during inspections held last week in New York, New York and Long Beach, California, respectively.

Both vessels received the highest scores possible on all 42 items that comprise the U.S.P.H.’s comprehensive Vessel Sanitation Program checklist. The unannounced inspections, which are conducted twice a year and required for any cruise ship with an international itinerary calling at a U.S. port, evaluate vessels in a wide variety of areas, including adherence to proper food handling, preparation and storage procedures, and overall galley cleanliness. Ships’ potable water supplies used in spas and pools are evaluated, as well.

In addition, for the second consecutive week, the Carnival Glory earned a perfect 100 score on a shipboard health inspection, this time from Health Canada during an inspection in Halifax this week. The 2,974-passenger vessel received perfect marks on all items that comprise Health Canada’s vessel sanitation program checklist. The unannounced inspections, which are required for any cruise ship with an international itinerary calling at a Canadian port, evaluate vessels in a wide variety of areas, including adherence to proper food handling, preparation and storage procedures, and overall galley cleanliness. Ships’ potable water supplies used in spas and pools are evaluated, as well.

Carnival Glory is currently operating a schedule of 4- to 7-day Canada/New England cruises from New York, while 2,052-passenger Carnival Paradise is offering 3- and 4-day Baja cruises from Long Beach.

Find out how well your favorite cruise ship perfomed on its most recent inspection in CruiseDiva.com's Summary of Sanitation Inspections of International Cruise Ships chart. We update it quarterly, which means it was revised just this week.

Image Courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Butler Did It on Silver Spirit

The CruiseDiva.com email box is often filled with questions and we try to answer them all personally. Some, like this one, we like to share:

"Have you ever had a butler on a cruise? What did you ask him to do for you?"

Yes, we have had a butler several times and enjoyed the additional service they provided. We're pretty low maintenance and have always declined the offer to unpack our luggage. The main reason for rejecting that assistance is that we like to know where everything is and don't want to have to hunt for things. Plus, at the end of the cruise we repack our suitcases ourselves for pretty much the same reason.

The best butler we've ever met is Julian William, pictured above with Linda outside our suite on Silversea's Silver Spirit. The decorations and rose he presented her with were in honor of our wedding anniversary, which we celebrated while on board.

Let's step back to when we boarded and Julian greeted us as we arrived at our Royal Suite. To make us feel at home he pointed out the suite's amenities and where various elements were located. He also demonstrated how to use them—such as the television/DVD, CD player, alarm clock with iPod dock, and, most importantly, the numerous light switches. When he noticed our many electronic gadgets, he brought a power strip so we could plug multiple items in for simultaneous recharging. He also offered a variety of bathroom toiletries for us to choose from and asked if we had a preference from the pillow menu. Then he left after opening a bottle of champagne and returned later with afternoon canapes and the body pillow Linda finds comfortable for sleeping.

Julian always seemed to be on duty and often arrived unannounced to check on whether we needed or wanted anything. In addition to bringing afternoon canapes, he noticed which ones we liked the best and made certain those were the ones we got every day. He also took care of making our dinner reservations and served our room service orders. Mel mentioned that Linda likes a less-dry champagne and Julian brought some for her to try.

Aside from what we might have expected, there were some unexpected surprises. After a particularly warm day ashore we returned to find that Julian had drawn Linda a scented bubble bath. He also noticed hat Mel's new grey suitcase had gotten soiled in transit and cleaned it with a non-toxic cleaning solution.

Totally unexpected was our anniversary surprise. In addition to the balloons on our door in the morning, Julian and our stateroom attendant, Made Diah, decorated our dining table while we were out for the evening. We arrived back in our suite to find more balloons hovering over the table, which glowed with candlelight (battery operated). The centerpiece was a Happy Anniversary cake. Chocolate—our favorite.

That doesn't sound very "low maintenance" but most of Julian's services were spontaneous. Although we were in a Royal Suite and you would expect us to get superb service, we compared our experiences with those of our neighbors and learned that Julian did the same for all his guests.

Our cruise aboard Silver Spirit was one of our most memorable and Julian made it even more so.

Photo © CruiseDiva.com