Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cruise News: Ultra-Fast Internet Communications Coming For Passengers Aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas

While aboard Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas last month in Alaska, I was very pleased to discover that the ship’s WiFi was accessible in my stateroom. The connection wasn’t as fast as I’d have liked, which is typical of most cruise ships, but it probably would have been faster in one of the ship’s “hot spots.” Nevertheless, it enabled me to work in comfort and I heard while on board that more speed is in the works. That was confirmed this week when O3b Networks announced a milestone multi-year, multi-million dollar agreement with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. to provide high-speed satellite-delivered broadband service aboard the world’s largest cruise ship. By summer 2013, more than 8,000 guests, staff and crew members aboard the cruise industry leader’s flagship Oasis of the Seas—under the Royal Caribbean International brand—will be the first to enjoy O3b’s enhanced connectivity at sea as if connected to fiber at home or in the office.

A true technology innovator, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. is the first to utilize O3b’s new maritime offering O3b Maritime, which delivers the reach of satellite and the speed and latency of fiber at a fraction of the cost of conventional providers. O3b is enabling maritime service providers to offer affordable fiber-like capacity across the Caribbean and ocean regions around the world. Providing unparalleled bandwidth, O3b’s steerable satellite beams will provide cruise industry passengers ultra-fast Internet communications throughout their voyage.

“Royal Caribbean is committed to delivering the most contemporary vacation to our guests, and that includes pushing ahead for onboard technological advances that offer the modern conveniences that guests enjoy on land,” said Adam M. Goldstein, President and CEO, Royal Caribbean Intl. “This milestone agreement with O3b Networks enables us to provide our guests with unprecedented Internet service at sea aboard Oasis of the Seas and potentially in the future aboard other ships in our fleet.”

Oasis of the Seas shares the title of the world’s largest and most innovative cruise ship with sister-ship Allure of the Seas. With a cache of distinct onboard activities and amenities, Oasis of the Seas offers one-of-a-kind entertainment performances, culinary concepts, retail venues and technology innovations. An architectural marvel at sea, Oasis of the Seas is divided into seven distinct themed neighborhoods, which include Central Park, Boardwalk, the Royal Promenade, the Pool and Sports Zone, Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center, Entertainment Place, and Youth Zone. The ship spans 16 decks, encompasses 225,282 gross registered tons, carries 5,400 guests at double occupancy, and features 2,700 staterooms. Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas alternates a Western Caribbean with an Eastern Caribbean 7-night itinerary from her homeport of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Cruise News: Norwegian Cruise Lines Reveals New Dining & Entertainment Options for Norwegian Breakaway

Norwegian Cruise Line has been slowly revealing the fantastic enhancements for their next new ship Norwegian Breakaway and yesterday’s announcement was a big one.

DINING SENSATIONS
The line has engaged celebrity chef and Food Network star Geoffrey Zakarian to create and oversee a seafood concept to open May 2013 on the vessek. The restaurant, Ocean Blue by Geoffrey Zakarian, is envisioned as a luxury seafood dining experience, utilizing all of the ingredients and techniques that Zakarian would employ in a land-based establishment. In addition to the dining room that will focus on elegant modern presentations, Zakarian will have The Raw Bar, an adjacent bar highlighting crustaceans and wines by the glass; and Ocean Blue on The Waterfront, a more casual dining option serving fun and easy fare. With an eye for detail, Zakarian will orchestrate not only the menus, but every aspect of his dining areas, from the uniforms to the glassware. On select sailings, Zakarian will also host meet-and-greets with Norwegian Breakaway guests, along with in-person cooking demonstrations and intimate cooking experiences for smaller groups.

“It is an unbelievably exciting prospect to create a concept for such a groundbreaking ship. I am nostalgic at heart, so the thought of making a modern experience that harkens to the age of steamship travel is just terrific,” said Geoffrey Zakarian. “I am planning, preparing and recruiting for this restaurant the same as if I were opening on land, and truly, I have been humbled and inspired by Norwegian's vision to elevate hospitality on the seas.”

Zakarian's taste, style and passion for fine cuisine have defined his career, which has spanned more than 25 years. An accomplished chef who has presided over some of the country's top kitchens, he currently has two popular restaurants in New York City—The Lambs Club and The National; one in Atlantic City—The Water Club at Borgata; and a highly acclaimed cookbook “Geoffrey Zakarian’s Town/Country: 150 Recipes for Life Around the Table.” Zakarian emerged victorious in the recent fourth season of Food Network's The Next Iron Chef, Super Chefs. He appears regularly on Iron Chef America, demonstrating a razor-sharp knowledge of culinary techniques in this fast-paced cooking competition. When he's not battling in the kitchen stadium, Zakarian stays busy filming CHOPPED, where he is featured as a recurring judge, and highlights his favorite dishes on The Best Thing I Ever Ate.

“Geoffrey Zakarian is a renowned and critically acclaimed chef who has deep roots in New York City having begun his career at Le Cirque and the legendary 21 Club,” said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian Cruise Line’s chief executive officer. “Working with Geoffrey is like hitting the culinary lottery. In this case, not only do we win big, but so do our guests on Norwegian Breakaway who will get to experience his world-class cuisine in three dining outlets on the ship. We couldn’t be more excited to have Geoffrey on board with us and add yet another New York element to Norwegian Breakaway.”

SUPER STAR ENTERTAINMENT
Norwegian Cruise Line continued its legacy of innovating cruise ship entertainment as it announced that the five-time Tony Award nominated musical ROCK OF AGES will be featured on Norwegian Breakaway, along with two additional Broadway shows: the dance sensation BURN THE FLOOR and CIRQUE DREAMS and DINNER JUNGLE FANTASY. The line also introduced all of the varied and exciting entertainment acts and venues that will debut on the ship, including the famed comedy troupe The Second City and Howl at the Moon at Headliners Comedy Club and New York’s own Slam Allen in Fat Cats Jazz and Blues Club.

“As a lifelong New Yorker, it’s critically important to me that Norwegian Breakaway becomes New York’s ship—the only way to cruise from New York when she arrives next May. Our goal is to bring elements of New York on board so that guests will feel a real connection to the ship as New York’s true flagship,” said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian Cruise Line’s chief executive officer. “With ROCK OF AGES performing in the Breakaway Theater, along with BURN THE FLOOR, CIRQUE DREAMS and DINNER—JUNGLE FANTASY in the Spiegel Tent, and all the other entertainment offerings, we are truly bringing Broadway to the high seas and delivering the high caliber entertainment that New Yorkers have come to expect.”

Norwegian Breakaway will feature multiple, specially-designed entertainment venues throughout the ship so that guests can choose from a wide variety of entertainment each evening of their cruise with choices to appeal to a broad audience.

ROCK OF AGES
one of the longest running shows in Broadway history, ROCK OF AGES offers Broadway’s best party. The New York Times has called the show, “Absurdly enjoyable! About as guilty as pleasures get!” The classic rock love story of the decade features such feel-good, sing-out-loud songs such as “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” “I Wanna Know What Love Is,” “Here I Go Again,” “Don’t Stop Believin,” and more. The Broadway show is now also Hollywood’s biggest party as the film of the musical by New Line Cinema was released on June 15, 2012. In addition to being a bona fide Broadway hit musical, ROCK OF AGES was a runaway success in Toronto and Australia; has a production running in London’s West End; and has several successful licensed productions in Asia. ROCK OF AGES is lead produced on Broadway by Michael Cohl and Jonathan Linden of S2BN Entertainment and Matthew Weaver.

BURN THE FLOOR
Offering shows in both the 800-seat Breakaway Theater and more intimate performances in The Manhattan Room, dance sensation BURN THE FLOOR will dazzle guests with their re-invented ballroom dancing. Beginning with, and maintaining all the wonderful traditions and the social history of the Ballroom dance art form, BURN THE FLOOR is a groundbreaking show, serving as a melting pot of styles, energy and excitement for today’s generation of dancers. It is Ballroom “supercharged.” During the course of the show, the dancers perform all the Ballroom and Latin styles, including The Waltz, Cha Cha, Samba, Salsa, Rumba, Foxtrot, Quickstep, Mambo, Tango, Swing, Jive, Lindy Hop, Viennese Waltz, and Paso Doble. The music is eclectic, from Swing and Waltz classics to J-Lo and Credence Clearwater. Two vocalists perform in many languages during the show, including English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

The show premiered in London in 1999 and toured the US for the first time in 2000, including performances at Radio City Music Hall. After touring around the world, in a variety of countries, including Japan, Singapore and Australia, BURN THE FLOOR premiered on Broadway in 2009. Originally intended to be a limited run, the show opened to rave reviews in New York and extended its original run into January 2010, performing 193 shows. Already staged in more than 300 cities globally, BURN THE FLOOR is currently in the midst of its World Tour of the Broadway Production with dates in Holland, Australia, South Africa, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan, and will return to the US later this year before joining Norwegian Breakaway in 2013.

CIRQUE DREAMS and DINNER—JUNGLE FANTASY IN THE SPIEGEL TENT
Following the huge success of the revolutionary CIRQUE DREAMS and DINNER on Norwegian Epic, famed producer/director Neil Goldberg will present an adaptation of the Broadway show CIRQUE DREAMS JUNGLE FANTASY featuring the best of both critically acclaimed productions. The new show will be entitled CIRQUE DREAMS and DINNER—JUNGLE FANTASY and will be performed in the ship’s intimate Spiegel Tent.

Proclaimed “the grandest circus spectacle east of Vegas” by New York Magazine, CIRQUE DREAMS JUNGLE FANTASY debuted at the Broadway Theatre in 2008 and is, to date, the first and only show of its kind to ever perform on Broadway. The show received an American Theatre Wing, Best Costume Design nomination and has played to over 3.5 million people in more than 200 cities throughout the United States, as well as thousands of U.S. military troops and their families throughout 10 countries. CIRQUE DREAMS and DINNER—JUNGLE FANTASY will feature an international cast of Cirque Dreamers performing amazing feats while bringing to life a soaring Ballet of Butterflies, Flipping Monkeys, Hopping Frogs, Spine-bending Lizards, and Fanciful Birds in an exotic, awe-inspiring adventure.

FAT CATS JAZZ and BLUES CLUB FEATURING SLAM ALLEN
Following his extremely popular performance as the house band in the Jazz and Blues Club on Norwegian Epic, New York’s own Slam Allen will take the stage in Fat Cats Jazz and Blues Club on Norwegian Breakaway. Fat Cats will feature nightly live blues and jazz performances by Allen and other world-class talent. The urban setting creates a hipster vibe complete with full bar and comfortable leather sofas and chairs. Fat Cats will also feature outdoor seating on The Waterfront, a Norwegian Breakaway exclusive, where guests can enjoy a drink and the live music while feeling the warm ocean breeze.

For more than 20 years, Slam Allen has been entertaining audiences around the world with his unique blend of soul and blues and he was Cruise Diva’s favorite entertainer aboard Norwegian Epic. For the past eight years, he has played an important role, as the lead singer and guitarist, in the legendary James Cotton Band. Music is in Allen's blood —he got his start from his father and uncles who were known as the Allen Brothers Band. On Norwegian Breakaway, Allen will play a wide range of songs from B.B. King and Otis Redding to his own original music in the intimate Fat Cats Jazz and Blues Club.

THE SECOND CITY and HOWL AT THE MOON IN HEADLINERS
Headliners Comedy Club debuts on Norwegian Breakaway with the hilarious improvisational comedy of The Second City, as Norwegian continues its exclusive partnership with the famed troupe. For more than 50 years, The Second City has honed the skills of comedic legends such as Bill Murray, Chris Farley, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Tina Fey, Steve Carell, and Jason Sudeikis. The ensemble aboard Norwegian Breakaway will perform a special customized comedy revue of satirical skits, hilarious songs and inventive improvisation. The venue’s design centers on a show lounge format with a small raised stage, concrete floors and brick walls with a full bar.

The world’s greatest rock n’ roll dueling piano show, Howl at the Moon, which received rave reviews on Norwegian Epic, will also be featured in Headliners on board Norwegian Breakaway. This total entertainment experience features talented piano players who not only entertain the guests; they make the guests part of the show. The fun is centered around two baby grand pianos and a full out rock show with Howl’s entertainers playing the best music from 70’s rock to hip-hop for four hours per show. Howl at the Moon, with multiple locations across the United States, encourages people to channel their inner rock star, so guests should get ready to clap, sing, dance, and howl.

Currently under construction at Meyer Werft in Germany, the 4,000 passenger Norwegian Breakaway will arrive in her year-round homeport of New York City in early May 2013. The ship will begin weekly summer 7-day cruises to Bermuda on Sunday, May 12, 2013. From October 2013 through April 2014, the ship will offer voyages from the heart of Manhattan to the Bahamas and Florida and the Southern Caribbean. Norwegian Breakaway will be the largest ship ever to home port in New York City and will embark on weekly cruises from the Manhattan Cruise Terminal. The ship calls will bring an estimated 140,000 additional embarking passengers into New York City over two years, resulting in an estimated $35 million in additional direct spending in the City.

To date, the company has revealed the ship’s groundbreaking design, including The Waterfront and 678 Ocean Place, a wide range of indoor and outdoor venues on three dynamic decks that will create a whole new complex at sea that enhances guests’ connection with the ocean. The top decks of Norwegian Breakaway will feature the first Aqua Park at sea with five full-size water slides, including twin Free Fall slides, the first ever at sea, and a three-story sports complex that includes the largest ropes course at sea, a nine-hole miniature golf course, basketball court, rock climbing wall, and more. The ship will also feature a rich mix of stateroom options including The Haven by Norwegian, comprised of 42 Suites at the top of the ship and 18 additional Suites located throughout the ship; the innovative Studios, designed and priced for solo travelers; the re-introduction of Oceanview staterooms, Balcony and Mini-Suites; along with Spa Balcony, Mini-Suites, and Suites in close proximity to the spa.

For more information on the incredible features and accommodations on Norwegian Breakaway, visit Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Breakaway micro-site and these links on the Cruise Diva Blog:
· Norwegian Cruise Line Begins “Project Breakaway” Reveal
· Norwegian Cruise Line Introduces “The Haven”
· “The Haven” by Norwegian: Posh Accommodations For Project Breakaway
· Norwegian Breaks Out More Project Breakaway Accommodations
· Innovative Spaces Planned For Norwegian’s Norwegian Breakaway
· Norwegian Breakaway Is Set To Be A Teen-Pleaser

Images Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cruise News: Norwegian Star Rescues Yachters

At approximately 8 am on Tuesday, June 26th, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Star responded to a call from the US Coast Guard who had received a distress notification from Avenir, a sailing yacht, stating that they had lost their rudder and their ability to steer. Avenir was located approximately 54 nautical miles from Norwegian Star in the Atlantic Ocean. Norwegian Star’s Captain Kenneth Harstrom immediately diverted course to rescue the three men and three women aboard.

Upon reaching the Avenir at noon, Norwegian Star’s crew worked to rescue the passengers and quickly transfer all six occupants on board the ship. At approximately 1 pm, the sailing yacht passengers and rescue team were all safely aboard Norwegian Star.

According to the Captain of the Avenir, the group left Bermuda on June 24, 2012 and was delivering the Avenir to Bristol, Rhode Island. While the yacht won’t be making its destination on time, Norwegian Star, which was sailing from New York City to Bermuda, continued on its route and arrived Wednesday morning, June 27th as scheduled.

Images Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cruise News: Crystal Cruises Offers Solo Travelers A Break on European Voyages This Fall

Solo sailors have a tough time catching a break when booking a cruise, often paying nearly the equivalent of full fare for two passengers when they are sailing alone.

While Crystal Cruises already charges one of the lowest rates in the luxury cruise industry for sole occupancy of double occupancy accommodations, with a new solo travelers' sale on fall Mediterranean voyages, guests traveling alone can enjoy even lower fares to vacation in ease through one of the world's most beautiful cruising areas. A significantly-reduced solo supplement of just 10% can save individuals up to almost $900 off a private, deluxe outside stateroom (Category C) of their own.

The savings are offered on eight 11- and 12-day Crystal Serenity sailings through the Black Sea, Middle East, Canary Islands, and entire Mediterranean, starting with the Sept 6th voyage. The all-inclusive luxury cruises embark in Athens, Istanbul, Venice, Barcelona, and Lisbon from Sept through Nov, with overnight visits and more time in both smaller, off-the-beaten-path and favorite, large ports throughout Italy, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Montenegro, Israel, Croatia, Morocco and the Canary Islands. Attractive air add-ons are offered from more than 200 North American ports.

"A Crystal cruise is a wonderful option for solo travelers who seek luxury and pampering while on vacation and also the fast, easy friendships that are made on board," says Jack Anderson, senior vice president of marketing and sales. "This is an ideal opportunity for cruisers indulging in a room all to themselves to realize significant savings and value with the World's Best Cruise Line."

Among the exceptional care Crystal provides for solo travelers are Ambassador hosts on every sailing for single ladies seeking a dance partner, assigned seating for dinner in the Crystal Dining Room, and "Table for 8," which brings individuals together for friendly shared dining in the specialty restaurants at night. Crystal Cruises' ocean resort experience always includes fine wines, premium spirits, and gratuities with one's vacation, as well as a host of other complimentary amenities, from enlightening enrichment speakers and fitness classes to pampering pillow menus and specialty restaurant dining, featuring the world-renowned cuisine of Nobu Matsuhisa.

Photo Courtesy of Crystal Cruises

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cruise News: Less Than A Year Until Royal Princess Launches

With the scheduled launch of Princess Cruises' new Royal Princess less than one year away, Rai Caluori, Executive Vice President Fleet Operations has been thinking about all the venues that have been revealed so far and he began wondering what people are most excited about.

So. for this month's video installment from the line, Caluori asked Princess employees, travel agent partners, and Elite Captain's Circle members exactly "what are you most looking forward to when Royal Princess sets sail in June 2013?"

Some of their answers really surprised him!

To see what they had to say, watch the video below and start creating your own Royal Princess 'to-do' list.


Video Courtesy of Princess Cruises

Monday, June 25, 2012

Cruise News: TS Debby Alters Another Cruise Ship Itinerary

While continuing to dump rain on Florida, Tropical Storm Debby has also caused Carnival Cruise Lines' Carnival Freedom to revise the course of its 6-day cruise that set sail yesterday from Fort Lauderdale.

After staying at sea today instead of calling at Key West, Florida as planned, Carnival Freedom will make an unexpected port call in Cozumel, Mexico tomorrow. Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios remain on the itinerary as planned. Carnival Freedom will return to Fort Lauderdale this Saturday, June 30th.

Cruise Diva Discusses Cruise Ship Etiquette With The Informed Traveler


Randy Sharman, the host of Informed Traveler, which airs Sunday mornings on AM 770 CHQR Radio in Calgary, Canada, recently called on the Cruise Diva for a chat about Cruise Ship Etiquette. The show aired Sunday, June 10, 2012, but if you missed it on the radio you can still catch our conversation in the online Podcast here.

To read the complete article, visit Cruise Ship Etiquette on CruiseDiva.com where I outline the three C's to follow at sea: Consideration, Courtesy and Civility.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The HEAT Is On In Miami

In case you haven't heard, the Miami Heat beat out the Oklahoma City Thunder for the NBA Championship a few days ago. In celebration, a Victory Parade has been scheduled in downtown Miami on Monday, June 25th, which has the potential for large crowds and heavy traffic. Cruise lines with scheduled departures tomorrow have issued the following warnings:

Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian Sky's June 25th Miami Departure
Norwegian Sky is scheduled to sail from the Port of Miami on Monday, June 25. The Miami Heat victory parade is also scheduled for Monday, June 25. Some of the victory parade festivities will take place in the downtown Miami area and include streets that provide access to the Port of Miami. Traffic delays are expected beginning at 9:30 am throughout the day.

Given the probability of traffic delays, we ask that guests who are scheduled to sail on Norwegian Sky on June 25 provide ample time to arrive at the port for boarding. The ship's 5 p.m. departure will not be delayed due to traffic. As a reminder, all guests must be checked in and on board the ship at least 60 minutes prior to sail time.

Royal Caribbean Intl: Majesty of the Seas' June 25, 2012 Sailing
Majesty of the Seas is scheduled to sail out of the Port of Miami, on Monday, June 25. The Miami Heat victory parade is also scheduled for Monday, June 25. Some of the victory parade festivities will take place in the downtown Miami area and include streets that provide access to the Port of Miami.

Since we are expecting extremely heavy traffic in the area, we ask that guests who are scheduled to sail on Majesty of the Seas on June 25 provide ample time to arrive at the port for boarding. The ship's 4:30 p.m. departure will not be delayed due to traffic. As a reminder, all guests must be checked in and onboard the ship 60 minutes prior to sail time.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Debby Now A Tropical Storm

Debby is officially a tropical storm churning about in the Gulf of Mexico. So far the only ship we know of that is sailing an altered itinerary due to the storm is Carnival Ecstasy, as we reported earlier.

Tropical Storm Debby's sights appear to be set on landfall in the US, but her path and intensity are still uncertain. Irregardless, effects are expected to be felt throughout the U.S. Gulf Coast region, including the threat of coastal flooding and locally heavy rain.

Debby Does The Gulf

Weather news reports for the Gulf of Mexico indicate it's likely that either a tropical depression or Tropical Storm to be named Debby will form at some time this weekend.

The forecast for Debby's possible path and intensity is uncertain, but we have heard of one cruise ship itinerary adjustment so far.

Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival Ecstasy's itinerary has been reversed and revised as follows:
6/23/12 Sat Depart Port Canaveral, FL 4:00 pm
6/24/12 Sun Nassau, Bahamas, Noon until 7:00 pm
6/25/12 Mon Freeport, Bahamas, 8:00 am until 5:00 pm
6/26/12 Tue Key West, Florida, 8:00 am until 5:00 pm
6/27/12 Wed Day At Sea
6/28/12 Thu Arrive Port Canaveral, FL, 7:00 am; Depart 4:00 pm

A Fresh Look At Celebrity Reflection

It's been a while since we took a look at Celebrity Reflection, the next—and last—vessel that will enter service for Celebrity Cruises in the Solstice Class. Currently still under construction, workers at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany have been busily installing the features that reflect what makes Celebrity Reflection unique.

The embodiment of modern luxury, Celebrity Reflection complements current Solstice Class elements with some pretty stunning innovations, including AquaClass Suites, Signature Suites, and the incredible Reflection Suite with glass-enclosed shower extending out over the edge of the ship. You can find out about them in Celebrity’s Suite Reflection here on the Cruise Diva blog.

To bring us up to date, Celebrity executives share the progress and their vision in the following video.


Celebrity Reflection will enter service Oct 12, 2012, on a 9-night European cruise from Amsterdam to Barcelona. For more information, visit celebritycruises.com.

Image © CruiseDiva.com; Video Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

Friday, June 22, 2012

Carnival Breeze Captures The Heat

As Carnival Cruise Lines' newest ship Carnival Breeze cruised on the Adriatic Sea off Italy early this morning, Miami Heat fans on board caught the post-game NBA Championship celebration live following the Miami Heat victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Seen on the ship's Seaside Theatre LED video screen, via an ABC/ESPN broadcast, are Micky Arison, left, Carnival Corp. chairman and CEO, as well as the Heat's majority partner; and Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra, right.

Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines

Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Voyages Reveal the Beauty & Diverse Culture of South America

This coming winter (when it’s summer in the southern hemisphere) Regent Seven Seas Cruises is bringing its hallmark all-inclusive luxury voyages to South America. Guests can escape the north’s winter weather and sail along the mighty Amazon, cruise around Cape Horn, explore the Panama Canal, and visit the largest Magellanic Penguin colony in the world. Each voyage offers Regent Seven Seas’ incomparable value of two-for-one fares, free round-trip air, unlimited complimentary shore excursions, a pre-cruise luxury hotel package, and bonus savings outlined below.

Circle South America
The all-balcony, all-suite Seven Seas Mariner explores many of the continent’s most popular ports-of-call with the Circle South America 72-night voyage, roundtrip from Miami departing Jan 7, 2013. Exclusive amenities include free First Class round-trip air, special pre-cruise overnight and gala dinner in Miami, exclusive shoreside events, free private transfers to and from the port of Miami, free roundtrip luggage delivery service, internet access, visas and bonus savings of up to $27,000 per suite when booked by June 30, 2012.

Four shorter South America voyages ranging from 12- to 24-nights focus on the Panama Canal, Chilean fjords, Brazil, Argentina and the Amazon include:
· Peruvian Promenade, departing Jan 7, is a 14-night voyage from Miami to Lima, with visits in Curacao, Aruba, an overnight stay in Cartagena, Columbia before transiting the famed Panama Canal en route to Ecuador, and includes as many as 39 complimentary shore excursions. Three-day post cruise land programs to Machu Picchu are also available;
· Chilean Fjord Rhapsody begins its voyage in Lima on Jan 21 with visits to magnificent Laguna San Rafael, Chile; Punta Arenas, Chile and Ushuaia, Argentina, two of the most southern cities in the world. The journey continues around Cape Horn before heading to the Falkland Islands; Puerto Madryn in Argentina, home of the largest Magellanic Penguins colony in the world; before reaching the old world charm of Montevideo, Uruguay, and ending with an overnight stay in Buenos Aires. Guests will enjoy a choice of up to 43 free shore excursions on this 24-night sailing;
· Sophisticated South America departs from Buenos Aires on Feb 14 for a 12-night journey ending with an overnight in Rio de Janeiro. As many as 20 complimentary shore excursions provide exploration in ports such as Montevideo and Punta Del Este in Uruguay; and Rio Grande, Porto Belo, and Santos in Brazil;
· Spirit of Brazil departs from Rio de Janeiro on Feb 26 for a 7-night journey along the Amazon River with an overnight stay in the astonishing city of Manaus, Brazil, which has been carved out of jungle. Exotic ports-of-call including eight different stops in Brazil, French Guiana, Barbados, St. Barts and Puerto Rico are explored with up to 43 complimentary shore excursions.
The suites on the award-winning, 700-guest Seven Seas Mariner are among the most spacious and luxurious at sea ranging in size from 301 to 2,002 square feet.

Seven Seas Mariner also cruises the Amazon this winter with a 22-night The Ultimate Amazon sailing from Rio de Janeiro to Miami departing Dec 16. Offering up to 43 free shore excursions, guests will have ample opportunity to explore eight different ports in Brazil, French Guiana, Barbados, St. Barts and Puerto Rico. Guests who book by June 30, 2012 can receive additional bonus savings up to $10,000 per suite.

Journey through the Amazon
The intimate 490 guest, all-suite Seven Seas Navigator, which received a multi-million dollar refurbishment in May 2012, sets sails for the Amazon on Nov 25, 2012, roundtrip from Miami. The 23-night Amazon Adventure voyage visits twelve exotic ports including St. Barts, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Lucia, French Guiana, Barbados, Antigua, Puerto Rico and four calls along the Amazon River in Brazil. With as many as 50 complimentary excursions offered on this sailing, guests can explore the jungles of Manaus in Brazil, snorkel in St. Barts, or be emerged in the island culture of Tobago, among many others. Bonus savings up to $5,000 per suite are available when booked by June 30, 2012.

“From vast rainforests to long mountain ranges, South America’s ever-changing landscape will awe and inspire even the most seasoned traveler,” said Mark Conroy, the line’s president. “Whether choosing our 72-night voyage that circumvents the continent or shorter sailings that focus on specific regions, guests will appreciate the unparalleled service, spacious accommodations and all-inclusive value delivered by Regent Seven Seas.”

For more information on theses voyages on Regent Seven Seas Cruises and more, visit RSSC.com.

Photo: Seven Seas Mariner © Linda Coffman, CruiseDiva.com

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Big Reveal: Crystal Symphony Completes Dazzling Extreme Ship Makeover

Refined Glam: The Palm Court
Leaving almost no area of the ship untouched after a $15 million two-week extreme makeover, Crystal Cruises reveals chic-ly redesigned major public spaces aboard Crystal Symphony, including the Avenue Saloon, Palm Court lounge, Galaxy showroom, Hollywood Theatre, Bridge Lounge, Fantasia and Waves "junior cruisers" areas, and the Tender Landing/passenger boarding area.

This latest move marks the culmination of a $65 million, five-year plan to redesign every room aboard the luxury line's older ship. Other invigorating new touches include "bells and whistles" added to all staterooms, paddle tennis court resurfacing, sprucing of tender shuttles, more energy-efficient hull paint, galley updates, and general maintenance and detailing of the entire ship, from propellers and boilers to the bridge and lifeboats.

"In keeping with our tremendous focus on design, we wanted to create something both highly contemporary and yet extremely accessible," says President Gregg Michel. "The ultimate result is all our guests' favorite gathering places now feeling even more welcoming, while also offering the stylish sophistication and comfortable elegance luxury travelers look for in a vacation setting, and expect from Crystal."

Three interior design companies from the UK and U.S. created the visions for the new spaces: Adfecto and SMC Design from London and KNA Design from Los Angeles, with inspiration culled from classic tony icons like New York's 21 Club, Hollywood's Coconut Grove, and Palm Beach country club life. With lighting being such a key creative consideration, Crystal and designers also worked with DPA Lighting Consultants to add to the design's drama, ambiance, and environmental-friendliness.

Elegant Tea, Tunes, Cocktails, and Vistas
KNA's redesign of signature lounges Avenue Saloon and Palm Court sets the perfect, lively backdrop for taking advantage of Crystal's newly all-inclusive fine wines and custom-crafted cocktails.

The panoramic-view Palm Court sparkles as the jewel in the crown on top of the ship, recalling the glamour-filled Coconut Grove of Hollywood's yesteryear, yet also delivering a sleek, ultra-contemporary wow factor. More intimate, modern lounge seating in buttery soft leathers surrounds a larger, spiral-design dance floor and slick, stainless and hand-tiled mosaic bar. Flooring is a mix of white, laser-cut Calacatta marble, soft grey swirling wood, and carpeting with a bold, large-scale, graphic—a pattern that is complemented by the reflective, decorative ceiling around the bar's perimeter. Together, aqua, chartreuse, ash, and cream jewel tones create a "light" California ambiance that helps bring the outside in during daytime tea and view-gazing. New lighting, including stunning, faceted Lucite wall sconces and shimmering Murano glass table lamps, transforms the space into a dreamy destination for evening dancing and drinks. The emblematic palm theme endures in pillow fabric, Sago palm trees, and a dramatic rock crystal, branch ceiling feature above the spacious dance floor. Six-foot-tall, lit alabaster urns, suede wall upholstery, electric window shades, and state-of-the-art Meyer speaker and audio control systems further accessorize the look and sound of this enchanting social destination.

Avenue Saloon and piano bar retains its 19th-century gentlemen's club feel, but incorporates updated colors, furnishings, materials, and music and seating configuration. Rich mahogany-paneled walls, leather upholstery, brass nailhead trim, sumptuous velvets, and thick, lush inset rugs remind one of a days-gone-by manor home. Heavily shuttered windows frame regal burgundies, golds, caramels, moss greens, and ivories that embrace guests in luxe warmth. The inviting piano relocation allows for increased seating and conversation area choices, including new brass-tack couches, embossed-leaf barstools, or tufted booths. New romantic lighting, sumptuous crown molding, antique-style trunk tables, custom artwork, and audio systems add to the salon atmosphere.

Exquisitely Swank Theatres
Old Hollywood panache also extends into Crystal's entertainment showrooms, the Galaxy Lounge and Hollywood Theatre, with an air of British tradition, thanks to the spaces' two UK designers.

With diamond-patterned glass doors, lustrous gold fabric panels, black Nero Marquina marble flooring, and large LCD digital signage screens, a new, contemporary entrance to the ship's live performance showroom immediately tells guests they're in for something special once inside the Galaxy Lounge. Through the entry, crystal lighting features, reminiscent of a dressing room mirror, and starburst-designed carpet and wall lights help create a galactic home fitting for Crystal's star guests and performers. Royal purple and old gold curtains in sheer and velvet fabrics envelop the space, including the main stage and side walls, in royal theatricality. New, modern mohair seating, cocktail tables, and under-banquette lighting add comfort and drama. Throughout, SMC Design includes artwork niches with abstract figurative sculpture and a harmonized color scheme of lively lilac, pink, and crimson shades. A new stage extension that expands performance space by 30%, plus cutting-edge tech enhancements such as a new sound booth, show control systems, high-definition Barco projection, infrared video cameras, stage lighting, and Meyer speaker system bring guests on the high seas even closer to Broadway.

Classic, Art Deco movie palaces and the stars of the silver screen inspired Adfecto's re-do of the Hollywood Theatre, Crystal's elegant space for feature films and presentations. New smoked woodgrain walls and velvet damson-colored curtains create a sweeping entry, while decorative and underseat lighting provides a warm ambience and soft glow. Crisp, architectural lines prevail in the design of knife-pleated pendant wall lamps and high-back, ivory-colored leather theatre seating—a contrast to the circular starburst patterns in both the carpet and custom-woven acoustic wall-paneling. An additional, damson wallcovering of crushed silk texture synchronizes with dark umber, taupe, and pearl earth tones and bronze-colored ceiling and metal trim. New "stage" lighting, boosted surround sound audio processing from Bose® and Meyer, top-notch Barco high-definition projector, and enhanced lecture, recording, and presentation control systems further transform the space into a luxury screening room.

Family Fun and Games
Whether playing together or alone, Crystal Symphony's play/games areas for kids, teens, and adults have been transformed for family recreation.

Crystal's dedicated Junior Cruisers' areas, Waves (teens) and Fantasia (children), have been re-designed by Adfecto for savvy stylistas-in-training, acknowledging that the spaces' patrons are fashionable young cruisers who already have a strong sense of what's cool and sophisticated—while also providing versatility for a wide range of ages and activities. Scarlet, pistachio, denim blue, and magenta pink colors differ from typical "primary" kids colors and inject vibrancy into the sophisticated, warm grey and neutral base woodgrain colors. Dramatic graphic harlequin carpeting; custom, digital-printed wallcovering; Marimekko-patterned, Fatboy(TM) bean bags; '70's-classic, multi-colored Casala Casalino chairs and tables; and multiple oversized sofas, including a huge Walter Knoll Circle sofa, together, create a trendy urban loft/modern rec room look that kids can "own" as their own, be it curling up alone with a book, or piling on the couch with new friends for a movie night. The areas' divided layout has been reconfigured to create more privacy for teens and more of a welcoming, home den feel for younger children—while also allowing flexibility for the space to be opened up into one. Different sections for group activities/crafts, storytime, relaxation, videogames (Wii, PlayStation®, Xbox, Kinect), and screenings (two wide-screen TV's, Blu-ray players, and movie projection system) encourage personal expression. New lighting features and Bose® speaker system help create different atmospheres and transform the entire space into an exclusive teen hangout at night.

KNA has transformed the Bridge Lounge into the perfect, classic card room—reminiscent of Palm Beach's tennis and card clubs during the Gilded Age—with ambient sconces flanking wooden built-ins, frosted mirrors, and saffron panel-covered walls. Soothing ocean blues and teals keep nerves calm during Bridge, board games, or spirited speaker sessions. Other new accents include floor-to-ceiling drapes, Roman sheers, modern chandelier, and a 12K gold, champagne leaf, dome ceiling that enhances the wall design. New podium, credenza, and A-V systems, along with new convertible game tables and armchairs, provide room versatility and expert-level presentation tools.

Tender Loving Care
In addition to Crystal-sprucing of the tender shuttles that transport guests to and from anchor ports, Adfecto has designed a comfortable and welcoming foyer for the Tender Embarkation Area. A hint of signature seahorse turquoise, with design references from other public areas of the ship, reminds guests they are back on Crystal immediately upon stepping off the gangway. Aged teak, plank-style flooring, a sky blue ceiling, bright lighting, and multi-colored, striped canvas curtains (a la the ship's poolside furniture) evoke feelings of being out on deck. Contemporary benches and boldly-colored, five-foot-tall travel photographs from around the world provide comfortable seating and global-inspired eye-candy when waiting to pass through the space.

The Best of the Rest
New electronic "do not disturb" doorbell systems—a big success after installation on Crystal Serenity last year—were added to all staterooms, as were new cordless digital telephones. Penthouses also received new glass shower doors. Smaller-level updates included a complete refresh of the paddle tennis court, new stoves and cooking equipment in the main galley, and environmental upgrades with lighting, boilers, and a new, energy-efficient hydrogel hull paint that mimics the low-friction characteristics of a shark's skin. The scheduled dry dock also boasted a massive cleaning and maintenance detail of the ship's entire exterior and interior. An update to stateroom verandah furniture is also scheduled to follow shortly after the dry dock's end.

Image Courtesy of Crystal Cruises

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rhapsody of the Seas in Victoria, BC

Did you know that butterflies enjoy nibbling on bananas? I didn’t until the last day of my recent Rhapsody of the Seas Alaska cruise when I visited the 12,000 square foot Victoria Butterfly Gardens for the first time.

Designed to showcase the life cycle and free flight of tropical butterflies and moths, inside the enclosure is a flowering paradise filled with color and scents. Stars of the show are the butterflies—3,000 of them flutter amongst flora that includes 200 species of orchids. However, there are also tropical ducks, flamingos, and Koi swimming in the stream and pond and rare tropical birds inhabit the space as well. The focus is educational and guides are on hand to explain the butterfly’s habits—including when one laid an egg on a fellow tourist’s camera. The egg was gently removed to be placed in a special area set aside for that purpose.

While admission to the Victoria Butterfly Gardens allows visitors to come and go as they please to witness the changing activities of theses lovely creatures throughout the day, our tour group from Rhapsody of the Seas was off to our next stop—Butchart Gardens, a National Historic Site of Canada.

Still privately owned by family descendants of Robert Pim and Jennie Butchart, the Butchart Gardens houses an incredible floral display on 55 acres of land.

Let’s start with a a bit of history—in 1888, Robert Pim Butchart began manufacturing Portland cement and by the turn of the century he was drawn to the Canadian west coast by the rich limestone deposits located there, which were necessary for cement production. After building a factory at Tod Inlet on Vancouver Island, he and his family established their home there in 1904.

View from the Butchart Dining Room
When the limestone in the quarry near their house was exhausted, Jennie began to refurbish the bleak pit a little at a time until the former quarry blossomed into a spectacular Sunken Garden. Later, the Butcharts created a Japanese Garden, an Italian Garden, and a refined Rose Garden. Word of Mrs. Butchart’s gardening skill spread and by the 1920s more than 50,000 visitors stopped by each year to see them. A stroll through the gardens today is a breathtaking experience that keeps 50 gardeners busy on a daily basis.

Tea in the Butchart Dining Room
Upon our arrival, we enjoyed tea in the Butchart’s family dining room and began our tour of the incredible gardens.

I’ll let the gorgeous plantings and flowers speak for themselves. Pictured here are some of my favorite garden views.

The Sunken Garden

Fountains Amid the Foliage

Colorful Flower Beds

A Bee Pollinating Yellow Rhododendron

Morning Dew on Orange Rhododendron






Photos © CruiseDiva.com

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Silversea Acquires Galapagos Tourism Company & Expedition Ship


This news is sure to capture the attention of nature loving travelers and adventurous cruisers in a big way—The Silversea Group has purchased Canodros S.A., the premier Ecuadorian tourism company that operates in the Galapagos Islands, and their upmarket expedition ship, Galapagos Explorer II.

Silversea plans to add Galapagos Explorer II (pictured here) to its ultra-luxury fleet of six ships next year, after the all-suite, 100-guest vessel undergoes a major refurbishment in September 2013 and is given a new name, steps that will ensure consistency with the standards of the Silversea fleet. Until that time, Galapagos Explorer II will continue on its planned schedule of cruises and will continue to be operated by Canodros, which is based in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Canodros will also continue handling reservations for Galapagos Explorer II, as well as sales and marketing through its established network of travel companies and tour operators. Guests currently booked on Galapagos Explorer II, and travel agents or tour operators with clients booked on the ship, should continue to liaise through their normal channels with Canodros for any needed assistance with their reservation.

The acquisition will enable the award-winning Silversea Cruises chaired by Manfredi Lefebvre to expand the Silversea Expeditions brand. Its existing expedition ship, Silver Explorer, is regularly deployed in the polar regions, and the addition of a second vessel, offering year-round unique luxury expedition cruises in the Galapagos archipelago, means Silversea will have the opportunity to offer the adventure traveler a broader portfolio of itineraries, encompassing some of the world's most desired and least explored regions.

The 4077-ton Galapagos Explorer II offers the stylish elegance of a mega-yacht, attentive onboard service, and an enriching naturalist education program. All of its 50 spacious suites feature ocean views and 24 include private balconies. Public spaces include a restaurant, piano bar, library and Internet station, main lounge, outdoor bar, two outdoor whirlpools, and a marine observation deck. Guests sailing aboard Galapagos Explorer II will continue to enjoy the same exciting itineraries, luxury accommodations, shipboard amenities, informative lectures, and sustainable tourism for which Canodros is known.

In the coming months, Silversea will announce more details concerning plans for the ship after it is renovated and renamed. Potential guests and travel agents interested in booking a Galapagos Explorer II voyage in the interim should visit Galapagos Explorer for more information.

Image Courtesy of Galapagos Explorer

Monday, June 18, 2012

Shame On You, US Airways

When we tell our friends or shipmates that we drove to our embarkation port—whether it's in Florida, any southern area, or even as far away as Baltimore—they are often puzzled. Why not fly? To be honest, twenty-plus years ago we always did fly, but after our first road trip we learned to love the experience. There's no airport security hassle, our luggage can weigh a pound or two more than the 'limit' without a charge, we each have a window seat, we can set our own schedule, and our vehicles have great entertainment options, including satellite radio and iPod plug-ins.

My recent experience on US Airways flights between Charlotte and Seattle to take a cruise to Alaska on Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas a few weeks ago illustrates other reasons to dislike flying. First off, I had to make connections in Charlotte departing from and returning to my hometown airport and the timing was relatively tight. Charlotte isn't a large airport and I knew I could get from the arrival gate in one concourse to the departure gate in a different concourse for my Seattle flight in plenty of time with a one hour layover. But going home the connection was even tighter—only 44 minutes. With that in mind, I chose to pay $56 for a "choice" aisle seat in row 6 in order to exit the airplane as fast as possible.

Everything went well as I settled in for the Seattle to Charlotte flight until a couple got on the plane at the very last minute. The middle seat next to me was still empty and I figured one of them would be taking it as they stopped in the aisle beside me. Since the window seat in row 6 was also occupied, they were obviously not sitting together. As I arose to let the wife take her seat, she asked me to swap my "choice" aisle seat with her husband who had a window seat back in the middle of the plane. This was almost an exact repeat of what had happened on my way to Seattle when another couple made the same request of both me and the man in the window seat in my row. He demurred and I explained to them that I didn't wish to move from my aisle seat to a window seat and they simply took their assigned seats without fuss.

However, in this second incident I was almost speechless by the woman's request because she was wearing her US Airways employee badge, which meant she and her husband were obviously flying non-revenue, yet she had the nerve to ask me to switch seats. I refused, explaining I'd PAID extra for that aisle seat in row 6 because I had a tight connection in Charlotte and needed to exit the plane quickly when we landed. As an employee of the airline, I felt she should have known that row 6 was in the premium section—only a couple rows behind the bulkhed—and that I'd paid additional to be seated there, yet she proceeded to argue and finally said, "Well, if you don't ask-ee, you don't get-ee." What an entitled attitude. I wanted to slap the snide grin off her face as she plopped into the middle seat in a huff. Not only was she rude, she was a "person of size" who took up half the seats on either side of her, even with the arm rests down. By the way, she didn't ask the man already occupying the window seat in row 6 to change with her husband because he was either already asleep or faking it really well. Unfortunately, I didn't have that option.

I made the connection in Charlotte with only minutes to spare and after relating the incident to a friend who used to work for US Airways, she told me, "You might report that incident to them, though, as a non-rev acting inappropriately on a plane is often grounds for 'cancellation' of their non-rev privileges." Unfortunately, I didn't get the employee's name. I wanted to, but when she saw me eyeing her badge she flipped it over.

If I ever have to fly US Airways again, I'll seriously consider staying home. Uncomfortable planes, not even a complimentary snack on a long haul flight, and the rudest employees (and flight attendants) in the air. Quite possibly the worst flight I've been on in the past twenty years. I will say that the check-in agent in SEATAC was extremely nice and helpful. Otherwise, it was a horrible experience.

That's why I love the Volvo Express to port, even if it means dodging sunbirds in their monster recreation vehicles on I-95.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

“Madam Butterfly" Alights Aboard Queen Mary 2

As part of its worldwide release schedule, Cunard Line is proud to announce the first shipboard screenings of the 3D feature film, “Madam Butterfly 3D,” in association with the Royal Opera House and RealD, the world’s most widely used digital 3D projection technology. Captured during live performances at London’s internationally renowned Royal Opera House, “Madam Butterfly 3D” will be shown aboard Cunard’s flagship, Queen Mary 2, beginning July 6, 2012, the only ship currently scheduled to present the film. The film opened earlier this year in the United Kingdom to much popular and critical acclaim and is being released worldwide in almost 40 other countries through the fall of 2012.

Cunard began its successful partnership with RealD in 2011 with the installation of RealD 3D projection technology, furthering the relationship later that year with screenings of the RealD and Royal Opera House co-production, “Carmen in 3D,” which proved hugely popular with Cunard guests. “Madam Butterfly 3D” is expected to draw equally large and appreciative audiences, when it is presented in the ship’s grand 450-seat theatre, Illuminations. This second co-production between RealD and the Royal Opera House gives viewers the best seat in the house at one of the world’s most prestigious venues for one of the world’s best loved operas. Combining the excitement of live staging with the immediacy of a feature film, “Madam Butterfly 3D” is a production designed to appeal to novices and opera buffs alike.

“The success of Cunard’s screenings of ‘Carmen in 3D’ over the last year has demonstrated the broad appeal of world-class opera productions on film to guests who may be regular opera-goers but who may equally not have had the time or opportunity to attend live performances,” said Peter Shanks, president of Cunard Line. “We’re sure ‘Madam Butterfly 3D’ will continue to play to full houses on board and add a new highlight to the wide-ranging program of on board speakers, workshops, and performances that sets Cunard apart.”

“Madam Butterfly 3D” takes audiences into the heart of this intimate production, immersing them in a tragic story of love, passion and betrayal. The story of a Japanese geisha’s love for an American naval officer moved Puccini to compose music of rare and sensual beauty, but also of heart-rending power, as Butterfly’s tragedy unfolds to its devastating conclusion. This work is one of opera’s most ravishing scores, featuring the famous Humming Chorus, Butterfly’s soaring aria “Un bel di vedremo” (“One fine day”), and such wonderfully lyrical passages as Cio-Cio-San’s first entrance, Pinkerton’s seduction of her, and Cio-Cio-San’s passionate farewell to her son.

Liping Zhang appears as the Butterfly of the title, Cio-Cio-San, a role for which she is acclaimed worldwide, and James Valenti makes an especially dashing Pinkerton, the young officer whose thoughtless toying with love is the catalyst for this tragic story. This revival of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s elegant stage production offers the drama, the musical richness and the sheer enjoyment of great performance that make The Royal Opera truly world class.

Image Courtesy of Cunard Line

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Business-class Air & Shore Excursions Included in Silversea's "Shore Amore" Mediterranean Voyages

Silversea Cruises has announced a new collection of five "Shore Amore" all-inclusive Mediterranean sojourns to sail this summer aboard one of Cruise Diva's favorite ships—Silver Spirit. The "Shore Amore" cruises include roundtrip business class air and transfers, pre-cruise deluxe hotel stay with breakfast, exclusive, authentic local experience (such as a gondola ride along the Grand Canal in Venice), and choice of select small-group shore excursions in every port.

The cornerstone of these sojourns is, of course, Silver Spirit herself, an award-winning intimate ship offering ocean-view suites (most feature a private veranda), gourmet cuisine, attentive butler service, and a generous selection of all-inclusive shipboard amenities, including complimentary beverages, wines, and spirits served throughout the ship, 24-hour room service, stocked in-suite beverage cabinet, sophisticated enrichment and entertainment programs, and all onboard gratuities.

Following are the new ultra-luxury sojourns:
• BARCELONA TO VENICE: 12 Days, July 22-Aug 3. Before embarking Voyage 5221, guests will enjoy a one-night stay at the Casa Fuster Hotel and a "Tapas and Touring" shore experience in Barcelona. Ports of call include Palma de Mallorca, Cagliari (Sardinia), Trapani, Valletta, Siracusa (Sicily), Dubrovnik and Hvar. Ship overnights in Venice.
• VENICE TO ISTANBUL: 11 Days, Aug 2-13. Before embarking Voyage 5222, guests will enjoy a one-night stay at Venice's Monaco and Grand Canal Hotel plus a gondola ride along the Grand Canal. Ports of call include Split, Kotor, Corfu, Rhodes, Santorini and Kusadasi. Ship overnights in Venice.
• ISTANBUL TO ATHENS: 8 Days, Aug 12-20. Before embarking Voyage 5223, guests will enjoy a one-night stay at the Ceylon Intercontinental Hotel in Istanbul plus a cruise along the Bosphorus. Ports of call include Kusadasi, Rhodes, Aghios Nikolaos, Santorini and Mykonos.
• ATHENS TO VENICE: 8 Days, Aug 19-27. Before embarking Voyage 5224, guests will enjoy a one-night stay at the Grande Bretagne Hotel in Athens plus "Dinner with Acropolis View" shore experience. Ports of call include Monemvasia, Corfu, Kotor and Split. Ship overnights in Venice.
• VENICE TO MONTE CARLO: 8 Days, Aug 26-Sept 3. Before embarking Voyage 5225, guests will enjoy a one-night stay at Venice's Monaco and Grand Canal Hotel plus a gondola ride along the Grand Canal. Ports of call include Dubrovnik, Messina, Sorrento and Bonifacio (Corsica). Ship overnights in Venice.
"Whether you're exploring ancient ruins or relaxing at a harborside cafe, it's easy to fall in love with the Mediterranean," said Ellen Bettridge, Silversea's president of the Americas. "With business class air, hotel and shore excursions included, our new 'Shore Amore' sojourns offer unsurpassed value and the opportunity to enjoy a remarkably enriching vacation experience."

To receive this special offer, you or your travel agent must mention promotion name "Shore Amore" at the time of booking. For complete details, visit Silversea.com/ShoreAmore.

Photo © Linda Coffman, CruiseDiva.com

Friday, June 15, 2012

Pack “Small” For Your Next Cruise

When packing for my recent Alaska cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas, I was faced with squeezing a week’s worth of bulkier-than-usual clothing in my 26” suitcase.

Sweaters, fleece jackets, and wool scarves take up more room than shorts, tee-shirts, and bathing suits, so in order to fit it all in and still have room for shoes and accessories, I “compacted” everything in Hefty OneZip Big Bags. The XL storage slider bags with handles are the 11 gallon size and come four to a box*.

Once each bag is lightly filled, zip the top almost shut and then carefully sit on it to squeeze out the air before zipping the top the rest of the way until it’s closed. Two bags fit perfectly in my suitcase with room to spare. The photo here shows the suitcase with only one bag inside and you can see how much additional space there is.

A bonus to having all your clothing encased in plastic is that everything inside stays dry. That’s important if it’s raining, either at your embarkation port or when you (and your suitcase) are changing planes en route to your cruise. Your luggage—and its contents—could get wet.

* NOTE: I first purchased the Big Bags in my local supermarket, but subsequently they were difficult to find in local stores. Instead of using multiple bags in smaller sizes, or buying pricier space saving bags, I turned to Google and found the Big Bags on Amazon.com.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Organize Your Cruise Ship Bathroom

Every once in a while… to be honest—every time we take a cruise… the time comes for a “treasure hunt” in our cabin. There’s always some item that “hides” from us. Usually in plain sight, it’s often right where it’s been put. But let’s face it—unpacking is done in a hurry and often someone (that would be me) can’t remember where things were stashed.

“Have you seen my ____ (insert whatever it is I can’t find)?” is a common question in our cabin, particularly when it comes to small items like eye drops or lip balm. Most cruise ship bathrooms have adequate shelf storage for toiletries and other necessities, but small items have a tendency to be out of sight when mingled with larger bottles and tubes.

After unpacking on our recent Carnival Liberty cruise, I noted that the small shelf in the shower was perfectly adequate to hold a bar of soap as well as my travel size bottles of hair products and I really didn’t need to hang my Cruise/Travel Shower Caddy from Favors by Serendipity on the shower wall. You may recall seeing the caddy in Shower Essentials For Your Cruise last year here on the Cruise Diva Blog (and that’s it pictured here).

Get ready for my Genius Idea! Instead of using the Shower Caddy in the shower, I could hang it on the bathroom wall next to the vanity and put all my small items in its pockets. Fortunately, the walls in our Carnival Liberty bathroom were smooth. The suction cup hangers stuck all week long and didn’t leave a mark when removed. Had the walls been textured, I could have stuck my Shower Caddy hangers on the large mirror instead. Or, because the shelves were rimmed by a surrounding “rod” to keep items from falling off, I could have hung it on one of them by using the three Velcro straps.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cruise News: Carnival Cruise Lines Rewards Past Guests With “Very Important Fun Person (VIFP) Club” Perks

In a long awaited and much anticipated move, Carnival Cruise Lines has revamped and rebranded its guest recognition program to offer the line’s loyal past guests a variety of benefits and perks.

The new “Very Important Fun Person (VIFP) Club” program is being introduced on all Carnival ships departing on or after June 25, with the exception of the new Carnival Breeze whose VIFP Club program will be rolled out on July 9.

The VIFP Club is divided into five levels based on the number of cruise days taken, each offering its own perks and benefits that increase in the higher levels:

• Blue (pre-cruise and first-time cruisers): In a cruise industry first, guests who have never sailed with Carnival before can join the VIFP Club for access to members-only specials, promotions and other offers. Offers will change regularly and pre-cruisers and first-time cruisers are encouraged to visit carnival.com/VIFP often to get the best deal on their first Carnival vacation.

• Red (2nd sailing to 24 cruise days): Benefits include a complimentary alcoholic/specialty beverage at breakfast or lunch or at the Punchliner Comedy Brunch Presented by George Lopez, a new e-newsletter, and members-only cruise specials and other offers.

• Gold (25 to 74 cruise days): Members receive a keepsake Gold member pin, a Gold, Platinum and Diamond members-only shipboard cocktail party with complimentary drinks and appetizers, as well as all of the benefits of Red level VIFP Club membership.

• Platinum (75 to 199 cruise days): Benefits include priority embarkation, debarkation, tender service, and dining times (including main dining room and specialty restaurants, if applicable), an enhanced logo gift item, along with a ship- and year-specific pin each voyage that will be redesigned annually, a dedicated phone number and concierge desk on board, complimentary wash and fold laundry service (2 bags on a 3–6 day cruises, 3 bags on a 7+ day cruises), casino buy-one-get-one tournament entry, complimentary arcade $5 play for guests under 18, as well as all of the benefits of the Red and Gold level memberships.

• Diamond (200-plus cruise days): Members receive guaranteed dining times and specialty restaurant reservations, acknowledgement from the captain at Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Party, unlimited wash and fold service. One-time perks include a complimentary dinner for two in the specialty restaurant of their choice, if applicable, complimentary luggage tag and passport holder (presented upon entry into Diamond level), an upgrade or a third or fourth guest sail free offer, a $100 per member contribution to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, as well as all benefits of Red, Gold and Platinum level membership.

• Milestone Cruise Rewards: VIFP Club members sailing on their 25th, 50th and 75th cruise will receive a shipboard credit equal to 25, 50 or 75 percent of their cruise fare, respectively, for that voyage. Members sailing on their 100th cruise earn a complimentary Caribbean, Mexican Riviera or Alaska voyage of up to eight days in length.
VIFP Club members also have access to a special web portal at carnival.com/VIFP where they can review and modify their cruise history, chart their progress to the next VIFP Club level, watch a video overview of the program, and enjoy members-only specials, promotions and other offers. All Carnival past guests are automatically enrolled in the new VIFP Club and can use their existing past guest number to activate their profile by visiting carnival.com/activate.

Whether or not you have sailed the required number of nights under the new program, you will not lose your status if you are already a Platinum member. And if you are presently closing in on the Platinum level under the old guidelines, you will be “grandfathered” into Platinum status if you reach the previous requirement of 10 cruises by Dec 31, 2013.

Image Courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Unleash Your Inner Epicurean With Celebrity Cruises' Excite the Senses Cruises

Foodies aren't your average cruisers. They want to get up close and personal with the culinary experts on board and learn to create the dishes they've enjoyed during their cruise. On a Celebrity Cruises Excite the Senses Cruise they can don a chef hat and apron and depart on a culinary journey that teaches cooking technique and beverage secrets as part of the program.



Celebrity Cruises' Excite the Senses lifestyle book was the inspiration for this year's theme cruises. Featuring over 260 recipes from the most popular restaurants and bars on board, the book also has sections detailing how to host parties at home in true Celebrity style.

Each Excite the Senses voyage will be lead by a member of the Celebrity Culinary Team and a beverage partner. Enjoy a Meet and Greet event, a book signing, two demonstrations of recipes from the book, two hands-on classes, and a Food and Wine Pairing Dinner. Each expert will also incorporate elements of the sailing's ports of call.

2012 Excite the Senses Culinary Theme Cruise dates and hosts are:

• June 29: 7-night Alaska cruise on Celebrity Infinity®, roundtrip from Seattle and hosted by Celebrity Cruises Director of Culinary Operations, John Suley, and Celebrity's wine expert and certified sommelier, Chanelle Duarte. Activities will focus on local ingredients, food and wine pairing, and more.
• July 10: 12-night Mediterranean cruise on Celebrity Solstice®, sailing roundtrip from Barcelona and hosted by Corporate Executive Chef Rufino Rengifo. Activities will celebrate Mediterranean cooking.
• August 12: 12-night Baltic cruise on Celebrity Constellation®, the first of Celebrity's Millennium Class ships to be Solsticized, sailing roundtrip from Amsterdam and hosted by Lorenzo Davidoiu, Celebrity's Restaurant Operations Manager, who will focus on easy, modern entertaining tips.
• Sept 14: 8-night wine cruise on Celebrity Millennium®, sailing from Vancouver to San Diego and hosted by Celebrity's Traveling Restaurant Manager and former star maitre d' Dominique Gamba, who will focus on specialty cheeses from around the world, the art of tea service, table settings, and entertaining tips.
Video Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

Monday, June 11, 2012

Rhapsody of the Seas Delivers the WOW!

When it comes to the on board passenger experience, Royal Caribbean reigns supreme in delivering the WOW factor. The line’s newest ships wow their guests with parades and events on the Royal Promenade—the ships’ indoor Main Street and gathering space. But what about the older shipmates in the fleet—the ones featuring a Centrum—the central atrium that was so innovative when Royal Caribbean introduced the concept in ship design more than two decades ago?

In a move that is sheer genius, Royal Caribbean has turned those 65-foot tall spaces on their Vision-class ships into a vertical “royal promenade” with aerialists executing gravity defying stunts on a variety of apparatus overhead while singers and dancers perform in concert below.

Having enjoyed cruises on other Vision-class ships in the past, I was anxious to see the improvements on Rhapsody of the Seas up close during my recent Alaska cruise. Would the addition of specialty restaurants and, particularly, new accommodations in place of upper deck public areas (the library, card room, Crown and Anchor study, and Explorer’s Lounge) open to the Centrum make the ship seem less spacious? Would the views of the sea be spoiled?

Come along and find out as Cruise Diva takes a first hand look after her complete makeover and shares the WOW you'll find aboard Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas.

Photo © Linda Coffman. CruiseDiva.com

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Tonight'’s Tony Awards "Go To Sea"

What’s the next best thing to the bright lights of Broadway? It just might be the great blue sea. As the only cruise line to feature fully-licensed Broadway productions, Royal Caribbean is partnering with the Tony Awards to include a live broadcast from the middle of the Caribbean Sea, where the line’s Oasis of the Seas’ cast of Hairspray will perform a show-stopping number in the ship’s Opal Theater as part of the Tony Awards program. The cruise line, which has been named an official partner of the 66th Annual Tony Awards, will be part of the live broadcast airing on CBS from the Beacon Theatre in New York City tonight—Sunday, June 10, 2012.

“Just like the Tony Awards, Royal Caribbean is committed to bringing Broadway to new audiences around the world. We are thrilled with this new partnership, which is a natural extension of Royal Caribbean’s strong commitment to engaging entertainment,” said Charlotte St. Martin, Executive Director, The Broadway League and Heather Hitchens, Executive Director, the American Theatre Wing.

In addition the the awards show, you’ll see Royal Caribbean’s new global brand campaign “The Sea Is Calling. Answer It Royally.” during the telecast and a Royal Caribbean social media reporter will report live from the red carpet. Fans can follow the excitement of the Tony Awards and go behind-the-scenes with the social reporter on the line’s Twitter handle @RoyalCaribbean with the hash tag #BroadwayatSea or on their Facebook page.

The 66th Annual Tony Awards, which are presented by the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing, will be broadcast in a live three-hour ceremony from the Beacon Theatre on the CBS television network on Sunday, June 10, 2012. Check your local listings for the channel number and time.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Cruise News: SeaDream Yacht Club Adds Panama Canal Transits To New Costa Rica Voyages For 2013

SeaDream Yacht Club just released its 2013 year-end voyage schedule and for the first time the luxury, mega-yacht SeaDream I will be transiting the Panama Canal to spend several weeks sailing along the “rich coast” of Costa Rica.

On Nov 9, 2013, SeaDream I will sail from Barbados to Panama City, Panama. The 10-night voyage calls on Isla de Margarita and The Los Roques Islands of Venezuela; Curacao; Cartagena, Columbia; San Blas, Panama including a transit of the Panama Canal; all of which are “firsts” for SeaDream. From Panama, SeaDream sails to Caldera, Costa Rica, making it her home port for six consecutive voyages. The last of these voyages spends New Year’s Eve in vibrant Panama City, Panama.

SeaDream has arranged for a highly qualified Naturalist to sail aboard all Costa Rica voyages. This paradise of active volcanoes and beautiful beaches has abundant wildlife including 1,000 butterfly species and 1,200 varieties of orchids. The surfing, hiking, rafting, zip lines and deep sea fishing is among the best in the world.

SeaDream’s itineraries include:

· Isla de Coiba, Panama: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Coiba National Park is one of the last places in Central America the Scarlet Macaw lives in large numbers in the wild.
· Golfito, Costa Rica: Remote and rugged, its home to the beautiful Wilson Botanical Gardens and the natural reserve and wildlife refuge of Piedras Blancas National Park.
· Drake Bay, Costa Rica: One of the most secluded spots in Costa Rica. Its spectacular lagoons and coves are ideal for scuba and snorkeling; See humpback and killer whales as well as several species of dolphins.
· Isla del Cano, Costa Rica: An amazing marine reserve with fantastic underwater visibility; See sea turtles, dolphins, stingrays, manta rays, moray eels and more.
· Quepos, Costa Rica: One of the best places in the world for big game sport fishing. Manuel Antonio National Park is a main attraction along with canopy tours, horseback riding, kayaking, rafting and surfing.
· Tortuga Islands, Costa Rica: White sand beaches and emerald waters invites absolute tranquility and make it the ideal spot for SeaDream’s Champagne and Caviar Splash™.
· San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua: A quaint fishing village where thatch-roofed restaurants line the long, sandy beach. Visitors will want to see the nearby Masaya Volcano.
· Playa el Coco, Costa Rica: Surrounded by steep hills, this horseshoe shaped bay is among the most well-known beaches in the country. offering great surfing & nightlife.
· Playa Flamingo, Costa Rica: Perhaps Costa Rica’s most upscale beach destination, ideally situated near the Santa Rosa National Park and the Palo Verde natural reserve.
With so much to see and do, SeaDream is offering a 2-night/3-day Pre or Post-Voyage land package which includes accommodations at the Real Intercontinental Hotel, meals (including lunch at the elegant Villa Caletas Hotel), transfers, guided visits to Po├ís Volcano National Park, Sarchi Town, and a city tour of San Jose with it’s opulent National Theatre and National Museum.

For a taste of the yachting life, join Cruise Diva aboard SeaDream for a virtual cruise.

Image Courtesy of SeaDream Yacht Club

Friday, June 8, 2012

Cruise News: Princess Cruises Honored for Environmental Efforts by Ports of San Francisco & Victoria

Michael Nerney, Marketing Manager, Port of  San Francisco
  presents Sea Princess Captain Martin Stenzel
with the Cruise Ship Environmental Award
 At a time when cruise lines have been criticized for their environmental impact in places as diverse as Venice, Italy and Charleston, SC, it’s good to be able to share a positive story. Princess Cruises has been honored by the ports of San Francisco and Victoria, BC, Canada, with awards for the cruise line’s environmental efforts.

The Port of San Francisco’s Cruise Ship Environmental Award was presented to Sea Princess and Sapphire Princess. The ships earned this distinction during the 2011 season for air emissions reduction, advanced wastewater management, and recycling and disposal programs. Both vessels plugged into the port's new shoreside power system, the first to be implemented in California.

Introduced in 2005, this annual award recognizes cruise ships that exceed environmental regulations and industry standards to greater protect air and water quality. Cruise ships visiting San Francisco four or more times a year that demonstrate their commitment to safeguarding the environment are considered for this award. Princess Cruises ships based in San Francisco have earned this prestigious accolade in each of the last seven years.

Victoria City Mayor Dean Fortin and the
Honorable James Moore, Canadian Federal Minister,
present the Ogden Point Eco Award to
Princess Senior Environmental Officer Debbie Nylund
The Victoria, BC Ogden Point Eco Award recognizes cruise lines who go above and beyond in their efforts to reduce emissions while in the port of Victoria, including using low-sulfur fuel. The award cited four Princess ships that called in Victoria during 2011—Golden Princess, Island Princess, Sapphire Princess, and Sea Princess.

“We are always gratified when our ships are recognized for making a difference in local environmental efforts,” said Rai Caluori, Princess’ executive vice president of fleet operations. “It is important to us that stunning ports such as San Francisco and Victoria continue to offer passengers the natural beauty they come to experience.”

Princess Cruises is committed to environmental practices which set a high standard for excellence and responsibility, and which help preserve the marine environment in which its ships operate. The company’s environmental goals and policies go beyond what is required by law and include a zero solid waste discharge policy, state-of-the-art environmental technology and waste management equipment, programs to minimize waste generated, and recycling where possible. The company also pioneered the use of shore power programs in the cruise industry to reduce air emissions.

Photos Courtesy of Princess Cruises