Wednesday, December 31, 2014

River vs Ocean Cruising

For more than twenty years Mel and I have sailed on hundreds of cruises. Until last year all our voyages were all on ocean-going cruise ships. For the first time, we embarked on a different cruise style in 2013—a river cruise from Antwerp, Belgium to Amsterdam, the Netherlands aboard Vantage Deluxe World Travel’s new River Splendor. This year we sailed on another Vantage riverboat—the River Venture on a splendid round-trip voyage from Paris on the River Seine.

Both river cruises were short preview sailings, but were long enough for us to get a taste of river cruising. Not surprising, our river cruises included many features we have only found on high end premium or luxury cruise ships.

As 2014 comes to a close, we take a look back at the similarities and differences between this fast growing cruise style and traditional ocean cruises.

Similarities Differences

  • On both, you settle into a stateroom & unpack once
  • Both visit a variety of destinations
  • all food & entertainment on board are included
  • Amenities in accommodations are similar, with private baths, storage, toiletries provided
  • There's a gym
  • An Internet center & WiFi are available
  • Both have lounges for relaxation
  • Both have a main dining room
  • There are libraries on both
  • Lecturers give talks about
    destinations, culture, and topics of interest
  • Good service
  • Both have planned activities, but the program on river cruises might consist of a single page
  • There is a safety briefing before the ship departs the embarkation port

  • River vessels are more compact; their scale is smaller
  • Standard accommodations are smaller on river vessels, but space is used effectively
  • River vessels visit destinations the big cruise ships cannot
  • Shore excursions are included in the fare on river cruises
  • There are no splashy production shows, or theater-style show lounges
  • There are no children's programs or facilities on river vessels
  • River vessels don't generally have pools, spas, beauty shops, or a medical center
  • Internet service is free on most river vessels
  • There is no 24-hour food service on river vessels and the menu choices are more limited
  • River cruising is very stable & seasickness worries are nonexistent
  • River vessels have no lifeboats!
While ocean-going ships usually dock at major seaside ports, your river vessel generally docks right in small towns located inland on rivers or waterways. Complimentary guided excursions on river cruises are often walking tours, although you may find yourself taking a coach to a nearby city or village before the walking starts. There are sometimes other for-a-fee excursions offered.

Our river cruises began with a safety meeting that included a demonstration on how to don and secure the life vests located in every stateroom. However, there are no life boats on river vessels as they are always close to land and emergency assistance if it is needed. It was noted that fire is the most serious problem on a river boat (as on an ocean cruise ship) and smoking is limited to only outdoor spaces. Smokers were warned to be careful when extinguishing smoking materials and NOT to throw anything overboard.

As a rule, children are not banned from river cruises, but parents must think carefully about bringing them along. Driven by Baby Boomers, river cruises have boomed in popularity and passengers are older as a rule. Many of them look askance at the presence of young children, although if they are well-behaved that's not a problem if your chosen river travel company allows them.

While river vessel generally have no beauty shop or medical center, helpful attendants at the reception desk can arrange for those services to be available ashore when docked.

One thing we noted on our river cruises that would never happen on a large cruise ship was that we were able to come and go from our vessel without being checked on and off with an electronic boarding pass. When questioned, an officer told me that such stringent security was not necessary on river vessels. Even though we didn't have an electronic boarding pass, we were issued a boarding pass when we turned in our room key at reception before leaving the ship for shore tours. Reception always knew who was on tour and, seemingly, who was on board. However, Mel and I left the vessels several times independently without a boarding pass. Procedure on other lines might vary.

All in all, we enjoyed the camaraderie aboard both vessels—we met many interesting fellow passengers and liked the ease of making friends and joining one another for meals that were all open seating. The single aspect that Mel found lacking was food, specifically that there were stretches between scheduled meal times when only fresh fruit or cookies were available in the main lounge. Of course, cafés were nearby in port. On the other hand, we both appreciated the always-available coffee stations with a variety of complimentary coffees, teas, and hot chocolate, as well as the convenient self-service ice machines.

Images © CruiseDiva.com

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Celebrity Cruises to Host Second Annual New York Rangers Legends Cruise in 2015

As the Official Cruise Line of the New York Rangers, Celebrity Cruises will host its second Rangers Legends Cruise next year—a 7-night Bermuda getaway from July 26, 2015 on Celebrity Summit departing from Cape Liberty in Bayonne, New Jersey to Bermuda featuring Rangers greats Adam Graves, Jeff Beukeboom, Stephane Matteau, and Ron Greschner.

“Some thrills are so great—they’re worth repeating!” noted Michael Daniels, Regional Marketing Manager, Celebrity Cruises. “Our premiere Rangers Legends Cruise last August was a huge success, and we’ve expanded on it for 2015.”

On board, guests will learn how to fire a slapshot at a hockey clinic and discover how the pros control a power play at a special “Rangers Greats Q&A panel.” Travelers who are part of the Legends Cruise will be able to kick back and relax with their favorite teammates. With luxurious accommodations and globally-inspired dining, there’s simply no better way to unwind after an exciting season.

The Rangers Legends Cruise offers a unique vacation package that offers a lot of value, including unprecedented access to Rangers stars, as well as exclusive events on board and on land including meet-and-greet events; Complimentary Classic beverage package for two including beer, wine, and spirits; an Exclusive Shore Excursion on July 30, 2015 Tobacco Bay "Fun in the Sun" Beach Package including drinks (Alcoholic, Non-Alcoholic, or Frozen Drinks), lunch, and unlimited use of non-motorized water sports; Snorkeling Equipment, Paddleboards, Kayaks, Zayaks, and more; complimentary parking at Cape Liberty; $50 to spend on board toward amenities, shore excursions, spa treatments, dining, private receptions, and more. This package is valued at over $1,000.

The Rangers will host an in-arena shooting contest at five home games throughout the 2014-15 season, offering fans a chance to win a spot for them and a guest on the Rangers Legends Cruise. Celebrity Cruises also will hold a sweepstakes for a Special Grand Prize Package to come aboard this year’s Rangers Legends Cruise.

“Last year’s inaugural Rangers Legends Cruise was a huge success and we knew our fans would be looking forward to this unique experience from Celebrity Cruises again this year,” said Ron Skotarczak, executive vice president of marketing partnerships, The Madison Square Garden Company. “The Rangers have one of the most passionate and loyal fan bases in sports and with Celebrity Cruises we have the perfect partner to offer our Blueshirt faithful this incredible opportunity to connect with the team.”

As part of the marketing partnership, Celebrity Cruises will have integration on the team’s websites; on GardenVision, the state-of-the-art center-hung multimedia display; as well as on-ice branding and digital signage during the Rangers Legends Cruise shooting contests. For full details about the Rangers Legends Cruise, visit celebritycruises.com/nyrangers. Space is limited and pricing varies by accommodation selected. To make a booking, call Direct Consumer: 888.727.4907; Travel Partners: 1-800-437-4111—use Group code #3786564.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Princess Cruises Issues a Special Holiday Edition of Their Annual Relaxation Report

With the holiday season winding down, a new survey released by Princess Cruises found what most women could have predicted—that this was a more stressful time for women than men, with women feeling more pressure cooking meals and hosting parties, while men feel more stress by shopping and receiving unwanted gifts.

Causes of Holiday Stress
While the holidays are a joyful time to spend with family and friends, the busy-ness of the season does cause some stress. Nearly half of those surveyed (46%) report they feel stressed during the holidays with women (53%) being more stressed than men (37%). When asked what causes holiday stress, woman cited cooking special meals (39%) and hosting holiday parties (33%), while the stressors for men were shopping for presents (41%), attending parties (15%) and receiving unwanted gifts (17%). And over two-thirds (69%) agree that hosting family is hard work, with women feeling this more so than men (72% vs. 65%).

Bringing Holiday Joy
When asked what they most enjoy about preparing for the holidays, respondents differed by gender. Nearly half of women (49%) like shopping for gifts while only 30% of men like this activity. More women than men also like giving presents to others (68% vs. 59%), decorating for the season (54% vs. 38%), and listening to holiday music (49% vs. 38%).

Holiday Getaways
The survey found that while nearly three-quarters (72%) take vacation time during the holidays, nearly two-thirds (61%) need a vacation to recover from the holidays, with women saying they need a vacation more than men (65% vs. 56%). When asked what type of post-holiday vacation is most desired, warm weather is definitely preferred, with nearly two-thirds (64%) selecting a beach visit and 61% desiring an ocean cruise vacation to a warm weather destination. The least desired vacations cited were visiting a theme park and skiing (36% and 30%, respectively).

The survey also found that nearly two-thirds (61%) of those surveyed need a vacation to recover from the holidays, with women (65%) saying they need a vacation more than men (56%). The survey—a special holiday edition of the line's annual "Relaxation Report"—helps to gauge consumer attitudes toward vacation and relaxation habits.

About the Survey: The online survey was conducted using a nationally representative sample from uSamp of 982 U.S. adults ages 18+, during the week of Dec 15, 2014, and tabulated by the survey tool Qualtrics.

Image Courtesy Princess Cruises

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Cleaner Environment Courtesy of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

Here at Cruise Diva headquarters, which is also the headquarters of Southeastern Filtration Products, we are committed to a cleaner environment. It's what Mel has done for the past forty-plus years while supplying products to industry to reduce pollution. Just ask him what a "scrubber" is and he can tell you exactly what it is and how it works. While they didn't consult Mel, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. will retrofit 19 of its ships with advanced emissions purification (AEP) systems, underscoring its commitment to meet or exceed important environmental standards. These systems, also known as scrubbers, will remove more than 97% of the sulfur dioxide emissions generated by the ships' diesel engines. The move will position RCL ahead of all forthcoming International Maritime Organization Emission Control Area emissions standards, and will ensure compliance with existing European Union standards. Additionally, the decision to install AEP systems instead of switching to a fuel with a lower sulfur content will ensure that RCL's ships can be compliant everywhere they sail, as availability of lower-sulfur fuels is limited.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. has been involved in development, testing and planning for the use of AEP technology since 2010. Two newly built RCL ships that entered into service this year, Royal Caribbean International's Quantum of the Seas and TUI Cruises' Mein Schiff 3, were among the first cruise ships to be built with AEP systems installed during initial construction. Royal Caribbean International's Liberty of the Seas has been operating one of its six engines with a retrofitted AEP system for two years. AEP systems "scrub" exhaust gases by injecting high volumes of water spray into the exhaust stream, removing more than 97% of sulfur dioxide emissions.

"AEP technology for maritime vessels is very new, and we expect that by utilizing multiple technological solutions to accommodate the differences among our ships, additional development will ultimately help industrialize AEP technology even more, which will benefit not only RCL but also the larger maritime industry," said Adam Goldstein, President and COO, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

The company faced significant challenges in order to accommodate the AEP systems on its existing ships, some pieces of which can be as large as a school bus, an entire system having an operational weight of several hundred tons of equipment and liquids. "A retrofit project of this size and complexity—and the scale and intricacy of the research, planning, and design required—is unprecedented for our company, and has required a very systematic process and involved the world's leading expertise in this field," said Harri Kulovaara, Executive Vice President, Maritime, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

To ensure the right systems are available for each ship's unique requirements, RCL contracted two different AEP technology suppliers, Swedish company Alfa Laval and Finnish company Wartsila. Additional companies are being hired to execute the installations.

"In addition to the teamwork it takes within our own company to execute a program of this magnitude and make all the necessary process improvements, the collaboration with government agencies has been key," Goldstein said. "Working with our fleets' flag states, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Coast Guard, and Transport Canada to explore technology development has been critical, and we are eager to continue to work with these agencies to explore whether there are additional environmental benefits to using these systems," said Goldstein.

Beginning in January 2015, installation will take place on 13 Royal Caribbean International ships and six Celebrity Cruises ships, during scheduled dry-dockings and while ships are in service. While preliminary work has begun on several of the ships receiving AEP systems, most will take place between 2015 and 2017. Each installation will take approximately eight months.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

From Cruise Diva headquarters to your home... Merry Christmas!

Image © CruiseDiva.com

Escape To A New Way Of Cruising Like A Norwegian

When Norwegian Escape launches in the fall of 2015, on tap will be exhilarating adventures for families and thrill-seekers alike. Building on the success of Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Cruise Line has already revealed many of Norwegian Escape’s features, which include all of the innovative experiences of the Breakaway Class. Past passengers of those ships will recognize some of those spaces, like The Waterfront—an oceanfront promenade lined with restaurants, bars, and stunning sea views. Plus there will be a number of new spaces and interactive experiences. In the new video below Norwegian highlights some all-new features to tempt us to Cruise Like A Norwegian.

To kick off the excitement, Miami’s newest ship will feature a three-story multiplex of heart-pounding challenges, complete with two planks and five Sky Rails—the largest ropes course at sea. Pair that with the largest Aqua Park at sea, and you’ve got a whole lot of activities on one ship. There’s also an expansive sports complex with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle mini golf course, an expanded Kids’ Aqua Park, exclusive Nickelodeon entertainment, and the line’s first dedicated nursery for little Norwegians, two and under.



Video Courtesy Norwegian Cruise Line

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

New Ships Announced for Carnival Cruise Lines & Holland America Line

ms Koningsdam
The prototypes for the newest cruise vessel classes for Carnival Cruise Lines and Holland America Line are still under construction, but parent company Carnival Corporation is demonstrating once again why they are the world's largest travel and leisure company by placing new ship orders for those brands. The new cruise ships will be constructed by Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri.

The as-yet-unnamed 3,954-passenger vessel, which is to be the 26th ship in Carnival Cruise Lines' fleet, will offer many of the newest and most popular features from Carnival's current ships, along with several innovations that will be exclusive to this vessel. The delivery date for the new cruise ship is scheduled for March 2018. Homeport and itinerary information will be announced at a later date. The new ship will be a sister ship to Carnival Vista, which is slated for delivery in spring 2016. Carnival plans to announce details on the many unique features and innovations of Carnival Vista during a three-day event for media, travel agents and consumers in New York Jan. 22-24, 2015.

For Holland America Line, the new order adds a second Pinnacle class ship to the fleet, a new class of vessels that will debut with the delivery and launch of the ms Koningsdam in February 2016. The new ship, scheduled for delivery in late November 2018, will accommodate 2,650 guests and 1,025 crew. The new as-yet-unnamed ship will feature new public spaces and venues that will debut on Koningsdam. In addition, many of the familiar spaces that are currently featured across the Holland America Line fleet will be included.

"These beautiful new ships on order from Fincantieri signify our ongoing commitment to provide the best possible guest experience across our industry-leading brands," said Arnold Donald, President & CEO of Carnival Corporation. "New ships with the latest in features, accommodations and innovations really bring the modern cruise experience to life and will help us continue to grow new demand for cruising."

All told, Carnival Corporation has refreshed its global fleet—made up of nine brands and the largest in the world—with more than 30 new ship additions since 2007. Not to be overlooked, Seabourn, another Carnival Corporation brand, will unveil its newest and largest 604-passenger luxury ship in 2016. Also under the Carnival Corporation banner, Princess Cruises is looking forward to 2017 and working with Fincantieri to build a 143,000-ton vessel featuring the highly popular design elements introduced by the brand's two newest ships, sisters Royal Princess and Regal Princess.

ms Koningsdam Image Courtesy Holland America Line

Monday, December 22, 2014

How Princess Cruises Built a Rose Parade Float

Many years ago Cruise Diva and a group of friends spent New Year’s Eve in Pasadena, California huddled under blankets alongside Colorado Boulevard in order to have a prime viewing spot at the Rose Parade. In years prior and subsequent to that first hand view of the most spectacular parade I’ve ever seen close up, I’ve gotten up early on January 1st to watch it more comfortably on television. The Rose Parade has been a tradition since 1890 and is broadcast to approximately 80 million viewers around the world every New Year’s Day. Trust me, my sofa is more comfy than the curb I slept on so many years ago!

This coming January 1st, I’ll be watching closely for the float created by Princess Cruises, which is 60 feet long and 24 feet high, and will be covered by more than 24,000 flowers and natural materials. Depicting the line’s newest ship Regal Princess symbolically sailing through some of the world’s most fascinating destinations and iconic landmarks, the float pays tribute to The Love Boat television show that made Princess Cruises one of the most famous names in cruising.

In a How-They-Did-It time lapse video, here is a look the building of the Princess Cruises float. Tune in on New Year’s Day to see it adorned in flowers!



Video Courtesy Princess Cruises

Friday, December 19, 2014

MSC Cruises Gives Away an Early Holiday Gift

Just in time for the holidays, MSC Cruises awarded winners of the FIAT giveaway sweepstakes—one lucky guest and one lucky travel agent—their brand new FIAT 500c POP, with a retail value of more than $21,000.

As an extra treat, the winners spent the day aboard the stunning MSC Divina, one of the most elegant and ultramodern ships sailing from Miami to the Caribbean.

Winners of MSC's FIAT giveaway sweepstakes:
-- Rockne Green of Patterson, CA (Modesto Metro Area) - Consumer Winner
-- David Huff of Broken Aarow, OK (Tulsa Metro Area) - Travel Agent Winner
"I had a great time when I sailed on MSC Divina this past October and I'd recommend MSC Cruises to anyone," said Green. "I'm beyond excited to win a FIAT and a day aboard MSC Divina—what a wonderful holiday gift!"

"MSC Cruises' provides a unique product that brings a European flair to the Caribbean market and I love being able to offer that experience to our clients," said Huff, manager and CEO of Avenues To Travel, Ltd. "I'm thrilled to be a winner of MSC's sweepstakes and truly honored to be able to represent the travel agent community. In the 30 years that I've been in the travel business, this is the most exciting event that has happened!"

Selected at random, the winners entered to win the FIAT during a promotional sweepstakes held in the Spring. Guests were automatically entered when they booked a 7-night Caribbean cruise on board MSC Divina during the promotional period of April 7 to May 18, 2014, and sailed between August 2, 2014 and December 27, 2014. Travel agents were eligible to enter the sweepstakes if they initiated new cruise bookings between April 4 through May 18, 2014, for 7-night Caribbean sailings on board MSC Divina between August 2, 2014 and December 27, 2014.

Image Courtesy MSC Cruises

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Princess Cruises Introduces Winner of 50th Anniversary “Inspiring Stories” Contest

 Paula & Nathan Abbott in Hiroshima
The experience of a World War II veteran’s Memorial Day return to the South Pacific has been selected as the grand-prize winner in Princess Cruises’ 50th Anniversary “Inspiring Stories” essay contest in which past guests were asked to share an inspirational experience that occurred on a Princess cruise vacation. Nearly 1,000 entries were submitted for the opportunity to ride on the line’s Rose Parade float on January 1.

The winning story was submitted by Paula Abbott, whose husband Nathan served as a US Navy Radarman 2/C in the Pacific Theater (1943-45). One of only seven survivors of the USS Monaghan which went down with two other ships during a typhoon off of the Philippines in 1944, the veteran of the Iwo Jima and Okinawa invasions had long desired to return to the islands where he had served. In 2004, a Princess cruise to the Islands of the Pacific Theater of War allowed him to fulfill that wish, and he was able to share important memories with other WWII veterans. The 91-year-old Bronze Star recipient resides in Whittier, Calif.

As the grand-prize winner, Paula and Nathan Abbott will join the cast members of The Love Boat to ride on Princess Cruises’ first-ever float in the 126th Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, officially kicking off the cruise line’s 50th anniversary year.

An additional four stories—an Alaskan cruise turned marriage proposal, a golden wedding anniversary cruise, a young family’s celebration of survival, and a mother and daughter’s life affirming encounter—were selected as runners up. The authors and guests also will cruise the five-and-a-half mile parade route on the float.

“We were truly inspired by the stories of love, family and the triumph of the human spirit we received from our guests and we want to thank everyone who shared their personal stories with us,” said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises president. “Each tale was unique, taking place in different destinations around the globe, but the unifying theme of this year’s Rose Parade gave us the opportunity to acknowledge the many forms of inspiration so many of our guests find while cruising with Princess. We are thrilled to feature these guests on our Rose Parade float.”

The Rose Parade has been a tradition since 1890 and is broadcast to approximately 80 million viewers around the world every New Year’s day. The Princess Cruises float is 60 feet long and 24 feet high, and will be covered by more than 24,000 flowers and natural materials. Depicting the line’s newest ship Regal Princess symbolically sailing through some of the world’s most interesting destinations and iconic landmarks, the float pays tribute to The Love Boat television show that made Princess Cruises one of the most famous names in cruising.

Image Courtesy Princess Cruises

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Don’t Be That Passenger

I think we’ve all met one—a fellow passenger who strikes up a conversation that borders on rude. No one seems to mind being asked where they are from or how many cruises they’ve been on, but other topics can range from mildly irritating to downright nosy. Consider the following situation.

While enjoying lunch during a break in a daylong shore excursion we encountered the height of rudeness. The passenger who brought up the topic of cruise fares had an agenda—he felt it was not “fair” that everyone hadn’t paid the same amount for identical accommodations on our ship. He whipped out a notepad and pen and pointedly indicated that he wanted to record what each of us at the table had paid for our cruise. It turned out his agenda was to “expose the unfairness” of the cruise line. Unfortunately (for him), I was the first to respond. I told him that we didn’t discuss personal financial matters. That shut down his “survey” on the spot and I was quietly congratulated later by other passengers who felt uncomfortable with his question, but weren’t quite sure what to say.

That fellow probably didn’t think he was being rude—he actually seemed to think that by gathering fare information from the group that his findings would somehow benefit us all in the future. He didn’t seem to understand that cruise fares vary in similar fashion to other travel pricing, for instance airfare and hotel rooms. A lot depends on when you book, whether there was a promotion being offered at the time, or a variety of other circumstances. For instance, a travel agent may have gotten a ‘group’ rate for your booking even if you weren’t a member of an organized group. Another travel agent may have been privy to ‘unpublished’ rates offered at the last minute—cruise lines sometimes offer them to their high volume agents to benefit their clients and to fill a ship that isn’t selling well. Past guest programs also offer discounts to loyal passengers.

The moral of this story… Some questions don’t deserve an answer. Don’t be that passenger who asks.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tropicana Entertainment & Carnival Cruise Lines Form Casino Alliance

As a rule, the Cruise Diva crew consists of losers. We’ve been known to deposit a roll of quarters in a slot machine now and then, but seldom win. However, we celebrate our friends’ skill at the blackjack tables and are always happy to hear about their good fortune at sea or on land.

With an alliance formed between Tropicana Entertainment, Inc., one of the most respected names in the gaming industry, and Carnival Cruise Lines, the world’s most popular cruise line, our friends who are Trop Advantage® players club members at seven land based Tropicana-owned casinos in the United States will enjoy an array of cruise benefits to for 2015. Guests of Tropicana Entertainment’s Atlantic City, NJ; Evansville, IN; Greenville, MS; Laughlin, NJ; and Aruba properties, as well as Belle of Baton Rouge Casino and Montbleu Resort Casino Spa in Lake Tahoe, will be eligible to receive complimentary and discounted Carnival cruises throughout the year aboard Carnival’s fleet, based on their level of play.

“We take great pride in giving Trop Advantage players more fun, variety and value than our competitors,” said Tony Rodio, President & Chief Executive Officer of Tropicana Entertainment Inc. “Carnival Cruise Lines shares our commitment to attentive service, delicious food and drink, and exceptional experiences, making this a meaningful partnership that will greatly benefit our players.”

Trop Advantage players club is designed to allow players maximum flexibility in choosing their own rewards. Trop Advantage offers five reward tier levels and the ability to earn and spend comp dollars, receive invitations to special events and take advantage of generous free slot play programs and giveaways. Membership is free and players can join online or at any of Tropicana Entertainment Inc. casinos.

“We are excited to align our Carnival brand with such a progressive, entertainment-oriented organization such as Tropicana Entertainment, said Marty Goldman, Carnival’s Senior Vice President of Global Casino Operations. “We look forward to welcoming Trop Advantage players aboard our ships and providing them with a lifetime of wonderful vacation memories.” Goldman noted that the cruises can be booked through any of Carnival’s reservations channels, including its valued travel agent partners.

Carnival destinations include ports throughout the Caribbean, Bahamas, Mexico, and other destinations.
Image Courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines

Monday, December 15, 2014

Caribbean’s Newest Destination, Amber Cove to Open in October 2015

Are you tired of visiting the same Caribbean ports on your cruises? If so, Carnival Cruise Lines has a new one to tempt your inner explorer. It’s Amber Cove, a new cruise destination located in the heart of the Dominican Republic’s North Coast, known as the Amber Coast, just outside the historical town of Puerto Plata. The port will welcome its first cruise ship when Carnival Victory arrives Oct 6, 2015, for a day-long call. The visit by Carnival Victory is just the first of 37 calls by eight different Carnival ships that will take place between October 2015 and April 2016, accounting for more than 100,000 guests during this period.

Amber Cove will be a featured port on select sailings of Carnival Breeze, Carnival Glory, Carnival Splendor, and Carnival Victory sailing from Miami, Carnival Conquest from Fort Lauderdale, FL, Carnival Sunshine and Carnival Valor from Port Canaveral, FL, and Carnival Fantasy from Charleston, SC. The facility will offer two berths that can accommodate up to two large post-Panamax cruise ships simultaneously.

“Amber Cove is destined to become a cornerstone in creating new itineraries from several U.S. home ports,” said Terry Thornton, Carnival’s senior vice president of itinerary planning. “It will provide an unmatched combination of ‘fun in the sun’ activities and eco-tourism opportunities along with unique sightseeing, dining and cultural experiences to create a lifetime of wonderful vacation memories for our guests,” he added.

Designed to serve as the gateway to one of the world’s most beautiful cruising regions, Amber Cove features dramatic architectural elements that echo the area’s storied Colonial past. The port is situated in a picturesque cove that serves as the backdrop for soaring mountains and lush tropical landscape. Its cobblestone plazas will be lined with a wide variety of retail offerings, including themed restaurants and bars and a marketplace with locally sourced crafts and souvenirs, recreational amenities, and a transportation center for access to land and sea adventures.

Amber Cove will also feature one of the most extensive shore excursion programs available in the Caribbean, offering a wide array of landside experiences including beautiful beaches; water sports; and special culinary, cultural, and adventure options. Nearby Ocean World, which is one of the region’s largest marine adventure parks, will offer guests many great ways to experience and interact with a variety of marine animals.

Dozens of shore excursions will be available, from cross-country adventures in 4x4 Terracross buggies that traverse the rugged countryside and horseback riding on the beach to snorkeling in crystal-clear waters and swimming in a pristine natural river pool. Guests can also travel via speedboat to beautiful Paradise Island, one of the Caribbean’s top spots for snorkeling and scuba diving, or visit rural coffee plantations and sample traditional Dominican cuisine, rum and seasonal fruit. Or for the ultimate luxury experience, guests can reserve their own private beachside bungalow with the services of a personal chef, bartender and staff.

Amber Cove will also provide easy and convenient access to the nearby historic town of Puerto Plata, named by Christopher Columbus when he discovered the island in 1492. Puerto Plata is home to the first fort built by European settlers in the New World. Visitors to the city can shop in the bustling downtown area featuring numerous artist studios and rum and cigar factories or stroll along the famed Malecon, a three-mile-long open air beach-side boardwalk dotted with bars, restaurants and shops.

Image Courtesy Carnival Cruise Lines

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Festive Time for Cruising: Holidays at Sea

Snow at sea aboard
Princess Cruises’ ships!
With the holidays fast approaching, it isn't too late to swap home and hearth for staterooms and ocean views. A cruise for the holidays doesn't mean doing away with your favorite family traditions—cruise lines know how meaningful they are and plan accordingly. Plus, on a cruise you can forge new traditions while making memories with your loved ones. With an estimated 46.3 million Americans traveling 50-plus miles from home this holiday season, a holiday at sea is a great option for travelers. Cruise line are showing off their holiday spirit with festive holiday décor, special seasonal entertainment and traditional rituals for passengers to enjoy. Many holiday occasions are celebrated on cruise ships to cater to all passengers.

Holiday Highlights include:
-- Traditional holiday décor is on display across North American-based fleets, with cruise ships decked out with Christmas trees, poinsettias, twinkling lights, wreaths, mistletoe, and extravagant gingerbread houses.
-- Most ships have regular visits from Santa who presents gifts to children.
-- Holiday-themed shows and theater performances are planned, including traditional carol singing.
-- On many ships, vacationers can enjoy Christmas Eve midnight and Christmas Day masses.
-- Holiday-themed menus for travelers to feast on are served featuring traditional oven-roasted turkey, honey baked ham, and all the fixings.
-- For cruisers celebrating Hanukkah, many lines offer traditional celebrations and festive food such as potato latkes, seasonal games like Spin the Dreidel, and Menorah lighting services.
-- On select fleets, storytellers share tales of Hanukkah and Kwanza, as part of their seasonal festivities.
Designed for Holiday Non-Traditionalists & Explorers
For those travelers looking for new adventures this holiday season, many lines are turning their attention to more exotic ports of call to jump start traveler's 2015 bucket list. Highlights include:
-- To celebrate a European Christmas in festive elegance, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise's River Beatric, takes guests on an 11- day river voyage through four countries—Austria, Germany, Hungary and Slovakia. Celebrate holiday musical heritage listening to the largest organ in Europe, lift your voice and sing "Silent Night" in Oberndorf, the birthplace of the beloved Christmas carol, and spend Christmas Day in Salzburg where guests will enjoy a holiday lunch within the walls of St. Peter's Abbey.
-- Windstar Cruises ships will sail to destinations including Southeast Asia, the Caribbean's Windward Islands, and Panama. Guests can celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah while sailing from Singapore to Hong Kong on the line's new ship Star Pride. Highlights include Vietnam, where guests can explore the ancient imperial temples and pagodas of Hue, ride bicycles down the back streets of old Hoi An, and enjoy the countryside.
-- Silversea Cruises' new expedition vessel, Silver Discoverer, will spend the holidays cruising New Zealand's Sub-Antarctic, with an itinerary in a remote area described by the United Nations' Environment Program as "the most diverse and extensive of all Sub-Antarctic archipelagos."
New Year, New Adventures
There is no better way to kick off the new year than visiting off-the-map destinations, cruise lines are offering more exciting itineraries than ever before. Count down to 2015 with these offerings:
-- Crystal Cruises is enticing travelers to fulfill holiday bucket lists with exotic itineraries that include sailing round-trip from Singapore. Embarking Dec 21, the 15-day holiday itinerary includes ringing in the New Year with the Crystal Symphony berthed at Ocean Terminal in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour. Cruisers will enjoy a stunning view of the city's fireworks countdown celebration, specially-illuminated skyscrapers, musical pyrotechnics, and the Symphony of Lights, the world's largest permanent light show. The itinerary also includes Christmas day and night in Ho Chi Minh City, and calls in Sihanoukville, Cambodia (for Angor Wat) and Nha Trang, Vietnam. Shorter 6- and 9-day Christmas/Hanukkah or New Year's "Getaways" segments are also available to/from Ho Chi Minh City.
-- Princess Cruises' Golden Princess Holiday 2014 cruise is a 27-day adventure (shorter segments also available) as the ship repositions from Los Angeles to South America, embarking Dec 23. Guests will celebrate New Year's Eve with a stopover in Montevideo, Uruguay. Other highlights include port calls in Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, Chile, the Falkland Islands and Argentina.
-- Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Solstice will spend the holidays sailing Australia and New Zealand 14-day cruises between Sydney and Auckland that begin Dec 21. Destinations include Melbourne, Tasmania, Fjordland and Wellington.
-- Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of America will spend New Year's Eve on the Big Island of Hawaii, with potential spottings of natural fireworks courtesy of Kilauea volcano. From Dec 27 to Jan 3, guests can soak up all four Hawaiian Islands including Honolulu, Hawaii; Kahului, Maui; Hilo, Hawaii; and Nawiliwili, Kauai.
-- Royal Caribbean International's Mariner of the Seas will make its way to Asia for a unique and adventurous holiday celebration. Guests can enjoy a 5-night Phuket & Malayasia cruise, including holiday-inspired menus and a stunning New Year's celebration complete with champagne and party favors.
-- Carnival Cruise Lines' Carnival Freedom will sail to the Caribbean for a family friendly holiday that begins on Dec 28. Families will not only enjoy festive holiday decorations and activities, but Carnival Freedom is the only ship in the fleet to feature the new, marine-themed Camp Ocean children's facility and a Dr. Seuss Bookville family reading venue for the younger set of travelers. Destinations include Aruba, Curacao, Grand Turk and La Romana, Dominican Republic.
Image Courtesy of Princess Cruises

Thursday, December 11, 2014

MSC Divina’s 2015 Theme Cruises Announced

In addition to their wildly popular Baseball Greats cruises, MSC Cruises’ MSC Divina—one of the most elegant ships sailing from Miami to the Caribbean—is offering cruise travelers a series of diverse themed cruises in Winter/Spring 2015.

“MSC works hard to create the best vacation experience possible,” said Hans Hesselberg, senior vice president of hotel operations for MSC Cruises. “These special themed cruises add an extra layer of fun and excitement and promise to make the cruise even more memorable for our guests.”

2015 themed cruises on MSC Divina include:
Post-New Year Extravaganza (2-night): Jan. 11 departure to Nassau, Bahamas
MSC Divina is continuing the New Year’s celebrations and helping guests start 2015 off right. The ship’s festivities will include a New Year’s Party on the pool deck, complete with a countdown to midnight, and New Year’s themed decorations and noisemakers.

Valentine’s Day/Mardi Gras Celebration (4-night): Feb. 14 departure to Nassau and Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas
MSC Divina’s Valentine’s Day cruise is the perfect getaway for couples and singles looking for romance. The cruise will feature a special Valentine’s Day party where guests can send secret messages to their Valentine; Valentine’s Day-themed couple competitions; special arts and crafts activities for kids; a special ‘Tulip of Love’ dessert and dedicated list of Love Potions; and a Valentine’s Day package that guests can purchase for their significant other. In addition, for those looking for love, MSC will host a fun “singles mingle” party and is offering a special single occupancy rate. Adding to the fun, on Feb. 17 MSC will celebrate Fat Tuesday with a festive Mardi Gras themed party.

Songs of the 60s: (4-night): April 22 departure to Cozumel, Mexico
Guests sailing aboard MSC Divina will be transported back in time, with groovy 60’s and 70’s music from the Mellow Yellow band. The band will pay tribute to the 60’s and 70’s with truly authentic renditions of some of the genre’s greatest songs during an immersive musical theater show. In addition, throughout the 4 nights, guests will participate in 60’s and 70’s themed activities including a Saturday Night Fever Disco & Costume Party; Mellow Yellow Deck Concert and Deck Party; Summer of Love Prom Formal; 60’s/70’s trivia; and 60’s/70’s karaoke.

Baseball Greats (7-nights): Feb 7, Feb. 21, & March 7 departures to Philipsburg, St. Maarten; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas
MSC’s 7-night Baseball Greats cruises feature instructional clinics, Q&As, story-telling sessions, passenger pitching contests, baseball trivia games, and a complimentary autograph session with the baseball stars on board. Hosted by former Yankee star Stan Bahnsen, 2015 itineraries will feature former baseball pros such as Art Shamsky (New York Mets), Gorman Thomas (Milwaukee Brewers), Randy Hundley (Chicago Cubs), and Ken Griffey (Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine”).
Visit MSC Cruises for additional information.

Image © CruiseDiva.com

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Quantum of the Seas Gets Christened

Last month I was unable to attend Royal Caribbean's naming event for Quantum of the Seas due to a scheduling conflict—I was on another ship and sadly couldn't be in two places at once. Thankfully, Royal Caribbean has shared video highlights of the naming ceremony, including the traditional 'bottle break' and a performance of "Over The Rainbow" by actress and godmother Kristin Chenoweth accompanied by Earth Harp musician, William Close.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Carnival Cruise Lines Offers Series of Unique Longer Length Voyages in 2015-16

If a week just isn’t enough time to enjoy your next cruise and you have something more on your bucket list, Carnival Cruise Lines has paid attention. The world’s largest cruise line will offer a series of 10- to 14-day voyages on six different ships in 2015-16 that feature extended calls at destinations throughout the Caribbean, Bermuda, Mexican Riviera and The Bahamas. Reservations are open for 11 different voyages offered on Carnival Miracle, Carnival Dream, Carnival Glory, and Carnival Sunshine, which depart from five convenient U.S. homeports and visit more than two dozen tropical destinations, including less traveled ports like Bonaire, Martinique, Dominica, Grenada, and, for the first time on a Carnival ship, Trinidad & Tobago. Several of the 10- and 11-day voyages can be combined into three-week-long Caribbean adventures providing an unmatched combination of ports of call, amazing experiences ashore, and fun-filled sea days, all at an incredible value. These new voyages are in addition to a previously announced series of nine 10- to 14-day departures to the Caribbean and Bermuda offered on Carnival Triumph and Carnival Pride in 2015-16.

“Based on feedback from our guests and travel agent partners, we’re delighted to offer these longer length voyages which provide vacationers an opportunity to visit some of the world’s most breathtaking destinations while enjoying all the wonderful on-board innovations and features found aboard Carnival’s ships,” said Terry Thornton, Carnival’s senior vice president of itinerary planning and revenue development.

The new voyages include:

Carnival Miracle
· Jan. 31-Feb. 12, 2015: 13-day Mexican Riviera voyage round-trip from Long Beach, Calif., calling at Cabo San Lucas (two-day call), La Paz, Mazatlán, Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa, Manzanillo, and Puerto Vallarta (overnight call).

Carnival Dream
· Oct. 4-15, 2015: 11-day Caribbean/Bermuda cruise from New Orleans to San Juan featuring Nassau, King’s Wharf, Bermuda (overnight call), St. Maarten and St. Thomas.
· Oct. 15-25, 2015: 10-day Caribbean cruise from San Juan to New Orleans with calls at St. Thomas, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, Grand Turk, and Falmouth, Jamaica (the above two cruises can be combined to create a 21-day round-trip voyage from New Orleans).
· Jan. 3-14, 2016: 11-day southern Caribbean cruise from New Orleans to San Juan with stops at Grand Turk, Aruba, Bonaire, St. Kitts, Antigua and St. Maarten.
· Jan. 14-25, 2016: a 10-day Caribbean cruise from San Juan to New Orleans calling at St. Thomas, Dominica, St. Kitts, Grand Turk and Falmouth (the above two cruises can be combined to create a 21-day round-trip voyage from New Orleans).

Carnival Glory
· Oct. 31–Nov. 13, 2015: 14-day Caribbean cruise round-trip from Miami visiting Aruba, Bonaire, Grenada, Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Thomas and St. Maarten.
· Jan. 23-Feb. 2, 2016: 10-day cruise from Miami to San Juan calling at the private Bahamian island of Half Moon Cay, Grand Turk, Antigua, Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and St. Thomas.
· Feb. 2-13, 2016: 11-day cruise from San Juan to Miami visiting St. Croix, St. Maarten, Dominica, Grenada, Bonaire, Aruba, and Curacao (the above two cruises can be combined to create a 21-day round-trip voyage from Miami).

Carnival Sunshine
· Nov. 28-Dec. 2, 2015: 11-day Caribbean/Bahamas voyage from Port Canaveral, Fla., to San Juan visiting Grand Turk, St. Thomas, Tortola, St. Kitts, Dominica, St. Lucia, Antigua and St. Croix.
· Dec. 9-19, 2015: 10-day Caribbean cruise from San Juan to Port Canaveral featuring St. Thomas, Antigua, Dominica, Martinique, St. Croix, and Grand Turk (the above two cruises can be combined to create a 21-day voyage round-trip from Port Canaveral).
· Feb. 21-March 5, 2016: 13-day southern Caribbean cruise round-trip from Port Canaveral calling at St. Maarten, Dominica, Barbados, Scarborough (Trinidad & Tobago), Grenada, Martinique, St. Kitts and St. Thomas.

In addition to numerous dining, entertainment, and activity options available on board, each of these destinations offers beautiful beaches, interesting historical attractions and natural landmarks, and unique sightseeing, dining and shopping opportunities. During these cruises, guests can zipline across the countryside, view centuries-old architectural structures, visit world-class museums, and snorkel and scuba dive in crystal-clear waters teeming with tropical fish and other sea life.

Image Courtesy Carnival Cruise Lines

Monday, December 8, 2014

Norwegian Cruise Line & Margaritaville: It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere!

One of the best concerts Mel and I ever attended was in Charlotte, North Carolina featuring Jimmy Buffett & his Coral Reefer Band. If we hadn’t been big fans before, we’d have become instant Parrot Heads. As a result, we are ready to get our Fins Up and shakers of salt ready, as the first-ever floating Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant and 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar will soon set sail onboard the all-new Norwegian Escape.

News of the partnership was announced last week at a company-wide event with the assistance of a very special guest—the legendary Jimmy Buffett himself, who performed for the crowd (pictured below). Norwegian’s exclusive partnership with Margaritaville Holdings LLC extends to Norwegian’s island destinations to include Margaritaville branded food and beverage locations on Norwegian’s new island destination in Harvest Caye, Belize, set to open in fall 2015 and a 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar on Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas, planned to also debut in 2015. Additionally, the partnership will extend to other ships in the fleet in the future.

“Jimmy Buffett is an icon who embodies the island lifestyle and his Margaritaville lifestyle brand which includes restaurants and bars in its portfolio is a perfect fit for Norwegian Cruise Line and the incredible new Norwegian Escape, that will sail the Caribbean and offer our guests the first and only Margaritaville experience at sea,” said Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Kevin Sheehan. “We are more than thrilled to form this exclusive partnership with Jimmy and his talented team and we know our guests are going to love the new tropical experiences.”

The Margaritaville name brings to mind the desire in everyone to kick back and escape the everyday, if only for a short time. Norwegian Escape’s Margaritaville restaurant and bar will embody that essence of escapism with a laid back atmosphere inspired by the lyrics and lifestyle of Jimmy Buffett. The restaurant menu will invite guests to take a bite out of paradise with signature items like the Cheeseburger in Paradise and Who's to Blame Margarita. This venue will be one of Norwegian Escape’s numerous complimentary dining outlets. In addition to the restaurant, Norwegian Escape will feature the 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar, a music venue and outdoor bar on The Waterfront. The 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar will feature live nightly performances so guests can enjoy the sounds of the tropics while sipping a signature margarita or “boat drink” and gazing out to the Caribbean Sea. Sorry, those drinks won’t be complimentary.

Norwegian Escape will begin weekly 7-day cruises from her year-round homeport of Miami to the Eastern Caribbean beginning on November 14, 2015. The ship will be the largest to home port year-round in Miami, carrying 4,200 guests to tropical Caribbean destinations including St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; Tortola, British Virgin Islands; and Nassau, Bahamas.

Here at Cruise Diva’s headquarters we’re excited about the news and have just one question, “What took so long for a cruise line to figure out what a great idea this is?”

Images Courtesy Norwegian Cruise Line

Friday, December 5, 2014

Cruising "Like A Virgin" Takes On A New Meaning

Although Madonna is probably best know for doing things "like a virgin," serial entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson runs a close second to the pop singing sensation. The newest venture by Branson's Virgin Group, the family-owned branded investment group, is the announcement of the formation of Virgin Cruises, its new cruise line business. Financial terms of the transaction are not being disclosed, but a CEO has been appointed and Bain Capital is its lead investment partner.

Proven industry leader Tom McAlpin will join Virgin Cruises as CEO and will head the management team. Most recently, Tom has been President and CEO of The World, Residences at Sea. Tom also served as President of Disney Cruise Line having joined as part of the founding management team. Virgin Cruises will be headquartered in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area and plans to design and construct two new world class cruise ships. At this time, the company has not disclosed when it will start operating for competitive reasons. As part of one of the world's most recognized and respected brands, Virgin Cruises plans to offer guests an outstanding experience and service aimed at broadening consumer targets for the cruise market.

"We plan to shake up the cruise industry and deliver a holiday that customers will absolutely love. They'll be sailing on the latest ships offering great quality, a real sense of fun, and many exciting activities all delivered with the famed Virgin service," Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson said.

CEO Tom McAlpin added, "Cruise guests deserve something better and different to what is being offered today, and Virgin Cruises is committed to creating breathtaking experiences for them and a new generation of guests. Opportunities like this do not come often, so I am very excited to lead this business and introduce the Virgin brand to the cruise industry, as it has always put customers at the heart of what it does."

Virgin Group, conceived in 1970 by Sir Richard Branson, has gone on to grow successful businesses in sectors including mobile telephony, travel and transportation, financial services, leisure and entertainment, health and wellness, and space tourism. The partnership with Bain Capital, one of the world's leading private investment firms, is committed to exploring the creation of a global cruise business and setting new industry standards.

After years of rumors that Sir Richard would be going to sea, the Virgin Cruises announcement is seen as a positive by cruise industry insiders. It also gives a new meaning to the term "cruise virgin."

Image: Courtesy Virgin Group

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Voyager of the Seas Gets a Make-Over

Royal Caribbean International’s Voyager of the Seas, the largest cruise ship based in Asia Pacific, has successfully completed her month-long $80 million revitalization bringing guests in the region a variety of features such as the FlowRider surf simulator and Virtual Balcony staterooms. Additionally, the ship also received a 3D cinema, digital signage, a new Diamond Club for Crown and Anchor Society members, as well as new dining options including Izumi Japanese Cuisine, Giovanni’s Table Italian trattoria, and Chops Grille steakhouse. The ship’s revitalization was carried out under a contract with Sembawang Shipyard, a subsidiary of Sembcorp Marine Ltd. and is also the largest cruise ship revitalization project ever completed in Singapore.

The newly revitalized ship sailed from Singapore to Sydney where she will be based for her 2014/15 winter-spring season. She will then return to Singapore next April to feature a 10-night cruise to Tokyo calling at Nha Trang, Hong Kong, Taipei (Keelung) and Nagasaki. The ship also will homeport in Hong Kong from June to October 2015 with 22 roundtrip sailings ranging from 3- to 10-nights and visit ports-of-call including Okinawa, Nagasaki, Japan; Jeju, South Korea; Sanya, China; Ho Chi Minh and Hue/Danang (Chan May), Vietnam.

Image: Voyager of the Seas Meets Legend of the Seas in Singapore

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Seabourn Fleet to Grow with Second New Luxury Ship

The Seabourn fleet will be growing by leaps and bounds in the coming years as the luxury line has exercised its option for a second new 40,350-GRT ship—a sister ship to the newbuild announced earlier this year.

The first in the new class of Seabourn ships is scheduled for launch in late 2016, and the second ship will be delivered in spring, 2018. Both new ships will be built by Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri and hospitality design icon Adam D. Tihany will design them in their entirety, creating all indoor and outdoor guest areas, including multiple dining venues; the Spa at Seabourn; showrooms; casino and lounges; outdoor deck areas; and the innovative and popular Seabourn Square, the social hub of the ship with a club-like ambiance.

"There has been an incredible amount of excitement and interest since we announced the order for the first ship, and we're very pleased that the demand for our brand has allowed us to add a second new ultra-luxury ship to our expanding fleet," said Richard D. Meadows, Seabourn's president. "These two new ships will offer the understated elegance we are known for, as well as new amenities, innovations and modern design features that embody the hallmarks of Seabourn."

The new ships' configuration will be based on the highly popular Seabourn Odyssey-class ships, with one additional deck and new expanded public areas. Each ship will carry just 604 guests based on double occupancy in luxurious all-suite, veranda accommodations. The interior design will maintain Seabourn's high ratio of space per guest and enable highly personalized service by nearly one staff member per guest on board.

Both of the new ships will continue the fleet modernization that the line began in 2009 with the launch of Seabourn Odyssey. That award-winning class of ship includes Seabourn Sojourn (2010) and Seabourn Quest (2011). With the addition of these two new vessels, Seabourn will have the most modern, ultra-luxury fleet in the industry.

Seabourn Quest Image Courtesy of Seabourn Cruises

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Norwegian Gem Debuts Fleet Favorites

As a progression of its Norwegian NEXT program, Norwegian Cruise Line has added the popular guest eatery O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill to Norwegian Gem (pictured at left). First introduced on Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Gem is the second ship in her class to be outfitted with the 24-hour complimentary casual dining venue, which captures the atmosphere of a neighborhood Irish pub where waiters serve comfort food such as fish and chips and chicken pot pie as well as breakfast options.

In addition, specialty dining restaurant Moderno Churrascaria—Norwegian’s popular Brazilian-style steakhouse—was relocated to a more intimate setting on Deck 13. Sugarcane Mojito Bar, first introduced on Norwegian Getaway, was added adjacent to the new restaurant and features mojitos and other favorites in a tropical setting.

Norwegian Gem sails numerous popular itineraries year-round from her homeport of New York. Her 9-, 10-, and 11-day Eastern Caribbean itineraries are a winter escape for New Yorkers from now through April 15, 2015, calling on some of the Caribbean’s favorites ports, including San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; and Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Beginning April 24, 2015 through September 5, 2015, Norwegian Gem sails 7-day Bahamas and Florida cruises.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Journal For Cruise Memories

“Remember when?” is a question often asked, but which sometimes remains unanswered. Here at Cruise Diva headquarters we have stacks of albums that contain our travel photographs, but sometimes it’s difficult to remember where or when they were taken. Memories are fleeting, which is why I keep journals during all our cruises. By referring to them, I can come up with answers to “remember when” and other questions. In the past I’ve used wire-bound notebooks, but they always end up looking beat up after a while. In place of them, I’ve discovered a better way to preserve those cruise travel memories—a Quiver Cruise Journal designed specifically for that purpose. Years from now when I pull it off the bookshelf it will look just as elegant as it did when I used it to record what we saw and did at sea and in port.

Quiver, the company known for deluxe pen holders that keep your pen where you need it—attached to a notebook or iPad case—has introduced the Cruise Journal, with a specifically designed content and page layout for cruise travelers. Individual pages provide ample space to capture your thoughts and memories and every other page contains a travel quotation from authors, poets, philosophers, and pundits. My favorite is from Joseph Conrad, “I dare say I am unconsciously compelled, now to write volume after volume, as in past years I was compelled to go to sea, voyage after voyage.”

The 6x8-inch Cruise Journal has a debossed pearlescent hard cover, smythe-sewn binding, elastic place marker, full-color interior page layouts on high quality paper, and an expandable inner back pocket to store receipts and ticket stubs you might collect on the journey. The journal also contains suggestions about how to use its pre-printed pages; pre-trip things-to-do and packing tips; natural sea sickness remedies; temperature and metric conversion charts; an international shopping size conversion chart; cruise industry stats and fun facts; foreign phrase translations; travel numbers; and more. There is even an address book section to enter contact information for new friends made along the way.

The hand-crafted, 100% leather Quiver pen holder (as pictured above) ensures that your favorite pen is always, ‘write where it should be’ when you are using your Cruise Journal. Quiver pen holders are known worldwide for their quality and unique styling.

A Quiver Cruise Journal would be the ideal travel companion for anyone on your Christmas gift list who is planning an upcoming cruise.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Oceana Cruises Expands With Another “R-Ship”

Oceania Cruises’ fleet is about to grow with the acquisition of a a fourth “R-class” ship to join the sister-ships that originally launched the line. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd, parent company of Oceania, has announced an agreement with Princess Cruises, Ltd. to purchase Ocean Princess for the Oceania Cruises brand. The 684-passenger ship, which was built for the now-defunct Renaissance Cruises, joins Oceania Cruises’ trio of sister ships Insignia, Regatta, and Nautica. The new addition will be christened Sirena.

Upon delivery in March 2016, Sirena will undergo a 35-day, $40 million refurbishment in Marseille, France to revamp the ship in line with Oceania Cruises’ other vessels. Drawing on the recent transformation of Insignia as inspiration, the ship will feature Oceania Cruises’ specialty dining restaurants, Toscana and Polo Grill, along with more recent additions to the fleet such as Baristas and the cook-to-order grill at Terrace Café. The ship will welcome her first guests in late April 2016. The addition of Sirena, along with the recently completed refurbishment of Insignia, Nautica, and Regatta, demonstrates Oceania Cruises’ unwavering commitment to mid-size ships and destination orientated cruising.

“The acquisition of Sirena provides measured capacity growth based on the proven platform of Oceania Cruises’ highly regarded mid-size ships,” said Kevin Sheehan, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. “Our belief in the Oceania Cruises brand and our commitment to its growing base of loyal guests were the rationale behind our decision to bring Sirena into the fleet.”

With Sirena, Oceania Cruises will expand the number and diversity of itineraries offered, appealing to both seasoned world travelers and passionate cruisers. The inaugural season for Sirena will be released in late February 2015 with reservations opening on March 4, 2015.

In a side note, we wonder if Royal Caribbean, whose Azmara Cruises brand competes directly with Oceania Cruises with two former R-ships, will attempt to purchase the other remaining ships from Carnival Corporation’s Princess Cruises and P&O brands (respectively sailing as Pacific Princess and Adonia).

Image Courtesy of Oceania Cruises

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

This year we're home for Thanksgiving with family and friends, but there's nothing quite like a holiday feast at sea when someone else does the cooking and cleaning up. Pictured here is Cruise Diva's traditional turkey being carved aboard Silversea Cruises' Silver Shadow on a previous Thanksgiving cruise from Rio to Buenos Aires. It tasted as good as it looked.

Happy Thanksgiving and Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Holland America Line’s ms Koningsdam to be Single- & Family-Friendly with New Stateroom Catgories

Family Ocean-view Stateroom
When ms Koningsdam debuts for her Mediterranean Season 2016, the ship’s innovative design will feature Holland America Line’s first-ever purpose-built staterooms for families as well as single staterooms among its 1,331 guest accommodations (total capacity is 2,650). In addition, many familiar stateroom categories such as Neptune, Signature, and Vista suites will be available in a wider range of sizes and different configurations to choose from.

The 32 new specially designed family ocean-view staterooms will range from 222 to 231 square feet and feature special amenities such as two bathrooms and accommodations for five people. The 12 single ocean-view cabins will range from 127 to 172 square feet in size and will be available on multiple decks at a variety of forward, mid-ship and aft locations.

“A cruise is one of the most popular ways to travel as a family, and we continue to welcome more multigenerational groups each year. To help us better serve families, we are pleased to be able to offer these tailored staterooms on ms Koningsdam,” said Richard Meadows, executive vice president, sales, marketing and guest programs. “And the new one-person staterooms enable us to serve the growing market of solo travelers.”

Interior Stateroom
With a sophisticated color palette and the freedom to design from the ground up based on guest feedback, ms Koningsdam’s staterooms and suites feature a host of modern functional details such as bedside USB ports, custom casework, and frameless glass shower doors that feel elegant and luxurious. Additional amenities found in all suites and staterooms include Holland America Line’s signature Mariner's Dream bed with finely woven cotton linens, plush bathrobes for use during the voyage, a premium massage showerhead, flat-panel TV with video-on-demand, mini fridge, complimentary fresh fruit on request, and fragrant soaps, lotions, shampoo, and other bath amenities from Elemis Aromapure.

On ms Koningsdam, the “suite life” gets sweeter with larger, more luxurious quarters. A grand Pinnacle Suite is an expansive 1,290 square feet with a bedroom, living room, dining area, dressing room and private verandah with whirlpool. The two Neptune Spa Suites and 43 Neptune Suites range from a generous 465 to a huge 855 square feet. Neptune and Pinnacle Suite guests have access to the exclusive Neptune Lounge, a private place to relax, socialize with other suite guests and enjoy the personalized service of a concierge. The fleetwide lounges provide worktables, a large screen television, library, sofas and chairs, and complimentary refreshments throughout the day. Pinnacle and Neptune Suite amenities also include corsages and boutonnieres for the first formal night, a cocktail party with the ship’s officers, priority dining and seating requests, binoculars and umbrellas for use during the cruise, a wall-unit bar, cold hors d’oeuvres served before dinner each evening on request and complimentary laundry, pressing and dry cleaning throughout the cruise and more.

The 14 Signature Suites are up to 400 square feet in size and the 104 Vista Suites range from 260 to 356 square feet. Signature and Vista suite guests receive many special amenities, including personalized cruise stationery, oversized bath towels, fresh flowers, a pillow menu, mini bar and one-touch phone concierge service.

“Holland America Line is known in the cruise industry for providing well-appointed staterooms,” said My Nguyen, Holland America Line’s deputy director of interior design. “With ms Koningsdam we enhanced these qualities by including many thoughtful details that improve the functionality of the staterooms. We also adopted a color pallet that takes advantage of texture and quiet color combinations to achieve a feeling of serenity and luxuriousness in each category.”

The ship will have the most staterooms with verandahs in the Holland America Line fleet with 912 total from Verandah to Pinnacle Suite categories. Guests looking to focus on health and wellness during the cruise can book verandah spa accommodations, conveniently located near the Greenhouse Spa & Salon that come with yoga mats for use during the voyage and an iPod docking station. For guests looking for a more affordable option, the line is offering 266 standard or large interior accommodations up to 225 square feet.

Images Courtesy Holland America Line

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Join Cruise Diva for an Inside Look at Regal Princess

Cruise Diva recently returned from the maiden Caribbean sailing of Princess Cruises' newest "royal" ship, the stunning Regal Princess.

Welcome aboard for a CruiseDiva.com preview of all the features we found during our cruise on Regal Princess and follow the included links to the blog stories written daily while at sea.

We hope you enjoy the journey as much as we did!

Image © CruiseDiva.com

Monday, November 24, 2014

Farewell, Majesty of the Seas

Majesty of the Seas, the last of the Sovereign-class vessels in the Royal Caribbean International fleet, will transfer to Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd's Pullmantur brand in 2016.

Majesty of the Seas' last 3-night sailing for Royal Caribbean International will depart on April 29, 2016. She will then enter dry dock before joining the Pullmantur fleet, allowing her to be tailored to fit Pullmantur's brand standards and offerings.

Although Majesty of the Seas was once one of the cruise industry's largest vessels, she has been overshadowed by larger and more feature rich fleetmates since her introduction. While her transfer won't affect the total capacity of Royal Caribbean International's fleet that much, Pullmantur's total guest capacity will increase in excess of a whopping 20 percent with her addition to their fleet.

"Majesty of the Seas has created wonderful memories for millions of guests, and we expect this record of success to continue as she transitions to Pullmantur," said Richard D. Fain, chairman and chief executive officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. "The vessel's transfer is an excellent business opportunity for both Royal Caribbean and Pullmantur. We are fortunate that our mix of brands allows us the flexibility and opportunity to expand in key strategic markets."

Built at Chantiers de L'Atlantique (now STX France) in St. Nazaire, France, Majesty of the Seas sailed its maiden voyage on April 26, 1992. The 74,077-ton ship carries 2,350 guests (double occupancy) and 912 crew. Most recently, she was sailing year-round 3- and 4-night cruises from Miami, often visiting Royal Caribbean's private island of CocoCay, Bahamas. While Majesty of the Seas caters to all types of cruise passengers, she is known for her first-time cruisers, offering newcomers the opportunity to get a feel of the cruising experience. Following the transition, all three Sovereign class ships—Sovereign, Monarch, and Majesty—will be operated by Pullmantur Cruises.

Over the past 40 years, Pullmantur has built a position as the leader in the Spanish cruise market. Since 2006 it has belonged to U.S.based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Currently, Pullmantur's fleet of five ships has a daily capacity of more than 11,000 passengers. Since 2013, it has promoted a strategic growth plan in the Latin American cruise market, where more than half of its business is located.

Image: Royal Caribbean International

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Vow to WOW With This Royal Caribbean Deal

With winter already firmly entrenched in most parts of the country, families should take advantage of the upcoming holiday gatherings to plan their next adventure in warmer locales with Royal Caribbean Intl. The cruise line known for its innovative style s making it more enticing for cruise vacationers to seek out WOW moments on a Royal Caribbean ship with the Vow to WOW offer.

For a limited time, through Dec. 31, 2014, Vow to WOW offers vacationers half off of the cruise fare for a second guest, booked in the same stateroom with a full-fare guest. With a 50 percent-reduced deposit, travelers can reserve their room for as low as $50 per guest. Guests also will receive $100 onboard credit per interior and oceanview stateroom; $200 onboard credit per stateroom with balcony; and $300 onboard credit per suite-category stateroom. The Vow to WOW offer applies to all new U.S. and Canadian individual and named group bookings in all stateroom categories and open sailings, but excludes Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas and China sailings. For more details, visit RoyalCaribbean.com/DealsandMore.

Image Courtesy Royal Caribbean Intl

Friday, November 21, 2014

Malt Shop Memories Cruise 2014

If you followed our daily stories here on the blog, you know what a great time the Cruise Diva crew was having on the Malt Shop Memories Cruise this month.

We've wrapped up all the fun, music, parties, and entertainment, as well as added even more photos to the Malt Shop Memories Cruise 2014 article on our website and we invite you to sail along.

Photo © CruiseDiva.com

Thursday, November 20, 2014

‘Premiere Sailings’ in the Med to Mark Holland America Line’s ms Koningsdam Maiden Season

It was just a few days ago that Holland America Line revealed that their new ms Koningsdam would debut an innovative design aboard the premium line’s largest ship to date and we didn’t expect additional information quite so soon. However, we have just learned that when ms Koningsdam sets sail in February 2016 for her maiden sailings, she will head to the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea to explore some of the region’s most popular capitals, culturally rich cities, charming villages, and beautiful beaches.

“Since we announced ms Koningsdam, guests have been anxiously awaiting itinerary details, so we’re pleased to share the spring Mediterranean season,” said Richard Meadows, Holland America Line’s executive vice president, sales, marketing and guest relations. “We have a very loyal following and we anticipate these cruises will fill up quickly, so I recommend booking early.”

Reservations for the Premiere Voyage and Sailings open Dec. 1, 2014. The 2,650-guest ship is scheduled for delivery by Fincantieri’s Marghera, Italy, shipyard Feb. 15, 2016. After its repositioning to Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy, ms Koningsdam will sail a 7-day Premiere Voyage roundtrip from Civitavecchia departing Feb. 20 to Dubrovnik, Croatia; Kérkira (Corfu) and Katakolon (Olympia), Greece; and Naples, Italy.

Following the Premiere Voyage, from the end of February through early May ms Koningsdam will cruise a series of six 12-day Premiere Sailings on two alternating itineraries roundtrip from Civitavecchia. The first itinerary calls at Katakolon, Piraeus (Athens), Rhodes and Crete, Greece; Istanbul (overnight) and Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey; and Naples, Italy. The other itinerary visits Naples, Italy; Palermo, Sicily; Cagliari, Sardinia; Gibraltar, British Territory; and Cádiz, Málaga, Cartagena and Barcelona (overnight), Spain. Holland America Line is working to finalize details on the ship’s summer and fall 2016 cruises and information will be released in the coming months.

As previously reported, ms Koningsdam represents a new Pinnacle Class of ship for Holland America Line. The vessel will debut several innovative concepts and new public spaces and venues, while still featuring popular features that guests associate with Holland America Line.

Image Courtesy Holland America Line

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Quantum of the Seas Sails Into New York

Last week the Cruise Diva crew was sailing the sunny and warm Caribbean aboard Regal Princess and missed the excitement surrounding the arrival of Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas for its season of cruises from the New York area before repositioning to its home in China. While we couldn't be there in person, we enjoyed the following video and wanted to share it with you.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cruise Line Gift Cards For Holiday Giving

Just in time to make the holidays a bit brighter for cruise travelers, Princess Cruises and Carnival Cruise Lines are offering the ideal gift to make their next voyage memorable.

Princess Cruises has announced a brand new gift card program making it easy to give the gift of cruising. Princess Cruises gift cards can be applied as payment towards the purchase of a Princess cruise, as well as onboard products and services including specialty dining, drinks, Lotus Spa treatments, shore excursions and more.

“Our new gift card offering is customizable, easy to purchase, ideal for any celebration and is the perfect gift for holidays, birthdays and anniversaries,” said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises president. “We hope our new gift cards will inspire new travelers to take a Princess cruise and introduce them to the many worldwide destinations and memorable onboard experiences only a Princess cruise vacation can offer.”

Additional features of the Princess Cruises gift card program allow buyers to choose from various designs, schedule a delivery date to the recipient, and even personalize the notification by allowing buyers to record an audio message and add a digital photo.

Cruise gift cards are available in $50, $100, $250, $500, $1,000 and $2,000 increments and can be customized for a specific dollar amount up to $2,000. Buyers purchasing a gift card for $100 or more will also receive free shipping. Gift cards can be sent electronically or via mail. Princess Cruises gift cards are available at princess.com/giftcard. The program is available to all U.S. and Canadian residents.

Carnival Cruise Lines’ popular gift card program, a prepaid card that can be used as payment toward a “Fun Ship” vacation or a variety of shipboard purchases, is now available in more than 9,000 retail outlets throughout the U.S. This marks the first time that a cruise line-specific gift card has been made available at retail establishments ashore. Carnival will offer its gift cards at such locations as Giant Eagle, Kroger, and Safeway beginning later this month.

“Based on feedback from consumers and our travel agent partners, we’re very pleased to enhance the availability of our gift card program and provide consumers with even greater convenience and flexibility,” said Gus Antorcha, senior vice president of guest commerce for Carnival Cruise Lines.

Also available online at carnivalgiftcards.com or sold on board Carnival’s ships, the gift cards are ideal for any occasion, from weddings and graduations to birthdays and anniversaries, and offer consumers flexibility and convenience in their vacation purchases. The cards can be pre-loaded with funds ranging from a minimum of $25 to a maximum of $1,000. The Carnival Gift Card is simple to use and may be applied online via the dedicated web site using the 16-digit card number, redeemed by calling 1-800-CARNIVAL, or used like cash on board as payment toward guests’ “Sail & Sign” shipboard account.