Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Travel Insurance Tips for Smooth Sailing

Should you insure your cruise travel plans, or self-insure and hope for the best? That is the question that most people face when booking a cruise, or any vacation for that matter. I admit we didn't even take it into consideration at the time my husband and I planned trips when we were 30-something and believed we were infallible. The importance of travel insurance only appeared on our radar when we witnessed the Coast Guard evacuate a fellow passenger from the SS Norway during our third cruise on that ship. That's why I'm sharing the information below from InsureMyTrip. Although CruiseDiva.com has been an affiliate advertiser of InsureMyTrip since it was founded, I wouldn't publish the following if I didn't strongly believe that it's sound advice from a reputable source.

The Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster has many today doubting the safety of a shipboard vacation, but according to the Cruise Lines International Association, the world's largest cruise line association, 16 million of us enjoyed sailing the world's oceans last year. Statistically, cruises are considered one of the safest forms of travel but you can minimize vacation risks further with these trip protection tips from InsureMyTrip.com:

1. Compare, Compare, Compare: Shop around to get the best plan for your needs at the right price. InsureMyTrip.com offers side-by-side comparisons of policies and prices to help you make smart purchasing decisions quickly and easily.
2. Plan Ahead: To receive the most benefit from your travel insurance policy and be eligible for optional benefits like Cancel for Any Reason and Pre-existing Medical Conditions, purchase the policy within 7 to 15 days of your First Trip Payment.
3. Buy From a Third Party: Typically, if you purchase travel insurance directly through a travel supplier such as an airline, cruise line, or tour operator, you're unprotected if that travel supplier goes bankrupt or becomes financially insolvent, so it's always best to purchase your travel insurance protection from a third-party source.
4.Keep Your Receipts: In the event you ever have to file a claim, keep your receipts for everything from pre-paid non-refundable trip costs insured under your policy to doctor's notes, as well as any receipts incurred from a travel delay such as meals, hotel accommodations, and transportation to/from the airport.
5. 24-hour Traveler Assistance: Providing a host of critical services from processing prescription refills to managing and monitoring itinerary changes, the 24-hour Traveler Assistance program is truly a traveler's best friend. A value-added benefit included in all travel insurance plans, insured travelers can call the company-provided phone number collect from anywhere in the world and receive special assistance with a wide-range of travel, medical, business, and concierge needs.
6. Ask the Experts: InsureMyTrip.com's licensed Customer Care representatives are standing by to help you with all of your travel insurance questions or concerns seven days a week, 365 days a year. Visit us at www.insuremytrip.com or call (800)-487-4722.
About InsureMyTrip: Established in 2000, InsureMyTrip is a leading online travel insurance aggregator worldwide. Featuring insurance comparisons from the top industry providers, InsureMyTrip is a one-stop resource designed to meet travelers' comprehensive insurance needs all in a secure environment. Enhancing the insurance buying experience, InsureMyTrip features a Customer Ratings and Reviews community forum for traveler feedback, discussion and information exchange. InsureMyTrip also specializes in providing custom retail and wholesale travel insurance solutions in the education and mission travel markets. InsureMyTrip is headquartered in Warwick, R.I., with additional offices and data centers in Connecticut and Oregon.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Cruise Industy To Conduct Operational Safety Review

In response to the Costa Concordia incident and as part of the industry’s continuous efforts to review and improve safety measures, the Cruise Lines International Association, Inc. (CLIA), speaking on behalf of the global cruise lines industry, has announced the launch of a Cruise Industry Operational Safety Review. The Review will include a comprehensive assessment of the critical human factors and operational aspects of maritime safety. As best practices are identified, they will be shared among CLIA members and any appropriate recommendations will be shared with the IMO. Recommendations will be made on an ongoing basis.

Key components of the Review include:

• An internal review by CLIA members of their own operational safety practices and procedures concerning issues of navigation, evacuation, emergency training, and related practices and procedures.
• Consultation with independent external experts.
• Identification and sharing of industry best practices and policies, as well as possible recommendations to the IMO for substantive regulatory changes to further improve the industry’s operational safety.
• Collaboration with the IMO, governments and regulatory bodies to implement any necessary regulatory changes.
While the cruise industry has an outstanding safety record, CLIA is fully committed to understanding the factors that contributed to the Costa Concordia incident and is proactively responding to all maritime safety issues. The Cruise Industry Operational Safety Review will enable the industry to do so in a meaningful and expedited manner.

About CLIA: The nonprofit Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) is North America's largest cruise industry organization. CLIA represents the interests of 26 member lines and participates in the regulatory and policy development process while supporting measures that foster a safe, secure and healthy cruise ship environment. CLIA is also engaged in travel agent training, research, and marketing communications to promote the value and desirability of cruise vacations with thousands of travel agency and travel agent members across North America. For more information about CLIA, the cruise industry, and CLIA-member lines and travel agencies, visit Cruising.org.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Crystal Cruises to Launch Evening Bistro

With almost a dozen dining choices on each ship, Crystal Cruises' most popular daytime gathering spot, The Bistro, is expanding to evening hours. Reflecting the space's European-style sidewalk cafe ambiance, the complimentary menu will offer "small bites," desserts, and "midnight" snacks, along with premium wines and flavored coffees. The new nightly cafe debuts in April on Crystal Symphony and June on Crystal Serenity, shortly after the ships go all-inclusive.

The Bistro has long been a meeting place for cruisers due to its central location and quick, easy access to continental breakfast, fresh fruits, afternoon snacks, and wide selection of teas and coffee drinks, from morning to late afternoon. Signature Guy Buffet china and Six-Star service remains at night, but gastronomic offerings greatly expand:

6-8 pm: Charcuterie of cured meats, prosciuttos, and pates, plus international cheeses paired with premium wines and champagne.
8-11 pm: Artisanal cheeses, with complementary accompaniments such as truffle honey and fig chutney, plus an assortment of fresh fruits and desserts, including a chocolate fountain and petit fours handmade by onboard pastry chefs, with fine wines, digestifs, and hot drinks.
11 pm-12 am: Late-night munchies such as mini-sandwiches, freshly-baked pizzas, quiche, tandoori chicken, and trendy beef "sliders."
 "In traditional Crystal luxury fashion, our evening Bistro brings aboard the elegance and international panache of a European cafe experience—a central place to meet, people-watch, and enjoy a glass of wine or espresso and a snack," says Vice President Food and Beverage Operations Toni Neumeister. "In addition, this expansion really enhances the culinary and social options for guests who spend a full day sightseeing and/or like to mix up their evening dining."

Casual dining on deck is also offered most evenings with a new Chinese "Comfort Food" menu augmenting choices on Crystal Serenity.

Outstanding culinary experiences are a hallmark of every Crystal vacation. The ultra-luxury line's extensive, innovative choices for gourmandizing include coveted cheese and wine cellars, overseen by on-board, certified cheese and wine sommeliers (Court of Master Sommeliers-certified); fresh, chef-like cocktails served by certified mixologists; gourmet dining options at every meal, whether in the Crystal Dining Room, at afternoon tea, or in Nobu Matsuhisa and Piero Selvaggio's specialty restaurants; and, starting this spring, all-inclusive premium spirits, fine wines, and champagnes throughout the ship.

Photo Courtesy of Crystal Cruises

Saturday, January 28, 2012

SeaDream Taps Into a “Life Transformation Program” With a “Raw Food” Menu Option

One of the highlights of a voyage on SeaDream Yacht Club’s luxurious SeaDream I and SeaDream II is the honest-to-goodness gourmet dining. Every dish is prepared to order and, in my opinion, the food I’ve been served is outstanding. So, I was pretty dismayed to learn they have introduced a “Raw Food” menu option, boasting that it is the first of its kind at sea. Admittedly, with my confirmed preference for meat and potatoes (I don’t even eat sushi), the once-radical form of vegetarianism called the “raw foods” or “living foods” sounded weird and personally unappetizing. However, its popularity is creeping into the mainstream and gourmet raw food is now being offered in addition to the regular menu aboard SeaDream’s mega-yachts.

Not exactly uncooked, “raw” refers to a style of preparation in which all ingredients are raw, organic and vegan (no fish, meat, eggs or dairy), and nothing is heated above 118°F in order to retain healthy micro nutrients. SeaDream’s Norwegian owners, Linn and Atle Brynestad were excited by the health benefits they personally experienced while eating “raw” during an extended stay at the Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach, Florida, and afterwards they asked the Executive Chef, Renate Waller to bring her “raw food” expertise to SeaDream’s galley. Renate worked with SeaDream’s Corporate Chef, Sudesh Kishore to create a special, optional menu of gourmet raw food dishes.

The Hippocrates Health Institute was created over a half century ago and since then has developed the Life Transformation Program into the definitive blueprint for transitioning to a healthier lifestyle. The Institute helps people radically change their health by teaching them how to trade nutrient-deficient, “dead” foods to a diet rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and plant-based proteins. Replete with fresh sprout and vegetable juices, wheatgrass, colorful salads, nuts, seeds, and fruit, the Hippocrates plan is said to supply the oxygen, enzymes, alkalinity, and bioelectrical charges vital to cellular and general health.

Thankfully, SeaDream’s reputation for providing a stellar culinary experience remains of utmost importance to the company. “The raw food menu is an added option. If you come aboard to enjoy filet mignon and double chocolate mousse, by all means it’s on the menu” said Kishore. He added “Nobody else at sea is offering this style of raw cuisine, and because we serve at most 112 guests, we can. One might assume raw food is boring or bland, but guests who chose to try it are in for a tasty surprise.”

SeaDream’s Chef shared several of the dishes being served from this optional, new raw food menu. Beverages include Watercress Tang, a liquid mélange of watercress, Anjou pear, lime and pineapple, and the Blood Apple Blaster, a blend of apple, ginger, red beet, lime juice, and agave. Salad options include Asian style Cashew Curry Salad that is crunchy and slightly spicy. An entrée such as Vegetable Lasagna uses pasta-like noodles made from spinach leaves and coconut meat, layered between a spicy cauliflower mash topped with a sun-dried tomato marinara. Even SeaDream’s Pastry Chef is on board with raw food desserts, creating a Cashew Lemon Cheese Cake with a crust made from almonds and dates and a filling that includes cashews, lemon juice, almond milk, and coconut butter. For those who prefer sugar free, that’s also available. You really can have your cake and eat it too.

Just don’t serve me any of that lasagna—I’m allergic to spinach and will stick with the filet mignon and double chocolate mousse.

Image Courtesy of SeaDream Yacht Club

Friday, January 27, 2012

Cruise News: Costa Cruises Details Costa Concordia Guest Reimbursement Offer

Costa Crociere wishes to again express its profound condolences to the families of the victims, continued sympathy to the families of the missing and deep regret and sorrow for the damages and hardship the Costa Concordia accident caused to all its guests.

Costa Crociere announced a compensation proposal for guests who have returned home after the Jan. 13 tragic Costa Concordia accident. This proposal is the result of negotiations between Costa Crociere and consumer associations protecting guests’ interests, with the support of multiple tourism and travel industry associations. In Italy, the company has already reached an agreement with the National Council of Consumers and Users, a national organization.

The families of the deceased and guests who were injured and required medical treatment on site will be covered under a separate proposal that will take into account their individual circumstances.

The compensation package for Costa Concordia guests who have returned home includes:

• A lump sum of 11,000 euros (US$14,458.07 at today’s exchange rate) per person as indemnification, covering all patrimonial and nonpatrimonial damages, including loss of baggage and personal effects, psychological distress, and loss of enjoyment of the cruise vacation;
• Reimbursement of the value of the cruise, including harbor taxes;
• Reimbursement of air and bus transfers included in the cruise package;
• Full reimbursement of travel expenses to reach the port of embarkation and return home;
• Reimbursement of any medical expenses resulting from the cruise;
• Reimbursement of expenses incurred on board during the cruise.
This compensation package is higher than the current indemnification limits provided for in international conventions and laws currently in force. The 11,000 euro lump-sum payment is offered to all Costa Concordia passengers, including nonpaying children, regardless of their age.
Costa also has pledged not to deduct from this sum any amount paid by any insurance policy stipulated by guests. In addition, the company will return all goods stored in cabin safes, where retrieval is possible.

Costa Crociere also has pledged to provide a program for psychological assistance to any guests that request it. The company has further agreed to offer customers the ability to cancel any upcoming cruise booked before Jan. 13, on any of its routes, without penalty through Feb. 7, 2012.

Dedicated operation units will handle claims to ensure timely resolution. Payments will be credited by the company within seven days of receipt of the acceptance of the proposal. Guests should e-mail careteam@us.costa.it or call 954-266-5693 for assistance.

Ruby Princess Rescues Boaters

The good news is that earlier this week three French sailors were rescued at sea northeast of Cuba (between Berrys/Clarencetown and Samana Cay in Bahamian territory) when their trimaran lost power, leaving them stranded miles from the nearest port. Princess Cruises' Ruby Princess altered course and launched a rescue boat to pick up the distressed mariners at 11:40pm EST on Monday, Jan 23. Hundreds of the Ruby Princess' passengers and crew witnessed the operation in the video below.

The bad news... that video is probably the last look the owner will have of his very expensive sailing vessel.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cruise News: After Concordia, Deal Or No Deal?

Conventional “wisdom” among some travel bloggers suggests that booked passengers are cancelling their cruises en masse due to the recent Costa Concordia incident and now is the time to act quickly to get a rock bottom fare for your next cruise. I even had a friend ask me yesterday if I thought his family could get a great deal on a cruise in March. He was under the impression that cruise lines would be giving away cabins at bargain basement rates due to cancellations. First off, people who are booked to sail in March are probably in the cancellation penalty phase after making their final payment and they aren’t likely to be changing their vacation plans in droves. However, while this is the cruise industry’s Wave Season when low cruise fares and upgrades are typically offered on future sailings, March is Spring Break time and pricier than usual. I advised him to call a travel agent, but not to be surprised if most ships sailing from Miami and Fort Lauderdale in March are already fully booked.

Let’s step back and evaluate the advice of those bloggers who claim there are a lot of last minute deals right now because of recent cancellations. While I don’t know what sources of information they are using—or whether they are simply speculating about mass cancellations as my friend did—the real experts offer an entirely a different perspective.

A Travel Weekly survey of travel agents found that the Costa accident has had minimal effect on agent bookings. While the agents they surveyed reported an increase in calls from their clients with questions, they “overwhelmingly said they hadn't received any cancellations following the deadly capsize of the Costa Concordia off the Italian coast…less than 7% of agents said they had cancellations as a direct result.”

Even more interesting is an article in the authoritative Seatrade Insider entitled Post-Concordia UBS survey finds cruise pricing is up—even for Costa. The article states, “UBS Investment Research has found that the impact on cruise bookings may not be as negative as feared, and pricing in general is up—even for Costa Crociere.”

On a side note, I must admit that I felt queasy when I awoke early on Saturday, Jan 14th and saw the horrifying televised images of Costa Concordia. Would that prevent me from taking a cruise? No, and in fact I boarded a cruise ship only hours later. As a whole, I sincerely believe the cruise industry has always considered safety their top priority. Truthfully, I feel safer on a cruise ship than in an airplane or driving on I-95.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Cruise News: Message From Norwegian Cruise Line's CEO

As a past passenger of Norwegian Cruise Line, I received the email below today. Last week I sailed on Norwegian Epic and can state that the safety drill referenced was conducted within hours of boarding and before the ship sailed from the Port of Miami. While we were not required to bring personal flotation devices to the drill (as is currently a common practice on many cruise lines), the demonstration of their use was quite thorough. Attendees names and cabin numbers were noted on master lists by the crewmembers in charge. In the aftermath of the tragic circumstances that took place just the night before on Costa Concordia, our fellow passengers paid particular attention during the drill.

Dear Valued Guest,

Thank you for being a loyal Norwegian Cruise Line guest. We want to take this opportunity to assure you that the safety of our guests and crew is, at all times, our number one priority.

We operate all of our vessels to meet and exceed the requirements of the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention and the International Safety Management Code maritime standards, the international safety requirements which govern the cruise industry. Every crew member is well trained in the Company's stringent safety protocols, participating in weekly safety drills onboard every one of our ships.

Our Captains are experienced seafarers with an average of 33 years at sea. All of our Captains come up through the ranks progressing from Second Officer to First Officer and then Chief Officer up to Staff Captain before they can become Captains. On average, it takes at least 15 years for a Captain to be promoted into that role. We further ensure that our Captains regularly undergo rigorous simulation training on navigation and bridge operations.

To assist our Captains and Officers while at sea, we have extensive navigation protocols in place. Our bridge operations are based on a two-person team approach. Accordingly, there are always two officers in charge of bridge operations, mandating strict adherence to operating procedures. Furthermore, our bridge teams follow pre-set voyage plans which are thoroughly reviewed and discussed by the Captain and bridge team prior to port departures and arrivals. In addition, all of our ships employ the latest state-of-the-art navigational equipment and technology to ensure that our bridge teams have the most accurate data regarding the planned itinerary.

Prior to every cruise setting sail, we hold a mandatory safety drill for all guests during which important safety information is reviewed and demonstrated. We also show an extensive safety video which runs continuously on the stateroom televisions should further information be required.

We appreciate your continued support and we look forward to welcoming you aboard again.


Kevin Sheehan
Chief Executive Officer

Norwegian Cruise Line Launches New Alaska Cruisetours

The Alaska Railroad
Guests sailing aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Sun on Alaskan cruise vacations in 2013 can now add pre- or post- Cruisetours to round out their voyage. Ranging in length from four to six days, guests can select their perfect Alaska adventure from four different packages. The Cruisetours are escorted by a local Alaskan guide and each tour features two nights in Denali National Park, as well as a ride on the iconic Alaska Railroad.

For guests who want to explore the wilderness or the history of Alaska, there are two five-day options available: Denali/Alyeska Explorer and Denali/Fairbanks Explorer. The Denali/Alyeska Explorer gives guests the opportunity to hike on Winner Creek Trail, visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to see animals in their natural setting or take a helicopter ride to land atop a glacier. The Denali/Fairbanks Explorer offers an up close look at the Gold Rush that swept the nation, the Alaskan Pipeline, a visit to an Athabascan Indian Village and the chance to experience the midnight sun.

The best option for those with an adventurous spirit is the Authentic Alaska Cruisetour, offering diverse activities in a six-day tour. Guests can take a trip to an Iditarod Sled Dog Musher’s house to learn about the “Last Great Race” and meet some of the dogs (also included in both Explorer Cruisetours). In Homer, guests can learn more about the fishing history as well as take in the scenic view of Katchermark Bay’s glaciers and mountains. The tour concludes with a visit to Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, where guests can enjoy hiking trails, local restaurants and the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

Guests with limited time to explore the state can take advantage of the Denali Express package to explore Alaska in four days. Two days in Denali can be spent visiting the Denali National Park to view wildlife or go rafting, fly fishing, golfing and hiking before taking a ride on the world famous Alaska Railroad.

Now available, pre- or post-cruise land packages can be booked as part of Norwegian Sun’s 2013 cruises from Whittier, Alaska. Beginning May 20, 2013, Norwegian Sun’s northbound itinerary departs Vancouver, British Columbia on Mondays, and will cruise the Inside Passage, Glacier Bay, and Hubbard Glacier, as well as visiting Ketchikan, Skagway, and Juneau. On her southbound itineraries from Whittier, Alaska, the ship will cruise the Inside Passage, Sawyer Glacier, and Hubbard Glacier, and make stops in Ketchikan, Skagway, Juneau, and Icy Strait Point.

Additional information can be found by visiting NCL.com.

Photo Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Labor Strikes Delay Oceania Cruises’ New ‘Riviera’

Oceania Cruises was notified by ship builder Fincantieri late last week of construction delays and as a result, will reschedule the maiden voyage of its m/s Riviera. Construction on the 1,250-guest ship fell behind schedule when strikes at Fincantieri's shipyard near Genoa, Italy, lasted longer than expected.

The maiden voyage of Riviera has moved from April 24 to May 16, and all guests affected by the delay will be contacted by their travel agents or by Oceania Cruises directly to discuss alternative cruise dates.

“We sincerely regret any inconvenience that this may cause our guests,” stated Kunal S. Kamlani, the cruise line's president. “We are working very closely with the shipyard to ensure Riviera is completed to meet Oceania's high standards of quality and service.”

The new maiden voyage is a 10-day “Pearls of the Aegean” cruise that includes an overnight aboard ship in Venice before visiting Dubrovnik, Kotor, Corfu, Monemvasia, Crete, Santorini, Kusadasi (gateway to Ephesus), Delos, Mykonos and Athens.

Guests booked on affected sailings will have the option of rebooking another cruise and receive a future cruise credit, which ranges from $250 to $1,000 per guest, depending on category of accommodation. In the event guests do not wish to rebook, they will receive a full refund. Travel agent commissions will be protected.

For more information on Riviera or Oceania Cruises, visit OceaniaCruises.com or call toll-free at call 800-531-5658.

Photo Courtesy of Oceania Cruises

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cruise News: Costa Cruises Clarifies Reports Regarding Discounts & Promotional Offers

As if the situation surrounding the deadly grounding of Costa Concordia weren’t bad enough, the media isn’t making it any better. In a sensational bit of tabloid-ish reporting that has been published and republished over the past few days (sorry, I don’t know the original source or I’d link it), Costa Cruises was said to have offered survivors of the Concordia capsizing a 30 percent discount on their next cruise with the line. A shocking and callous claim attributed to a survivor, but untrue.

Apparently a notice to travel agents regarding future canceled Costa Concordia voyages is the source of the grossly misleading stories. In the notice sent to agents, Costa offered alternative sailings to guests booked on upcoming Costa Concordia cruises or the the opportunity to cancel for any reason and receive a complete refund plus a future cruise credit worth 30 percent of the fare they paid for their cancelled Costa Concordia cruise.

Costa Cruises North America Statement:

In reference to news reports on discounts and promotional offers, Costa Cruises asserts that the company has never offered any discount on future cruises to our guests who were on board Costa Concordia for the cruise of Jan. 13 and involved in the tragic accident. The information originally published by a newspaper and reported in various news outlets is unfounded, as confirmed by the English passenger who was quoted by the newspaper.

Costa Cruises reiterates that after the accident the company’s priority has always been to provide the maximum possible assistance and solace to the people involved. From the outset the company has been fully aware of and saddened by the suffering and hardship endured by guests and crewmembers, and has acted with this firmly in mind.

On a joint basis with rescue teams, the company worked to provide evacuated passengers and crewmembers with all the necessary assistance to ensure they were able to return home. Subsequently, Costa Cruises contacted guests by telephone after they had returned home to check on their physical and emotional wellbeing, and to confirm that they will receive a refund for the cruise and all material expenses related to it.

As previously announced, the company welcomes discussion with its guests and all consumer-protection associations to determine indemnity for the hardship endured, with the support of tourism-sector trade associations with which it has been in contact for days.

Driven by its sense of ethics and the values of fairness and responsibility which guide it, the company also has given all customers booked on future Costa cruises the opportunity, if they have hesitations about cruising, to cancel their cruise booking by Feb. 7, 2012. All travel agents who work with the company were informed of that days ago.

Costa Cruises would also like to clarify that starting on the day after the accident, all advertising initiatives planned were cancelled out of respect for those affected by this tragedy. The company was unable to stop only one postal promotion, which had already been sent to some customers at the end of December.
Photo: © CruiseDiva.com

Disney Cruise Line Adds New Itineraries & Ports for 2013

With their growing fleet, Disney Cruise Line will offer new itineraries for 2013, including an expanded portfolio of European cruises with new destinations such as Venice, Italy, and the Greek Isles. In addition, Disney Cruise Line will utilize a second homeport in Florida, with Caribbean sailings departing from the Port of Miami for the very first time.

With the addition of the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy to the fleet of cruise ships, Disney Cruise Line is able to take more families to more destinations around the world than ever before. Disney Cruise Line has always catered to the unique vacation needs of families, and next year enhances the cruise options for their guests—whether it’s sun and sand in the Caribbean, outdoor adventures in Alaska, or experiencing the wonders of Europe.

Highlights of the Disney Cruise Line 2013 schedule (which can be booked beginning Jan. 26, 2012) include…

Mediterranean from Barcelona
Beginning June 1, 2013, the Disney Magic returns to Europe with plenty of new twists to the Mediterranean itineraries, including a 4-night option and special 12-night sailings in addition to 7-night itineraries that treat guests to the best of Europe during the three-month season.

The new 12-night sailings visit destinations such as Venice, Italy, and Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast on one itinerary and Ephesus, Turkey and the Greek Isles including Athens, on another. Each itinerary will offer a sailing departing in June and another departing in July.

All itineraries depart from Barcelona, Spain, as the Disney Magic takes guests on exciting journeys to richly diverse cities, cultures, and people. With romantic boulevards, bustling bazaars, iconic locations, mild climates, sun-drenched islands and the brilliant blue Mediterranean Sea, guests will enjoy a world-class family vacation with legendary Disney guest service.

Four-night Mediterranean Getaway
Ports: Barcelona; Nice (Villefranche), France; Palma de Mallorca, Spain
Departure dates: July 9, Aug. 6

Seven-night Mediterranean Cruise
Ports: Barcelona; Nice (Villefranche), France; Florence (La Spezia), Italy; Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy; Naples, Italy
Departure dates: June 1, 8, Aug. 10, 17, 24, 31

12-night Mediterranean with Greece
Ports: Barcelona; Nice (Villefranche), France; Florence (La Spezia), Italy; Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy; Athens (Piraeus), Greece; Ephesus (Kusadasi), Turkey; Mykonos, Greece; Valetta, Malta
Departure dates: June 15, July 13

12-night Mediterranean with Venice
Ports: Barcelona; Nice (Villefranche), France; Florence (La Spezia), Italy; Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy; Naples, Italy; Venice, Italy (overnight); Dubrovnik, Croatia; Valetta, Malta
Departure dates: June 27, July 25
Bahamas and Western Caribbean from Miami
Disney Cruise Line will sail from Miami for the first time on Dec. 23, 2012. One 6- and one 7-night Caribbean sailing aboard the Disney Wonder will set the stage for a schedule of 4- and 5-night cruises from Miami to the Bahamas and Western Caribbean between Jan. 5, 2013, and May 2, 2013. The 4- and 5-night cruises have a variety of itineraries. Ports of call may include Cozumel, Mexico; Grand Cayman; Key West; Nassau, Bahamas, and Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay.

The itineraries offer days at sea for guests to explore all of the fun aboard the Disney Wonder and days in port to lounge on warm, golden beaches, to swim and snorkel in azure waters, or to shop to their heart’s content in exotic marketplaces.

Five-night Caribbean
Ports: Miami, Cozumel, Castaway Cay
Departure dates: Jan. 5, 19, Feb, 2, 16, March 2, 16, 30, April 13, 27

Five-night Caribbean
Ports: Miami, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
Departure dates: Jan. 14, 28, Feb. 11, 25, March 11, 25, April 8, 22

Four-night Bahamas
Ports: Miami, Key West, Nassau, Castaway Cay
Departure dates: Jan. 10, 24, Feb. 7, 21, March 7, 21, April 4, 18, May 2
Western Caribbean from Galveston
The Disney Magic, which will begin sailing from Texas in 2012, will continue to sail from the Port of Galveston through May 2013, to the Western Caribbean.

Six-night Caribbean:
Ports: Galveston, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
Departure dates: Dec. 15 and 29, 2012, Jan. 12, 26, Feb. 9, 23, March 9, 23, April 6, 20. May 4

Eight-night Caribbean:
Ports: Galveston, Key West, Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Cozumel
Departure dates: Dec. 21, 2012, Jan. 4, 18, Feb. 1, 15, March 1, 15, 29, April 12, 26, May 10
Alaska from Vancouver
Beginning May 27, 2013, the Disney Wonder will sail 7-night cruises from Vancouver to Tracy Arm, Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan, Alaska. These cruises will combine the natural wonder and adventurous spirit of Alaska with the unparalleled, family-friendly experience found on a Disney Cruise Line ship. Disney Cruise Line worked closely with Alaskan tour operators to create exclusive-to-Disney family-friendly Port Adventures that allow guests to best experience Alaska’s natural beauty and rich history.

Seven-night Alaska:
Ports: Vancouver, Tracy Arm (scenic cruising through fjord), Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan
Departure dates: May 27, June 3, 10, 17, 24, July 1, 8, 15, 22, 29, Aug. 5, 12, 19, 26, Sept. 2
Caribbean and Bahamas from Port Canaveral
The Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream will continue to sail a variety of Caribbean and Bahamian itineraries departing from Port Canaveral.

Disney Fantasy will sail out of Port Canaveral on 7-night Caribbean itineraries, alternating eastern (St. Maarten and St. Thomas) and western (Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Cozumel). Special Eastern Caribbean sailings, January through April 2013, stop at San Juan, Puerto Rico. All Disney Fantasy itineraries include a stop at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay.

Disney Dream will sail 3-, 4- and 5-night cruises from Port Canaveral to the Bahamas and Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay.
To learn more about Disney Cruise Line, visit DisneyCruise.com.

Photo Courtesy of Disney Cruise Line

A message from Celebrity Cruises' President & CEO

As a past passenger, I received the following email from Dan Hanrahan, President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises and would like to share it with you.

Clearly, as the result of the Costa Concordia grounding and loss of life, the cruise industry wants to reassure past, present, and future passengers that they will do everything possible to prevent such a tragic accident from happening again. I believe their efforts are sincere and we will see changes to make cruise travel even safer in the years to come.

Dear Linda,

Like you, all of us at Celebrity Cruises, both shipboard and shoreside, are deeply saddened by the events surrounding the tragic Costa Concordia accident. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by the incident.

I debated about writing to you, as I wanted to be respectful of the investigation process and avoid adding to the speculation as to the cause or related failures. However, the concerns that have been raised about the safety of cruise ships compelled me to take the opportunity to share what an intense focus we have always placed on safety, and how rigorously we put that focus into practice every day.

Since Celebrity Cruises’ founding more than 20 years ago, the safety of our guests and crew has always been our highest priority. The measures we take in the interest of safety are many, often exceeding regulatory requirements. It’s a critical part of our ongoing commitment to innovation and continuous improvement in every aspect of our business.

Our guests see just a portion of our safety practices through the mandatory muster drills we conduct at the outset of every sailing. But our safety practices encompass so much more. In light of the Costa Concordia accident, we chose to post a summary of our safety practices on our web site. Simply go to, CelebrityCruises.com/Safety, and click on the tab labeled "Safety and Security". I encourage you to take a look, and to share the information with your family and friends.

Above and beyond what we’ve communicated there, you also may be interested to know that the leader of Celebrity Cruises’ Captains is a highly experienced former officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, Greg Purdy. As the head of our Marine Operations Department, Greg’s highest priority is to guide and monitor the safety of our fleet. His own experience at sea, including serving as Captain of a Coast Guard vessel, combined with his depth of knowledge of cruise ship safety, ensures that he and the entire Celebrity Marine team continue to build on our strong safety culture.

Our Captains across the Celebrity fleet hold degrees from some of the world’s finest maritime institutions. You also may be surprised to know that, along with the Captain, every one of our ships has at least two other officers who hold the level of license required to serve as Captain of a cruise ship. Essentially, we have three people onboard every Celebrity ship who qualify as a Captain.

On average, each of Celebrity Cruises’ Captains has 25 years of seagoing experience. Besides the training and drills we conduct onboard, our Captains and their bridge teams also participate in navigation simulator courses and other training. One of the cornerstones of our training is that everyone is expected to speak up if they detect something wrong, regardless of their rank. Our shipboard officers and our shoreside team spend a considerable amount of time focused on how we can continually improve our safety procedures.

Along with our vast in-house expertise, we also rely on a group of experts known as our Maritime Safety Advisory Board. The group was established in 2006 to help guide our safety program and provide critical thinking from the world’s leading marine safety experts. The group includes former senior officials from the US and UK Coast Guards, as well as leadership from the academic world.

Our Chairman Richard Fain has said there’s no such thing as perfect safety, but there is such a thing as perfect dedication to safety. And that’s what we strive for daily.

Whether you’re a longtime cruiser, or have yet to sail with Celebrity, I hope you’ll help us reinforce the fact that cruising continues to maintain the best safety record of any industry in the travel business.

Our highly skilled and dedicated crew members look forward to welcoming you onboard soon to provide you with an outstanding vacation experience. Meanwhile, I thank you for your continued support of our brand and our business.

Dan Hanrahan President and CEO

Royal Caribbean Addresses Cruise Travel Safety

It's no surprise that the grounding of Costa Concordia has deeply affected not only Carnival Corporation and its cruise brands, but the entire industry. Yesterday Cruise Diva shared a message from Princess Cruises' Captain's Circle e-newsletter to past passengers and earlier today we shared an announcement from Prestige Cruise Holdings, parent company of Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Now have the following message that was sent to Royal Caribbean International's past passengers, members of the line's Crown and Anchor Society.

All of us at Royal Caribbean International continue to extend our heartfelt sympathies to those affected by Carnival Corporation's recent tragic incident on the Costa Concordia. As a Crown and Anchor Society member and loyal Royal Caribbean guest, we know you may have some questions as the situation continues to unfold.

At Royal Caribbean International, the safety and security of our guests and crew is our highest priority. It is fundamental to our operations. Our maritime safety record over our 42-year history illustrates our commitment to the safety of the millions of guests and crew that sail on our ships. The measures we take in the interest of safety are many, often exceeding the regulatory requirements – these are all part of our ongoing commitment to innovation and continuous improvement in every aspect of our business.

To address some of your questions and concerns, here is a video (below) that will provide an overview of safety onboard our ships; the training of our crew, officers and captains; and the many regulations that govern our practices.

As a past cruiser, we know your friends and family may be asking about your own time at sea. We hope that you’ll share this video along with your personal Royal Caribbean experiences with them, and reinforce that cruising continues to maintain the best safety record of any industry in travel.

Thank you for your continued support and we look forward to welcoming you aboard again soon on one of our ships sailing to 270 destinations worldwide.


Adam Goldstein
President and CEO
Royal Caribbean International

Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises Announce Revised Muster Drill Policy

Prestige Cruise Holdings, parent company of Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, has announced that effective immediately all ships will hold guest muster drills on the day of departure. Presently, all Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises vessels hold muster drills on the same day of departure, with few exceptions.

“On just a handful of occasions the drill is held the following morning, primarily to accommodate late-arriving guests,” stated Robin Lindsay, executive vice president of vessel operations for Prestige Cruise Holdings. “However, in light of the recent tragic event, Oceania and Regent have adopted a new policy that requires all muster drills to take place on day of departure.”

All Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises vessels are designed and operated in compliance with the strict requirements of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which mandates global standards for the safety and operation of cruise ships, through adoption of regulations, resolutions and treaties. The most important of these treaties is the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention, which includes comprehensive mandates on safety equipment and procedures. Prestige Cruise Holdings’ ships adhere to all IMO and SOLAS regulations and requirements. In addition, all officers and crew who have specific safety functions, such as evacuation leaders, boat commanders, fire teams, and lifeboat launching teams, regularly conduct simulated emergency training drills.

About Oceania Cruises: Oceania Cruises® offers unrivaled cuisine, luxurious accommodations, exceptional personalized service and extraordinary value. Award-winning itineraries visit more than 330 ports in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and the Americas aboard the 684-guest Regatta, Insignia, and Nautica. The line’s 1,250-guest Marina debuted in January 2011 and will be followed by Riviera, a sister ship, in spring 2012.

About Regent Seven Seas Cruises: Regent Seven Seas Cruises is the world’s most inclusive luxury cruise line. Fares include all-suite accommodations, round-trip air, highly personalized service, acclaimed cuisine, fine wines and spirits, sightseeing excursions in every port, a pre-cruise luxury hotel package and gratuities. Three award-winning, all-suite vessels, Seven Seas Navigator, Seven Seas Mariner, and Seven Seas Voyager, are among the most spacious at sea and visit more than 300 destinations around the globe.

About Prestige Cruise Holdings: Prestige Cruise Holdings (PCH) is the parent company of Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Formed in 2007 to manage select assets in Apollo Management's cruise investment portfolio, PCH is led by Chairman & CEO Frank J. Del Rio and President & COO Kunal S. Kamlani. PCH is the market leader in the upper-premium and luxury segments of the cruise industry with nearly 5,200 berths between the Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises brands, a number the company expects will grow to approximately 6,400 berths this year.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Message From Princess Cruises President Alan Buckelew Regarding the Costa Concordia Tragedy

From the Captain's Circle e-newsletter to past passengers sent out today, Princess Cruises President Alan Buckelew made this statement.

"All of us at Princess Cruises continue to be deeply saddened by the grounding of the Costa Concordia and the tragic aftermath. We are stunned that this incident occurred, and our hearts go out to all those affected, especially the families of the deceased, and to everyone at our sister company Costa Cruises as they cope with this difficult situation.

We want to assure our passengers that the safety of all those aboard our ships is always our constant focus and top priority, and that Princess operates to the highest safety standards. Princess has a multitude of measures in place to ensure a safe and secure shipboard environment including advanced navigation technology, extensive training of all officers and crew, and regular safety drills. We meet or exceed all international safety requirements, and our safety record during our 45 years of cruising is excellent. Incidents such as the recent tragedy are a rare occurrence, and cruising continues to be a safe vacation choice.

We expect that some important lessons will be learned from this recent incident, and we will use these to further refine our own safety practices so we can continue to provide our passengers and crew a safe and secure environment."

Sapphire Princess Drydock to Add Signature Princess Cruises Features

Sapphire Princess’ atrium is being transformed into
Princess Cruises’ signature Piazza
Sapphire Princess is two weeks into a dramatic, four-week drydock transformation that will completely transform the onboard experience, bringing it up to Princess Cruises’ standard of excellence.

The drydock, taking place in the Victoria Shipyards in British Columbia, continues a multi-year fleet renovation process that has brought Princess Cruises’ signature features to most of its ships. When Sapphire Princess re-enters service on Feb 4, passengers will be able to enjoy a brand-new Piazza atrium with the International Café and Vines wine bar, plus the new Alfredo’s Pizzeria. On the top decks, passengers will enjoy poolside movies on the new giant Movies Under the Stars screen, and an opportunity to relax in the ship’s “pocket of tranquility,” the adults-only Sanctuary.

“It’s been an incredible process over the past few years to retrofit these popular features onto our earlier-introduced ships, but we know our passengers appreciate that they can now find their favorite amenities on virtually any vessel in our fleet,” said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises executive vice president.

The many changes to Sapphire Princess include:
New Piazza Atrium: The ship’s atrium space will be redesigned to include this signature Princess feature – a European-inspired social hub of the ship combining always-changing quick bites and light meals, beverages, entertainment, shopping and guest services. The Piazza will feature the International Café for pastries, fresh panini sandwiches, salads, fresh-baked cookies and a variety of coffee drinks. Passengers will also enjoy a new Vines wine bar offering a selection of more than 30 wines by the glass, plus a selection of tapas and sushi, and a wine shop where passengers can purchase their favorite bottle.
Alfredo’s Pizzeria: Introduced last year aboard Grand Princess, Alfredo’s will expand to its second location on Sapphire Princess. The sit-down pizzeria serves up an enticing menu of freshly prepared, hand-stretched, individual-size pizzas. Named for the line’s master executive chef, Alfredo Marzi, the pizzeria will feature an open kitchen where passengers can watch chefs create their custom-made pies.
Movies Under the Stars: Sapphire Princess will be the final ship to introduce Movies Under the Stars on board. The giant poolside movie screen will showcase feature films, concerts, awards shows and sports events, and passengers can enjoy their viewing on padded loungers under warm, fleece blankets. Complimentary popcorn and other treats enhance the al fresco entertainment experience.
The Sanctuary: Sapphire Princess is also the final ship to receive The Sanctuary, a tranquil retreat exclusively for adults. Added prior to drydock, the new Sanctuary space has already received an enthusiastic welcome from passengers enjoying the enhanced comforts of this peaceful oasis, as Serenity Stewards attend to their every need, offering refreshing beverages, light snacks, pre-loaded MP3 players, and the cooling mist of an Evian atomizer.
Also part of the renovation are several relocated and upgraded venues, including the Art Gallery, Internet Café and Library, and the Photo-Video Gallery. New carpet and upholstery will be installed throughout the ship, and staterooms will feature new flat-screen televisions. The newly renovated Sapphire Princess will debut on Feb 4 in Los Angeles when the ship will depart on a 14-day Hawaiian Islands cruise.

Photo Courtesy of Princess Cruises

Cruise News: Costa Concordia Aftermath, Carnival Corporation Announces Safety Audit

In light of the tragic Costa Concordia disaster, Carnival Corporation, parent company of Costa Cruises and nine leading cruise lines around the world, has announced a comprehensive audit and review of all safety and emergency response procedures across all of the company’s cruise lines.

Carnival Corporation and the cruise industry as a whole have maintained an excellent safety record over the years. “However, this tragedy has called into question our company’s safety and emergency response procedures and practices,” said Micky Arison, chairman and CEO of Carnival Corporation. “While I have every confidence in the safety of our vessels and the professionalism of our crews, this review will evaluate all practices and procedures to make sure that this kind of accident doesn’t happen again.”

The review is being led by Captain James Hunn, a retired U.S. Navy Captain and currently the company’s senior vice president of Maritime Policy & Compliance. Following a 32-year career in the Navy, Hunn has held senior positions at Carnival Corporation & plc for nearly a decade, focusing on corporate-wide efforts to establish maritime policy standards, while overseeing the company’s health, environmental, safety, and security practices. Hunn and senior health and safety executives from each of the lines will review all safety and emergency response policies and procedures, officer and crew training and evaluation, bridge management and company-wide response and support efforts. Hunn will report to the Health, Environment, Safety and Security Committee of the Board, and to Howard Frank, vice chairman and chief operations officer of Carnival Corporation.

In addition, the Health, Environment, Safety and Security Committee is engaging outside industry-leading experts in the fields of emergency response organization, training and implementation to conduct an audit of all of the company’s emergency response and safety procedures and to conduct a thorough review of the Costa Concordia grounding and subsequent capsizing. Frank said, “This company-wide initiative will identify lessons learned and best practices to further ensure the security and safety of all of our passengers and crew.”

Carnival Corporation also supports the call for a comprehensive evaluation of safety regulations by the International Maritime Organization, which was requested by the Cruise Lines International Association.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Really Cool Time Aboard Norwegian Epic

After spending a week in the warmth of the Caribbean sun we couldn’t resist donning parkas and gloves for a short sojourn in Norwegian Epic’s Ice Bar—the only one at sea.

With our cruise winding down it’s a good way to get back into the “real” world where it will be winter when we get home. Besides, who could resist meeting this icy Viking? He also has a polar bear friend in the Ice Bar where we were each served two Svedka vodka drinks in glasses made of ice as part of the $20 per person admission.

This would also be a good time to add our warm impression of the crew and service onboard Norwegian Epic. Servers, stewards, and staff alike greet passengers with a smile and service has exceeded our expectations in lounges, restaurants, and most importantly our cabin. Norwegian Epic is a happy ship and it shows in the satisfied looks on passengers’ faces. Plus, I haven’t heard a single complaint in the elevators.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Norwegian Epic’s “Spicy” Retreat

All day every day there’s a spot where adults (over 18) can head to for peaceful serenity. It’s Spice H2O and a favorite retreat for sunbathing, swimming, hot tubbing, and just relaxing in the sun or the shade of an umbrella.

At the top of the tiered space for lounging are the Spice H2O pool bar and a convenient snack counter.

After dark the area comes alive with live music and deck parties, and concerts and sporting events on the big screen.

Spice H2O has easily become our favorite getaway spot.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Nick on Norwegian Epic

You never can tell, you just might see a celebrity or two on a cruise as we did here on Norwegian Epic. Last night we ran into Sponge Bob Squarepants and he graciously posed with us for a snapshot.

This is a Nickelodeon cruise and the kids have lots of opportunities to have fun with their favorite characters. The activities are numerous—Breakfast with Nickelodeon, Nickelodeon Meet and Greet, Slime Time LIVE!,
Nick LIVE! poolside, Nick Jr. Story Time with Dora, Nickelodeon Arts and Crafts, Dora’s Dance Party, and Know Your Nickelodeon Trivia.

There is a charge for the breakfast and Slime Time LIVE! But other activities are free and the kids of all ages on board are having a blast.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Epic Entertainment on Norwegian Epic

Cruise ship shows generally consist of troupes of talented singers and dancers performing songs from Broadway musicals and other themed productions that might feature medleys of tunes by popular artists. That’s not what you’ll find here aboard Norwegian Epic.

The Epic Theater is quite simply the site of the most spectacular extravaganzas at sea. All the way from Las Vegas, we’ve enjoyed Blue Man Group and Legends in Concert—shows that would command hundreds of dollars for tickets in Vegas and for which there is no additional charge on Norwegian Epic. They weren’t skimpy watered-down versions either..

Blue Man Group is a production that has to be seen to be believed. Creative doesn’t begin to describe it. Each of the three Blue Men is a gifted artist and collectively they are masters of the sideways glance. Without a word being spoken the hilarious show even includes audience participation. I don’t want to give too much away because their antic surprises are the highlight of the show. Some of us who have seen Blue Man Group on land agreed that their show on Norwegian Epic was even better

The Legends in Concert cast on our cruise included Steven Tyler, Lady Gaga, and the King of Rock ’n Roll himself, Elvis. Each impersonator captured the look, the sound, and the movements of their artist so perfectly that they were totally in sync with videos being shown of the artists themselves in concert. Lady Gaga was particularly striking in outrageous costumes and make up, while Elvis initially appeared all in black leather before changing into one of the famous white jumpsuits complete with cape. Also impressive were the band and back-up singers and dancers.

Although the shows are included in your cruise fare, you do have to make reservations as seating is limited. However, everyone has the opportunity to see each show as there are multiple performances scheduled. Theater doors open about 45 minutes before show time, but you don’t have to get there that early to get a good seat. The Epic Theater doesn’t have a bad seat in the house—there are no columns and the sightlines are unobstructed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Luck of the Irish on Norwegian Epic

O'Sheehan's Burger
My husband Mel would tell you that I’m not a top-of-the-morning person and until I get my coffee I can be cranky. While room service is a good option, getting out for a good breakfast is an important start to the day so I try my best to not be a mean old crab in the buffet line. Mel likes buffets and I don’t so we’ve discovered a compromise here aboard Norwegian Epic that makes us both happy. Instead of a sit down breakfast in the dining room, which Mel considers too formal, we’ve discovered breakfast in O’Sheehan’s Irish Pub. The scrambled eggs, bacon, and hash browns in the Express Breakfast option are just what I like with a glass of juice and coffee. Other options are a Country Platter with eggs fried or scrambled and bacon or sausage, baked beans, a grilled tomato, and sautéed mushrooms; Homemade Corned Beef Hash with eggs; Create Your Own Omelet with popular fillings; and French Toast. Breakfast arrives with a Bakery Basket filled with muffins, pastries, and croissants.

O’Sheehan’s is also a hit with us for casual lunches with traditional pub grub (fish ’n chips) and comfort food (meatloaf and pot pie), as well as corned beef, grilled chicken, and tuna melt sandwiches, hot dogs, salads, and a classic burger with cheese and bacon.

Best of all is that O’Sheehan’s is always open and I can get the Chocolate Brownie Sundae—a brownie, topped with walnuts, ice cream, and chocolate sauce—anytime I crave it. Well, even better is that there is no charge for the food in O’Sheehan’s. We also recommend it for a mid-morning Bloody Mary.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Night Out On Norwegian Epic

Norwegian Cruise Line’s signature “Freestyle Cruising” offers a multitude of choices—there are so many dining and entertainment options on Norwegian Epic that it would be difficult to experience them all in a single week, but we’re giving it our best shot.

Take last night for instance. We began the evening with dinner in Moderno, the Brazilian style churrascaria. It’s a new restaurant experience introduced on Norwegian Epic in which diners help themselves to a soup and salad bar before servers make the rounds to tables offering meat on skewers—lamb, various cuts of beef, chicken, sausages, and even sweet pineapple. Sides included fried bananas, garlic mashed potatoes, rice, and beans. Beside your plate is a card to indicate your wishes—to continue service you place the green side up and when you’re done you turn it over to the red side. We saved room for dessert and my flan was exquisite. While I had never dined in a churrascaria in Brazil, Mel has on numerous occasions and I was anxious to hear his impression of Moderno. One word said it all—authentic. Plus, he said the meats we enjoyed were more tender than those he’d typically been served in Brazil.

No night out would be complete without entertainment and we found plenty that didn’t require reservations. Music filled the air as James Barr entertained on piano in Shakers, the champagne and martini bar, while guitarist Scott Stowe played next door in Maltings the beer and whiskey bar. We alternated between them before setting off for Headliners Club to see the Howl at the Moon dueling piano show. Not your traditional piano bar, the room is set up for viewing and listening with rows of chairs and video screens so everyone can see the action on stage no matter where they are seated. The show is augmented by enthusiastic audience participation as the performers play requests and interact with guests.

Headliners was rocking, but before the night was over we had another stop to make—the Slam Allen Blues Band was playing in the Fat Cats Lounge and we were advised their show was not to be missed. That turned out to be an excellent tip and Slam Allen was our favorite show of the night. When their set ended with “Shout” everyone was on their feet dancing and singing along.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Norwegian Epic: Home Away From Home

Based on a unique concept, our balcony stateroom on Norwegian Epic follows the contours of the waves twelve decks below. Much has been written about the floorplan, which includes two bathroom pods—one for a shower with a nifty handheld or adjustable height rain shower fixture and the other for the toilet—both with curved frosted glass sliding doors. Privacy really isn’t an issue for Mel and me, although we routinely pull the curtain that separates the bathroom area from the main part of the living space. Mel likens the toilet pod to airplane lavatories, without a sink. Our sink is in the main living space, adjacent to the shower on one side and closet on the other and directly across from the curvy sitting area. One complaint I’ve heard is that water from the sink splashes on adjacent areas. I think that’s more of a problem in the mirror image of our stateroom that has the bed located on the inner portion of the space and closer to the sink. Our bed is next to the floor-to-ceiling sliding balcony doors.

So far, we’re quite comfortable and found a place to stash everything we brought with us. The main closet is ample and storage spaces more than adequate. Three drawers beneath a second, shallow closet are equally shallow, but fine for undergarments and a few smaller items. Two large drawers beneath the curved sofa hold all the larger folded items, such as shirts and shorts. A “medicine” cabinet above the sink and drawer in the vanity keep toiletries close at hand.

Other features carry a bit of a learning curve. A cabin keycard must be placed into the slot near the door to keep the lights on and electric plugs are located behind a marked door beneath the desk. Hoever, the television’s interactive system is fairly intuitive and allows us to check restaurant menus and make reservations. Instead of standing in line at the Box Office to reserve spots for popular entertainment—Blue Man Group, Legends in Concert, etc—those arrangements and more can also be make through the television system in the comfort of our stateroom.

The telephone system also has a touch screen pre-programmed numbers for reservations and other functions, such as setting up wake-up calls and contacting housekeeping, the medical center, shore excursion desk, and the spa. In addition, we can order room service and pizza 24/7. The only food charge is $5 for pizza delivery. The telephone touch screen also serves as a nightlight that can be turned off with a touch of the screen. A nice convenience is the in-cabin coffee pot.

We slept quite well on our first night aboard Norwegian Epic thanks to the bed’s firm mattress and cushy duvet and pillows. Despite the unusual design and layout, we’re finding our stateroom with its generously sized balcony to be a spacious and airy home away from home.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Embark Like A Norwegian: Day One, Introduction to Norwegian Epic

Arrival at the Port of Miami and embarkation on Norwegian Epic couldn’t have been smoother. After dropping off luggage and parking, we proceeded to the terminal—there were two entrances for security—split by deck number. Once through the speedy security check point the lines to check in were short and we were on board Norwegian Epic in no time. Actually, about 45 minutes, which is pretty epic for the Port of Miami and a ship that carries 4,100 passengers in double occupancy.

Lunch was the first order of business and we had several complimentary choices, the Garden Café Buffet, Great Outdoors Buffet, Taste Dining Room, and Spice H2O Snacks. With a cover charge, options were the Noodle Bar, Wasabi, and Yakitori and Sushi. We chose to grab some really excellent pizza slices from the Great Outdoors Buffet and settle in poolside where the band Upryzin (pictured here) was getting down with the sounds we love. What would a Caribbean cruise be without Island Music? While some cruise lines have cut it out in favor of more contemporary tunes, we were happy to see that Norwegian Cruise Line hasn’t followed the trend to rap.

About the time the band took a break the announcement was made that cabins were ready and it was time to check out our accommodations—a balcony cabin on Deck 12 where we made ourselves at home and began unpacking carry-ons. Before we’d even finished that task our checked luggage arrived and we were settled in before the boat drill. Not having to take personal flotation devices to the drill makes it less of a hassle, but no less thorough as names were checked off in each station and passengers took the demonstration seriously.

After traveling, we were tired and decided to make it an early night with a simple dinner in the buffet and then a short walk around several decks to acquaint ourselves with the ship. The action stations in the buffet meant no lines and we easily found numerous dishes from which to select our favorites.

Our first impression is that Norwegian Epic is a huge ship, but the clever design makes it seem open and airy throughout the interior public spaces. There’s a lot more to come as we sail this week to St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Nasssau, Bahamas and spend three days relaxing at sea, so join us and sail along.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Carnival Corporation Statement Regarding Costa Concordia

This statement is from Carnival Corporationin Miami, FL. Carnival Corporation is the parent company of Costa Cruises. On January 13, 2012, Costa Cruises’ vessel, the Costa Concordia, departed from Civitavecchia, Italy with approximately 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members on a 7-day voyage. At approximately 10:00pm CET, the vessel struck rock off the coast of Isola del Giglio, Italy and sustained significant damage causing the ship to list severely. The order was given to abandon ship and deploy the lifeboats.

Tragically, there are reports of some deaths and injuries. This is a terrible tragedy and we are deeply saddened. Carnival Corporation offers our sympathies and heartfelt condolences to all of the Costa Concordia guests, crew members and their families. Carnival Corporation and Costa Cruises are committing our full resources to provide assistance and ensure that all guests and crew are looked after.

We want to express our deep gratitude to the Italian Coast Guard and local authorities and community members who have gone to extraordinary lengths to assist in the evacuation of the ship and provide support for our guests and crew.

We are working to fully understand the cause of what occurred. The safety of our guests and crew members remains the number one priority of Carnival Corporation & plc and all of our cruise lines.

Costa Concordia was sailing on a Mediterranean cruise from Civitavecchia (Rome) with scheduled calls at Savona, Italy; Marseille, France; Barcelona, Spain; Palma de Mallorca; Cagliari and Palermo, Italy.

Friends and family members may use the following country-specific contact numbers to reach Costa Cruises:

Italy 848505050
U.S. 800-462-6782
Austria 00438109006565
Germany +4940570121314
France +33155475554
Spain +34934875685
Portugal +34914185951
UK 08453510552

Cruise Like A Norwegian With A Free Ringtone

Personalizing your mobile phone is all the rage these days and one of the most popular ways to make it personal is with a ringtone. While my mobile has been rocking an Elvis tune, I've discovered a way to celebrate Cruising Like A Norwegian with the popular song, "Lets Go." You'll recognize it from Norwegian Cruise Line's TV commercials and now you can get it as a free ringtone for iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android phones.

To get yours, visit NCL.com. In addition, you can download the soothing watery PC wallpaper illustrated above.

Follow the Cruise Diva Blog this week as we Cruise Like A Norwegian aboard Norwegian Epic.

Illustration Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

100 Years of Cruising Like A Norwegian

There was a lot to celebrate aboard Norwegian Sky, when the ship rang in the New Year and the 100th birthday of Mrs. Zara Holtz on January 1, 2012.

Mrs. Holtz, originally from Queens, NY, now residing in Fort Lauderdale, FL, was sailing on board Norwegian Sky with her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren. She was not expecting a birthday celebration on board, especially one as large as this. To help her commemorate her 100th birthday, Norwegian Sky’s more than 2,000 guests were invited to the pool deck for a special sail away party. There, they witnessed Master Ice Carver Ronaldo carve an enormous block of ice into a huge “100.” Then, Mrs. Holtz was brought on stage, presented with a birthday cake and saluted by her fellow guests, officers, and crew who sang “Happy Birthday” in her honor.

This celebration came as a complete surprise to Mrs. Holtz and her family. When asked to say a few words to the crowd, she stated that at no point in her life would she have expected to live up to 100 and wished everyone the same. A former travel agent, Mrs. Holtz has traveled a great deal, and she closed her speech by saying she wished everyone could be sailing on their birthday, and if they do, it should only be on board Norwegian Cruise Line.

Following her pool deck celebration, Mrs. Holtz and her family were invited by the Captain, officers, and crew to a special birthday dinner in Cagney’s Steakhouse. While dining, Mrs. Holtz thanked Jean-Michel Dhélin, Norwegian Sky’s hotel director, and told him that although she has traveled a lot in the past, Norwegian Sky and her crew provided the very best cruise experience she could recall to date!

While we won't be celebrating a milestone birthday, the Cruise Diva crew is headed to Miami to embark on Norwegian Epic. We certainly agree with Mrs. Holtz that it's great to Cruise Like A Norwegian.

Photo Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Friday, January 13, 2012

Posh Redesign Planned For Crystal Symphony

Crystal Symphony's Redesigned Palm Court
Crystal Cruises' Crystal Symphony is set to receive a million-dollar-a-day transformation during its $15 million dry dock scheduled for June 1 to 16, 2012. In only 15 days at Germany's Blohm + Voss shipyard, the ship's Avenue Saloon, Palm Court lounge, Galaxy showroom, Hollywood Theatre, Bridge Lounge, and Fantasia and Waves "junior cruisers" areas will be transformed in ways that are stylishly modern, yet in keeping with each space's spirited atmosphere. In the past two years, Crystal Cruises has invested more than $50 million in its vessels, generating praise and awards for their great style.

"Our guests expect the finest of luxury in every element of a Crystal cruise. They have a keen appreciation for design and expect the very best in furnishings, finishes and fine appointments," says President Gregg Michel. "By the completion of this project, within the past five years we will have redesigned every room aboard Crystal Symphony with great attention to rich, chic details."

Design enhancements include:
Avenue Saloon: For the popular piano bar's makeover, Crystal is bringing back the designer who created the room's trademark "clubby" look: Kirk Nix, with LA's KNA Design. The piano, shutters, and warm, jazz-era atmosphere remain, but a room reconfiguration adds more seating. Rich organic hues weave through the swivel, embossed-leaf barstools, carpets, plush pillows, textured wall upholstery, and artwork. Wood flooring, stone and wood bartop, edge-lit glass shelves, and pop-up ceiling finalize the new touches.

Palm Court: KNA is also revamping the ship's signature panoramic lounge with a view. A sleek, contemporary transformation will take advantage of sweeping ocean views, while keeping emblematic room elements like palms and wicker. In addition to a new entrance, the bar and dance areas expand with added seating and a larger dance floor. Conversation tables; laser-cut marble flooring and carpet; lit, alabaster urns; and a studded nail and leather wall design offset the chartreuse, aqua, grey, and ivory color spectrum of all new sofas and chairs.

Galaxy Lounge: Inspired by the glamorous theaters of yesteryear, Crystal is planning a grand redesign of its main theatre for live performances, Broadway-style musical productions, and lavish entertainment experiences.

Hollywood Theatre: London-based Adfecto's redo of the ship's movie theater is a visual throwback to the classic Hollywood film era, with all comfort and technical advantages of contemporary cinemas.

Bridge Lounge: The ship's space for cards, games, and presentations receives a refined rejuvenation via all new furniture, including game tables and chairs; lighting; window treatments; wallcoverings; and presentation tools

Fantasia and Waves: A new layout for both Fantasia kids play area and Waves teen video arcade creates separate areas for crafts, relaxation, screenings (two TVs), teens, and computer usage (teens and kids separate). The designer has chosen fun, asymmetrical furniture, Fatboy(TM) bean bags, and vibrant colors like crimson, sapphire, and various shades of green.
Other ship enhancements include new electronic, "do not disturb" doorbells in all staterooms (as installed on Crystal Serenity last May) and environmentally-efficient lighting installations for all electric upgrades/changes.

Palm Court Rendering Courtesy of Crystal Cruises

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Prepare For Island Time In 5D

Cruise Diva has always contended that the best islands in the world are those that float and move. Yes, they’re called cruise ships and Carnival Cruise Lines offers a peek at what you'll find on their newest “island” the Carnival Breeze.

So, did you catch the mention of a 5D theater? With Carnival Breeze’s Thrill 5D Theater, you will enjoy an exhilarating, multi-dimensional experience that will make you feel like you are actually in the movie. The theater combines a high-definition 3D projection system with 4D elements such as squirting water and bubbles, and original special effects that will tickle your legs, blow air on your neck, and poke you in your seat. Seats within the theater will shift back and forth, move from side to side, and also vibrate, creating an exciting “fifth-dimensional” element. Upon entering, you will receive special 3D glasses that deliver a truly immersive movie-going experience.

Carnival Breeze is scheduled to enter service June 3, 2012, with a special 12-day cruise from Venice to Barcelona, positioning the vessel for a summer schedule of 12-day Mediterranean cruises. Following its trans-Atlantic crossing, Carnival Breeze will launch year-round 6- and 8-day Caribbean cruises from Miami on Nov 24, 2012, becoming the largest Carnival ship to ever sail from that port.

Video Courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

For New Yorkers, “The Caribbean Is Closer Than You Think–Cruising from Midtown”

Look up! It’s not a bird or a plane and it’s not even Superman. Is that a cruise ship hovering over the heart of Manhattan?

Actually it’s a huge billboard that promotes Carnival Cruise Lines’ new year-round departures from New York aboard the Carnival Miracle. The cruises, which kick off on April 12th, encompass three different 8-day Caribbean and Bahamas/Florida itineraries featuring some of the region’s most popular destinations.

Curving around the the corner of Broadway and 49th Street like the prow of a ship, the eye catching billboard features a Carnival “Fun Ship” sailing into Times Square with the New York skyline on one side and an image of a tropical beach on the other. Passers-by will also spot a smaller billboard with the words “The Caribbean Is Closer Than You Think–Cruising from Midtown” that is reflective of the Carnival Miracle’s sailings from the Big Apple.

No doubt that some of the pedestrians passing by all bundled up against the winter cold would love to throw off their heavy coats and curl up beneath one of the palm trees pictured high above street level.

Image Courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines

Celebrity Infinity Has A New Look

The sleek "new" Celebrity Infinity is making a splash with first-time and returning passengers alike. Celebrity Cruises has taken the most popular sophisticated features from the Solstice Class and transformed Celebrity Infinity from an already favorite cruise ship into a chic, modern luxurious vacation experience.

Here's a look at "Celebrity Infinity's Modern Makeover: Enhancing an Award-Winning Experience"

Video Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises