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May I Take Your Order?

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It is being reported in USA Today that Cunard Line is considering the introduction of a la carte, by the plate pricing for one of the dining venues on Queen Elizabeth, scheduled to make her debut in Southampton on October 11, 2010.

The Veranda, a much-loved restaurant on the original Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary, will be the top of the line dining room on the new ship.  It replaces the Todd English Restaurant, which currently fills that position on both Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria.

One scenario under consideration, according to the report, is to charge $6 to $7 for appetizers, $16 to $18 for entrees, and $6 to $7 for desserts.  This pricing structure is very rare on main-line cruise ships, where the custom is to charge a supplement, perhaps $25, to dine in the specialty restaurant.

I reacted quite negatively when first reading this news.  It seems to me to run counter to the experience one wishes to enjoy on a sailing, where most components are prepaid and need not be a concern.

And yet, at the same time, it has been a trend in the industry recently to offer all manner of additional items and services and charge for them separately.  Even in the main dining rooms, it is common to pay for drinks, alcoholic or not, which are not on a very limited list of included beverages.

Perhaps Cunard’s rationale is that charging by the plate is merely an extension of the beverage policy.  After all, if a guest is willing to pay separately for a glass of wine or a cappuccino,  then why not the porterhouse as well?

Whatever the rationale, it’s the impact on the overall experience that gives me pause.  Perhaps it will work, and passengers will adapt without any difficulty.  It will be interesting to watch.

Technorati Tags: Cruise line, Cunard Cruise Line, Cunard Line, Queen Elizabeth, The Veranda

Love Wine? Love Cruising? Love This

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AMA Waterways has announced a unique variation of its popular Fall river boat cruise between Amsterdam and Paris.  Designated the “Vineyards of the Rhine and Mosel” cruise, it is aimed in particular at wine enthusiasts.

From their press release:  “Europe’s Rhine and Mosel rivers are famous for their bucolic scenery, historic destinations and hillside vineyards. This fall, AMA Waterways showcases this spectacular region with a unique wine-themed cruise on the luxurious MS Amalegro.  Departing November 12, 2010, the “Vineyards of the Rhine and Mosel” cruise will sail a special itinerary that includes visits to world-famous wineries, off-site dinners hosted by renowned winemakers, onboard lectures and more.  Hosted by AMA Waterways President, Rudi Schreiner, the 7-night cruise will travel from Amsterdam to Trier, Germany, followed by 3 nights in magnificent Paris.

Accompanying the cruise will be winemaker Jim Clendenen, owner of the internationally-acclaimed Au Bon Climat winery in Santa Maria, California and Archie McLaren, founder and chairman of the Central Coast Wine Classic. A portion of the cruise proceeds will be donated to charities supported by the Central Coast Wine Classic, one of the country’s preeminent wine auctions.

Highlights of the “Vineyards of the Rhine and Mosel” itinerary include the scenic Rhine Gorge town of Rudesheim, famous for its quaint wine taverns and the setting for an exclusive wine tasting dinner sponsored by renowned local vintner Georg Breuer.  In Koblenz, guests will discover a 2,000-year old wine town at the confluence of the Mosel and Rhine Rivers.  Continuing through the Mosel river valley, the world’s steepest vineyards, picturesque villages and charming wine towns appear at every turn.  Guests will enjoy a wine tasting at the small riverside wine town of Winningen, followed by a visit to Cochem, known for its perfectly preserved timber-framed homes, medieval squares and the spectacular Reichsburg Castle perched above the Mosel.  A welcoming wine fest awaits in the Mosel town of Zell, famous for its “Zeller Schwarze Katz” (Black Cat) wine.  An evening wine tasting in a local underground wine cellar showcases the area’s famous varietals.  Guests will also enjoy a wine tasting at the Wine Museum in Bernkastel hosted by the famous Dr. Loosen winery.  Strategically located in the heart of the Mosel wine-producing region, Bernkastel boasts over 500 years of documented wine history, and is known as “the international town of vine and wine.”

Of course, throughout the cruise, guests will enjoy gourmet dining accompanied by complimentary local wines (plus beer and soft drinks) at dinner. Additional AMAWATERWAYS amenities include French Balconies, complimentary 3G high-speed Internet and Wi-Fi; complimentary first-run Hollywood films; complimentary specialty coffees and bottled water, a fleet of bicycles on board plus much more. After the 7-night cruise, guests will head to Luxembourg for a city tour of the Grand Duchy, followed by a high-speed TGV transfer to Paris. The three-night stay in the City of Lights includes a guided city tour, plus an exclusive excursion to the Champagne region.”

For this special river boat cruise, AMA Waterways is offering very attractive airfares from select gateways in the United States.  Passengers can fly from New York Kennedy for $500, or from Los Angeles and San Francisco for $700.  Airport transfers, air taxes, fuel surcharges and fees are all included.  This cruise must be purchased by August 30, 2010 to qualify for the airfare promotion.

In addition, passengers will receive complimentary upgrades from select cabin categories to a French Balcony cabin and a $100 per cabin spa credit.

This sounds like a delightful river boat cruise.  Learn about wines while enjoying the cruise , and maybe even do a bit of holiday shopping.  How efficient is that?

Technorati Tags: AMA Waterways, river boat cruise, river boat cruise in Europe, wine cruise

Azamara’s Hot Offers for Cool Times

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Azamara Club Cruises, which bills itself  as “a destination-immersive cruise

Azamara Journey

line for up-market travelers who want to not only see the places and cultures they visit, but to live them”, has announced a sale on winter voyages.  Bookings must be made by August 31, 2010.

Azamara Journey

For voyages departing between November 29, 2010 and February 27, 2011, on Journey’s winter voyages in the West Indies/Caribbean Sea and the Sea of Cortez, Azamara is offering 2 for 1 fares on Oceanview category staterooms or higher, Veranda staterooms for the price of Oceanviews based on availability, and $1000 onboard credits per stateroom.

Azamara Quest

On select Azamara Quest voyages sailing eastward from the Mediterranean to Southeast Asia, departing between November 27, 2010 and January 22, 2011, and on March 17, 2011, Azamara is offering 2 for 1 cruise fares, $500 onboard spending credits per stateroom, and ChoiceAir credits of $2000 per couple, for new bookings made in Oceanview or higher category staterooms.

Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest are sister ships, originally built for Renaissance Cruise Lines.  They offer 347 suites and staterooms and have a passenger capacity of 694.  The Line’s new president, Larry Pimental, is taking Azamara in a more destination-intensive, amenity-inclusive direction.  Capitalizing on the ships’ smaller size, itineraries are being re-structured to offer less visited destinations and more overnights, as well as later departures from many ports.  Many items previously offered at additional expense are now included in the cruise fare, such as gratuities for housekeeping, dining and bar staff; complimentary bottled water, sodas, specialty coffees and teas; complimentary boutique red and white wines with lunch and dinner; and shuttle bus to/from port communities when available.

I sailed on Azamara Journey to the Baltic last summer before the upgraded services and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  The product has only gotten better.  If you are able to take advantage of this sale and book by August 31st, you won’t regret it.

Technorati Tags: Azamara Club Cruises, Azamara Journey, Azamara Quest, Cruise line, cruise sale

Top 10 Reasons to Take a River Boat Cruise

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River boat cruises are becoming more and more popular.  Over the past 5 years, bookings have increased as much as 60% for some cruise lines.  Many of the lines are introducing new ships in 2011, and quite a few of the existing ships will be undergoing complete refurbishments.

Viking River Cruises plans to build 8 new ships and totally refurbish two other ships over the next 3 years; Avalon Waterways will introduce the gound-breaking Avalon Panorama in 2011; AMA Waterways will deploy the Amalotus in the Mekong River and the completely refurbished Amakaterina in Russia; and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises will introduce 2 new ships in Europe and 1 in Russia, along with the refurbishment of 3 other ships in 2011.

Why all the interest?  Consider the top ten reasons to take a river boat cruise:

1. Modern river boats are luxurious, offering fine dining, and small but excellent accommodations.  Travel on a river boat cruise is leisurely, elegant and easy.

2. River boats offer the easiest way to see and explore multiple destinations, sometimes more than one in a day.  Unpack once and relax.  There’s no need to haul luggage on and off trains or buses as you make your way from one destination to the next.

3. River boats are small enough to pull right into the heart of small towns along the rivers of Europe, Egypt, Russia, China, Southeast Asia, and North & South America.  This convenience extends to the larger cities as well.  In Paris the ships dock at Port de Grenelle, within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower.

4. Sit on the deck or at your cabin window – most open wide for a clear, unimpeded view – and take pictures of picturesque villages, ancient castles, and beautiful countryside, sometimes mere feet from your chair.

5. Like their far larger brethren, the ocean going vessels, modern river boats have all the amenities you’ve come to expect – fitness centers, libraries, spas, internet centers and, in many cases, pools.

6. Gourmet meals are served in beautiful surroundings, often with complimentary wine.  There is one seating with a casual, relaxed dress code.  Seating is open, so you can sit wherever and with whomever you wish.  Meals are prepared with fresh, local ingredients, often reflecting the cuisine of the country through which you are passing.

7. Entertainment is low key.  Gone are the glitzy Las vegas revues and Broadway samplers.  Local entertainment and folkloric troupes come on board, while local experts give talks on the area, further immersing the passengers in the detination.

8. Local guides lead the shore excursions, typically included in the price of the cruise.  Time is built in to the day for the all-important souvenir and gift shopping.  For the adventurous who’d rather take their own path, bicycles are provided, usually free of charge.

9. River boat cruises are on far smaller ships than most ocean going vessels, allowing for easy navigation about the boat.  Instead of traveling with thousands of strangers, you sail instead with 200 like-minded travelers as eager as you to delve into the destinations.  Fellow passengers become friends.

10.Rivers flow smoothly, without swells and waves.  The leisurely pace will make you forget you’re on water at all.  Motion sickness is not a concern.

Technorati Tags: AMA Waterways, Avalon Waterways, river boat cruise, river boat cruises, top 10 reasons, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, Viking River Cruises

Carnival Cruises Announces New Sale

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Carnival Cruise Line published details of their new sale in a press release today:

Press Release Source: Carnival Cruise Lines On Monday July 12, 2010, 11:07 am EDT

Carnival Dream

” Carnival Cruise Lines is hosting its first-ever “1-2-3 Go! Sale” which combines three of the line’s most popular sales incentives – Cash Back of up to $160 per stateroom, best available upgrades and attractive “Fun Select” rates – to provide unprecedented value to consumers.

The promotion is available on a wide variety of three- to eight-day “Fun Ship” cruises departing from August 2010 through February 2011, including voyages to The Bahamas, Caribbean, Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii.  Bookings must be made between July 12-30, 2010, to qualify.

The “1-2-3 Go! Sale’s” cash back option is provided in the form of a shipboard credit that can be redeemed once on board.  Guests will receive a shipboard credit of up to $80 per stateroom on three- to five-day cruises and up to $160 per stateroom on voyages of six days or longer.  The shipboard credit is automatically applied to guests’ on-board accounts when they board their cruise and can be redeemed toward a wide range of shipboard purchases.  Any unused funds at the end of the cruise will be returned to guests on debarkation day in the form of a check.

The best available upgrade feature applies to new individual bookings for categories 4A and higher. Upgrades are available within specific stateroom accommodation types (i.e., interior to interior, ocean view to ocean view, balcony to balcony). Guests are encouraged to book now to secure the best possible choice of staterooms.

The cash back and best available upgrade features must be combined with the line’s “Fun Select” rates to be eligible for this promotion.  With “Fun Select” rates, guests can select the stateroom of their choice based on deck, location and accommodation category.”‘

Technorati Tags: Carnival Cruise Lines, Carnival Dream, cruise sale, cruise ships

What’s Your rush? Stay a While Longer

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Brilliance of the Seas

After a successful test run on board Splendour of the Seas and Brilliance of the Seas in the summer of 2009, Royal Caribbean has decided to extend their late departure program to all their ships sailing in Europe.  For a fee of $35 for adults and $17.50 for children 3 to 17 (free for children under 3) departing guests may stay on board their ship until 90 minutes before the next sailing.

Guests will still have to place their luggage outside their stateroom the night before, and will have to leave their stateroom by 9AM.  Not all restaurants and services will be open, but guests will be abe to use the pool, spa and fitness center, eat in the Windjammer Cafe, and relax in any of the public lounges.  Complimentary lemonade, iced tea, water or coffee (specialty coffee excluded), as well as sodas for guests who purchased a Beverage Package for their cruise will be avaialble.  On select ships, drinks may be purchased at the bars with a credit card.

Passengers will be able to purchase the option under shore excursions on Royal Caribbean’s website.  In addition to the two test vessels, the program will be available on Independence of the Seas, Adventure of the Seas, Jewel of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, Vision of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas.

I think this is a great option.  I’ve spent many hours at airports after having been hustled off the ship at 8AM for a 1PM flight.  Often there simply isn’t enough time to do a shore excursion before a flight, but more than enough time to sit in an uncomfortable seat at the airport.  How much nicer it would be to relax on the ship for just a little longer.

Technorati Tags: europe cruises, late departure, Royal Caribbean

International Expeditions Waives Single Supplement Fee on Select 2011 Galapagos Vacations

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In another welcome announcement for single travelers, solo travelers will save $1,250 on select International Expeditions cruises to the Galapagos Islands.  The company distributed a press release today with details of the promotion.

M/V Evolution

“International Expeditions is waiving the single supplement fee on its January 7, May 27 and September 30, 2011 Galapagos Islands cruises.  On the 10-day Galapagos cruise, International Expeditions’ 32-guest yacht M/V Evolution navigates to nine captivating islands, and unlike larger vessels, is small enough to access outlying Genovesa (Tower) Island.  Genovesa features thousands of red-footed boobies, short-eared owls and storm petrels.  The ship’s pangas (landing craft) are used several times a day to go easily ashore.  Onboard, guests sail in comfort with spacious accommodations, fine cuisine and a host of amenities including an observation deck (perfect for whale watching) and canopied bar, plus complimentary snorkeling equipment, wetsuits and kayaks.

While touring, travelers visit Fernandina Island and Tagus Cove on Isabela Island.  Here, guests snorkel in crystal waters with green sea turtles, see marine iguanas and hike uphill for a stunning view of volcanic craters.  Guests also enjoy leisure time in Puerto Ayora, the largest human settlement, with ample time to browse in colorful art galleries and boutiques.

In addition to daily snorkeling and hiking through deserts, rainforests and volcanic terrain, other highlights include visiting the Charles Darwin Research Center, famous for its tortoise breeding programs; an exploration of Santiago Island, a haven for finches, doves and Galapagos hawks; and a sailing to iconic Kicker Rock.

Highly trained Galapagos naturalist guides enhance travelers’ experiences by sharing their in-depth knowledge and bringing them within inches of giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies, sea lions, penguins and other animals.

Prices for the Galapagos Islands vacations start at $4,998, and include accommodations, Galapagos tax and transit fees, all excursions, 23 meals, transfers and tips to porters and waiters for included meals.”

For information or a Galapagos Islands Cruise brochure, contact International Expeditions at 1-800-633-4734 or nature@ietravel.com

Technorati Tags: Cruise line, cruise ship, Galapagos cruise, International Expeditions, single supplement

The Future Looks Brighter

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There is news this week that makes the future of two grande dames of the sea more hopeful.

It is being reported that Queen Elizabeth 2, currently languishing in Dubai, a sad testimony to the over-spending there, may be going to the western Australian port of Fremantle.  The mayor of Fremantle has expressed the belief that he would have strong support from his constituency to bring QE2 there in time to be used as a floating hotel for the ISAF Sailing World Championships in December 2011.

On the other side of the globe, Philadelphia philanthropist, H. F. “Gerry” Lenfest, has stepped in and offered what amounts to a stay of execution for the SS United States.  Mr. Lenfest has pledged the funds necessary to pay the ship’s considerable expenses for the next 20 months.  This will give the SS United States Conservancy time to endeavor to raise the funds needed to purchase her from NCL and restore her to a useful life.

Each of these vessels rendered long and honorable service.  Watching them rust away, perhaps ultimately bound for the scrap heap, is quite sad.  I know, as with all things, an end must eventually come, but maybe – just maybe – for these two great ladies, not quite yet.

Technorati Tags: cruise ships, floating hotels, QE2, Queen Elizabeth 2, SS United States