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Exploring the Wonderful World of Cruise Ships

AMA Waterways Launches A Sale

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MS AmaLyra

AMA Waterways, one of the principal operators of river boat cruises worldwide, has announced a major sale.  According to the press release:

“Award-winning river cruise line, AMA Waterways announces the World’s Largest River Cruise Sale, featuring an exciting array of offers on select 2010 and 2011 cruises.  The promotions are designed to support CLIA’s World’s Largest Cruise Night and “National Cruise Vacation Month initiatives and include “2 for 1”, “Companion Flies Free” and “Up to $2,000 Savings per Stateroom”.

The “2 For 1” promotion is available on select October and November departures of popular itineraries such as Romantic Danube (3-nights Prague, 7-night cruise Vilshofen to Budapest); Paris to Amsterdam (3-nights Paris, 7-night cruise from Trier to Amsterdam); Blue Danube Discovery (2 nights Budapest, 7-night cruise from Budapest to Nuremberg, 3 nights Prague) and the Rhine Winter Voyage (7-night cruise from Amsterdam to Basel, 2 nights Lucerne and 2 nights Zurich). Two available Danube cruises (Romantic Danube Nov. 20 and Blue Danube Discovery Nov. 19) include special Jewish Heritage itineraries.

Additionally, AmaWaterways will present an exciting wine cruise celebration from November 11-22, 2010, as part of an Amsterdam to Paris itinerary highlighting the famous vineyards of the Rhine and Mosel. Join AmaWaterways President, Rudi Schreiner and Jim Clendenen, owner of the internationally-acclaimed Au Bon Climat Winery, and enjoy a special air offer of $500 from JFK and $700 from LAX or SFO; a complimentary upgrade plus $100 spa credit per stateroom.

AmaWaterways is also making the holidays bright, with an exciting promotion on festive Christmas Time cruises of $1,000 per stateroom, a free upgrade plus shipboard credit of $100 per stateroom. The cruises are available as 7- night sailings from Budapest to Nuremberg or from Nuremberg to Amsterdam (with a 2-night stay in Prague). Travelers embarking on a 14-night Magnificent Europe cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam during the holidays will enjoy even greater savings of $2,000 per stateroom, plus a $200 per stateroom shipboard credit and a free upgrade.

For those interested in 2011 departures, AmaWaterways is offering an enticing choice of “Companion Flies Free” or “$1,000 per Stateroom” savings on departures from May to August of select Romantic Danube; Blue Danube Discovery, Melodies of the Danube (7-night cruise Budapest to Vilshofen, 3 nights Munich); Europe’s Rivers and Castles (2 nights Prague, 7-night cruise from Nuremberg to Luxembourg, 3 nights Paris); Vineyards of the Rhine and Mosel (7-night cruise from Amsterdam to Luxembourg, 3 nights Paris) and Legendary Danube (3 nights Prague, 7-night cruise from Nuremberg to Budapest) itineraries.

AmaWaterways’ World’s Largest River Cruise Sale is applicable to new FIT bookings made by November 2, 2010, is not combinable with other promotions and is limited to availability. Dates listed are U.S. and Canada departure dates. The “2 For 1” offer applies to cruise portion only and does not apply to Junior Suites or A+ categories and is based upon 2 people traveling together in the same cabin. Call AmaWaterways at 800-626-0126 for additional details and restrictions, including gateway cities in the U.S. and Canada for “Companion Flies Free” offer.”

Technorati Tags: AMA Waterways, Danube, Mosel, Rhine, river boat cruises, world's largest river cruise sale

Message In A Bottle

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Message in a Bottle

While sailing on board the Pacific Princess off Vanuatu’s Mystery Island, Australians Glenda Parker and her late husband Ross who, at the time, had just been diagnosed with heart problems, decided to put a message in a bottle, along with a $2 coin and a pen.

Now, 6 and a half years and 1400 miles later, the bottle has washed up on Sandon Beach in Australia, reports The Northern Star.

“I often wondered what happened to it after Ross had died and then I got a call,” Parker told The Northern Star. “The person on the other end told me he had my bottle, (and) I just screamed … the bottle had been traveling the ocean for more than six years.  I’d love to know where it’s been.”

I think this is a wonderful  story.  It’s both bittersweet and romantic at the same time.  There’s something very touching and human about it.  On some level, it speaks to the interconnectedness of things, and also to bonds that do not break.  I hope Mrs. Parker experiences a sense of inner peace and connection from this event.  I think I would.

Technorati Tags: Australia, message in a bottle, Pacific Princess, Vanuatu

To The Panama Canal!

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Isalnd Princess

I just finalized a booking on the Island Princess, departing on February 28th from Ft. Lauderdale for a full transit of the Panama Canal.  Fifteen days later, having visited Aruba, Cartegena, Fuerte Amador, Puntarenas, Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas and, of course, the Canal itself, and luxuriated in seven glorious sea days, we’ll arrive in Los Angeles.

My sister and I treated my mother to a birthday cruise to Antarctica last February, and it was a great success all around.  We’ve decided to build on that success with a new destination, one which, again, none of us has been to before.

I’m a great fan of Princess Cruise Line.  They simply do things right.  Yes, the ships are large, but the design and layout of the public spaces make the ships seem less crowded.  Anytime dining eliminates the rush to the dining rooms at one’s appointed hour, and I’ve never had to wait more than a couple minutes for a table.  I have to admit that I’m not one to share a table with strangers, but even a request for a table for two is honored quickly and efficiently.

Perhaps, however, what I enjoy most are the smiles.  It is Princess’s policy that staff and crew never pass a guest on board the ship without a smile and an appropriate greeting.   This is no small thing, and is not universally practiced across all premium brands.  It does add a marvelous sense of belonging, however, making for a very pleasant experience.

I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to relax and recharge, and share new and intriguing experiences with my mother and sister.  It should be a lot of fun.

Technorati Tags: Acapulco, Aruba, Cabo San Lucas, Cartegena, Costa Rica, Island Princess, Panama, Panama Canal, Princess Cruise Lines, Puntarenas

River Boat Cruises Return to The Mississippi After All

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Artist's Rendering of the New Paddlewheeler

For the past week or so, the hopes of a re-birth of overnight river boat cruises on the Mississippi River seemed to have died with the closure of Cruise West.  It was just this past June that Cruise West announced with great fanfare their intention to relocate one of their West Coast-based ships to the Mississippi River in 2011.  Regularly scheduled overnight river boat cruises on the Mississippi River ended in 2008, when the Delta Queen Steamships sailed for the last time.

But now along comes American Cruise Lines, with the welcome news that they will fill the void.  On Tuesday of this week, the following was released to the press:

“American Cruise Lines has announced it is expanding to the Mississippi River system with a brand new sternwheeler, already under construction at Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury,MD. It plans to operate the new riverboat on routes similar to those formerly run by Delta QueenSteamboat Company, which will include the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, and Cumberland Rivers.

Cruising the Mississippi River on a sternwheeler is a true all-American experience that American CruiseLines is pleased to bring back. The new paddlewheeler will recreate the grandeur of past riverboats while possessing the latest safety, environmental and construction technologies. The ship will have the look of a traditional riverboat along with more amenities, a faster speed, and an unmatched level of comfort. Features include six unique lounges, a library, an elegant dining salon, elevator service to all decks, and the exceptionally large staterooms found on all American Cruise Lines ships. With only 140 passengers, each guest will receive personalized service in the intimate and friendly atmosphere for which American Cruise Lines has become known.

The first cruise is a scheduled to depart August 11, 2012 from New Orleans, Louisiana on a 7-night journey up the Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee. The ship will then begin a series of 7-night cruises travelling as far north as St. Paul, Minnesota while utilizing its remarkable speed to open up new itinerary possibilities. As on all true riverboats, a stage and bow ramp will give the ship access to the many interesting ports without docking facilities.”

The purpose-built, 5 deck paddlewheeler won’t begin service for almost two years, further delaying the highly anticipated resumption of overnight river boat cruises on the Mississippi River.  It is, however, anticipation delayed, not anticipation dashed.

Technorati Tags: American Cruise Line, Cruise West, Delta Queen, Mississippi River boat cruises, Natchez, New Orleans, paddlewheeler, river boat cruises

Breaking News

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Seatrade Insider is reporting that Cruise West has ceased operations.  Dick West, Chairman and Managing Director is quoted as saying:

“I have never given up hope that we might be able to find a way to survive by working with the various interested parties. I am absolutely heartbroken that this family legacy has come to an end.   We have done absolutely everything to maintain operations, but with limited resources and the current tight financial market, we simply cannot continue.”

Such a shame.  I’ll post more as details become available.

Technorati Tags: Cruise West, Dick West

Wither Cruise West?

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Spirit of Oceanus

Cruise West announced on Tuesday that it had new owners and stopped taking reservations for future cruises.   Very little information has been forthcoming, other than an assurance that several cruises scheduled for the remainder of September and early October will sail as scheduled.  65 employees have been laid off.

Cruise West’s website now carries a simple notice, shedding very little additional light on the situation:

“Cruise West, a global leader in small-ship explorations, today   announced that they continue to work towards a restructuring of the company and its operations.  The first move in this restructuring is the termination of the Spirit of Oceanus’ Voyage of the Great Explorers.   Additional assets may be sold and other steps are being pursued towards a restructure.   As part of this process, Cruise West has suspended accepting any new bookings.”

Undoubtedly, this comes as a blow to many individuals – the 65 employees who have lost their jobs, the remaining employees whose jobs may be in jeopardy, and the prospective cruisers who planned, or perhaps simply dreamt, of sailing with Cruise West in the future.

I’m not effected in any direct way by this situation, and yet I find myself saddened by it.  I read with great interest the announcement of the Voyages of the Great Explorers, wanderlust kicking in as I worked my through the extensive description.  An epic world cruise, the trip began in March of this year and was to last until February 2011, a total of 335 days.  Time and circumstances didn’t permit, but….oh, if they did!

Passengers were disembarking in St. John’s, Newfoundland earlier this week at the end of this particular leg of the journey.  For some, this was as they planned.  For those who were in port to sail on the next leg of the trip, if there were any, disappointment must be keen.  But for those who signed on for the full cruise, there must be anger, disappointment, bewilderment, and a sense of loss for an adventure only half fulfilled.

I would have loved to have been one of those intrepid few who were willing to set sail for almost a year and see the world.  I liked knowing that maybe one day I could do something similar.  It’s a shame that such a wonderful experience couldn’t be brought to a more fitting conclusion.

Technorati Tags: Cruise line, Cruise West, Spirit of Oceanus, World Cruise

Have You Heard The Rumor?

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Norwegian Epic

Rumors swirled about the cruise industry over the weekend that Norwegian Cruise Line has signaled its intention to build at least two,  and perhaps three, new ships.  NCL would take delivery of the first in 2013.  The contract is said to be with Meyer Werft, the German shipbuilding enterprise.  The new ships will represent a new class within NCL’s fleet, and are thought to be planned to come in a bit smaller than the Norwegian Epic.

If true, this would represent a bit of a twist in NCL’s recent history.  Norwegian Epic was constructed at STX Europe’s French facility, the first of what was envisioned to be two or three Epic class ships.  One of the proposed ships was cancelled early on in the process, and construction was halted altogether at one point while NCL and STX Europe ironed out a dispute.  Construction eventually resumed with a new agreement, but the second proposed ship was cancelled.  Ultimately Epic sailed out of the yard, her fire plagued construction completed, as the lone example of her class.

NCL has been quite conservative in their shipbuilding, taking delivery of only one new ship in the last three years.  They were willing to walk away from two others, when circumstances and the economy suggested they do so.  They’ve also proved themselves to be quite innovative with their ships.  Their success with Epic has raised the bar for them.  I’m anxious to see what they come up with next.

Technorati Tags: cruise ships, Meyer Werft, Norwegian Cruise Line, Norwegian Epic, STX Europe

River Boat Cruises In Russia And The Ukraine

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There are two main options for river boat cruises in Russia and the Ukraine – sailing along the Volga and Svir rivers in Russia and the Dneiper River in the Ukraine.

The Fountains of Peterhof, St. Petersburg

The cruise between Moscow and the incomparable St. Petersburg, Peter the Great’s “Window on the West”, is the classic river boat cruise in Russia.  This cruise, bookended as it were by Russia’s two principal cities, typically visits two of the Golden Ring cities en route, Uglich and Yaroslavl (founded in 1010).  Other stops, at smaller and quainter villages, provide a first-hand glimpse of typical Russian village life.

The cruise traverses the two largest lakes in Europe, Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega.  Cruising on Lake Onega provides the opportunity for the ship to visit the island village of Kizhi, site of the Open Air Museum of Architecture, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The highlight of this visit is Preobrazhenskaya Church, the Church of the Transfiguration, a three-tiered wooden structure built in 1714 without a single nail.

The major river boat cruise companies on this route include three day visits to both Moscow and St. Petersburg, giving guests ample opportunity to explore the important sites in each city.  Shore excursions are included in the package and the ship serves as the guests’ hotel.

A cruise along the Dneiper River in the Ukraine is the second option in this region.  Sailing between Odessa and Kiev, the cruise includes some time on the Black Sea as well.  Surprising Sevastopol, home of the Russian Black Sea fleet, is also the jumping off point for a visit to two important historical sites.  One is the archaeological site of Chersonese, a Greek city founded in the 6th century BC.  The other is the Tatar city of Bakhchisarei, capital of the Crimean Khanate, site of the Khan’s residence, and cultural and political center for the Crimean Tatars.  It was in Sevastopol that the light brigade made its fateful charge, memorialized in verse by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Additional stops on this river boat cruise include Yalta, where passengers visit the White Palace, a former imperial residence and site of the 1945 Yalta Conference of Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill; Zaporozhye, ancestral home of the Cossacks; and Kiev, with its UNESCO World Heritage Site, St. Sophia Cathedral.

River boat quality in Russia can be fairly questionable, and care needs to be taken in choosing the boat to book.  Focusing consideration on several major lines is well-advised.  AMA Waterways has one ship on the Volga, the totally gutted and rebuilt Amakaterina, sailing in 2011.  Uniworld Boutique River Cruises has a single ship as well on the Volga, the River Victoria.  Viking River Cruises, the major operator here, has four ships on the Volga and one on the Dneiper.

Technorati Tags: AMA Waterways, Dneiper river, Moscow, river boat cruises, Russia, St. Petersburg, Svir river, Ukraine, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, Viking River Cruises, Volga river

River Boat Cruises in South East Asia

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Angkor Wat

While there are numerous opportunities of varying length and quality for river boat cruising on the rivers of Southeast Asia, there are two of particular interest.

The mighty Mekong River rises in Yunan Province in China and flows through 5 countries before emptying into the South China Sea.  The most appealing river boat cruise on the Mekong is the 7 day sailing between Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Siem Reap in Cambodia, with a visit to Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, en route.  Along the way passengers will encounter temples, fishing villages and floating markets untouched by time, a glimpse into a way of life virtually unchanged in hundreds of years.

AMA Waterways currently has La Marguerite in service between Saigon and Siem Reap.  La Marguerite will be joined by a new-build, as yet unnamed, in the Spring of 2011.  Pandaw River Cruises has two ships on the Mekong, Mekong Pandaw and Tonie Pandaw.  Pandaw offers not only the usual Saigon to Siem Reap river boat cruise, but also some longer cruises into areas less frequently visited by tourists.  Lastly there is Jayavarman Cruises, with one ship, the Jayavarman.

Burma (or Myanmar), hidden away for decades, has only in recent years re-opened itself to the outside world.  A land of great geographical diversity, Burma offers the visitor stunning beauty, abundant history, and a way of life virtually unchanged in centuries.

River life dominates this country to this day.  Mountainous terrain helped to make the rivers the main transportation route; farm lands rely on the rivers for irrigation; and river fishing provides the primary source of protein.

Most river boat cruises ply the waters of the Irrawaddy River, also known as the Ayeyarwady.  2000 years of Buddhist art and architecture are found along its banks.  Depending on the cruise chosen, passengers can visit the ancient capitals of Ava and Amarapura, visit pagodas and villages along the way, and experience the wondrous Pagan (Bagan).

Pagan, an ancient Burmese capital and spiritual center still awaiting its

Pagan (Bagan), Myanmar

rightful designation as a World Heritage Site, has literally thousands of surviving monuments.  Only Angkor Wat in Cambodia can compare.  Abandoned as a capital some seven hundred years ago, Pagan declined as a religious center as well.  Today, the temples and monuments remain, rising from the vast plain in stunning beauty.  Pagan is a place of peace and calm, a site of enduring wonder.

The iconic river boat cruise in Burma is the 7 day roundtrip sailing between Mandalay and Pagan.  Orient Express offers this cruise on the deluxe Road to Mandalay.  Pandaw Cruises operates one vessel, the Pandaw II, in their native land.  Pandaw offers a number of different cruises of varying lengths and ports of call throughout the sailing season.

Technorati Tags: AMA Waterways, Angkor Wat, Bagan, Burma, Cambodia, Irrawaddy River, Mandalay, Mekong River, Myanmar, Pagan, Pandaw Cruises, river boat cruises, Siem Reap, Viet Nam

River Boat Cruises in Egypt

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Giza Plateau

“Egypt is the gift of the Nile.  Nowhere are there so many marvelous things, nor in the world besides are to be seen so many things of unspeakable greatness.”

Thus wrote Herodotus, the Greek historian, in 325BC.  Remarkably, this is no less true 2500 years later.  River boat cruises are an ideal way to witness these wonders yourself – for much of the country, the only practical way.  To sail the Nile is to sail back in time.  Life along its banks continues as it has for thousands of years.

The Nile is the life blood of Egypt.  The annual floods replenish the soil and make agriculture possible along its banks.  Only 6% of the total land mass of Egypt is arable, all situated within a narrow band that hugs the shores of the Nile.  99% of Egypt’s population lives within this area.  All of Egypt’s major cities – Cairo, Luxor, Aswan and Alexandria – sit on the Nile.  The river has long been Egypt’s principal thoroughfare and its trade route.  It’s the thread that has held the country together.

Abercrombie & Kent, Viking River Cruises, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, and Avalon Waterways are among the larger providers of river boat cruises.  Added to these are a number of high-quality vessels operated by large hotel chains, such as Sonesta and Oberoi.  When the numerous smaller companies are included, the total number of river boats from which to choose numbers around 250.

Most river boat cruises sail between Luxor and Aswan in either direction, taking 3 or 4 days in which to navigate the distance.  Some few cruises go as far north as Dendera, and some do 7 night roundtrips between Luxor and Aswan.  Sightseeing is provided at either end, with further opportunities to explore at stops enroute.  Typically, the river boats stop at Edfu, site of the Temple of Horus, the best preserved major temple in Egypt, and at Kom Ombo.  Kom Ombo, situated beautifully on a hillside just above the Nile, has the distinction of being dedicated to two gods – Sobek, the crocodile-headed god, and Haroeris, the sun god.  Passengers, if they’re lucky, will depart this site as darkness falls, getting a marvelous view of the temple in full illumination.

Technorati Tags: Aswan, Edfu, Egypt, Kom Ombo, Luxor, river boat cruises, Royal Viking Cruises, the Nile river