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A Great Opportunity To Sample Azamara

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Azamara Journey

I answered a question the other day from a reader asking about a land/cruise combination vacation in the Caribbean.  I advised him that he should consider San Juan, the port that I think would give him the most options.

I’ve just received an email from Azamara Club Cruises that I think would be ideal for this sort of vacation.  The Azamara Journey will sail round trip out of San Juan on Novemnber 22, 2011 for a 5 day cruise, with stops in St. Martin, Virgin Gorda, St. Johns and, on Thanksgiving Day, St. Barts.

This strikes me as the ideal length for such a combination trip.  It also offers an opportunity to experience Azamara without having to commit to the more typical – and far more costly – 10 to 14 day cruises usually offered by Azamara.

As a bonus, the ship is at anchor in St. Barts until 1159PM on Thanksgiving Day.  For those who want a more intimate holiday dinner than that offered on board, any one of the absolutely wonderful restaurants on St. Barts would fit the bill.

I sailed on the Azamara Journey through the Baltic two summers ago and had a memorable time.  Many of my fellow passengers were repeat cruisers from much larger vessels.  Praise for the experience on board Journey was universal.

For those who can’t get away over the holiday, Journey will be sailing a 7 day itinerary from San Juan to Barbados the following week.

Technorati Tags: Azamara Club Cruises, Azamara Journey, Cruise line, cruise ship, land/cruise vacation, San Juan, St. Barts, Thanksgiving

Crystal Cruises Goes “All Inclusive”

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Crystal Symphony

I received the following email from Crystal Cruises today:

“Beginning Spring 2012, Crystal Cruises will be All Inclusive, enhancing our already expansive host of complimentary luxury services and amenities with the addition of free fine wines and premium spirits, open bar service in all lounges, and complimentary gratuities for housekeeping, bar and dining staff.

Effective with the spring Trans-Atlantic crossings of Crystal Symphony (March 19, 2012), and Crystal Serenity (May 8, 2012), your clients can enjoy the added convenience of all-included luxury with the cruise line voted World’s Best more than any other in history.

As many lines throughout our industry have itemized their services for additional charges, we are choosing to maximize the guest experience by eliminating additional transactions – further enhancing the ease and luxury of a Crystal cruise.

In addition to our valued-priced 2-for-1 Fares in all categories, FREE Air, complimentary transfers and a host of generous savings promotions, we hope your clients’ decisions to sail with us will be decidedly simple.”

While this is not all-inclusive in the sense the term is usually employed, it does broaden the items which are included in the base cruise fare.  This brings Crystal in line with the pricing structure offered by other lines in the luxury category for these items – Regent Seven Seas, Silversea, and Seabourn.

Crystal has resisted the trend towards inclusiveness, arguing up to recently that their guests didn’t want to be charged beforehand for services they may not use.  The line did, however, offer an “As You Wish” on board credit of up to $1000 per guest to be used as the passenger decided.

With the roll out of the new pricing structure, this on board credit will disappear, although credits will still be offered to past guests and through occasional travel agent promotions.

In making the announcement, Greg Michel, Crystal’s president, offered this assessment:

“As many lines throughout our industry have itemized their services for additional charges, Crystal is maximizing the guest experience by eliminating additional transactions — further enhancing the ease and luxury of a Crystal cruise.  We believe this service will offer greater convenience, simplicity and comfort.”

The new pricing structure is not expected to lead to an increase in cruise fares.  Crystal, in fact, anticipates that prices, in many cases, will be lower in 2012 than the prices currently in effect in 2011.

Technorati Tags: 2012, all inclusive, Cruise line, cruise ship, Crystal Cruise Line, Crystal Cruises

Say What!?!

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According to a report coming out of Indiana by way of USA Today, a woman is suing Carnival Cruise Lines because the ship she was on went so fast it made her sick.

Originally filed in the Lake County, Indiana Small Claims Court in 2009, the complaint states that the woman’s body “swayed terrible” and that she “had bleeding”.  I’ll resist the oh-so-strong temptation to make a snide observation here, but it does bring to mind some interesting images.

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that the case cannot be pursued in Indiana, citing Carnival’s cruise contract, which states that such cases must be filed in Florida courts.

I’d like to be even-handed here and not be too critical but, seriously, does this make any sense to anyone other than the complainant?  And is she really sincere, or did she just decide that she might get a few bucks out of this maneuver?

And what of the courts in Indiana?  This frivolous case went up to the Court of Appeals?  How is this possible?

Hmmm, just a sec.  I think a pig just flew past my window.

Technorati Tags: Carnival Cruise Line, Cruise line, Cruise lines, cruise ship, Indiana, lawsuit

Introducing Royal Princess

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Artist's Rendering of the Royal Princess

Royal Princess is a name which resonates with the many fans of Princess Cruise Lines.   Two vessels have already borne the name and, now, in a highly anticipated announcement, Princess reveals that the first of two new builds, set to debut in Spring 2013, will also bring the name back to the fleet.

The press release follows:

“As the first steel plate was cut today marking the official start of construction of Princess Cruises’ next ship, the line unveiled the vessel’s profile, released preliminary details about some of its features, and revealed its name — Royal Princess.

This will be the third time the name Royal Princess has been given to a Princess ship.

Debuting in spring of 2013, the new 141,000-ton, 3,600-passenger Royal Princessis the first of two new-generation ships for Princess which are being built by Fincantieri at their Monfalcone, Italy shipyard. The prototype design is an evolution of the line’s classic style of ships, while including some new features and expanded signature spaces.

A new design element revealed today is an over-water SeaWalkSM, a top-deck glass-bottomed enclosed walkway on the ship’s starboard side extending more than 28 feet beyond the edge of the vessel. From here passengers can enjoy dramatic views, including to the sea 128 feet below. On the ship’s port side, passengers will find a similarly-unique cantilevered SeaView bar, featuring cocktails with unbeatable vistas.

Also on her top decks, Royal Princess will feature a new adults-only pool surrounded by seven plush private cabanas that appear to be floating on the water. Two additional pools will flank a tropical island that will offer pool seating by day, and by night will become an outdoor dance club, complete with a dazzling water and light show. Princess’ signature adults-only haven, The Sanctuary, will be expanded both in size and amenities. The popular poolside theater, Movies Under the Stars, will play a starring role mid-ship with an expanded size and high-definition viewing.

“Princess passengers will easily recognize our next ship as a natural progression in our fleet,” said Princess President and CEO Alan Buckelew. “We’re taking the best features of our newest vessels that have been such customer pleasers, and taking them to the next level. Just as the original Royal Princess ushered in a new era for our company with its innovative design, we expect our new Royal Princess to do the same.”

Inside the ship, one of the line’s hallmark venues, the Piazza atrium, will be significantly expanded. This area will be the multi-faceted social hub of the vessel, combining always-changing quick bites and light meals, beverages, entertainment, shopping and guest services.

All outside staterooms on Royal Princess will have balconies, which means that 80 percent of the ship’s staterooms will include this desirable feature.

Royal Princess will include 260,000 square feet of inside public space with multiple dining and entertainment venues, as well as other special features and amenities which will be revealed over the coming months.

A video preview of Royal Princess is available at Princess Cruise Lines’ website.  Artist renderings of the ship are available on Princess’ Flickr page.

A sister ship to Royal Princess will be launched in spring 2014.”

For those who are fans of Princess, as am I, this announcement seems quite fitting and welcome.  Hard to explain, I think, but I like the sense of tradition, a tip of the hat – if you will – to a much loved ship that hosted her guests well.  I look forward to strolling on SeaWalk, fighting my fear of heights every step of the way.

Technorati Tags: Cruise line, cruise ship, newbuild, Princess Cruise Lines, Royal Princess, SeaWalk, Spring 2013

A Step Beyond

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Just about a year ago, I had the immense good fortune to cruise on the Star Princess to Antarctica.  Sailing along the Antarctic Peninsula was an experience that touched me deeply, and forever changed the way I view the world.

I wrote extensively about my trip at the time.  If interested, you can read my blog entries here:

Post 1

Post 2

Post 3

Post 4

Cruising as we did through Antarctic waters on a large ship precluded the opportunity to set foot on the continent.  Vessels of more than 500 passengers are not permitted to arrange landings.  I regretted not being able to walk on the continent and mingle with the penguins, but the significant additional cost argued forcefully against it.

I made a mental addition to my bucket list, however, vowing that the next time (oh yes, there will definitely be a next time!) I would be prepared for the higher cost.  Now comes word that Quark Expeditions has upped the ante.  On select 12 day voyages out of Ushuaia, Quark is offering an overnight camping trip in Antarctica.  Participants, accompanied by a tour leader, are brought ashore by Zodiac to a suitable site, where they pitch two person tents and spend the night.  If the weather cooperates, they will be dazzled by a night sky that can only be experienced in the pristine air of the poles.

Incredibly, this adventure costs just $195 per person.  For this remarkably reasonable price, one gets to do what so few have ever done before – sleep on the White Continnet under the vast austral sky.

Technorati Tags: Antarctic camping, Antarctica, austral sky, Cruise line, cruise ship, Quark Expeditions, Ushuaia

Grand Old Lady of the Seas Rescued

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SS United States (background) and SS America (foreground)

The SS United States Conservancy took formal possession of the SS United States yesterday.  You can read about the original announcement here.  After years of rusting away in Philadelphia, changing hands several times, and coming close to her end on more than one occasion, the ship is finally in the hands of an organization dedicated to her survival.

Perhaps the greatest passenger vessel ever built in the United States, the SS United States still holds the record set on her maiden voyage on July 4, 1952.  Faster than any passenger vessel before or since, she crossed the Atlantic in 3 days, 10 hours, and 40 minutes.  That record held until 1990, but only non-passenger ships have accomplished the feat of besting her time.  The SS United States still holds the Blue Riband.

Built with a considerable infusion of funds from the United States Government, about $50 million of the $78 million total construction cost, she was designed to allow a quick conversion to a troop carrier in times of need.  Never called upon to serve in that capacity, she played host to thousands of passengers, among them a young Rhodes Scholar named Bill Clinton, until 1969.

The Conservancy plans to establish a public/private partnership to restore and convert the ship into a floating attraction with museum, retail, and restaurant space.

Not too long ago, I heard a famed ship historian and lecturer suggest that the time had come to let the SS United States go.  He felt that her day was over.  I come down on the other side.  I wish the Conservancy well and hope they are successful in their mission.

Technorati Tags: Bill Clinton, Blue Riband, cruise ship, floating museum, SS United States, SS United States Conservancy, transatlantic speed record

Princess Marks Veterans Day

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Bald Eagle and the American Flag

I wrote a post last week about Carnival Cruise Lines’ sale in honor of Veterans Day.  Today Princess Cruise Lines is promoting their on board military credit program.  Available to active and retired members of the armed forces of the United States and Canada, the on board credit ranges from $50 to $250 per stateroom, dependent upon length of cruise.

“As I discovered when I recently wrote about my own military experience on our company blog, we have a large number of veterans among our passengers,” said Alan Buckelew, Princess Cruises president and CEO. “We want to honor all military personnel this Veterans Day and thank them for their service.”

Eligible passengers should apply for the on board credit no later than one week prior to the departure date of their cruise.  Proof of eligibility will be required.  The on board credit will be $50 for cruises 6 days or less, $100 for cruises from 7 to 13 days, and $250 for cruises of 14 days or longer.  The credit is offered on a per stateroom basis.

I think this is commendable.  It’s a small token of appreciation for those men and women who were willing to risk their lives to do their duty as they saw it as well as for those who currently shoulder that burden.

Technorati Tags: Carnival Cruise Lines, Cruise line, cruise ship, military personnel, on board credit, Princess Cruise Lines, Veteran's Day

All I Want For Christmas….

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50 Years Of Victory

Quark Expeditions is marketing, one suspects with tongue in cheek, its 20th Anniversary expedition to the North Pole as the perfect Christmas gift.  The 15 day trip begins in Helsinki, Finland on June 23, 2011 and includes the charter flight roundtrip to Murmansk, Russia the cruise’s embarkation and disembarkation port.

Expedition members will sail on 50 Years of Victory, the pride of the Russian polar fleet.   Able to cruise in open water at 21 knots per hour, the nuclear-powered icebreaker is capable of ripping through ice 10 feet thick.   Only 128 lucky passengers will have the opportunity to experience the North Pole and landings in Franz Josef Land, a group of islands just 10 degrees south of the pole.

Helicopter sightseeing as the ship navigates through the polar ice will undoubtedly be a peak life experience for those who take the opportunity.  Another highlight will be a polar champagne toast and barbecue on the ice.  Amateur and professional photographers alike will be in their glory.   Close encounters with walruses and polar bears in Franz Josef Land will just add to the magic.

The ship, 50 Years of Victory (sounds better, perhaps, in Russian), appears to be more upscale than one would suspect, considering that it spends its winters escorting merchant ships through the dangerous Northeast Passage in total darkness.   Public spaces include two bars, a library, gym, saunas and a swimming pool.   Prices for two begin at $48,760.

Now that I think about it, this really isn’t such a bad idea for a Christmas present.   I have, after all, been very good this year.

Technorati Tags: 50 Years Of Victory, Arctic Sea, Cruise line, cruise ship, Franz Josef Land, North Pole, nuclear powered icebreaker, Quark Expeditions

There’s Got To Be A Morning After

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Carnival Splendor

You undoubtedly have heard the news reports.  Carnival Splendor, with 3299 passengers on board, is adrift at sea after a fire early Monday morning in one of the engine rooms. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but it left the ship dead in the water.  The crew was able to restore power to some critical systems, but basic hotel functions remain inoperative.  Passengers are without air conditioning, hot water, hot food, or working toilets.

The US Navy has delivered 70,000 pound of food to the ship and it is being reported that the first tug boat has reached the ship’s position.  Current plans call for Carnival Splendor to proceed under tow to San Diego, with an anticpated arrival by late Thursday.  If sufficient speed cannot be maintained, Carival may revert to the original plan and have the ship towed to Ensenada.  The November 14th cruise from Long Beach has been cancelled.

Early reports indicated that Carnival Cruise Lines was going to refund the cost of the cruise plus transportation costs to its unlucky passengers.  When first reading these reports, an old Peggy Lee song played in my mind – “Is that all there is?”  Subsequent reports have amended Carnival’s response to include credit for a future cruise of equal value.  That’s more like it.

Late last year, I expressed my views on the importance of a company’s response to the unexpected.  Mr. Murphy knew whereof he spoke.  It will be interesting to hear what the passengers have to say, not only about the situation on board Carnival Splendor, but also about the process of getting them home.  Carnival has some choppy days ahead.

As an aside, I was amused by a headline I read in The Independent:

“British passengers survive cruise ship fire”

Well, true enough, I guess.  There was a fire and they did survive.  But, seriously, doesn’t it strike you as just a teensy bit overwrought?

Technorati Tags: Carnival Cruise Lines, Carnival Splendor, Cruise line, cruise ship, engine room fire

Ocean Cruise? River Boat Cruise? Why Choose?

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Emerald Princess

Princess Cruise Line has come up with something quite interesting for next summer.  Cruise tours are nothing new.  They give passengers an opportunity to extend their trip beyond the scope of a cruise and explore areas not easily accessible from the ship.  Think Alaskan lodges or three nights in Beijing, for example.

On July 31, 2011. however, Princess will offer a cruise tour which is actually another cruise.  Princess Cruise Line has partnered with Avalon Waterways to offer a river boat cruise along the Rhine River on board Avalon Felicity prior to a Baltic Sea cruise on Emerald Princess.

The 9 night cruise tour includes a 7 night river cruise along the beautiful Rhine River from  Basel to Amsterdam, stopping in Strasbourg, Heidelberg,

Avalon Felicity

Mainz, Rüdesheim, Koblenz and Cologne.  Guided tours will be included at each of these stops.  Along the way, passengers will enjoy a sail through the Rhine Gorge, probably the most beautiful stretch of the river and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  After the river boat cruise, passengers will overnight in both Amsterdam and Copenhagen, prior to joining Emerald Princess.

Emerald Princess will depart Copenhagen for an 11 night Scandinavia and Russia cruise, with stops that include Stockholm, Berlin, Helsinki and the incomparable St. Petersburg.  Passengers will enjoy two days in Peter the Great’s “Window on the West”.

Space is limited, with group space blocked in a few cabin categories on Avalon Felicity.  Prices begin at $6549.00 per person in an inside cabin for the 20 night cruise tour. With only 2 sea days while on board Emerald Princess, this will appeal to the most energetic and enthusiastic sightseers among us.  If successful, Princess will consider similar tours in 2012.

Technorati Tags: Avalon Waterways, Baltic Sea cruise, Cruise line, cruise ship, Princess Cruise Line, Rhine River, river boat cruise, Russia and Scandinavia cruise, St. Petersburg