Category Archives: Cruise Travel

SOS call for historic ocean liner docked in Philly

Caretakers for the SS United States, the legendary ocean liner moored on the Delaware River since 1996, are renewing and expanding their emergency distress call for the beleaguered piece of American maritime history.

In an eleventh-hour reprieve that spared the ship a date with the scrap yard, a local philanthropist’s $5.8 million gift allowed the SS United States Conservancy to buy it and keep it afloat until November 2012. With that date looming, the nonprofit conservancy launched a “Save the United States” fundraising rally Wednesday to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the ship’s maiden voyage on July 3, 1952.

The conservancy has raised about $6 million so far but needs $25 million to restore the exterior and part of the interior to house a museum, said Susan Gibbs, conservancy executive director and the granddaughter of William Francis Gibbs, the ship’s Philadelphia-born designer. The goal is to spark interest, raise public awareness and literally get investors on board.

“The SS United States is America’s flagship. It symbolizes the very best that this nation has produced,” she said. “It is going to once again be an amazing icon for the nation to appreciate and enjoy.”

The fundraising campaign includes a new interactive website,, which allows donors to “purchase” a piece of the ship for $1 per square inch for themselves or in honor of someone else. They can choose the section they want to sponsor by scrolling and zooming around a virtual model on the website, “meet” other donors throughout the ship, personalize and upload images and memories of the ship, and share it through social media sites.

The 990-foot-long ocean liner, which transported patrons across the Atlantic with both elegance and muscle, has spent the bulk of its life in a nomadic existence plagued by shifting owners, dashed hopes and close calls with the scrap yard. But even in its humbled state, the ship newspapers once feted as “the greatest shipbuilding effort in the history of this country” and “the most revolutionary modern superliner in the world” still remains an awe-inspiring sight even to those who remember it from its heyday.

“The engineering, the beauty, the service, the safety — this was the best, the best in the world, none of the ships could compare with it,” Joe Rota, who worked on the ship in the 1950s, said during a recent visit aboard the United States. “And it would be an absolute tragedy to lose it.”

The $5.8 million donation from cable TV mogul H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, whose naval architect father designed parts of the SS United States, saved the ship from a likely scrapping and allowed the conservancy to buy the ship from Norwegian Cruise Lines in February 2011 and pay for 20 months of docking and related costs. The conservancy’s redevelopment arm is exploring potential partnerships with entities in Philadelphia, New York and Miami to refashion the vessel as a stationary entertainment complex with a hotel, theater, restaurants and shopping — but the clock is winding down along with the money from Lenfest’s gift.

“What you see here is kind of discouraging but … you could scrape this down and you could repaint it, and when we light the lights at night on occasion she’s absolutely gorgeous again,” Rota said. “And we could have that again. … This would be an attraction the whole world would want to come and take part in again.”

Commissioned as a joint venture between the Navy and ship designer Gibbs Cox, the $78 million liner’s luxury cloaked its military might. Though never called to battle, it could have been converted in a single day to transport 14,000 troops for 10,000 miles without refueling.

Instead it carried more than 1 million passengers across the Atlantic over the course of 400 round trips, among them President John F. Kennedy, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Salvador Dali, Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco, and England’s King Edward VIII. In 1968, Bill Clinton traveled tourist-class en route to Oxford University.

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The liner’s glory days were short-lived as air travel rose in popularity, however, and the United States was taken out of service in 1969.

It changed hands multiple times, from the Navy and on through a series of restoration-minded investors. It was unceremoniously towed from Virginia to Turkey to Ukraine, finally arriving in Philadelphia as a gutted hulk. Another succession of developers and a cruise line failed to return the ship to service as retrofitting costs proved too great.

“It’s been 60 years since I first set foot on this ship with my mother … it’s very exciting,” said Louise Meiere Dunn, 82, of Stamford, Conn., who stood recently on the promenade where she danced the conga on the maiden voyage, when the United States set a new trans-Atlantic record from New York to England: 3 days, 10 hours, 40 minutes.

The record that still stands for a conventional passenger ocean liner.

“We understood there was going to be some sort of celebration when we were going to break the record,” Dunn said. “We went out on deck … but the weather was so foul we came back here and found it on the promenade deck.”

She recalled with a laugh that she and the other young people on board partied until breakfast, which they ate while still in their evening gowns and black tie from the night before. Several weeks later, a friend in India saw her dancing the conga on a movie newsreel.

“I’m hoping that this ship can be revived, repurposed,” she said. “It would be wonderful to see this promenade deck being used again — and having a conga line, maybe.”

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Breaking sweat: Best cruises for fitness

Susan Seubert / Norwegian Cruise Line

Cruise lines offer plenty of heart-pumping activities, including basketball beneath tropical skies on the Norwegian Epic.

Believe it or not, on a cruise you really can lose weight — or at least break even. That’s because fitness centers are growing in size to accommodate a more youthful and body-conscious passenger base and often feature state-of-the-art equipment and 180-degree sea views. Ships are breaking new ground with cutting-edge workouts like Kinesis Walls, popular TRX Suspension Training and Tour de Spin classes, plus offering trendy sessions in Pilates and tai chi.

Deck games like shuffleboard and skeet shooting have made way for onboard surfing, rock climbing, mini-golf and basketball. In port, active excursion options are plentiful. Cycling is big — not to mention hiking, kayaking, swimming and diving. If breaking a sweat can be fun, cruise ships have found ways to offer those activities in the middle of the ocean. 

Royal Caribbean is leading the pack as the trendsetter in onboard fitness options. Its ships are the only ones afloat to offer onboard surfing, boxing and ice skating. But it’s not the only line to put emphasis on fitness. Others are also expanding their gyms and their top-deck fitness options. Some of the smaller lines — SeaDreamStar ClippersWindstarSeabourn — focus on water sports, with onboard marinas packed with water toys that range from kayaks to water-skis. Crystal and Seabourn are two luxury lines getting creative with gentler, senior-friendly workouts like Kinesis and walking, while river lines store bikes onboard for passengers to use ashore. 

Before we list our favorite lines for fitness, here are a few tips for working out onboard.  

  • Onboard gyms can get crowded at peak hours, such as early morning and late afternoon before dinner. Some ships even have signup sheets for cardio machines with strict time limits. Go during off-hours (or while ships are in port) for less crowded conditions. 
  • Many group classes — Pilates, yoga, spinning — come with fees (typically $10-$15). Classes can fill up, so sign up in advance. Instructors vary in ability, and as they teach all the classes, they might not have the same level of dedicated training in one tradition as your studio back home. Work out at your own risk, and don’t do anything that seems painful to you. 
  • Onboard water sports marinas are great, but they can only be used when the weather is warm enough and the ship can anchor in safe and relatively calm waters. If you’re excited about taking out kayaks and Sunfish boats straight from the ship, hot-weather cruises are better than colder, shoulder season trips (though the opportunities vary). On one October Windstar cruise in the Mediterranean, the marina was never opened. Meanwhile, on a Seabourn cruise — same itinerary, same season — marina activities were a cruise highlight. 
  • The smaller the ship, the smaller the gym. Luxury lines may have first-rate facilities, but a 200-person ship won’t have the enormous workout space a 3,200-passenger ship will have. 
  • Don’t forget about shore excursions. Active tours are quite popular. You can get some physical activity — in the form of kayaking, walking, hiking and biking — while exploring a destination. 
  • If you really want your cruise to be all about good health, choose a theme cruise. There are special cruises for runners and golfers, as well as general health and wellness lifestyle cruises (often featuring workshops on yoga, meditation and healthy diets). For those who prefer less of a gym-based approach to working out, dance-themed cruises will keep you on your toes day and night. 

The line: 

Royal Caribbean’s Freedom and Oasis Classes


Why: Because size does matter. Royal Caribbean’s three Freedom-class ships — FreedomLiberty and Independence of the Seas — each have 9,700-square-foot fitness centers. In addition to state-of-the-art cardio, weight-training and circuit-training machines, the ShipShape Center features spinning cycles, a Pilates studio with six reformer machines and a full-size boxing ring, complete with speed bags, jump ropes, heavy bags and padded punching mitts. All cardio machines sport personal LED screens for entertainment options while working out. Group classes on offer include step aerobics, yoga, Pilates, stretching, tai chi, boot camp and indoor cycling. Additional cutting-edge workout equipment onboard includes the Cable Motion series of strength training machines and Power-Plate, a device based on advanced reflex technology. 

Allure and Oasis of the Seas —  the largest cruise ships ever — are in their own league. In addition to the usual fitness equipment, they each have 12 Gravity machines (providing body conditioning through Pilates and resistance training), a Kinesis Wall (circuit exercises utilizing a system of pulleys), Expresso Bikes (with 30 interactive, virtual rides) and Activio Cycling (providing heart rate feedback). Classes unique to Oasis and Allure include Kinesis group training, a combo cycling-and-jogging class called The Brick, and a jogging club, which uses the adjacent Deck 5 track. The track is a runner’s dream, featuring well-marked lanes, shaded ocean views and a series of motivational stanzas that hang from the ceiling, like: “One lap to go / Or maybe three / Tonight’s dessert / Can be guilt free.” 

Honorable mention: Princess’ Grand Class

Why: While no other onboard gym can really touch Royal Caribbean’s newest models, Princess‘ Grand-class ships come close. The Lotus Spa fitness centers onboard the line’s newest ships are prominently set at the front of the ship with sweeping 180-degree views of the ocean. The gyms are equipped with treadmills, elliptical trainers and stationary bikes, all with their own TV’s for personal entertainment. Free weights and a wide range of weight machines are also on offer. But it may be outside the typical workout room that Princess gets the most creative. The line offers an exclusive fitness program called “Core. Balance. Strength.” that targets three fitness areas with Pilates classes for building a strong core, yoga for centering and balance, and cardio classes to build strength. As part of the third phase, Princess offers Tour de Spin, a set of three spinning workouts, and high energy Zumba classes, which are frequently packed. Princess ships offer the complimentary Zumba workouts once or twice per cruise, transforming Club Fusion, the Piazza or the outside decks into a high-energy fitness party. 

Princess’ larger vessels also offer a swim-against-the-current pool with an adjustable current for endurance training. 

Best luxury workout
The line: Seabourn’s Odyssey Class

Why:  Seabourn Odyssey was the first new luxury ship designed since staying fit became a mantra for successful living. As such, its designers have incorporated a more contemporary sensibility into the creation of a two-deck high spa and fitness center, now also included on sister ships Seabourn Sojourn and Seabourn Quest. The most distinctive feature is the Kinesis wall, which is able to accommodate four passengers simultaneously. Kinesis technology uses a series of pulleys and cables to increase flexibility, provide rehabilitation if necessary, and create better muscle definition, all the while being gentler on the body than traditional machines. Private Kinesis is available for a fee. 

Other fitness facility features include a range of classes (from stretching to yoga, all complimentary) and state-of-the-art cardio, strength- and weight-training equipment. If you’d like to rejuvenate tired limbs after a tough workout, make a beeline for the “Experience Shower,” a shower with special lighting and sensory adjustments. 

In addition, Seabourn Odyssey offers a hydro pool/thermal suite area with heated loungers, aromatherapy sauna and waterbed. Seabourn Sojourn and Quest each feature a Kneipp Walk Pool (instead of a hydro pool). This shallow, circular pool is separated into regions of very warm and chilled water. As you walk around the pool, the combination of changing pressures, temperatures and motion is believed to improve capillary circulation, aid in the cleansing of toxins, increase hormonal balance and reduce stress. 

Honorable mention: Cunard’s Queen Mary 2

Why: The first cruise ship to feature a spa and fitness facility operated by the renowned Canyon Ranch, Queen Mary 2 — which offers both luxury and mainstream cruise experiences — is a superb choice. The Canyon Ranch SpaClub offers a wide variety of cardio machines (elliptical trainers, recumbent and stationary bikes, steppers, rowing machines and treadmills), as well as a large strength-training area with machines and free weights. Group classes run the gamut from standard offerings like spinning and Pilates to more creative options, such as “Totally Tubing,” “Dance to the Beat,” “Cardio Blast” and “Fitball.” Passengers can book private sessions on the gym’s Pilates reformer machines. 

The vast wraparound outdoor promenade (remember that Queen Mary 2 was, prior to the launch of Royal Caribbean’s behemoths, the world’s largest cruise ship) is a great spot for walking and jogging. 

Most innovative fitness options
The line: PO Cruises’ Ventura

Why: On this ship, marketed primarily to U.K.-oriented cruisers, the fitness facility and spa are more than adequate — but it’s the fun stuff that take Ventura over the top. Within its gym, Ventura offers Tixter bikes, the latest in indoor cycling. The bikes have movable handlebars to mimic real-world biking and cycling routines (complete with video), from scenic roadways in the Scottish highlands to deserts, highways and city centers. It’s like a PlayStation or Wii Cycling. Out on deck, an endless pool with a current machine propels you to swim against the current. 

Honorable mention: Royal Caribbean’s Voyager, Freedom and Oasis classes

Why: Ever the innovator, Royal Caribbean can take the credit for many cruise ship firsts, many of which fit right in with the line’s “Get Out There” motto. It remains the only cruise line to offer an onboard ice-skating rink — something no one thought would exist on a Caribbean vacation — and FlowRider wave pools for surfing and bodyboarding. (On Oasis and Allure, there are two!) Royal Caribbean started the trend of onboard rock-climbing walls, and fitness buffs can also enjoy boxing in Freedom-class gyms. 

Best land-based workouts
The line: Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America

Why: Hawaii is one of the best destinations for active pursuits, and Norwegian’s Pride of Americais the only ship to sail year-round seven-night cruises to the islands, visiting gorgeous places like Maui, Kauai, Kona and Honolulu. You can go for a rainforest and waterfall hike, learn to surf or windsurf, golf at beautiful seaside courses, bike down the slopes of a dormant volcano, kayak through a wildlife refuge, scuba or snorkel, and take a horseback ride by the beach. 

Honorable mention: Holland America

Why: Half Moon Cay, the private island operated by Holland America (and often shared with Carnival Cruise Lines) is chockablock with fitness opportunities. Passengers have the opportunity to ride horses along the beach, hike along nature trails, jog along a scenic 5K course, kayak through a protected habitat, bike around the island and snorkel or swim with stingrays. More competitive athletes can join a game of volleyball, basketball, shuffleboard or even horseshoes. Kids can work up an appetite climbing around a pirate ship and animal-shaped water toys in the aqua park. 

Best for cyclists
The line: Thomson Cruises

Why: Thomson Cruises, a traditional yet casual British cruise line, actually carries its own mountain and touring bikes onboard, earning it our vote for best cruise line for cyclists. The line offers guided bike rides in many destinations in conjunction with Star Bikestations. The four- to five-hour rides include breaks for sightseeing and picture-taking. Whether you’re a novice but enthusiastic cycler or an experienced racer, there will be a biking excursion for you. 

Honorable mention: AMAWATERWAYS, Tauck River Cruising, Uniworld

Why: For more leisurely and less organized bike touring, book a Rhine or Danube river cruise. Lines like AMAWATERWAYSTauck and Uniworld keep touring bikes onboard for complimentary use. Passengers can cycle through the countryside and cities or even ride along the river, catching up with the ship in the next port. And, as river ships tend to be smaller with low passenger counts, you often won’t have much competition for the bikes and can borrow them whenever it suits you. 

Best for walkers
The line: Crystal Cruises

Why: Crystal makes more use of its ships’ wraparound promenades than most cruise lines, offering two innovative programs for walkers. The first, called Walking on Water (WOW), is a fitness program designed exclusively for Crystal. The program utilizes cotton vests that have pockets for weights, so walkers can increase their resistance training when striding around the promenade deck. Crystal also offers complimentary walking poles for Nordic Walking, a low-impact, full-body workout. Grab some polls, don a vest, and those other shipboard walkers are sure to be intimidated by your power and energy. Supplement your walking workouts with Kinesis personal fitness equipment, yoga and Pilates instruction (including mat and Pilates Reformer classes), spinning and golf instruction with PGA pros — all gratis. 

Honorable mention: Fred. Olsen 

Why: The U.K.-based Fred. Olsen has partnered with Ramblers Worldwide Holidays, a company dedicated to exploring the world on foot. On more than 20 “Cruise and Walk” voyages, Ramblers guides will arrange a scenic walk in each port. On La Palma in the Canary Islands, cruisers walk along the Route of the Volcanoes; in Olden, Norway, they journey to an overlook in view of four glaciers; and on the U.K.’s isle of Tresco, a coastal walk is combined with a stroll through the Abbey Gardens. 

Best top-deck activities
The line: Carnival Magic and Breeze

Why: Thrill-seekers can traverse across nets suspended nearly 150 feet above the sea on the cruise industry’s first ropes courses, available on Carnival’s new ship, Magic, and upcoming ship Breeze. The course is part of SportsSquare, an expansive outdoor recreation area surrounded by an eighth-mile jogging track. Inside the square, fitness buffs can pump iron at the first outdoor weightlifting area on a cruise ship; play basketball, volleyball or soccer on a multipurpose court; or tone and stretch on the six-station Vita exercise course (like the outdoor fitness circuits you find in parks). Putt your way to a cooldown at the two-level miniature golf course. Just keep your fingers crossed that it doesn’t rain! 

Honorable mention: Norwegian Cruise Line’s Jewel class and Norwegian Epic

Why: Norwegian is nipping at Carnival’s heels with innovative top-deck fitness offerings. Its fleet now features rock-climbing walls (on Gem, Pearl and Epic), tennis courts (Jade, Jewel and Pearl) and basketball courts (fleetwide), most with bleacher seating for friends and fans. The 155,873-ton, 4,100-passenger Norwegian Epic has the biggest rock wall of any Norwegian ship, plus a new rappelling wall. The ship’s multiuse sports deck will offer a variety of ways to work up a sweat, including a full-size basketball court, bungee trampoline and a 24-foot-tall enclosed climbing cage called the Spider Web. When Norwegian Breakaway debuts in April 2013, it will feature a three-story sports complex with a large ropes course, Aqua Park with five waterslides and a kid-friendly splash zone, rock climbing wall, bungee trampoline, and mini-golf course.

Best water sports
The line: Windstar

Why: Windstar combines the best of small-ship cruising with the romance of a masted sailing vessel. Its three ships offer complimentary water sports straight from the ship in destinations like the Caribbean, Costa Rica and the Greek Isles, with more limited offerings in the Mediterranean. Experienced sports enthusiasts can borrow kayaks, windsurf boards, Topper or Rumba Escape Sailboats, and inflatable boats. Snorkel equipment is provided free of charge, though organized snorkeling expeditions cost extra. Water-skiing is also offered by the ship’s staff; two people at a time can water-ski in half-hour increments. On Wind Surf, you can also bounce on a trampoline or borrow a Hobie Bravo (sailing catamaran). 

Honorable mention: Star Clippers, SeaDream and Seabourn

Why: In addition to Windstar, these cruise lines also have retractable water sports marinas. They offer a variety of options: Sunfish sailboats, Jet Skis, banana boats, water-skiing, tubing, windsurfing and kayaking. On Star Clippers, the water sports staff organizes its own scuba trips and can certify neophyte divers. 

Best for active seniors
The line: Holland America Line

Why: We love Holland America’s program of mind-body-spirit classes. Passengers can now participate in yoga, tai chi and aqua aerobics free of charge, in addition to the for-fee classes like Pilates and spinning that are offered in the Greenhouse Spa’s fitness center. Plus, many active seniors take advantage of the ships’ wraparound teak promenade decks for leisurely strolls or brisk walks. 

Honorable mention: Cunard

Why: Cunard receives an honorable mention in this category for its devotion to ballroom dancing. Professionals teach waltz, tango, samba and other dances during the day, and cruisers can practice their newly learned moves at Royal Nights themed formal balls held in the evenings. No partner? No worries! Gentlemen hosts are present on every cruise to make sure single ladies don’t turn into wallflowers. Other fitness options include the usual fitness center equipment and classes, shuffleboard, basketball and paddle tennis courts, and golf simulators. Queen Elizabeth features a 1930’s-inspired Games Deck, complete with bowls and croquet. Both Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth offer fencing classes, as well as a Body Sculpt Programme, where guests can burn up to 700 calories in 30 minutes. 

Best spa dining
The line: Celebrity Cruises

Why: Dining is usually not an athletic event, but healthy eating often goes hand-in-hand with an active, healthy lifestyle. Celebrity Cruises was the first line to embrace this connection with spa cafes on its Millennium- and Solstice-class ships. Located by the spa pool, the cafes serve up healthy breakfasts and lunches, including smoothies, salads, fish dishes and low-fat desserts. In addition, the Solstice-class ships have Blu, a private dining room reserved for passengers booked in Celebrity’s AquaSpa cabins. Its menu focuses on natural ingredients and healthy fare. 

Honorable mention: Costa

Why: Costa is all about creating a complete spa experience for its spa cabin residents, and that includes healthy dining. The line’s Samsara Restaurant on its Concordia-class ships features wellness menus (available for all three meals) that have been created by Michelin-starred chef Ettore Bocchia. Regular passengers can opt to dine there, too, for a 20 euro per-person surcharge.

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Liner QE2 to host visitors again as hotel in Dubai

Dubai has settled on a use for the Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise liner it bought for $100 million five years ago, with plans to turn it into a floating hotel fitted with many of the storied vessel’s original furnishings.

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The ship will remain in the city state’s downtown Port Rashid facility to serve as a tourist magnet alongside a proposed maritime museum and an expanding cruise ship terminal complex, officials said Monday.

The plans are a twist on a more ambitious previous proposal to significantly overhaul the ship and convert it into a luxury hotel docked alongside one of the sheikdom’s manmade palm-shaped islands. Developers shelved those plans when Dubai’s economy tumbled into crisis.

The chairman of the Dubai state company that owns the ship, Istithmar World, said he expects the 300-room hotel to open within 18 months. Chairman Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem told reporters the company realized visitors want to see the QE2 as it originally looked, so does not expect to carry out major renovations or remove fixtures still onboard.

“We are not making major changes. We will preserve its tradition and the way it was,” he said at a news conference near the ship’s mooring. “It’s a great vessel and it will continue its journey to serve the tourist sector in Dubai.”

The ship’s fate has been the subject of intense speculation since its arrival in November 2008. Officials have long been reluctant to address questions about its future, even as it sat unused and suggestions swirled that it could be moved to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup or even sold for scrap.

This past New Year’s Eve, an event planning company hosted a black-tie bash onboard that included live music, fireworks and a laser light show. That was the first time the ship had hosted a large group of guests since it pulled into port.

Istithmar bought the QE2 from the Cunard cruise line for $100 million in 2007. The company is part of Dubai World, the state conglomerate at the center of Dubai’s 2009 financial meltdown. Istithmar has been working to reduce its debt load, and in May lost control of upscale retailer Barneys New York as part of a deal with creditors.

Bin Sulayem dismissed concerns about the cost of converting the QE2 into a working hotel, though he declined to say who was paying. Neither Istithmar nor the city-state’s profitable port operator DP World, which Bin Sulayem also chairs, are paying for the project, he said.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II launched the QE2 in 1967. Since it went into service in 1969, the QE2 has made at least 26 round-the-world voyages.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Highbrows hit the high seas with NPR, PBS

Good afternoon, I’m Michele Norris afloat on the high seas somewhere between Beijing and Bangkok … 

If that sounds intriguing, you may want to block off the last two weeks in March 2013 and join the host of NPR’s “All Things Considered” and other icons of the airwaves for the first-ever Public Radio at Sea cruise.

Presumably, karaoke, comedy acts and belly flop contests will not be part of the itinerary.

Instead, the 16-night cruise aboard the Regent Seven Seas Voyager will offer the opportunity to explore several Asian cities while rubbing shoulders with the likes of Norris, David Greene and several other NPR reporters and producers.

“This isn’t like going to a radio station event where you hear Jim Lehrer talk for 20 minutes and then go home,” said Kevin Corcoran, president of Artful Travelers, which helped the organize the cruise. “You’re sailing with these people for two weeks; it creates this level of intimacy where you get to know them and understand what makes them tick.”

Of course, this is not the first cruise with an intellectual bent as PBS, “National Review” and “The New York Times” have all partnered with cruise lines on sailings that offer world travel for wonky people.

“Not all cruises go to the Caribbean for seven days,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of “There’s definitely a highbrow audience for cruising.”

That audience may be small but it appears to be growing. Among the options on the horizon:

  • A Civil War-themed cruise from New Orleans to Chattanooga, Tenn., on board the American Queen (Aug. 9–21) with Ric Burns and Mark Samels of PBS’ “American Experience”
  • An “Iberian Tapestries” cruise from Barcelona to Lisbon on board the Regent Seven Seas Mariner (Aug. 13–23) with Robert Siegel (“All Things Considered”), David Fanning (“Frontline”) and political analyst Charlie Cook
  • An “Election 2012” cruise from St. Louis to St. Paul (Sept. 27–Oct. 5) on board the American Queen with Gwen Ifill of PBS’ “Washington Week”
  • A “National Review” Caribbean cruise on board Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam (Nov. 11–18) with Mona Charen, Ed Gillespie, Ralph Reed and other leading conservatives

As with the above sailings, the goal of the Public Radio at Sea cruise is to forge a stronger bond between the organization and its supporters. And although a few NPR journalists have been previously recruited to appear on cruises presented by others, this sailing is designed to showcase the organization’s particular brand of journalism and its expertise in foreign affairs.

“It’s an opportunity for fans to get to know our journalists, how they do their work and what that experience is like,” said Dana Davis Rehm, head of communications for NPR. “The hope is that they’ll step forward and be more generous in the future.”

It’s good for Regent, too, says company president Mark Conroy. “In the luxury sector, great food, accommodations and itineraries are the table stakes,” he said. “What sets you apart from the competition is what else you do to keep customers engaged.”

It also makes sense in terms of the demographics despite the seeming disconnect between cruising, a decidedly escapist activity, and lectures on geopolitics and current affairs. “These are people who are interested in the world around them,” said Spencer Brown. “It’s a natural match if you niche it right.”

And if past public broadcasting cruises are any indication, the programming should also defuse any suspicions that the cruise will tilt too heavily to the “port” side of the political spectrum.

“A couple curmudgeon friends of mine who are very, very conservative were on a previous cruise with some public radio people,” said Conroy. “Afterward, one of them said to me, ‘You know, those NPR people aren’t quite as left-wing as I thought they were.’”

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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.

Ship is fumigated after stomach bug strikes cruise

May 21, 6 p.m. ET — A Norovirus-like outbreak on Fred. Olsen’s Boudicca left a reported 170 of 1,176 people (828 passengers, 348 crew) ill over the course of a 13-night cruise.

The United Kingdom’s Daily Mail says the ship was greeted by National Health Service (NHS) staff and ambulance crews Sunday in Greenock, Scotland, where it concluded a Canary Islands and Portugal cruise.

Boudicca underwent an intensive fumigation Sunday before embarking on its next scheduled voyage (a 21-night Adriatic cruise) 90 minutes later than scheduled. The cleaning was overseen by local health authorities, including Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS.

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In a statement, Fred. Olsen spokeswoman Rachael Jackson told Cruise Critic that no more than 35 people were “in isolation at any one time.”

Still, according to the report by Scotland’s Daily Record, an unnamed female passenger said “passengers were offered £150 discounts on their next cruise.” Cruise Critic has contacted Fred. Olsen by e-mail about any compensation offered to passengers.

In spring 2010, the line cut short a cruise on Boudicca because of a suspected Norovirus outbreak, even though only six passengers remained in isolation at the time of the decision to do so.

Norovirus is the second most common illness next to the common cold and is highly contagious, spreading easily in confined spaces like hospitals, hotels, dormitories and cruise ships. Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea, and millions are infected each year.

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