Category Archives: Cruise Travel

Cruise the Caribbean with … Kate Gosselin?

Andy Kropa / Getty Images

Kate Gosselin will be the star attraction on a Caribbean cruise.

OPINION

If you had eight kids, you’d need to get away from them once in a while, wouldn’t you? But not many single moms of eight can even dream of soaking up the sun on a weeklong Caribbean cruise — and instead of paying for the privilege, getting paid for it, too.

Kate Gosselin may not have a reality show any more, but she’s still finding ways to make her fame pay. Gosselin will be the guest of honor on a Western Caribbean cruise departing from Florida in August.

No mention is made of the Gosselin children coming along. And since father Jon has said repeatedly he wants the kids out of the public eye, we’re betting they are staying home in Pennsylvania while mom sails.

Features of the Kate-centric cruise include a personalized gift (let us guess … a signed book?), a QA session (“How’s Jon doing?”) and a batch of other events with Kate, including a barbecue, brunch, and even a shore excursion.

The most humorous item on the Kate schedule is some kind of a crafting class. “Doesn’t Kate always have the best ideas!” the copy claims. Uh, we think there should be a question mark there, for grammar and other reasons.  “Learn a new craft from the professional herself.”

Not sure in whose world Kate is a crafting “professional” since last we heard, she was working for a couponing site, but should you want to join Gosselin on the Allure of the Seas, sign up now. And we hope you’ve clipped a lot of those coupons — the cheapest cabin is $1900 per person.

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Best new cruise ships of 2012

Courtesy Disney Cruise Line

Disney Fantasy launches in March 2012 and will be the second of Disney’s second-generation ships and the fourth in the fleet.

Each year, cruise lines compete to come out with the most “I-can’t-believe-that’s-on-a-cruise-ship” features. From waterslides and Grand Prix racing simulators for the kids to gourmet restaurants and brew pubs for the adults, the newest cruise ships are raising the stakes. For 2012, check out these five ocean-going ships that are debuting for the North American market.

Disney Fantasy
Launch date: March 2012

By the numbers: 128,000 tons; 2,500 passenger capacity (double occupancy)

Itineraries: Disney Fantasy will sail 7-night Caribbean cruises round-trip from Port Canaveral, Fla.

Highlights: Disney Fantasy will be the second of Disney‘s second-generation ships and the fourth in the fleet. She’ll be decked out in 1930s-era glamour. For instance, the three-deck atrium lobby is reminiscent of grand ocean liners with Art Nouveau-inspired details, such as a chandelier made with stained glass and crystal beads. The 14-deck-high ship offers new water features (like the “Aqualab”for water experiments) and new stage shows, including a Muppet-themed “interactive adventure quest around the ship.”There’s even a new “princesses and pirates” boutique. A ramped-up version of the Animator’s Palate restaurant — way more interactive than on the line’s older ships — features an “Animation Magic”dinner show. Like the rest of the fleet, most of the Fantasy’s cabins will have family-friendly bathrooms (one room has the shower/tub and the other the toilet) as well as extensive kids’ programming for infants on up to teens. Rounding out the family-friendly features are three pools: one for kids, one for families, and one for adults.

Slideshow: 7 new European and Asian river cruises for 2012 

Oceania Riviera
Launch date: April 2012

By the numbers: 66,084 tons; 1,250 passenger capacity (double occupancy)

Itineraries: Riviera will do mostly 10- and 12-night Europe cruises between ports including Barcelona, Piraeus/Athens, Civitavecchia/Rome, Lisbon, Venice, and Istanbul. Next winter, it’ll move to the Caribbean for mostly 10-night cruises through the islands.

Highlights: Sister ship to this year’s Marinathe midsize Riviera is just as elegant with a boutique-hotel feel. There is a Lalique Grand Staircase, and the Owner’s Suites are furnished in Ralph Lauren Home. With a focus on fine dining, this Oceania ship has 10 venues (six of which are open-seating gourmet restaurants with no surcharge, including Jacques, the namesake restaurant of world-renowned Chef Jacques Pépin). The spa is operated by Canyon Ranch. Activities include art classes and hands-on cooking classes.

Costa Fascinosa
Launch date: May 2012

By the numbers: 114,500 tons; 3,000 passenger capacity (double occupancy)

Itineraries: Through November 2012, Fascinosa will do 7-night sailings round-trip from Venice, visiting ports in Greece and Croatia.

Highlights: The fifth ship in Concordia class, Fascinosa’s décor uses plenty of crystal and marble throughout. Choose from five restaurants and 13 bars, including a cognac-and-cigar bar and a coffee-and-chocolate bar. Two of the four pools have retractable covers, and the two-level spa has a thalassotherapy pool and Turkish bath. Entertainment venues on this Costa ship include the three-deck-high show lounge, plus a huge outdoor video screen for movie and program viewing. The cool PlayGround area has a 4D cinema and the latest PlayStation videogames. High-tech virtual golf and Grand Prix simulators invite passengers to experience the thrill of rally driving or the challenges of a golf pro.

MSC Divina
Launch date: May 2012

By the numbers: 140,000 tons; 3,502 passenger capacity (double occupancy)

Itineraries: Divina will do 7-night eastern Mediterranean itineraries round-trip from either Venice or Bari, including calls in Greece, Turkey and Croatia through October 2012.

Highlights: The latest in the Fantasia-class ships (which includes MSC Splendida and MSC Fantasia), the Divina will be MSC Cruises‘ largest vessel with four restaurants, a spa, a 1,603-seat theater, and a garden pool with stunning views of the sea. Divina will also offer the line’s MSC Yacht Club, a “ship-within-a-ship,”with 69 suites that include the services of a personal butler, plus complimentary wines and spirits in the MSC Yacht Club’s private lounges and pool area.

Carnival Breeze
Launch date: June 2012

By the numbers: 130,000 tons; 3,690 passenger capacity (double occupancy)

Itineraries: The Breeze will offer 12-night Europe cruises out of Barcelona for the summer before starting its year-around schedule of 6- and 8-night Caribbean cruises round-trip from Miami.

Highlights: The third of Carnival‘s Dream-class ships, the Breeze will have a top-deck theme-park-style water park with thrilling slides, plus the Serenity adults-only deck and lounge area. The new SportSquare is an open-air recreation complex with a ropes course, mini-golf, and outdoor fitness area. The Lanai features a wraparound promenade with whirlpools extending over the ship’s sides. Enjoy a giant poolside LED screen for movies and videos, a huge gym and spa, and extensive kids’ programming. Check out the three main restaurants, plus a steakhouse, Italian venue, sushi bar, deck grille, and a pub with a private beer label. Entertainment options include a comedy club, piano bar, and multiple nightclubs.

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New around-the-world cruises in 2012

The grand world voyage, a regular fixture on the cruise calendar for many decades, is getting a makeover. Typically it’s been a three-month voyage that starts in January and departs from a British or U.S. port to keep North Americans and Europeans in warm-weather destinations over the winter months. But the excitement of round-the-globe travel would often get tarnished by weeks spent onboard a line’s more vintage (to put it politely) ship with endless mingling with the same set of often cliquish passengers.

Now, as baby boomers come of retirement age and find they have cash to burn, they are looking to spend their golden years seeking out new experiences and visiting new places. As demand for long voyages to exotic destinations increases, world cruises are being revitalized. Never has there been so much choice — or so much competition between the cruise lines. Ships to suit all budgets are now circumnavigating the globe, from the bare-bones to the brand-new. New itineraries, new departure ports, new options for combining itineraries and ships into a DIY world cruise, and long voyages that sail outside the traditional season are all ideas that have sprung from old-fashioned world voyages in response to passenger demand.

Why all the fuss over one cruise a year? Cruise lines love world cruisers because they tend to book early and spend more money. It’s a well-known fact that the top cabins and suites are always the first to go, and this segment of the market (retired, cashing in pensions) is still fairly recession-proof, although that story may be different in 10 years’ time.

So, if you’re looking to bid farewell to your land-lubber life and set sail for a few months of the year, or simply want to daydream about a months-long voyage, here’s what you’ll find in modern-day world cruising.

In with the new
World cruising is booming, so cruise lines are responding by sending more ships and newer ships on these extended voyages. Cunard, for example, is putting all three of its ships on world cruises or extended winter cruises in 2012/13 for the first time ever. The 2012/13 season will also see the largest ever PO Cruises world program with four ships on long or world voyages for the first time.

It used to be the tried-and-tested vessels that operated world cruises, but now lines are putting their newest ships to use. Buzz-worthy mew ships add prestige to the idea of a long cruise. An extended voyage on a new ship also means world cruisers can enjoy the most innovative facilities in terms of theaters, spas and restaurants, and, often, the services of an elite team of crewmembers brought in to show the ship off for its maiden season. Cunard, for example, did this in 2011, sending Queen Elizabeth around the world just three months after its launch. Likewise, Seabourn Quest, launched in June 2011, will complete its first world cruise for Seabourn in January 2012.

Another new kid on the block is the 2,260-passenger Costa Deliziosa, launched in 2010 and now due to operate the Italian line’s first-ever world cruise in January 2013, from Savona, Italy. It will sail 100 nights across the Atlantic and Pacific to Australia and New Zealand and back, via Southeast Asia.

PO Cruises, meanwhile, is sending its youngest ship, the 3,100-passenger Azura, on its maiden world voyage in 2013, alongside three longer-established vessels. Azura will take in a whole string of maiden ports. This is one of the bonuses of cruising on a new ship; you’ll be met with great fanfare in every port the ship visits for the first time ever.

Overnight stays and far-flung ports
It’s not just round-the-world cruises that are growing, either. Cruise lines are offering more and more “grand voyages” — cruises that explore a continent or region in depth. Silversea Cruises has 20 such cruises in 2012, including a 53-day Cape Town-to-Istanbul cruise on Silver Wind and a 64-day voyage on its flagship, Silver Spirit around South America, where it will spend two nights in port at the Rio carnival. In 2013, Crystal Cruises is devoting 74 days to a round-South America voyage on Crystal Serenity, which will make a foray up the Amazon and spend two whole weeks in Patagonia.

And whether you’re on a world cruise or a grand voyage, destinations are now becoming more of a focus. Cruises are slowing down, with overnights in port now one of the real luxuries of a long voyage — a fashion, interestingly, inspired by lines that don’t necessarily offer world cruises but do focus on cultural immersion. Azamara Club Cruises, which doesn’t do extended voyages but does offer shorter itineraries that can be bolted together in locations like Asia and South America, has made a point, following passenger research, of adding in many more night stops. Voyages to Antiquity — which also doesn’t offer a world cruise but does carry passengers who have booked multiple back-to-back voyages — also features these overnight port stays, often taking cruisers out on excursions after dark.

On the world cruises, it’s usually the big-hitting ports that attract the overnights — Hong Kong, Sydney, Rio and Beijing, for example. But for the real “immersion” experience, it has to be Crystal; in 2012, Crystal Serenity will overnight in Honolulu, Sydney, Perth, Singapore, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Osaka and Yokohama.

Cruise lines always try to keep a balance on world cruises between the can’t-miss ports and some nifty new ones, although these are becoming more and more obscure. Crystal has managed to line up Laguna San Rafael (Chile), Manta (Ecuador), Salaverry (Peru) and Chacabuco (Chile again) on Crystal Serenity’s epic round-South America voyage in 2013. PO Cruises’ Arcadia will sail in 2013 via Cape Horn, Amalia Glacier, PIO X Glacier (both Chile), Easter Island and Pitcairn Island. Holland America’s Amsterdam, meanwhile, calls at the South Shetland Islands, Wilhelm Archipelago (Antarctica) and Komodo Island (Indonesia) on its 2012 world cruise.

Others tend to pack in the “bucket list” destinations, knowing that the world cruise will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many; Princess Cruises, for example, includes Easter Island, Machu Picchu and Sydney in the 107-night world cruise of Pacific Princess in 2013, with overnights in Lima, Hong Kong, Dubai and Istanbul.

Boomerang cruises
A “boomerang cruise,” a new piece of jargon coined by the industry, is essentially a cruise that goes halfway through an epic journey on one ship and the other half on another. It’s an option that’s been cleverly set up by both Cunard and PO Cruises for their 2012/2013 World Voyage programs. There are several benefits: passengers get to experience two different ships. (And, as world cruises can get stale after many days spent with the same people, a new set of faces is often welcome.) Plus, you can spend a few days in your halfway destination, taking a break from the ship. For example, join Queen Victoria in New York on January 18 and arrive Sydney on February 24. Tour around Australia for a bit, and on March 7, hop on Queen Mary 2 for the journey back to Southampton, via Southeast Asia. Or jump off Queen Victoria in Auckland on February 19, stay one night, and the next day, along comes Queen Elizabeth, heading back across the Pacific to New York.

Similarly, Brits booking on PO Cruises’ world voyages in 2013 can sail from Southampton to Sydney on Aurora and return on Azura after a mini-break in Sydney, or from Southampton to Sydney on Azura and return on Arcadia, a couple of nights later.

Or “boomerang” could be interpreted another way, as going halfway around the world by ship, staying a while and returning a few months later. Classic International Cruises is sending its flagship, 20-year-old, 550-passenger Athena, to Australia this winter with time ashore for a few weeks before the long voyage back. The ship departs Rome in November and arrives in Fremantle 33 days later, for Christmas. Passengers can stay until April 14, when the ship sails to the U.K., via southern and western Africa, arriving in Portsmouth on May 24. It’s a long time away, but for anybody who can’t or won’t fly, it’s a great opportunity to see Australia.

An international mix
World cruises used to attract mostly North Americans and Brits, mainly because these are the two largest markets for cruising and because the voyages typically started in the U.S. or the U.K. Now, though, the Germans are coming. And the Australians. And the Japanese.

Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth will embark and disembark German world cruisers in Hamburg in 2012 by tacking a mini-cruise from Southampton onto either end of the world cruise. More than 200 Germans have already booked. An even faster-growing market is Japan; Japanese cruisers, according to Cunard’s President, Peter Shanks, have an ongoing fascination with the line and its great heritage. Japanese items are featured on the menus when there are a lot of Japanese passengers onboard, groups have their own hospitality desk with a Japanese host or hostess, and some announcements onboard are repeated in Japanese. Then there’s Australia. So successful among Australians is Queen Mary 2’s round-Australia segment of its world cruise in 2012 that the line is hoping to expand on this theme, adding a round-New Zealand hop for the 2013 voyage.

What does all this mean? On these international cruises, the diverse passenger mix leads to a more cosmopolitan environment, whereas a Saga Holidays or Fred. Olsen ship would carry mainly Brits, and a Crystal or Holland America ship would attract mainly Americans. It’s a consideration; remember, you could be spending three months onboard, and getting tired of the other passengers is a common complaint. Those who enjoy the company of different nationalities should consider a line like Cunard that attracts a wider audience.

Another way to avoid world cruise ennui is to choose an itinerary on which new passengers will join the voyage at different points; regular world cruisers often talk about how the whole ship can perk up with the influx of a new crowd of cruisers partway through the journey.

Alternatively, Hapag Lloyd’s 408-passenger Europa, an ultra-luxurious small ship, embarks on what the line calls a World Tour in November. It’s really more like an expedition, given the obscurity of some of the ports of call (Nukunonu, anyone?). The ship is aimed primarily at German-speakers, but two sectors of the 2012 World Tour have been designated “international,” with English-speaking tours and documentation: Honolulu to Noumea and Ho Chi Minh City to Rangoon. Non-Germans can, of course, do the entire circumnavigation, 138 days from Lisbon to Dubai.

Topsy turvy dates
World cruises and grand voyages traditionally depart just after the New Year and return in April. But the net is widening. British line Voyages of Discovery, for example, has a 72-night Singapore-to-Portsmouth epic, departing March 1, 2012, and featuring some well-off-the-beaten-track places. They range from Yangon to the Andaman Islands and, in India, Porbandar (Ghandi’s birthplace), with a hop around the Black Sea once the ship has transited the Suez Canal on its way home.

Princess Cruises, in the meantime, is offering its first-ever world cruise out of Sydney in 2012, on Sun Princess (a ship dedicated to the Australian market). It will sail 104 days to Europe and back, including a maiden call in Iceland. The cruise departs in May, giving Australians the best of the European summer and a chance to skip their own winter. Similarly, Dawn Princess will offer a Grand Pacific Circle from Sydney, departing July 2012 and taking in destinations as diverse as southeast Asia, Alaska and Tahiti. And, in 2013, upscale Crystal Symphony’s long winter voyage will start in Auckland on January 29 and sail to Los Angeles, via Asia and Alaska, ending on May 6, way after the traditional world cruise season is over.

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Royal Caribbean sinks unlimited booze packages

Michel Verdure / © Michel Verdure

Royal Caribbean’s all-you-can drink packages, which start at $29 per day, will no longer be offered aboard Independence of the Seas during the ship’s new seasonal deployment in Florida.

Toast or tsk? The unlimited alcohol packages currently offered on the Britain-based Independence of the Seas won’t be available during the ship’s new seasonal deployment in Florida.

Royal Caribbean recently announced that “Indy,” a year-round Southampton stalwart since 2010, will adopt a more traditional dual passport strategy: Starting in November 2012, it will split time between Southampton (spring, summer Europe cruises) and Fort Lauderdale (fall, winter Caribbean sailings). The alcoholic beverage packages won’t be part of the redeployment. (It will, however, be offered on the transatlantic repositioning cruise from Southampton to Fort Lauderdale.)

“As Royal Caribbean International is a global cruise brand, our ships’ offerings are tailored to the markets from where they draw their guests,” spokesman Harrison Liu explained in an e-mail. “Independence of the Seas [from] Southampton was primarily a British product. When the ship sails in the Caribbean, the onboard offering will be adjusted to cater to a more North American and international clientele, as well as reflect the cultural norms here.”

The all-you-can drink packages, which start at $29 per day (all brews, house wine by the glass and a 25 percent discount on other liquors and wines) were launched in March 2011 on a trial basis. The program is available on Grandeur of the Seas, Legend of the Seas and Independence, three ships catering to predominantly non-U.S. passengers. Grandeur divides its time between South America (cruises from Colon, Panama, and Cartagena, Columbia) and the Mediterranean (from Palma De Mallorca, Spain and couple other homeports). Legend is Royal Caribbean’s year-round Asia-based vessel.

“The drinks package will not be expanded to additional ships yet,” added Liu.

Over the past two years, unlimited booze packages have firmly achieved trend status, with new offerings introduced by Celebrity Cruises, Oceania Cruises, MSC Cruises and Royal Caribbean. Celebrity Cruises, a Royal Caribbean sister line catering to British, American and Australian passengers, offers all-you-can drink packages fleetwide, regardless of destination.

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7 most popular cruise ships of 2011

The seven most popular cruise ships of 2011 include the newest, flashiest offerings from Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines and more.

1. Allure of the Seas  – Royal Caribbean

Roni Lehti / AFP – Getty Images

The Allure of the Seas launched in 2010 and has room for 5,400 passengers.

Tonnage: 225,282 

Berths (Double Occupancy/Max.): 5,400/6,360

The 5,400-passenger Allure of the Seas builds on the blueprint introduced by its revolutionary older sister, Oasis of the Seas. Both ships feature unique-to-cruising offerings like zip-lining, a plant-filled “Central Park” and a handmade wooden carousel, but Allure added twists of its own, including cruising’s first Starbucks, characters from the DreamWorks army and the Broadway show “Chicago.”

See where Allure of the Seas sails in 2012.

2. Norwegian Epic – Norwegian Cruise Line

Don Emmert / AFP – Getty Images

The Norwegian Epic sails past the Statue of Liberty on her maiden voyage July 1, 2010, in New York Harbor.

Tonnage: 155,873

Berths (Double Occupancy/Max.): 4,100/5,226

Launched in summer 2010, Epic broke the mold in numerous ways, most notably its game-changing Studio staterooms (geared toward solo travelers), its multitude of entertainment options (including Blue Man Group) and controversial translucent bathrooms (alas, you can see right through the smoked glass). Add in more than 20 restaurants, a giant waterpark and one of cruising’s largest spas, and the ship lives up to its name.

See where Norwegian Epic sails in 2012.

3. Carnival Magic – Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival

Carnival Magic, which launched on May 1, 2011, features an onboard waterpark.

Tonnage: 130,000

Berths (Double Occupancy/Max.): 3,690/4,724

From its exclusive Thirsty Frog Red beer to cruising’s first ropes course, the buzz started early on Carnival Magic — the newest addition to the line’s fleet — and has only grown. As a measure of its success, several of the concepts introduced on Magic are spreading to other Carnival ships, including the family-style Cucina del Capitano Italian eatery and the RedFrog Pub (and its iconic suds).

See where Carnival Magic sails in 2012.

4. Oasis of the Seas – Royal Caribbean

Hans Deryk / ASSOCIATED PRESS

When it debuted in 2009, Oasis of the Seas was considered the world’s largest cruise ship.

Tonnage: 225,282

Berths (Double Occupancy/Max.): 5,400/6,296

Oasis of the Seas launched in 2009 as the largest and most innovative cruise ship ever built. In addition to debuting numerous at-sea “firsts,” including an breathtaking outdoor AquaTheater, Oasis represents a revolution in ship design. An open-air corridor carved out along the length of the massive ship creates space for a tropical foliage- and restaurant-filled Central Park and Coney Island-style Boardwalk “neighborhood.”

See where Oasis of the Seas sails in 2012.

5. Celebrity Solstice – Celebrity Cruises

Quentin Bacon / Celebrity Cruises

The Celebrity Solstice Lawn Club is a popular atttraction.

Tonnage: 122,000

Berths (Double Occupancy/Max.): 2,850/3,145

Arguably the most beautiful mega-ship at sea, Celebrity Solstice earns high marks for its whimsical restaurants, trendy lounges and glass-and-light-filled spaces. But Solstice’s most buzzworthy feature has to be its Lawn Club, a top-ship green space where passengers can play bocce, watch a glass-blowing demonstration and simply feel freshly cut grass between their toes. 

See where Celebrity Solstice sails in 2012.

6. Disney Dream – Disney Cruise Line

Disney

The Disney Dream launched on Jan. 26, 2011.

Tonnage: 128,690

Berths (Double Occupancy/Max.): 2,500/4,000

Who’s to argue with a ship boasting something called the AquaDuck? Disney’s first new vessel in more than a decade, Disney Dream set sail in early 2011 and  continues the company’s signature “ocean liner” look, complete with cruising’s first “watercoaster” (i.e., the AquaDuck), an entire deck devoted to youths and the French eatery Remy — at $75 a head, the most expensive for-fee restaurant on a cruise ship.

See where Disney Dream sails in 2012.

7. Ruby Princess  – Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises

The Ruby Princess offers Movies Under the Stars, complete with a poolside big-screen theater.

Tonnage: 113,000

Berths (Double Occupancy/Max.): 3,080/3,763

Ruby Princess showcases all of Princess Cruises’ marquee features, including  Movies Under the Stars, a poolside big-screen theater; the three-deck Piazza, a combination bakery, Internet cafe, wine/sushi/tapas bar; and the adults-only Sanctuary, a mostly shaded top-ship retreat with thick, plush loungers, massage cabanas and a spa menu.

See where Ruby Princess sails in 2012.

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