Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Empress of the Seas to sail short cruises from Miami

Empress of the Seas to sail short cruises from Miami

Royal Caribbean International said the Empress of the Seas will offer short cruises out of Miami, beginning in March.
The 1,600-passenger ship, built in 1990 as the Nordic Empress, is returning to Royal Caribbean from Pullmantur as part of a fleet reduction of the Spanish cruise line. Pullmantur and Royal Caribbean are sister lines.
Royal Caribbean said the Empress will offer four- and five-night cruises to Nassau, Bahamas; Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico; Grand Cayman; and Key West, Fla.
The ship will stay late in the evening at many destinations, and will overnight in Cozumel on select cruises.
Royal Caribbean currently offers short cruises to the Bahamas from Miami on the Majesty of the Seas.

Frank Del Rio, CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings

Frank Del Rio, CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings

I think 2016 will be very, very good for the travel business and the cruise industry in particular.
Overall, the world economic picture is improving. The Fed raising interest rates for the first time in eight years is about as bullish a signal as you could have that the economy is strong and not likely to fall back on recessionary conditions. The travel industry in particular wants that because travel is a discretionary expense; you travel when you have money in your pocket. If the government confirms what we’re seeing in our everyday business, that will help boost consumer confidence, which will lead to more business for everyone. So I’m bullish on what we’re seeing in America.
In some parts of the world, what’s hurting our industry is foreign exchange. The Canadian dollar is very weak. The euro is very weak. The pound, miraculously, has stayed very level-headed, and our business in the U.K. is growing double digits across all three brands.
In Asia, currency is not an issue. It’s all about the emerging Asian market, dominated by China, and we believe that that will continue. A survey by UBS came out that confirmed the Chinese consumer is now more engaged than ever in the cruise space as a vacation alternative. They’re learning more about what differentiates the brands. That’s very, very good news for us.
Mexico is a little weaker than it has been in the past. But as far as markets go, perhaps the biggest weakness, from a pure economic structural perspective, is South America. Brazil is the big engine there, and they’re going through their recession now. Although different operators do have some capacity there, South America is not a dominant source market for the cruise industry, so I don’t see that as a huge headwind.
We’re now a global industry in every sense of the word. We source globally, our ships travel globally, so it’s impossible to pitch a perfect game. Somewhere in the world, where we source or we travel, will have problems. Sometimes they’re economic, sometimes they’re geopolitical, sometimes they’re both, but barring a proliferation of what we saw in Paris, what we saw in San Bernardino — that’s always the elephant in the room.
We used to say that the Europeans would bounce back faster than the Americans [from terrorism] because Europeans were perhaps better prepared to deal with these shocks. But Americans, perhaps not at the same level, do realize that terrorism is a fact of life these days, and it could happen in New York City, it could happen in Paris. The shock comes, and I think it fades more quickly than it would’ve faded pre-9/11.
The cruise industry as a whole is gaining vs. other vacation alternatives. The whole world is engaged in cruising, and that’s good for everyone, good for the economies of the places that we visit, good for the shipbuilding industry, good for the major cruise lines.
The Escape cost nearly $1 billion. You can enjoy it for under $150 a day. You can’t stay at the Dew Drop Inn in Pahokee for $150 a day.
And I think the good news is that the major cruise lines are all publicly traded and in the hands of professional managers. There is a board of directors, and there are shareholders to answer to. You have to run the business professionally, and I think that if you speak to my colleagues, they will tell you that what we all want is measured growth. The industry is growing, but we don’t want overcapacity. We don’t think overcapacity is around the corner anytime soon, and I think that the limitation in the shipbuilding side of the equation is sort of the regulator for that. The industry can well handle the six to eight ships that the shipbuilding industry can deliver annually.
We’ve publicly stated that 2016 will be a record year, a breakout year for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. We expect to have more revenue, more passengers booked, higher occupies and higher pricing than we did this time last year. The Caribbean is particularly strong, Alaska is particularly strong, Europe has been trending very well. Right now, it’s looking very good, and the commentary that I’ve heard from my colleagues in the industry mirrors what we’re seeing at Norwegian: strong worldwide demand, which is allowing prices to rise. That’s good news for our travel agent partners because they’ll earn higher commissions, and the consumer is still getting one heck of a value. 
On the Norwegian side, 2016 will be a year of execution, another year where we’ll elevate the customer experience. I’ve said many times that Norwegian is not the bottom dweller. It’s at the highest level of the contemporary space, and we intend to dominate that space, not only with our new ships like the Escape, Getaway, Breakaway and Epic but also by keeping the legacy fleet in tip-top condition. 
You’ll learn more about our plans about that early in the coming year. We’ll have a major announcement to make. And, of course, we’re getting ready for two new destinations: China, with the Norwegian ship that comes out midyear 2017, and I believe that at some time in 2016 an American cruise ship will sail into Havana harbor. That’ll be historic for both countries and the cruise industry. The last time Cuba was open to Americans, the cruise industry as we know it today didn’t exist.
And we’re excited about the two additions to the Oceania and Regent fleets. We’ve got the Sirena coming online in April, the fourth of our R-class vessels. She’s undergoing a top-to-bottom refurbishment, which will instantly bring her up to the Oceania standard. And she’s selling very, very well.
And then there is the Explorer, the first vessel launched by Regent since 2003. She will be, without question, the most luxurious cruise ship ever built. Her public rooms are magnificent. Her suites and staterooms are the largest at sea. The balcony isn’t just a place to peep your head out and catch some wind but actually to go out and enjoy the sea. The cuisine, how do I articulate how good it is? I can look you in the eye and tell you that there is no restaurant in Miami — and I’ve not been to any restaurant in New York — that has the kind of quality and variety of styles that you’re going to find aboard the Explorer. We have an exciting inaugural planned, and I’ll tell you this: It is the antithesis of Pitbull [the godfather of the Escape]. I’ll let your mind wander as to who that might be.

She is selling like we’ve never seen anything before, with per diems in excess of $1,000. The $10,000-a-night owner suite is sold out for all the sailings that we have published. There’s a waiting list on every single one of those departures. People recognize this is the best of the best of the world, and there’s plenty of money floating out there, and they all want in.
And I get to be the first one who ever sleeps on that bed and enjoys that suite.

2015 Year in review

2015Year in review

By Johanna Jainchill

Cuba. Terrorism. Mergers. Lufthansa's GDS fee. Crystal Cruises. Fathom. The sharing economy. The open skies feud. The strong dollar.

For travelers, 2015 was bookended by news about borders. The year began with the nudging open of borders that had been closed to U.S. tourists for a half century but ended with calls to tighten borders worldwide.

In January, the historical thaw between the U.S. and Cuba began a process that makes travel to the long-forbidden island much easier, but by December, there was a very real possibility that the U.S. and Europe might tighten their borders in the face of terrorism, raising new barriers to travel.
The industry can only hope to reclaim the optimism that ushered in 2015. But given the recent terror attacks and the coming election campaign, that's anyone's guess.

Here, in no particular order, are the topics we think made the year most memorable:


The extent to which Cuba managed to dominate travel talk for much of 2015 was dizzying.
It's hard to believe that just one year ago this month, President Obama announced that the U.S. would restore diplomatic ties with the Caribbean's largest island nation. Since then, every few months, Washington and Havana have taken steps that seemed to inch the two nations closer to normalized relations, from the U.S. removing Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism to both reopening embassies in each other's capitals for the first time since 1961.

On the travel front, the pace of change was even more frenetic. The administration eased travel restrictions to Cuba in January so U.S. citizens no longer had to apply for individual licenses from the Treasury Department to travel there but could instead self-report that they were visiting under one of 12 categories of allowable travel, ranging from educational to humanitarian to religious reasons.
The industry pounced.

Several major tour operators have since debuted their first Cuba tours, including Apple Vacations, Abercrombie & Kent and Travel Impressions.

In February, became the first OTA to enable U.S. travelers to book flights between the U.S. and Cuba, albeit through third countries, a capability it expanded to direct charter flights later in the year. Several commercial airlines began increasing charter flight schedules to Cuba, and the GDSs said they had readied or were in the process of readying their systems to accept regularly scheduled commercial flights to the island.

All of that took place well before the U.S. State Department said last week that the U.S. and Cuba had reached an agreement to resume direct commercial flights between the countries.
With hotel development in Cuba still decades behind, it seemed natural that a cruise line would be among the first suppliers to introduce products for the island. Carnival Corp.'s new social impact brand, Fathom, said it would become that line, obtaining a license from the U.S. government to sail to Cuba in the spring of 2016.

The only thing that could stand in Fathom's way of marking that milestone is the pace at which Cuba has been opening to Americans; it's very possible that by then, all travel restrictions will have been lifted, making Cuban ports regular stops on Caribbean itineraries.


Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks 14 years ago, travelers in general have become more inured to threats of violence. But this year, their resilience has been tested by an increasing number of violent incidents.

It started in January with the Paris attacks on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Though tourists weren't targeted, the attacks took place in the most visited city in the world.
Then in two separate incidents in Tunisia, cruise passengers visiting a Tunis museum were among the victims of a terrorist attack that left 23 dead, and 38 tourists, primarily from Britain, were gunned down at the seaside resort of Sousse.

Yet there were no serious ripples to the U.S. travel industry at large until November's twin attacks by ISIS. The first brought down a Russian MetroJet airliner taking tourists home from Egypt's Sinai peninsula, killing all 224 people onboard. The second was the terrorist attacks on Nov. 13 that killed 130 people in Paris cafes, a concert hall and a soccer stadium.
The Paris attacks brought tourism in France to a near standstill, as did raids tied to the resulting investigation in nearby Brussels. The events sparked discussions about securing borders in both the U.S. and Europe.

For the tourism industry, the fallout could have serious implications. Talks of reintroducing border controls among Europe's 26 open-border countries would significantly change how travelers move through the Continent.

In the U.S., the attacks prompted the White House to make immediate changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows citizens of 38 member countries to enter the U.S. and stay of up to 90 days without a visa. The concern was that most of the Paris attackers were citizens of France or Belgium, both VWP countries. And shortly thereafter, lawmakers introduced legislation that would add even more restrictions to the program. Members of the travel industry worry that further restrictions could deter the many millions of international travelers who peacefully visit the U.S. every year and add billions to the economy.

Terrorism has damaged tourism industries in places like Egypt and Tunisia, where it represents a crucial part of the gross domestic spending. It remains to be seen if the U.S. and Europe can devise policies to protect their citizens while also enabling them to move freely around the world.

 Merger mania

In recent years, travel industry merger and acquisition news has been dominated by airlines. But in 2015 our attention was grabbed by Marriott International's acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, creating the biggest hotel company in the world by far, and before that by Expedia's triple play: Travelocity, Orbitz and HomeAway.

Analysts quickly predicted that Marriott's $12.2 billion acquisition would necessitate the shedding of some of the combined company's 30 brands. Granted, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said shortly after the deal was announced that he expected Starwood's 11 brands to "remain in place." But he also noted that some of those brands compete -- for example, Marriott's Renaissance with Starwood's Le Meridien -- making the future unclear.

Travel advisers undoubtedly hope that Starwood's trade relations approach is the one the company hangs on to. As ASTA CEO Zane Kerby told Travel Weekly last month, Starwood has a track record of being "supporters of the trade industry," while Marriott has been "kind of on and off," a not-so-opaque reference to the hotelier's "Book Direct" campaign.

Top online news stories of 2015

We took a look at the articles on this year and ranked them by page views. Here are the 10 most popular:

1.Celebrity Cruises to go mainly with bundle pricing (June 30)
2.Report: Baha Mar resort 'unlikely' to open this year (May 12)
3.The same old story: Baha Mar opening delayed (May 6)
4.Caribbean and Mexico resorts plagued by sargassum outbreak (Aug. 30)
5.Low water levels plague Europe river cruises (Sept. 2)
6.Dominican Republic tops in Caribbean tourism, and growing (May 21)
7.Margaritaville's presence grows from song to eateries to resorts (Jan. 4)
8.Harmony of the Seas to sail from Barcelona in 2016 (March 13)
9.Drug violence occurs near Puerto Vallarta but not in tourist areas (May 4)
10.RCCL stops discounting close-in bookings for most cruises (April 20)

For OTAs, the Marriott/Starwood merger is not good news because the combined company will have more than 1.1 million rooms globally, giving it substantial distribution leverage.

But OTAs have been busy consolidating, as well. Expedia acquired Travelocity for $280 million in January, Orbitz Worldwide for $1.34 billion in September and HomeAway for $3.9 billion last month. HomeAway and its brands, including, accelerate Expedia's efforts to gain share in the private-accommodations sector, while Orbitz and Travelocity help it compete against Priceline, which itself acquired a $60 million stake in Brazil-based OTA Hotel Urbano.

And just as OTAs can't be thrilled about the Marriott/Starwood combo, the same goes for hotels being wary about Expedia's buying spree. In an objection to the Orbitz deal filed with the U.S. Justice Department, the American Hotel & Lodging Association asserted the deal would raise consumer costs and hurt small hotel operators.

Lufthansa's GDS fee
When the airlines of the Lufthansa Group (Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines and Swiss International Air Lines) in September added a fee of 16 euros to every booking made via a GDS, they were not the first airlines to attempt to circumvent the GDSs and persuade travel agents to book direct.
But considering the way Lufthansa has dug in its heels on the issue, it apparently plans to be the first carrier to make the strategy stick. Lufthansa Chief Commercial Officer Jens Bischof said shortly after implementing the surcharge that it was intended to "disrupt" the travel distribution landscape and was about much more than the fee itself.

"We are very aware that our new distribution strategy is disruptive, and it will change the future way of distribution," Bischof told the Association of Corporate Travel Executives.
Bischof's words only further inflamed travel sellers who had been steering business away from Lufthansa since the surcharge went into effect, attempting to send a message to the rest of the airline industry that it should not follow suit.

Rather than reverse direction under the pressure of what at least one GDS reported were depressed Lufthansa sales after the surcharge went into effect, Lufthansa inked an enhanced distribution agreement with Google Flights, signaling that the German carrier was resolute in its trajectory away from GDSs.

Crystal Cruises

In 2015, Crystal Cruises was the mouse that roared. For years, the luxury cruise line's loyal clientele enjoyed a high-quality product on two beautiful but aging ships. Each year travel sellers would ask if the line planned to expand, but for more than a decade, it did not.

Then along came Edie.

Upon taking the helm as Crystal's CEO two years ago, Edie Rodriguez famously said that her plan was to grow the line to "seven ships for seven seas." What she didn't say then was that the boast was just a start.

Rodriguez later said that she only took the job because she had been promised the line would find a buyer willing to grow it. Genting Hong Kong became that buyer, and last summer Crystal announced the most ambitious expansion plan in recent cruise history: three new 1,000-passenger ships, plus an expansion into river cruising, yacht sailings and luxury private-jet tours.

Crystal not only ordered the ships, but to avoid any delays in delivery, Genting bought Lloyd Werft, the European shipyard that had been contracted to build them. Last month, Crystal acquired a Boeing 777-200LR for its Crystal Luxury Air startup, and Crystal Yacht Cruises was scheduled to debut just before Christmas with the Crystal Esprit, an extensively refurbished, 62-passenger yacht.

While some industry watchers might be skeptical that Crystal can deliver all that it says it will, so far it has.

Baha Mar

Bahamas' star-crossed mega-resort was also among the industry's most talked-about projects this year, though for all the wrong reasons.

The $3.5 billion project, the most expensive development in Bahamas' history, was originally slated to open in Nassau by the end of 2014 and fly the flags of luxury brands Grand Hyatt, SLS and Rosewood in addition to an eponymous casino-hotel and the pre-existing Melia Nassau Beach.
Beset by delays, that date was pushed to spring, and by the time spring came and went, the question became not when but if the resort would ever open.

The Chinese-backed project filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June under the auspices of wanting to complete construction and open as soon as possible. But instead of moving the project along, bankruptcy only made things messier: Talks among the developer, lender, contractor and the Bahamian government became contentious; Rosewood begged out of its licensing agreement with the development; the U.S. Bankruptcy Court threw out the case in September; Baha Mar laid off thousands of workers in the fall; and Bahamas court officials prepared to start a potential liquidation process in November.

All this, even as Baha Mar officials declared the project 97% finished.

With no imminent resolution likely, it appears Baha Mar has very little chance to capture any of this year's Caribbean high-season dollars, which it sorely needs. The question for 2016 is: Will it ever

The sharing economy

As peer-to-peer travel businesses become ever more mainstream and take a larger piece of the lodging pie, it would make sense for hotels to double down in opposition to home-rental services like Airbnb, which hoteliers insist depress their revenue.

Instead, a surprising trend that emerged in 2015 was of traditional hotel brands doing the exact opposite: cutting deals with the upstarts.

Both Hyatt Hotels and Wyndham Worldwide put their money in home-sharing websites; Hyatt invested an undisclosed sum in London-based Onefinestay, which rents out luxury homes in cities such as New York and Paris, and Wyndham entered into a partnership with London-based home-exchange operator Love Home Swap.

Beyond hoteliers, other traditional travel sellers also moved into the segment. Signature Travel Network entered into an agreement for its travel adviser members to sell Onefinestay's upscale inventory, and Expedia bought HomeAway for $3.9 billion last month, along with its brands, including and

Both deals offered strong indications that the travel distribution side recognizes the value of the home-rental model.

Fathom, Carnival Corp.'s new for-profit, social-impact cruise brand, made waves this year for many reasons, one of which was that it was so unusual for Carnival.

Then again, the launch underscored how much Carnival has changed in the last few years under its new CEO, Arnold Donald. Last year, that change was manifested in the line's renewed outreach to the trade. This year, it was the launch of the first do-good cruise line by any major brand.
Fathom will take guests to foreign countries to participate in cooperative social projects, starting in the Dominican Republic in April, followed by Cuba in May.

The launch also pointed to the power of the millennial generation, which seems to have firmly overtaken boomers as the go-to market in almost every business segment. When Carnival launched Fathom, it was clear that millennials were on its mind, primarily ones who would not have otherwise cruised, and even more specifically, the "purpose-driven millennial," according to the brand's founding director, Tara Russell.

Research supports this line of thinking. The results of a comprehensive survey by Tourism Cares on the philanthropic traveler, released in September, found that millennials are particularly tuned in to social-impact travel: On average, they volunteer more than double the hours and donate nearly three times the money that travelers 55 and older do. Further, 81% volunteered during their travels in the past two years, and 50% said they intended to plan more trips around giving back.

Open skies

Few areas of travel regulation seem to divide the industry more than airline policies, and this year, the open skies debate was the most divisive issue of all.

The fight over whether or not Persian Gulf carriers Emirates, Etihad and Qatar should be investigated by the U.S. government for violating open skies agreements has divided the airline industry itself as well as travel marketing organizations and politicians.

At issue is the assertion by the Big Three U.S. airlines -- Delta, American and United -- that the Gulf carriers have received $42 billion in subsidies from their governments since 2004, violating open skies agreements by giving them an unfair advantage in the international aviation market. The Gulf carriers deny this charge.

U.S. cargo carriers and smaller airlines like JetBlue as well as the U.S. Travel Association oppose any restrictions on the expansion of the Gulf carriers' U.S. routes, arguing that open competition is best for all and promote travel.

The battles escalated this fall when Delta and United said they would suspend Dubai routes from Atlanta and Washington, respectively. Delta said it would redeploy resources to "where it can compete on a level playing field that's not distorted by subsidized, state-owned airlines."

While many city and state politicians have voiced support for the Big Three U.S. airlines, who warn the subsidies will mean fewer jobs in their cities and states, the Obama administration has made no move so far on the issue. And if the airlines continue to enjoy record profits in 2016, it is doubtful there would be any public support for changes that could lead to higher airfares and fewer consumer choices.

Strong dollar, weak yuan

For China and the U.S., 2015 has been a tale of two currencies. The dollar surged for most of 2015, while the yuan suffered a serious slump. The impact has been a mixed bag for the industry.

The yuan's weakness threatens to erode outbound Chinese travel, which is the fastest-growing overseas source market for U.S. travel spending. The yuan's downturn has already affected U.S.-based hotel-casino operators in Macau, the Hong Kong-area destination where travelers from mainland China account for about two-thirds of visitors.

The strong dollar, meanwhile, has helped what agents in the spring said had been a 20% jump in international travel, according to Travel Weekly's annual Consumer Trends report. And some tour operators, including Tauck and Trafalgar, said the strong dollar enabled them to drop prices for 2016.
On the downside, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that the tourism trade balance had dropped 17% for the first eight months of 2015, meaning that American were spending more money overseas than in-bound tourists were spending on U.S. soil.

Starwood's CFO said in October that New York faced "pressure" from fewer international travelers "due to the strong dollar," and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. in April reported that with the majority of its onboard prices in U.S. dollars, international passengers were buying less while sailing.

The party may be over, or just beginning, depending on where you stand. After surging for most of the year against other world currencies, the dollar's value began to drop in October.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Windstar ship runs aground near Panama

Windstar ship runs aground near Panama

Windstar Cruises said the Star Pride, a 212-passenger ship, ran aground at Isla de Coba, Panama, and suffered some hull damage.
On a posting on its Facebook page, Windstar said everyone on the 212-pasenger ship was safe. Guests disembarked as scheduled for a private-island event.
After determining that the ship was unable to sail, Windstar canceled the rest of the cruise. Passengers were transferred from the island location to other ships: Windstar's Star Breeze and Paul Gauguin Cruises'  Tere Moana. 
Windstar said the guests were routed through Golfito, Costa Rica, to San Jose, where they had the option to stay in Costa Rica for the balance of their vacation or to fly home early. They received a 100% refund plus a future cruise credit for 100% of their fare paid.
Windstar said the Star Pride will be towed to the port of Balboa in Panama for further inspections and repairs. The Dec. 26 cruise has been canceled.

Disney revises Mediterranean voyage

Disney revises Mediterranean voyage

Disney Cruise Line altered a Mediterranean cruise next summer to eliminate port calls in Greece, Turkey and Malta.
The 12-night cruise on the Disney Magic is scheduled to depart Barcelona on Aug. 1.  Its original itinerary included Athens as well as Mykonos in Greece, Kusadasi in Turkey and Valletta in Malta.
Other cruise lines have scrapped calls to the Greek island of Lesbos because of the refugee crisis and Turkey because of security concerns.
Disney has revised the itinerary almost completely, leaving only one port, Civitavecchia, from the original lineup. The cruise will now call in Olbia, Sardinia; Civitavecchia, Naples and Livorno, Italy; Palermo, Sicily; Villefranche-sur-Mer and Cannes, France; and Palma de Mallorca.
In a letter to travel agents, Disney said, “We realize this is a considerable change from the previously published itinerary and hope you and your client understand our desire to only provide the best possible experiences to our guests."
Customers have been given a choice of a refund, a change of sailings, or a $1,000 onboard credit if they stick with their original booking.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

At Flytographer, a local photographer to capture vacation memories

At Flytographer, a local photographer to capture vacation memories

In the age of selfies and social media, everyone’s a photographer, and snippets of our daily lives and travels are on constant display.
But while we are all busy snapping and posting pictures of our meals, our hotel rooms and our toes sticking up from a lounge chair at the edge of that beautiful beach, many travelers also return home to find they don’t have any great pictures of themselves with their friends, family or spouses that capture the truly special moments from their trip.
It was just such a dilemma that inspired Nicole Smith to found Flytographer, a service that hooks up photographers in 160 cities around the world with travelers looking for candid, quality pictures from their special trips.
Recently named a top travel gift for 2016 by TripAdvisor and Forbes, Smith said she came up with the idea for the business in 2011, when she was on a girl’s getaway weekend in Paris with her best friend, who she hadn’t seen in four years.
After trying to capture the event through selfies with “that floating head effect” and blurry pictures taken by the occasional stranger that she said made her look “like I had seven chins,” Smith said they asked a third friend who had joined them for brunch to follow them around with her phone and snap some candid shots.
“She did that for about 20 minutes,” Smith said. “I looked at my phone and I literally got goose bumps because she captured that weekend like we never could."
Smith started Flytographer in 2103. The company now has more than 300 photographers in most major cities and on every continent except Antarctica. And she said they are adding more every week.
Honeymooners are among Flytographer’s biggest customers, Smith said; some were given the service as a wedding gift.
Smith said the service is also big with couples on anniversary trips, as well as families and multigenerational travelers, who are gathering in some of the world’s most beautiful destinations and “can’t trust Uncle Bob to take the pictures because he never nails it."
Such shoots from family trips, she said, are a great alternative to a studio or backyard photo session.
Solo travelers also like to hire Flytographer, she said, because “obviously it’s hard to capture memories when you’re alone."
“We also hear from solo travelers that they love having this wing man, who is a true local,” Smith said.
That local angle is an added benefit to the service. Smith says the company only hires “someone you would want to have a drink with in that city, not someone who’s going to boss you around,” and “locals who are genuinely passionate about playing host."
The company has a travel agent program that pays a minimum 10% commission. This year it was a sponsoring exhibitor at the International Luxury Travel Market in Cannes, France.

Costa trials onboard robots

Costa trials onboard robots

Costa trials onboard robots
Pepper robots are being used on board Costa and Aida cruise ships

Costa Group has signed an exclusive agreement with French company Aldebaran to use its Pepper robots on board vessels to assist passengers on Costa and Aida cruise ships. Pepper is the world’s first robot that reads main human emotions.
Michael Thamm, chief executive of the Costa Group, said: “With an emotional robot on board our cruise ships we are once again continuing our tradition of innovation. For us, this is an important step towards a digital future for our brands.”
Pepper has successfully completed a trial on board AIDAstella. The first batch of Peppers will join the crew and start helping on board AIDAprima and Costa Diadema in spring 2016, guiding guests when they embark and while on board. They will also be on hand to provide recommendations and tips on restaurants, events and excursions. They can communicate in German, Italian and English. By summer of 2016 the rest of the robots will be joining the crew aboard the Costa and Aida fleets.
Pepper was developed in Japan and is the first humanoid robot capable of recognising the main emotions and to take his environment into account and proactively act accordingly. Pepper is well equipped with features and a high-level interface for communicating with those around him, to move fluidly and analyse expressions and voice tones using the latest advances in voice and emotion recognition.
The robot measures 120cm tall and weighs 28kg. Its movement is provided by three omnidirectional wheels while a 3D camera detects people and their movements and it has a 10 inch touch screen.
It has still to be decided whether the Peppers have to meet STCW training requirements.

Meyer Werft deploys Dassault’s passenger ship design solutions

Meyer Werft deploys Dassault’s passenger ship design solutions

Meyer Werft deploys Dassault’s passenger ship design solutions
Naval architects can use the 3D Experience platform to design complex cruise ships

German shipyard Meyer Werft has started using Dassault Systèmes’ 3DExperience design and product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions to engineer and build passenger ships. It is using the On Time to Sea and Designed for Sea industry-specific software to improve the efficiency of designing and building cruise ships and ferries, and to enhance the skills of its workforce.
Meyer Werft has deployed Dassault’s programs in its new technology and development centre in Papenburg, Germany. Here the shipbuilder is pooling most of the design and development work from its 500 designers and engineers. Dassault’s software will also support additional teams in Papenburg and at sites in Rostock, Germany and in Finland that are involved in building cruise ships, river cruise ships, ferries and other vessels. The 3DExperience platform assists the complex task of designing and engineering cruise ships, which could have more than 10 million individual parts and assemblies. The complexity, diversity and large volume of data involved require efficient solutions to design and build these ships.
With the software, Meyer Werft’s design and development teams can use a unified digital environment to monitor the entire lifecycle of a ship, from its construction and operation to its decommissioning. Virtual design, engineering and project management applications help seamlessly address complex needs in product development and process requirements. “Thanks to the 3DExperience platform, we can foster collaborative creativity that fulfils the highest technical demands of passenger ship owners worldwide from hull shape, hydrodynamics and fuel consumption, to capacity and onboard comfort and entertainment,” said Meyer Werft technical director Philip Gennotte. “Today’s shipbuilding is a highly modern industry that requires a combination of ideas, knowledge and technology in order to introduce sophisticated, future-oriented touristic concepts.”

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

MSC Seaside bookings open

MSC Seaside bookings open

The MSC Seaside is scheduled to sail its maiden voyage in December 2017.

MSC Cruises said it has begun accepting bookings from repeat customers for MSC Seaside, a new ship that will be based in Miami.
Guests who are members of MSC’s Voyager Club will get their standard 5% discount, plus a bonus Classic drink package applicable to first and second guest in a stateroom. Bookings for the general public open Dec. 29 with the same drinks package offer.
The 4,100-passenger ship is expected to sail week-long Caribbean cruises; its first cruise is scheduled to leave Dec. 21, 2017. Prices start at $589 per person, MSC said.
Seaside will feature a unique 360-degree ocean level promenade on Deck 8 that will include indoor/outdoor shops and restaurants, as well as a buffet area and a pool, which are traditionally located on a cruise ship’s higher decks.

Norwegian Cruise Line toughens cancellation terms

Norwegian Cruise Line toughens cancellation terms

Norwegian Escape, Getaway, and Breakaway.

Norwegian Cruise Line announced new terms for canceling booked cruises that will require earlier decisions about backing out of trips and impose higher penalties on cancellations.
The changes, which take effect on bookings made after Jan. 1, are complex. But on one common product, the cruise or cruise tour of 7 days or longer, the least costly cancellation will require forfeit of 25% of the cruise fare for bookings cancelled 76 to 89 days from sailing.
The current policy is loss of deposit for bookings cancelled 56 to 75 days before sailing.
Cancellations 60 to 75 days out come with a 50% penalty, those from 31-60 days a 75% penalty and within 30 days, 100% penalty.
The current schedule penalizes cancellations from 29 to 55 days out at 50%, and those from 15 to 28 days at 75%.  Currently, when guests cancel within 14 days of sailing, they lose their full fare.
Standard deposits will be $100 per person on cruises of two to six days, $250 on cruises seven to nine days and $400 on voyages 10 days or longer.
Final payment will be due 75 days from sailings of two to six days and 90 days on longer voyages. Holiday sailings will require final payment 120 days from sailing, except for the Norwegian Sky.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Anthem of the Seas Now Sailing in the U.S.

Anthem of the Seas Now Sailing in the U.S.

Anthem of the Seas enters New York
Anthem of the Seas sailed past the Statue of Liberty and around Manhattan on a night of such warmth and clarity that it was hard for me to realize the month was November. I sat in the ship’s beautiful conservatory and marveled at how welcoming such a huge vessel could be.
A ceremony marked the arrival of the Royal Caribbean International ship in the U.S., and Anthem made a glowing entrance. The onboard entertainment, dining and accommodations incited the same excitement seen in the U.K. for the vessel earlier this year. Americans were particularly enthusiastic about features such as the large virtual balconies in the inside staterooms, where people with live-streaming “windows” saw more dolphins and whales on the transatlantic crossing than many of those with balcony staterooms.
Doug Grau, director of sales for the Western U.S. for Royal Caribbean, says the active lifestyle activities available onboard — from a skydiving simulator to circus school — are an especially good match for Western travelers, who tend to be energetic and outdoors-oriented, falling within Royal Caribbean’s psychographic. The top-flight entertainment, including the amazing “We Will Rock You” Broadway musical, tribute bands and cabaret shows, is also a particularly strong draw for the West. 
“There is huge interest in Western states for Anthem (Quantum-class) and Oasis-class ships, and 30 percent of Royal’s sales coming out of the West is for these ships,” Grau said.
However, Grau finds a gap between agent experience and demand. When he talks to agent groups and asks how many have sailed with Royal Caribbean, most have; however, when he asks how many have been onboard during the past few years, only a handful respond affirmatively. Grau notes that when Mariner of the Seas came to the West, it was the first time many agents had seen the ship — and it was nearly 10 years old.
At the rate that the line’s ship design and customer experience has changed, this means Western agents are missing out on the modernized Royal Caribbean, Grau says.
“If you aren’t selling these ships, your customers are buying them elsewhere,” Grau said. “I tell them it is well worth the investment to attend the East Coast Cruise 360 sessions and inspect a number of recent ships. Large ships scare a lot of agents, who are afraid their clients will be caught in long lines and tied up for hours when embarking. We’ve done everything possible, both in terms of design and technology, to make the experience human-sized and comfortable. We have more rooms that hold 80 or 90 people than ever before.” 
These efforts are paying off. At Anthem’s embarkation on Nov. 4 in Cape Liberty, N.J., Royal Caribbean representatives with iPads checked passengers in as they were dropped off at the port. Common questions I heard from guests were, “Is that all?” and “What do I do now?” The answer: “Go right to your stateroom and enjoy the ship.” 
My own check-in experience, complete with credit card scan and photo ID, which I had not done in advance, was five minutes from start to finish — considerably shorter than check-in on ships less than a quarter the size of Anthem. 
During Anthem’s first cruise from the U.S., Royal Caribbean announced an order for a fifth Quantum-class ship to be delivered in fall 2020.
“It is such a pleasure to announce the order of another Quantum-class ship as we are welcoming Anthem of the Seas to North America," said Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. 
Fain says although there have been some tweaks in food, drink and entertainment, the Oasis and Quantum ships cross international markets with ease. 
"These ships have been received with excitement by passengers and crew and have performed exceptionally well across the globe,” he said. “We fully expect that momentum to continue as we add to this innovative class." 

Jazz artist Herbie Hancock to play QM2 crossing

Jazz artist Herbie Hancock to play QM2 crossing

Herbie Hancock
Jazz legend Herbie Hancock is the latest artist to be announced in Cunard Line’s jazz-at-sea themed transatlantic crossings on the Queen Mary 2.
Hancock will perform three 45-minute shows on the Aug. 1 voyage from Southampton, England, to New York. 
A pianist, Hancock played early in his career with Miles Davis and wrote several modern jazz standards such as "Maiden Voyage" and "Watermelon Man." 
Jazz singer Gregory Porter is scheduled to play on a crossing departing Oct. 25 from New York as part of Cunard’s partnership with Blue Note Records and Blue Note Jazz Clubs.

Caribbean cruise pricing strengthens, analyst says

Caribbean cruise pricing strengthens, analyst says

Norwegian Star in Cabo San Lucas By Dave Jones
Prices have substantially risen for cruises in the Caribbean, according to a survey taken by Wall Street brokerage Susquehanna Financial Group.
In a report published Dec. 14, analyst Rachel Rothman said first-quarter prices in the Caribbean are up 13.8% at Carnival Corp., 7.6% at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., and 26.1% at Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. Rothman noted that the comparison at Norwegian is skewed by the replacement of the Norwegian Pearl and Epic with the newer Getaway and Escape in the Caribbean.
For the second quarter, the survey showed Carnival’s Caribbean pricing is up 15.7 %, while RCCL and NCLH are down 5.8% and 6.6%, respectively.
In the Mediterranean, Carnival’s first-quarter pricing is up 23% but Norwegian Cruise Line is down 6.5%. The report noted that Royal Caribbean and NCLH's Oceania and Regent Seven Seas brands don’t offer Med cruises in the first quarter.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Report: MSC in talks to acquire a private island near Bimini

Report: MSC in talks to acquire a private island near Bimini

MSC Cruises may be in the process of acquiring an island in the Bahamas for use as a private destination, according to comments made by a Bahamian minister. 

A private island would fill a competitive gap in MSC's Caribbean product with other major cruise lines there, all of which have their own islands as part of their itineraries. 

To date, MSC has not had enough ships sailing from South Florida to justify its own stop in the Bahamas. But starting in 2017 it will have a new ship, the MSC Seaside, sailing Caribbean itineraries in addition to the MSC Divina, which currently sails from Miami.

Ken Muskat, MSC's executive vice president for sales, public relations and guest services, said he couldn't comment on the possibility, saying, "It all has been pure speculation thus far." 

Buzz about an MSC private island intensified after Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie brought up the project in a communication to the House of Assembly in late November.

Christie said MSC is considering an island about 20 miles south of Bimini known locally as Ocean Cay. 

"We are negotiating an [agreement] now that they're going to put a new destination there, hire Bahamians, and as a result of approval they will also start an academy to train Bahamians in Freeport," Christie was quoted as saying in the Nassau Guardian newspaper.

He said the budget for developing Ocean Cay as a cruise port ranges between $100 million and $200 million.

Ocean Cay covers 95 acres and was built through a dredge-and-fill process in 1970 as a base for a sand-mining operation. It was recently discussed as a site for a liquefied natural gas import terminal.

Lindblad signs $94.6 million contract for two new ships

Lindblad signs $94.6 million contract for two new ships

The ships will be outfitted with modern expedition technology, including a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and video microscope.

Lindblad Expedition Holdings said it signed a contract to build two new ships for delivery in 2017 and 2018.
The contract calls for Nichols Brothers Boat Builders to construct two 100-passenger coastal cruisers at its shipyard on Whidbey Island in Washington state.
The first ship is contracted at $48 million and the second at $46.8 million, Lindblad said. 
The ships will be U.S. flagged. Nichols Brothers also built two of Lindblad’s current vessels, the National Geographic Sea Lion and National Geographic Sea Bird.
Of the 50 cabins, 22 will have balconies and eight can be configured into four adjoining cabins for families, Lindblad said.
Lindblad said the two ships will be outfitted with modern expedition technology, including a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), video microscope, and a hydrophone and bow cam designed for immediate bow deployment to hear and film humpback whale vocalizations and see bow-riding dolphins.

Carnival reshuffle 'will help differentiate P&O and Cunard'

Carnival reshuffle 'will help differentiate P&O and Cunard'

The reshuffle of Carnival UK’s leadership team will help to create “better brand focus and differentiation” between sister brands P&O Cruises and Cunard.

Speaking at the Clia Cruise Forum in Tilbury, David Dingle, chairman of Carnival UK, said the changes would be particularly beneficial to Cunard in helping to drive international growth for the brand.

In August the line revealed Gerard Tempest, formerly chief commercial officer for Carnival UK, was to leave the company. In his place positions were created at the helm of P&O, with Paul Ludlow put in change, and Cunard, a position which is still being recruited for.

Dingle said all businesses should constantly be under review to ensure their efficiency and development.

He said: “In the UK we went through a period where we tried to create as much organisational synergy for our brands as possible because through that you have greater efficiency, particularly cost efficiency.

“You have to be careful to differentiate still. Going round full circle again (reviewing the business and changing the leadership team) we believe it’s time to drive the brands harder, particularly for Cunard.

“We want to grow the international sourcing of the brand so we have to have much greater brand focus so that’s why we want to have some really brand specific leadership.

“We continue to develop the P&O brand and we’ve revitalized it over the past months and now we want to move forward and capitalise on that and dare I say think about what the next P&O cruises new ship might look for, should we decide to order it.”

Saturday, 5 December 2015

P&O Cruises' Britannia to host Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway

P&O Cruises' Britannia to host Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway

P&O Cruises is to host a special episode of Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway live from the top deck of its flagship Britannia in Barcelona – and will launch a competition in the New Year for agents to be on board.
Throughout the next series of ITV’s award-winning show, 200 viewers of Saturday Night Takeaway will have the chance to win 100 free cabins on a 14-night cruise from Southampton to the Mediterranean and back, which will include an overnight call in Barcelona where the special episode will be filmed live on board.
The sailing will leave Southampton on March 27, 2016 and call at Cadiz, Barcelona, Civitavecchia (Rome), Ajaccio, Corsica and Gibraltar before returning to Southampton on April 10.
Top TV duo Ant and Dec will be joined for the special show by celebrity guests, and will stage all their usual stunts, performances and competitions in front of the winning viewers, regular passengers and those agents who win a place on board.
The competition for agents to join the sailing and be part of the show will be run exclusively in Travel Weekly in early 2016.
P&O Cruises senior vice president of sales & marketing Paul Ludlow said: "We are delighted that Britain's most popular Saturday night show will be broadcasting live from Britain's biggest and newest cruise ship.
“P&O Cruises is an inherently British brand and with Saturday night entertainment being such a popular British tradition, we thought this would be a great partnership. And there is nothing more iconic for great family fun than Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway.
“This will be a spectacular event and our guests will be able to join in the fun on the evening as Ant and Dec present a memorable show from Britannia in Barcelona."
Ludlow said the tie-up with Saturday Night Takeaway would really “open up the concept of cruise” to the masses and drive more new-to-cruise sales.
“Over the course of the series, we estimate that Saturday Night Takeaway, and the cruise giveaway and live show on board, will be seen by over 22 million people.
"They will get a glimpse of cruise and the product and it will start a conversation that people might not have had otherwise.
"We expect to see a return from so many million people seeing Britannia. We will be putting cruise into people’s conscious,” he said.
Ludlow said this was the first time P&O Cruises had entered into such a tie-up, but added: “People will have seen P&O as a brand really evolve over the last 18 months to two years.
"It really celebrates its Britishness and represents the best way for Brits to go off and do something quite adventurous but come back to somewhere that understands their tastes and that feels comfortable.”
Commenting on the opportunity for agents win a place on the sailing and the chance to be part of the live show and to meet Ant & Dec, Ludlow said:
“Inherently, most people are going to book a cruise through a travel agent and so we want to involve agents in this, so that they feel as excited as we are about it.
"We will run a competition exclusively in Travel Weekly for agents to win places – so watch this space in the New Year.”
Customers already booked on the 14-night sailing will be contacted and told about the live filming in Barcelona.
The impact on their cruise will be explained and they will be offered the chance to cancel with a full refund, or to carry on as normal. Ludlow said he “expected the majority to stick with us”.
Anyone interested in making a future booking on the sailing will be told what is happening on board before any money has changed hands.
Saturday Night Takeaway’s executive producer, Pete Ogden, said: “I am thrilled to be working with P&O Cruises to shoot a live episode of the series on board Britannia. 
"It is a huge undertaking, but I am confident that we will work together to make it a spectacular event.”