Thursday, 24 March 2011

Viking orders four river ships with balconies

Viking orders four river ships with balconies

By Michelle Baran
Viking River Cruises has finally caved to the popular balcony trend on river cruise ships. The company unveiled plans this week for four new ships that will feature private balconies and larger staterooms and suites.

The four new ships — the Freya, Idun, Njord and Odin — will be the first of a new class of vessels called Viking Longships. Viking will spend a total of $120 million on the ships, which will sail Europe itineraries in 2012.

"Should we have balconies or not? For a long time I said 'not,'" said Viking CEO Torstein Hagen.

Hagen said he had been hesitant about balconies because they eat into the square footage of cabins.

Hagen noted that by reconfiguring the layout of the ships (shifting the central corridor and adding two suites at the aft of the ship), Viking was able to add balconies without sacrificing stateroom square footage.

"It's clear that many people want to go from ocean cruising to river cruising, and people who have been on ocean cruises want balconies," said Hagen.

The 190-passenger Longships are being designed by maritime architects Yran & Storbraaten and will be 443 feet long, with 95 staterooms each.

Three-quarters of the staterooms on the new ships will feature a balcony, French balcony (doors open to a railing but no patio) or both. The layout is patent pending, according to the company.

The ships will have seven 270-square-foot Veranda suites with full balconies off the living room and French balconies off the bedroom. Thirty-nine Veranda staterooms will each have 205 square feet and full balconies.

There will also be two 445-square-foot Explorer suites at the ship's aft. These suites will have a separate living room, bedroom, bathroom and private wraparound balcony.

In addition to new cabin configurations, the Longships will have an indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace at the front of the ship, a feature Viking was able to add by squaring off the nose of the ship rather than having it come to a point.

Viking has improved upon the energy-efficient hybrid engines it installed in the Legend and Prestige, moving from a two- to a four-generator system to decrease vibrations. There will also be solar panels and an organic herb garden on the sun deck.

As for additional amenities, Hagen said, "I caved in on verandas, I did not cave in on a gym or spa."

Rather, Viking will test a "concierge program," partnering with hotels in port cities to offer guests the use of spas and fitness facilities.

The new ships will also have elevators, a feature Hagen said he agreed to "reluctantly."

The four new ships will cost $30 million each, about $5 million more than the Legend, which launched in 2009, and the Prestige, which launches later this year.

The ships are part of a plan Viking laid out last year to invest $250 million in eight new ships and two refurbishments between 2011 and 2013.

The Freya, Idun, Njord and Odin are scheduled to sail the 10-day Tulips & Windmills (roundtrip from Amsterdam), the eight-day Romantic Danube (from Budapest, Hungary, to Nuremberg, Germany) the 15-day Grand European Tour (from Amsterdam to Budapest) and the eight-day Danube Waltz (from Passau, Germany, to Budapest).

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Budget 2011: Osborne confirms no APD rise this year

Budget 2011: Osborne confirms no APD rise this year

The chancellor has confirmed a delay to this year’s APD rise to next year and said the government will seek to change international law to allow a per plane tax to be brought in.
Giving his annual Budget speech in the House of Commons, George Osborne said the government had “tried every possible option” to bring in a per plane APD, but had to conclude that it was "illegal in international law."
Confirming the decision not to go ahead with this November’s planned rise in line with inflation Osborne said it had been decided to delay the rise until next year.
The news will be greeted favourably by the travel industry, which has recently formed the A Fair Tax on Flying coalition due to worries over the amount of tax being levied on travel.
Osborne told the House of Commons that the government would also look to change the "rather arbitrary banding system of APD that appears to consider the Caribbean to be further away than part of the US and Hawaii," and bring private jets into the taxation system.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Expedition ships have evolved from spartan to luxury vessels

Expedition ships have evolved from spartan to luxury vessels

By Donna Tunney
For some people, "expedition ship" still brings to mind an image of a workhorse vessel navigating ice floes while a captain bellows orders to his crew and passengers huddle for warmth against a gale-force wind.

But that image wouldn't reflect reality, at least not anymore.

Companies that specialize in this niche market readily admit it's all about the destination experience, not the cruise experience, but the promise of arriving there in comfort and style is what keeps affluent, adventure-seeking guests booking their products.

Today's vessels have plush accommodations: spas, gourmet cuisine and fine wines, onboard enrichment programs and, in at least one case, butlers.

Most small ship and expedition lines can claim a global reach, operating in the Arctic, Antarctic and Galapagos and calling at many less-celebrated but culturally significant ports in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Asia, the South Pacific and the Far East.

Prince Albert II expedition cruise"We feature out-of-the-way ports and onboard naturalists and lecturers, but we do it all with elegance and with a French flair," said Terri Haas, chief commercial officer of Compagnie du Ponant, a Marseille, France-based small-ship line that on April 26 will launch its 264-passenger L'Austral in Marseille.

It's the fifth ship in the fleet and a sister vessel to Le Boreal, which launched about a year ago. Both ships will be deployed to Antarctica next fall, for a series of 10- to 15-night sailings priced from about $4,200 to $6,400 per person. As on other expedition ships, passengers will climb aboard Zodiacs to begin their explorations of the region's fragile environment.

Orion Expedition Cruises will also christen a ship this year. The Sydney-based line operates the 106-passenger Orion I and will add a second ship, Orion II, following a $21 million refurbishment.

Orion II, accommodating 100 guests, is the former Clelia II, which was owned and operated by Great Lakes Cruising of Ann Arbor, Mich.

Sarina Bratton founded Orion Expedition Cruises in 2004 and is managing director of the company. Orion is her second cruise line start-up. In 1997 she founded Norwegian Capricorn Line, a joint venture between Australian interests and Norwegian Cruise Line. It was acquired by Star Cruises in 2000.

"Our interpretation of expedition cruising is a combination of mentally stimulating experiences, often in remote locations rarely visited by others and often completely bypassed by tourism," Bratton said.

"Even though 2009 was a tight year, we managed to generate enough current and forward sales to meet budget and be in a position to commit to our second ship," she added.

Post-recession, Orion's advance bookings are "very strong," Bratton said, and sales for Orion II are "significantly ahead" of her business plan projections, with some expeditions sold out for 2011 and a number nearing capacity. Orion II will sail its maiden voyage, a 24-night cruise, on May 25 from Vancouver to Japan.

A sample 10-night Orion II cruise, Natural Treasures of the Russian Far East, ranges from $6,930 to $13,940 per person for a June departure.

Compagnie du Ponant's Haas said the recession affected her company's plans for L'Austral. That ship and Le Boreal were to have debuted together in early 2010, but the company decided that, mostly due to the economic downturn, it would first roll out Le Boreal and hold back on L'Austral until this year. (Although Le Boreal has been operating for a year, it was never christened in 2010, so it will be officially named next month, too.)

Haas said her company's bookings held steady through the worst of the recession.

"Even though people cut back on long itineraries, we offered shorter options, such as seven-night cruises. In fact, 80% of our itineraries are seven nights," she said.

"Prebooking for L'Austral is off the charts," she added. Compagnie du Ponant began marketing in North America just a year ago, when Le Boreal entered service. "People knew our ships because North American operators had chartered them, but they didn't know our brand."

One of those operators is Abercrombie & Kent, based in Downers Grove, Ill. Bob Simpson, vice president of business development, said the up-market operator chartered Le Boreal last winter in Antarctica and would do so again next December and January.

"We're sold out already for the January cruise, and we expect to be 80% booked for the December cruises by the end of April," he said. "Passengers are typically 55 and up, well educated, highly traveled and with high incomes. We see a lot of hedge fund guys and attorneys. They're adventure seekers who go on safari and stay in luxury lodges. They are not your typical cruise client."

There are two levels of expedition product, Simpson said: "There's cruise only, [meaning] a big, traditional ship that goes to the Antarctic but the passengers don't get off. So there are lines that land people and others that don't."

There's a big difference, Simpson said, between expedition passengers and traditional cruise-ship passengers. "It's a mistake for expedition operators to try and compete against a traditional cruise ship. Expedition ships represent a cruise experience product; we use a ship to deliver an experience."

National Geographic IslanderSimpson predicted small-ship cruising to Antarctica will continue to do well, not only because of the destination's draw but because of an expected reduction in capacity. That's thanks to regulations adopted by the International Maritime Organization that require ships in Antarctic waters to use the lightest and cleanest-burning marine gas oil, effective July 1.

That was great news to Sven Lindblad, the wildlife photographer and founder of New York-based Lindblad Expeditions.

"Some big ships would need major retrofits [to accommodate] light diesel, and I hope that will push them away," he said. "I'd be delighted to see them go. Not everything should be available to everyone. Antarctica sailings should not be part of the mainstream cruise industry."

Lindblad several years ago entered into an alliance with National Geographic that, among other things, enables the organization's scientists and explorers to join Lindblad's cruises, which are operated aboard five ships owned by the company and four that are chartered.

"Expedition cruising is all about personal development, and the people who really want to do this sort of thing consider it an investment and an education," Lindblad said.

Lindblad Expeditions bases two ships year-round in the Galapagos; it's the company's No. 1 destination.

"We bring 6,000 people a year," said Lindblad, the son of adventure travel pioneer Lars-Eric Lindblad, who led some of the first nonscientific groups of travelers to the Galapagos and Antarctica in the mid-1960s.

A 10-day Lindblad cruise in the Galapagos in mid-June ranges from $5,230 to $7,440 per person, double.

According to Lindblad, expedition cruising is a solid niche, but he added, "I'd say 2009 was the worst year for any of us since Sept. 11, 2001."

Last year, he said, was the company's best year, and "2011 is far ahead of 2010."

This year also is shaping up well for Silversea Cruises' expedition vessel, Prince Albert II.

According to Steve Tucker, vice president of field sales for Silversea, expedition customers tend to book much further out.

"They plan ahead. Even for our 2012 voyages," he said, "which were made available for booking last December, the Prince Albert II already is at a much higher occupancy than the other ships." And, he said, guests who book the expedition vessel tend to be about 10 years younger than the typical Silversea guest: 47 vs. 57.

"One thing that differentiates us from everybody else is our butler service, provided in every suite," Tucker said.

The Arctic and Antarctic are the top sellers for the 132-passenger Prince Albert II, but the ship operates across the globe. A 13-night May sailing on Prince Albert II from Leith, Scotland, to Lubeck, Germany, with calls in Denmark and Norway, for example, offers fares from $6,478 per person.

Joe Ewart, vice president of marketing for WMPH Vacations, an agency in Delray Beach, Fla., that specializes in cruises, said he works with a variety of small-ship operators.

"We find that most small-ship cruisers are motivated by the destinations and immersive experiences that are not easily replicated on large ships," Ewart said. "Because the guest is generally well informed in advance of what a small ship does and does not offer compared to larger liners, the satisfaction level is very high, as is the repeat factor." He added, "We believe this market will continue to grow as more soft-adventure enthusiasts discover this niche."

Monday, 14 March 2011

Cruise ships stay out of harm’s way in Pacific

Cruise ships stay out of harm’s way in Pacific

By Donna Tunney
The major U.S. cruise lines operating across the Pacific are experiencing virtually no effects from the massive earthquake that struck 80 miles off the coast of Japan March 11 and the tsunami waves that followed.

Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 is in Japanese waters, sailing between Osaka and Nagasaki, where it is due to arrive on Saturday, March 12.

A statement from the line said that the ship is 450 miles southwest of the epicenter of the earthquake, "and it is extremely unlikely that the ship will be affected in any way by the earthquake or its aftershocks."

The Queen Mary 2 is operating a 102-night World Voyage, which departed New York on Jan. 13.

Royal Caribbean International said that none of its brands’ ships were affected by the earthquake or tsunami and that no modifications have been made to itineraries that include Japan.

The company, which operates the Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Azamara Club lines, said it was continuing to monitor the situation.

Azamara Club Cruises’ Azamara Quest, departed a port call in Nagasaki, Japan, March 11 as scheduled. The line said that Azamara Quest was hundreds of miles from the epicenter of the earthquake, and the ship as well as all of its guests and crew are safe and sound.

"We are extremely saddened by the destruction in Japan caused by the massive earthquake. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Japan and their family members," Royal Caribbean said in a statement.

Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Serenity is operating a 14-night sailing from Sydney to Singapore and has completed a scheduled call in Bali, Indonesia. According to the line, the ship now is enroute to Singapore, as planned.

"Earlier this morning the captain reported the seas are smooth, and he doesn't expect any impact on our route. Indonesia has lifted its tsunami warning," said a spokeswoman for Crystal.

In Hawaii, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America left Nawiliwili, on the island of Kauai, at 1 a.m. March 11 and is at sea, where the line said conditions are safe for the vessel. The tsunami warning prompted the closure of Kauai’s port, where the ship was calling, but it is expected to reopen later today. When it does, NCL said, the ship will return to the island.

The Pride of America operates six-night sailings roundtrip from Honolulu. NCL said the ship would return to Honolulu on March 12, and the next cruise is expected to operate as scheduled.

The line’s Norwegian Star is operating a six-night Mexican Riviera cruise roundtrip from Los Angeles, where a tsunami warning also is in place. The ship is at sea today and will arrive as scheduled in Los Angeles Saturday, NCL said.

The line added that it continues to monitor the tsunami advisory for Hawaii and the West Coast. 

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Costa pulls out of Tunisia, Egypt, Israel - Travel Weekly

Costa pulls out of Tunisia, Egypt, Israel

By Donna Tunney
Costa Cruises has canceled calls in Tunisia, Egypt and Israel for the balance of 2011.

A statement from the line's headquarters in Genoa, Italy, said that while the company "values and appreciates the great appeal of these three countries as prime tourist destinations," due to recent events the itineraries of all its ships that call in the destinations are being changed.

The long-term policy, Costa said, would enable it to "efficiently plan and execute its complex technical and maritime operations for the entire season."

All seven-day Mediterranean cruises of the Costa Concordia, Costa Serena and Costa Magica that had a scheduled one-day call at Tunis, Tunisia, will be replaced with a one-day call at Malta, Palma de Mallorca, Spain, or Cagliari, Italy.

All Mediterranean itineraries with scheduled calls at Alexandria, Egypt, and Haifa and Ashdod, Israel, will be modified and offer alternative calls at Limassol, Cyprus; Rhodes, Greece; Marmaris, Turkey; or the newly added ports of Alanya and Antalya, Turkey.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

RCCL brands alter port calls away from Egypt

RCCL brands alter port calls away from Egypt

By Donna Tunney
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., parent of Azamara Club Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International, has altered the itineraries of several cruises with port calls in Alexandria, Egypt, due to continued uncertainty in the country.

Azamara Club Cruises' Azamara Quest, which sails from Dubai on April 24, will spend an extra day at sea and call at Santorini, Greece, rather than Alexandria.

The ship's May 6 departure from Athens (Piraeus), Greece, will substitute an overnight in Rhodes, Greece, and call at Paphos, Cyprus.

Additionally, when the ship departs Haifa, Israel, on May 16, it will call at Paphos, Cyprus, and overnight in Rhodes.

The Celebrity Silhouette will substitute Haifa, on cruises departing from Rome (Civitavecchia) on Aug. 22 and Sept. 3. On its Sept. 15 sailing from Rome, the ship will arrive in Jerusalem (Ashdod), Israel, two days earlier than planned.

Its Sept. 27 cruise from Rome will substitute Limassol, Cyprus, and Haifa. And its Oct. 10 departure from Rome will include a call at Haifa and an overnight in Jerusalem.

The May 11 and June 4 and 28 sailings of Royal Caribbean International's Mariner of the Seas all will substitute either Ephesus or Istanbul, Turkey, calls in place of Alexandria. The Istanbul calls will include an overnight.

Monday, 7 March 2011

P&O Cruises to mark its 175th with Grand Event

P&O Cruises to mark its 175th with Grand Event

All seven ships in the P&O Cruises fleet are to dock together for the first time in Southampton next year. The vessels will come together in their home port for The Grand Event on July 3, 2012 as part of a year of celebrations in 2012.
The company will be marking the 175th anniversary of the Peninsular Steam Navigation Company being awarded the Admiralty contract to carry mail to the Iberian Peninsula and beyond.
Following the event in the port, each ship will depart on its own Grand Event cruise, forming a procession as they leave Southampton. Once in the open water, the ships will meet again, saluting one another before they sail to their various destinations.
The seven cruises will be heritage themed with special on board entertainment including a 175th Anniversary Gala dinner, heritage art display and guest speakers. A full world cruise prize draw will be held on each cruise and a total of seven passengers plus guests will be travelling in 2013. They are detailed in the company’s 2012-13 brochure which goes on sale on April 5.
The Grand Event Cruises are:
• An 11-night Atlantic Islands cruise on Azura starting at £1,149
• A 17-night Central Mediterranean cruise on Ventura starting at £1,699
• A seven-night Norwegian Fjords cruise on Oceana starting at £749
• A 14-night Norway and Iceland cruise on Arcadia starting at £1,549
• A17-night Baltic cruise on Aurora starting at £1,749
• A four-night cruise break on Oriana starting at £399
• A 21-night Central Mediterranean cruise on Adonia starting at £2,349
P&O Cruises’ managing director Carol Marlow said: “We are very excited to announce this special day. It will be a great celebration for P&O Cruises, our passengers and for the whole maritime world.
“Whereas the very first P&O ships plied their trades to the Iberian Peninsular and the Orient, P&O Cruises ships sail throughout Europe, the Caribbean, South America, Scandinavia, Mediterranean, Atlantic islands and on round the world cruises. What was once a national necessity is now a national pastime and is worthy of a grand celebration.”

Friday, 4 March 2011

HAL offers early embarkation program

By Donna Tunney
Holland America Line launched Stateroom Direct Service, a program that it says simplifies the boarding process by giving guests immediate access to their staterooms upon embarkation.

Under the program, staterooms will be ready as early as 11:30 a.m., and passengers no longer will have to check their carry-on bags and wait in public areas while staterooms are being prepared. Additionally, arriving guests will receive their luggage earlier and will be offered the opportunity to have a buffet lunch.

The initiative, in place on all of the line's 15 vessels, is part of HAL's Signature of Excellence enhancement program.

"Holland America Line is always seeking new ways to enhance our on-board cruise experience, and through this streamlined boarding process guests can now get into their staterooms earlier and begin enjoying their vacation sooner," said Richard Meadows, executive vice president, marketing, sales and guest programs.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

NCL to raise fares in April - Travel Weekly

NCL to raise fares in April

By Donna Tunney
Norwegian Cruise Line said it would raise its fares by up to 10%, effective April 1.

At the same time it extended its "Free Upgrades For All" promotion through March 31, offering up to a four-category upgrade on select sailings, along with e-coupons for onboard savings of up to $400.

"We've seen exceptional demand spurred by our Wave season promotion, particularly for the popular summer destinations," said CEO Kevin Sheehan.
"Based on this demand, we will increase our fares on April 1. We wanted to give consumers and travel agents the opportunity to take advantage of these offers before the price increase."

NCL last raised its fares in April 2010, by 7%, citing an unprecedented increase in booking volume.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

NCL adding 58 cabins to Norwegian Dawn

NCL adding 58 cabins to Norwegian Dawn

By Johanna Jainchill
The 2,224-passenger Norwegian Dawn will get 58 additional cabins during a nearly month-long drydock in May.

Norwegian Cruise Line said during a webinar yesterday that 30 of the new staterooms would be inside cabins and 28 would be suites.

The suites include four 667-square-foot to 732-square-foot deluxe owner's suites and 24 family suites, ranging from 408 square feet to 495 square feet, most of which can sleep six passengers.

NCL said the new owner's suites will be on the front of the ship below the bridge and that the family suites would have floor to ceiling windows and be situated near the pool.

Crane Gladding, NCL's senior vice president of revenue management and passenger services, explained that the new cabins would be accommodated by moving the Spinnaker bar and the movie theater. He said the moves would not mean any less public space, but would result in a more-efficient ship layout with better passenger flow. .

Gladding said the changes were inspired by work the line did on the Norwegian Star.

"The flow of the ship has improved on the Star with these changes and we think it's more inline with the way we build ships today," he said. "We are putting more public spaces together for guest flow to be more smooth around the ship."

The work on the Dawn will be done at the Grand Bahama Shipyard in Freeport, Bahamas, from May 1 to 27. The drydock would result in more changes to the ship, which will be revealed later, according to NCL.

The new cabins are on sale now for departures after Sept. 16, NCL said, because some of the finishing work will continue throughout the summer.

Weather continues to hamper cruise ops in Galveston

Weather continues to hamper cruise ops in Galveston

By Johanna Jainchill
Heavy fog and low visibility continue to hinder cruise operations in Galveston, Texas, with the port's closure this weekend delaying two ship arrivals.

Royal Caribbean International said that due to the port closure, the 3,114-passenger Voyager of the Seas was delayed getting into Galveston on Sunday, causing a two-hour delay of its next departure.

The 2,974-passenger Carnival Conquest's arrival into the city was also delayed, Carnival Cruise Lines said, but its departure was on time.

Last Thursday, the 2,052-passenger Carnival Ecstasy was held overnight in Galveston due to heavy fog and near zero visibility. The ship departed the next morning, and Carnival modified its sailing from a four-day to a three-day cruise to Cozumel.

The week before, the Ecstasy departed two days behind schedule, and two other ships -- the Conquest and the Voyager -- experienced one-day delays, also due to the fog.