Friday, 29 July 2011

A widened Panama Canal will accommodate bigger cruise ships

A widened Panama Canal will accommodate bigger cruise ships

By Donna Tunney
There will be fewer post-Panamax cruise ships after the Panama Canal Authority completes its ambitious expansion of the canal in 2014.

The Panama Canal Authority recently passed the halfway point in its ambitious plan to expand the 100-year-old canal and double the amount of cargo that transits the waterway.

Opened in 1914, the 48-mile-long channel enables ships to avoid the 8,000-mile navigation of Cape Horn, the sometimes perilous passage around the tip of South America.

The cruise industry will benefit because the wider canal will allow for easy repositioning of additional, larger ships between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Moreover, the canal itself is an attraction for a niche market of passengers eager to see the engineering feat up close.

The canal today has two lanes of traffic, each with a set of locks accommodating ships up to 950 feet long and 106 feet wide, dimensions that have come to be known as “Panamax.” When cruise ships began to exceed those dimensions, the industry started to speak of “post-Panamax” vessels.

Once completed, a third, wider lane of traffic and a set of longer locks at either end of the canal will accommodate ships about 1,200 feet long and 160.7 feet wide.

Some of the industry’s largest ships, such as Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis-, Freedom- and Voyager-class vessels and Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Magic and Carnival Dream, will still be too wide or tall to transit the canal (ship height is limited by the Bridge of the Americas, which passes over the canal).

PanamaCanalMapBut many others will, including Cunard’s flagship, the Queen Mary 2.

Nine Princess Cruises ships will be able to transit the canal following the expansion, the line said: the Grand Princess, Golden Princess, Star Princess, Crown Princess, Ruby Princess, Emerald Princess, Caribbean Princess, Sapphire Princess and Diamond Princess.

Retailer Richard Bravo, product manager of cruise vacations for Automobile Club of Southern California, said the club sells a lot of group space into repositioning cruises through the canal.

Itineraries transiting the canal are very popular among West Coast clients, more so than a typical Caribbean cruise, he said.

But Christine Duffy, president and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association, predicted that Panama Canal cruises are not likely to expand beyond a niche market even after the expansion.

“Although it is a fantastic cruise to transit the canal, the transit from Fort Lauderdale to the U.S. West Coast via the canal is a long cruise, up to 16 days,” she said.

“The partial transit cruises into the canal and [back out] are popular but also are a niche product,” said Duffy, who added that the canal expansion primarily will benefit the cargo industry, particularly container traffic from Asia to the U.S. East Coast.

Jack Anderson, senior vice president, sales and marketing at Crystal Cruises, said there’s a downside to not offering Panama Canal cruises.

“If a brand does not have Panama Canal cruises it means there’s a subset of clients who want that itinerary and are forced onto another brand. In my experience, there is demand in all markets for the Panama Canal,” said Anderson.

Anderson said the partial cruises are a good option.

“Cruise lines can still offer a Panama Canal locks experience from Miami,” he said.

Anderson added that canal cruises help to broaden overall interest in cruising.

“The luxury market draws from the premium market. The premium draws from the mass market,” he said.

Crystal offers a series of Panama Canal cruises each year, from San Francisco and Los Angeles to Miami and New York, and between Costa Rica and Miami.

Some cruise lines with ships that could transit the canal today choose not to do so. MSC Cruises is one of them.

“We have only two ships that are too big to transit the canal today: the MSC Fantasia and the MSC Splendida. But we have no ships going to California,” said Richard Sasso, president and CEO of MSC Cruises USA.

“Two analyses have to be done: commercial and operational," he said. "We have nine ships that can fit, but we choose not to offer Panama Canal cruises. We have no desire for it."

CORRECTION: A story in Travel Weekly's July 25 print edition incorrectly said that the canal expansion would accommodate all current cruise ships, rendering the term "post-Panamax" obsolete. Even after the expansion, several cruise ships will be too large to transit the canal. 

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Canadian operator offers Afghanistan tours

By Michelle Baran
As President Obama lays out plans for troop withdrawals and a drawdown of military operations in Afghanistan, Canadian operator Bestway Tours & Safaris is introducing a program to bring travelers to the war-torn country starting this fall.

“Most travel agents have lost out on this growing segment of the traveling public and are not even aware that tours are being offered to such countries,” said Mahmood Poonja, chief explorer at Bestway, which started guiding travelers along the Silk Road in 1974.

“The demand for these countries is not in numbers but definitely in people who are highly educated, well traveled and ones who believe in the pluralism of cultures,” he said. “The number of travelers is growing as more and more people become interested in knowing of other countries and cultures through their own experiences.”

He said that for off-the-beaten-path travelers, Afghanistan was a popular destination prior to the Soviet invasion of 1979. "During the Taliban, tourist traffic totally closed,” he said.

Tourists were further dissuaded by the American military invasion in 2001, a program that Obama last month said he wanted to draw to a close by 2014, with significant troop withdrawals slated to start later this year.

BamiyanIn part because of the ongoing military operation in Afghanistan, “the numbers that we have at the moment are not very high numbers going to Afghanistan, but you’d be surprised,” Poonja said.

Poonja said that Bestway decided to offer Afghanistan because the demand was there. The demographic, he said, is primarily people age 45 and up, highly educated and often solo or independent travelers.

They are people who are aware of the risks and are ready and willing to take on the challenges the destination presents. He also said a surprisingly high number of solo female travelers are interested in visiting Afghanistan.

With a destination like Afghanistan where the tourism product isn’t very developed, Poonja said, travelers need to be flexible about the level of accommodation and creature comforts.

But he added that in the larger cities such as Kabul, there are hotels that meet Western standards in order to serve the high number of delegations and members from international organizations who visit and work in the country.

Bestway set up an outbound office in Canada in 1979, which sends travelers from North America to what Poonja calls “challenging destinations,” such as Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Kurdistan, North Korea and Tajikistan.

“We avoid any military installations or any military sites,” Poonja said. “Our interest is on the history and culture. There are lots of areas in Afghanistan that are historically important, like Herat, but they are not safe at the moment. We have done tours to Iraq, but we don’t right now.”

The nine-day Afghanistan tour begins and ends in Kabul. It includes traveling through Bamiyan, known for two huge Buddha statues that were destroyed by the Taliban government in March 2001; the Band-e Amir lakes region in the Koh-i-Baba mountain range; Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan, known for its Blue Mosque, a historically significant site for Muslims; and the historical city of Balkh.

Bestway, based in Burnaby, Canada, offers two departures for the Afghanistan tour: Oct. 15 and April 15. The price ranges from $2,990 for the October departure to $3,190 for the April departure. Both prices are based on double occupancy.

Bestway pays 10% commission to travel agents.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Mississippi cruising to return in 2012

Mississippi cruising to return in 2012

By Michelle Baran
Two companies next year will attempt to revive the Mississippi River cruising market, which has been dormant since Majestic America Line ceased operations under Ambassadors International at the end of 2008.

Operating contemporary river ships up and down the Mississippi and its tributaries has proven to be a business challenge that has eluded several cruise companies in recent years.

When their operations launch next year, Guilford, Conn.-based American Cruise Lines and the newly formed, Memphis-based Great American Steamboat Co. will approach the challenge in very different ways.

American Cruise Lines is building a new 140-passenger paddlewheeler, the Queen of the Mississippi, from the ground up, while Great American Steamboat is in the process of resuscitating the 436-passenger American Queen.

"I don't think it's possible to take one of the older vessels, like the American Queen ... and construct it into what people want today," Charles Robertson, CEO of American Cruise Lines, told Travel Weekly earlier this year when explaining why his company had decided to build a new paddlewheeler rather than buy one of the existing Mississippi vessels.

"The older boats are not at all efficient," Robertson said. "They're not fuel-efficient [or] maintenance-efficient."

The freshly assembled executive team at the Great American Steamboat Co. would politely disagree. News leaked last week that the company had purchased the former Majestic ship the American Queen and was preparing to relaunch it in April 2012, four months before ACL's Queen of the Mississippi will set sail.

"I think not only is the American Queen hugely appealing, it's what people doing a Victorian-era riverboat want," said Christopher Kyte, president of the Great American Steamboat Co., which was formed in November. "But the market will tell."

Great American Steamboat is being led by CEO Jeff Krida, who was president of the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. "in its heyday in the '90s," said Kyte, who is also chairman of Oakland, Calif.-based Uncommon Journeys, which sold into the American river cruising market.

Great American Steamboat's parent company is New Albany, Ind.-based HMS Global Maritime, an operator of U.S. ferries and passenger vessels headed by President and CEO John Wagonner.

The Delta Queen Steamboat Co. launched the American Queen in June 1995. The vessel ultimately ended up under the ownership of Ambassadors International's river cruise brand, Majestic America Line. It was turned over to the U.S. Maritime Administration in August 2008 after Majestic defaulted on a guaranteed loan.

American QueenWhen the American Queen was put up for sale by Marad in 2009, it was valued at between $25 million and $30 million.

Kyte would not disclose how much Great American Steamboat paid for the vessel or how much it is investing in upgrades. But he asserted that "if you built it today -- if you could find a shipyard to build it -- it would cost $100 million to build."

Likewise, ACL's Robertson did not divulge how much his company would be spending to build its Mississippi vessel, but he said that he felt that the cost of renovating one of the existing paddlewheelers "would be a little bit more" than the cost of building a ship from the ground up.

Great American Steamboat does not plan on making many changes to the American Queen, Kyte said.

"The boat was carefully laid up by the federal government and literally could run in a few weeks if you wanted it to," Kyte said.

Nevertheless, the company will make some changes and upgrades to the product, including converting some of the public spaces to alternative dining venues, among them an open-air venue on the upper deck and possibly a more casual, New Orleans-influenced eatery. There will also be additional entertainment venues, such as a jazz lounge.

To accommodate active boomers, there will be a fitness program that could include exercise classes, plus shore excursions that will feature biking and hiking.

To instill confidence among consumers and travel agents concerned about the health of the U.S. river cruising market following the demise of Majestic, Kyte said that all deposits and commissions for American Queen bookings would be deposited in an escrow account.

The American Queen will sail three-, four-, nine- and seven-night cruises along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. The Queen of the Mississippi will sail seven-night cruises along the same rivers, though itineraries have not yet been finalized.

Robertson said the Queen of the Mississippi would be faster than a ship like the American Queen by about 3 or 4 mph, which makes a "huge difference in itinerary," enabling the ship to make longer stops at ports.

While the differences are many between the Queen of the Mississippi and the American Queen, Kyte said that the more overnight passenger vessels sailing the Mississippi again, the better.

"Even with the ACL operation, there will be one half the number of beds that there were five years ago on the Mississippi River," Kyte said.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Costa Magica avoids Oslo after bombing

Costa Magica avoids Oslo after bombing

By Donna Tunney
Costa Cruises said its Costa Magica avoided a planned call in Oslo, Norway, on July 23, a day after a deadly bomb rocked central Oslo.
The ship instead called in Kristiansand, Norway.
“The safety of our guests and crewmembers is our highest priority," the line said in a statement. "The company is constantly in contact with the national and international authorities as well as with embassies to guarantee the security of its operations and to carefully monitor the situation on site and its evolution."
MSC Cruises' MSC Orchestra was docked in Oslo at the time of the blast, but the line said the ship was unaffected. The ship continued on its scheduled itinerary. The Orchestra is sailing seven-night cruises from Copenhagen, Denmark, with calls in Denmark, Germany and Norway.
Costa said that this week’s cruise on the Magica is expected to operate normally. The Magica is sailing 10-day “Great Capitals of Europe” cruises from Le Havre, France, which calls in France, Denmark, Germany, Norway and Scotland.
A 32-year-old Norwegian man confessed to being behind the Oslo bombing and a subsequent shooting spree, according to published reports. The attacks have killed at least 93 people, reports said. 7z19KRAgwCTpw%3d%3d

Monday, 25 July 2011

Google gives the boot to consumer hotel reviews

Google gives the boot to consumer hotel reviews

By Danny King
Google on Thursday pulled all third-party reviews of hotels, restaurants and other services from its Google Maps and Google Places pages.

That means consumer write-ups from hotel-review sites such as TripAdvisor will no longer appear on Google's Maps and Places pages.

“Based on careful thought about the future direction of Place pages, and feedback we’ve heard over the past few months, review snippets from other Web sources have now been removed from Place pages,” Avni Shah, Google's director of product management wrote in a blog post Thursday.

“Rating and review counts reflect only those that’ve been written by fellow Google users, and as part of our continued commitment to helping you find what you want on the web, we’re continuing to provide links to other review sites so you can get a comprehensive view of locations across the globe.”

TripAdvisor and its parent, Expedia Inc., have long taken issue with Google’s strategy as it expands its presence in the travel industry.

TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer in January said Google was “abusing its power” by tweaking an algorithm that drove more Web users to Google Places, reported.

Report uncovers market for fake TripAdvisor reviews

Report uncovers market for fake TripAdvisor reviews

A trade in fake TripAdvisor reviews undermines the review site's claims to be a reliable source of consumer-generated write-ups, The Sunday Times claimed this weekend.
Although TripAdvisor claims to have stringent procedures in place to weed out any suspect reviews, the paper claims properties are advertising for freelance writers to post fake reviews.
It claimed reviews are being bought from as little as £3 each and writers are urged to change email and IP address to hide their activities.
The Sunday Times says it found an advertisement on from a Vietnamese hotel offering $250 for information on how to write fake reviews that can go undetected by TripAdvisor.
Another advert seeks people who can write good English to post reviews about properties and
The trade in fake reviews will add to suspicions about the veracity of TripAdvisor reviews and its vetting process, which it defends as rigorous.
And it increases concerns about how the reputation of hotels can be attacked by rivals using underhand techniques.
The Sunday Times quoted Chris Emmins from online reputation agency KwikChex who claimed the rise of new Rome hotel Deko to number one on TripAdvisor suggested the site can be manipulated.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Morgan christens Celebrity Silhouette in moving ceremony

Morgan christens Celebrity Silhouette in moving ceremony

By Donna Tunney
MichelleMorgan-CelebritySilhouette-namingceremonyHAMBURG, Germany — The 2,886-passenger Celebrity Silhouette was christened July 21 at the Port of Hamburg, in an emotional ceremony that honored not only the new ship but also the efforts of its godmother, Michelle Morgan, to overcome breast cancer.

Morgan, the CEO of Signature Travel Network, is the first travel industry executive to serve as a ship's godmother.

Celebrity CEO Dan Hanrahan called Morgan an inspiration. Richard Fain, chairman of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (Celebrity Cruises' parent company), called her extraordinary, citing her many professional successes and her personal bravery in battling breast cancer.

"We’re fortunate to support a wide range of causes," said Fain, "and we are passionate about supporting this cause."

Morgan, he noted, has undergone chemotherapy, radiation treatments and surgery, "and she has not let the disease define her life."

A 33-year travel marketing executive, Morgan joined Signature Travel in 1991, when the company had 30 locations in Southern California. Today, its membership has grown to 350 locations in 38 states and two provinces in Canada, with sales exceeding $5 billion.

Morgan was inducted into CLIA’s Hall of Fame earlier this year.

In a further show of support for breast cancer survivors, Fain surprised the hundreds of people who had gathered for the naming ceremony by bringing on stage the three godmothers of the other Solstice-class ships in service: Sharon Smith (Celebrity Solstice), Emma Pontin (Celebrity Eclipse) and Nina Barough (Celebrity Equinox). All three are breast cancer survivors.

Morgan, who was moved nearly to tears when she took the podium, said she "felt blessed" to be part of the Celebrity Silhouette’s launch into service. She referred to the other godmothers as her "Solstice sisters."

Morgan cut a ribbon to name the vessel. The ribbon had been draped through the ship from the bow, where it held a champagne bottle. When the ribbon was cut on stage, the champagne bottle crashed against the ship, as viewers watched on live video.

The Silhouette left Hamburg shortly after the naming, and operated a two-night inaugural cruise for press and other invited guests.

On July 23, the Silhouette will begin a series of 12-night Mediterranean/Holy Land cruises roundtrip from Rome, with calls at Santorini and Athens, Greece; Haifa and Jerusalem, Israel; and Naples.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Port of Hamburg a rising star

Port of Hamburg a rising star

By Donna Tunney
Hamburg, Germany, continues to emerge as a strong competitor among ports catering to cruise ships in Northern Europe.

It had long been a major container port, and the presence of cruise vessels increases each year. In 2007, 57 cruise ships called at Hamburg; last year, the number rose to 88.

Eager to attract more cruise visitors, the city recently opened the $42 million Hamburg Cruise Center Altona, following a three-year construction phase.

A new terminal was urgently needed, according to Gerd Drossel, managing director of Hamburg Cruise Center, “because the present dynamic growth trend will continue in coming years.”

“We expect 120 ship’s calls in the 2011 cruise season, an increase of 14% over the previous year,” Drossel said. “With two-figure growth also expected for 2012, we can realistically expect 400,000 passengers in that year; 2015 may even see us passing the half a million threshold.”

Several major cruise lines are calling in Hamburg this summer, including Cunard, Silversea, Celebrity and Hapag-Lloyd. Celebrity, in fact, will celebrate the christening of its Celebrity Silhouette in Hamburg later this week, on July 21.

Cunard pledged a major commitment to the port when it announced earlier this year that its Queen Elizabeth will sail from Hamburg on a world cruise in 2012. It will be the first Cunard ship to do so.

Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 will call at Hamburg six times this summer and six times in summer 2012, as part of its transatlantic sailing schedule.

It isn’t just the big cruise lines that are embracing Hamburg: Even the 112-passenger SeaDream I began its summer season deployment in Hamburg last month, when it set sail on an 11-night season inaugural following a 21-day drydock.

Hamburg’s new terminal is close to the Hanseatic City’s major sites: about 15 minutes by bus, taxi or harbor ferry.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Norwegian Cruise Line reveals new brand for suites: The Haven

Norwegian Cruise Line reveals new brand for suites: The Haven

By Arnie Weissmann
Courtyard at the HavenNEW YORK -- A keycard entry-only, two-deck suite complex for Norwegian Cruise Line's new "Project Breakaway" class ships has been dubbed The Haven, Norwegian's CEO Kevin Sheehan announced at a reception celebrating Conde Nast Traveler's first cruise-theme issue.

And, he said, the name will be retro-branded onto the existing high-level suites on Norwegian's Epic, Gem, Pearl, Jade and Jewel.

Norwegian's "ship within a ship" -- not only suites, but exclusive use of various recreational areas -- was launched with the Jewel in 2005.

On the Breakaway ships, the Haven will comprise 42 suites located on Decks 15 and 16 forward, and will be the first ships to include a restaurant for Haven guests only. It will also feature a cocktail bar and concierge desk.

An interior two-story courtyard area in the Haven will have a pool, two whirlpools, a private sundeck, two private massage rooms and a sauna. Guests will also have a private entrance to the ship's spa and fitness center.

The two largest suites in the Haven will be called Deluxe Owner's Suites. The two can be joined to the Owner's Suites to create a complex that can sleep up to eight guests.

There will also be 21 two-bedroom Family Villas and 17 one-bedroom Courtyard Penthouses.

These will be in addition to 16 Spa Suites, first introduced on the Epic, and eight aft-facing and 10 forward facing penthouses.

On the Jewel-class ships, 18 suites will be under the Haven brand, including the 5,000-square foot, three bedroom Garden Villas, currently the largest suites at sea.

The Epic's Haven will consist of 60 suites on two private decks at the top of the ship. In addition, 15 other suites on the ship will have access to the Haven's pool, whirlpools, gym, saunas and sundeck.

Haven guests will also enjoy priority embarkation and disembarkation, including priority boarding of tenders.

Responding to a question, Sheehan said that although it had not yet been announced, single-guest Studio cabins will be on the Breakaway class ships.

He was also asked if the Haven suites were built with families in mind. "They'll be upscale," he said. "If you're upscale and you want that experience with a family, then yes. If you go with an upscale line -- I shouldn't really say this -- it'll be an older demographic."

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

More Royal Caribbean ships to receive Oasis-class features

More Royal Caribbean ships to receive Oasis-class features
By Donna Tunney

Royal Caribbean International will invest $300 million to bring Oasis-class innovations to more of the cruise line's ships.

The Royal Advantage revitalization plan, which began with upgrades to Radiance of the Seas last spring, will be expanded to include Splendour of the Seas in November, Rhapsody of the Seas in March, Grandeur of the Seas in May and Serenade of the Seas in November 2012.

The revamps will continue in 2013 and 2014, when revitalizations will take place for Legend of the Seas, Vision of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas, Adventure of the Seas and Brilliance of the Seas.

Less extensive enhancements are planned for Independence of the Seas, Mariner of the Seas and the Enchantment of the Seas, said Royal Caribbean.

Each ship will enter drydock for approximately a month.

"The Royal Advantage revitalizations takes many of the best features that we have created in recent years and introduces them across our fleet, offering our guests enhanced vacation choices around the world," said Adam Goldstein, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International.

Among the upgrades will be: Wi-Fi; digital wayfinding systems; outdoor video screens on the pool decks; nurseries for babies and toddlers, and new levels of accommodations for families.

On the dining front, several specialty restaurants will be added, including Chef’s Table; Izumi; Chops Grille; Park CafĂ©, Rita’s Cantina; and Boardwalk Doghouse.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Cruise ship sinks on Volga River

More than half of the 199 passengers and crew on a tourist boat are feared dead after the vessel sank in Russia.

Cruise ship sinks on Volga River

At least six deaths have been confirmed in the accident involving a double decked tourist cruiser on the River Volga in Tatarstan, about 450 miles east of Moscow.
Dozens of others were rescued from the 55-year-old vessel, Bulgaria, which was sailing from the town of Bulgar to the regional capital of Kazan.
Bad weather, mechanical failure on the aged craft and overcrowding have all been cited as possible reasons why the boat sank while on a two-day cruise.
The 260ft long boat sank several kilometres from the shore near the village of Sukeyevo, south of Kazan, on Sunday afternoon.
About 80 people are reported to have survived the accident, most of them rescued by another pleasure boat that was passing nearby.
But hopes of finding survivors faded as rescuers worked through the night.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered an investigation into the incident.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Caught up in 'Fun Ship' spirit aboard Carnival Magic

Caught up in 'Fun Ship' spirit aboard Carnival Magic

By Donna Tunney
The Carnival MagicThe Village People's "YMCA" blasted through Vibe, the nightclub lounge aboard the Carnival Magic. Artificial fog billowed from the ceiling and multicolored lights ricocheted across the room as dozens of passengers let loose their inhibitions on the dance floor.

It was the start of their vacation, so why not?

The enthusiasm of the dance crowd on that first night of the Carnival Magic's first cruise echoed throughout the voyage. People absolutely loved this ship. I did, too.

This was my first Carnival cruise, and while the notion of a "Fun Ship" didn't immediately appeal to me, it definitely grew on me.

The ship's indoor public spaces are well-designed, with vibrant but not jarring color schemes. Some areas could be dubbed glitzy, but there's a sense of elegance here, too.

The nightclub drew a crowd every night, but those looking for a less raucous scene gathered in the Play It Again piano bar or the RedFrog Pub, both of which featured live music.

The popularity of the pub, a new feature for Carnival Cruise Lines, prompted President and CEO Gerry Cahill to declare during the Magic's maiden voyage that RedFrog Pubs would likely be added to other ships in the fleet.

Bartenders at the pub, which sports a Caribbean theme, snap photos of guests at the bar and the tables, then project the images onto screens. It's a lively interactive feature that keeps guests chuckling at each other's photos. Passengers pay extra to dine at the pub.

The ship's Showtime Lounge offered a variety of events, such as musical stage shows and live-band karaoke. Both the fitness center and the Cloud 9 Spa looked busy whenever I visited that area of the ship.

Outdoor spaces were a constant source of entertainment. Two areas debuted on this ship: SportSquare, a vast recreation area with a ropes course, miniature golf course, basketball court and more; and WaterWorks, with enough slides and games to keep any kid happy. Its signature feature is the Power Drencher: Every 60 seconds, a huge bucket spills 300 gallons onto young passengers eagerly waiting underneath.

Thirsty Frog RedThere's an adults-only outdoor area called Serenity, and I would've spent more time in it if there had been enough places to sit. It's a circular space with hot tubs, lounge chairs and round, oversize, cabana-style couches big enough to curl up in and take a nap. It typically filled up fast on sunny days at sea.

A multitude of dining options are available. The Northern and Southern Lights main dining rooms each have two seatings and served a wide variety of dishes, from fried chicken to steaks and pastas. Lido Marketplace, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, featured standard buffet fare plus a pizzeria, Mongolian wok, Indian tandoor, a burrito bar, a deli and more.

The Prime Steakhouse sported a clubby feel, with rich colors and dark woods. I ordered a filet mignon, and it cut like butter.

A dining option new to the line is Cucina del Capitano, a family-style Italian restaurant that I thought was particularly excellent. It's open for lunch and dinner, and passengers pay a fee to dine there. I have one caveat about it: During lunch hour, guests can sometimes hear a basketball bouncing on the ceiling, since the ball court is directly above the eatery.

Ocean Plaza was a hub for games and activities in the afternoon and for cocktailsand live music at night. An adjacent outdoor area, the Lanai, beckoned with its half-mile-long promenade and comfortable sitting areas.

The Hat Trick Casino did a brisk business during my cruise, and I chatted with a passenger from New York who was ecstatic over winning $600 in a game of Texas hold 'em.

The Carnival Magic has a full conference center, with meetings and function rooms, and a Fun Hub, where Internet access is offered to guests for a fee.

I didn't see any inside staterooms, but my balcony cabin was well-appointed and comfortable. Two closets, with hangers and shelves, provided more room than I needed and appeared sufficient for two people. There also was a couch and a desk. High-quality linens and colorful artwork rounded out the decor.

The Carnival Magic is operating a series of Western Mediterranean cruises this summer and will reposition to Galveston, Texas, in October. The line will offer several opportunities for U.S. agents to tour the ship at the Port of Galveston.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Dreamliner arrives in Japan for All Nippon tests

Dreamliner arrives in Japan for All Nippon tests

Dreamliner arrives in Japan for All Nippon tests
The first Boeing 787 Dreamliner has arrived in Japan prior to entering service with All Nippon Airways by September.
A flight test aircraft flew from Boeing’s Seattle base to Tokyo to simulate day-to-day operations within Japan before the first 787 enters into commercial service.
The week-long validation process will see the 787 undergo standard maintenance, servicing and flight crew operations at five airports in Tokyo, Osaka (Itami and Kansai), Okayama and Hiroshima.
ANA's first scheduled service with the 787 will be either the Haneda-Okayama or Haneda-Hiroshima route. Boeing said it plans to deliver the first of 55 Dreamliners on order by ANA in the August to September timeframe.
ANA will deploy the 787 across its route network “as an integral part of its strategy to strengthen its position and support its growth and expansion plans”.
President and chief executive Shinichiro Ito said: “ANA is proud to be the first airline in the world that will operate the 787.
“The Dreamliner is an integral part of our plans to become Asia's number one airline and will allow us to bring new standards of comfort and service to our passengers. Validating all of our training and preparations for the Dreamliner is critical to help ensure a smoother entry into service for our passengers and crews later this year.”
The new generation long-haul twin-jet has been delayed by almost three years due to technical problems. The delays prompted Korean Air, due to be one of the first airlines to take delivery of the jet, to postpone its order earlier this year.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Costa Favolosa delivered

Costa Favolosa delivered

By Donna Tunney
Costa Cruises took delivery of the Costa Favolosa on Thursday at Fincantieri's Marghera shipyard in Venice.

The total cost of the 114,500-ton ship was about $740 million. The naming ceremony will take place July 2 in the Piazza Unita d'Italia in Trieste, Italy.

"For us, the delivery of the Costa Favolosa is a two-fold source of pride," said Pier Luigi Foschi, chairman and CEO of Costa Crociere. "She's a wonderful ship, a real contemporary enchanted castle, with incredible technological features where our guests will experience a fairy-tale holiday. But it also confirms the soundness of our company."

The Favolosa is the eighth of nine ships that Costa has ordered from Fincantieri. The next ship to enter service will be the Fascinosa, to be delivered in spring 2012.

The Favolosa will sail a three-day preview cruise departing from Venice on July 4, with calls at Dubrovnik, Croatia; and Koper, Slovenia.

An 11-day inaugural cruise departs from Venice on July 7 and calls at Bari, Italy; Izmir and Istanbul, Turkey; Mykonos, Piraeus and Olympia, Greece; and Dubrovnik.

For the 2011 summer season, the Favolosa will sail seven-day cruises from Venice and Bari to Olympia, Izmir, Istanbul and Dubrovnik before repositioning to Dubai for a series of winter cruises.