Monday, 29 July 2013

New Carnival ship to be called the Vista

New Carnival ship to be called the Vista

By Tom Stieghorst
The 25th Carnival Cruise Lines ship will be called the Carnival Vista, said Jim Berra, the cruise line's marketing vice president, at a news conference aboard the Carnival Sunshine.

The design of the new ship will maximize views of the ocean, Berra said.

"We're starting to use the ship names as a touchstone for how we think about design. With Vista, what we're going to try to do is design a ship that is extremely open to the ocean.

"We think at the end of the day that is really why people are cruising. They want the salt air, they want the ocean breeze, they want to look out to the horizon and see the ocean, so a lot of what we're thinking about in design and the inspiration for the design, is they want those views out to the ocean."

Breeze 2.0 had been the working name for the ship, which will be 135,000 gross tons and carry 4,000 passengers. It is scheduled for delivery in 2016.

Carnival Sunshine was set back by vandalism, reveals CEO

Carnival Sunshine was set back by vandalism, reveals CEO

By Tom Stieghorst
When the Carnival Sunshine was delivered after a two-month, $155 million drydock, a large group of cabins wasn't fully ready for passengers.

On Saturday, Carnival Cruise Lines CEO Gerry Cahill revealed the reason why.

He said vandalism to the plumbing and electrical systems "very late in the process" of building new cabins for Sunshine left damage that had to be fixed.

"Because of that, they were not delivered to the crew until almost the day before passengers were sailing," Cahill said. "We did not realize then there was all this damage done to the cabins. We were caught by surprise, quite frankly."

Cahill disclosed the incident in a question-and-answer session for media on the Sunshine, which is doing a nine-day cruise in the Mediterranean.

He would not talk about who was responsible for the damage. When it was suggested that only construction contractors would have had access to the ship, Cahill responded, "Right," but declined to elaborate.
The work on the Sunshine was done at the Fincantieri shipyard near Venice, where about 3,000 workers transformed the former Carnival Destiny into a substantially different ship. But a group of cabins in the forward section of decks 9 through 12 near the spa area weren't ready.

It took several cruises before all the workmen were off the ship, and Carnival had to displace passengers to make room for those contractors.

The WaterWorks area with water slides and other aquatic features also was unfinished, an issue Cahill attributed to heavy rains, which made it hard for the deck coatings beneath the slides to cure.

A reset for Carnival on Europe

A reset for Carnival on Europe

By Tom Stieghorst
*InsightThe Carnival Sunshine is hosting a media group on its current Mediterranean voyage, and the top concern of the European reporters onboard is Carnival Cruise Lines’ decision to go without a ship in Europe in 2014.
The Carnival Legend, which had been scheduled to sail in Europe next year, is being deployed to Australia, after a winter season in Tampa.  It seems to reverse a promising expansion of Carnival’s sales deployment into the U.K.
At a news conference, Carnival President Gerry Cahill said it ain’t necessarily so. 
“We’re not stopping marketing to the U.K. and Europe,” Cahill noted, saying it would continue to sell cruises to the Caribbean, New York and Barbados to Europeans.*TomStieghorst 
But Americans made up most of the passengers on a majority of the line's European itineraries.
“Carnival caters best to middle America,” Cahill continued. “The cost of an air ticket to Europe became very, very high, and it was causing a lot of our guests not to be able to afford to come.
“At the end of the day, when the air fare costs more than the price of the cruise, that’s a problem,” he said.
The reset on Europe comes as Carnival is withdrawing from several regional ports on the U.S. East Coast, such as Baltimore and Norfolk, Va. Tighter pollution rules mean higher costs for clean fuels at those ports, and Carnival has an aversion to higher costs. When low prices are such an important part of your strategy, anything that raises them means trouble.
So Carnival is increasingly returning to tried and true markets where it has had traditional success: sailing to the Bahamas and the Caribbean, primarily from ports in Florida.
It recently bolstered its Caribbean capacity from Port Canaveral, where the Sunshine will sail for much of 2014, and from New Orleans, where it will have two ships year-round. Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville will also be home to Carnival ships next year.
For many passengers, flying to Florida isn't as cheap as driving to the port, but it is a lot less expensive than flying to Europe. Travel agents can sell a fly-cruise to Florida because the airfare isn't that scary. But it does mean getting people excited about an area that many cruise passengers have seen before.
The traditional itineraries may not be the most exciting. But with costs rising, they're the ones that Carnival can sell at a price point that middle America can afford.  Europe on Carnival will have to wait for another year.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Cruise ship passed 'dangerously close to shore

Fury of Venetians after 110,000-ton cruise ship passed 'dangerously close to shore to perform salute to company shareholder'

  • Carnival Sunshine appears to pass within 20m of city's fragile shoreline
  • Liner is owned by the same parent company of the Costa Concordia
  • Ship botched its manoeuvre, witnesses claim, squeezing other boats

Ventians have reacted with fury after a cruise ship allegedly passed within yards of the city's historic banks while performing ‘a salute’ to a major company shareholder.
Film footage of the Carnival Sunshine, which is owned by the same parent company as the notorious Costa Concordia, appears to show the 110,000-ton liner passing within 20 metres of the city's fragile shoreline.
The ship botched its manoeuvre, squeezing a vaporetto water taxi and other boats between the ship and the bank, witnesses claimed.

People in Venice have reacted with fury to footage showing a cruise ship which appears to pass within yards of the city's fragile shoreline
People in Venice have reacted with fury to footage showing a cruise ship which appears to pass within yards of the city's fragile shoreline - and show a water taxi, circled, squeezed between the liner and the bank
At the time of the incident an 150ft super yacht belonging to former Carnival CEO and major shareholder Mickey Arison was moored on the same part of the shoreline, the local newspaper Nuova Venezia reported, fuelling rumours that the manoeuvre was an in fact a sail-by salute.
The incident raises the spectre of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, which sank after hitting rocks off the coast of Tuscany during just such a salute to the island of Giglio last year.

    Writer Roberto Ferrucci, who filmed the exercise, told the Italian news agency ANSA: ‘I was sitting at the cafĂ© reading on the bank, as I often do, when I saw the ship tailing.
    Rather than moving towards the centre of the channel it almost brushed the shore causing a vaporetto to get caught dangerously between the ship and the bank. It was shocking.’
    Carnival have denied any wrongdoing saying it was ‘a safe transit’.
    Witnesses claimed that the Carnival Sunshine botched its maneouvre as it sailed in the Venetian waters
    Witnesses claimed that the Carnival Sunshine botched its maneouvre as it sailed in the Venetian waters
    Writer Roberto Ferrucci filmed the ship from a vantage point at a cafe
    Writer Roberto Ferrucci filmed the ship from a vantage point at a cafe and called the move 'shocking'
    But Venice’s proud residents are already up in arms about the presence of large cruise ships passing through the lagoon, with protesters last month calling for a ban on all those that pass by St Mark's Cathedral.
    The committee of the No to Big Ships group denounced the latest incident as ‘reckless’. 
    A statement said: ‘The reckless manoeuvre or error destroys the argument that an accident in St Mark's basin is impossible.’
    Local councillor Beppe Caccia tweeted 'Shame on you Mr Mickey Arson, Sunshine putting Venice at risk.'
    A 150ft super-yacht belonging to major shareholder Mickey Arson was moored on the same part of the shoreline, sparking rumours that the Sunshine had performed a 'sail-salute'
    A 150ft super-yacht belonging to major shareholder Mickey Arson was moored on the same part of the shoreline, sparking rumours that the Sunshine had performed a 'sail-salute'
    Environmental group Codacons called for port authorities to seize the ship pending an investigation by prosecutors.  
    Andrea Orlando, minister for the environment, said that the number of ships must be reduced. 
    This episode 'confirms the high risk we are taking,’ he said.
    A statement from the cruise company said: ‘Carnival intends to prove that the few metres claimed by the witness are in fact 72 metres and that the brush is no more than a safe transit carried out in accordance with the rules of transit.'
    A spokesman said reports of a 'salute' were 'unfounded'.
    'The passage through the Venice Lagoon occurred in full compliance with navigational regulations and well within the accepted parameters for distance from shore,' the spokesman said.
    'The Carnival Sunshine passed more than 70 metres from Riva dei Sette Martiri on the planned route. The distance from shore has been confirmed by the Coast Guard, the local pilot association and Carnival Cruise Lines.'

    RCCL overcoming negative media coverage of cruising, says Fain

    RCCL overcoming negative media coverage of cruising, says Fain

    By Jerry Limone
    _ Richard FainDespite the “unrelenting pressure of a deluge of negative publicity” on the cruise industry this year, things are looking up, said Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

    Speaking during RCCL’s second-quarter earnings call on Thursday, Fain said the company is overcoming what he called “the CNN effect” of media scrutiny on events that have occurred this year, including fires on the Grandeur of the Seas and Carnival Triumph and the Carnival Dream stalling.

    Negative coverage “clearly hurt our bookings, and unfortunately to a greater extent than we originally understood,” Fain said.

    The company’s net income for the second quarter was $24.7 million, compared with a net loss of $3.7 million in the same period a year earlier.
    The company managed a profit despite the Grandeur fire in May, which resulted in the cancellation of six cruises. Royal Caribbean estimated that the financial impact of the Grandeur incident was about $11 million in the second quarter (an approximate $11 million hit is expected for the third quarter, too).

    An unexpected noncash charge of about $15 million also was a second-quarter setback. The charge occurred because the company needed to readjust liability in its affinity credit card program.

    Still, Royal Caribbean was profitable, and Fain credited robust onboard spending, effective cost control and the performance of its largest, newest ships — the Oasis and the Allure of the Seas.

    Looking ahead, Fain said that bookings for the rest of 2013 and 2014 are ahead of where Royal Caribbean was at this time last year, in terms of load factor and pricing.

    The company is still dealing with the effects of negative publicity from incidents in the industry that occurred earlier this year, Fain said, including “competitive pricing.”

    However, he added, “We can already see indications that [the media coverage] factor is waning, and this is most encouraging going forward.”

    Addressing concerns about cruise safety, Fain said, “I think most of you understand that the recent incidents in our industry are an aberration from an otherwise exemplary safety record over many decades.”

    Cruising said to be a $42 billion business in U.S.

    Cruising said to be a $42 billion business in U.S.

    By Tom Stieghorst
    The U.S. economic impact of the cruise industry grew 4.6% last year to $42 billion, according to a study done annually for CLIA.

    That compares with an increase in the U.S. gross domestic product of 2.2% in 2012.

    Direct spending by the cruise lines was pegged at $19.6 billion, up 4%, according to the study by Business and Economic Research Associates.

    The study said the cruise industry generates 356,311 jobs in the U.S with wages of over $17 billion.

    North American cruise lines carried 16.95 million passengers last year, a 3.8% advance over 2011.

    Florida, which accounted for 60% of cruise embarkations, benefited the most from the cruise industry, garnering 36% of all spending.

    Ten states account for 80% of the cruise industry's economic impact: Florida, California, Texas, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Alaska, Georgia, Washington and New Jersey.

    Norwegian orders second 'Breakaway Plus' ship

    Norwegian orders second 'Breakaway Plus' ship

    By Tom Stieghorst
    Norwegian Cruise Line said it will exercise an option for a second "Breakaway Plus" vessel to be delivered in the spring of 2017.

    The two ships in the class will be built by Germany's Meyer Werft at a size of 163,000 tons and for a combined cost of 1.4 billion euros, (about $1.85 billion), Norwegian said. They will each carry about 4,200 passengers.

    Norwegian had previously said the option to build a second ship would likely be exercised.

    The first Breakaway Plus vessel is due for delivery in 2015. It will have one more deck than the Norwegian Breakaway and be about 12% larger.

    Friday, 12 July 2013

    Heathrow shut after Boeing Dreamliner 787 fire

    Heathrow shut after Boeing Dreamliner 787 fire

    Heathrow airport No passengers were on board at the time of the fire

    Runways at London's Heathrow airport have closed after a fire on a parked Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet.
    Arrivals and departures were suspended after the incident at 16:30 BST, a spokesman for the airport said. No passengers were aboard at the time.
    Fifty Dreamliners worldwide were grounded in January because of battery malfunctions.
    Boeing later modified the jets with new batteries and flights resumed in April.
    An Ethiopian Airlines Dreamliner named the Queen of Sheba - the same plane involved in the Heathrow incident - flew from Addis Ababa to Nairobi on the first commercial flight since the grounding.
    Pictures of the Heathrow fire on Twitter show an aircraft close to a building and surrounded by fire vehicles. London Fire Brigade said its crews were standing by to assist Heathrow staff.
    Fire-retardant foam appeared to have been sprayed at the airliner, but no damage to the aircraft was immediately apparent.
    Production difficulties
    A Heathrow spokesman said: "We can confirm there has been an on-board internal fire involving an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft and the airport's emergency services are in attendance.
    "The aircraft was parked on a remote parking stand. There were no passengers on board and there are no reported injuries at this time.

    "Arrivals and departures are temporarily suspended while airport fire crews attend to this incident. This is a standard procedure if fire crews are occupied with an incident."

    The airport is advising passengers to check the status of their flights with the airlines.
    The Metropolitan Police said: "Police at Heathrow were alerted to a fire on a plane. Emergency services are in attendance.
    "At this time it is believed no one was on board and there are no reports of any injuries. The fire is being treated as unexplained."
    The Dreamliner's battery problems followed production difficulties for the aircraft, marketed as a quiet, fuel-efficient aircraft carrying between 201 and 290 passengers on medium-range routes.
    It was due to enter passenger service in 2008 but it was not until October 2011 that the first commercial flight was operated by Japan's All Nippon Airways.
    British Airways is due to take delivery of the first two of its 24 Dreamliners, and Virgin Atlantic is to get the first of its 16 Dreamliners in September 2014.

    A Boeing spokesman said: "We're aware of the event. We have Boeing personnel on the ground at Heathrow and are working to fully understand and address this."

    What about the ships on the Nile?

    What about the ships on the Nile?

    By Michelle Baran
    InsightEgypt’s current political crisis cannot be good for tourism, but the fact that it is taking place during the hot summer months means that the escalation in violence will affect fewer Nile sailings, as many river cruise lines don’t offer Egypt departures during the summer.

    Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, one of the only U.S. river cruise lines that owns and operates its own ship on the Nile, the 82-passenger River Tosca, does not offer Tosca sailings during July and August, and thus has not yet had to cancel any departures due to the unrest.
    Viking River Cruises also puts its Nile departures on hold during the summer, with its last chartered Nile cruise having taken place on April 30, and the next one slated to depart on Sept. 3. The company has not yet said how it plans to handle the remainder of its 2013 departures.MichelleBaran

    Neither AmaWaterways nor Scenic Cruises offer Egypt sailings, and Tauck’s next Egypt itinerary that includes the Nile does not head out until October.

    Avalon Waterways, one of the few river cruise operators that did have scheduled departures on the Nile in July and August, has canceled all its departures on the 148-passenger Mayfair (a ship built by Cairo-based Mayfair Cruises in 2010) through August, “given the current unstable situation in Cairo,” according to the Globus Family of Brands, Avalon’s parent company. 

    “We are working closely with our operations team in Egypt to monitor the situation, including assessment of cruises and tours beyond August,” Globus said in a statement. “We will make any adjustments or cancellations necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of our customers.”

    Affected Avalon passengers have the choice of either canceling with no penalty and receiving a full cash refund or rebooking on any Globus vacation, applying the full amount of their original Egypt booking.

    Passengers refunded as Grandeur of the Seas repairs continue

    Passengers refunded as Grandeur of the Seas repairs continue

    Passengers refunded as Grandeur of the Seas repairs continue
    Royal Caribbean has been forced to re-accommodate a number of guests due to embark on tomorrow's Grandeur of the Seas sailing as work on the ship continues following a fire.
    A blaze, which engulfed part of the ship on May 27 and took about two hours to extinguish,caused several sailings to be cancelled.
    The ship is setting sail from Baltimore to Bermunda tomorrow but the occupants of the 78 staterooms affected by the fire have be given a full refund with finishing touches still being carried out.
    A spokeswoman for Royal Caribbean said: "In the past weeks, Grandeur of the Seas staff and crew and many others have worked tirelessly to restore the onboard spaces that were affected by a fire in May.
    "Every member of Grandeur of the Seas’ staff and crew demonstrated a heroic response that night and has since been dedicated to bringing the ship back into service.
    "While Grandeur of the Seas is ready to welcome guests again, there are still a few finishing touches that remain to be done. We unfortunately had to re-accommodate some guests on the July 12 cruise to later sailings so that additional needed workers may stay onboard in order to complete these remaining tasks as quickly as possible.
    "We sincerely appreciate our guests understanding as we ensure that Grandeur of the Seas continues to deliver an unmatched vacation experience from Baltimore, Maryland."
    The affected guests have also been given a 25% cruise credit for future sailings.

    Thursday, 11 July 2013

    Faroes turn out for their queen of the oceans as ship makes maiden voyage

    Faroes turn out for their queen of the oceans as ship makes maiden voyage

    Whenever she sees the Faroe Islands come into view, rising out of the empty seascape, a warm feeling of pride rises in Inger Klein Olsen's chest.

    Last week her excitement reached fever pitch as she captained the Cunard ship Queen Victoria across the North Atlantic from Iceland and through the fjords into port, on the vessel's maiden visit to the archipelago.
    Queen Victoria docked in the narrow harbour at Klaksvik on the northern island of Bordoy
    Warm welcome: Queen Victoria docked in the narrow harbour at Klaksvik on the northern island of Bordoy
    On Wednesday, the red, white and blue flags of the Faroes were flying on the quayside to welcome Captain Olsen's ship into the narrow harbour at Klaksvik on the northern island of Bordoy. Shops stayed open all evening and there were live bands, traditional dancing and a barbecue in the town centre to celebrate.

    Next day, Captain Olsen was at the helm again, sailing the 90,000-ton vessel into Torshavn, the Faroe Islands' colourful capital, for the official first visit.

    Well wishers, including the captain's brother and extended family, thronged the quayside and the islands' prime minister boarded the ship for a ceremonial exchange of plaques.

    It is a matter of great national pride that not only is the captain of such a prestigious ship Faroese (born and bred in the small, remote, self-governing region of the Kingdom of Denmark), but that Inger is just one of a tiny handful of female cruise ship captains and the first in Cunard's 173-year history.
    Part of Inger's mission is to show her passengers the beauty of the 18 Faroe Islands and introduce them to its culture. It was her idea to add Klaksvik as an extra port of call into the original itinerary.

    Proud: Captain Olsen onboard the Queen Victoria
    Captain Olsen onboard the Queen Victoria'I pointed out that to go straight to Torshavn would mean missing out the beautiful, steep-sided and dramatic north islands,' she says.

    'By sailing in the afternoon before, everyone could be up on deck having the fantastic experience of witnessing such overwhelming scenery.

    'Often when I speak to British passengers, the only time they have heard of the Faroes is in the shipping forecast on the radio.

    'Staying here for a day and a half means visitors have plenty of time to see Viking remains and old Faroese houses with grass roofs, and to watch the wildlife - birds nesting high in the cliffs and seals lying on natural shelves just above the water. There is also the opportunity to buy original handknitted sweaters like the one made famous by Sarah Lund in The Killing.
    'I hope we've also shown that the Faroes are as advanced as any country in Europe, despite their physical isolation.' The Faroes are closer to Scotland than to Iceland or Norway and, Captain Olsen observes, thanks partly to the legacy of the friendly occupation by British forces during the Second World War, there's a very close connection to Britain.

    'Lots of people eat Marmite and everyone drinks tea rather than coffee as in Denmark,' she laughs. 'Sweets in the shops are made by Cadbury and everything stops for football.

    'Sometimes I'll phone my mother from a cruise to China to say hello, and she'll reply, "I can't talk now - Manchester United are playing!"' When she is not at sea, Captain Olsen lives in Denmark with her Danish husband.

    'Picking up the pilot and sailing through the islands in command of Queen Victoria was very exciting and a bit daunting,' says Captain Olsen. 'Denmark is very flat. Being surrounded by the mountains rising out of the water is a special feeling for me. Some people find it claustrophobic because they are so steep and overwhelming. For me it is the safe and sound feeling I was brought up with.'

    Regent orders new ship, touts it as most luxurious in cruising

    Regent orders new ship, touts it as most luxurious in cruising

    By Jerry Limone
    Regent Seven Seas Cruises has ordered a new ship, a 738-passenger vessel that will be called the Seven Seas Explorer.

    Scheduled for delivery in the summer of 2016, the Explorer will be Regent Seven Seas’ first new ship since the Seven Seas Voyager made its debut in 2003. It will also be the cruise line’s largest ship, at 54,000 gross tons. The ship will be constructed by Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri for about $450 million, Regent said.

    “We strongly believe that now is the right time to expand our fleet, as our loyal guests have asked for a greater array of itineraries and our travel partners have proven that there is pent-up demand for a new Regent ship,” said Kunal Kamlani, Regent Seven Seas’ CEO.

    Regent Seven Seas is touting the Explorer as “the most luxurious cruise ship in the era of modern cruising.”

    Tillberg Design AB, RTKL Associates and ICrave are designing the all-suite ship. Suites will range in size from 300 square feet to 1,500 square feet, and each will have a balcony. The ship will have six open-seating restaurants, Regent’s signature nine-deck atrium, a two-story Explorer Theater, three boutiques and a large Canyon Ranch spa.

    Frank Del Rio, CEO of Regent Seven Seas parent company Prestige Cruise Holdings, said the Explorer will “boast one of the highest space ratios and staff-to-guest ratios ever seen in the modern era of cruising.”

    “The ship’s upscale yet timeless design, extreme use of exotic stones and polished woods, designer furniture, rich fabrics and sophisticated lighting combined with what promises to be a museum-quality, eclectic art collection will clearly position Seven Seas Explorer as the new standard in luxury cruising,” Del Rio said.

    Cruise ships make itinerary changes due to tropical storm

    Cruise ships make itinerary changes due to tropical storm

    By Gay Nagle Myers
    Tropical Storm Chantal has forced three Carnival ships to make itinerary changes as the storm wends its way through the Caribbean.

    The Carnival Freedom will skip a call in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, on Thursday and substitute Cozumel instead.

    The Carnival Liberty skipped St. Thomas on Tuesday and called in San Juan, is in Grand Turk on Wednesday and will add a stop in Nassau on Friday.

    The Carnival Victory skipped a day at sea on Tuesday and called at Nassau, will be in Grand Turk on Thursday and at Half Moon Cay, Bahamas.

    Chantal was south of Haiti on Wednesday and is expected to dump heavy rains on Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Cuba on Thursday before heading toward the Bahamas and Florida on the weekend.

    Wednesday, 10 July 2013

    Cruising The Aegean Sea Aboard The Azamara Journey Cruise Ship

    Cruising The Aegean Sea Aboard The Azamara Journey Cruise Ship

    By Lisa Loverro,
    On a recent cruise to the Greek Isles and Turkish coast on board the Azamara Journey, I was reminded that good things come in smaller packages.
    Azamara Club Cruises, originally launched in 2007, is a more intimate and higher-end ship than its sister ships, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. Accommodating up 

    The Azamara Journey Cruise Ship Tendered In Santorini. Photo Credit: Lisa Loverro
    to 694 passengers, my week cruising on this mid-sized ship (as a guest of Azamara) was nothing short of spectacular. In a category falling somewhere between a large-scale vessel and a boutique luxury boat, Azamara has found a niche all its own.
    One Of The Visually Breathtaking Ports Of Call, Santorini
    The itinerary, designed to accommodate as much time on land as possible, called for arrival into each port in the early morning hours, docking for the full day and departing in the late evening hours. The Greek Islands visited on this itinerary were Mykonos, Kos, Rhodes and Santorini along with the Turkish port cities of Kusadasi and Marmaris (more on these spots in subsequent posts).
    Beyond the exotic ports of call, the experience onboard the Azamara Journey cruise ship was as good as it gets. Accommodations included 24-hour room service and butlers who seemed to be available tout de suite. The cuisine was better than average and in addition to their three full service restaurants (and two cafes), there are two specialty dining restaurants; Aqualina, offering a Mediterranean seafood menu and Prime C, an upscale steakhouse. Oddly enough, I preferred one of their non-specialty restaurants, Discoveries, where the scene was quite lively and the food delicious, including a melt-in-your-mouth lamb shank.
    Aqualina Specialty Restaurant On The Azamara Journey Cruise Ship
    The gym was large for a smaller-sized ship and although the pool was small, it was sufficient with lounge chairs readily available. There are a multitude of activities from cabaret shows, hosted by their charming and talented cruise director, to nightclub dancing (with a below par DJ but I found myself dancing the night away regardless).
    A Private Concert At The Roman Ruins Of Ephesus, Hosted By The Ship's Captain. Part of Azamara's "AzAmazing Evening" Experiences
    What I found most interesting was the ever-present Captain of the ship, Captain Johanne Tysse. He seemed to be everywhere, answering questions, talking to guests and telling stories of the high seas. Captain Tysse also hosted one of the more unique programs Azamara offers; their AzAmazing Evening program. This new concept offers guests an invitation to experience a once in a lifetime excursion. On this trip, our AzAmazing program included a classical concert among the ruins of Ephesus in Turkey. On a glorious evening, as the tourists left this ancient city, passengers of Azamara are treated to mimosas and wine among the ruins, along with a chamber orchestra concert in the ancient Roman amphitheater. As the sun slowly set, casting a beautiful orange glow on the ruins, the classical music serenaded us to an evening soon not forgotten at Ephesus.
    Azamara seems to have gotten it right.

    Cruise Lines Battle for Foodies

    Cruise Lines Battle for Foodies

    In my experience, often the first question everyone asks when you get home from a cruise is, “How was the food?” Americans have become passionate and knowledgeable about the culinary world, their enthusiasm fueled by food-based television shows and celebrity chefs. So it’s not surprising that cruise lines are investing in an escalating competition to capture the loyalty of the foodie passenger.
    Culinary appeal goes beyond the table. Holland America Line (HAL), which was a pioneer in culinary enrichment, established its Culinary Arts Centers presented by Food & Wine magazine 10 years ago; by 2007, the line had added classes for children. HAL provides cooking shows and hands-on classes conducted by top chefs, wine experts, noted culinary specialists and leading cookbook authors.
    “The Culinary Arts Center is a highlight of our onboard enrichment program and, year after year, we strive to bring the most talented and entertaining culinary experts onboard,” said Richard Meadows, executive vice president, marketing, sales and guest programs for HAL.
    Whole seagoing itineraries built around cuisine are being introduced by destination-oriented Azamara Club Cruises, including the Aug. 16 Route of the Wine Traders voyage. It offers 12 nights from Southampton to Seville with two full days in Bordeaux, where connoisseurs can travel to vineyards including St. Emilion, Margaux and Haut-Medoc. Azamara Quest also stays two days in St. Jean-de-Luz in the Basque region of France, which is known for its excellent cider houses and its easy access to Bayonne, home to fine chocolates, unusual cured ham and other delights.
    Houston-based Tom Baker, who was acknowledged by Conde Nast Traveler with its Top Travel Specialist award in cruising, said his Cruise Center clientele emphasizes dining “even over the ship” in booking their vacations. He believes that television’s attention to dining has moved popular taste “from mass quantity to discriminating world cuisine.”
    Dining plays an important role on ships beyond the food itself. John Delaney, Seabourn senior vice president of marketing and sales, said guests look for meals and dishes that will enhance their travel experience and help them to discover more about the cultures and destinations they visit.
    “Dining is also a key part of the social life onboard,” he added. “Our open-seating dining encourages spontaneity and enables guests to meet new people and break bread together — the start of many lasting friendships.”
    Chef John Suley, director of culinary operations for Celebrity Cruises, noted that people on vacation are spending a very valuable commodity — their time — and they are more particular than ever about their choices. Suley, the first cruise line chef to be invited to cook at the James Beard House, said the challenge is to keep the culinary level consistent when cooking for 3,000 people, which requires the best possible talent and the best possible products.
    Baker also stressed the necessary willingness to invest in quality ingredients, talented culinary staff and space for them to operate.
    “We’ve seen it over and over,” he added, “When a cruise line is run just by stockholder yield, you’re in trouble. You have to invest to have quality.”
    Cruisers have the opportunity to sample the work of some of the best chefs in the world just steps from their rooms. Two examples are Michelin-rated Jean-Pierre Vigato, of Restaurant Apicius on the Champs-Elysees, who designs dining for Paul Gauguin Cruises, and James Beard Award winner Michael Schwartz of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami, who creates dishes for Royal Caribbean’s 150 Central Park. Among the famous names who have put their imprint on cruise lines’ culinary offerings are Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa (Crystal Cruises), Todd English (Cunard Line), Dieter Muller (Hapag-Lloyd), Arnaud Lallement (Disney Cruise Line) and Cat Cora and Danny Grant (both with HAL).
    Oceania Cruises is often mentioned by agents when it comes to cuisine at sea. Bob Binder, vice chairman and president of Prestige Cruises International, was a major force in shaping Oceania’s culinary program. Binder, who owns a winery in California’s Napa Valley, says Oceania’s culinary goal is not only to be the finest at sea, but to rival top shoreside restaurants.
    “We buy extraordinary ingredients,” he said. “That means products such as 21-day dry-aged beef and custom-milled flour.”
    Delaney also stresses quality of ingredients. Seabourn uses premium, sustainable beef from the Pacific Northwest-based Double R Ranch, known for its commitment to superior quality, animal well-being and environmental stewardship. Executive chefs are empowered to frequent local markets in the ports they visit, and augment their menus with seafood from local sources. In some instances, they also invite guests to go shopping with them.
    Talent in the galleys is soaring, as well. Jacques Pepin’s partnership with Oceania gave the line access to other chefs who may not have previously imagined working on a cruise ship, and the line delivered a large galley space where they could use traditional techniques, with no shortcuts. Oceania’s partnerships with Bon Apetit and Wine Spectator further enhance its emphasis on incorporating current trends in dining.
    “The big surprise was our program with Canyon Ranch,” Binder stated. “We brought them in to run the spa and, now, we have their selections for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food is vibrant and delicious.”
    The response has been so strong that, in September, Oceania will launch Canyon Ranch cooking classes in its Bon Apetit Culinary Center. The ships also will have Canyon Ranch dishes on room service menus.
    The same kind of care is being paid to more casual fare. Greg Poplewko, director of product development for Carnival Cruise Lines, noted that when the line was forging its partnership with Food Network star Guy Fieri, it sent samples of the beef it would use for his gourmet burgers to him for his approval. Attention to detail is critical; the new pizza restaurant on Carnival Sunshine provides the real Neapolitan product, using flour from Italy and baking its pizza in a specially made stone oven.
    Agents can stress the value of this fine dining with their clients, who can often enjoy celebrity chefs’ dishes at little or no cost. On Crystal Cruises ships, for example, dining at the Nobu restaurants is complimentary, whereas in New York’s Nobu, a tasting menu runs from $65 to $125.
    A function of fees for specialty restaurants is to balance supply and demand; nobody wants disgruntled passengers who can’t dine in the restaurant of their choice. Oceania, which does not charge for its alternative restaurants, allows each guest a reservation in each alternative restaurant; those who want additional dinners in a given venue are added to a waiting list. The morning traffic at the restaurant reservations desk can rival that of the shore excursion queue.
    Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean International’s senior vice president of sales, trade support and service, noted that Royal Caribbean is grouping alternative dining for greater value. For instance, one package on Grandeur of the Seas, Rhapsody of the Seas and Serenade of the Seas costs $55 and includes meals at Chops Grille, Giovanni’s Table and Izumi Asian Cuisine. On Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas, a $130 package includes meals at the Chef’s Table, Chops Grille and 150 Central Park.
    “When you go on vacation, you are more interested in trying new experiences than at home,” Freed said.
    Special dietary needs don’t mean diminished dining pleasure on cruise lines, which cater to everything from fat-free and low-salt diets to gluten-free meals.
    “With special needs, we want to do it right,” Poplewko said. “You can’t bake gluten-free dishes in an oven where dishes with gluten have been prepared; if someone is really vulnerable to gluten, the food must be isolated.”
    Vegetarian and vegan dishes are commonplace, and SeaDream Yacht Club even has a raw food menu in its main dining room.
    Group cruises built around food and wine experiences are booming.
    “The fusion of wine, food and travel is the Holy Grail of cruising,” said Tracy Michaels CTC, co-owner of Flying Dutchman Travel in Santa Rosa, Calif.
    Michaels is doing big business in cruise charters, including themed food and wine sailings. Her seven-day cruise out of Tampa on Brilliance of the Seas in November brings Napa to the Caribbean, providing complimentary bottles for guests from seven winemakers, education panels galore and the presence of culinary names.
    Freed said the emphasis on dining is a real opportunity for the knowledgeable agent, who can lead clients through the culinary maze on the seas. She urged agents to explain the variety of onboard dining experiences and encourage guests to plan ahead, especially for dinner, to avoid disappointment in what has become one of the hottest aspects of cruising.

    Tuesday, 9 July 2013

    Top Two Reasons to Visit Universal Orlando

    Top Two Reasons to Visit Universal Orlando

    Banking on the popularity of a pair of global franchises, Universal Orlando is bookending the summer of 2013 with two major attractions, Transformers: The Ride-3D and The Simpsons’ hometown of Springfield.
    Transformers: The Ride-3D
    At the grand opening of Orlando’s Transformers: The Ride-3D on June 20th, Bill Davis, president & COO of Universal Orlando said, “We think [Transformers] is going to kick start the summer for us.” The park hopes that momentum will carry right through to the end of the summer with the unveiling of the completed Springfield.
    Recognizing that Transformers is an important franchise worldwide, Universal wanted to create a ride to bring guests right into the action. The Transformers: The Ride-3D attraction debuted in 2011 at Universal Studios Singapore and was followed by a second installment in 2012 at Universal Studios Hollywood.  As a result of the huge success in those two parks, Transformers was fast-tracked to Orlando, taking only one year to complete construction.  While the Transformers ride is the same as it is in Singapore and Hollywood in terms of the experience, the architecture is different and there are technological nuances that are unique to the Orlando attraction, including projection and animation advances that have been implemented in the newest version of the ride.
    “This attraction is ground-breaking in the level of immersion [and] it is ground-breaking technologically and visually,” said Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative. “It is at the top tier of attractions in the world.”
    As a result, the scale and level of execution of the Orlando version of the Transformers attraction is unparalleled. Because the characters of Megatron and Optimus Prime are both about 30 feet tall, the ride’s creators wanted to ensure that guests fully appreciate their massive scale. To accomplish this, they created a “media silo” in which riders travel vertically through a 60-foot high screen. In addition, the attraction incorporates sequences with director Michael Bay’s signature “slow-motion” style, the first attraction of its kind to feature this cinematic device. Another Transformers exclusive is the character of Evac, who was created especially for the ride. In fact, Evac merchandise is not available anywhere except inside Universal’s parks, which makes Evac toys and gifts very popular souvenirs for park visitors.
    Springfield Comes to Universal Orlando
    Capitalizing on the massive appeal of yet another well-known franchise, Universal created the award-winning The Simpsons Ride in 2008 to take riders into the animation of television’s “The Simpsons,” but now park guests can actually walk into Springfield and immerse themselves completely in the Simpsons’ hometown. Bringing Springfield to life was a group effort by Universal Orlando, Fox Studios and Gracie Films. The result is not only true to the vision of the show but every detail is completely accurate, down to the pickle on the top of every Krusty burger. Currently, about half of Springfield is open to the public including Moe’s Tavern, the Quik-E-Mart and a Simpsons-themed food court offering menu items that are not available in any other area of the park. The remaining construction is expected to be completed by the end of the summer, featuring an entirely new interactive ride called Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl, which will make its debut at Universal Orlando.
    “People from around the world should definitely put at the top of their [summer] itinerary a visit to Universal Orlando Resort to see the terrific brand new Transformers attraction,” said Tom Williams, chairman and CEO, Universal Parks & Resorts.

    Being heard above the din of social media

    Being heard above the din of social media

    By Tom Stieghorst
    *InsightRecently while researching an upcoming cruise in Alaska, I came across a blog about a similar cruise that captured my attention. It was written by a Vancouver teenager on a May cruise with her family.
    The blog was well written, with lots of personality, and was accompanied by excellent photos, especially of the food served in the main dining room. There were also port profiles and examples of good and bad service.
    The blog appeared in the community pages of the website Cruise Critic, and it drew many encouraging responses from guests on upcoming Alaska voyages or those thinking about taking one.
    It was an example, as if we needed another one, of how social media has made information about cruising so much more available to customers.
    A search for any cruise ship name on YouTube produces a host of user-generated video for potential cruisers to consider. Those actually on a cruise often are posting to their Facebook pages even before they leave the ship.
    *TomStieghorstBlogs about cruises are another source of information that sometimes make the first page of a Google search because they have struck a chord and received links and visits.
    All of these new sources of information are a double-edged sword for the travel community, including cruise lines, travel agents and the travel media.
    On the one hand, they usurp the control that lines, agents and the media used to exert over the depiction of the cruise experience. Now there are sources that passengers can use to bypass those channels of information, diluting the value that the more traditional sources bring to the table.
    Agents who once were able to trade on their authority as cruise experts have some competition from the neighbor, the old college friend and especially the anonymous blogger or YouTube poster.
    On the other hand, all of these new information channels increase the chatter about cruising and raise the level of interest and excitement that surrounds a cruise vacation.
    And blogs and videos can’t take bookings. Only cruise lines or registered travel sellers can do that. So if the extra information leads to extra bookings, travel agents come out ahead because of social media.
    The challenge for the travel community is to understand the various new streams of communication available about the cruise experience and to bring professional expertise to areas that amateurs, with all of their enthusiasm and immediacy, still fall short. 

    Holiday Autos to close trade business

    Holiday Autos to close trade business

    Holiday Autos to close trade business parent company Travelocity Global is to close the global trade arm of Holiday Autos after the brand was sold to Cartrawler.
    The trade business was not part of the deal, which only included the brand name, assets and white label business of the car hire firm.
    Travel Weekly understands the move will lead to a substantial number of redundancies, but most will occur in Germany where the company employs around 200 people and has a strong trade presence.
    The company said in a statement: "Following consultation with local representative bodies in each jurisdiction and after much consideration, the decision has been made to withdraw from the trade sector across all geographies.
    "Holiday Autos is currently in the process of informing all partners as well as suppliers about this decision and is reviewing steps to be taken for bookings which depart after these dates."
    The UK business will continue to take bookings until August 31 for departures until October 31.
    In the meantime, Holiday Autos said it would continue to provide customer support services as usual for existing bookings.
    Customers who want to cancel their booking departing after that date can do so without a cancellation fee and will receive a refund.

    Monday, 8 July 2013

    Carnival Cruise Lines' Joni Rein and Lynn Torrent Q and A

    Carnival Cruise Lines' Joni Rein and Lynn Torrent

    By Tom Stieghorst
    Carnival Conversations, a new program at Carnival Cruise Lines, aims to mend the company's frayed relations with travel agents. Heading the program are Lynn Torrent, executive vice president of sales, and Joni Rein, vice president of worldwide sales. Both joined Carnival in 2008 from Costa Cruises and have held their current jobs since 2009. Last week, Senior Editor Tom Stieghorst spoke with them about Carnival's outreach to agents.

    Q: Agents have been asking for support from Carnival for a long time. Why do this now?

    Joni ReinRein:
     The core piece of Carnival Conversations is really about a two-way dialogue. Over the course of the last several months, as Lynn and I, in reaching out to partners, heard some feedback that we're not valuing the trade, I think we learned that there was a lot of animosity that was not clear to us. We thought we had done a good job in communicating outwardly to the travel agent community, but what we realized is we didn't give them an opportunity to reach back. So I think that Carnival Conversations allows a number of different ways for travel agents to express themselves real-time, without letting things build up.

    Torrent: I think one of the things Joni and I heard loud and clear is that many travel agents believe we don't value them, and they're upset by changes we've made. And those were hard words for us to hear. We have some great relationships, so we didn't hear it from everybody, but even the accounts we have good relations with said, "Well, others feel this way."

    So this is our way of saying we take it seriously, and we're committed not only to getting the message out but to taking the actions we need to take so that travel agents believe it.

    Q: What actions are you referring to in particular?

     We've taken some already, and we plan, as a byproduct of these road shows, to listen and take more. In our contact centers, we heard some agents do not feel we were providing a level of service that they need. If they were struggling to do something on our online booking tool, our [inside] agents were not familiar enough with it or were referring them back to it, so we ramped up our staffing in the call center, we've done more specialized training in that online booking tool. We also heard that some of our pricing and promotions were just too complicated. That one's a little tougher to fix, but we have our senior folks in our revenue-planning group working on that, and some of them will be on the road shows with us. We'll have call center senior folks, revenue planning senior folks, so we can really be responsive, and it shows our commitment that this is not just an ad campaign; this is the beginning of a more transparent, formalized way of communicating.

    Q: What can be done about the time an agent has to spend rebooking tickets when the price falls?

    Lynn TorrentTorrent
    : I think the changes we made in the call center will help that a lot. The real answer is we don't want prices falling. As part of our overall recovery strategy, we need to get our brand back on track. Clearly the incidents that occurred took a toll on consumer demand, and therefore our prices have slipped. That's not good for anyone. We had a lot of disruption. Our call center performance was not something I'm personally proud of. In May, we introduced a bonus commission program specifically to address that. To thank [agents] for their support and in recognition that they were on the phone a long time waiting for us to decrease the price of a booking; that's not something that's fair to anybody.

    Q: What more can you do to stop Personal Vacation Planners (PVP) from poaching clients?

     We take it really seriously. I believe what we do actually works. To put it in context, when I first started five or six years ago, I must have received hundreds of complaints a week about PVP poaching clients, not following the rules. [Now,] maybe we do single digits a month. We encourage travel agents if they run into something to report it. We monitor calls ourselves. We have very strict rules about what agents can and cannot say on the phone. If we find that someone is not following them, we have zero tolerance, and not only do we part ways, we'll share that with the call center so that the rest of our team is aware, and we share the outcome with travel agents.

    Q: Spending for preferred-supplier programs has been tightened. Several have dropped out. Do you foresee that changing?

     The changes we made overall last year were the right changes. I think we may have pushed some things too far, so we're talking to partners again about potentially different relationships going forward. We've encouraged our entire sales team that if they or their travel agent partners believe we're missing marketing opportunities, we should sit down and talk about those.

    Q: Have you heard from agents that your promises to listen and to change aren't credible? How do you respond?

     We actually have. It doesn't feel very good. But I hear it often enough that I have to believe that the travel agent community believes it. So it is quite humbling. The new program is going to give us an opportunity to regain trust, which I think will come over time. It's not a magic bullet. But I believe that being more present and having that two-way dialogue, we'll all learn a lot, and I think we just have to keep reinforcing our commitment until they trust.

    Torrent: Some of our partners that we do have very good relations with have told us, "You know, Joni and Lynn, you're not going to win everybody back, because of that issue," so we understand that. We don't have to like it, but we respect those decisions. But we're also very committed, and as Joni said, over time our actions will speak to that.