Thursday, 31 October 2013

Peruvian Amazon heating up with fresh investment

Peruvian Amazon heating up with fresh investment

By Michelle Baran
La Estrella Amazonica, the new vessel International Expeditions is using for Amazon River cruises in Peru.There's been a groundswell of renewed investment and interest on the Peruvian Amazon of late, with companies launching new ships, refurbishing old ones and introducing new Amazon itineraries.

Last month, International Expeditions launched the 31-passenger La Estrella Amazonica, replacing the 28-passenger La Amatista. La Estrella Amazonica is a newbuild with 15 outward-facing, 220-square-foot cabins featuring private balconies. The vessel also has a fitness center and a 1,000-square-foot observation deck.

International Expeditions designed La Estrella Amazonica in collaboration with Expediciones Amazonicas, the ship's owner.

Prices for 10-day Amazon cruises on La Estrella Amazonica start at $4,398 per person, including daily naturalist-guided excursions, most meals, transfers, precruise accommodations at Swissotel in Lima and tours of Lima and Iquitos in Peru.

La Estrella Amazonica joins another Amazon newbuild, the 32-passenger Queen Violet, which launched in May and is being chartered by G Adventures.

The Queen Violet has 16 outside-facing cabins, 10 with side-by-side twin beds and six with queen-size beds. The vessel also has an upper sun deck with a bar area for briefings as well as an area for lounging on deck chairs and hammocks.

Prices for G Adventures' nine-day Amazon trips, including a six-day cruise and transfer flights between Lima and Iquitos, start at $1,875 per person. See

Avalon heads to the Amazon

In 2014, Avalon Waterways will begin offering Peruvian Amazon itineraries, having partnered with Aqua Expeditions to charter the 32-passenger Aria for an 11-day itinerary that includes a three-night cruise from Iquitos through the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve.

The Aria, which launched in 2011, is Aqua's second ship on the Peruvian Amazon. This year, Aqua Expeditions refurbished and relaunched its original 12-suite Amazon vessel, Aqua Amazon, which has been sailing the Peruvian Amazon since 2007.

The 130-foot Aqua Amazon (formerly the Aqua) received an updated interior. Suites have new wall coverings, bedside tables, lighting, bathrooms and curtains.

Both ships sail from Iquitos and navigate the Amazon waterways west of there for three-, four- and seven-night cruises.

The Avalon itinerary will begin with two days in Lima, followed by a flight to Cuzco for four days of visiting the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. On day seven of the trip, passengers will fly to Iquitos to board the Aria. The cruise will include piranha fishing and experiencing the Yanalipa Flooded Forest.

Avalon is offering 13 departures of the Peru itinerary in 2014 and five departures in 2015. It is priced between $5,599 and $5,999 per person, based on double occupancy.

Will CroisiEurope’s pricing, diversity resonate with U.S. passengers?

Will CroisiEurope’s pricing, diversity resonate with U.S. passengers?

By Michelle Baran
InsightFrench river cruise line CroisiEurope is making a run at an already pretty crowded U.S. market with a simple concept: low-cost river cruises with a multicultural mix of passengers.

“The founder of the company had the philosophy to make this product available for the mass market,” said Michel Grimm, international sales director for CroisiEurope, which after 38 years in business recently unveiled a new website and call center devoted to the U.S. source market.

“Our pricing is very aggressive,” Grimm said, adding that an eight-day CroisiEurope river cruise including meals, open bar and excursions won’t run more than $2,400 per person.

“With these kinds of prices, we come with an offer that is very interesting,” he said.

For anyone who knows the river cruising market, that’s actually quite a deal.

As a European river cruise operator, CroisiEurope hosts a mix of nationalities onboard, but the company’s executives said that for the right customer, that should be seen as an asset, not a drawback.

“This is not for people who want the safety of being with all other English speakers,” said John McGlade, director of CroisiEurope's U.S. reservation center. “For people who want the international experience, it’s the perfect marriage.”

CroisiEurope, which is still run by the founder’s children, builds all its vessels in the same shipyard in Belgium. Building, owning and operating all its own vessels is how the company claims it can keep its pricing so competitive, a concept it is bringing to the canal barge market, as well.

CroisiEurope is also building up its own fleet of barge vessels that have a capacity of 24 guests, in contrast with many of the existing canal barges that can often only host six to 12 passengers onboard, rendering them an expensive vacation option.

One other differentiator? Building ships of different sizes that can navigate lesser-sailed inland waterways, including the Guadalquivir and Guadiana rivers in Spain, the Tisza River in Hungary and some of the smaller estuaries off of the Danube and Rhine rivers.

CroisiEurope is based in Strasbourg, France, and has a fleet of 30 ships, including several barges and coastal cruisers, which sail in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Seven Seas Voyager emerges from drydock

Seven Seas Voyager emerges from drydock

By Tom Stieghorst

The 700-passenger Seven Seas Voyager is on a Rome-to-Venice cruise, its first since emerging from a scheduled drydock for interior and deck upgrades.

Among many changes, the ship's nightclub and observation lounge got new furnishings, wall coverings, carpeting and lighting. The Constellation Theatre was rejuvenated, penthouse suites were redone and new teak was installed on the balconies of all 350 cabins.

The refurbishment was overseen by Frank Del Rio, CEO of Prestige Cruise Holdings, parent of Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Del Rio flew to Marseille, France, for a final inspection before the Seven Seas Voyager set sail, the cruise line said.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Boudicca Headed for Technical Drydock at Lloyd Werft

Boudicca Headed for Technical Drydock at Lloyd Werft

ON .
On November 5, Boudicca will become the fourth Fred. Olsen ship to drydock at Lloyd Werft.
The British line has scheduled a quick six-day drydock in the German yard for the 28,000-ton ship for various technical work.
According to Managing Director of Lloyd Werft Rüdiger Pallentin successful drydocks of other Fred. Olsen vessels led to the ship owner’s decision to use Lloyd Werft again.
In 1982, when she was still called the Royal Viking Sky, she was lengthened by 28 meters at Lloyd Werft in co-operation with Seebeck Werft.
Since then, the 40 year old classic ship has changed names ten times before joining Fred Olsen Cruise Lines in 2005.
Extensive work is set to be carried out on all the ship’s seacocks along with  modification of and repairs to the piping system and stabiliser repairs.
The main item for the drydock, however, is the replacement of the ship’s bow thruster plant
and extensive repairs to the ship’s rudder.
"We will only be in a position to determine how extensive and complex that work is when the ship has been drydocked," said Carl Ratjen, project manager.

Norwegian Cruise Line's profit up 33% in Q3

Norwegian Cruise Line's profit up 33% in Q3

By Tom Stieghorst

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings said it earned $170.9 million in the third quarter, up from $128.4 million a year earlier.

Revenue grew 18% to $797.8 million, up from $674.4 million.

"Improved ticket pricing and onboard spend, along with better-than-expected results from business-improvement initiatives drove incremental earnings in the quarter," CEO Kevin Sheehan said in a prepared statement.

Norwegian forecast that it will earn between $276 million and $286 million for the year.

The company has scheduled a conference call to discuss the results at 10 a.m. Oct. 29.

Disney Cruise Line completes improvements to Magic

Disney Cruise Line completes improvements to Magic

By Tom Stieghorst
AquaDunkDisney Cruise Line has returned the Disney Magic to service after a two-week drydock to overhaul the 15-year-old ship. Pools, restaurants, night spots and children’s play areas were updated.

Disney wouldn’t reveal the cost of the improvements, but said it was a substantial amount.

Probably the biggest change was in the pool deck, where a more intimidating water slide called Aqua Dunk was added. The slide requires a climb through a funnel to get to a chamber that connects to a tube looping out over the ship’s side. The floor of the chamber drops away, plunging the rider into a near vertical fall for the first few seconds.

Along with the new slide, Disney shrank the space for Micky’s Pool, giving it over to the Aqua Lab splash area found on the Dream and Fantasy, and the Twist n’ Spout water slide.

The children’s play areas in the Oceaneering Club were also redesigned, with a big two-story slide being the new highlight of Andy’s Room from the “Toy Story” film.

Another change was the elimination of Parrot’s Cay, one of three rotational restaurants unique to Disney ships. Its space has been remade into Carioca, a Brazilian-themed room with colorful contemporary chandeliers and a pan-Latin menu.

The iconic Animator’s Palette restaurant was outfitted with new light, sound and video technology and is playing a new show, “Drawn to Magic,” that is a personal favorite of Disney Cruise Line president Karl Holz.

“It’s a very touching, heartfelt experience that surprised us,” Holz said.

Elsewhere, the adults-only nightclub section of the ship has been renamed After Hours (formerly Beat Street) and given a more contemporary silver-and-black design.

Topsiders Buffet has been renamed Cabanas, and has expanded by 725 square feet so it doesn’t feel so crowded.

In the salon, a two-chair barber shop has been carved out for men’s haircuts and shaves.

Disney Magic, the line’s original ship, will be doing three-, four- and five-day cruises from Miami to the Bahamas and Caribbean through the end of the year, before shifting in January to Port Canaveral for three- and four-day Bahamas cruises, and later moving to the Mediterranean for cruises between Barcelona and Venice.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Biggest Cruise Liners Top 10

Airbus calls for wider seats on aircraft

Airbus calls for wider seats on aircraft

Airbus calls for wider seats on aircraft
Airbus has called on the aviation industry to set a minimum seat width of 18 inches for long-haul aircraft.
The manufacturer said its rivals were "eroding passenger comfort" by using narrow seat widths.
The call comes after London-based research showed that sleep quality can improve substantially if seats are a little wider.
Airbus already has an 18-inch minimum width in its long-haul economy cabins, with business and first-class passengers having wider seats.
The company told Sky News: "However, other manufacturers are eroding passenger comfort standards by going back to narrower seat widths from the 1950s in order to remain competitive."
Airbus released details of research conducted by Harley Street medical practice The London Sleep Centre.
Tests were done on a selection of passengers, which included monitoring brainwaves, and eye, abdominal, chest, hip and leg movement.
The tests revealed that a minimum seat width of 18 inches improved passenger sleep quality by 53% compared with the 1950s-style 17-inch standard.
Dr Irshaad Ebrahim, of The London Sleep Centre, said: "The difference was significant. All passengers experienced a deeper, less disturbed and longer night's sleep in the 18-inch seat."
Kevin Keniston, Airbus's head of passenger comfort, said: "If the aviation industry doesn't take a stand right now then we risk jeopardising passenger comfort into 2045 and beyond, especially if you take into account aircraft delivery timetables combined with expected years in service.
"Which means another generation of passengers will be consigned to seats which are based on outdated standards."

Enhanced Pride of America Sails in Hawaii

Enhanced Pride of America Sails in Hawaii

New suites, single staterooms addedBy: Marilyn Green
Guests will experience new suites on the Pride of America // © 2013 Norwegian Cruise Line
Guests will experience new suites on the Pride of America // © 2013 Norwegian Cruise Line

The 2,124-passenger Pride of America, Norwegian Cruise Line’s dedicated Hawaii ship, is now sailing with extensive enhancements. Pride of America recently completed a $30 million refurbishment that includes new suites, studios for single travellers and inside staterooms.
The 24 new suites on Deck 13 have premium custom furnishings, fabrics, carpets and elegant bathrooms. Two are 566-square-foot Owner’s Suites that sleep up to four people, with a spacious bedroom, a separate living room, 1,200-square-foot balconies and bathrooms featuring custom mosaic tiles. The others are Penthouse Suites, including two Deluxe Penthouse Suites with Large Balcony, ranging from 363 to 459 square feet and sleeping up to six guests. There are connecting doors to the Owner’s Suites that allow a party of up to 10 passengers to be accommodated together. Suite guests have dedicated butlers and concierge, Tranquility mattresses, Lavazza espresso makers, Elemis bath products and private dining for breakfast and lunch.
Four 100-square-foot studio staterooms, introduced on Norwegian Epic, have been added, but there is no common lounge for them.  Four inside staterooms also were added to Deck 13.
“Pride of America offers a unique and extraordinary vacation to four of Hawaii’s most popular islands, and these new suites elevate the guest experience on this one-of-a-kind vessel to a whole new level,” said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian CEO.
Flat screen televisions were placed in all accommodations during the refurbishment and the fitness center was upgraded; Wi-Fi access is now available throughout the ship and carpeting was replaced.
A new Brazilian-style steakhouse, Moderno Churrascaria ($20 fee), was added to the restaurants onboard, and Lazy J’s has been made into a signature Cagney’s Steakhouse. 
Pride of America is the only U.S.-flagged large cruise ship sailing a seven-day Hawaii itinerary departing from Honolulu every Saturday. Ports of call include an overnight in Kahului, Maui; Hilo and Kona, Hawaii; an overnight in Nawiliwili, Kauai; and an afternoon cruise past the Napali Coast.

Good Day, Carnival Sunshine

Good Day, Carnival Sunshine

After a $155 million makeover, Carnival Destiny transforms into a dramatically different ship — Carnival SunshineBy: Marilyn Green
Sunshine features a WaterWorks water park with three slides. // © 2013 Carnival Cruise Lines
Sunshine features a WaterWorks water park with three slides.

Carnival Cruise Lines’ recent extreme transformation of Carnival Destiny into Carnival Sunshine has left the ship feeling much more like Carnival Magic and Carnival Breeze. The 3,006-passenger vessel’s $155 million makeover changed not just the ship itself but the spirit of the cruise experience.
Entertainment is served in short, snappy sessions, with three polished production shows in the Palladium Show Lounge. Fast-paced comedy shows take place in the Punchliner Comedy Club, featuring up-and-coming talent brought in by comedian George Lopez.
The intense, fast entertainment pairs well with the dozens of food and drink possibilities that include a wonderful burrito bar, uber-burgers contrived by Guy Fieri of Food Network fame, a 24-hour pizza bar serving made-to-order choices and Carnival’s own Red Frog beer.
Bonsai Sushi, which also has a home on Magic and Breeze, features top-notch combination dishes, and the Asian eatery, JiJi, appearing for the first time on Carnival is a home run. At JiJi, each table has a designated “director” who helps diners navigate through Pan-Asian appetizers, main dishes and sides. A steal at $12, the food is excellent, abundant and served to be shared. The presentation is gorgeous and, with selections from vegetarian to pork and beef, there’s something for any taste. JiJi and Cucina del Capitano, a new Italian restaurant, had ample seating and breakfast offerings. So even when the buffet filled up, there was plenty of space for a quiet meal.
Less quiet is the Punchliner Comedy Brunch on days at sea. It’s a rough ride for the comedians, who have to perform over hungry and sometimes hungover guests. There was a lot of unplanned laughter as passengers tried to explain to their international servers what some of the jokes meant.
The overall atmosphere of Sunshine has a decidedly Caribbean flavor, from the tequilas at Blue Iguana to the rums at the Red Frog. The tropical touch is echoed in the public area and stateroom decor. Like Magic and Breeze, Sunshine has become more subtle in color than Destiny’s former flamboyant Joe Farcus designs.
There’s nothing restrained about the new WaterWorks water park, however. Its three adrenaline-rush water slides have excited cruisers lining up to conquer the 334-foot-long Twister. They shrieked all the way down the water slide, and bystanders cheered those trying out the dual racing slides. A gentle water play area caters to the younger cruisers, who squeal and scatter under the 150-gallon dump bucket. Above the ship, the suspended ropes course had plenty of participants.
At the opposite end of the the ship is Serenity, the complimentary adult retreat with a pool, a whirlpool and seductive, cushioned chaise lounges and chairs. Tell your clients to try to capture one of the circular two-person lounges. I’m a sucker for the sight and sound of a waterfall, and Serenity has a beautiful one with fabulous views.
In the evenings, popular movies are shown on the poolside 270-square-foot, high-tech LED screen. Movies at the Seaside Theatre were very popular with teens on our cruise. Alternatively, Sunshine’s Liquid Lounge nightclub rocks well into the night. It’s great fun for all, except for the cruisers in the staterooms just above the club on Deck 6 who complained abut the heavy bass.
All these activities mean that passengers are spread out, and there is no feeling of overcrowding even though Carnival added 182 staterooms to Sunshine. The clever and flexible use of space sends guests throughout the ship for meals, relaxation and entertainment. There were so many different things happening all over the ship that there were no long lines.
Sunshine sails in November from Europe to New Orleans, where she will offer weeklong roundtrip itineraries until April. She will then join Carnival Liberty in cruising from Port Canaveral on five-, seven- and eight-day Bahamas and Caribbean cruises.

Cruise industry is seeking big jump in telecom speeds

Cruise industry is seeking big jump in telecom speeds

By Tom Stieghorst
Cruise passenger laptopFaced with accelerating demands by passengers for digital connections for their mobile devices, cruise lines are pushing vendors for faster, cheaper, more reliable telecommunications at sea.

In response, the satellite providers are getting creative in their efforts to provide the bandwidth that enables Internet access, social media use and other telecom services.

Solutions include creating a hybrid of satellite and land-based carrier networks, installing additional antennae on ships for more flexible, reliable signal tracking and using satellites in lower orbits to reduce signal transmission times.

In some cases, passengers can expect a “dramatic” rise in the speed of Internet access from the ships, one analyst said.

The innovations from companies such as MTN Satellite Communications and Harris CapRock are being implemented now, although they won’t start being ready for use until next year or 2015.

“There are a whole series of new technologies and satellites that are going to be available in the coming couple of years that will greatly improve the performance and the available bandwidth on those ships,” said Rick Simonian, president of maritime solutions at Harris CapRock.

With its purchase of CapRock Communications in 2010, Harris Corp. embraced a commitment to the cruise ship segment. Since then, it has won contracts with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Carnival Corp. to install new equipment and provide services.

Its contract with Carnival, disclosed in mid-October, covers more than 100 ships in the fleets of 10 Carnival brands.

Harris CapRock said it will provide bandwidth levels higher than those previously available on each fleet to meet “new service requirements Carnival set for its guests and crew.”

Simonian said a key piece of the puzzle is installation of more than one satellite antenna on each ship. Most ships, he said, have a single antenna, housed in a spherical dome fixed to the ship’s mast.

“The problem with that is that if the ship is turning and the line of sight to the satellite gets blocked by the smokestack, or if they’re in some other obstruction, then the service goes down,” he said.

Two antennae mitigate that problem and will also be capable of switching back and forth between different radio frequencies, C-band and Ku-band, using the resiliency of one and the greater bandwidth of the other as conditions change.

Earlier this year, Harris CapRock completed installing gear on 33 ships belonging to Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises. It will also integrate an ambitious new satellite system from O3b Networks, starting with the Oasis and Allure of the Seas.

O3b is launching satellites that orbit about 8,000 miles above the Earth, rather than the 23,000-mile distance of existing, geostationary satellites.

That cuts the back-and-forth signal speed to the satellites from 720 milliseconds to 130 milliseconds.

“It will dramatically increase the amount of bandwidth available, to kind of unheard-of rates,” Simonian said. “The only ships that get rates like this would be Navy aircraft carriers, just for comparison.”

O3b has launched four of its eight-satellites constellation and should be ready to serve the Oasis and Allure next spring, Simonian said.

But the O3b concept has some limitations and is unproven, said Chris Quilty, who covers satellite companies for the Raymond, James & Associates brokerage.

“Royal Caribbean has made a huge, very expensive bet on a category-killer solution for the cruise industry,” Quilty said.

One limit is that coverage doesn’t extended beyond latitudes up to 45 degrees north and south of the equator, which excludes cruise areas such as the Baltic Sea and Alaska.

Also, O3b’s satellites aren’t fixed in geosynchronous position like higher-orbiting satellites, so they have to be tracked.

“One is coming up over the horizon as the other is going down,” Quilty said. The tracking system that’s required, he said, “is much more complex. I would say it’s a high-risk, high reward proposition.”

MTN Communications is offering a different solution, one that seamlessly switches satellite signals from satellites to land-based networks when ships approach or are in ports.

When that happens, existing satellite bandwidth is freed up for use by cruise ships farther out at sea.

“Adding more satellite bandwidth will no longer solve the ‘constantly connected’ demand,” said Errol Olivier, president and CEO of MTN. “And, way too often, adding more bandwidth just raises the costs for cruise operators.”

As cruise lines roll out MTN’s hybrid system and other solutions, such as the one offered by Harris CapRock, the retail cost of Internet service, which is currently 50 cents to 75 cents per minute, should come down, even as performance improves.

How much prices will drop and speeds will increase is up to the cruise lines, Simonian said, adding, “That information is proprietary. They [the cruise lines] want to protect that.”

MTN once held upward of 90% of the cruise industry communications market, and it still serves Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, Pullmantur, Windstar Cruises and others.

Still, Harris in recent months has gained a big foothold by landing the two biggest companies in the industry as customers.

Brad Grady, an analyst at Northern Sky Research, said that because Harris is a big, public company with a broad client base ranging from the U.S. Navy to the global oil and gas industry, it can use its scale to reduce prices.

“There is always a bigger fish willing to do more at a better price,” he said. “And for larger end-users, specialization does not necessarily beat price.”

Quilty said that except for the U.S. government, Harris is the largest consumer of satellite capacity in the world.

“By definition it is an economy-of-scale business, so you can generally buy capacity at a lower price,” he said.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Royal Caribbean's increase in on-board revenue attributed to cruise ship revitalizations

Royal Caribbean's increase in on-board revenue attributed to cruise ship revitalizations


Royal Caribbean reported third quarter financial results today and the big "star" of the results was the on-board spending, with a 7% increase overall.  So what is Royal Caribbean's secret?  They think it's all about the revitalization program.
During the financial results conference call, Royal Caribbean Chief Financial Officer Jason Liberty pointed to a few key factors that are part of the fleet-wide renovations to why the company is seeing better guest spending on-board their ships.
  • Speciality Restaurants
  • Casino
  • Internet
  • Unlimited alcohol packages
  • Shore excursions
"We benefited from new on-board venues introduced as a result of our revitalizations, and we saw further strength in spending from our U.S. customers, which helped generate improvement in gaming, beverage, speciality dining and shore excursions," Liberty said during the conference call.

Royal Caribbean CEO Adam Goldstein elaborated on how the company is looking to get more on-board spending, "So as I believe we mentioned earlier, gaming, beverage, shore excursions, retail and also some of the smaller revenue streams, internet has been doing well for us, which we wanted to see because we made a significant investment in, I think, 7 or 8x more bandwidth to the ships this year, and that seems to be paying off. 

So a number of the investments that we have already made, we would expect to continue to pay dividends and revenue growth into 2014 and beyond. And we continue to look under every stone for on-board revenue opportunities that don't conflict with the satisfaction of the product offering."

Basically, guests are spending more money in all these aspects and most of these venues are areas of the cruise ships that get upgraded or added as part of the revitalization program
When each ship is refurbished, more restaurants are added and wifi is spread out to more areas across the ship. Add to that the new drink packages and Royal Caribbean is offering its guests more opportunities to spend money.

Royal Caribbean will add cabins to Voyager ships

Royal Caribbean will add cabins to Voyager ships

By Tom Stieghorst
Each of Royal Caribbean's Voyager-class ships will gain about 75 additional cabins during revitalizations scheduled to begin in the next few months.

Royal Caribbean International CEO Adam Goldstein disclosed the capacity increase in a call with Wall Street analysts to discuss third-quarter earnings.

The Voyager class started in 1999 with the introduction of Voyager of the Seas. Each of the five Voyager-class ships currently have capacity for 3,114 passengers at double occupancy.

Goldstein said that when Voyager was introduced, it was never expected to sail outside the Caribbean, but the ships have led expansions into Europe and Asia. He said the five ships account for about 25% of the cruise line's total capacity.

During Royal Caribbean's third quarter financial results conference call, Royal Caribbean CEO Adam Goldstein mentioned that as part of the fleet-wide revitalization program, all Voyager class ships will receive 75 new staterooms.

Voyager class ships are the next batch of Royal Caribbean's ships to get the upgrades that will roll out many new amenities and upgrades, first seen on the Oasis class.  These new staterooms, however, are a departure from other ship upgrades and unique to the 

Voyager class.
The order of upgrades is currently scheduled as follows
  • Navigator of the Seas: February 2014
  • Adventure of the Seas: April 2014
  • Voyager of the Seas: May 2014
  • Explorer of the Seas: February 2015
Mariner of the Seas received her upgrade back on May 2, 2012 and did not receive a stateroom upgrade at that time.

Canadian agent group asks Carnival to change NCF policy

Canadian agent group asks Carnival to change NCF policy

By Tom Stieghorst
The Association of Canadian Travel Agents (ACTA) has sent Carnival Corp. a letter asking that it reconsider its handling of the noncommissionable portion of cruise fares.

In a dispatch to members, group President David McCaig said he is raising the issue now to respond to newly named Carnival CEO Arnold Donald’s call for improved relations with agents.

“The hope is that under Mr. Donald’s leadership, ACTA’s voice will not fall on deaf ears,” the memo said.
Commenting on the letter, a Carnival spokesman said, "Travel agents are absolutely critical to our long-term success, and we are doing a number of positive things across our 10 brands to continue to strengthen our ties with our agency partners around the world. We certainly understand and appreciate the issues being raised, and I know Arnold plans to look into this further and give this issue a thorough review with his leadership team."

McCaig said that noncommissionable fees (NCFs) create misunderstanding and distrust with clients because the charges are hard to explain.

He wrote that traditionally an agent will present NCFs to a client with terms such as “supplemental fares,” “nondisclosed cruise fees,” “add-on fares” or “hidden surcharges.”

“When a travel agent seeks support from Carnival Cruise Lines’ reservations to quantify NCFs, they are always at a loss to do so,” McCaig said. “It is unfair that travel agents are portrayed as an obstacle to lower fares.”

NCFs are used not only by Carnival’s brands but by most cruise lines, which say that the fees reflect unspecified government fees and other charges that amount to pass-through costs not part of the product.

Eric Maryanov, president of, said he thinks NCFs could be better detailed by the industry in general.

“Taxes, port charges, I get it,” he said. But some cruise invoices have a line item for port charges and then another that simply says “NCF” with no explanation of what that NCF is, he said.

McCaig said the letter to Carnival asks Donald to “seriously consider changing Carnival brands’ NCF commission policy by establishing familiar and consistent terminology for the travel agency community to use with their clients.” It also asks Carnival to commission the cruise “with both amounts combined (commissionable and noncommissionable) at current levels.

McCaig said in the dispatch to members that he sent the letter on Oct. 23.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Port Everglades slip to be lengthened

Port Everglades slip to be lengthened

By Tom Stieghorst

Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale said it was awarded a $1.85 million allocation to lengthen Slip 2 by 250 feet to accommodate larger cruise ships.

The award from the Florida Seaport Transportation and Economic Development Council becomes part of a budget that goes before the Florida legislature next spring.

The slip will be extended west and will be 1,150 feet long and 42 feet deep when completed in September 2016.

The engineering firm Bermello Ajamil & Partner was awarded the planning and design contract.

The work coincides with a $13.4 million renovation of Terminal 4 set to be finished by the fall cruise season in 2014. 

Costa to market boutique cruising under new brand

Costa to market boutique cruising under new brand

By Tom Stieghorst
Costa Cruises said two of its older, smaller ships will offer a new style of cruising and be marketed under the NeoCollection brand.

The ships, the NeoRomantica and NeoRiviera, will do longer, more leisurely itineraries with plenty of time in port in what Costa has labeled "slow cruising." There will be an emphasis on locally sourced food and custom shore excursions.

Many of the itineraries are exclusive to the NeoCollection ships, which can go to smaller ports less accessible to Costa's bigger vessels.

For example, The "Mediterranean Heart" itinerary departs Savona and calls at Toulon, France; Salerno and Livorno, Italy; Valletta, Malta; Porto Empedocle, Sicily, and concludes with an overnight call at Barcelona.

At 1,248 passengers (NeoRiviera) and 1,578 passengers (NeoRomantica), the two NeoCollection ships are among the smallest in Costa's fleet.

Shore excursions for groups of 25 or fewer guests have been designed to highlight cultural and natural attractions in each destination.

New menus developed in collaboration with Università delle Scienze Gastronomiche in Pollenza, Italy, feature authentic cuisine that incorporates local food and wines.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Google updates the UK customer journey with latest travel data

Google updates the UK customer journey with latest travel data

By Travolution
By Travolution

The number of websites UK travel consumers look at before booking has dropped considerably, according to the latest Google data.
Nigel Huddleston, head of travel at Google, told the Abta Travel Convention in Croatia this week that the average is now 11 compared to around 20 just a few years ago.
However, the rise of mobile means around four to five sites may be added to that figure, he said. Mobile has a far smaller conversion rate and most firms adjust their figures to take account of this.
However, Google insight shows just how important mobile is becoming, with sharing - such as photos on holiday or ideas before booking - now becoming part of all of Google’s ‘Five Stages of Travel’.
“The fifth stage of travel – sharing – is now part of the entire process. People are sharing ideas at the very earliest stages of travel,” Huddleston said.
“We have research to suggest 86% of smartphone owners share photos on holiday and people look at social media every single day when on holiday.”
On desktop three out of four people use search and in any given month an average of 44% of the UK adult population is looking for travel online.
That figure is highest in February (48%) and lowest in September (39%), and on average people take 73 days to research their trip before booking.
In looking at 11 different sites, the average person completes 17 individual online sessions. Huddleston said this pointed to the increased important of brand association.
He said in the past a customer would return to a brand three times during the search and book process. A couple of years ago that figure was two.
The Google data shows that mobile and tablet accounts for 30% to 40% of total queries and four in ten people book offline.
In terms of research, 45% do it exclusively online, 8% exclusively offline and 40% combine the two, while the remainder do none.
Huddleston said: “We are one of the most sophisticated internet economies in the world, especially when it comes to travel.
“While the internet is really important in the initial search and journey overall, visiting stores and travel agencies comes up in the list of most influential aspects when it comes to purchase decisions.
“People want validation of their choice. If they want a family holiday by the beach they want to be two miles away on the other side of a motorway.
“Is it offering good value for money? Nobody wants to go on holiday and find out the person next to them has got it cheaper than they have.”
Delegates were told that, although advanced, travel has lost its leadership position online to the retail sector.
“One reason was we were forever trying to push our customers to the booking point when they were not ready to book. Very few sites do a good job of inspiring the customer.”
Huddlestone picked out easyJet’s recently launched Inspire Me tool as a good example of something he said Google was seeing more of.
Google has seen a huge rise in tablet traffic but around a third of this is being done while the user is sitting on the sofa at home, probably watching a second screen, the TV.
Huddlestone said the Brits love their smartphones and while it is more difficult to get conversions on these devices, sectors like hotels and some OTAs are doing well.
The data shows while 26% of Brits use smartphones to research, only 12% go on to buy on the device. Smartphone package holiday bookings account for just 3% to 4% of the sector.
Google is seeing increased use of other visual functions like maps and photo tours. It has added flight routes to Google Maps and 360 degree tours.
Voice search is the next big thing, Huddlestone said, before demonstrating how the experience is becoming a lot more intuitive and semantic.
“Technology is improving and we are trying to be a little bit more human in the ways we interact, a little bit like if you went into a travel agent.”

Technology and the shipboard library

Technology and the shipboard library

By Tom Stieghorst

The ship’s library has always been a small but special part of the cruise experience. But for how much longer?  
The library at sea, like libraries everywhere, is under siege by changing technology. And whether ships need to set aside space for libraries in the future is very much being debated as new ships are designed.

Carnival cruise director and blogger extraordinaire John Heald said in a recent posting that the library on the recent transatlantic crossing of the Carnival Legend was full of books.  *TomStieghorst 
"One thing all those transatlantic crossings had in common was that the library, by the end of the first sea day, sat entirely empty," Heald wrote. “Here on the Carnival Legend, the bookcases are full.
"Yep, the book is dead, long live the Kindle. Every deck I walk on, I see young and old reading their Kindles."

Even on an ocean crossing with presumably few younger, tech-savvy passengers on the manifest, the library remains fully stocked, Heald said: “Wherever I am, I see older people and their parents absorbed in their Kindles.”
Perhaps that’s just Carnival. Maybe the magnificent libraries on the Cunard Line fleet have emptier shelves on their Atlantic trips. But on most ships where space is at a premium, the library is an endangered species.

At the next major drydock nothing prevents a ship’s library from being converted to some other use. Heald suggested perhaps a cigar bar (a suggestion likely made for for comic effect, but maybe not.)
The trend is on display on Carnival Sunshine, the ship Carnival renovated from stem to stern earlier this year. While the library wasn’t eliminated or converted to another use, it now shares space with a bar.
Carnival is in the process of designing the next ship to set sail under its red and blue banner, the Carnival Vista. With Kindles in the hands of passengers young and old, it may well be the first Carnival ship without a library.

In his post Heald referred to a bookstore in Miami that he said was possibly a Borders, which he liked to visit when he comes to Miami. “It would not surprise me that, when I return there in November, it’s become a Walgreens or worse, a gym,” he wrote.
If in fact it was a Borders, it closed two years ago, along with the rest of the chain’s stores.  The Borders on South Dixie Highway in Miami reopened last week as a Trader Joe’s specialty market. 
At least it’s not a gym.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

HAL pulls Noordam from Eastern Med in 2014

HAL pulls Noordam from Eastern Med in 2014

By Tom Stieghorst

Holland America Line said it has made the decision to redeploy the Noordam away from its Eastern Mediterranean itineraries for all of 2014.

HAL had already cancelled port calls in Egypt for 2014 due to the unrest there. It said those cancellations created further operational and port implications that led to the redeployment.

Noordam will now do central and western Med itineraries next spring and summer. The cruise line is in the process of notifying guests and travel agents.

Guests booked on the previous itineraries can choose any 11- to 14-day cruise in Europe as a substitute, and receive the same stateroom category for the original cruise fare paid, plus a shipboard credit based on the stateroom category previously booked, HAL said. 

Lines roll out incentives for National Cruise Vacation Week

Lines roll out incentives for National Cruise Vacation Week

By Tom Stieghorst
Travel agents have a flood of special cruise offers to entice customers this week, the third annual National Cruise Vacation Week.

Organized by CLIA, the week generated some $55 million in cruise sales and $7 million in commissions for agents when it was launched two years ago.

This year's National Cruise Vacation Week may benefit from a marketing tailwind created by Carnival Cruise Lines' unusual $25 million fall advertising campaign that should raise awareness of cruising generally.

Cruise lines have minted scores of promotions for the week, offering reduced deposits, coupon books for onboard spending, free cabin upgrades and extra-low prices on select sailings.

Agent groups have jumped aboard with additional offers exclusive to their networks.

Cruise Planners, for example, has a $50 onboard credit for select Norwegian Cruise Line sailings, in addition to the cruise line's more broadly available offers, such as a $250 credit and reduced deposit for summer 2014 cruises.

Many agents offer the specials by putting together a mini-website with the National Cruise Vacation template, which provides space for up to four cruise line promotions.

Or they can organize special events that draw people into their agency or other locations for more personal networking.

Rich Skinner, a Seattle-area Cruise Holidays franchisee, is holding an open house on Oct. 23 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. that will also serve as a wine tasting. Four or five wines will each carry the name of a different cruise line.

"Because we're sitting out here in the middle of Washington wine country, it makes sense to do that," Skinner said.

During the business part of the get-together, Skinner will highlight trends for 2014, including river cruise growth, new ocean-going ships and new itineraries. Skinner said he does eight to 10 in-store events a year at his agency, Cruise Holidays of Woodinville.

"That's one of my most effective marketing tools," he said.

The fall CLIA event has grown from a single night to a week in the past few years, and some agents and cruise lines extend their specials beyond that. Cruise Planners is taking the whole month of October to promote various specials.

The network expects to take in nearly $20 million in revenue for October, up 69% from two years ago, spokeswoman Caitlin Murphy said.

"We encourage our 800-plus franchise travel advisers to host 'cruise nights' or virtual, online events during this campaign, and we support our agents with digital, Web and traditional marketing tools with this year's 'Taste of Travel' theme," Murphy said.

This year, Cruise Planners is also offering something extra to pull customers into National Cruise Vacation Week. They can enter a drawing to win $1,000 for each cruise they book in October. Murphy said the incentive has no cost to the travel agent.

"Many of our travel advisers appreciate this perk, as the value doesn't take away from their commissions," she said.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Carnival Corp. discloses new CEO's compensation

Carnival Corp. discloses new CEO's compensation

By Tom Stieghorst
ArnoldDonaldNew Carnival Corp. president and CEO Arnold Donald will be paid an annual salary of $1 million for the next three years under a new compensation agreement reached this week.

In addition to salary, Donald will get a bonus this year of $1.125 million and $350,000 in relocation and temporary living expenses.

Next year, Donald will be eligible for a bonus with a target amount of $2.65 million and a maximum amount of $5.3 million, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. His bonus for the 2015 year is not yet specified.

Donald also will participate in long-term incentive-based compensation plans, including a one-time grant of performance-based restricted stock with a target value of $3 million.

He will get an annual grant of Carnival stock worth $3.5 million a year.

The filing said Donald's compensation as a director of Carnival Corp. ended on July 3, the day he began his employment with Carnival. 

Seabourn confirms plans for new ship

Seabourn confirms plans for new ship

Seabourn has confirmed plans for a fourth mid-scale ultra luxury ship.
To enter service in 2016, the vessel will replace the capacity being lost with the sale of smaller ships Seabourn Pride, Spirit and Legend which will leave the fleet in April 2014 and the following year.
The new ship will be modelled after the line’s three newest vessels, Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Sojourn, and Seabourn Quest, and will encompass the features that have made these ships so successful, the line said
Seabourn president Richard Meadows said: "We are pleased to be moving forward with the plans we announced earlier this year to build a fourth ship similar to the highly regarded new design we introduced with Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Sojourn, and Seabourn Quest.
"The experience and the amenities offered by these award-winning ships have raised the bar in ultra-luxury cruising.”
Gabriele Cocco, senior vice president merchant vessels at Italian shipyard Fincantieri said: ”We are very pleased to have acquired a new customer like Seabourn and at the same time to have strengthened our historic partnership with the Carnival Group.
"This agreement is particularly important: it strengthens our leadership in the luxury cruise niche and confirms our primacy in the cruise industry.”

Sunday, 20 October 2013

American Cruise Lines adds new Mississippi cruise

American Cruise Lines adds new Mississippi cruise

By Michelle Baran
American Cruise Lines has added a new Mississippi itinerary for 2014 that runs from New Orleans to St. Louis.

The new, eight-day itinerary sails from New Orleans to St. Louis in one week instead of two, which is what American Cruise Lines previously had on offer. It will take place on the company’s 150-passenger paddlewheeler Queen of the Mississippi, which entered service in August 2012.

The new itinerary includes port calls in the Mississippi cities of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Natchez and Vicksburg, as well as in Memphis, Tenn., and St. Louis.

The cruise starts at $4,195 per person, based on double occupancy.

Ups and downs in the life of a river cruise market

Ups and downs in the life of a river cruise market

By Michelle Baran
InsightIn terms of cruising, the world’s rivers are all at different stages of maturation. Whereas the Nile River is an old-timer, with a river cruising tradition that dates back decades, Europe’s inland waterways are the sage adults of the river cruising industry, having benefited from years of unprecedented growth, investment and development.

And then there are the industry’s newer entrants, destinations like Southeast Asia’s Mekong River and Peru’s Amazon, where product and infrastructure have been gaining strength in recent years.

There are also rivers like the Mississippi that are experiencing a recent rebirth. 

And of course, the river cruise industry is always looking for the next breed of rivers, destinations like Myanmar’s Irrawaddy and India’s Ganges that are just now coming onto the scene. 

Regardless of where the river stands in the maturation process, there are advantages and disadvantages at each stage of development. Where Europe benefits from years of tweaking and perfecting the product, it also now faces the challenge of crowding and increased competition.

In emerging markets, the competition is less and the opportunities great, but so too are the frustrations of trying to building vessels that meet European standards in countries still rife with bureaucratic and economic problems.

A company like Breckenridge, Colo.-based Haimark is looking for opportunities in the emerging river cruise markets, hoping to capitalize on a river cruise industry that appears to be looking past the European boom.

Companies like Viking River Cruises, on the other hand, continue to invest heavily in the firmly established European market, where Viking clearly believes there is room for further growth as it prepares to launch another 14 ships there in 2014.

Are there some prenatal rivers on the horizon? Certainly. But river cruise lines are keeping pretty tight-lipped about them if there are.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Celebrity Cruises raises drinks package prices

Celebrity Cruises raises drinks package prices

By Tom Stieghorst
Celebrity Cruises has changed its drinks package, raising the price if the plan is not purchased in advance of the cruise.

The new two-tier price system means that the Classic Package that costs $44 per person, per day in advance costs $49 on the ship. The Classic Package includes beers up to $5 and mixed drinks and wine up to $8, as well as non-alcoholic beverages.

Pricing spreads of $2 to $4 per person, per day apply to other packages including non-alcoholic beverages. On the Premium Package that includes alcoholic drinks priced up to $12, the price spread is $5 per person, per day.

The new pricing became effective Sept. 20. The prices prevailing at that time became the pre-purchase prices, with the onboard prices going up, Celebrity said. 

Celebrity Cruises raises drinks package prices

Premium & Classic Beverage Packages

Premium & Classic Beverage Packages

From bottled water to wine by the glass, relax in the freedom and convenience of having all your cruise beverages included for one price.
*Starting from: 9.24 GBP Per NIGHT
Taste of the Vineyards Wine Packages

Taste of the Vineyards Wine Packages

Offers a variety of international wines by the bottle that will meet your preferences. Choose 3, 5, or 7 bottle packages and make your specific wine selection on board.
*Starting from:65.34 GBP Per PACKAGE

Soda Package

Soda Package

Enjoy refreshing Coca-Cola® beverages throughout your cruise. Available as fountain drinks or canned drinks.
*Starting from: 4.62 GBP Per NIGHT
Premium Bottled Water Package

Premium Bottled Water Package

Refresh your thirst from our selection of both still and sparkling bottled water, including Evian® , Pellegrino® and Perrier®.
*Starting from: 7.92 GBP Per NIGHT

Stateroom Bar Setup

Stateroom Bar Setup

Enjoy your favorite bottle of spirits, with an assortment of mixers and ice bucket, in the comfort of your stateroom. Choices include Classic and Premium brands. Simply indicate the spirit of your choice and let Celebrity take care of the rest.
*Starting from:52.80 GBP Per PACKAGE
Riedel Comparative Wine Crystal Workshop

Riedel Comparative Wine Crystal Workshop

Attend Riedel's Wine Glass Comparative Workshop onboard Celebrity. In this unique workshop, you'll taste different varieties and learn how the shape of a glass affects the experience of every sip.
*Starting from:54.12 GBP Per PACKAGE