Thursday, 29 September 2016

American Queen launching another Mississippi ship next year

American Queen launching another Mississippi ship next year

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The American Queen Steamboat Co. will add a third vessel to its river fleet in 2017. The 340-foot American Duchess is slated to launch on the Mississippi River next June.
“We’re running full these days,” said American Queen President and COO Ted Sykes. “We’ve been scouring the country for more capacity.”
The company’s flagship vessel, the American Queen, is entering its sixth season cruising the Mississippi. The line expanded in 2014, adding the American Empress in the Pacific Northwest. Now in 2017, American Queen will grow again, converting a former gaming vessel purchased from parent company HMS Global Maritime in August into the all-suite Duchess. The river cruise line plans to gut the ship, rebuilding the interior hotel and adding a working paddlewheel.
The four-deck Duchess will carry 166 passengers in 83 suites, including three 550-square-foot owner’s suites and four 550-square-foot loft suites. Other cabin categories will include deluxe suites (450 square feet), outside veranda suites (240 to 330 square feet) and interior staterooms (180 to 200 square feet).
Compared with the American Queen, Sykes said the new ship will offer a more elevated experience.
Two onboard dining venues will be included in the cruise fare, along with beer and wine at dinner, onboard entertainment and shore excursions. The Grand Dining Room will have open seating and be capable of accommodating the entire ship’s capacity.
American Queen plans to operate the American Duchess year-round on the upper and lower Mississippi. Its voyages will include weeklong roundtrip sailings out Nashville and nine-day voyages between Memphis and New Orleans, and St. Louis and Ottawa, Ill. (about 83 miles from Chicago). The Duchess will also overnight in Nashville, a first for the company.
Prices for most sailings start at $2,999 and top out at $9,499 for one of the three owner’s suites. The Duchess will begin accepting bookings for the 2017 season on Oct. 1.

Viking, one of the most interesting stories in cruising, just got more interesting

Viking, one of the most interesting stories in cruising, just got more interesting

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Viking Cruises quietly turned an important corner last week - one that signals the company may be on the cusp of significant growth. 

The transition came through a vehicle called MISA Investments Ltd., which received a $500 million equity infusion from TPG Capital and the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board.

Few in the cruise world recognize MISA Investments as the parent company of Viking Cruises. I know I didn't. But after the deal, 17% of MISA will be owned by Canada's retirement plan and TPG.

The significance of that is that until now, Viking has been a privately held company, financed primarily by European banks.  The new financing represents Viking's first institutional equity.

There's only so far private money can take a cruise line. With the notable exception of MSC Cruises, big cruise companies turn big when they gain access to other people's money.

The latest example of that was Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. It became publicly-held in 2013, but before it went public it benefitted from private equity interest as well.

And TPG Capital was one of two funds (along with Apollo Group) to put money into Norwegian. Their dollars paid off debt and financed new ships at Norwegian, which led to higher cash flows, taking the company to its long-anticipated public offering.

Now TPG could be setting the stage for something similar at Viking. 

"Having been a long-time investor in the cruise industry, we see Viking as a market innovator that has reimagined how people explore the world, with an iconic brand and strong product offering that has significant growth potential," said Paul Hackwell, principal at TPG, in announcing the investment.

Hackwell said he looked forward to working with Viking CEO Torstein Hagen to expand, "both in products offered and regions served."

TPG once held north of 10% of NCLH, but it has harvested its gains and now holds about 5 million shares, or 2.3% according to a 2016 proxy statement

For his part, Hagen said the new equity "will give us great opportunities to grow further, particularly in destination-focused ocean cruising as well as cruising in Europe for Chinese consumers."

In short, one of the most interesting stories in cruising just got more interesting.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Families and Ecotourism: A Natural Fit

Families and Ecotourism: A Natural Fit

Lee County Top Image

Just as the 100th birthday of the National Park Service is casting a spotlight on U.S. national parks in 2016, we can expect an enhanced emphasis on ecotourism throughout 2017—declared the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development by the United Nations. 

To be sure, the idea of ecotourism isn’t a new one—it’s already known as one of the fastest growing segments in the tourism industry. Put that together with family travel—another of the industry’s rapidly growing segments—and the time is ripe for family vacations that include ecotourism. 

At its core, the concept of ecotourism is simple. According to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), ecotourism is defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education."  

And, as with so many segments of tourism, the line blurs easily, with ecotourism overlapping with adventure travel, wellness travel and voluntourism, to name just a few other popular segments that often go hand-in-hand with ecotourism. 

“Travel agents have a remarkable ability to influence where people go,” says Jon Bruno, executive director of TIES. “Ecotourism provides so many opportunities—and it doesn’t have to be 100 percent. It could be adding on a tour that has an ecotourism aspect to it, choosing accommodations that are a member of TIES, introducing the concept of asking about sustainability practices…”

“Many people automatically turn to big theme parks, giant cruise ships, all-inclusive resorts and those kinds of things when they think of family travel,” says Chris “Chez” Chesak, executive director of the Family Travel Association. “Those are all great products that are appropriate for families—but there’s also such a diversity of experiences that lie outside those products. We’re seeing an increasing interest in ecotourism and suppliers who consider children the next generation and stewards of the earth—they love to educate children about the impact on the land and local communities.” 


For some, ecotourism means a group of millennials climbing Mount Everest; for others, it’s a month-long safari tour of South Africa—but for most, it’s a natural integration of the unique environmental and cultural aspects of any destination into a vacation experience. 

“Kids and nature just go together—it’s such an easy match,” says Lauren Goldenberg, founder of the Family Traveler, an agency focused on family travel whose clients tend to be in the deluxe to luxury range. “It can fit into any style of vacation and almost anybody’s trip plan—from making time to kayak at the beach all the way up to going cruising around the Galapagos Islands to learn about Darwin.” 

At the mid-range, Julia Slatcher, owner of Inspire World Travel, sees a similar interest in incorporating nature and learning into any vacation experience. Beyond the pure fun such activities can add to a vacation, she’s also seeing clients who start with the idea of “adding meaning to their travel,” she says. “A lot of parents today are interested in travel that helps their kids learn and care about the world. They want their children to be good citizens of the world, and they’re looking for ways to add that element to their travel—while bearing in mind that they have limited vacation time and also want to have a good time and relax.”  

And sometimes it’s the kids themselves who seek meaning in their travel experiences. Lauren Maggard, a luxury travel consultant at Jet Set World Travel, recently planned a high-end trip to Africa for a family with two teenage daughters. “One of the daughters is vegan and very environmentally focused,” she explains. “They asked us to make sure that every accommodation option we chose had an opportunity for the family to engage in philanthropy or to give back to the community. Budget wasn’t an issue, but it was a challenge to find the right mix of upscale properties with an environmental focus, community outreach and vegan cuisine options.” 

While Maggard’s challenges for that trip were very specific, other aspects of incorporating ecotourism into family travel are more common. Here’s a look at some of the elements that need to be factored in when planning a family ecotourism trip. 

Decoding the Language 
It’s rare for a client, especially one with a family in tow, to specifically ask for “ecotourism” when they’re describing their needs and desires. “Look for the client who’s saying something like ‘We want something more; we don’t want to just lie by the pool; we’re looking for something rewarding,’ ” says Chesak. “That person might not even know it yet—but if they’re looking for something ‘more,’ the concept of ecotourism should certainly be introduced.” 

The Environmental Cost of Travel

If the eco aspect is a major part of the trip, the accommodations and method of travel choices are key parts of setting the tone. For accommodations, look for those that are certified green (standards may be set by a statewide entity such as the Florida Society for Ethical Tourism, or at the national level, like LEED certification in the U.S.) as well as properties that are members of ecotourism associations. 

The family aspect can add further complications to an accommodations choice. “Not all places have accommodations with connecting rooms, and even some that do won’t guarantee that the rooms will be connecting before the travelers arrive,” says Goldenberg. “In other situations, you have kids who won’t share a bed or a teenager who won’t sleep on a rollaway. We extract all the information we can from the parents to find out what will work best for their unique situation.” 

Unless clients are literally just walking down their own street, there’s going to be some environmental impact from the mode of transportation. Train travel has less of a per-person impact on the environment, but its use is limited by destination choice. Air travel will leave the largest carbon footprint, although moves by the airline industry to make planes more fuel efficient (and more crowded) continue to bring down the impact. Bruno also points out that travelers can contribute to carbon offset programs and that TIES continues to urge airlines to make such programs more easily accessible. 

Age Counts 

While there’s no age limit for ecotourism, some trips naturally lend themselves to older children. “If a family is considering a safari, I recommend waiting until the youngest child is about 10 so they can really participate in and remember the experience,” says Maggard as an example of a trip where age matters. 

On the other hand, Bruno points out, “Children of all ages love animals—and almost any place in the world, you can find a unique animal experience, whether it’s watching baby sea turtles make their way to the sea, a bald eagle nest in a tree, a live moose wandering by. When children see these kinds of things up close, it can have a lifelong effect.” 

And don’t forget multigen travel. Just as very young children add some constraints to the possibilities, so too might grandparents. But that’s certainly not always the case. Maggard cites a recent example where a grandmother was not only part of an ecotourism-focused trip, but the driving force. “She was hell-bent on showing her family that not everyone was as well off as they were,” says Maggard. And to that end, the eco-focused trip to Costa Rica, which included the grandmother, her son, his wife and the grandchildren, included a week of eco-opportunities, such as picking up garbage, recycling and hands-on community work, before a more leisurely stay at a high-end villa. 

The Great Balancing Act
Almost any kind of travel requires balancing disparate needs to some extent—desire vs. budget, activities vs. relaxation, time required to do a trip “properly” vs. available vacation time and so on. Many of these factors become even more exacerbated when children are involved. Here are some specific areas to be sure to consider.  

Know the children’s limitations: A 4-year-old can’t go ziplining and even a 7-year-old is not going to be able to do a full-day hike. Consider if all activities are physically possible, appropriate and desirable for the ages of the kids. “Sometimes we’ve had issues with families that have older children and one much younger child,” says Goldenberg. “In that case, we have to modify the activity or suggest splitting up for part of the day.” For example, can the older children and mom take to the zipline, while dad goes shelling with the younger children? Or can the little ones stay at a hotel kids center while the parents go deep-sea fishing? And if there’s really no good solution? “Sometimes we actually recommend holding off for a few years until the youngest are old enough to really enjoy and appreciate the trip,” says Goldenberg.  

Don’t underestimate the kids: On the flip side, do plan activities that will give children the chance to explore outside their comfort zone and possibly learn that they like things they didn’t know about. “You never know what a child will find interesting,” says Slatcher. “Maybe it’s birding—with the right guide, kids might find they’re fascinated by something they never even thought about before.” 

Prepare the kids ahead of time: Slatcher recommends a reading list for kids so they have some sense of where they’re going. There are kids’ books and movies that take place almost any place in the world, from the beach to the Grand Canyon to India. She also recommends taking cues from the kids in planning the specifics: “If a child has read a book or seen a movie that takes place in the destination and keeps talking about one aspect, we’ll do our best to include that aspect, whether they’ve become fixated on seeing a certain animal or want to go river rafting like their favorite heroine.” 

Schedule—but don’t overschedule: As with any trip, if clients know they want to do something, it’s best to schedule it from the start to make sure it’s available and they’ve left the right time for it. But with kids along, scheduled free time becomes even more crucial. “We try to schedule one or two activities a day and then give options for downtime,” says Maggard. “Kids move at a slower pace and take in things more slowly than adults. They also need time to release energy—maybe there’s an organized bike tour in the morning, but free-time swimming in the afternoon—or even a nap.” Slatcher, too, recommends ensuring plenty of downtime. “With my own family, we like to take an hour or two before dinner to decompress,” she says. “It allows us to maximize the value of the day. Kids need to process what they’ve seen and experienced, even if they don’t know it.”

Carnival Corp reports strong forward bookings following record summer

Carnival Corp reports strong forward bookings following record summer

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Overall forward bookings for Carnival Corporation cruise brands for the first half of 2017 are ahead of the same time last year at “considerably” higher prices.

The disclosure from the world’s largest cruise line conglomerate – which accounts for 10 lines including P&O Cruises and Cunard - came as it projected profit growth of almost 25% this year.

The group reported net income for the three peak summer months to August 31 up to $1.4 billion from $1.2 billion in the same period last year.

President and chief executive Arnold Donald said: “We delivered the strongest quarterly earnings in our company's history affirming our ongoing efforts to expand consumer demand in excess of measured capacity increases and leverage our industry leading scale.

“Revenues during the peak summer season were bolstered by strong performances from both our North American and European brands and across all major deployments including the Caribbean, Alaska and Europe.”

Looking forward, the company said: “At this time, cumulative advance bookings for the first half of next year are ahead of the prior year at considerably higher prices.

“Since June, booking volumes for the first half of next year are lower than the prior year, as there is less inventory remaining for sale, at significantly higher prices.”

Donald added: "We are well on track to deliver nearly 25% earnings growth in 2016. With cash from operations expected to reach a record $5 billion this year, we continue to fund our growth and return cash to shareholders.

"Looking forward, we are well positioned for continued earnings growth given the current strength of our booking and pricing trends in 2017."

Monday, 26 September 2016

MSC Cruises North America's Roberto Fusaro

MSC Cruises North America's Roberto Fusaro

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MSC Meraviglia

MSC Cruises recently named Roberto Fusaro, long-time manager of its South America division, to be president of MSC Cruises North America after naming the current head, Rick Sasso, as chairman of the division. Fusaro spoke to senior editor Tom Stieghorst about his new position.

Q: Where were you born? Where did you go to school?
A: I was born and raised in Argentina, in Buenos Aires. I majored in accounting and I worked on what in the U.S. would be a CPA. I worked at an accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, for a while. And then I transferred to Chicago with that firm and at the same time ... I did my MBA at the University of Chicago.

Q: After Arthur Andersen, did you join the cruise industry?

A: Actually, after I left Chicago, I was working for a holding company in Milan. And Costa Crociere was looking for a CFO for a joint venture they were doing in South Florida [in 1993]. The company was called American Family Cruises. ... This was my first experience with the cruise industry. I didn't know about the industry then; I was just a finance guy. Unfortunately, the execution was very poor, so Costa decided to wind down the company after a few months, and they offered for me to go to Genoa [in Italy] to run the revenue-management department. So that's the way I started my career in the cruise industry.

Q: When you went back to South America, what did you learn when you went to work for MSC?

A: In South America I learned a lot of things. The power of offering a good value to the market. The difficulty of dealing with some government bureaucracies. Perhaps the most instructive thing I learned in South America was the value of a private company. The difference in working for a company like MSC is having the cellphone [number] of the CEO and being able to call him at any time with a proposal, and after two or three questions he'll give me the green light to go ahead. That was invaluable. I don't think that MSC would have grown as it did in South America if we had to do a 10-page report to deploy more capacity. The decisions were made very quickly, and the company was very responsive to the needs of the market, and I think that's what makes MSC different.

Q: What do you think is your strength as a manager?

A: I think my strength is in developing people and helping them to try to get to their full potential. I like to think of myself as a facilitator and company coach. One of my proudest achievements is that any time I left an executive position, my second-in-command took over. 

Q: What will be the division of roles between you and Sasso as MSC grows?

A: There will be the usual division of chairman and president. Rick will look after government issues, and I will run the company on a day-to-day basis. I will have the luxury of having such a legend of the industry as a privileged adviser on major issues, but the decisions, good or bad, will be my responsibility.

Q: In the past, MSC has had some favorable terms for travel agents. What can they expect in this area?

A: We're always going to do what's best for the business, the company and the partners. We live by our travel agent partners and recognize that they are critical to our success. We won't be able to get to 5 million passengers without their help. So we will continue to prioritize our partners and make it as easy as possible to work with us

Fathom creates new Cuba shore excursions

Fathom creates new Cuba shore excursions

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Fathom Cruise in Cuba

Fathom has created three new excursions for guests on its Cuba cruises that leave every other week from Miami.
“In Hemingway’s Footsteps” shows off Havana through the eyes of the American author and includes stops at his home, Finca Vigia, and his favorite fishing village, Cojimar, where guests can step into the room in which he wrote “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” The five-hour tour is $59 per person.
In “Beyond Havana: Exploring the Cuban Countryside,” passengers will explore the rural side of Cuba, including coffee and sugar cultivation and visit Las Terrazas biosphere reserve. The nine-hour tour includes lunch and is $69.
Also priced at $69 is “Magic of Santiago Featuring El Cobre.” Highlights include the final resting place of Cuban hero Jose Marti and a tour of San Juan Hill, home to the Rough Riders assault during the Spanish-American War.  
The six-hour tour ventures beyond the limits of the Santiago city center into the Sierra Maestra mountain range for the city of El Cobre, a historic copper-mining town with African influence.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Familiar themes emerge at CruiseWorld China

Familiar themes emerge at CruiseWorld China

From left: Alan Buckelew of Carnival Corp., Adam Goldstein of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Frank Del Rio of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Gianni Onorato of MSC Cruises.

BEIJING -- To U.S. travel agents, the themes that emerged from this week's CruiseWorld China might have seemed reminiscent of issues that surfaced over the past three decades of cruise industry development in the U.S.
"We need to bring across the idea that the cruise is the destination, instead of just a mode of transportation," said Zheng Weihang, executive vice president and secretary general of the China Cruise & Yacht Industry Association.
Adam Goldstein, chairman of CLIA and president and COO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., added: "A vast number of people have no idea what a cruise vacation is about, what happens onboard and how it offers great value."
And Anthony Kaufman, executive vice president of International Operations for Princess Cruises, counseled that a travel agent's responsibility includes "understanding the uniqueness of each cruise product and imparting that knowledge to the consumers." 
Although much of the conversation sounded like Cruise Sales 101, not all of the issues facing a quickly-growing, rapidly evolving industry have a North American parallel. The vast majority of cruises in China are charters, with cabins sold by a handful of mega-agencies, some of them larger than the cruise lines themselves. They, in turn, rely on a network of sub-agencies to help them fill ships. 

The sustainability of the charter model was called into question by most of the cruise executives present, though none called for abandoning it outright. The general consensus was that it has helped the market get to where it is today, but more diversity in sales options will be healthier for long-term growth.

Calling charters a "force-feeding" model, Zinan Liu, Royal Caribbean International's president of China and North Asia Pacific region and chairman of CLIA North Asia, said the charter model was successful in the past six years when consumer awareness was low and the sales force of cruise lines small. He predicted it will likely continue to coexist with other distribution models.

Kaufman noted that it continues to be the foundation for China's cruise market and at present enables travel agencies to maintain better control of the customer experience and pricing. But, he said, whether it continues to dominate might depend on individual company strategies.

That each of the four largest cruise lines was represented by a top corporate executive suggests that China's potential is still very much front of mind:

• Carnival Corp. COO Alan Buckelew provided an overview of the company's 10 brands and revealed that the most luxurious Princess ship yet built will sail Chinese waters.

• Goldstein wore two hats. As chairman of CLIA, he provided an overview of industry growth, with a focus on China, and as president and COO of RCCL, he promoted Royal Caribbean International ships.

• Norwegian Cruise Line Holding Ltd. CEO Frank Del Rio provided updated details about the Norwegian Joy, a ship being built specially for the Chinese market, whose inaugural cruise is slated for June 23.

• MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato provided more details after having announced the day before that a second ship, the Splendida, would be heading to China to join the Lirica.

In addition to the international development and regional line executives quoted above, onstage were Buhdy Bok, president of Costa Group Asia; David Herrera, president of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings China; Roger Chen, chairman of Carnival Corp. China; Harry Sommer, executive vice president for international development at Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings; Helen Huang, president of Greater China, MSC Cruises; and Fan Min, chairman and CEO of SkySea Cruise Line.

Carnival building two Vista-class ships in China

Carnival building two Vista-class ships in China

Buhdy Bok (left), president of Costa Group Asia, and Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald at the China Cruise and Yacht Industry Association conference, after Donald announced an agreement to build ships in China. Photo Credit: Arnie Weissmann

Carnival Corp. has signed a memorandum of understanding to build two Vista-class cruise ships in China intended for use by a Chinese cruise brand.
The ships have been discussed in general terms as part of an earlier disclosure of a shipbuilding joint venture between Carnival, China State Shipbuilding Corp. and Italian firm Fincantieri.
The agreement was announced at the 11th annual China Cruise Shipping and International Cruise Expo in Tianjin, China.
The memorandum specifies that the first of the two ships would be delivered in 2022. There is also an option to build two more Vista-class ships. The first Vista-class ship, the Carnival Vista, entered service last May.
Carnival said that the agreement is “non-binding.” If the ships are built, it would be a groundbreaking development, marking the first time that sophisticated cruise ships are built in China for the Chinese domestic market.
A Carnival joint venture in China would operate the new ships as part of plans to launch the first multi-ship domestic cruise brand in China.
If the joint venture is finalized, in all likelihood older ships from Carnival Corp. brands would sail for the new brand in advance of the 2022 new build, said Roger Frizzell, chief communications officer for Carnival Corp.
Other partners in the operating joint venture include China State Shipbuilding Corp. and the China Investment Capital Corp.
“Being able to offer cruises on China-built cruise ships represents a new opportunity for us to generate excitement and demand for cruising amongst a broader segment of the Chinese vacation market,” said Alan Buckelew, Carnival Corp.’s global chief operations officer.
Separately, Carnival and its Chinese partners announced that the Chinese central government has granted approval for the cruise joint venture to incorporate in Hong Kong.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

World’s Biggest Ship Lift Opens in China

World’s Biggest Ship Lift Opens in China

The ship lift at the Three Gorges Dam in China is the world's largest.
The ship lift at the Three Gorges Dam in China is the world’s largest.
Thanks to

Officials in China have began testing the world’s largest ship lift at the massive Three Gorges Dam in Central China.
The shiplift can lift vessels up to 3,000 tons across a vertical distance of 113 meters from the reservoir to the river below. The ship chamber itself has a pool of water 120-meters long by 18-meters wide and 3.5-meters deep. The lift was built to accommodate mostly small and medium-sized vessels, as larger ships use the dam’s adjacent five-tiered lock system to navigate the waterway. In addition to boosting capacity, the new lift is also expected to reduce transit time for most vessels from several hours to under one hour.
Trials of the lift began last Sunday after more than a decade of planning and construction. Check out this video below: 
Photo credit to; Dave Jones

Spanning the Yangtze River, the Three Gorges Dam is the world’s largest hydro power project. Although the dam has been in commission since 2003, the power station opened in 2012 and in 2014 it set a new world record by producing 98.8 TWh of power.
Of course the world’s largest hydro-power dam is not without its share of controversy. While it is marveled by some for its amazing feat of engineering, the dam is notoriously debated both in China and overseas over issues related to its location and development, the displacement of people, and the ecological and environmental impacts that it has had on the area.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

MSC Cruises ups its game in China with MSC Splendida

MSC Cruises ups its game in China with MSC Splendida

MSC Splendida in Tunis, Photo Credit Dave Jones

In a substantial boost to its China capacity, MSC Cruises is going to deploy one of its biggest ships there in May 2018. MSC Splendida joins the smaller MSC Lirica, adding the MSC Yacht Club concept and butler service to its China offerings.
The 2009-built MSC Splendida, at 137,936gt, will become one of the largest ships operating in the region. The vessel can carry up to 4,363 passengers in 1,637 staterooms. Some 76% of accommodations have balconies.
MSC Splendida will join MSC Lirica, which has been serving—to great success, MSC Cruises said—the Chinese market since May. The ship recently moved to Tianjin to capture the North China market during the winter season.
Announcing the news in Beijing on Wednesday, MSC Cruises ceo Gianni Onorato said the ship has been one of the most popular in the fleet with Chinese and other Asian passengers cruising the Mediterranean with MSC.

MSC Splendida will undergo significant drydock enhancement in late 2017, ahead of the China deployment, to further improve and customize it for the market.
MSC Splendida also introduces the MSC Yacht Club to the Chinese market. This exclusive 'ship-within-a-ship' concept offers privacy, 24-hour butler service, a dedicated concierge reception and priority boarding and disembarkation.
The move would appear to be a direct competitive response to Dream Cruises' new Genting Dream, which also offers a luxury ship-within-a ship concept, Dream Mansion, served by butlers. That vessel is scheduled to be delivered next month. It will operate from Guangzhou (Nansha) in southern China.
MSC Splendida's itinerary details are to come, but MSC Cruises said the ship will visit destinations in China, Japan and Korea.
The news closely follows the opening of MSC Cruises' Shanghai office with its new management and operations team.

MSC pushes back opening of private island in Bahamas

MSC pushes back opening of private island in Bahamas

Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve is now scheduled to open in October 2018.

MSC Cruises said the opening of its private island near Bimini, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, will be pushed back 10 months from December 2017 to October 2018.
“As we set out to finalize construction plans for this one-of-a-kind destination, we realized that to ensure the level of quality and attention to details in both infrastructure and services that our guests have rightfully come to expect from MSC Cruises, it was only appropriate to allot a longer time frame,” said Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Cruises.
MSC guests that had been scheduled to visit on calls starting late next year will visit Nassau instead, Vago said.
A groundbreaking ceremony for Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve has been scheduled for Oct. 6, 2016, with the Prime Minister of the Bahamas expected to attend.

Cruise ship considered to house migrants in Greece

Cruise ship considered to house migrants in Greece

Image result for migrant cruise ship
Photo thanks to EuroNews

by Phil Davies

Leasing a cruise ship is one of the options reportedly being considered to use as emergency accommodation for thousands of migrants stranded in the Greek island of Lesbos after a fire gutted their camp.

Hiring a local stadium is also in contention after the island’s overcrowded refugee detention center went up in flames on Monday night after clashes between rival factions.

Riot police have been sent to the island to bolster security in Moria, a hilltop village near the camp.

About 3,000 migrants who fled have since been caught and escorted back to the camp, but at least 2,000 others remain unaccounted for, with officers searching fields and olive groves to track them down.

The island’s mayor, Spyros Galinos, demanded that the Greek government move the asylum seekers off the island and find a more permanent answer, The Times reported. There were more than 5,700 migrants in a camp built to house 2,500.

“We don’t want temporary solutions,” he said. “We need a boat to start shipping these people out of here, to other places in Greece. We don’t need additional flash points, especially as the situation remains explosive here.”

Witnesses said dozens of tents and prefabricated units were destroyed by fire after reports circulated that the authorities were planning to deport hundreds of migrants to Turkey. At least 200 children have been transferred to a shelter in Mytilene, the capital of Lesbos.

More than 500,000 migrants crossed from the Turkish coast to Lesbos last year. A deal between the EU and Turkey initially helped to stem the tide, but the number has increased again in recent months, leaving 60,000 people trapped in Greece.

Under the EU deal, all new migrants should be sent back to Turkey, but only after any claims for asylum have been heard in Greece. The plan allows for those accepted as refugees to go to the top of the queue for relocation into the EU — once they have returned to Turkey.

An estimated 13,000 asylum requests have been filed since March, creating a backlog that understaffed officials in Greece have been unable to handle.

Each asylum request takes up to four months to process, creating friction among those stranded in detention centers such as Moria, while opposition to the arrivals appears to be growing, the newspaper reported.

“The situation is out of control,” Galinos said. “We’re like a powder keg about to explode.”

Monday, 19 September 2016

Princess to implement second gratuity increase this year

Princess to implement second gratuity increase this year


For the second time this year, Princess Cruises is raising the amount it suggests passengers tip their waiters, cabin attendants and other service workers.
Princess implemented a 13% increase on Jan. 1 to the current level of $12.95 a day. 
In a letter to passengers, Princess said that amount will be going up for guests in interior, ocean view and balcony cabins to $13.50 starting Dec. 15. It said mini-suite guests would be assessed $14.50, and full suite guests at $15.50 per day.
The payment plan is the first at Princess to have mini-suites and suites in separate tiers.
Guests can adjust the amounts, which are automatically billed to their shipboard accounts, at the end of each cruise.
Princess said booked passengers can prepay at the current rates through Nov. 15. 
Celebrity, Carnival and Royal Caribbean also have raised gratuity amounts this year.

Royal Caribbean reverts to traditional seating in main dining rooms

Royal Caribbean reverts to traditional seating in main dining rooms

Dining room on the Independence of the Seas; photo credit Dave Jones

Royal Caribbean International has decided to end its main dining room format called Dynamic Dining, which was launched with Quantum of the Seas two years ago.
Starting with the Nov. 27 sailing of Anthem of the Seas, the main dining room will operate under the My Time Dining system. Ovation of the Seas will make the change on Nov. 23.
Dynamic Dining was conceived as a way of breaking up the main dining room into smaller venues. The Quantum-class ships were built with a quartet of 480-seat rooms that had different menus and themes. Diners could make reservations, and rotate among them.
When more tradition-bound guests complained, an option was added for a fixed early or late seating called Dynamic Dining Classic.
After Nov. 27, the same menu will be available in all four restaurants: Chic, American Icon, Grande and Silk. As on other ships that have My Time Dining, guests can choose their own dining times and table mates. Alternatively, they can choose the traditional early or late seating at a fixed table.
Royal Caribbean said guests booked on Anthem and Ovation who have already selected the Dynamic Dining Classic option for their upcoming cruise will be assigned to either early or late seating to match their original choice of time. Guests who have selected the Dynamic Dining Choice option will be assigned to the My Time Dining flexible option.
Royal Caribbean said guests on the flexible option will dine in the American Icon and Silk dining rooms while guests on early and late seating's will eat at either Chic or Grande.
In a statement, Royal Caribbean said it decided to end Dynamic Dining after sifting through guest feedback. “Our guests have told us that they prefer the ease of a cruise vacation where they have flexibility without having to plan extensively,” the statement said.

Two Viking Cruises crew killed in bridge crash

Two Viking Cruises crew killed in bridge crash

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Two Viking Cruises crew members have been killed after one of its ships struck a bridge in southern Germany.

The Viking Freya was carrying around 200 passengers when it hit the bridge along the Main-Danube Canal early on Sunday.

The ship had just cast off while it was still dark from the town of Erlangen on its way to Budapest.

Police said the driver's cabin was crushed under the rail bridge, killing a 49-year-old at the wheel and a 33-year-old sailor. The other 47 crew members and 181 passengers were unhurt.

Police said they are still investigating the cause of the crash.

"For reasons not known so far the driver's cabin of the ship collided with a bridge, and two crew members, 33 and 49-years-old, were killed," police spokesman Michael Petzold said. "The two men had to be freed with heavy equipment by firefighters."

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Passengers had to remain on the ship for several hours while rescue teams worked to extend a walkway to get them off the ship.

Viking Cruises said in a statement reported by the Associated Press: "We are heartbroken, and company executives are on the scene to work closely with local authorities to understand the details of the accident."

Passengers are being allowed to continue on another vessel from the town of Passau or return home. It said customer representatives would be in touch upon their return home to discuss compensation for the disruption of their trip

Friday, 16 September 2016

10 days aboard the 'most luxurious ship in the world'

10 days aboard the 'most luxurious ship in the world'

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Regent Seven Sea's Explorer
I was not happy disembarking the new Regent Seven Seas Explorer in Rome. The fact is that I was not quite ready to leave.

I had turned down the initial preview press invitation because we were booked on the ship's second inaugural sailing from Venice to Rome on an itinerary that included calls in Croatia, Montenegro, Greece and Italy. We were traveling with 38 clients on our annual client trip; 34 of our guests had previously traveled with Regent and its several five-star all-inclusive competitors. In some ways it was like traveling with three dozen Judge Judys, ready to observe, listen and then pass judgement. Would this sparkling new vessel pass muster? Was the hype really justified?

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About the hype: Like most new builds, the superlatives began with the announcement of the new ship. This ship would have the largest cabins, the largest suite afloat, the most expensive chandelier and a Chagall and a Picasso among the 2,200 pieces of artwork. There was the usual collection of statistics: this ship would feature 52,000 square feet of balcony space, which actually breaks down to 138 square feet per cabin. On a typical two-week voyage it was predicted that just over 2,000 pounds of lobster would be consumed. Caviar would be served from time to time (there was a table display one day at lunch, and I noticed that no one was touching it.) 

The consumer press was all over the story, having enjoyed their brief cruise before paying guests would board for the inaugural. So there had been a bevy of good PR for this ship, much of it totally justified.

But here is the thing about this ship's hype: I have a bit of history with the Norwegian/Oceania/Regent group and their management. I remember when they launched the Oceania brand and they produced an introductory brochure that stated that they would have "the best cuisine at sea." I had suggested that it might be prudent to wait until the ship was actually launched and serving meals before making such claims.

But I was wrong. The Oceania food hype was totally justified, and so were the pre-launch press releases about dining aboard the new Explorer.

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I was unhappy disembarking because I had gotten into the ship's rhythm, and I was able to forge a series of magnificent days.

Mornings were for sightseeing, walking or driving to places I have not been to in a while, updating hotels, restaurants and meeting locals who might be useful to me in the future. A shop here, a guide there, a hidden ice cream haven in Amalfi. The goal was filling an entire little black book.

But the late afternoon was for the spa, a quick shower, cocktails with clients and then a long, leisurely dinner with friends. 

I won't talk a great deal about the shore excursions since the reality is that cruise lines have less control in that area than the public imagines. On Regent they are, for the most part, included. In Taormina, for instance, you could get transfers to explore the town on your own. I noticed that Regent has pushed back the departure times of many of its morning shore offerings so guests can have a proper breakfast before going on tour around 10 a.m. Complimentary transfers were included into town where necessary. There were some longer stays. Regent is recognizing that sophisticated travelers want some down time, not a perfectly timed series of never-ending historical sightseeing marches through Europe's churches.

Please forgive me, but I feel compelled to generate some of my own hype for the onboard Canyon Ranch experience. It was, simply put, the finest spa experience I've encountered in more than 30 years of travel.

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Each of my scheduled services was preceded by a professional interview. Notes were taken and specifics were discussed that would truly personalize the experience. My massages were done by Thai therapists who began the deep tissue back massage by jumping up on the table with me. That allows for extra pressure from the knees and elbows. 

One of my therapists explained that she felt she had found the core of my being, something I've been searching for these past several decades. It involved dripping oil and a single finger pressed down on a location near the center of my scalp. I actually saw heaven, and I had a Philly cheesesteak while I was there. 

After the treatment, there are a bevy of relaxation venues, including a cold room with ice walls and a scented sauna. Afterwards, I walked out the back onto a private balcony with an incredible infinity pool hovering over the back of the ship. There, a spa butler brings you drinks while you spend as much time as you want to relax. I loved the infinity pool when the ship was in port; it provided a perfect vantage point to watch the action.

Much has already been written about the design of this new ship. Yes, there is marble on marble, stone and granite. The lighting was never glaring, always elegant, and after 10 days I was still discovering little design details like the lights in the main Compass Rose Restaurant, bursts of yellow along the side walls with shades of blue in the center of the room. You could actually hear guests discussing the lighting onboard.

There were more high ceilings than one expected, and some guests speculated that the "ship is half-empty" despite the fact that every single cabin was occupied. That is when a ship's designers know that they got this one right.

But I prefer not to dwell on design. This ship was budgeted at $450 million, and it went over by more than a little; speculation is that it actually cost closer to $600 million. For that money, I would expect that the design would be exceptional. 

It is, however, the human factors aboard a new ship that matter most. What is the ship's lifestyle, and how does it mesh with the guest's demographics? This is where the Regent Explorer achieves a sort of nautical nirvana. My group and I found we could live our lives on this ship, relaxing when we wished, butlers always on call, imaginative and memorable cuisine, culinary classes that were filled with great take-aways, an enveloping comfort of fine art and a spa that has no peer at sea. 

It would be tempting to devote all of this space to a celebration of the cuisine aboard this ship. Lunch was satisfactory, but dinners were often spectacular, with even the most hardened critics finding lots to like about the staff and the innovative cuisine.

The toughest reservation seemed to be for the Pacific Rim. I barely made it into the restaurant, as I was totally taken by the $500,000 Tibetan Prayer Wheel at the entrance. Guests can pick any wheel, spin it and contemplate the message it contained. It was a thoughtful, distinctive piece of art made of cast bronze from Australia. It required a reinforced floor to support it. Most CEOs would never consider such an expense for something so unnecessary and challenging to install. But the entrance to this restaurant had to be memorable, and it is fully indicative of the amazing attention to deal that I found on this ship.

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The art continued on the plates. There were Versaces at every setting, and each was themed. There was a sake menu, incredible appetizers including sushi and sashimi prepared by knowledgeable hands. The main dishes included a memorable miso cod, but the most popular dish was the lobster tempura served in a lobster shell. 

One night we were seated in the Prime 7 steakhouse with friends in our group, a newscaster who had just returned from covering both political conventions. I ordered a 16-ounce T-bone steak because I knew they were using Colorado prime. The waiter leaned in and quietly whispered, "Sir, I can make that a 32-ounce cut if you would prefer."

I declined, but it is really nice to know that there is a ship out there that provides more than you want and a lifestyle geared to exploration, relaxation and truly memorable dining experiences.

Was everything perfect? Of course not. But this was only the Explorer's second sailing, and I expect that the needed service improvements will be initiated. For the record, disembarkation was totally impersonal. No one said goodbye to departing guests. The staff got low scores on our "recognition tests," and guests were almost never addressed by name, a hallmark of luxury service. 

But these things can be fixed. The fact is that the Explorer has emerged from the yard as a serious challenger to the title "Best Ship at Sea."