Monday, May 7, 2018

An Epic Voyage On An Epic Ship: Prinsendam

By Georgina Cruz

The Grand Africa & Mediterranean voyage on Holland America’s Prinsendam, visiting ports in the Caribbean, the Atlantic, and the Mediterranean, can best be described in one word: epic! Fifty-four days, 28 ports, including five overnight visits, offered opportunities for exploration and to get to know the cultures, history and flavors of regions in Africa and Europe.

Stops at three ports, including an overnight stay in the Canary Islands—Spanish isles that sit in the Atlantic off the northwest coast of Africa—were among the top highlights of the voyage for my husband Humberto and me, as we had never visited them. The Canaries are sometimes associated with the myths of the Lost Continent of Atlantis—they are, after all, in the Atlantic for which Atlantis presumably was named, and a theory holds that when Atlantis sank, its highest points remained as the Canaries we know today, and that their original inhabitants, the Guanches, were the descendants of the surviving Atlanteans.

But Atlantis or not, the sapphire waters of the magnificent harbor in Santa Cruz, the capital of Tenerife on the island’s eastern tip, were like a siren call, welcoming us to a vibrant city filled with interesting architecture and excellent shopping—Spain’s famous El Corte Ingles department store has a branch here and the colorful Our Lady of Africa market beckons with exotic fruits and blossoms. And the island also has many wonderful restaurants serving up the delightful cuisine of the Canaries, which is Spanish, with African and Latin American influences. Tenerife was and is a popular stop for ships going to and from Europe to Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, with Columbus himself stopping here for a few days in 1492.

We went for strolls to points of interest in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, including the daring, Conquistador-helmet-like Auditorium of Tenerife, the Parliament buildings of the Canary Islands and the lovely squares including the Plaza de España and the Square of Candelaria.

On our second day in Tenerife we took an organized tour to La Laguna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the island’s former capital, and participated in a walking tour to the Church of the Convent of Santa Catalina, the market in the Plaza del Adelantado, the cathedral, the episcopal palace, the History Museum in the Lercaro Palace and quaint Calle de San Agustin, where we passed old convents and rows of beautiful carved wooden balconies, many adorned with flowers. Our next stop was Tacoronte, the most important wine-growing area of the island. Here at the Bodega Alvaro we enjoyed a wine tasting—we learned that the first vines planted in the Canary Islands came from the Eastern Mediterranean, including the vines that produce the famous Malmsey wines that were immortalized in the works of Shakespeare. We sipped the wines and they were delicious! Then, from the Casa del Vino winery we drank in big gulps the scenery over the north coast of Tenerife—with panoramic views of Mount Teide, Spain’s highest point at 12,198 ft. Teide is to the Canaries what Mt. Fuji is to Japan, its quintessential volcanic cone often snow-capped, majestic and breathtaking.

The other ports of the Canary Islands we visited included Arrecife, Lanzarote’s capital, from where we headed to Timanfaya National Park with its Montaña de Fuego (Fire Mountain) and lunar-like landscape. Here, at Islote de Hilario (Hilario’s Big Island), wonders include volcanic cinders from just below the surface that are hot enough to kindle wood and to produce steam. In Santa Cruz de La Palma, we walked on cobblestone streets to see lovely Spanish colonial houses with flower-draped balconies in the Avenida Marítima (Maritime Avenue) and took a guided tour to San Antonio Volcano National Park, where a trail reaches right to the edge of the volcano’s crater. It was Good Friday when we visited Santa Cruz de La Palma and we were able to take in one of the Holy Week Processions—with marching bands, floats and penitents: very impressive!

More local color was ours to enjoy during a special onboard performance by the flamenco group Fuego (Fire) and a wonderful Spanish Evening in the dining room—specially decorated and with Spanish specialties like “paella” (the world-famous rice and seafood dish).

But though the Canary Islands were big highlights, there were many others. On the way to Africa and Europe, we made stops in Caribbean isles with the opportunity to walk the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan and visit El Morro Fortress in Puerto Rico and bask in warm aquamarine waters in St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Stops in the Cape Verde Islands offered the chance to enjoy beautiful, uncrowded beaches, and calls in Africa included Agadir, Morocco for tours to the 16th century Oufella Fort and opportunities for a camel ride and to take the ultimate selfie: with a camel, which we took, of course; Casablanca, Morocco, for a chance to visit Rick’s Café, in a courtyard-style mansion built against the Old Medina walls of the city and inspired in the classic film with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman; and Dakar, Senegal, one of West Africa’s largest cities.

In Dakar, an option was a tour that took to Independence Square with colonial-style buildings and the Presidential Palace, where the Spahi in their red and blue uniforms stand guard. Other points of interest included the African Renaissance Monument, a 160-foot-tall statue; the Lighthouse of Mamelles; the Medina (Old Town) and the Kermel Market, the Town Hall, the cathedral, the Great Mosque and the Deity Mosque. Stops at the Sand Painting Gallery and the Soumbedioune Handicraft Village provided cultural insights as well as opportunities to buy souvenirs.

Passing through the Pillars of Hercules, the Prinsendam ventured into the Mediterranean, the centerpiece of the voyage. The name, Pillars of Hercules, was given in antiquity to the two promontories flanking the Strait of Gibraltar, the Rock of Gibraltar in Europe and Mount Acho in Ceuta in Africa that, according to legend, were parted by the strong arms of Hercules. In Gibraltar, we took a tour to Europa Point, Europe’s southernmost point, and to The Rock where we were delighted to see the antics of the Barbary Apes and toured St. Michaels’ Cave, now a venue for concerts. This being one of our favorite cruising regions in the world, we were happy as clams, as we believe, like British scholar Dr. Samuel Johnson once noted that “The main object of travelling is to see the shores of the Mediterranean.”

Highlights in the Med included several Italian ports that charmingly occupied our attention beginning with Genoa, that vibrant maritime city with a harbor front newly renovated by noted architect and native son Renzo Piano of the George Pompidou Center in Paris fame. The harbor front is now a modern center filled with shops and cafes as well as such points of interest as the Genoa Aquarium and the Biosphere, a glass dome with more than 65 feet in diameter filled with plants, trees, birds and other animals. Other Genoa attractions include the 16th century Palazzo Ducale, once the home of the ruling Doges; the Christopher Columbus House, where the explorer spent his childhood, and the baroque Gesu Church, a Jesuit Church that boasts two paintings by Peter Paul Rubens.

Other Italian ports included Livorno for tours to Florence and Pisa with their treasures of Renaissance art like Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia in Florence and the world-class view of the Leaning Tower in Pisa. Additional options from Livorno included tours to explore Tuscan gems like exquisite medieval Siena with the relics of St. Catherine, and quaint towns like Lucca and San Gimignano. Some guests, who like us had been to Florence, Pisa and other destinations in Tuscany, opted for strolls in Livorno to see its “New Fort” (that dates from the 1600s) and colorful buildings at and near the Piazza della Repubblica.

A call in Sorrento provided opportunities for excursions to the lovely isle of Capri and the breathtaking Amalfi Drive, which we never fail to take to be delighted by its emerald waters and the picture-postcard-perfect town of Amalfi, where we picked up a bottle of the local lemon-flavored liqueur, limoncello. A local folkloric group, Sorrento Folk, came on board to entertain us with lively tarantellas.

Stops in Naples, for programs to Pompeii, and, of course, great pizza; and Cagliari, Sardinia, offered a chance to explore this less-often-visited island with its five-mile Poetto Beach and its old section, Castello, with its medieval walls and 13th century towers.

A big highlight for Humberto and me was a “Best of Rome” full day ship’s tour. It took in all the de rigueur sights of the Eternal City: St. Peter’s Square with the colonnade by Bernini that symbolizes an open-arms welcome to the Vatican; St. Peter’s Basilica with Michelangelo’s magnificent Pieta sculpture of Jesus and Mary; the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the fabled Tiber River and the Trevi Fountain. No matter how many times we go to Rome, we always head to the Trevi Fountain to throw in a coin that according to the classic movie, Three Coins In The Fountain, ensures our return. The tour also included a walking tour to the Pantheon and Piazza Navona with its lovely fountains and a typical Italian lunch with pasta and a sinful pastry for dessert. Delicious!

But we were not done yet. Other highlights still in the Mediterranean included several stops in Spain including Barcelona, where the La Rambla pedestrian street was lively with living statues, and Antoni Gaudi masterpieces like his emblematic modernism Sagrada Familia Basilica awaited; Malaga, with its noted Picasso Museum, devoted to the arguably most influential artist of the 20th century in the city where he was born; Cadiz, with its impressive golden-domed Cathedral, sightseeing routes and cultural highlights marked on the city’s pavements like Boston’s Freedom Trail, and Valencia with its Old Town with its Cathedral, Basilica of the Virgin, Central Market and Silk Exchange, as well as the futuristic architecture of Santiago Calatrava, not to mention the delicious paella valenciana, the city’s wonderful rice dishes that are world-famous.

Back on the Atlantic Ocean, calls included one in Lisbon with scenic cruising on the Tagus River, and chances to see the Portuguese capital’s monuments including the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the iconic Belem Tower, Monument to the Discoveries, and other points of interest including the Jeronimos Monastery with Vasco da Gama’s tomb, as well as opportunities to tour Fatima, 88 miles north of Lisbon, one of the most important Catholic shrines, where three shepherd children reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary in 1917. We took a tour that in addition to Lisbon highlights went to the royal retreat of Sintra and charming seaside Cascais.

It was a fabulous—epic—itinerary, allowing opportunities for regional exploration. And it required an equally wonderful ship to carry it off. Through the entire voyage, the Prinsendam rose admirably to the task: an 850-passenger vessel personifying Old World elegance and charm, it was like a club: with everyone getting to know each other during our extended voyage. We had sailed on this lovely ship through some of its incarnations that began in 1988 as the Royal Viking Sun, then in later years as the Cunard Royal Viking Sun and the Seabourn Sun, and finally, since 2002, as Holland America’s Prinsendam. She had never disappointed us, and she delighted us again now, refreshed after a 2016 drydock, and with her customary attentive, personalized service, delicious food, varied entertainment and activities including America’s Test Kitchen classes and demonstrations as well as with many enriching itinerary-focused offerings including excellent port lectures and local folkloric groups and entertainers like Gabriela Mendez & the Cape Verdean Group, who performed onboard while in Mindelo, Sao Vicente, Cape Verde Islands.

The Prinsendam’s accommodations are attractive and comfortable. Our ocean-view cabin, #450 mid-ship on Dolphin Deck, was a cozy home at sea with picture window, sitting area, mini-bar, walk-in closet and bathtub/shower. This cruise being designated as a “Grand Voyage,” we were treated to special events and activities including a Spanish Fiesta with paella while in Spain and commemorative pillow gifts including journals and carry-on luggage.

All too soon, we had begun the crossing back to Fort Lauderdale with calls at the picturesque Azores and a stop in Hamilton, Bermuda with its multiple attractions including architecture in pastels and the pink sands of Horseshoe Bay Beach, to delightfully break up the string of sea days of our epic voyage.

For information, visit HollandAmerica.com.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Cruise Review: A Dream Come True For Families On The Disney Dream

By Georgina Cruz

Judging from my family, the future of the cruise industry is ensured: we started taking our daughter and grandsons on ships since they were toddlers and now they have grown accustomed to it—they keep asking us: “When are we going again?”

Our latest cruise with them was this winter on the 130,000-ton, 4,000 passenger Disney Dream, a ship that is ideal for families as it is full of magic at every corner. Right in the Atrium, for example, “Enchanted Art” pieces become animated when someone stands before them and princesses and other characters including the world’s most famous rodent, Mickey Mouse, greet guests, pose for photos and sign autographs.

Pure magic. We could not think of anything more magical for three generations of our family, my husband Humberto, our daughter Veronica, son-in-law Kyle and teenage grandsons Aidan and Julian, to spend our grandsons’ spring break on. So we sailed on the Disney Dream on a four-night cruise to the Bahamas from Port Canaveral in Florida in late February-early March. Since Humberto and I live in Florida and the rest of the family lives in New Hampshire, we get to see each other two or three times a year, so we go out of our way to make our get-togethers count. We have found going on a three- or four-day cruise vs. a longer cruise, land vacation or staying at each other’s homes suits our group well.

A short cruise fits our budget and it offers activities and facilities for all ages so nobody gets bored, and our daughter and I hang up our aprons for the duration as meals and snacks are included in the fare—therefore nobody has to be taking time to do the marketing, prepare the food, serve it and clean up afterwards. And on a cruise as opposed to a land trip, nobody has to be wondering where we will have dinner, making reservations and arranging for transportation to the restaurants.

Since some members of our family were flying in from New Hampshire, we booked a two-bedroom villa at Copper Creek Villas, a rustic, lakeside resort at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge in Walt Disney World near Port Canaveral for a one-night stay before the cruise, thus eliminating the chance of literally “missing the boat” if flights were cancelled, or the stress if they were delayed, on sail date. From this resort, a free launch took us to the Magic Kingdom where we went on our favorite rides including Space Mountain and watched the new Happily Ever After nightly fireworks display.

So already relaxed, we all boarded the ship together. The Disney Dream is Disney Cruise Line’s third ship of four, built in 2010 (the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder preceded her in 1998 and 1999 respectively and sister ship, Disney Fantasy followed her in 2012 and the line has announced the construction of three more ships to be launched beginning in 2021). After putting our carry-ons in our cabins and partaking of a delicious welcome aboard lunch, we set out to enjoy what the ship has to offer for various age groups.

Our teenagers, Aidan and Julian, headed for Vibe, the ship’s club for teens (Edge is a club for tweens). Vibe is a big indoor/outdoor facility with two pools, deck chairs, big screen televisions, video games and other features where they were kept busy with organized activities including contests and parties.

A big highlight were events that featured free smoothies and milkshakes that Julian said were “cool!” During frequent open houses for all ages at the ship’s Oceaneer Club, an area for children ages 3 to 12, we saw how kids enjoyed being transported to a galaxy far, far away at Star Wars: Millennium Falcon, where they got a crack at piloting, what Disney refers to as the “powerful space vehicle” through hyperspace and triggering light-speed jumps to different locations around the galaxy.

Among this area’s other features are 1,000 blinking LED lights, a wall that replicates the wall in episode 5 of the Star Wars saga where Han Solo kisses Princess Leia for the first time, and animated props including an “android cleaning station” with an R2 D2 that looks like he’s been through a lot and needs to be tidied up.

Also in this Star Wars Area, children can enjoy themed crafts, games and activities including watching episodes from the Disney XD animated series “Star Wars Rebels” on a large screen or virtually join the rebellion at gaming stations featuring the series’ adventures. There’s also a shipboard version of the Jedi Training Academy experience that is so popular in Disney parks. This activity invites young Jedi hopefuls—known as “Padawans”—to learn lightsaber moves from a Jedi Master. They can then use the “Force” in some feats that include “moving” crates and a barrel with Force-full gestures and even face off against the evil Darth Vader. The Oceaneer Club also has a high-tech interactive space based on the Disney Infinity video game and sections like Andy’s Room themed to the “Toy Story” movies.

While the younger sailors are in the kids’ and teen’s clubs, adults find spaces for themselves. Among our favorites is the Cove Pool, an adults-only pool and lounge area with comfortable loungers, and Satellite Falls, a retreat for the 18-and-over contingent of guests. Satellite Falls, in a sunning area, has a water feature, a circular splash pool with benches and a gently falling rain curtain that provides cool comfort—a very welcome area in the tropics. Around this upper deck, adult guests can soak up the sun in loungers or relax in the shade under a canopy.

The older generations in our group used these areas, as well as the fitness center in the Senses Spa and the spa’s Juice Bar that serves up made-to-order smoothies, juices, protein and energy shakes (fees apply) that can be enjoyed after a workout on seating with ocean views.

When all of us wanted to enjoy pool time together, the ship has several family pools, one of them, the Mickey Pool, equipped with a slide. And, most popular of all with our teens and some of the older sailors, the AquaDuck is a 765-foot-long clear plastic tube water slide that has been dubbed “the first water coaster at sea” and winds around an upper deck of the ship, cuts through the funnel, and at one point even juts out 13 feet over the ocean.

Amenities for families include organized games and contests, and “draw a Disney character” sessions in the D Lounge, a family games area; trivia sessions, including Disney trivia, in various lounges; meet-and-greet opportunities with Disney princesses and pirates, Mickey, Minnie, Donald Duck, Pluto, Goofy, and various other characters, and a Muppets-themed Midship Detective Agency game, “The Case of the Stolen Show.” The latter is an interactive ship-wide game during which participants uncover clues and solve a mystery using a “detective badge” that activates surprises in “Enchanted Art” pieces displayed all around the ship.

Big highlights for all ages include a pirates’ night up on deck with fireworks display at sea, Broadway-style shows including a new one themed to Disney’s animated movie and live-action film, “Beauty and the Beast,” in the Walt Disney Theatre as well as first-run Disney movies in the cinema (Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Coco” were among the films shown during our cruise).

The “Beauty and the Beast” show, which debuted in November, brings the popular fable to life with storytelling elements, cutting-edge technology, and a transforming set that uses the motif of a music box to guide the audience through the story from Belle’s provincial town to the Beast’s mysterious castle. Other elements include show-stopping numbers, lavish costumes and puppetry. “Beauty and the Beast” features songs from the original animated film’s award-winning soundtrack by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman. Complementing the score, the show also includes two of the new songs created for the live-action film by Menken and lyricist Tim Rice, “How Does a Moment Last Forever” and “Days in the Sun.”

Beloved songs like “Belle,” “Something There” and “Beauty and the Beast” have received a musical makeover that reflect the show’s stylized approach, while songs like “Gaston” and “Be Our Guest” are exuberant production numbers. “Be Our Guest” has become a multi-course French dinner with choreography and visual effects filling the stage during this spectacle that is, well, Beauty-full.

Other Broadway-style shows during our sailing included “The Golden Mickeys,” a musical revue in the style of an awards ceremony and featuring live action theater, film, video and pyrotechnics plus a red carpet welcome, and “Disney’s Believe,” about a workaholic father who learns what is truly important in life—this show boasts appearances by 20 Disney characters. All three shows were very well received by enthusiastic audiences who were obviously big Disney fans, judging from the warm applause each character received upon entering the stage.

Adults who are nightlife enthusiasts have the ship’s nightclubs and lounges: 687 Pub, Pink, the District Lounge, and Skyline. These spaces, offering entertainment, are reserved exclusively for adults in the evenings, and are the perfect locales to enjoy a drink, listen to music, or catch the big game on big screen televisions in a pub-like ambiance.

And a feature that is tempting to young, old, and everyone in between is Vanellope’s Sweets and Treats, a specialty sweet shop inspired on the movie “Wreck-It Ralph.” It aims to satisfy the taste buds of cruisers of all ages, with handmade gelato and ice cream, an assortment of candy, and novelty treats for purchase (free ice cream dispensers are available nearby at Eye Scream).

When it comes to dining, the Disney Dream, like all Disney ships, features three main restaurants, Royal Palace (themed to Disney princesses), Enchanted Garden (inspired in the gardens at Versailles) and Animator’s Palate (dinner show venue themed to Disney animation) and guests go from one to the other each evening with their servers. The food (French-inspired in the Royal Palace, fresh-market in Enchanted Garden and Pacific Rim in Animator’s Palate) was delicious. At Animator’s Palate, for instance, some of our favorites included the smoked salmon tartare appetizer, creamy butternut squash soup, Pacific black cod, Angus beef tenderloin, and white shrimp pennette pasta. Vegetarian selections included stir-fry vegetables and black bean chipotle cakes. For dessert some in our group went for the decadent crème brulee while the teens selected the yummy ice cream sundae. The food quality and presentation on this premium line as well as the service were excellent at all three restaurants, and it was great having our servers, who knew our tastes in beverages, dressings and the like follow us from one dining room to another.

On our sailing, since we were traveling with two teens, we did not patronize the adults-only alternative fine dining restaurants, Palo ($30 per person fee) and Remy ($85 per person), but we did go often to Cabanas, the buffet-style restaurant, and the quick service Flo’s V8 Café especially for quick meals before setting out, and returning from, the ports.

The ports on our sailing included Nassau, Bahamas and Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamian archipelago. In Nassau, we had visited Ardastra Gardens with its marching flamingoes, the Pirates of Nassau attraction and the beaches of Paradise Island on previous visits, so we went for a stroll around the city taking in Rawson Square and the Georgian-style Government House with a statue of Christopher Columbus in front, and we shopped for woven handicrafts, wooden carvings, and colorful fabrics in the Straw Market on Bay Street. Then we took a day pass ($79 including $40 food/beverage credit) at the Hilton British Colonial, a resort with a lovely sandy beach and pool within walking distance of the cruise pier. Other pastimes at this resort include ping pong and giant chess and checkers sets.

In Castaway Cay, we opted for the Getaway Package ($43 for ages 10 and older, $24 for ages 5 to 9) including snorkel equipment and inner tube rental for the day and one-hour bike rental. It was great to explore the island and enjoy swimming and snorkeling. Castaway Cay attractions include the Pelican Plunge slides, teen beach, family beach, lunch pavilions with barbecue, a children’s area, organized activities, shops, Bahamian crafts area and post office, and adults-only beach.

After exploring in the ports, we found the ship’s accommodations to be comfortable and attractive with nautical décor touches. We booked two veranda cabins, one for Humberto and me and one for the rest of the family and thus had two bathrooms at our disposal. Each cabin has a divided bathroom (one side has a tub/shower and basin, and the other side a toilet and basin) a feature that we like as two people can be using parts of each bathroom at the same time in privacy. One thing we would change would be to add a pocket door in the interior wall that divides both sides of each bathroom to provide easier access.

All in all our family thoroughly enjoyed the activities, entertainment, food, and service on the Disney Dream. And since to enjoy all the magic that the ship has to offer one simply needs more time on board, we—particularly the youngsters in our group—are already dreaming of our return!

IF YOU GO—The Disney Dream offers three- and four-night Bahamian itineraries from Port Canaveral in Florida year-round, with occasional five-night cruises also offered. Ports of call include Nassau, Bahamas and Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamian Archipelago. Fares start from $624 per person. Visit DisneyCruise.com.

Image Courtesy Disney Cruise Line

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Cruise Review: Holland America Line’s ms Koningsdam

Double Dutch Treat: The ABC Islands on Holland America Line’s ms Koningsdam

By Georgina Cruz

Each January, after a hectic Christmas season, my husband Humberto and I book a cruise—for us it’s the best remedy against the post-holidays blahs after the cooking and entertaining: a great way to relax and enjoy some alone time. Our latest January escape was a 10-day Southern Caribbean Seafarer on Holland America’s Koningsdam. It was a double Dutch treat: visits to the ABC Islands of the Netherlands Antilles: Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao on Holland America’s newest ship, not to mention the idyllic ports of Grand Turk in the Turks & Caicos and Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic.

Our first port of call was to have been Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s private island in the Bahamas that marked its 20th anniversary in 2017. Bad weather, including high winds, however, would have caused concern for tendering guests ashore, so Capt. Emiel deVries notified us he was cancelling the call as safety of guests and crew is the line’s highest priority, and on the bright side, we would then have three extra hours at our next port, Grand Turk.

In Grand Turk, where the weather was splendid, when passengers managed to tear themselves from the white-sand, aquamarine beach for a couple of hours there were various touring options including a tram ride to soft calypso music around the 7-1/2-mile long island of Grand Turk taking in Duke Street with old Bermudian-style homes, and views of talcum-powder-sand beaches. Several stops are made at various points of interest including one in town to browse for island crafts and souvenirs or visit the Botanical And Cultural Garden with native plants and a collection of cacti and succulents, and at salt ponds that date back to the 16th century, as well as at the Grand Turk Lighthouse with views of neighboring islands and friendly Grand Turk donkeys. Grand Turk was the only port on our itinerary where we saw signs of hurricanes of damage from Irma and Maria in the fall—a number of roofs were damaged and several were being worked on, but this did not detract from our enjoyment of the beach, the lighthouse, the donkeys and other sights.

Amber Cove, on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, near Puerto Plata, was our next stop and here sightseeing opportunities included beach and snorkeling breaks to Coconut Cove, tours to the colonial cities of Puerto Plata and Santiago, dolphin swims, sea lion encounters and even swimming with sharks at Ocean World Adventure Park. Cruise ship organized tours to Ocean World Adventure Park included a Day Pass for visitors who just wanted the opportunity to snorkel in the park’s Tropical Reef Aquarium and learn about marine mammals. Other activities available to Day Pass visitors include feeding exotic birds, walking through a tropical rain forest, and taking in the Dolphin Show, Shark Show, Sea Lions Show, and Tropical Bird Show. Day Pass visitors also have free access to the dolphin beach and the fresh water pool located in the Tiger Grotto.

Two Cruise With Purpose tours, Holland America Line’s program inspired in “giving back,” were also offered in Amber Cove in conjunction with Fathom Impact Travel, a company founded by Carnival Corporation for social impact journeys. One of these tours goes to the Cacao & Women’s Chocolate Cooperative in Puerto Plata where participants take part in a hands-on visit to a chocolate factory founded by women of the Dominican Republic in their search for meaningful work so they can support their families. At a local nursery, tour participants begin by preparing organic soil and planting cocoa seeds. In the chocolate factory, tour members work alongside the women of Chocal to transform the cocoa bean into a chocolate bar. Participants also help the women package the chocolate and prepare it for sale. By helping to improve production and increase sales, tour members also help the organization thrive so it can hire more local women. A second Cruise With Purpose tour went to a recycling micro-business, RePapel, founded by women.

Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, the so-called “ABC Islands” of the Netherlands Antilles, the centerpiece of the voyage, are always a Dutch treat coming on a Dutch ship while enjoying along the way such delights as Dutch split pea soup, Dutch apple pie and Dutch almond cookies.

We arrived early and were able to disembark at 8 a.m. in the port of Willemstad, Curacao, with the all-aboard time being at 10:30 p.m., so we had lots of time to explore. We were glad: it is one of the most picturesque ports in the Caribbean with views of rows of Dutch-style architecture gabled houses in Caribbean ice-cream colors overlooking Sint Anna Bay, a waterway that divides the city in two and connects the Caribbean Sea to the protected Schottegat Bay. The historic center of Willemstad, founded in the 17th century, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and on previous cruises we had visited its highlights including its floating market, the distillery making the world-famous Blue Curacao liqueur, institutions like the Kura Hulanda museum, Fort Amsterdam (now the home of the governor of Curacao), and the Queen Emma Bridge, a floating bridge that unites the east side of the city, the Punda, with the west side, Otrabanda. The picturesque pontoon bridge is affectionately called “the Swinging Old Lady of Curacao” by locals.

We re-visited some of these highlights and we also booked a ship’s tour to the Curacao Ostrich Farm. On the way to the farm, a photo stop was made at Riffort village with panoramic views of Willemstad’s city center, the narrow port entrance, the colorful Dutch colonial-style houses and Fort Amsterdam. A safari truck at the Ostrich Farm took us to explore and we were able to hand-feed the impressive birds. A souvenir shop at the farm offers African art and other merchandise. The tour also included a visit to another of Curacao’s industries, the Aloe Vera Farm, where we were shown the process of extracting juice from the plant and learned about the beneficial powers of this natural product.

In Aruba, sightseeing opportunities included tours to scenic highlights. During a half-hour drive from the cruise pier in the capital of Oranjestad to the picturesque California Lighthouse, the tour passes through the island’s arid terrain (Aruba lies below the hurricane belt, off the coast of Venezuela), an ideal habitat for cacti and divi-divi trees that always point to the west, in the direction of the trade winds that blow from the northeast. Stops are made at the Alto Vista Chapel, a yellow structure in Dutch style that dates from the 18th century, and the “Baby Natural Bridge,” a small rock bridge carved by the wind and sea erosion—it is located next to the ruins of the famous larger bridge that collapsed in 2005 and had been an icon of the island. A final stop is made on this island tour at the Casibari Rock Formations, where giant boulders appear as if strewn about by a gigantic hand.

A selection of snorkel and diving programs was available while in Aruba and many passengers opted for a visit to the island’s famed Palm Beach, a two-mile strip of talcum-powder-quality sands and aquamarine waters that often makes the “Top 10 Beaches of the Caribbean” lists. Palm Beach is home to high-rise hotels, restaurants and bars, and is dotted with water sports concessions, so passengers may opt for a day-room at one of the hotels for an idyllic and comfortable day at the beach, or simply wear their bathing suit under a cover-up and just go for a dip in the warm, crystal-clear water.

Bonaire, a boomerang-shaped isle in the ABC Islands, is known for its world-class diving with more than 80 dive sites and a coral reef encircling the entire isle. We set off on an island tour following a route north along the coast to take in some of isle’s highlights. We made a stop at Lake Goto, Bonaire’s land-locked saltwater lagoon, to see the long-legged pink flamingos that make their home in the area. The flamingos’ plumage is pink because of chemicals in the food they eat: shrimp and algae, our guide told us. Other sights in our agenda included Rincon, the oldest settlement in the ABC islands, the Rose Inn for a taste of the liquor made from the cadushy cactus and to learn about its distilling process, and Seru Largu, atop a mountain for panoramic views of Kralendijk and the southern part of the island. As we made our way back to Kralendijk, we stopped at the salt pans with their pink color and towering white mounds of dry salt.

The ship whisking us from one island to another, the 2,650-passenger, 99,500-ton Koningsdam, the first of Holland America’s new Pinnacle Class, is a great base from which to explore in comfort and luxury. The line’s newest ship, launched in 2016, she is a stylish home at sea with a $4.1 million art collection including an impressive $600,000, 7.5-ton stainless steel sculpture, titled “Harps” in the Atrium that spans three decks and is based on a concept by designer Adam D. Tihany.

In this floating palace—and I mean that literally—a pampering staff, a hallmark of Holland America, catered to our needs and whims. When we worked up an appetite ashore, we had an ocean of culinary delights onboard. In addition to the stunning main restaurant, The Dining Room, light, airy and elegant where the fare for included five-course dinners is gourmet and the service attentive and friendly, the ship features fine-dining options at alternative restaurants Sel de Mer, a French seafood brasserie featuring such delights as fresh oysters, bouillabaisse and salt-crusted whole fish (cost is a la carte), and an immersive farm-to-table concept dinner experience in the Culinary Arts Center, presented by Food & Wine magazine (cost is $20, $39 with wine). The Grand Dutch Cafe offers traditional Dutch treats and European beer (a la carte), and a Lido Market features themed serving stations (included). For a snack or light meal there are juicy burgers and hot dogs at Dive-In, and delicious slices at New York Pizza (included). But there are still many more temptations for the taste buds at the Pinnacle Grill ($35 per person—I always order the sinful Chocolate Volcano Cake for dessert!), Canaletto Italian restaurant ($15) and pan-Asian Tamarind alternative restaurants ($25—I am addicted to the delectable spring rolls!).

Onboard activities—never a dull moment here!—include wine tastings by Chateau Ste. Michelle; America’s Test Kitchen demonstrations; BBC Earth Experiences; O, The Oprah Magazine offerings including a “Just Breathe” Meditation Session; Digital Workshop classes, powered by Windows; relaxing treatments at the Greenhouse Spa & Salon; two swimming pools, fitness center, basketball and volleyball courts and shops and boutiques. After dark, we loved the Music Walk area, featuring a variety of musical genres showcased in special venues including the Lincoln Center Stage (offering chamber music nightly); Billboard Onboard, (live musicians rocking the crowd with chart-topping hits); and B.B. King's Blues Club in the Queen's Lounge, bringing the best of Memphis music to sea. A 270-degree LED projection at World Stage immersed us in panoramic visual and sound effects at several show times including production shows and a “Frozen Planet” BBC Earth Experiences presentation accompanied by live music.

When our days and evenings were done we retired to our comfortable ocean-view stateroom with good closet space, loveseat, desk, big screen television and bath with walk-in shower. In the accommodations department, the Koningsdam features Holland America Line's first purpose-built staterooms for families and solo travelers among its 1,331 guest accommodations—something sure to be appreciated by that clientele. And when our 10-day voyage was done, we sure wished we had booked back-to-back cruises for even more rest and relaxation after the holidays!

For information visit HollandAmerica.com.

Image Courtesy Holland America Line

Friday, December 29, 2017

Carly Rae Jepsen To Perform Aboard Carnival Splendor in February 2018

Grammy Award-nominated, multi-platinum, singer/songwriter Carly Rae Jepsen, who has sold more than 20 million singles worldwide, will perform a free concert aboard Carnival Splendor in February 2018, as part of the Carnival LIVE Concert Series.

While the concert is a departure from previous Carnival LIVE performances in that it is free and open to all guests sailing on Carnival Splendor’s Feb. 17, 2018, seven-day voyage, it continues the line’s mission of bringing the best in live entertainment to the seas and providing guests an opportunity to enjoy captivating performances by top artists in a memorable setting. The concert will take place on Carnival Splendor’s Lido Deck Feb. 18 while the ship is at sea during a week-long Mexican Riviera cruise that operates round-trip from Long Beach, Calif. The voyage features a day-long call at Puerto Vallarta and two days at Cabo San Lucas.

Jepsen broke onto the music scene in 2012 with her major label debut Kiss that included the smash hit “Call Me Maybe” which climbed to #1 on the iTunes Singles charts in more than 47 countries and earned her Grammy Award nominations for Best Pop Solo Performance and Song of the Year. After earning rave reviews starring in the Broadway production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Jepsen released her next album, E·MO·TION, which received critical acclaim and featured the Billboard Top 40 hit “I Really Like You.” Jepsen also starred as the iconic Pink Lady, “Frenchy,” in FOX’s four-time EMMY award winning musical GREASE: LIVE and most recently voiced the character of Odette in the animated movie “LEAP!”. “LEAP!” featured Jepsen’s song “Cut To The Feeling” which has been hailed by critics as a top song of 2017 showing up on year end lists for Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Billboard, Noisey and more.

Jepsen joins an impressive lineup of Carnival LIVE artists who run the gamut of musical genres, from rock, country, R&B, and pop, as well as some of the biggest names in comedy. Previous Carnival LIVE artists include music superstars Tim McGraw and Carrie Underwood and comedians Jim Gaffigan and Chris Tucker.

“While I’ve performed all over the world and on Broadway, I’ve never performed on a cruise ship before and I’m really looking forward to a night with my fans in what promises to be a unique venue for an incredible night,” Jepsen said.

“We’re delighted to have Carly bring her signature brand of pop music to guests sailing aboard Carnival Splendor,” said Sarah Beth Reno, Carnival’s vice president of entertainment. “A free open-air concert on Lido Deck is an exciting new twist for Carnival LIVE and we can’t wait for our guests to experience this one-of-a-kind entertainment concept in an entirely new setting,” she added.

To learn more about Carnival Cruise Line, visit Carnival.com.

Image Courtesy Carnival Cruise Line

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Silversea Schedules Culinary & Wine 'Enriched Voyages' for 2018 & 2019

Luxury cruise line Silversea is serving up a new menu of 2018 and 2019 Enriched Voyages featuring enhanced onboard enrichment with a culinary or wine theme, including five sailings developed in partnership with The Peninsula Hotels.

"Our culinary and wine Enriched Voyages are a wonderful way to blend together fascinating destinations with a generous serving of cooking events and demonstrations designed to entertain and enlighten," said Rudi Scholdis, Silversea's culinary director.

THE ASIAN COLLECTION
Exclusive voyages offering a culinary exploration of this enchanting continent enhanced by the insider knowledge of the prestigious Peninsula Hotels. Guest chefs from The Peninsula Hotels will share their expertise with guests, providing a truly immersive gastronomic and cultural experience of the Far East. Here's a snapshot of the journeys:
Silver Shadow departs April 14, 2018 on an 11-day ocean voyage from Singapore to Hong Kong with calls in Koh Samui, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, and Chan May.
Silver Shadow departs October 14, 2018 on a 15-day ocean voyage from Hong Kong to Tokyo with calls in Shanghai, Kagoshima, Hiroshima, Osaka, and Nagoya.
Silver Shadow departs October 29, 2018 on a 15-day ocean voyage from Tokyo to Hong Kong with calls in Osaka, Hiroshima, Tianjin (Beijing), and Shanghai.
Silver Whisper departs March 2, 2019 on a 16-day segment of World Cruise 2019, an ocean voyage from Tokyo to Singapore with calls in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Ho Chi Minh City.
Silver Muse departs April 3, 2019 on a 13-day segment of Grand Voyage 2019 - Asia Pacific, an ocean voyage from Hong Kong to Tokyo with calls in Shanghai, Jeju, Hiroshima, and Osaka.
CULINARY VOYAGES
Silversea chefs share their expertise through guided market-to-plate excursions, special menus, cooking demonstrations and dinners highlighting regional specialties. Over a dozen captivating itineraries feature the culinary enrichment program, including:
Silver Muse departs February 16, 2018 on a 25-day, ocean and Amazon River voyage from Rio de Janeiro to Fort Lauderdale with calls in Salvador de Bahia, Natal, Fortaleza, Macapá, Santarém, Boca da Valeria, Manaus, Parintins, Alter do Chao, Barbados, and San Juan.
Silver Wind departs July 17, 2018 on a 15-day, roundtrip ocean voyage to Norway's North Cape from London (Tower Bridge) with calls in Haugesund, Flåm, Ålesund, Brønnøysund, Leknes, Narvik, Honningsvåg, Hammerfest, Tromsø, Åndalsnes, Molde, and Bergen.
Silver Cloud departs October 26, 2018 on a 16-day, South America expedition voyage from Callao (Lima) to Punta Arenas with explorations of Paracas, Arica, Antofagasta, Isla Pan de Azúcar, Coquimbo, Niebla, Puerto Montt, Puerto Chacabuco, Tortel, English Narrows, Pío XI Glacier, Chilean Fjords, Alberto de Agostini National Park, and Ainsworth Bay.
Silver Shadow departs April 26, 2019 on a 15-day, Africa and Indian Ocean voyage from Dubai to Athens with calls in Khasab, Sur, Salalah, Aqaba, Safaga, and Rhodes.
Silver Wind departs July 20, 2019 on an 11-day, Northern Europe ocean voyage from London (Tower Bridge) to Reykjavik with calls in Saint-Malo, St. Mary's Isles of Scilly, Cobh, Dublin, Belfast, Oban, and Ullapool.
WINE VOYAGES
World-class vintners and Silversea's Wine Ambassador spotlight superlative varietals and vintages with special tastings and private tours to renowned vineyards and wineries on four fascinating sailings, including:
Silver Spirit departs January 15, 2018 on an 18-day, Africa and Indian Ocean voyage from Cape Town to Mahé with calls in Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban, Richards Bay, Maputo, Nosy Be/Nosy Komba, Mamoudzou, Zanzibar, and Mombasa.
Silver Whisper departs February 4, 2018 on a 16-day segment of World Cruise 2018, an ocean voyage from Auckland to Sydney with calls in Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Picton, Akaroa, Port Chalmers (Dunedin), Burnie, and Melbourne.
Silver Whisper departs October 18, 2018 on a 13-day, transatlantic ocean voyage from Lisbon to Fort Lauderdale with calls in Casablanca and Funchal. Wine enrichment includes an introductory sommelier course.
Silver Whisper departs May 19, 2019 on a 14-day, Northern Europe ocean voyage from London (Greenwich) to Barcelona with calls in Honfleur, Saint-Malo, Bordeaux, Bilbao, Lisbon, Cádiz, and Málaga.
For complete details, please visit Silversea.com.

Image Courtesy Silversea Cruises

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Norwegian Cruise Line Announces Summer 2019 Itineraries

Norwegian Cruise Line has revealed the fleet’s lineup of summer 2019 itineraries, featuring some of the world’s hottest summer destinations. Norwegian’s signature cruising experience, which offers guests the freedom and flexibility to design their ideal vacation, will be available around the globe with five ships sailing in Europe; three cruising to Alaska; two calling on Bermuda; as well as itineraries that include the Bahamas & Florida, the Caribbean, Canada & New England and the Hawaiian islands.

Guests who cruise with Norwegian enjoy a resort-style vacation on some of the youngest ships at sea; they unpack once, then relax as they travel to paradise aboard innovative and action-packed ships that offer up to 27 delicious dining options, Broadway entertainment, more than 20 bars and lounges serving up contemporary craft cocktails and much more. Norwegian’s new itineraries are now open for sale.

“We have carefully crafted a mix of itineraries for summer 2019 that provide our guests with an incredible array of cruise vacation experiences in some of the most sought-after destinations across the globe,” said Andy Stuart, president and chief executive officer for Norwegian Cruise Line. “With exotic cultural-centric cruises in Europe, adventure opportunities in Alaska and quintessential summer beach getaways in Bermuda, the Bahamas, the Caribbean and Hawaii, Norwegian Cruise Line’s itinerary options will fulfill every summer travel wish list.”

Alaska
The youngest fleet to sail to the breathtaking glaciers of Alaska will once again return to the region in summer 2019, with Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Pearl, and Norwegian Jewel all cruising to the Last Frontier. After making her debut in summer 2018, Norwegian Bliss will return for her second Alaska season, sailing exciting new seven-day Glacier Bay voyages departing each Sunday from Seattle beginning May 5 through September 22, 2019. The largest and most innovative ship to sail to Alaska, Norwegian Bliss is the first cruise ship custom-built with features and amenities for the ultimate Alaska cruise experience, including extensive observation lounges and an expansive waterfront featuring dining and lounges.

Norwegian Pearl, which recently underwent an extensive renovation earlier this year as a part of the Norwegian Edge® program, will sail seven-day Alaska cruises from Seattle departing on Saturdays from May 18 through September 21. Rounding out the Alaska fleet, Norwegian Jewel will return to Vancouver and Seward after a bow to stern enhancement in fall 2018 to sail her incredibly popular seven-day Glacier Bay northbound and Inside Passage southbound Alaska highlights voyages, offering guests the opportunity to combine back-to-back sailings for an immersive 14-day roundtrip cruise.

Bahamas & Florida
For the first time since 2010, Norwegian Dawn will return to her very first homeport of New York City as essentially a new ship, after undergoing bow to stern enhancements in late 2016. Norwegian Dawn will set sail from Manhattan on seven-day cruises to the Bahamas & Florida, bringing guests the best of beaches, theme parks and sunshine from May 25 to August 31, 2019.
Bermuda

In summer 2019, Norwegian will once again offer guests two convenient departure ports from which to set sail for the pink sand beaches and turquoise blue waters of Bermuda. Guests sailing from Boston will enjoy exploring this exotic Atlantic island from a newer and larger ship, Norwegian Gem, a popular Jewel-class ship that will homeport in Beantown from March 29 through November 8, 2019. Norwegian Escape, which moves to New York City for summer 2018, will continue her stay in the Big Apple through the summer 2019 season, sailing to Bermuda from April 14 until October 20, 2019. Both Norwegian Gem and Norwegian Escape will offer the perfect summer city getaway, with seven-day cruises to Bermuda featuring three full days in port and two overnight stays, so guests can experience the beautiful British territory at their leisure.

Canada & New England
Early summer is the best time to enjoy the beauty and stunning scenery of New England and coastal Canada. Norwegian Dawn will offer four, seven-day cruises to this spectacular coast line in May and June 2019, with calls in Halifax, Nova Scotia; Saint John, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick; Bar Harbor and Portland, Maine; and Newport, Rhode Island.

Caribbean
After returning from her first winter season in New Orleans, Norwegian Breakaway will reposition from the Big Easy to the cruise capital of the world, PortMiami, for the first time ever. As one of the largest ships in the fleet, the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Breakaway will homeport in Miami for her summer 2019 season and cruise a mix of Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries. Norwegian Breakaway’s seven-day Western Caribbean itineraries will visit Roatán, Bay Islands, Honduras; Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico; and the beautiful island destination of Harvest Caye, Belize. Norwegian Breakaway’s seven-day Eastern Caribbean itinerary will feature some of the region’s most popular ports-of-call including St. Thomas, USVI; Tortola, BVI; Nassau, Bahamas and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Europe
The romance, history and charm of Europe will be on full display for guests exploring the region aboard Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Star, and Norwegian Spirit.

After a one year hiatus, Norwegian Getaway will once again return to the Baltic, sailing incredibly popular bucket list itineraries departing from Copenhagen that feature several calls in Scandinavia with an overnight in Russia. From June 7 through August 27, 2019, Norwegian Getaway will sail a variety of nine-day sailings with ports-of-call that include Berlin (Warnemünde), Germany; Tallinn, Estonia; Helsinki, Finland; Stockholm, Sweden; an overnight in St. Petersburg, Russia and a day cruising past the Stockholm Archipelago.

The popular Norwegian Epic will return to Europe in summer 2019 to sail seven-day Western Mediterranean cruises, with embarkation available in either Barcelona and Rome (Civitavecchia), showcasing the best of Italy, France and Spain. With departures from May 12 through November 3, 2019, guests sailing aboard Norwegian Epic’s seven-day Western Europe cruises will be delighted by some of the most culturally rich and iconic destinations in the world. Guests will also enjoy 22 dining options, 20 bars and lounges, vibrant Broadway entertainment including Priscilla Queen of the Dessert: The Musical and Burn the Floor, and more.

Following an extensive renovation in 2017, Norwegian Jade will spend her summer 2019 season cruising the azure blue waters of the Greek Isles & Italy from May 12 through October 24, 2019. Norwegian Jade’s 10- and 11-day itineraries from Rome (Civitavecchia) will feature a look into some of the world’s most ancient civilizations with calls in Santorini, Athens (Piraeus), Mykonos, and Crete (Chania), Greece; Valletta, Malta; Messina, Sicily; as well as Naples and Florence/Pisa (Livorno), Italy. Norwegian Star, which will undergo a refurbishment in spring 2018, will also sail the Greek Isles and Eastern Mediterranean, offering primarily seven-day cruises with a small selection of nine-, 10-, 11-, and 12-day sailings departing from Venice, Italy from May 12 through November 10, 2019. Norwegian Star will call on some of Greece’s most enchanting island destinations including Corfu, Santorini, Mykonos and Cephalonia, as well as the outstanding Adriatic destinations of Kotor, Montenegro and Dubrovnik, Croatia on the glimmering Dalmatian Coast.

Norwegian Spirit will home port in Southampton for the summer of 2019 and sail a selection of 10-day or longer once-in-a-lifetime itineraries journeying to the British Isles, Iceland, Norwegian Fjords, the Arctic Circle, and the Baltics. Full itinerary details will be released when the ship opens for sale in mid-January.

Hawaii
As one of the most sought-after tropical destinations in the world, the islands of Hawaii are best experienced by sea. And Norwegian is the only cruise line that offers a seven-day inter-island itinerary, on the US-flagged Pride of America. Guests will cruise through paradise on a dream vacation with a one-of-a-kind itinerary that offers nearly 100 hours of port time in Hawaii’s main islands, including an overnight in Kahului, Maui; a call in Hilo; Kailua, Kona; an overnight in Nãwiliwili, Kauai; and an afternoon cruising past the breathtaking Nãpali Coast. Norwegian’s Pride of America will depart from Honolulu every Saturday through April 2021.

For additional information on itineraries and fares, visit NCL.com.

Image Courtesy Norwegian Cruise Line

Carnival Corporation Partners with Univision to Launch New Primetime Show–‘La Gran Sorpresa’

Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest leisure travel company, has announced it is partnering with Univision Communications Inc.—the leading media company serving Hispanic America—to develop the first O·C·E·A·N primetime series. The show will air on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/PT / 7 p.m. CT beginning January 7 on the Univision Network.

‘La Gran Sorpresa’ (The Great Surprise) uses the power of travel to reunite families as they overcome hardships created by illness, separation and other challenges. The one-hour program is hosted by award-winning television personality Poncho de Anda. For the series’ first six episodes, de Anda will be joined by several well-known personalities, including Univision Deportes’ Karina Banda; “Despierta America’s” Franscisca Lachapel and Maity Interiano; and Ligia Uriarte of Univision’s primetime dramedy, “Mi Marido Tiene Familia.”

In its first season, the series surprises a number of families as they sail aboard ships from Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and Holland America Line—three of Carnival Corporation’s nine global cruise brands—to exotic destinations including Cozumel (Mexico), Mahogany Bay (Honduras), and Half Moon Cay (Bahamas).

“Based on the exceptionally positive viewing results that exceed all other travel-related shows and the increased interest in cruise vacations our shows continue to generate, we are very excited to partner with Univision on ‘La Gran Sorpresa’ and build on their strong connection with the Hispanic community,” said John Padgett, chief experience and innovation officer for Carnival Corporation. “Showcasing the extraordinary experiences our guests enjoy while on a cruise vacation for a full hour in primetime will position us to significantly expand the awareness of and demand for cruising within a burgeoning demographic that inherently values everything cruise vacations represent – family, friends, culture and fun.”

“We are thrilled to deliver the power of Univision Studios and our beloved personalities to bring ‘La Gran Sorpresa’ to the leading Spanish-language network in the country,” said Steve Mandala, president of advertising sales and marketing, UCI. “Our partnership with Carnival Corporation and its award-winning cruise line brands will further deepen their efforts by engaging Hispanic America with stories that resonate and unite families.”

‘La Gran Sorpresa’ is the seventh Ocean Original series created by Carnival Corporation, the fifth to appear on network or cable TV in the U.S. and the first to engage the growing Hispanic community in the U.S. The new series builds on other Ocean Original series the company has produced that have aired on network and cable TV in the United States, and is part of its focus on expanding awareness of and increasing demand for cruising vacations.

The company currently produces three other travel series that appear weekends on ABC and NBC stations, and rank as number one or number two in their time slot. With cruise vacations growing 20 percent faster than land-based vacations and with more people than ever taking cruise vacations in 2017, the strong ratings are further evidence that Americans’ interest in cruise vacations is growing.

Ocean Original series produced by Carnival Corporation and now in their second season include “Ocean Treks with Jeff Corwin” and “Vacation Creation with Tommy Davidson and Andrea Feczko” on ABC; and “The Voyager with Josh Garcia” on NBC.

Earlier in the fall, the company announced it had created OceanView—the world’s first over the top digital streaming channel from a travel provider for completely free on major digital streaming platforms Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Roku. The streaming channel features a slate of more than 100 Ocean Original episodes that includes the company’s four original series that have been broadcast on network and cable TV in the past year, as well as two new direct-to-digital streaming original series, “GO” and “Local Eyes.” OceanView content is also available on more than 80 of the company’s 103 cruise ships.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

MSC Cruises Names MSC Seaside At Star-Studded Ceremony At PortMiami

Captain Scala, Sophia Loren & Pierfrancesco Vago
Cut the Ribbon to Christen MSC Seaside
Last Thursday, MSC Seaside, the ship that follows the sun, was named in a glittering ceremony by international screen legend and Godmother for all MSC Cruises' ships, Sophia Loren. MSC Seaside, already recognized as one of the more innovative cruise ships in the industry, is the second ship to be launched in the past six months by the leading European cruise line as part of its industry-unprecedented 12 new mega-ships that MSC Cruises, the Switzerland-founded and based world's largest privately owned cruise line, will bring into service between 2017 and 2026.

"MSC Seaside's naming embodies a pivotal moment for MSC Cruises and the industry overall. She is the first ship of the fifth new prototype that we have developed since we entered this industry only in 2003, and she introduces a wholly-innovative concept that has already set a new standard for the industry to follow," said Pierfrancesco Vago, MSC Cruises' Executive Chairman. "The distinctive and unique Seaside Class is designed to bring guests closer to the sea to enjoy cruising in warm weather, while pushing the boundaries of maritime and guest-centric technology—the way only a cruise line with over 300 years of maritime tradition could have done."

"MSC Seaside has been designed to spearhead the next phase of our growth in North America, a cornerstone of our global strategy. She will be one of three MSC Cruises ships to homeport in Miami—MSC Seaside, MSC Meraviglia, and MSC Divina, one from each of our newest classes of ship. She marks our ambition to establish a significant presence in North America, after firmly rooting our position as number one cruise brand in Europe and having established a leading presence in other key cruise markets globally," added Mr. Vago.

MSC Cruises also announced a new partnership specifically for MSC Seaside and relevant for the North American market. The new partnership with the Andrea Bocelli Foundation (ABF) where MSC Cruises' guest donations will support ABF's valuable work in Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world currently facing exceptional challenges. Every dollar donated on board by a guest will go directly to the Foundation to make a real difference, establishing schools that become community centers and launching projects such as the Mobile Clinic, providing health care assistance and prevention, clean water, lighting and agricultural development, transforming the lives of their communities.

Mr. Vago commented on the ABF partnership, "MSC Seaside will sail year around in the Caribbean, and with this partnership we wish to express our commitment to giving something back to the places where we operate. This charitable activity is in fact focused on helping the children of Haiti. They are the future and deserve the best and, as a family-owned company, this is a cause close to our hearts."

To mark the launch of the partnership with ABF, the world-famous tenor Andrea Bocelli took to the stage during the naming ceremony with 30 children from the Voices of Haiti, a talented choir of Haitian school students aged between 6 and 14 that brings music into the schools of the ABF and St. Luke Foundation for Haiti.

"The sea is a place of freedom; it is the guardian of fascinating wonders, of answers that help us grow. Being an artist means being an explorer. It is therefore a particularly joyful opportunity for me to bring on board my singing and most importantly the voices, joy and enthusiasm of the children's choir the 'Voices of Haiti,'" said Andrea Bocelli. "This choir is the result of one of the educational projects carried out, in Haiti and beyond, by the Foundation bearing my name." Mr. Bocelli continued, "MSC Cruises has always supported philanthropic projects and, in line with this tradition, MSC Seaside's naming marks a further inauguration: the launch of the partnership between MSC Cruises and the Andrea Bocelli Foundation. It will therefore be possible to set sail together and to simultaneously begin a compelling adventure of solidarity, of getting to know each other and supporting our important initiatives while on board." In collaboration with the Andrea Bocelli Foundation, the project aims to reach over 2,550 children in five communities in Haiti.

High quality, international dining is one of the key highlights of the MSC Cruises offering for guests and MSC Seaside takes this to the next level with six specialty restaurants featuring concepts from around the globe. One of these is a brand new dining experience from pan-Asian chef and international culinary pioneer, Roy Yamaguchi, with whom MSC Cruises has partnered to create a new Asian-Fusion dining concept, Asian Market Kitchen.

To celebrate the coming into service of MSC Seaside, the Swiss-based global cruise line hosted a high-profile event in PortMiami and paid homage to traditional seafaring customs. Guests in attendance included guests from around the globe, including authorities and key partners from the travel industry, as well as US and global media alongside guests from closer to home.

Headlining the entertainment for the evening's Naming Ceremony was multiple GRAMMY and LATIN GRAMMY winner, Ricky Martin, who is well-known for his high-energy and thrilling performances that have captivated millions of people throughout the world. Beloved by fans worldwide for his instinctive understanding of rhythm, passion for performing, and equal compassion for giving, Ricky Martin truly encompasses the international spirit of MSC Cruises and the city of Miami.

Making a guest appearance at the event was Miami football legend and Hall of Fame quarterback, Dan Marino, who was with the Miami Dolphins for 17 years. Earlier this year, MSC Cruises signed a partnership with the Miami Dolphins and became the official cruise line for the team, further strengthening the cruise line's relationship with the South Florida community—where its US operations are based. Fans and guests will have the chance to experience the Miami Dolphins at sea and meet team alumni on a themed cruise on MSC Seaside in 2018. Marino presented MSC Cruises USA President Roberto Fusaro with a signed football helmet to be displayed on board as a symbol of the partnership.

The finale of the evening's events was the time-honored tradition of breaking a bottle of champagne over the bow of the ship as MSC Seaside was officially named aloud. As a company with a strong maritime heritage dating over 300 years, observing these seafaring traditions is important to MSC Cruises and bringing good luck to this new ship, as always, was Sophia Loren as Godmother to her 12th MSC Cruises ship. As one of the most celebrated Italian actresses of our time, the glamorous screen-legend is practically part of the MSC Cruises family.

In charge of the whole evening's entertainment was actor and popular American TV host, Mario Lopez, who served as the Master of Ceremonies. Lopez also welcomed guests to the star-lit festivities on the "Blue Carpet," where celebrities gave interviews, took photographs, and met the crowds. Lopez then took to the stage to host the evening's entertainment.

But the main star of the show was none other than MSC Seaside. Quite unlike anything else at sea, MSC Seaside will shine among Miami's skyline commanding attention with its revolutionary design. Inspired by the architecture and lifestyle of Miami, the ship will be right at home in warm South Florida waters. Highly-innovative in design as well as on board features, the ship will feature world-class entertainment, a range of international dining concepts, a gorgeous spa, outstanding family-friendly facilities, the private "ship within a ship" MSC Yacht Club, and expansive outdoor spaces. The striking MSC Seaside is just one more reason for guests from North America, and all over the world, to join MSC Cruises on an unforgettable trip that follows the sun. MSC Seaside will sail year-round from Miami to the Caribbean offering 7-night eastern and western Caribbean itineraries, which started December 23.

Image Courtesy MSC Cruises

Friday, December 22, 2017

Celebrity Flora Celebrates Its Next Milestone


The ceremonial keel laying took place for Celebrity Flora in Tolkamer, Netherlands, setting the foundation for the ship's innovative new structure.

A 49.2 ton block was lifted in the air and a lucky coin was placed in the dock before the block was lowered into position. With the solid foundation in place, the building blocks can be joined together to create the ship of the future.

Leaders from both Celebrity Cruises, BG Studios, and DeHoop were at the event to celebrate the next stage of the ships evolution.

Celebrity Flora will sail from Baltra year-round, making her first sailing on May 26, 2019. Visit CelebrityCruises.com/galapagos/ships/celebrity-flora for information about the ship’s alternating seven-night inner and outer loop itineraries.

Image Courtesy Celebrity Cruises

Cruise Lines International Association Releases 2018 State of the Cruise Industry Outlook & Cruise Travel Trends

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the world’s largest cruise industry trade association, has released the 2018 State of the Cruise Industry Outlook. The report offers an in-depth look at the cruise industry’s overall global economic impact as well as the trends impacting cruise travel in 2018.

Current data shows cruise travel is steadily on the rise with a projected 27.2 million passengers expected to set sail in 2018. In 2017, an estimated 25.8 million passengers cruised compared to a confirmed 24.7 million passengers in 2016, an increase of 20.5 percent over five years from 2011-2016. To meet ongoing demand, more ships are scheduled to set sail in 2018. CLIA Cruise Lines are scheduled to debut 27 new ocean, river and specialty ships this coming year.

“It is without question that the cruise industry continues on a growth trajectory, gaining in consumer interest and creating a positive impact on the global economy,” said Cindy D’Aoust, president and CEO, CLIA. “The 2018 State of the Cruise Industry Outlook is a way for us to keep a finger on the pulse of the global cruise industry and its impact on the global economy and identify new travel trends that will influence cruise travel in the future.”

CLIA is also reporting on the global economic impact of the cruise industry in 2016. Cruise industry expenditures generated $126 billion in total output worldwide, supporting more than one million full-time equivalent employees who earned $41 billion in income, an increase from previous years.

As part of the 2018 State of the Cruise Industry Outlook, CLIA has forecasted the top nine cruise travel trends for the coming year.
1. All Budgets Will Cruise — The soon to be released, 2018 Cruise Travel Report found that almost all income brackets are cruising. In fact, a third (33%) of the cruisers surveyed who have taken a cruise within the past three years, have a household income less than $80K. While the data shows cruising does skew a bit more to the affluent consumer than other types of vacations, the report indicates almost all levels of income enjoy cruise vacations.
2. Transformational Cruise Travel — The next evolution of experiential travel sees travelers taking a step further and seeking “transformational” experiences. From cultural immersion and voluntourism to extreme adventures, those returning from a cruise will have shift in perspective and a sense of accomplishment. Some upcoming cruise itineraries include the opportunity to indulge in local cuisine, guided tours through small villages and even visits inside private homes. Thrill-seekers can fill bucket lists with chances to swim with sharks in South Africa, ride a Harley Davidson in Alaska or mingle among penguins in the Arctic.
3. Sustainability at Sea — In the coming year there with be an even greater focus on sustainable tourism. Travelers can look forward participating in sustainable practices both onboard and off from recycling and waste management to popular voluntourism initiatives that focus on creating a positive environmental and social impact at destinations around the globe.
4. Millennials Take to the River — River and small ship cruising continues to gain traction among travelers, specifically the Millennial set. With ever-expanding itineraries and destination experiences that reach far beyond walking and coach tours and endless options for the perfect “Instagram moment,” the younger generation is embracing river cruising.
5. Skip-Gen Cruising — Multigenerational cruising is projected to increase in popularity, as forecasted by CLIA’s Travel Agent Cruise Industry Outlook in April 2017. But there’s a twist: “skip-generation” trips, with grandparents and grandchildren traveling together without their parents, are predicted to be highly popular in 2018 and beyond.
6. Travelers Warm to Chilly Destinations — The coming year is projected to see an increase in popularity of colder climate destinations including the Baltics, Canada, Alaska, and Antarctica. With an array of unique excursion options, from penguin watching to ice fishing, these winter wonder destinations are drawing in both new and repeat cruise travelers.
7. Healthy Doses — Travelers are seeking health and wellness trips more than ever before and the cruise industry is responding with services and experiences for the mind and body. Today’s cruise travelers can participate in onboard health wellness seminars led by popular health experts, custom fitness programs, stress management, and spa services. There are even entire cruise itineraries dedicated to weight management and healthy living including Weight Watchers cruises and menus for a variety of dietary needs from diabetic-friendly to plant-based.
8. Smart Travel Technology — The coming year there will be a rise in traveler-friendly onboard technologies. Several cruise lines are introducing wearable technology for cruise guests that provide a personalized and seamless experience while onboard. Ranging from keychains to bracelets to necklaces and more, wearable technology on cruises interacts with sensors on the ship in order to do everything from turning the lights on as a cruiser approaches their cabin to acting as a security agent.
9.  Tapping Travel Agents —  Travel agents continue to see a steady demand from consumers in planning and executing vacations. Some of the largest factors behind continued popularity of travel agents? Ease of planning, valued expertise, and affordability.
For the full 2018 State of the Cruise Industry Outlook findings, visit Cruising.org/about-the-industry/research.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Princess Cruises Announces Largest-Ever Fall 2019 Deployment to Canada & New England

Princess Cruises has released the 2019 Canada & New England season, featuring Regal Princess and Caribbean Princess on the cruise line's largest fall deployment and the opportunity to visit Greenland roundtrip from New York aboard Caribbean Princess.

The 2019 Canada & New England program includes three ships with 16 departures, visiting 16 destinations on seven unique itineraries with three late night ports and two overnight ports with access to four UNESCO World Heritage sites.

"In 2019 we bring three of our ships to Canada & New England, for our guests to experience the brilliant colors of fall foliage, famed destinations and landmarks in this region," said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises and Carnival Australia group president.

All 2019 Canada & New England cruises and cruisetours are open for sale. Highlights include:
• NEW 16-day Greenland & Canada voyage round-trip from New York on Caribbean Princess, visiting three ports in Greenland and three ports in Canada
• Seven-day Canada & New England voyages departing on Saturdays from New York on Regal Princess
• More departures than ever of the 10-day Classic Canada & New England voyages, including one in August, out of Quebec and New York on Caribbean Princess, with overnight stays in Quebec and scenic cruising on the St. Lawrence River on every voyage
• Late-night stay in Boston and Saguenay on every Quebec to New York 10-day Classic Canada & New England on Caribbean Princess
• 13-day Canada & Colonial America voyages departing both in summer and fall between Quebec and Ft. Lauderdale on Caribbean Princess, with overnight stays in Quebec
• Five-day Canadian Atlantic Provinces Getaway out of New York on Regal Princess
• Access to the following UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Historic District of Old Quebec, Old Town Lunenburg, Landscape of Grand Pré, and the Statue of Liberty
• NEW 24-day Canada & New England voyage round-trip from London (Southampton) on Sapphire Princess, with an overnight stay in New York and a maiden call to Rockland, Maine
To further enhance guests' cruise vacations, Princess Cruises is pleased to offer a choice of two options on the East Coast to see the sites of colonial America or Niagara Falls and the best of Eastern Canada:
• Historic America Cruisetour takes guests to such important places as Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate, Colonial Williamsburg, Independence Hall in Philadelphia and the Gettysburg Battlefield.
• The Maple Explorer Cruisetour brings guests to exciting cities like the capital of Ottawa and French-flavored Montreal with guided tours of the Canadian Museum of History, dazzling cathedrals and the historic 19th century Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Guests will also be treated to a lovely cruise through the picturesque Thousand Islands.
Additional information about Princess Cruises is available by visiting Princess.com.

Image Courtesy Princess Cruises

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Carnival Fascination To Undergo Multi-Million-Dollar Dry Dock Prior to Resuming Year-Round Service From San Juan

Carnival Fascination will undergo an extensive multi-million-dollar dry dock that will add a variety of popular food and beverage innovations, including Guy’s Burger Joint developed by Food Network star Guy Fieri, the cocktail pharmacy-themed Alchemy Bar, BlueIguana Cantina Mexican eatery, Cherry on Top sweets shop, the poolside RedFrog Rum Bar and BlueIguana Tequila Bar, and a Bonsai Sushi Express venue.

The spaces will be added during a two-week dry dock taking place Feb. 4-17, 2018, in Freeport, The Bahamas, prior to the ship resuming its year-round schedule of seven-day southern Caribbean cruises from San Juan, Puerto Rico, beginning Feb. 18, 2018. Carnival Fascination is currently being chartered to FEMA to house relief workers in St. Croix.

“We can’t wait for our guests to experience these exciting new features aboard Carnival Fascination when she returns to her year-round homeport of San Juan early next year,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, adding that other Carnival ships began visiting San Juan as a port of call Nov. 30.

The new options aboard Carnival Fascination include:
• Guy’s Burger Joint: a free-of-charge poolside venue developed in partnership with Food Network personality Guy Fieri serving hand-crafted burgers and fresh-cut fries enjoyed amidst a décor that celebrates the chef’s California roots and love of car culture.
• RedFrog Rum Bar: a poolside watering hole offering the quintessential Caribbean vacation vibe with refreshing Caribbean rum-based frozen drinks and beers, including Carnival’s own private label draught brew, ThirstyFrog Red.
• BlueIguana Cantina: a complimentary poolside Mexican eatery where guests can enjoy authentic freshly made burritos and tacos on homemade tortillas, as well as an elaborate toppings and salsa bar.
• BlueIguana Tequila Bar: a fun and festive outdoor bar offering a laid-back Mexican-themed atmosphere and tequila-based frozen drinks and beers, perfect for chillin’ by the pool.
• Cherry on Top: The “sweetest spot on board,” Cherry on Top is the gateway to the joys of simple indulgences with bins of bulk candy, fun-and-fanciful gifts, just-because novelties, colorful custom apparel and more.
• Alchemy Bar: a vintage-themed cocktail “pharmacy” that’s the go-to spot for guests seeking a unique experience with mixologists who “prescribe” concoctions from different elixirs and ingredients or guests’ own custom-created cocktails.
• Bonsai Sushi Express: the success of the full-service Bonsai Sushi restaurants has spawned this casual, convenient yet equally tasty offshoot featuring a mouth-watering array of sushi, sashimi, rolls and more.
These new options complement popular attractions like a WaterWorks aqua park featuring a 300-foot-long Twister slide, Seuss at Sea operated exclusively with Dr. Seuss Enterprises, and myriad entertainment choices including the Punchliner Comedy Club, Playlist Productions shows, and Hasbro, The Game Show, with larger-than-life adaptations of the company’s iconic games.

Carnival Fascination’s year-round schedule from San Juan encompasses week-long sailings to five Caribbean islands: St. Lucia, Barbados, St. Kitts, St. Thomas and St. Maarten. To learn more about Carnival Cruise Line, visit Carnival.com.

Image Courtesy Carnival Cruise Line