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Ambassadors International Folds Delta Queen into New Majestic America Line

Ending speculation about its plans for Delta Queen Steamboat Company and American West Streamboat Company, which it acquired earlier this year, Ambassadors International has just announced the formation of Majestic America Line, which will combine operations of all five of the lines' paddle-wheelers under one banner.

The combined companies will begin operating under the new name later this year, with a fleet that encompass the historic Delta Queen steamboat, dating to 1927, as well as the re-created steamboats American Queen and Mississippi Queen (both formerly of Delta Queen) and Queen of the West and Empress of the North (formerly of American West). Additionally, the new line also announced its acquisition of the 49-passenger Executive Explorer, a fast, comfortable catamaran formerly owned by Glacier Bay Cruiseline, which is currently under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Joe Ueberroth, President and CEO of Ambassadors International, Inc., stated, "We are excited to be introducing the Majestic America Line brand and making it synonymous with American river and coastal cruising. This new brand captures the best of America and will provide our customers with an experience they will never forget. By combining our terrific assets under one brand, we are creating the largest company in American river and coastal cruising and beginning our strategy of becoming a leader in the niche cruise category."

In 2007, Majestic America Line will offer more than 215 departures and call at 70 port cities and communities in 19 different states, providing a truly authentic American travel experience.

MSC Cruises Takes Delivery of First Megaship, Musica

Let's take a poll: How many of you still say "MSC who?" when you hear the name MSC Cruises? The line, which started as a near-budget player in the late 90s, has been steadily building up its fleet and onboard product over the past few years, but this week may have marked the real turning point in the campaign for cruising hearts and minds. That's because on Monday, June 19, the line finally took possession of its first-ever megaship, the 2,550-passenger, 89,600-ton MSC Musica.

Built at Aker Yards in St. Nazaire, France, Musica is intended to fill the gap between megaship excitement and the old-fashioned cruise experience MSC has been touting for the past two years. Said U.S. headman Rick Sasso earlier this year, "MSC Musica will have all the amenities, venues, and spacious areas that a megaship can offer but without the crowds. And, of course, every element will reflect the company's Italian roots."

Among the highlights of the new vessel are a three-deck waterfall in the central foyer, a three-deck main theater, a variety of restaurants (including a sushi bar/restaurant and a panoramic "garden" restaurant with columns and frescoed ceilings), an 8,000-square-foot casino, balconies on about 65 percent of the total staterooms, and a number of themed bars, including a wine-tasting bar, piano bar, a "well-being" bar in the spa, and so-called "Cozy Bar" for a cappuccino or after-dinner aperitif. A13,000-square-foot spa/beauty facility will offer aerobics, yoga, aromatherapy treatments, a thalassotherapy pool, hydro-massage, and a Turkish bath, while sports and fitness facilities will include a tennis court, golf simulator, jogging track, and miniature golf.

Musica will be christened in Venice on June 29 by Sophia Loren, godmother of the past three MSC ships and spokesperson for the line. She'll then begin a series of 7-night cruises round-trip from Venice, visiting Bari (Italy), Katakolon (Greece), Izmir and Istanbul (Turkey), and Dubrovnik (Croatia).

Musica is the first of five ships commissioned by MSC Cruises from Aker Yards France to be delivered over a period of three years: next will be sister-ship MSC Orchestra, followed by MSC Poesia and MSC Fantasia in 2008 and MSC Serenata in 2009. Fantasia and Serenata will be the biggest ships ever commissioned by a European company, measuring 133,500 gross register tons.

Holland America Honored for Avoiding Whale Collisions

It seems a logical thing to avoid running your ship into whales, but it's not always that easy. That's why Holland America (tel. 877-724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com) was honored last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service for its "Avoiding Whale Strikes" program, an interactive computer-based training program that trains deck officers on whale behavior.

The Conservation Partnership Award, part of a newly established Sustainable Fisheries Leadership Awards Program, was presented by Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, and Dr. William T. Hogarth, assistant administrator for fisheries. Chris Volkle, Holland America's manager of fleet training, accepted the award.

"Collisions with ships are one of the largest threats to whales," said Volkle. "Our vessels frequently operate in waters inhabited by whales and it is our responsibility to protect the resources of the ocean environment from which we make our living."

An essential part of "Avoiding Whale Strikes" is basic instruction on identifying whale types. Sections of the program discuss surface characteristics of each species, such as blow patterns (the shape of the spray when a whale breathes out through its blowhole), how many times a whale might blow before diving, whether it shows its fluke before diving, and how many whales might be in the group. Identifying the species and anticipating individual behavioral patterns greatly reduces the chance of collisions.

Holland America Line has distributed the one-hour program freely throughout the cruise ship industry via industry organizations, and has given the United States government copyright so it may distribute the program to shipping and military interests. A number of prestigious organizations are using the program, including the International Whaling Commission (which regulates commercial whaling throughout the world), the Federal Public Service Office of the European Union, and the Southeast Alaska Pilot's Association.

Crystal Announces New Fuel Surcharge

If you thought filling up your SUV was expensive, imagine if you were a cruise line. That's why Crystal Cruises (tel. 888/799-4625; www.crystalcruises.com) has just become the latest to announce a new fuel surcharge. Effective July 17, 2006, all Crystal passengers will be charged an additional $5 per person, per day on all 2007 voyages.  Bookings made and paid prior to July 17, 2006, will be spared the charge.

The line already has a fuel surcharge of $4 per person, per day, in place for all 2006 voyages.

Princess Plans Intimate 2008 World Cruise aboard Pacific Princess. . .

World cruises tend to take place aboard beloved and often older vessels, such as Cunard's QE2 or Holland America's Prinsendam (ex Royal Viking Sun). Princess's Pacific Princess is neither terribly old nor terribly beloved in her own right, but somehow she still seems the right vessel for the job as Princess (tel. 800/774-6237; www.princess.com) returns to the world cruise circuit after a five-year layoff. Launched in 1999 as part of Renaissance Cruises' fleet of identical vessels, the 30,277-ton Pacific Princess carries just 670 passengers and boasts a sedate, country-club-style ambience well suited to the quiet socializing that attends around-the-world voyages.

The cruise will depart January 10, 2008, from Ft. Lauderdale and end 108 days later in Southampton, UK, with an option for a last transatlantic leg to New York aboard Cunard's QM2. Along the way, Pacific Princess will visit 42 ports in South America, the South Pacific, Australia, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

Pacific Princess begins her journey with stops at Grand Cayman and Panama's San Blas Islands, then heads through the Panama Canal and along South America's western coast, visiting Quito/Manta (Ecuador) and Lima/Callao (Peru), which offer a base for an overland journey to Machu Picchu.

The vessel then heads across the Pacific to Easter Island and cruises by Pitcairn Island before stopping in Tahiti and Rarotonga.  After the ship crosses the International Dateline, it continues on to Auckland, Sydney, and then Cairns for the Great Barrier Reef.  Next up is Rabaul in Papua/New Guinea, Chuuk (Truk) in Micronesia, Guam, and scenic cruising by Iwo Jima.  Pacific Princess's Asia leg includes Kagoshima (Japan), Shanghai and Hong Kong (China), Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), Sihanoukville (Cambodia) for an overland tour to the temples of Angkor Wat, Bangkok, Ko Samui, and Phuket (Thailand), and Singapore.

The voyage then turns for Colombo (Sri Lanka), Mumbai (India), and Dubai (United Arab Emirates).  In Egypt, passengers visit Safaga (for Luxor/Karnak), transit the Suez Canal, then call in Port Said for Cairo and the pyramids of Giza.  In Europe, the ship sails to Athens/Piraeus (Greece), Sorrento/Capri and Rome/Civitavecchia (Italy), Cannes/Monte Carlo (France/Monaco), Barcelona and Gibraltar (Spain), Lisbon (Portugal), Paris (France), and Cork/Cobh (Ireland), before ending their trip in Southampton, UK. As a benefit of Princess's recent merger with Cunard Line, passengers wishing to keep going may board QM2 in Southampton for an additional six-day transatlantic crossing to New York.

Early booking fares for Pacific Princess's world cruise begin at $19,995 for the 102-day sailing or $21,144 for the 108-day journey, including the QM2 crossing.  All prices are per person, double occupancy.

. . . and Offers the Best of Brooklyn on Crown Princess

Aboard the new 113,000-ton, 3,080-passenger Crown Princess, christened just last week in New York, Princess is taking a nostalgic and humorous approach to hometown eats. Its "Brooklyn Balcony Nosh," available on embarkation day only during sailings from the new Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, offers passengers an authentic Nathan's Hot Dog with all the trimmings, a cold bottle of Brooklyn Lager beer, and a slice of Junior's Cheesecake, a Brooklyn institution since 1950 -- all for $7. Hey, not bad.

Watch the next Frommer's Cruise Newsletter for a full review of Crown Princess.

Carnival Corp. Orders New Ship for Costa

Costa Cruises (tel. 800/GO-COSTA; www.costacruises.com), which seems to have an unlimited appetite for new vessels these days, will be getting yet another in 2009 thanks to an order owner Carnival Corporation placed last week. Measuring 92,700 gross tons, the Costa vessel will be built at Italy's Fincantieri shipyard, which also granted Carnival an option for a second sister-ship, deliverable in 2010.

Carnival Corp. has also ordered a new 68,500-ton ship for its German line Aida Cruises. To be built at Germany's Meyer Werft shipyard, the vessel will also be delivered in 2010.

European Waterways Plans Three-Night Cruises on the Venetian Lagoon

Lots of European cruises visit Venice, but barge cruise operator European Waterways (tel. 800/394-8630; www.gobarging.com) has an even better new option for those particularly interested in La Serenissima: 3-night barge cruises that sail entirely within the Venetian Lagoon, with stops at the islands of Venice, Burano, Murano, Torcello, and San Francesco. Highlights include a tour of the Grand Canal, visits to lace- and glass-making shops, and visits to the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and San Francesco monastery.

Cruises are offered on July 16, Sept. 10, and Oct. 8 aboard the six-passenger, three-crew La Dolce Vita, with prices starting at about $1,520 per person, double occupancy. Six-night cruises are also available.

SeaDream Yacht Club to Host Earl Klugh Theme Cruise

You don't usually find jazz cruises aboard ships that only carry 110 passengers, but then, SeaDream isn't your ordinary cruise line. Beginning April 12, 2007, the upscale line's SeaDream I will sail round-trip from San Juan on a one-man theme cruise called "Midnight in San Juan," named for guitarist Earl Klugh's Warner Bros. album and tune of the same name. Grammy Award winner Klugh will perform several times during the four-night cruise, which will also visit the islands of St. Barts and Virgin Gorda.

The voyage is being run as a charter by Sixthman (tel. 877/SIXTHMAN; www.sixthman.net), an Atlanta organization that organizes and produces upscale travel programs with major rock, pop, and jazz artists. Rates start at $3,900 per person, plus taxes, fees, and insurance.

Royal Caribbean's Legend to Sail from Santo Domingo in 2007

From mid-December 2007 through spring 2008, Royal Caribbean's 1,804-passenger Legend of the Seas will sail from a new homeport in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Passengers will have a choice of two alternating 7-night southern Caribbean itineraries, the first visiting St. Maarten, Dominica, Grenada, Margarita Island (Venezuela), and Aruba, the second visiting St. Kitts, Guadaloupe, Martinique, Barbados, and St. Lucia. The two itineraries can be combined for an almost comprehensive 14-night tour.

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