advertisement

QE2 Celebrates 36th Birthday while QM2 Keeps on Truckin'

On May 2, Cunard's (tel. 800/5-CUNARD; www.cunard.com) legendary Queen Elizabeth 2 sailed into her homeport at Southampton, UK, thirty-six years to the day from when she left the same port for her 1969 maiden voyage to New York.

Nine former and current captains were aboard for a special celebration, as was John Whitworth, who served as Cunard's managing director at the time of QE2's introduction.

In her long career, QE2 has sailed more than 5.3 million nautical miles, carried nearly three million passengers, and completed 795 Atlantic crossings. She was the longest-serving Cunard flagship ever, holding the baton from 1969 until the 2004 introduction of Queen Mary 2, the ship that took over her transatlantic route. On September 4 she'll become the longest-serving Cunarder ever, surpassing the 36-year, four-month, and two-day life of the Scythia, which sailed between 1921 and 1957.

While QE2 celebrates, QM2 keeps up the family tradition, offering transatlantic crossings between New York and Southampton through the summer, with a special deal for free upgrades from regular outside cabins to balcony cabins. On her May 22, May 28, June 3, and June 9 sailings, outside cabins start at $1,249, while inside cabins start at $999. Suites start at $2,434. Before her summer season gets underway, QM2 will host a special party at the Cannes Film Festival May 15, during which director George Lucas will be presented with a "Trophy of the Festival" award to honor his career. Some little movie he recently directed will be released to theaters that same week, called Star something. We think it's a sci-fi film.

Five Big Norwegians on the Way at NCL

With the old Norwegian Sea, Crown, Majesty, Dream, and Wind all scheduled to transfer to Asian parent company Star Cruises by 2009, Norwegian Cruise Line (tel. 800/327-7030; www.ncl.com) is busily cranking out newbuilds to replace them. Coming first are Pride of America and Norwegian Jewel, both set to launch this summer, and Pride of Hawai`i, debuting in April 2006. An as-yet-unnamed 2,384-passenger sister-ship of Norwegian Jewel was ordered from Germany's Meyer Werft shipyard in December '04 for delivery in 2007, and now comes word that NCL has ordered yet another identical vessel from the same yard. Called for the time being by the prosaic shipyard moniker "S.670," she'll debut in October 2007, at which point more than 75 percent of the NCL fleet will be younger than eight years old.

The order for S.670 comes on the heels of a failed deal between NCL and Helsinki's Aker Finnyards, which would have delivered a new 2,430-passenger vessel for early 2008.

Is Riverboat Gambling in Delta Queen's Future?

Delta Queen Steamboat Company (tel. 800/543-1949; www.deltaqueen.com) offers old-fashioned river cruises on three sternwheelers that look every inch like antique paddle-wheelers -- every inch, that is, except one. Owing to a kink in current laws, the vessels have not been able to offer the kind of casino gambling usually associated with the old days of Mississippi River steamboating. That might be about to change, though, as a bill introduced in the Louisiana legislature would allow gambling on ships larger than 400 berths, sailing cruises longer than 48 hours from New Orleans. Two of Delta Queen's ships, the 414-passenger Mississippi Queen and 436-passenger American Queen, fit that description to a T.

Peter Deilmann Introduces Cycling-Themed European River Cruises

For all their pluses, cruises also have one major minus: They generally don't let you see the interior of a country unless you sign on to a shore excursion, and even then you're frequently seeing many sights from the window of a bus. Not so on a series of trips being offered this summer by Peter Deilmann Cruises (tel. 800/348-8287; www.deilmann-cruises.com), which combine laid-back river cruising and visits to the continent's great cities with bicycle excursions in France's Rhône-Saône, Provence, and Normandy regions and Germany, Austria, and Hungary's Danube regions.

The program will be offered on three Seine River sailings of the 100-passenger Cezanne in July and August, two Danube sailings on the 200-passenger Mozart in September, and one Rhone cruise aboard the 140-passenger Princess de Provence, also in September.

Seine River Cruises

Eight-night Seine River cruises start with an overnight and dinner in the town of Fontainebleau, outside Paris. The next morning, travelers ride to the village of Barbizon and the market town of Milly-la-Fôret, then are driven back to Paris for two nights aboard the Cezanne before cruising north.

On Sunday, bikers cycle through the Haute de Valle de Chevreuse Parc to Rambouillet, visiting Chartres Cathedral and the Palace of Rambouillet. Monday is spent sightseeing in Paris, with a visit to the Rodin Museum. On Tuesday morning, passengers bike through Normandy to Monet's house and garden at Giverny, then head for the village of Les Andelys in the afternoon. The next day sees cyclists pedaling country roads through Pays de Caux to Tancarville Castle, while at Le Havre there's a morning bike ride to the Parc du Brotonne nature reserve with its centuries-old trees, rustic farmhouses, and Calvados apple orchards. At Rouen, after a morning visit to the Abbey Saint Martin de Bosherville, bikers ride along the river to the Cloister ruin of Jumiege and later have a farewell dinner at a local restaurant.

Rates start at $3,400 per person for an outside twin cabin, six escorted cycling tours, bicycle rental and service, accompanying driver, lunches and picnics, refreshments, transfers, excursions and entrance fees, hotel stay in Fontainebleau, and dinner and breakfast and dinner in Rouen. Participants average between 20 and 25 miles a day on the cycling excursions for a total of around 150 miles total over the course of the cruise.

Danube Cruises

Sailing round-trip from Passau (two hours from Munich), Deilmann's nine-night Danube cruises includes an overnight at the Passau's Hotel Residence, overnights in Vienna and Budapest, a stop in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava, and a visit to the wine village of Dürnstein. Five cycling excursions over the course of the cruise traverse paths along the Inn River to an old world village; ride along the Danube through Austria's Wachau wine region; head down small country roads, past orchards and wine terraces leading to Vienna; and visit "Heurigen" wine taverns in the Viennese forest.

Rates start at $3,695 per person for an outside twin including seven nights on the Mozart, one night at the Residence in Passau with dinner and breakfast, the cycling program, lunches, picnics, transfers, excursions, entrance fees, and accompanying driver.

Rhône Cruises

Eight-night Rhône cycling tours begin in medieval Pérouges with dinner and overnight stay at the classic Hostellerie du Vieux-Pérouges, followed by a morning bike tour through Lyon. The Princesse de Provence sails round-trip from Lyon, calling at Tournous, Chalon sur Saône, Mâcon, Trévoux, Tournon, Arles, Avignon, and Vienne. Cyclists ride through the wine regions of southern Burgundy and Beaujolais, the Aredeche plateau to the bottom of the gorge, the medieval town of Viviers, the small side streets at the foot of the Alpilles mountains to Les-Baux, and to the vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the Roman theater of Orange.

The 8-night package starts at $3,200 per person for an outside twin cabin, six escorted cycling tours, two wine tastings, all meals (including an afternoon picnic), transfers, excursions and entrance fees, and the hotel stay in Lyon.

Note: Depending on the itinerary, non-cycling guests deduct between $700 and $1,000 from the full cruisetour price.

Carnival's Imagination Takes Karaoke to the Nth Power

Who doesn't enjoy a karaoke show, at some level? Similarly, who doesn't enjoy an Elvis impersonator, at some level? Recently, Carnival Cruise Line (tel. 888/CARNIVAL; www.carnival.com) has begun merging the two in its "Carnival Legends" shows aboard the 2,040-passenger Imagination. It goes a little something like this: Guests -- any guests, whether they can really sing or not -- sign up for the show, pick their alter-ego (Elvis, James Brown, Madonna, Gloria Estefan, Britney Spears, or one of several others), then rehearse their number with Imagination's ten-piece band and show dancers. Next thing they know it's lights, camera, action, and they're performing in full costume in the ship's 1,100-seat Dynasty Show Lounge, with sets, lighting effects, and a full audience to complete the picture.

"This is unlike anything that's ever been done on a cruise ship," said Roger Blum, Carnival's VP of cruise programming, who noted that based on passenger reaction the show will soon be featured on other Carnival ships sailing cruises of seven days or longer. Start rehearsing now.

Carnival Victory to Return to Norfolk VA in '06

Based on positive passenger response, Carnival Cruise Line (tel. 888/CARNIVAL; www.carnival.com) has decided to return to Norfolk, Virginia, for four cruises in summer and fall 2006 aboard the 2,758-passenger Carnival Victory.

On deck: a pair of 2-night cruises-to-nowhere departing June 10 and October 14 and two 6-night Bahamas cruises June 4 and October 8, 2006, with an overnight call at Nassau and a daylong visit to Freeport.

Prices start at $299 per person for the 2-night cruise and $649 per person for the 6-night, based on double occupancy. Reduced rates for third and fourth guests in the same stateroom are also available.

It's 2006 Already as Princess Unveils Summer Europe and Alaska Routes

The days of last-minute cruise bookings really do seem to be gone, at least for now, because with summer 2005 right around the corner, Princess Cruises (tel. 800-PRINCESS; www.princess.com) has just announced its Alaska and Northern Europe/British Isles deployments for summer 2006.

Northern Europe & the British Isles

In Europe, the 2,600-passenger Golden Princess and 1,950-passenger Sea Princess will offer fourteen sailings on eleven different 7- to 16-night itineraries between April 22 and September 22, 2006, all of them round-trip from Southampton, UK.

  • British Isles: On July 11, August 10, and August 30, Golden Princess will sail 10-night cruises that visit Falmouth, Holyhead (Wales), Dublin and Belfast (Ireland), and Glasgow, Inverness/Loch Ness, and Edinburgh (Scotland).
  • Western Europe/British Isles: On July 31 and August 20, Golden Princess will sail to six countries in just ten days, visiting Dublin, Glasgow, Bergen (Norway), Rotterdam (Netherlands), Brussels/Bruges (Belgium), and Normandy/Le Havre (France).
  • Western European Capitals: On July 21, Golden Princess will take passengers to seven of Western Europe's capitals in ten days, calling at Brussels/Bruges, Rotterdam (for excursions to Amsterdam), Oslo (Norway), Copenhagen (Denmark), Hamburg (for excursions to Berlin), and Le Havre (for excursions to Paris). The seventh capital is London, a hop and a skip from Southampton.
  • Norwegian Fjords and Iceland: On June 17, Sea Princess sails a 14-day summer solstice cruise that travels along the length of Norway's coast to the remote island of Spitsbergen. Ports include Stavanger, Hellesylt/Geiranger, Trondheim, Ny ¿lesund, Honningsvag (for the North Cape), Tromso, and Bergen, plus cruising time in the Magdalena Fjord. On July 1, the ship will offer a similar itinerary that visits Oslo, Stavanger, Flaam, Lerwick (Shetland Islands), Torshavn (Faroe Islands), Akureyri (Iceland), Reykjavik (Iceland), Glasgow, and Dublin.
  • Iberian Peninsula: On May 20, Sea Princess will sail a 7-night itinerary with calls in La Coruna and Bilbao (Spain), Bordeaux (France), and Guernsey (Channel Islands, UK). A May 27 sailing visits Vigo (Spain), Lisbon (Portugal), La Rochelle (France), and Guernsey.
  • Transatlantic: Sea Princess offers a 14-day transit departing April 22 from Ft. Lauderdale en route to Southampton, with stops in Ponta Delgada (Azores Islands), Lisbon, Vigo, and La Rochelle. On September 2, she comes back to the New World on a 16-day Southampton-to-Quebec City odyssey that takes in Bergen, Lerwick (Shetland Islands), Torshavn (Faroe Islands), Akureyri, Isafjordur, and Reykjavik (Iceland), Nanortalik (Greenland), St. John's (Newfoundland), and Sydney (Nova Scotia). Golden Princess sails 16 nights May 6 from New York to Venice, with port calls in Barcelona, Cannes, Livorno (for Florence), Civitavecchia (for Rome), and Naples.

In addition to the two ships sailing from Southampton, Princess also has the 2,600-passenger Star Princess on 10-night Scandinavia/Russia routes throughout the summer, sailing round-trip from Copenhagen and visiting Nynashamn (for Stockholm), Helsinki, St. Petersburg (Russia), Tallinn (Estonia), Gdynia (Poland), and either Warnemunde (Germany, for Berlin) and Helsingor (Denmark) or Oslo (Norway).

Fares for British Isles and Northern Europe cruises begin at $999 for seven-day sailings, $1,690 for 10-day cruises, and $2,590 for 14-day sailings.

Alaska

The line's saving its big guns for the Gulf of Alaska, with Diamond, Sapphire, Coral, and Island Princess all sailing north- and southbound between Vancouver and Anchorage/Whittier in '06. The four are Princess's newest vessels save for Caribbean Princess, which sails its namesake region year-round. The 2,670-passenger Diamond and Sapphire are Princess's best ships ever, with clubby, intimate public areas plus airy outdoor spaces plus A+ dining options. Too big to pass through the Panama Canal, both are based in the Pacific year-round. The 1,970-passenger Coral and Island Princess aren't far behind in attractiveness: They're beautiful, spacious, and at the same time surprisingly intimate, with a nice range of entertainment and dining options and venues.

All told, the four ships will sail 71 Gulf of Alaska voyages in '06, all of them combinable with land-tour packages. The "Voyage of the Glaciers" itinerary sails north- or southbound between Vancouver and Whittier (one of the two main ports for Anchorage) visiting Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan and including cruising time in College Fjord, the Inside Passage, and Glacier Bay National Park. The 2006 season runs between May 13 and September 18, with Diamond and Sapphire Princess sailing on Saturdays and Coral and Island Princess departing on Mondays. Fares start at $649 for a 7-day voyages, with cruisetours starting at $1,399.

On the Inside Passage, 1,950-passenger sister ships Sun Princess and Dawn Princess will offer 7-night cruises May-Sept round-trip from Seattle, visiting Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Victoria (BC), with cruising time in Tracy Arm for viewing of the North Sawyer and South Sawyer glaciers. Meanwhile, the 1,590-passenger Regal Princess will sail her final Alaska season for Princess, offering 10-night sailings May-Sept round-trip from San Francisco, with port calls in Victoria, Juneau, and two other Alaska ports -- either Ketchikan, Sitka, Skagway, Haines, or Icy Strait Point (a new port developed by the Tlingit people of nearby Hoonah) -- with cruising time in Tracy Arm. Fares currently start at $849 for Inside Passage cruises and $2,799 for Canadian Rockies cruisetours.

As reported last month, the 1991-vintage Regal Princess will leave the Princess fleet in October 2006, heading for service with UK-based Ocean Village. Founded in 2003, Ocean Village is oriented toward casual, first-time cruisers, and is a sister-brand to Princess under the huge Carnival Corporation umbrella.

Crystal Offers Low-Rate Luxe for 2006

Seeking to lure next year's passengers early, Crystal Cruises (tel. 888-799-4625; www.crystalcruises.com) has announced its 2006 "Value Collection," with fares for luxe travel in South America, Europe, and the Caribbean starting from under $200 per person, per day. The collection includes six cruises aboard the 940-passenger Crystal Symphony and seven aboard the 1.080-passenger Crystal Serenity.

South America

  • April 13, Buenos Aires to Miami aboard Crystal Symphony; 16 nights starting at $2,995.

Northern Europe

  • May 5, round-trip from London aboard Crystal Serenity; 10 nights starting at $3,140.
  • May 15, round-trip from London aboard Crystal Serenity; 10 nights starting at $3,530.

Mediterranean

  • May 8, Lisbon to Athens aboard Crystal Symphony; 10 nights starting at $2,795.
  • October 13, Rome to Athens aboard Crystal Serenity; 11 nights starting at $3,550.
  • October 24, Athens to Monte Carlo aboard Crystal Serenity; 11 nights starting at $3,550.

Trans-Atlantic

  • April 29, Miami to Lisbon aboard Crystal Symphony; 9 nights starting at $2,270.
  • November 15, Lisbon to Miami aboard Crystal Serenity; 10 nights starting at $2,875.

Caribbean

  • December 5, round-trip from Miami aboard Crystal Serenity; 10 nights starting at $2,950.
  • December 15, round-trip from Miami aboard Crystal Serenity; 7 nights starting at $2,165.

Panama Canal

  • November 12, Ft. Lauderdale to Caldera (Costa Rica) aboard Crystal Symphony; 12 nights starting at $2,380.
  • November 24, Caldera to Tampa aboard Crystal Symphony; 12 nights starting at $2,380.
  • December 6, Tampa to Los Angeles aboard Crystal Symphony; 15 nights starting at $2,930.

All fares are per person, double occupancy.

HAL Teams with Food & Wine Magazine for Culinary Arts Programs

Over the past year, Holland America (tel. 877-724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com) has been retrofitting its ships to include new Culinary Arts Centers, TV-style show kitchens that present a series of cooking demonstrations, classes, and tasting events live as well as taped for later viewing on cabin TVs. Now the line is taking the cooking-education concept a step further through a partnership with Food & Wine magazine.

The new program, hosted on select HAL cruises beginning in fall 2005, will offer demonstrations and seminars conducted by chefs, wine experts, and cookbook authors provided by Food & Wine. The magazine will also design and provide recipe cards and wine-tasting notes that guests may take home along with copies of the magazine. Other opportunities might include book signings, Q&A sessions, market tours in various ports of call, and specially designed onboard menus.

Chefs currently signed up for the program include:

  • Michelle Bernstein of the MB restaurant at Grand Aqua, Cancun, and co-host of the Food Network's Melting Pot (aboard Statendam in Alaska, Sept. 9, 2005)
  • Neal Gallagher of New York's Oceana restaurant, winner of Food & Wine's Best New Chef award in 2003 (aboard Westerdam in the Caribbean, Nov. 13, 2005)
  • Aaron Sanchez, a 2005 James Beard Rising Star Chef Award nominee and owner of New York's Paladar restaurant as well as Mixx Restaurant at the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City (sailing date TBA)
  • Charles Dale, founder of Aspen's Renaissance, Range, and Rustique restaurants (sailing date TBA)

HAL's Culinary Arts Centers are currently in place on half of the line's thirteen-ship fleet, and will be fully implemented across the fleet by mid-2006. In addition to the Food & Wine program, Holland America Line offers additional chefs and demonstrations as a part of its Culinary Arts Center program aboard every sailing. For 2005, these include a dozen culinary demonstrations by regional and specialty chefs from the ports visited on Mexico, Alaska, Europe, and Asia/Pacific cruises.

Celebrity Expands Plastic Presence with New "Celebrity Rewards" AmEx Card

Last November, Celebrity Cruises joined the ranks of cruise lines pairing with banks to offer rewards credit cards, debuting their "Celebrity Rewards" Visa Card. This month, the line has expanded that program with the new Celebrity Rewards American Express Card, which like the Visa card is issued by MBNA Corporation and awards "WorldPoints" to members with every purchase.

Cardholders sailing with Celebrity can redeem their points for stateroom upgrades, onboard credits, or a free cruise. WorldPoints also can be redeemed for hotel stays, spending money, luggage, electronics, sporting goods, airfare on any major U.S. airline (with no blackout periods), and gift certificates for shopping, dining, and movies. In addition to the standard one-point per dollar purchase deal, cardholders can earn double points on all spending with Celebrity and for other travel and dining purchases made until 2006.

For more information, contact MBNA at 866-GET-MBNA and mention priority code CK0F, or visit www.celebrity.com.

Do you have a question or comment on this column? Head to our Cruise Message Boards to join in the discussions with fellow Frommer's travelers.