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EasyCruise Introduces the $200 Caribbean Cruise

After only one season offering French Riviera trips that turn cruise conventions on their ear, insurgent cruise line easyCruise (www.easycruise.com) has hit the Caribbean.

Created last year by Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the Greek-born British entrepreneur behind easyJet, easyCar, easyHotel, and nearly a dozen other brands, easyCruise has a business model completely unlike that of any other cruise line: Go simple on the decor, visit a port every day and stay late, let people join the cruise in any port and book for any number of days, and charge rock-bottom prices that only cover the guest's stay. Everything else -- including food -- costs extra. The line debuted on the Riviera in May with one ship, the 170-passenger, creamsickle-orange easyCruiseone, which formerly sailed as Renaissance II for now-defunct Renaissance Cruises. Now easyCruiseOne has arrived in the western hemisphere to begin its first season of winter Caribbean sailings.

"Our first season in the Mediterranean was very successful for the easyCruise concept and Caribbean bookings for our first few months also are encouraging," said Stelios. "I look forward to introducing the 'easy' brand to additional young travelers who want to cruise the Caribbean." With the first month's cruises booked at 90% capacity, typical passengers appear to be in their mid- to late thirties, significantly younger than the usual Caribbean cruiser. Some 50 percent hail from the United States.

EasyCruiseOne will sail a consistent itinerary around the southern Caribbean through April 26, visiting Bridgetown, Barbados (Saturday and Sunday); Kingstown, St. Vincent (Monday); Fort de France, Martinique (Tuesday); Bequia, in the Grenadines (Wednesday); St. George's, Grenada (Thursday); and Castries, St. Lucia (Friday). Barbados, Martinique, Grenada, and St. Lucia all have international airports with a selection of direct flights from the U.S., London, Paris, and other destinations. The ship stays in port till midnight so passengers can enjoy each island's nightlife.

And prices really are low. Initial offerings started at just $15 per person, per night, though currently rates are hovering around $30 per person (double occupancy) or $24 per person for quad cabins. Cruises can be booked directly through the line's website or through travel agents.

MSC Joins the Space Race, Orders 133,500-Ton Megaships

Lest anyone think MSC Cruises (tel. 800/666-9333; www.msccruises.com) is just a dabbler in the cruise market, operating a fleet of midsize ships, take notice: The Italian line, a subsidiary of the world's second-largest container ship company, has just ordered a pair of 133,500-ton mega-vessels from France's Alstom Marine, a nearly $1.2 billion project that will grow the MSC fleet to eleven ships by 2009.

The first of the vessels, to be named MSC Fantasia, will debut in June 2008; the second, MSC Serenata, will be delivered in March 2009. Both ships will be positioned in the Mediterranean during the summer, though the line is considering bringing one to the Caribbean for winter sailings.

"This bold move significantly expands the presence MSC Cruises has in the Mediterranean and solidifies its position as the top European cruise company," said MSC's U.S. president, Richard Sasso. "We are making the necessary investments to guide MSC Cruises into the next decades and beyond."

Each of the two new ships will accommodate 3,300 passengers in 1,650 staterooms, of which 1,260 will have private balconies. Most features of the vessels have not yet been announced, though one -- a two-deck VIP enclave with suite accommodations, butler service, and suite-guest-only restaurant, pool, and sun deck -- is a veritable time warp back to ocean liner days, with their separate amenities for first class, second class, and steerage.

NCL Spirit Relocates to New York for Year-Round Cruises

Last week, as a cold front gave New Yorkers an early taste of winter, Norwegian Cruise Line (tel. 800/327-7030; www.ncl.com) became the only cruise line offering southbound escapes on two ships throughout the year.

NCL pioneered the year-round NYC concept in 2003 with Norwegian Dawn, which continues to sail itineraries down the coast to Cape Canaveral (for the Space Coast attractions and Orlando theme parks), Miami, Nassau, and NCL's private Bahamian island. The new addition is Norwegian Spirit, which will be sailing alternating 10- and 11-night itineraries to the southern Caribbean. The 10-night itineraries call at St. Thomas, Antigua, Barbados, St. Maarten, and Tortola. Eleven-night itineraries call at St. Thomas, Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, Dominica, and Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. Rates begin at $949 per person. From February through April the ship will sail 7-night cruises following the same itinerary as Dawn, then in May will begin alternating 6-night Bahamas/Florida itineraries with new 8-night Bermuda/eastern Caribbean itineraries visiting St. Thomas, Tortola, and Bermuda. Prices for the latter currently start at $699 per person.

The recently renovated Spirit is a slightly older and slightly smaller sister to Dawn (1,966 passengers as compared to 2,224), offering many of the same options and amenities, including eight restaurants (two mains, plus Asian, French, Italian, steakhouse, burgers-and-fries, and buffet), twelve bars, a great pirate-themed kids' playground in the stern, a spacious theater, and a Greco-Roman themed pool deck. A new lounge space called Maharini's combined Bollywood Indian themes with a kind of fashion-world ambience, its mood-lit nooks separated by thick velvet curtains and outfitted with large, comfortable daybeds strewn with pillows.

SeaDream Yacht Club to Explore South America in Winter 2006-2007

Though details are not yet available, word has filtered out that ultra-luxe small-ship line SeaDream Yacht Club (tel. 800/707-4911; www.seadreamyachtclub.com) will be repositioning its 110-passenger SeaDream I from the Caribbean to South America for winter 2006-2007, offering 9- and 10-night cruises between Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. The cruises will visit small yachting ports, colonial towns, and resorts, and certain cruises will coincide with Rio's Christmas, New Year, and Carnaval celebrations.

SeaDream I's sister-vessel, SeaDream II, will continue offering Caribbean sailings, as she has since the line's creation in 2001.

NCV Northern Lights Cruise Set for January

Each year, the Norwegian city of Tromso, 370 miles north of the Arctic Circle, hosts its Northern Lights Festival (www.nordlysfestivalen.no) to celebrate the return of the sun after a two-month polar night. The festival includes dozens of musical performances in a range of styles (contemporary, symphonic, sacred, choral, chamber, song recitals, musical theater, ethnic folk, and jazz) performed in numerous venues. This year Norwegian Coastal Voyage (tel. 800/323-7436; www.norwegiancoastalvoyage.us) is offering a four-night cruise that sails January 23 from Bergen to Tromso aboard the 674-passenger MS Trollfjord, with onboard activities that include lectures on the Northern Lights and the Sami music of Lapland, Norwegian and Arctic food specialties, and daily concerts. Rates start at $565 per person, double occupancy. Once the ship reaches Tromso it becomes a floating hotel for the final four nights of the six-night festival, with daily rates of $70 per person, double occupancy. Single rates are $690 for the cruise and $110 per night for hotel nights.

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