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Cruise Lines Alter Itineraries in Face of Hurricane Rita

With Hurricane Rita surging to a Category 5 in the Atlantic, cruise lines are being forced to alter the itineraries of some ships currently sailing from Florida, where Miami-Dade County, Broward County, and the entire Florida Keys chain were under a hurricane warning.

At press time, Royal Caribbean had canceled Grandeur of the Seas' scheduled call this week in Key West; Mariner and Majesty of the Seas' calls in Nassau, Bahamas; and Sovereign of the Seas' call in Coco Cay, Bahamas, the line's private island. All four ships have been diverted to alternate ports, steering clear of the storm path.

At Carnival, Carnival Victory was shifted from an eastern to a western Caribbean route, while Fascination was forced to skip port calls in Nassau and Freeport, Bahamas.

Delta Queen Cancels Voyages in Wake of Katrina; Carnival and NCL Redeploy

Though the Port of New Orleans has reopened on a limited basis to accommodate relief ships, the timetable for resuming tourist operations -- at the port as well as throughout the stricken city -- is an open question. Some businesses have already made plans to reopen -- the Windsor Court Hotel (www.windsorcourthotel.com), for instance, located close to the cruise terminal, will reopen November 1 -- but actions announced by most cruise lines point to at least a six-month suspension of operations.

Most profoundly affected is New Orleans-based Delta Queen Steamboat Company (tel. 800/543-1949; www.deltaqueen.com). All three of its classic paddlewheel steamboats were out of the area and so sustained no storm damage, but inability to operate in New Orleans has forced the company to cancel most of its projected fall and winter sailings.

All cruises have been cancelled for the American Queen, which had been set to offer 3- and 4-night cruises from New Orleans through January 6. Ditto for all December sailings of the National Historic Landmark vessel Delta Queen and all December through February sailings of Mississippi Queen. At present, the company plans to resume operation again in early March. In the meantime, it's working with government agencies to make all three vessels available for relief operations throughout the Gulf Coast region.

Passengers on cancelled voyages will receive full refunds or have the option of rebooking at 2005 rates and receiving a $100 per person onboard credit. Passengers who wish can contribute part of their refund to a a foundation set up by Delta Queen and its parent company, Delaware North Companies, to benefit DQ employees affected by the hurricane. E-mail your name and phone number to dqsc1@dncinc.com for more information.

As reported here September 9, New Orleans cruise leader Carnival Cruise Lines (tel. 800/227-6482; www.carnival.com) has chartered three of its vessels to the Military Sealift Command on behalf of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) -- the normally New Orleans-based Sensation, the Galveston-based Ecstasy, and the Mobile-based Holiday. Originally, all three were to have gone to Galveston to house evacuees, but that plan was scrapped after beneficiaries protested further displacement. Ecstasy and Sensation are currently in New Orleans housing relief workers. Holiday's intended use is, at present, unclear.

Guests booked on cancelled Holiday, Sensation, and Ecstasy voyages may re-book aboard any other Carnival ship and receive a $100 per-person shipboard credit.

Carnival's 2,974-passenger Conquest, which is normally based in New Orleans, will instead be offering her scheduled western Caribbean cruises from Galveston. Similarly, Norwegian Cruise Line's (tel. 800/327-7030; www.ncl.com) Norwegian Sun, which was to have begun offering New Orleans cruises on October 16, will instead sail from Houston. All passengers who elect to sail from the new homeport will receive a $50 per person onboard credit. Those who booked their air travel through NCL will also be automatically rebooked to Houston.

The only other major line with New Orleans cruises planned over the next several months is Royal Caribbean, whose Grandeur of the Seas is still scheduled to sail from the city beginning December 3. At this writing, no announcements had been made regarding this deployment.

Princess Hits Shipbuilding Milestones; Expands Spa Reservations Service

Princess Cruises (tel. 800-PRINCESS; www.princess.com) hit two shipbuilding milestones this week, laying the keel for the 113,000-ton Emerald Princess just two days after Emerald's older sister, Crown Princess, floated out of her building dock for the first time.

The keel-laying ceremony, traditionally the first step in the construction of a new ship, involves moving the first section of the vessel into the building dock. The float-out is at the other end of the building process, when primary construction on the hull and mechanicals has been finished. From there, the vessel is moved to a finishing dock for final construction and interior outfitting.

Crown Princess will debut in June 2006, introducing Princess' first program of Caribbean cruises from New York. Emerald Princess will debut in spring 2007. Both are sister-ships to 2004's Caribbean Princess. Few details are yet available about either ship, though Princess has just begun talking up Crown's new dining options, which include an International Cafe in the atrium, serving a selection of snacks that rotate based on the time of day; a wine bar serving chilled seafood cocktails in the evening; and a grill serving steaks and seafood and featuring an open, theater-style kitchen.

In other Princess news, the line has just announced that its innovative online spa pre-reservation service, which it debuted last year aboard Caribbean Princess and Sapphire Princess, will soon be expanded to eight of its vessels: Diamond Princess (Sept. 3), Island Princess (Sept. 20), Golden Princess (Oct. 8), Grand Princess (Oct. 29), Coral Princess (Nov. 24), and Star Princess (Dec. 11). Reservations are currently being taken for all cruises departing after those dates, and are available through the line's online Cruise Personalizer. Passengers without Internet access make reservations by calling 800-PRINCESS.

Radisson Introduces Themed "Circle of Interest" Packages . . .

Theme cruises are a nice idea when your theme has broad appeal, like blues or rock music, but what if your interests are more specialized? Radisson Seven Seas Cruises (tel. 800/477-7500; www.rssc.com) may have just solved that problem with their new "Circle of Interest" program, which offers guests on select cruises the ability to book ship-and-shore packages themed on specific interests, such as art, nature, antiques, and archaeology.

The program will feature onboard lectures and workshops, plus specially created excursions and events led by guest experts. The relatively small size of the "Circle" groups will also encourage guests to socialize, based on their shared interests.

The inaugural seven-night "Circle of Interest" cruise on the 700-guest all balcony-suite Seven Seas Voyager departs Athens for Monte Carlo on October 30, calling at Kusadasi, Rhodes, Heraklion, Sorrento, and Civitavecchia (Rome). Three optional "Circle of Interest" packages will be available:

  • "Explore the Natural Beauty of the Mediterranean." Among the package's highlights are lunch at Sorrento's Hotel San Pietro with environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau and excursions in Rhodes, Civitavecchia, and Heraklion. The tour package is $395 per person, and is limited to 50 participants.
  • "Archaeology & Ancient History;" with author and world traveler Dr. Sandra Bowern as speaker. Highlights include four excursions through some the area's most exquisite coastal destinations, including the above-mentioned Cousteau lunch at Sorrento's Hotel San Pietro. The tour package is $395 per person, and is limited to 50 participants.
  • "Antiques; Art & Artifacts." Experts from the popular television series Antiques Roadshow will host onboard workshops; help guests find the most unique local offerings during half-day tours of Heraklion, Rhodes," and Ephesus/Kusadasi; and provide advice on appraising quality and price. The tour package is $260 per person.

Per-person fares for the October 30 Seven Seas Voyager cruise start at $3,746.

. . . And Keeps Paul Gauguin for Two More Years

In other Radisson Seven Seas news, it's been announced that the 339-passenger Paul Gauguin; which was previously due to end her long charter to Radisson in January 2007, will now stay at least through the end of 2008, offering year-round weeklong Tahiti cruises as well as a handful of longer South Pacific cruises. The vessel, launched in 1998, will also undergo a $6 million renovation during her January 2006 dry dock.

Paul Gauguin's 7-night round-trip sailings depart Papeete, Tahiti, on Saturdays and visit Raiatea, Tahaa, Bora Bora, and Moorea. Longer itineraries scheduled for 2006 include two 14-night cruises to the Marquesas Islands; one 14-night Cook and Society Islands, Australs, and Tuamotus voyage; three 11-night Society Islands, Tuamotus, and Marquesas cruises; three 10-night Society Islands and Tuamotus cruises; and two nine-night Society Islands Holiday voyages which include calls at Huahine.

And if It's No Good; You Can Just Chuck It Over the Side

Crystal Cruises (tel. 888/799-4625; www.crystalcruises.com), which has long offered one of the more interesting enrichment programs in the cruise biz, has just added a slate of art classes to its annual world cruise, a 106-day odyssey traveling from Los Angeles to London, departing January 18 and ending May 5, 2006. Dubbed the Masterpiece Art Program, the program will also be available on other voyages of 14 days or longer.

Aboard the world cruise, each of the seven cruise segments will spotlight a different art form, with professors leading students on a progressive course of study. Art forms will be tied to the destination being sailed. For example, Australian Aboriginal art will be studied during the Australian portion of the cruise, with suggestions on how to incorporate its themes into their own work. Other themes include decoupage during South American sailing; watercolors during the weeks spent around Africa; clay sculpture while in the Indian Ocean; and -- most interestingly -- stone sculpture while sailing Europe and the Middle East. The line has purchased 500 pounds of Colorado alabaster for the course, which will be chopped into eight-pound blocks for student use.

Official fares for the full world cruise start at $42,790 per person, with various segments bookable starting at $4,660 for 14 days.

Costa Lays First Blocks for 112,000-Ton Costa Serena

Costa Cruises (tel. 800-33-COSTA; www.costacruises.com) is also busy on the ship-construction front. With Costa Magica less than a year old and Costa Concordia well on the way to her summer 2006 introduction, the line laid the first blocks last week for what will be Concordia's younger sister-ship, now named Costa Serena.

The vessel, which will measure 112,000 gross tons and carry a total of 3,780 passengers, is being built at Fincantieri's Sestri Ponente shipyard in Genoa, Italy, where Concordia is also under construction. Together, the two megaships represent approximately a billion-euro investment for Costa, which is a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation.

Seabourn Goes Exotic with Fine Estate Teas

Lipton not good enough for you? Then check out the new exotic tea menu aboard Seabourn Cruise Line (tel. 800/929-9391; www.seabourn.com). Just introduced under the questionable name "Seabourn to a Tea," the indulgence is available during daily afternoon tea service, when guests can choose from a selection of teas stored in corked glass vials, taking in the leaves' aroma before having a cup brewed up fresh.

A descriptive printed menu details the characteristics and ingredients of each brew, with a run-down of its caffeine, vitamins, and antioxidant content.

Teas and blends to be served include:

  • Bleu Peacock, a moderately caffeinated premium blend of Chinese and fancy Formosa Oolong tea, known for its intense fruity notes, chocolaty aroma, and depth of color.
  • Jasmine Downy Pearls, a classic green tea made from the silver tips of tender young buds, gently steamed after plucking and hand-rolled into elegant pearls, then blended with fresh jasmine blossoms.
  • Green Tea Passion, a fragrant blend of delicate green teas from Japan, China, and Taiwan, accented by guava, pineapple, and strawberry.
  • Mandarin Rose Petal, which combines aromatic rose petals and rich, tightly-twisted, black China tea leaves with delicate lychee fruit essence.
  • Earl Grey Organic, made from high-grown Ceylon and China black tea leaves combined with smoky citrus notes of Mediterranean bergamot fruit.
  • English Breakfast Organic, a classic blend of the finest black tea leaves harvested from India, Ceylon, and China.
  • Himalayan Peak Darjeeling Organic, made from carefully selected organic single-estate leaves from the Darjeeling region of India.

A selection of tisanes (herbal and fruit blends) will also be available.

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