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Clipper Cruise Line to Merge with Australia's Peregrine Adventures

The writing was probably on the wall back in January, when Clipper Cruise Line (tel. 800/325-0010; www.clippercruise.com) sold its two older coastal cruise vessels to Cruise West. Today, though, it's official: First Choice Holidays, which purchased Clipper parent-company Intrav in January, will be folding Clipper into a new unit to be called First Choice Expedition Cruising. The company will operate the 122-passenger Clipper Adventurer and the 128-passenger Clipper Odyssey as well as two vessels -- the ice-rated, 118-passenger Akademik Ioffe (aka Peregrine Mariner) and Akademik Sergei Vavilov (Peregrine Voyager), both currently operated by the Australian company Peregrine Adventures (www.peregrineadventures.com), another First Choice subsidiary.

No further details of the merger were available at press time. Clipper is scheduled to continue as an independent operation through October 31, offering its previously scheduled cruises.

Costa to Broadcast World Cup Games Aboard Entire Fleet

Costa Cruises (tel. 800/GO-COSTA; www.costacruises.com) is big in Europe. Real big. Therefore, it's no surprise to learn that the company has made arrangements to broadcast the 2006 World Cup finals aboard every ship in its fleet. The full month of action will be available via SKY pay-per-view, and the World Cup final will be broadcast July 9 on the big on-deck movie screen of the new, 3,000-passenger Costa Concordia -- coinciding with the beginning of that vessel's maiden voyage from Rome.

In other Costa news, the 1,000-passenger Costa Allegra emerged from drydock last week after a 40-day, 12 million euro redesign intended to make her more amenable to the Chinese market, which she'll begin serving in July during a series of 24 five-day cruises from Shanghai to Nagasaki (Japan) and Cheju (Korea), marketed exclusively to Chinese clientele. The ship's redesign, which maintains Costa's European ambience with Italian neo-classic elements, also included addition of an Asian/Italian fusion restaurant, a sushi/noodles bar, an Italian restaurant, a wellness center, and a shopping area.

Allegra will be the first large international cruise operation licensed to embark Chinese citizens from that nation's ports, and is expected to serve an estimated 55,000 Chinese passengers per year.

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity to Visit Cartagena, Colombia in 2007; Celebrity to Sail Australia/New Zealand

When you think Colombia you think, what? Drug cartels, kidnappings, and general lawlessness? Well, how about tourism and cruise ships instead.

Following on a long law-and-order crusade by President Alvaro Uribe, Colombia has lately been embarking on a plan to market itself as a major tourism destination. Latest in that plan: luring in sister-lines Royal Caribbean (tel. 800/398-9819; www.royalcaribbean.com) and Celebrity Cruises (tel. 800/437-3111; www.celebrity.com), which last week announced plans to add Cartagena, a walled colonial city on the country's Caribbean coast, to 32 cruises during the course of the 2007-2008 winter season.

"We are delighted to be returning to Cartagena and to be able to showcase its rich history and vibrant culture for our guests," said Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain. "We are grateful to President Uribe and his administration for the lengths to which they have gone to provide a safe and satisfying experience for our guests."

Royal Caribbean's ships last called in Cartagena in 2002

Celebrity Cruises will make 24 visits to Cartagena: eleven on Zenith, seven on Constellation, six on Infinity, and four on Summit. Royal Caribbean will make eight calls: five on Brilliance of the Seas, two on Radiance of the Seas, and one on Serenade of the Seas.

Celebrity, meanwhile, is planning its first sailings Down Under, with the line's 1,896-passenger Mercury set to offer six 14-night open-jaw cruises between Auckland, New Zealand, and Sydney, Australia from December 2007 through March 2008. Ports will include Auckland, Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound, and Milford Sound (all in New Zealand), along with Melbourne, Newcastle, and Sydney (Australia) and Hobart (Tasmania).

The line's first calls on Papeete (Tahiti) and Moorea and Bora Bora (French Polynesia) will precede Mercury's six Australia/New Zealand sailings, during a 16-night voyage departing Honolulu on November 23, 2007, and concluding in Auckland.

"This marks a significant expansion of our product portfolio," said Celebrity President Dan Hanrahan, who noted that past guests and travel agencies have indicated an interest in the Australia/New Zealand market. "Based on that valuable feedback and our extensive research, we're looking forward to a very successful inaugural season there next year."

Norwegian Coastal Voyage Plans Summer Greenland Cruises

Perhaps the name Norwegian Coastal Voyage seemed like a good idea when the venerable line was still offering nothing but port-intensive cruises up and down Norway's fjord-pocked coast, but now? Not so much. The line has already been expanding beyond its base with a series of Antarctica cruises, and now it's planning to go even farther afield, with cruises this summer set to visit remote Greenland, up above the Arctic Circle.

The program, which includes air travel from the U.S. to Copenhagen and Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, will be offered from mid-June to mid-August aboard the tiny 56-passenger expedition vessel MS Disco II. Starting in Kangerlussuaq Fjord (one of the world's longest), the vessel will sail along Greenland's west coast to huge Disko Bay, exploring for eight days, with Zodiac landings, wildlife watching, and naturalist-guided walking tours of Inuit villages and towns along the way.¿Passengers will also visit Itteleq, a tiny modern town of 125 residents; Uummannaq, a halibut center at the foot of a heart-shaped mountain; and Sisimuit, the second largest town in Greenland, with about 4,900 people, a 1775 wooden church, a large trawler fleet, a shipyard, and a fish factory.

Scenic highlights will include Eqip Sermia Glacier, the icebergs of Disko Bay and at the mouth of Jakobshavn Ice Fjord, and Jakobshavn Glacier, the world's most active glacier.

Cruise rates range from $6,740 to $8,065 per person, double occupancy, and include round-trip SAS flights from New York to Copenhagen, flight to Kangerlussuaq and back, two nights at a Copenhagen hotel, specified walking tours and Zodiac excursions, ship transfers, air taxes, and port charges.¿ Add-on airfares are available from other cities.

Norwegian Coastal Voyage: tel. 800/323-7436; www.norwegiancoastalvoyage.us.

Princess Names Style Maven Martha Stewart Godmother of Crown Princess

In a match made in cruise heaven, style guru Martha Stewart has agreed to serve as godmother of Princess's new Crown Princess, which is due to debut June 14 at New York's new Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.

"Martha is truly an icon of style and, undoubtedly, has had more influence on how Americans entertain, cook, and decorate and design in and around their homes than almost anyone in history," said Princess Cruises' President Alan Buckelew. "We wanted to give the honor of christening our new ship to a woman of exceptional achievement, and Ms. Stewart is certainly that. It is also fitting that she has grown her successful company in New York, the ship's home port."

Princess (tel. 800/774-6237; www.princess.com) has long been noted for a sort of pleasant, modern Pottery Barn¿style decor, presenting a marked (and definitely Martha-esque) contrast with the colorful excesses of Carnival, NCL, and, to a slightly lesser extent, Royal Caribbean.

The 113,000-ton, 3,100-passenger Crown Princess is set to offer an inaugural season of 9-night eastern and western Caribbean sailings June-Oct, all from New York. Western Caribbean routes will visit Grand Turk, Ocho Rios (Jamaica), Port Canaveral (Florida, for access to Orlando and Cape Canaveral), and Grand Cayman. Eastern Caribbean sailings will stop at Grand Turk, San Juan, St. Thomas, and Bermuda's West End. In fall the ship will reposition to San Juan for winter Caribbean sailings.

In other Princess news, the line has just debuted a new "My Portfolio" feature on its website that allows shoppers to save cruise itineraries that interest them and share the information with family and friends via e-mail invitations, making planning easier. The "My Portfolio" tool can be found on the "My Princess" page, a new feature that gathers all of a customer's Princess account information in one place, and requires registration.

Cunard's Queen Victoria to Sail World Cruise in 2008

Cunard's 90,000-ton Queen Victoria, currently scheduled to be christened December 10, 2007, at her Southampton homeport, will get started with a splash, beginning her first world cruise just one month later.

On January 13, 2008, Victoria will depart New York simultaneously with Cunard's legendary QE2, sailing together to Ft. Lauderdale, then taking their own paths around the world before meeting again in Sydney on February 24.

Queen Victoria's 105-day "Pathway to the Explorers" cruise will circumnavigate the globe in a westerly direction, transiting the Panama Canal before making maiden calls in Los Angeles, Auckland, Sydney, Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai, Dubai, Athens, Barcelona, and 24 other cities in 23 countries.

Early-booking fares for the cruise start from $18,827 per person, double occupancy. Shorter segments of the cruise can be booked separately, with 41-day cruises starting from $7,810.

Cunard: tel. 800/7-CUNARD; www.cunard.com

New England Crafts to Be Featured on Crystal's Fall Foliage Cruises

Travel is, at essence, about seeking out and bonding with the peoples, traditions, and history of a regions. That's even true of cruising -- or at least it can be if you do it right. That's what luxe line Crystal Cruises (tel. 888/799-4625; www.crystalcruises.com) seems to be going for with the raft of 22 new "artisanal experiences" it's announced for its 2007 fall foliage cruises, departing New York this September and October aboard the 940-guest, 50,000-ton Crystal Symphony and sailing a classic route through New England and the Canadian Maritimes.

Scheduled experiences include:

  • Ocean trail hiking in Bar Harbor, Maine
  • Bicycle touring in New Brunswick, Canada
  • A glass-blowing workshop
  • A visit to a family-run angora goat farm specializing in spinning mohair wool
  • A visit to a traditional soapery where aromatherapy soaps are crafted from local olive oil
  • A visit to a leading cultivator of raspberries and blueberries
  • Tastings at several family-run Rhode Island wineries, ranging from a Victorian farm to one of the most modern in the east
  • A visit to The International Yacht Restoration School
  • A blind tasting of eastern Canada's award-winning wines

Crystal Symphony will offer five 7- and 11-day itineraries this fall, three of which are round-trip from New York and two are between New York and Montreal. Depending on the departure, ports include Newport (Rhode Island), Boston (Massachusetts), Bar Harbor (Maine), Halifax (Nova Scotia), Quebec City (Quebec), and St. John (New Brunswick). Weeklong cruises currently start at $2.140 per person; 11-night cruises start at $3,415.

In related news, Crystal has also announced that beginning this month its ships would add BBC and Sky Sports programming to its in-cabin TVs, adding a bit of international perspective to an otherwise U.S.-only roster of channels.

BBC World, which broadcasts international news, business, and sports coverage 24 hours a day, begins broadcasting on cruises worldwide aboard Crystal Serenity on its May 15 Northern European sailing round-trip from London. Sky Sports, the UK's dominant sports network, will be available on European sailings beginning May 15 on Crystal Serenity and May 18 on Crystal Symphony.

Oceania Treats Insignia to a Multi-Million Dollar Refurbishment . . .

. . . Which, in the cruise world, generally just means the cruise line replaced soft goods that had worn thin in the course of their day-to-day use. Same thing here: Oceania (tel. 800/531-5658; www.oceaniacruises.com) simply replaced carpets and mattresses, upgraded communications equipment, and changed the furniture in the ship's top suites. But, they did add a couple of cool new features too.

On Deck 11, a formerly underutilized patch of sun deck has now been converted to house eight private cabanas, each with privacy partitions and white drapes that can be drawn or left open, plus great sea views, a retractable shade roof, and a plush day bed built for two. They're available for rent either daily ($50 on port days, $100 on sea days) or for the entirety of your cruise, and come with the services of a dedicated attendant who provides food and beverage service, chilled towels, and water spritzes. Guests can even arrange to dine or get massages and other spa treatments in their cabana.

Also new is The Patio, a shaded outdoor lounge located in the aft port corner of the pool deck, furnished with thickly cushioned sofas, chairs, and day beds. Drapes and general ambience add a hint of partition from the pool goings-on (not to mention shade), but you still feel like you're in the action.

Pretty cool . . .

Insignia, the former R2 of now-defunct Renaissance Cruises, is one of three nearly identical sister-ships currently operated by Oceania.

Carnival's New Loyalty Program: You Take Care of Us, We Take Care of You

Sailed with Carnival Cruises Lines (tel. 800/327-9501; www.carnival.com) ten or more times? If so, you're now eligible for the perks of its new Carnival Concierge Club, which rewards loyal customers with various incentives to keep you coming back.

"Carnival is committed to the highest standards of guest service and hospitality," said Carnival president and CEO Bob Dickinson in announcing the program. "The new 'Carnival Concierge Club' is just one more way of showing our appreciation to our loyal past guests."

Available exclusively to "Platinum" cardholders who have sailed aboard Carnival's "Fun Ships" ten times or more, the new "Carnival Concierge Club" includes:

  • Priority embarkation and debarkation
  • Priority tender boarding
  • Complimentary wash and fold laundry service
  • Guaranteed dining times and supper club reservations
  • Spa Carnival priority reservations and complimentary treatment upgrade
  • Petit fours and/or canap¿s delivered to cabin one evening
  • Personalized stationery
  • A special Carnival logo item
  • Waiving of $20 entry fee for onboard blackjack tournament
  • Special luggage tags that prove you're not just some average Joe

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