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Hurricane-Battered Costa Maya Anticipates Early Reopening

In August 2007, Hurricane Dean swept through the Caribbean, killing at least 40 people and damaging homes, agriculture, and infrastructure from the Lesser Antilles to Mexico's Gulf coast. The vast majority of cruise ports were spared, but Costa Maya, a purpose-built cruise destination located 100 miles south of Playa del Carmen on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, took a direct hit, suffering damage to its pier and some 50 per cent of its infrastructure.

This week, the port announced that its reconstruction efforts are running ahead of schedule, with two cruise berths on track for completion by this summer, about three months earlier than originally anticipated. A third berth is also being built, on a slightly more protracted schedule.

The Costa Maya complex opened in 2001 to be a self-contained stop for up to three large cruise ships at a time, with a lavish oceanfront shopping and restaurant complex, a 650-seat amphitheater for cultural performances, two saltwater pools, a pool bar, and daily entertainment right on site. The nearby Maya ruins of Kohunlich and Chacchoben are the big draw.

Negotiations with the cruise lines are reportedly underway, but a schedule of ships that will call at the reopened port is not expected until February.

Royal Caribbean to Let Cruisers Name World's Largest Ships, Sorta

1. Take two really big cruise ships, and I mean really big: 220,000 tons, 5,400 passengers, the biggest cruise ships ever by about 25 per cent, literally twice as large as the ship that held the record just ten years ago (Princess's Grand Princess).

2. Take one well-established corporate naming concept: "X" of the Seas.

3. Open up that X to interpretation by pretty much anybody who wants to give it a shot.

That's what Royal Caribbean (www.royalcaribbean.com) has in mind with its new contest, which will take suggestions from the general public regarding exactly what "of the Seas" the line should stencil on the bow of its new 220,000-ton, 5,400-passenger ships when they launch in 2009 and 2010. While it's debatable whether picking one word out of four constitutes "naming" a ship, the contest winner will still get to attend the gala christening of the ship he or she has "named," then enjoy a free weeklong cruise.

Full contest rules can be found at http://namethatship.usatoday.com.

Celebrity Solstice to Go Green (as in Grass)

Here's a new concept, sort of (see below): When Celebrity's new 118,000-ton, 2,850-passenger Celebrity Solstice launches in December, she'll boast a small country club full of real grass on her top deck, in a half-acre environment known as "The Lawn Club." Guests can use the area to play bocce ball and croquet, practice their putting, picnic with a basket of wine and cheese, read, enjoy a cup of coffee from the patio's coffee cart, or grab a drink at the Sunset Bar.

"We want our guests to experience the unexpected, like the thrill of sinking a putt on a freshly manicured lawn in the middle of the ocean," said Dan Hanrahan, Celebrity's president and CEO.

This is actually not the first time Celebrity (www.celebrity.com) has experimented with grass on a ship. When Celebrity's Millennium launched in 2000, she sported a small fringe of grass and flowers planted just outside her spa's forward-facing window, providing a nice view for folks on the treadmills. For whatever reason, it didn't last long. This time, Celebrity engaged a team of landscape architects, irrigation specialists, and turf and soil scientists to conduct research and test a variety of grasses to determine which could withstand the wind, sun, shade, and temperature variations they'll experience on the ship's planned Caribbean itineraries, as well as day-to-day foot traffic. Even the weight of the grass, the soil, and the water they absorb were a consideration, as they'll sit so high above the ship's center of gravity.

The area will also be the venue for Solstice's previously announced glassblowing show, where three glass artists will offer live glassmaking shows, lectures, and workshops.

Got a Romantic Story? Carnival May Trade You a Free Cruise for It

With Valentine's Day only about three weeks out, Carnival (www.carnival.com) is sponsoring a contest that will award a free cruise to whoever submits the most romantic story to the line's website.

Contestants have a free hand as to the topic, as long as it's romantic. The story doesn't even have to be set aboard a ship, much less a Carnival ship.

The contest runs from Jan. 14 to Feb. 14, 2008. A team of judges from Carnival will select the top five entries, which will then be posted on carnival.com. Visitors to the site can then vote for their number-one choice. The contest winner will receive a four-day western Caribbean cruise for two in the owner's suite aboard the 2,052-passenger Carnival Imagination (sailing from Miami) or Carnival Inspiration (from Tampa). In addition, the winning story will also be published in the summer 2008 edition of Currents, a Carnival publication that's mailed to more than three million of the line's past guests.

Princess to Host Hollywood Movie Preview

Here's a first: During the week of February 11, passengers on every one of Princess Cruises' (www.princess.com) sixteen ships will be able to attend a sneak preview of the new dramatic comedy Bonneville, starring Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, and Joan Allen.

The film, which opens in regular theatrical release February 29, tells the story of three friends who set out on a life-changing road trip across the American West in a 1966 Pontiac Bonneville.

This is the first time a major motion picture will be screened on a cruise ship prior to its theatrical release. Princess passengers will be able to view the film either in the onboard theaters or (aboard Crown, Emerald, Caribbean, and Grand Princess) at the line's 300-square-foot LED "Movies Under the Stars" screens, mounted by the pool on the ships' top decks.

Royal Caribbean "Invitation to Dance" Show Puts Guests in Spotlight

Taking the passenger talent show one step further, Royal Caribbean is offering a new show called "Invitation to Dance," which is exactly that: During an evening of ballroom dancing at the beginning of each cruise on the line's 3,114-passenger Explorer of the Seas, judges will select four couples and give them a chance to compete in a gala show at the end of the week. Selected couples receive guidance by professional dancers, stylists, and make-up artists during the week, then join Royal Caribbean's entertainment cast on stage to compete against each other.

"Invitation to Dance" was created in conjunction with Louis van Amstel, Emmy-nominated choreographer for ABC-TV's Dancing with the Stars, and Cheryl Burke, a two-time winner on the show.

Explorer of the Seas sails year-round from Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, NJ, offering 5-night Bermuda and 9-night Caribbean cruises.

Holland America Gives Prinsemdam a $20-Mil Upgrade

Few ships in today's U.S. cruise market have been through as much change in their working lives as the 38,000-ton, 793-passenger Prinsendam, the smallest ship by far in the fleet of Holland America Line (www.hollandamerica.com). Built as Royal Viking Sun in 1988 for now-defunct luxury line Royal Viking Cruises, she sailed under the same name for Cunard Line from 1994 to 1999, then as Seabourn Sun for Seabourn from 1999 to 2002 -- all that time maintaining her character as an old-fashioned luxury ship for old-fashioned luxury passengers. In 1999, Carnival Corporation (parent company of Cunard, Seabourn, Holland America, and several other major lines) transferred her to Holland America, for whom she's sailed ever since, offering world-ranging cruises for passengers seeking a traditional cruise experience.

Last week, Prinsendam completed a $20-million-plus refurbishment that brought her interiors up to date, including:

  • Remodeling bathrooms, redesigning closet space, and adding new carpet and furniture in all staterooms.
  • Adding new carpeting throughout the dining room and lounges and new stone flooring and carpeting in the Lido restaurant.
  • Creating a new a combo Internet center, coffee bar, and library called "Explorations Cafe," created in partnership with The New York Times.
  • Adding new croquet and bocce courts and two new putting greens on the sports deck.
  • Adding a new room that can be configured as a meeting room or a children's center, as needed.
  • Expanding the library and its selection.
  • Re-covering some decks.
  • Expanding and refurbishing the shopping area.

In addition, technical improvements were made to radar systems, lifeboats, and other nautical equipment.

Prinsendam offers cruises that range from 14 to 73 days, with itineraries that span the globe. Up next month, a 29-day "Grand South America" voyage sailing from Buenos Aires to Fort Lauderdale, with stops along the way in Uruguay, Brazil (nine different ports), French Guiana, Barbados, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas.

Peter Deilmann's Flagship Goes Nonsmoking, Line Announces River Themes

Smokers have one less haven this week, as Peter Deilmann Cruises (www.deilmann-cruises.com) announced a new smoking ban aboard its flagship, the beautiful 513 passenger Deutschland. Effective immediately, guests will be permitted to smoke only on the outside decks.

The decision follows an earlier announcement that smoking would not be permitted on any of the company's nine European river ships. Until this month, passengers aboard Deutschland could smoke in designated sections of the Berlin Restaurant and the buffet, and in all public lounges.

"With Europe following America's lead in passing laws that help reduce the effects of smoking on non-smokers, we are happy to adjust our policy to fully participate in this effort," stated Ron Santangelo, Deilmann's North America president.

The 22,400-ton Deutschland, Deilmann's only oceangoing ship, is one of the world's top luxury vessels, designed with an old-world ocean-liner ambience and offering a high-toned European ocean experience to match. Onboard, the official languages are German and English, and optional English-speaking shore excursions are offered at all ports of call.

Deilmann's river ships, meanwhile, will be offering 36 themed departures this year, with sailings oriented around golf, gardens, hiking, and cycling:

  • Golf: Golfers on the Saône and Rhône Golf Cup 2008 cruise (May 3-10) visit courses in Chalon Sure Saône, Monthieux, Arles, and Mallemort, while the Paris 2008 Golf Cup sailing (June 28 to July 5 and Aug. 30 to Sept. 6) includes play at Paris's Adam Isle Golf Club and courses in Caudebec-en-Caux and Rouen. The Danube Region's Golf Cup 2008 sailing (Aug. 31 to Sept. 11, 2008) offers play at courses in Germany, Hungary, and Austria (the latter including Oberwaltersdorf's Golf & Sports Club). The Summer on the Rhine cruise (Sept. 6-16) takes in courses such as the Luxembourg Golf Course, set amid the 18th-century Domaine de Belenhaff Estate.
  • Gardens: Four seven-night programs for gardeners transport travelers to some of the most magnificent gardens in Europe, with tours led by gardening and landscaping experts. Six sailings depart between mid-June and mid-October.
  • Hiking: Hikers on the 7-night Hiking through Provence itinerary stride through the Beaujolais and Rhône regions and across the Alpilles to St. Remy, Arles, and Avignon. The Hiking through the Danube cruise takes in Austria's Dunstein, Vienna and its majestic mountains, the Wachau region, and Hungary's Budapest and Esztergom en route to Burgberg Mountain. Seven-night sailings depart April 26, May 3, and September 6.
  • Cycling: Cyclists can choose between four different 8-night itineraries, with nineteen cruises departing between early May and late September. The Danube River itinerary has guests pedaling around Passau and then heading off to visit the Wachau wine region, Austria's Viennese forest, Hungary's Budapest, and Slovakia's Bratislava. The Normandy program out of Paris showcases the Alabaster Coast, as well as visiting Claude Monet's house and garden at Giverny. The Provence and Burgundy itinerary travels through Southern France and the Beaujolais wine region, Arles, Les-Baux, Avignon, and the Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards. Highlights of the Elbe region itinerary out of Hamburg include cycling the Elbe Bend from Bad Schandau to Rathen, en route to the Bastion region's massive rock formations and the magnificent Gardens of Worlitz.

Texas Finally Gets Big as Voyager of the Seas Arrives in Galveston

Last week, Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas arrived in Galveston, Texas, to begin its season of 7-night itineraries visiting the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico. Voyager is the largest ship to ever sail from the Texas port, where she'll be based through April 2008.

"In 2006, we welcomed 617,000 cruise travelers, making Galveston the Gulf Coast's most popular cruise port," said Steven M. Cernak, the Port of Galveston's port director. "With the arrival of Voyager of the Seas, the port will undergo a $3.3 million upgrade to accommodate a 50 percent increase in Royal Caribbean guests."

Voyager of the Seas' 7-night winter itinerary calls at Cozumel andCosta Maya (Mexico), Roatan (Honduras), Montego Bay (Jamaica), and Grand Cayman.

Regent Voyages to Feature Public Television Luminaries

There are NASCAR cruises and New Age cruises and nude cruises and polka cruises, so why not public television cruises? This year, Regent Seven Seas (www.rssc.com) is planning two:

  • From April 7 to 18, the 490-passenger Seven Seas Navigator will offer a Washington Week cruise featuring Washington Week host Gwen Ifill, Washington Post national political correspondent Dan Balz, ABC News's chief White House correspondent Martha Raddatz, and political analyst Charlie Cook of The Cook Political Report. The topic? I'm sure you can guess. The 11-night voyage departs from Fort Lauderdale, visiting Port Canaveral (FL), Savannah (GA), Charleston (SC), Hamilton and St. George's (Bermuda), and Nassau (Bahamas). Rates start at $4,295 per person, double occupancy.
  • From November 15 - 23, 2008, the 700-passenger Seven Seas Voyager will offer an arts and culture cruise featuring award-winning documentary filmmaker Ric Burns (creator of the monumental eight-part, 960-minute series New York) and producer Jac Venza will discuss the history of Great Performances, one of PBS's longest running shows. Seven Seas Voyager will depart from Civitavecchia, Italy (the port for Rome), on a 16-night voyage calling at Palermo (Sicily), Tunis (Tunisia), Cartagena and Malaga (Spain), Casablanca (Morocco), and Funchal (Madeira) before crossing the Atlantic to disembark in Fort Lauderdale. Per-person rates start at $5,795.

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