Oceania Begins Construction of First-Ever All-New Vessel, Marina

When Oceania Cruises ( was formed in 2003, its fleet consisted of two vessels acquired from bankrupt Renaissance Cruises. The fleet eventually grew to three, but the new vessel also was a former Renaissance ship. Now, five years on, Oceania is finally taking the newbuild plunge, officially beginning construction of its first-ever new vessel with a steel-cutting ceremony at the Fincantieri Sestre Ponente Shipyard in Genoa, Italy.

Named Marina, the 66,000-ton, 1,252-passenger vessel will be the first of two sister-ships, and is scheduled to debut in September 2010. She'll offer six open-seating restaurants and cabins that average 50 percent larger than those on the line's older ships. Ninety-six percent of cabins will also offer private verandas.

Marina's as yet unnamed sister ship is currently scheduled to debut in summer 2011.

Princess's Ruby Princess Completes Sea Trials

Last week Ruby Princess, the newest 113,000-ton, 3,050-passenger sister ship to Princess's Emerald Princess and Crown Princess, departed from her construction dock at the Fincontieri shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy, and spent four days accomplishing a series of sea trials designed to test her propulsion, steering, handling, and navigational equipment. She passed. The vessel is now back at the shipyard, where further exterior and interior finishing is being performed in preparation for her inaugural season, which officially begins with a 7-night western Caribbean sailing from Ft. Lauderdale on November 15.

Silversea's Prince Albert II to Sail Polynesia in 2009

In June, ultra-luxe line Silversea Cruises ( launched its newest vessel, the 6,072-ton, 132-passenger expedition ship Prince Albert II, which mixes luxury suites, service, cuisine, and amenities with exploratory features like an 1A-rated ice-class hull and a fleet of eight inflatable Zodiac landing boats to allow off-vessel exploration and landings in remote areas.

Prince Albert II is spending the summer focusing on polar expeditions in the Arctic Circle, Norway's Svalbard Archipelago, Iceland, and Greenland. She'll then reposition to Antarctica for the fall, but the latest word is that come March she'll trade cold waters for warm and begin a season in French Polynesia, March through October 2009.

Though the vessel will sail from Papeete, home base for most Polynesian cruises, her itineraries will concentrate on less-traveled parts of the region. Highlights include:

  • The Austral Islands: The remote, volcanic Austral Islands lay hundreds of miles south of Tahiti and enjoy a slightly cooler climate. Tubuai, largest of the islands, is probably best known for the failed landing attempts of the H.M.S. Bounty. (The island's villagers assaulted the ship with stones, forcing the Bounty mutineers to sail to Pitcairn Island instead.)  Other Australs visited during the 11-night itinerary include Rapa, Raivavae, Tubuai, Rurutu, and Rimatara. Fares start at $3,897 per person, double occupancy.
  • The Marquesas: Located nearly 900 miles northeast of Tahiti and just south of the equator, the lush, mountainous Marquesas attracted painter Paul Gauguin with their flowers and fruit trees. Fourteen-night voyages from Papeete visit Fatu Hiva, Pua Mau, Hiva Oa, Atuona, Ua Pou, Nuku Hiva, and Tahuata, as well as Manihi and Fakarava Island in the Tuamotu Archipelago and the Society Islands of Bora Bora and Tahaa. Fares start at $4,917 per person, double occupancy.
  • The Tuamotu Islands: Northeast of Tahiti, the isolated Tuamotu Islands comprise 78 sparsely populated coral islands and atolls spread over 900 miles of aquamarine water. Ten-nightexpeditions visit the islands of Tikihau, Rangiroa, Apataki, Arutua, and Fakarava, as well as Raiatea, Maupihaa and Huahine in the Society Islands. Fares start at $3,597 per person, double occupancy.

HAL's 2009 Mexico Cruises to Visit Prime Whale-Watching Site, New Oaxaca Port

Just as Caribbean cruises run the danger of becoming too standardized for their own good (another trip to San Juan, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten, anybody?), cruises to the Mexican Riviera can rely just a little too heavily on Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. For 2009, Holland America Line ( is changing up the paradigm a bit by offering two new Mexican Riviera destinations: the prime whale-watching site of Bahia Magdalena on the Baja California Peninsula and the port of Santa Cruz in the Huatulco resort area.

Located on the western coast of the peninsula, Bahia Magdalena is a winter breeding ground for migrating Pacific gray whales. It will be a featured destination on 7-night cruises aboard the 1,848-passenger Oosterdam, sailing round-trip from San Diego in JanÂ?Feb and OctÂ?Nov 2009. Other ports visited include Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. Fares start at $599 per person, double occupancy, plus taxes and fuel supplement.

Santa Cruz, a seaside resort known for its beaches and water sports, will be a destination during 12-night itineraries aboard the 1,266-passenger Ryndam in November and December 2009, also round-trip from San Diego. Other ports include Manzanillo, Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas.

Ryndam will also offer 10-night winter/spring Sea of Cortez cruises between February and April, round-trip from San Diego. The itineraries feature Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Topolobampo, Loreto, La Paz, and Cabo San Lucas. From Topolobampo, guests can opt for a full-day excursion to the Copper Canyon, a six-canyon system that, overall, is larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon. Fares for these itineraries start at $999 per person, double occupancy.

MSC Cruises to Put Newest, Largest Ships in Caribbean for 2009Â?2010

Italian line MSC Cruises ( has tended to take it easy in western waters. Whereas the line has been operating its newest megaships all over the Mediterranean since 2006, it's so far opted to service the Caribbean only with one of its midsize vessels, the 58,600-ton Lirica or Opera. That all changes this winter, when the 89,000-ton Orchestra arrives for eastern and western Caribbean sailings, Jan.Â?April.

The news is that for winter 2009Â?2010, MSC will be doubling up, committing two of its newest vessels -- the 89,000-ton sister ships Poesia and Magnifica -- to the Caribbean, November 2009 through April 2010.

MSC Poesia will arrive in Fort Lauderdale Nov. 10, 2009, for her inaugural Caribbean season following a 17-night "Grand Transatlantic Adventure." Her 7- and 10-night itineraries will feature some of the most popular destinations, such as Curacao, Bonaire, Aruba, and Panama.

MSC Magnifica will be christened on Dec. 5, 2009, in Hamburg, Germany, then sail a 19-night "Grand Passage to the New World," arriving in Ft. Lauderdale to begin a season of round-trip 7-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries through April 7, 2010. Eastern itineraries call at San Juan, St. Maarten, Roadtown (Tortola, British Virgin Island), and Nassau (Bahamas). Western itineraries call at Key West, Playa Del Carmen, Grand Cayman, Montego Bay (Jamaica), and Nassau.

Cruise fares begin at $499 per person, double occupancy, for 7-night cruises and $749 per person, double occupancy, for 10-night itineraries. Fees, taxes, and fuel charge are extra.

Costa Taps Sculptor Botero for New Costa Luminosa

You've probably seen sculptures by Fernando Botero, a Colombian artist best known for the outsized, overinflated proportions of his human and animal forms. And soon you'll be able to see them on a cruise ship too, because Costa Cruises ( has commissioned the artist to create a monumental bronze sculpture for its newest ship, the 92,700-ton, 2,260-passenger Costa Luminosa, which is set to debut in May 2009.

The 11-foot sculpture, named "Reclining Woman 2004" and depicting a large female figure staring into space, is currently taking shape at the Mariani foundry in Pietrasanta, Italy, where Botero creates his works using the lost wax casting technique. Once completed, the work will be installed in Costa Luminosa's atrium.

"The decision to acquire the sculpture 'Reclining Woman 2004' by Fernando Botero for the Costa Luminosa is first and foremost the consequence of a personal passion for that artist's creative work as a whole and also represents the continuation of a tradition for Costa, namely that of decorating our ships with contemporary works embracing the various forms of expressive art and displaying them to our guests on vacation," said Pier Luigi Foschi, Chairman and CEO of Costa Crociere. "This particular sculpture by Botero has such expressive force and energy that it will interact with and influence the setting and interior design in the spectacular atrium of the ship where it is to be permanently exhibited."

Celebrity Century to Offer Soap Opera Cruise in 2009

Sometimes you hear about a theme cruise (NASCAR, for instance) and think, "Huh. Doesn't seem like something that should be on a ship." Others you hear about and think "perfect match." As an example of the latter, let me introduce the second annual Soap Cruise, which will take place aboard Celebrity's recently refurbished Century during her January 22 cruise, sailing round-trip from Miami and visiting Key West and Cozumel.

The host for the 4-night cruise will be Cameron Mathison, who plays Ryan on All My Children and has appeared on Dancing with the Stars. Mathison will be joined by special guests:

  • Alicia Minshew ("Kendall" on All My Children)
  • Jacob Young ("J.R." on All My Children)
  • Austin Peck ("Brad" from As the World Turns)
  • Brandon Beemer ("Owen" of The Bold and the Beautiful and formerly "Shawn" on Days of Our Lives)
  • Winsor Harmon ("Thorne" of The Bold and the Beautiful)
  • Lesli Kay ("Felicia" of The Bold and the Beautiful)
  • Nadia Bjorlin ("Chloe" of Days of Our Lives)
  • Jay Johnson ("Philip" of Days of Our Lives)
  • Bradford Anderson ("Spinelli" from General Hospital)
  • Greg Vaughn ("Lucky" from General Hospital)
  • Murray Bartlett ("Cyrus" of All My Children)
  • Ricky Paull Goldin ("Jake" of All My Children, and formerly "Gus" on Guiding Light)
  • Kamar de los Reyes ("Antonio" on One Life to Live)
  • Don Diamont ("Brad" from The Young and the Restless)
  • Christian LeBlanc ("Michael" of The Young and the Restless)

Activities will include autograph and photo sessions, soap opera trivia games, a cocktail party with the stars, and the opportunity to write a script and perform it with one of the actors.

To take part in Soap Cruise events, travelers must book by calling tel. 248/855-7918 or through the Soap Cruise website

Carnival Sensation to Undergo Big Refurbishment in 2009

It's amazing what a little spit and polish will do. Presto-chango: Good as new. In January 2009, Carnival's 1993-vintage Sensation will get that and a bunch more when she undergoes a multi-million-dollar refurbishment designed to bring her in line with the rest of the Carnival fleet.

Big changes will include the installation of an on-deck water park (with a 300-foot spiral waterslide, twin 82-foot racing slides, and various water-spray gizmos), an adults-only retreat, and a tropical-themed mid-ship pool area with thatched roofing and faux palm trees. Smaller but no less important detail-work will include renovations to nearly 1,000 staterooms (adding flat-screen TVs, updating the decor, and renovating the bathrooms) and cosmetic enhancements to virtually all public areas, including the two main dining rooms, the poolside bar and grille, the piano bar, the library, and the dance club.

Sensation will be the fourth in her class of eight Fantasy-class ships to undergo these "Evolutions of Fun" makeovers, following Inspiration and Imagination in late 2007 and Fantasy this fall. Once her renovations are complete, she'll return to her year-round schedule of 3- and 4-night Bahamas cruises from Port Canaveral, Florida.