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Search for Norwegian Gem Godmother Narrows to Five Contestants

In choosing a godmother for its new Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Cruise Line invited past NCL guests to submit short online videos explaining why they should be the "It" girl and get to do the christening honors. More than 500 guests sent their pitches, but now it's down to five -- all of them posted at the Gem microsite, www.gemitgirl.com.

The five finalists will all be attending Gem's christening ceremony in New York on December 18, where the winner -- chosen based on online voting by the public -- will be announced, and will then christen the ship. She'll also get a 7-night cruise in Norwegian Gem's huge Garden Villa for her and five family members or friends.

Voting ends December 7, 2007. We've got our money on Lauren from New Jersey, though Mary from Pennsylvania might get the sentimental "grandma" vote.

Lindblad to Donate Portion of Booking Price to Environmental Groups

All cruise lines like to tout their environmental records, but few have street credibility to match small-ship line Lindblad Expeditions (www.expeditions.com), the official cruise line of the National Geographic Society. Recently, the line announced a plan to donate $250 from each of its guest bookings to local conservation initiatives in the Galapagos Islands, Baja California, and Central America. To qualify for the donation program, guests must book their travel between November 20, 2007, and January 31, 2008, and travel must be completed before June 30, 2008. All donations resulting from this offer will be made in the name of the guest who books travel, and in certain destinations local NGOs will match the contribution.

Cunard Puts a Fine Point on Queen Victoria's Sports Offerings

Much as the separate first-class sections of Cunard's new Queen Victoria (www.queenvictoria.cunard.co.uk) offend my "small-d" democratic sensibilities, I can't argue with their choice of a signature sport: fencing.

How cool is this? The only fencing program offered by the modern cruise industry has been created in partnership with Leon Paul Fencing Equipment, a British company long associated with international fencing. Guests will have an opportunity to learn fencing basics or improve their existing skills with a certified instructor, using foils and other equipment identical to that used by world champions. The program can accommodate up to 10 students at a time, with daily instruction provided for guests aged 16 and up.

"Fencing is often described as physical chess," said Ben Paul, the fourth-generation president of Leon Paul. "It's tactically challenging while also providing great exercise. We are delighted to use our knowledge of the sport to provide Queen Victoria guests with an authentic fencing experience."

Queen Victoria arrives at her homeport of Southampton, England, on December 7, and officially enters service on December 10.

Carnival Plans 7-Day, 6-Port Caribbean Cruises for 2008

Is the trend of offering fewer port calls on weeklong itineraries reversing itself? Maybe a bit. Starting March 2, 2008, the 2,642-passenger Destiny of Carnival Cruise Lines (www.carnival.com) will begin offering weeklong cruises round-trip from San Juan, Puerto Rico, that visit a port every single day: St. Kitts, Antigua, St. Lucia, Barbados, Dominica, and St. Thomas.

Carnival Victory will replace Destiny on the route in November 2008.

Disney Adds St. Croix to Port Mix for 2009

St. Croix is the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, but in terms of cruise tourism it's by far the poorest. While St. Thomas is jammed with megaships nearly every day of the year (with many passengers ferrying over to gorgeous St. John for the day), St. Croix has seen almost no cruise business since 2002, when most lines pulled out citing lack of traveler interest and a rising crime rate. Royal Caribbean added the island to a few of its sailings in 2004 and 2005, but they were more the exception than the rule.

Now comes word that Disney Cruise Line (www.disneycruise.com) will be featuring the island on a new 7-night eastern Caribbean itinerary beginning in Jan-Feb and Nov-Dec 2009, aboard Disney Magic. Sailing round-trip from Port Canaveral, Florida, the ship will also call at St. Thomas and Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, and spend three days at sea. Similar cruises offered between April and September will substitute Tortola (British Virgin Islands) for St. Croix.

In other news, between May 11 and August 24, 2008, Disney's other ship, Disney Wonder, will begin offering two full days at Castaway Cay on all 4-night sailings, along with a call at Nassau, in the Bahamas. The extra beach day takes the place of a traditional day at sea.

Celebrity to Introduce First-Ever Glassblowing at Sea

Another weird one here: When Celebrity Cruises (www.celebrity.com) introduces its new 2,850- passenger Celebrity Solstice in December 2008, it will feature a "Hot Glass Show" created in collaboration with upstate New York's Corning Museum of Glass (www.cmog.org). Staged on the ship's upper deck, within a custom-designed, outdoor studio, the Hot Glass Show will present the history and craft of glassblowing, from its ancient origins to its current uses. Three resident "gaffers" (glassblowing artists) will educate and entertain cruisers with live glassmaking sessions, lectures, and workshops.

"We're confident our guests will be awestruck by what we're offering with The Corning Museum of Glass," said Celebrity Cruises President and CEO Dan Hanrahan. "The museum's surveys repeatedly show that live glassmaking demonstrations rank as one of the top reasons more than 340,000 people visit the museum each year. Now, it's also a compelling reason to sail on Celebrity Solstice."

Solstice will be Celebrity's first new ship since 2002's Constellation. She's scheduled to debut in December 2008, followed by sister-ships Celebrity Equinox in summer 2009, Celebrity Eclipse in 2010, and a fourth sister in 2011.

Crystal Adds Wine-and-Cheese Someliers & "Modern Mixology" to Onboard Product

Does your ideal cruise look like, say, a New York book-release party? Maybe Crystal Cruises (www.crystalcruises.com) is the line for you. This month, the line outlined details of its new wine-and-cheese program, overseen by certified onboard wine sommeliers and cheese sommeliers, and its completely new bar menus, created by "modern mixologist" Tony Abou-Ganim.

For 2008, all of Crystal's onboard wine sommeliers will be certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers (www.mastersommeliers.org), and cheese sommeliers will be introduced on the line's 60-plus worldwide voyages. Master Sommelier Robert Bath, the force behind the wine program at the Napa Valley's French Laundry, is responsible for certifying the wine sommeliers, while Crystal's cheese sommeliers will be certified by Professor Gerhard Ebner of the International Cheese Academy at the Hotel and Tourism School in Bad Gleichenberg, Austria. Certification for both positions takes more than 60 hours of schooling and five-and-a-half hours of testing.

So what's it all mean to you, Jane and Joe Cruiser? More edifying wine tastings, mostly, covering the history, horticulture, vineyards, and flavors of the wines being tasted, as well as information on the history, manufacturing, and characteristics of the selection of regional and artisanal cheeses chosen to complement each wine.

Crystal's new cocktail menus were prepared by Tony Abou-Ganim, creator of the cocktail experience at Las Vegas's Bellagio resort. The new selections emphasize fresh ingredients, premium liquors, inventive combinations, and a signature drink designed to complement the mood of each different onboard lounge.

Star Clippers' Star Flyer Makes Panama Canal Transit en route to Tahiti

She may be sixteen years old already, but on November 15 the four-masted Star Flyer of Star Clippers (www.starclippers.com) became first vessel in the sailing-ship line's fleet to ever transit the Panama Canal.

The long-time positioning of the line's three vessels in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and the Far East (reachable via the Suez Canal) meant Star Clippers had never before needed to send a ship through the Panama Canal. November's transit came as Star Flyer was preparing to begin year-round cruising in Tahiti.

"Our guests tend to be on the more adventurous side, and we're always thrilled when we can offer them an exhilarating experience such as transiting the Panama Canal," said Jack Chatham, Star Clippers' VP of sales and marketing. "Because Star Flyer will sail in Tahiti year-round, who knows when we'll go through the canal again, possibly making this a true once-in-a-lifetime experience for the guests on board."

Following a three-week drydock in Panama, Star Flyer will sail to Papeete, Tahiti, and begin its series of new 7-, 10-, and 11-night round-trip cruises. Seven-night itineraries visit Huahine, Raiatea, Taha'a, Bora Bora, and Cook Bay and Opunohu Bay (Moorea), with an overnight in Papeete before disembarkation. Ten- and 11-night cruises visit the Society and Tuamotus Islands (Fakarava, Rangiroa, Bora Bora, Raiatea, Taha'a, Huahine and Moorea), with special cruising in the Rangiroa Lagoon.

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