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Princess Reinvents the Worst Part of a Cruise

As someone once said, the waiting is the hardest part. That wait to get off, that is -- the woeful hours on the last morning of your cruise, when you've been asked to vacate your cabin by 8am and are now homeless, wandering aimlessly among public rooms or hunkered down in a chair in the library, nursing a cold coffee.

That's a consequence of the age-old and nearly unvarying system of debarkation, cooked up back in the day by someone, somewhere, and probably little changed since. Since ships normally arrive in port on the final day between 6 and 8am, and need at least 90 minutes to unload baggage and complete docking formalities -- and meanwhile, the crew has to get cabins ready for the next bunch of passengers, who will begin arriving in just a few hours -- Joe Cruiser is left to fend for himself, unable to stay but not able to leave until his number or color-code is called out over the PA system.

This month, Princess Cruises (www.princess.com) is taking a whack at changing the debarkation paradigm. Currently being rolled out across Princess's entire fleet, the new program gives each passenger an assigned time and place to assemble on the final morning. When their time comes, they're escorted to the gangway by a member of the ship's staff, eliminating the guesswork as to their actual debarkation time.

"Passengers have told us that they're enjoying their final morning on board much more since we've started this program," noted Jan Swartz, Princess's senior VP of customer service. "It gives the departure a much more personal touch and creates a great beginning to their onward travels."

In many ports, departing passengers who choose to carry their own luggage off the ship can also take advantage of an express debarkation option that puts them among the first group to exit the ship.

Carnival Enhances Online Pre-Registration System

At the opposite end of Princess's new debarkation procedure, Carnival (www.carnival.com) has just added features to its pre-trip online registration system, allowing passengers to submit credit card information for their onboard "Sail & Sign" accounts via a secure encryption method, and also review/acknowledge the line's ticket contract, saving a few minutes of time in the terminal on embarkation morning.

Carnival's on-line embarkation portal (www.carnival.com/mycruise) was launched in 2003 to comply with the data-gathering requirements of U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Guests can register up to the day prior to sailing and are provided with a printable document allowing them to "fast track" through embarkation when they arrive at the cruise terminal.

Seabourn Opens Bookings for First-Ever World Cruise

Though we're still more than a year out from the debut of Seabourn Odyssey, the first new ship launched in sixteen years by Seabourn (www.seabourn.com), the luxury line is already taking bookings for the vessel's first world cruise, a 108-day voyage that departs from Ft. Lauderdale on January 5, 2010. The trip will be the first world cruise ever for Seabourn, whose current fleet of small, 208-passenger ships is not as well-suited to long deepwater voyages as the 32,000-ton, 450-passenger Odyssey.

All told, Odyssey's world cruise will visit 42 ports in 26 countries on five continents. For those embarking at Ft. Lauderdale, the voyage begins with a complimentary private-car transfer from their homes to any gateway airport within 100 miles and, on arrival at Ft. Lauderdale, a gala pre-cruise celebration and luxury accommodation at a five-star hotel. Other complimentary perks include round-trip first-class airfare, luggage shipping by Seabourn's Personal Valet service, and a $1,000 per person shipboard credit. During the voyage, world cruisers will enjoy five shore-side events created especially for them, in addition to the six "Exclusively Seabourn" experiences to which all guests on board (full world cruisers as well as those booking segments of the journey) are invited.

Discounted fares for the full 108-day voyage range from $53,745 for a 295-square-foot Category A suite to $254,745 for a 1,135-square-foot Grand Suite with three private verandas. Travelers with less time and money on their hands can also choose to book any of three world cruise segments: a 69-day voyage from Ft. Lauderdale to Hong Kong, a 53-day voyage from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, and a 39-day voyage from Hong Kong to Piraeus.

Carnival Debuts New Early-Teens' Program, Plans Fantasy Upgrade

Welcome to junior high: This month, Carnival Cruise Lines introduced a new onboard program called "Circle C," aimed at 12- to 14-year-olds -- kids too old for Carnival's "Camp Carnival" program for younger kids, too young for its "Club O2" for teens aged 15 to 17.

Many activities will take place in dedicated "Circle C" clubs outfitted with dance floors, 42-inch plasma-screen TVs, a touch-screen jukebox, and video games hooked up to 20-inch plasma-screen monitors throughout the room. Organized activities include late-night movies, "swimming under the stars" pool parties, and sports (including basketball, volleyball, ping-pong, and various water games).

"Circle C" facilities are already in place on Carnival Legend, Pride, Victory, and Valor, with Imagination, Inspiration, Liberty, Fantasy, Paradise, and Glory scheduled to be retrofitted by the end of the year. Facilities will be created on the balance of the fleet by 2010.

Carnival is also busy upgrading adult facilities on its older ships. This fall, Carnival Fantasy, launched in 1990 and thus the third oldest ship in the line's current fleet, will undergo a 35-day dry-dock renovation that will add a shaded outdoor relaxation area dedicated to adults only; a totally redesigned "resort-style" main pool area with faux palm trees and a thatched roof over the whirlpool; a new aqua-park with a 300-foot water slide and an 82-foot-long dual-lane racing slide; and a nine-hole miniature golf course. Inside, upgrades will include renovated staterooms with flat-screen TVs and other amenities; a renovated 12,000-square-foot Spa Carnival facility; updated dining room decor; plus a "New YorkÂ?style" deli, an atrium lobby bar, a new conference facility, a patisserie serving specialty coffees and sweets, and new photo and art galleries.

Post-renovation, Fantasy will return to her regularly scheduled program of 4- and 5-night Yucatan cruises sailing round-trip from New Orleans. Fantasy is the third of Carnival's Fantasy-class ships to undergo this kind of major upgrade, following Inspiration and Imagination. Similar renovations are planned for the remaining five Fantasy-class ships.

Cruise West & Holland America Plan West Coast Wine Cruises

This month, two Seattle-based cruise lines -- one big and one small -- announced cruises that will focus on the U.S. west-coast's premier wine-producing regions.

Family-owned small-ship line Cruise West (www.cruisewest.com) will offer two different regions in 2008. Its 7-night Taste of Pacific Northwest cruises, offered aboard the 84-passenger Spirit of Discovery, will depart September 28 and October 5, 12, and 19 from Portland, Oregon, sailing north through the Columbia River Gorge to Washington's wine country. Ports and attractions will include Walla Walla, Hanford Reach National Monument, Washington's Horse Heaven Hills and Red Mountain wine regions, and the towns of Hood River and Astoria (OR). Visits to family-owned wineries and vineyards, tastings and meals with owners and growers, and tours through winery cave systems are also included. Prices begin at $3,149 per person, round trip.

Cruise West's 3- and 4-night California Wine Country Cruises, offered aboard the 138-passenger Spirit of Yorktown, will depart throughout September and October, sailing round-trip from San Francisco. Each cruise will explore distinctive estates in the Napa Valley, Sonoma, and Carneros, and also include tastings and discussions with winemakers and other guest speakers. Three-night cruises start from $1,349 per person; 4-night cruises start from $2,049 per person.

Up in the big (-ship) leagues, Holland America (www.hollandamerica.com) has teamed up with AAA Washington to offer a 4-night Wines of Washington cruise aboard the 1,848-passenger Oosterdam, departing San Diego on April 26 and arriving in Vancouver on April 30. Light on port calls (there's only one: Seattle, where passengers can take an optional tour of Chateau Ste. Michelle, the state's largest winery), the trip and its activities will be primarily onboard, featuring wine tastings, winemaker lunches and dinners, and optional themed discussions with Washington wine and food experts Tom Hedges (Hedges Family Estates), Juan Muñoz Oca (Columbia Crest), Eric Dunham (Dunham Cellars), John Sarich (executive chef, Chateau Ste Michelle), and Armandino Batali (Salumi Artisan Cured Meats). Prices for the 4-night cruise start at only $399 per person, double occupancy. Bookings should be made through AAA (tel. 800/430-9001; www.aaa.com).

Crystal Plans Classical Music Program for June Baltic Voyage

Famed mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade will headline a program of distinguished artists and composers put together by Crystal Cruises (www.crystalcruises.com) for Crystal Symphony's 11-night Baltic cruise departing June 7, visiting ports in Scandinavia and Russia. The full roster of musicians, composers, and lecturers includes:

  • Frederica von Stade: A six-time Grammy-nominated American mezzo-soprano with more than 60 recordings, including complete operas, aria albums, symphonic works, solo recitals, and popular crossover albums.
  • Leila Josefowicz: A classical violinist and 2007 USA Cummings Fellow who has played famed halls from New York to Munich.
  • Anders Paulsson: An internationally acclaimed master of the soprano saxophone who has inspired more than 40 composers to write music especially for him.
  • Jake Heggie: Composer in residence to the San Francisco Opera, renowned for his contemporary operas including "Dead Man Walking" (2000) and composition of more than 200 art songs as well as chamber and concert works.
  • Fred Plotkin: Noted author on opera, music, the visual arts, food, wine, and travel.
  • Joel Revzen: General director of Arizona Opera and member of the conducting roster of the Metropolitan Opera.
  • Cindy Rhys: Actress and cabaret singer.

The journey features calls in Oslo (Norway), Copenhagen and Ronne (Denmark), Helsinki (Finland), and a three-day stay in St. Petersburg (Russia), concluding with an overnight stay in Stockholm (Sweden). Fares begin at $4,685, per person, double occupancy.

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