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Orient Lines Reborn Under New Ownership

Who needs a ship when you've got a name and a rep? That must be the thinking down in Florida, where Wayne Heller, founder of Orlando-based cruise retailer CruisesOnly, announced last week that he'd bought the Orient Lines brand (www.orientlines.com) from Asian firm Star Cruises Limited.

It was just over one year ago that Star Cruises and its subsidiary, NCL, announced that they had arranged to sell the line's one ship, the venerable Marco Polo, to Greek shipping company Global Maritime, which later chartered it to German cruise operator Transocean Tours. It was believed that the sale effectively closed the books on Orient Lines, which had been founded in 1993 and made its rep offering far-flung land-sea itineraries with a cultural, educational focus -- but nobody had counted on Wayne Heller.

"In the coming weeks we will announce our new flagship, followed by inaugural cruise itineraries and the senior management team," Heller said in announcing his purchase. Translation? They still have no ship, though plans are afoot to acquire a 600- to 800-passenger vessel in the mold of Marco Polo, with the ability to sail worldwide itineraries. "As for details of the onboard product," said Heller, "consumers and travel agents can expect the same friendly and gracious service that has endeared legions of intrepid travelers to Orient Lines over the past 15 years."

So we'll see. Heller certainly has the sales experience to get a product off the ground, especially one that enjoyed such a loyal following during its original 15 years of operation. His Orlando-based cruise retailer, CruisesOnly, is the largest seller of cruises in North America.

Carnival Corp.'s Big Week: Introduces New Ships for Carnival, Holland America, and Costa (x2)

When you're Carnival Corporation, parent company of Carnival Cruises, Holland America, Princess Cruises, Costa Cruises, Cunard, Seabourn, P&O Cruises, Aida Cruises, and Ocean Village, you probably get used to doing things big. Even so, this past week must've taxed their top executives' speech writers and travel planners.

June 27: Costa Cruises (www.costacruises.com) saw the launch of not one but two new megaships. At the Fincantieri shipyard in Marghera, near Venice, the 92,700-ton, 2,828-passenger Costa Luminosa was launched for the first time from her building dock. At the same time, on the other side of Italy, the 114,500-ton, 3,780-passenger Costa Pacifica was launched at Fincantieri's Genoa-Sestri Ponente shipyard. It was the first time two ship of the same line, built by the same company, have been launched in a single day.

"This simultaneous launch is a concrete example of the entrepreneurial success of two Italian companies and also a milestone in the expansion of our fleet, which will have 17 ships by 2012," said Costa Cruises S.p.A. group chairman and CEO Pier Luigi Foschi.

Both ships will now undergo months of finishing and fitting out in preparation for their simultaneous inauguration on June 5, 2009.

June 30: Just three days after Costa's big day, Carnival Cruise Lines (www.carnival.com) took delivery of the 113,300-ton, 3,006-passenger Carnival Splendor at the same Sestri Ponente shipyard. Splendor is the largest Carnival ship ever and represents a new class of vessels for the line, with features like an enormous, two-level, 21,000-square-foot spa; a two-deck-high children's play area; a water park; a domed mid-ship pool with a 270-square-foot LED movie screen; and an adults-only retreat called "Serenity."

"Carnival Splendor is a wonderful addition to our fleet, offering an array of innovative amenities and facilities," said Gerry Cahill, Carnival's president and CEO. "We can't wait to bring our guests aboard to experience for themselves all this magnificent 'Fun Ship' has to offer."

Splendor will make her official debut July 2 with an inaugural 8-night Western Europe voyage from Genoa to London/Dover. The ship will be officially named at a July 10 ceremony, after which she'll sail a special 3-night voyage to Amsterdam and then launch the line's first-ever Northern Europe cruise program, featuring ports in Denmark, Germany, Russia, Finland, Estonia, and the Netherlands.

July 1: Up in Rotterdam, Netherlands, Holland America (www.hollandamerica.com) had its own big day with the naming of the new 86,000-ton, 2,104-guest Eurodam. Built at Fincantieri's Marghera shipyard, Eurodam represents a new class of ships for HAL, dubbed the Signature class -- larger than any HAL vessels before them and featuring a new pan-Asian restaurant and bar, a special class of staterooms designed for serial spa-goers, private on-deck cabanas, and a collection of traditional and contemporary Dutch art and artifacts.

Doing the christening honors was Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, who named the ship in front of the historic European headquarters of Holland America Line at Wilhelminakade, Rotterdam's cruise terminal.

"We are exceptionally honored to have Her Majesty Queen Beatrix as the godmother of this beautiful ship," said Stein Kruse, HAL's president and CEO. "With tens of thousands of people coming out to see our newest ship, which will proudly fly the Dutch flag, it is really quite an emotional homecoming for all of us at Holland America Line."

Eurodam is currently in the midst of a 10-night, round-trip maiden sailing from Copenhagen. She'll sail Norway and Baltic itineraries until mid-August, then head across the Atlantic to begin a series of Canada/New England sailings in the fall and Caribbean itineraries in winter.

Ocho Rios, Jamaica Opens New Bobsled Attraction

Remember the Jamaican bobsled team, which made such a splash in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics that it inspired a movie (1993's Cool Runnings) and countless T-shirts? Carnival Corp. and a group of Jamaican business men evidently do, because they've just opened a new 100-acre-plus, eco-friendly attraction in Ocho Rios called "Rainforest Bobsled Jamaica at Mystic Mountain."

According to its builders, the attraction "features an exciting and unique Jamaican Bobsled ride through the lush tropical forest, a chairlift journey over the verdant countryside, a zip-line canopy adventure through the treetops, an island culture and heritage center, as well as mountaintop dining and shopping venues."

So there you go.

More info: "Mystic Mountain developers paid close attention to minimizing the environmental impact of the various attractions during construction. The chairlift foundations were installed by helicopter to significantly reduce ground disturbance and eliminate the necessity of building a road to transport equipment. The latest design in chairlift towers -- the F tower -- also was specifically selected to reduce impact on the forest environment. More than 3,400 feet of bobsled track was hand-carried through the forest and laid hugging natural limestone cliffs through the sloping hilly interior."

The various attractions of the site will be sold as three separate shore excursions to cruise passengers visiting Ocho Rios:

  • The Rainforest Bobsled Jamaica Tour will offer a gravity-driven bobsled ride on tracks laid through the forest. Riders control their speed with a handbrake.
  • The Rainforest Sky Explorer Tour is a chairlift ride through the tropical seaside forest canopy, providing panoramic views of the coastline on the way to the peak of 700-foot Mystic Mountain.
  • The Rainforest Zip-Line Tranopy Tour is a zip-line trek through a series of tree-to-tree platforms set up in the coastal forest. The tour ends at the mid-station of the Rainforest Sky Explorer chairlift, which returns zip-line riders to the park entrance.

NCL News: Return of the Sky, Restaurant Discounts in Bermuda, and VIP Shore Excursions

Norwegian Sky Returns to Miami: On July 7, NCL's Norwegian Sky arrived in Miami to begin a season of 3- and 4-night Bahamas cruises. If was the first time the ship had been on the east coast since 2004, when she was renamed Pride of Aloha and became the first ship in NCL's overly ambitious Hawaii venture. The ship recently underwent a two-month wet dock in Freeport, Bahamas, to strip off her Hawaii colors and add a new casino as well as a raft of new enhancements, including embarkation champagne, a chance to sample items from the ship's seven restaurants, and stateroom niceties such as extra-special bedding and Elemis bath products.

Norwegian Sky departs Miami on Mondays, sailing 4-night Bahamas cruises with full-day stops in Grand Bahama Island, Nassau, and Great Stirrup Cay, NCL's private island. On Fridays, the ship sails 3-night weekend Bahamas itineraries, departing Miami at 5pm and featuring all-day stops in Nassau and Great Stirrup Cay, returning to Miami at 7am Monday morning.  Fares start at $229 per person, and sailings are currently scheduled through April 17, 2009.

NCL to Offer "All Ashore Dining Guide" for Bermuda: Bermuda is a notoriously expensive place to eat -- which isn't a problem if you want to come back to your ship every evening to dine, but what does that do for the local economy? Bubkes. Thus the new "All Ashore Dining Guide," produced as a partnership between NCL and the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce and featuring full menus and special discounts exclusively for NCL guests at 36 restaurants all across the island. Participating restaurants offer NCL guests a broad array of discounts from a percentage off their meal to complimentary wines, specialty drinks, and appetizers.  A few of the restaurants participating are:

  • Bermuda Bistro at the Beach, offering 20 percent off all food purchases
  • Landfall Restaurant, providing a complimentary glass of wine or appetizer with dinner
  • Salt Rock Grill, Blackbeard's Hideout Restaurant and Bar, and Griffin's Bistro, offering NCL guests a complimentary specialty cocktail
  • Frog & Onion Pub will host a "Taste of Bermuda" in which NCL guests can sample local beers, rums, jams, peppers, rum cakes, and more from 6 to 8pm Monday and Thursday.

The dining guide will be available when NCL's 2008 Bermuda season commences later this week. Sailings will depart from New York aboard Norwegian Dawn; from Boston aboard Norwegian Dream; and from Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Charleston aboard Norwegian Majesty. The Bermuda season ends in late October.

NCL Introduces VIP Shore Excursions: Continuing a mini-trend in the mainstream cruise biz, NCL has just announced the creation of "Ultimate Touring" shore excursions: customizable VIP tours that can be set up for groups of 2 to 18 in every port the ship visits. Some examples include:

  • Archipelago Speed Boat Adventure (Helsinki, Finland): Guests jump aboard a high-speed boat and enjoy the sights on the way toward the narrow strait of Kustaanmiekka, then go full throttle before landing ashore, where they're treated to a Finnish-style culinary experience.
  • Rooftop Walk (Stockholm, Sweden): A guided walk along the roofs of this historic city, including visits to the Old Parliament Building, the Gamla Stan quarter, and the Royal Palace.
  • 4x4 Rally Experience (Livorno, Italy): The experience begins with a one-and-a-half-hour chauffeured drive through the Tuscan landscape to the Rally Club of Barga, where you can drive through an mountainside obstacle course after getting tips from a professional driver.
  • An Alaskan's Chef Table (Ketchikan, Alaska): A personal chef prepares and serves a six-course tasting menu that highlights Alaska's sustainable, wild bounty, while discussing methods of brining, roasting, smoking, and grilling.

Ultimate Touring can be booked pre-cruise or on board at each ship's Shore Excursion Desk.

Cunard Partners with Royal Astronomical Society for Enrichment Program

Cunard Line

(www.cunard.com) has just announced a partnership with Britain's Royal Astronomical Society, in which society fellows will sail aboard the line's vessels to offer astronomical insight.

"At Cunard, we are committed to offering our guests a dynamic and diverse range of enrichment opportunities," said line president Carol Marlow. "Our new partnership with The Royal Astronomical Society brings another new and innovative learning experience to our guests, allowing unprecedented access to one of the U.K.'s most renowned and historic scientific institutions."

The RAS partnership begins this summer with RAS fellows sailing with 15 different voyages. Aboard Queen Mary 2, RAS will highlight astronomical points of interest using the SkyScan software in the ship's planetarium, while all three of the line's ships will feature nighttime "Star Parties" on deck, informal discussion groups, and formal lectures with leading astronomers. RAS fellows scheduled to sail in upcoming months include:

  • Alan Fitzsimmons: Professor of Astronomy at Queen's University Belfast. Fitzsimmons is an expert on the solar system with a particular interest in killer asteroids. On board, Fitzsimmons' lecture topics will include "The Path of the Dinosaurs" and "The Life of Stars." He will sail on QE2's July 20 Mediterranean Mosaic voyage.
  • Paul Murdin: Fellow, Institute of Astronomy and member of Wolfson College, University of Cambridge and Visiting Professor, John Moores University, Liverpool. Murdin has worked in five countries studying exploding stars and black holes. His topics include a discussion of the cosmic history of water, climate change, and the universe's composition. He sails on QE2's August 27 Mediterranean Sojourn voyage.
  • Dr. Alastair Gunn: Professional Astrophysicist, musician, and author. Gunn's professional research relates to the extended atmospheres of highly active binary stars. He will sail on Queen Mary 2's November 15 westbound Transatlantic Crossing.
  • Dr. Roberto Trotta: Lecturer at Imperial College, London, and former Lockyer Fellow of the RAS at the Astrophysics Dept. of Oxford University and Fellow of St. Anne's College, Oxford. Trotta will tackle topics ranging from the "observable universe" (highlighting the history of discoveries in the past five centuries) to the "invisible universe" and "implausible universe." He sails on Queen Mary 2's November 21 Caribbean Adventure voyage.
  • Ian Ritpath: Astronomer, author, and former Council member of the RAS, Ritpath is also the editor of the Oxford Dictionary of Astronomy and author of The Monthly Star Guide and Star Tales, in which he explores his particular interest in Greek myths of the constellations, the subject of one of his onboard discussions. He will sail on Queen Mary 2's November 29 Southern Caribbean Calypso voyage.
  • Dr. Simon Mitton and Jacqueline Mitton: Simon Mitton is an astronomer, astrophysicist, author, Fellow of St. Edmund's College at the University of Cambridge, member of the Department for the History and Philosophy of Science, and media spokesperson for RAS. He will share his 35 years of experience researching the origin and evolution of the universe, black holes, and the highest energy objects in the universe. Jaqueline Mitton is an award-winning author of children's books on astronomy and a frequent lecturer. The Mittons will sail on Queen Mary 2's December 9 Southern Caribbean Calypso voyage.

Royal Astronomical Society programs and lecturers will also be featured on the following voyages:

Queen Mary 2

  • Eastbound Transatlantic Crossing to Germany (July 22)
  • Westbound Transatlantic Crossing from Germany (July 30)
  • Westbound Transatlantic Crossing (Aug. 13)
  • Caribbean Celebration (Dec. 19)

Queen Victoria

  • Legends of the Mediterranean (Aug. 25)
  • Connoisseur's Mediterranean (Nov. 29)

QE2

  • Land of the Midnight Sun (June 2)
  • Taste of Mediterranean (Aug 12)

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