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Royal Caribbean Seeks "Ordinary British Woman" for Independence Godmother Nod

It takes all kinds to christen a cruise ship. In the case of Royal Caribbean (www.royalcaribbean.com), it's taken the queen of Norway for some ships and Whoopi Goldberg for others. But when Independence of the Seas -- the third ship in RCI's 160,000-ton, 3,634-passenger Freedom-class series -- debuts in April, she'll be launched by what the line is describing as "an ordinary British woman who has done extraordinary things."

Working in conjunction with ITV, the UK's biggest commercial TV station, Royal Caribbean is hosting a contest that will grant Independence's godmothership to the person who can best "demonstrate how she has gone above and beyond the call of duty and dedicated incredible time and effort to improve the well-being and future of young people under 18 years old in her community."

Nominations for godmother can be made at www.searchforagodmother.co.uk. To enter, applicants must explain in 250 words or less why they or someone they know would be the ideal godmother for Independence of the Seas. The winner will name the ship at her Southampton christening ceremony, sail aboard the ship's inaugural voyage, and enjoy a decade of free cruising for two aboard the Royal Caribbean fleet.

Carnival Fantasy to Host Second Annual Elvis Cruise

If Elvis chartered a cruise ship, would he paint it pink like his Cadillac?

We'll find out on August 28 when Carnival's 2,056-passenger Carnival Fantasy is transformed for the second annual Elvis Cruise, a four-night celebration of The King that will sail round-trip from New Orleans, offering two days at sea and one at port in Cozumel, Mexico.

The voyage will be hosted by Jerry Schilling, a member of Elvis's "Memphis Mafia" of friends and business associates, and author of the book, Me and a Guy Named Elvis. Entertainment will include live shows from artists who performed with Elvis, including the TCB Band, the Imperials, the Dempseys, Ronnie McDowell, Terry Mike Jeffrey & Band, Andy Childs, Ruby Wilson, conductor Joe Guercio, and others. Nightly shows will be themed on the various phases of Elvis's career, while the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest will award $12,500 in prize money to the best impersonator. Other activities will include autograph and Q&A sessions, Elvis-themed bingo, and Elvis movie screenings.

No word on whether they'll serve peanut butter and fried-banana sandwiches at the grill.

Prices start at $699 per person, double occupancy and include all "Elvis Cruise" activities. For information and bookings, contact The Elvis Cruise at tel. 800-704-3034 or www.theelviscruise.com.

Celebrity Plans Biggest Euro-Season Ever for 2009

"Our guests have told us repeatedly that Europe is where they want to be," says Dan Hanrahan, president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises (www.celebrity.com).

And so, Celebrity is going to Europe -- big time. In 2009, the line will position five ships there -- more than half its fleet -- visiting a total of 76 ports in 29 countries.

The deployment will be led by the 118,000-ton, 2,850-passenger sister-ships Celebrity Solstice and Celebrity Equinox, both currently under construction and slated for debut in

fall 2008 and summer 2009. Joining them will be Celebrity Century (which underwent a $55-million makeover in 2006), Celebrity Constellation (built in 2002), and Celebrity Summit (2001).

Highlights of the deployment will include overnight stays in Alexandria (Egypt), Copenhagen (Denmark), Istanbul and Kusadasi (Turkey), Rome and Venice (Italy), and Stockholm (Sweden), and calls at five ports never previously visited by Celebrity: Atwerp (Belgium), Ashdod and Haifa (Israel), and La Spezia and Portofino (Italy).

Port Canaveral Wins Berthing Rights for New Disney Ships, RCI Freedom

Port Canaveral, Florida, got a boost this week when it announced that Disney Cruise Line (www.disneycruise.com) and Royal Caribbean (www.royalcaribbean.com) had both agreed to homeport massive new ships at the north Florida hub.

Port Canaveral has been home to Disney's original two vessels since their debut in 1998 and 1999. The new agreement extends the company's contract through 2023, with provisions for berthing Disney's new ships at the port following their launch in 2011 and 2012. As part of the compact, the Canaveral Port Authority will expand and modify the Disney Cruise Line port facility, extending the dock, enlarging the terminal building to allow for additional passenger capacity, and building a new multi-level parking structure.

Royal Caribbean also has a long history with Port Canaveral, which has been homeport to Sovereign of the Seas since 2001 and to the 138,000-ton, 3,114-passenger Mariner of the Seas since 2004. Now the port is expecting to finalize an agreement with the line to bring its 160,000-ton, 3,634-passenger Freedom of the Seas to Port Canaveral beginning in May 2009. Freedom is currently the largest cruise ship in the world, sharing the title with sister-ships Liberty of the Seas and the soon-to-be launched Independence of the Seas.

"Bringing a Freedom-class ship to Port Canaveral will give vacationers another homeport choice to experience the most innovative cruise ship at sea," said Adam Goldstein, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International. "Based on the popularity of Mariner of the Seas at Port Canaveral, we look forward to and anticipate similar success for Freedom of the Seas."

Princess News: Ruby to Arrive Early, Caribbean to Sail from New York

The expectant parents at Princess Cruises (www.princess.com) got a nice surprise this week when the pediatricians at Monfalcone, Italy's Fincantieri shipyard informed them that their 113,000-ton, 3,080-passenger Ruby Princess, sister-ship to Crown Princess and Emerald Princess, would be delivered a full week early. The ship's inaugural 7-night Western Caribbean sailing will now take place on November 8, 2008, rather than the previously anticipated November 15.

Passengers who booked the November 15 cruise will be offered the opportunity to switch their reservation to November 8 if they so choose, contacting their travel agent or Princess before March 31. Passengers may also choose to remain on the November 15 voyage. Both cruises will sail round-trip from Fort Lauderdale, visiting Ocho Rios (Jamaica), Grand Cayman, Cozumel, and the line's private Bahamian island, Princess Cays.

Meanwhile, farther north, Princess has just announced that its 3,080-passenger Caribbean Princess will be returning to the port of New York for summer 2009, sailing 9-night round-trip cruises to Bermuda and the eastern Caribbean from May 24 to August 13.

"This will be our fourth summer sailing from New York to the Caribbean," said Jan Swartz, Princess' senior VP of customer service and sales. "Both the route and the ship have become passenger favorites, and this year we're pleased to feature Bermuda on every Caribbean voyage."

After her summer season, Caribbean Princess will reverse direction and sail north from New York to New England and Canada, through mid-October.

Bermuda/Caribbean sailings call at West End (Bermuda), San Juan, St. Thomas, and Grand Turk, with fares starting at $1,099 per person, double occupancy. New England/Canada sailings visit Newport, Boston, Bar Harbor, Saint John, and Halifax, with fares starting at $945.

MSC News: Baseball Greats, Clean Ships, and an Orchestra on the Internet

Item No. 1: For the fifth straight year, Italian line MSC Cruises (www.msccruises.com) will be bringing baseball greats aboard for a winter Caribbean baseball theme cruise, sailing from Ft. Lauderdale December 13 aboard the 1,586-passenger Lirica. Players signed for the cruise include Hall-of-Famer Bob Feller, Dave Campbell, Tommy Davis, Jeff Torborg, and Stan Bahnsen.

Baseball-themed activities include a player-hosted trivia game; Q&A and autograph sessions; a passenger pitching contest; a story-telling session; and pitching, hitting, fielding, and base-running clinics. The 7-night round-trip cruise calls at Key West, Grand Cayman, Cozumel (Mexico), and Cayo Levantado (Dominican Republic), with two days at sea. Fares start at $$449 per person, double occupancy.

Item No. 2: For the second straight time (and third overall), that selfsame Lirica has aced its regular surprise inspection by the Centers for Disease Control's Vessel Sanitation Program. The vessel earned a perfect 100% score after officials conducted their examination in San Juan, PR.

Each year, the CDC's Vessel Sanitation Program (www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/default.htm) conducts two surprise inspections of all passenger ships that sail a foreign itinerary, call on U.S. ports, and carry thirteen or more passengers. The inspections focus on a long checklist of sanitation concerns including the handling, preparation, and storage of food; cleanliness of plumbing, spa, and pool facilities; purity of the onboard water supply; maintenance of relevant equipment; and staff practices. Each ship is given a score based on a scale of 1 to 100, with an 86 or above being a passing score.

"Our commitment to cleanliness and safety is a priority and we are honored that the USPH has acknowledged our achievements with this top-rated score once again," said Richard E. Sasso, president and CEO of MSC Cruises (USA). "To be recognized in this way is a credit to our own strict policy in passenger and crew safety and health."

Item No. 3: For the past several years, MSC has been busily building megaships for its European audience while contenting the U.S. with just one midsize vessel, the very clean (see above) MSC Lirica. This year, though, the line will finally be bringing one of its biggies -- the 92,400-ton, 2,550-passenger Orchestra, to U.S. shores, sailing 7-night eastern and western Caribbean cruises from Ft. Lauderdale. To ramp up excitement, the line has launched a special website, www.theorchestraiscomingtotown.com, which offers information and a slide show about the ship, free desktop wallpaper photos and online games, and a chance to enter a drawing for a free cruise.

MSC Orchestra will arrive in Fort Lauderdale on January 2, 2009, and sail the Caribbean through April 25, 2009. Her eastern Caribbean sailings will call at Cayo Levantado (Dominican Republic), Philipsburg (St. Maarten), St. John (Antigua), and Nassau (Bahamas), and spend two days at sea. Her western Caribbean itineraries will call at Key West (Florida), Cozumel (Mexico), Georgetown (Grand Cayman), and Cayo Levantado (Dominican Republic), with two days at sea.

HAL's Eurodam to Offer Expanded Dining Options

Holland America Line (www.hollandamerica.com) has never been terribly big into the alternative-restaurant trend, only offering a single alternative venue on its ships in addition to the usual main restaurant, buffet restaurant, and pool grill. That'll all change, though, when the new 86,000-ton, 2,104-passenger Eurodam debuts this July.

Currently under construction at the Fincantieri-Cantieri Navali Italiani shipyard in Marghera, Italy, Eurodam will offer three new dining venues:

  • Tamarind, a reservations-only Asian restaurant seating 144 diners and featuring dishes like sea bass with a hoisin-lime glaze; wasabi soy crusted beef tenderloin; shrimp Szechuan with Thai basil; roasted Peking duck; red curry coconut chicken; and a variety of vegetarian dishes. The Silk Den, a lounge adjacent to Tamarind, will overlook the magradome pool area, offering a view of what the line describes as "a new, colorful poolside water feature." Mysterious, no?
  • Canaletto, a 72-seat Italian restaurant carved nightly from a portion of the Lido buffet restaurant, with reservations encouraged but walk-ups welcomed.
  • Slice, an all-day pizza outlet located just aft of the pool.

The three join the ship's main Rembrandt dining room and the Pinnacle Grill, a specialty restaurant serving Pacific Northwest cuisine.

Following her inaugural Europe season this summer, Eurodam will sail her first trans-Atlantic cruise, followed by a series of Canada/New England sailings in the fall and Caribbean itineraries in winter. To get a sneak peak, go to www.eurodamnews.com.

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