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Want to Buy a Cruise Line? Please?

For some time now, unsettling whispers have been coming out of southern Florida regarding Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, one of the cruise world's most idiosyncratic cruise lines. In August and September, booked passengers arrived at their ships to find the crews on strike and stories of the line not having funds to pay for fuel and other sailing costs. Calls to the company's headquarters were met with iffy answers, and now the line's website has been taken down. Sources tell us the line is seeking a buyer, which may be the only option that will allow it to continue operations.

Anybody with deep pockets care to step up to the plate? Assets: four charmingly funky tall ships and a fantastically loyal and equally funky passenger base. Liabilities: a reputation for sailing by the skin of their teeth and a lack of organizational ... er ... organization.

Pray for them. They are (were?) a fun cruise line.

NCL Takes Gem from Shipyard, Begins Work on New Super-Megaship

Norwegian Cruise Line (tel. 800/327-7030; www.ncl.com) has just closed the book on its Jewel-class series of vessels, taking possession of the fourth and final ship in the series, the 93,500-ton, 2,380-passenger Norwegian Gem, at an October 1 ceremony in Eemshaven, Netherlands.

The vessel is a near-identical sister to 2006's Norwegian Pearl. Both feature ten restaurants, a nightclub that incorporates a four-lane bowling alley, extravagant Garden Villas (the largest suites in the cruise biz), and a slightly less grand but still exceptional group of Courtyard Villas. She's scheduled to make her U.S. debut in New York in mid-December, after which she'll offer 7-, 10-, and 11-night Bahamas/Caribbean sailings from New York from December through April. In summer 2008 she'll return to Europe for a season of 7-night round-trip sailings from Barcelona.

If you want to be the ship's godmother (and are a member of NCL's "Latitudes" past-passenger club), go to www.gemitgirl.com and submit a video of yourself explaining why you should be chosen. The contest ends on November 12, 2007, and the winner will christen Gem in New York on December 18. In addition, the winner will get a 7-night cruise aboard Gem for herself and five guests, with accommodations in the ship's huge Garden Villa. Non-Latitudes entrants aren't eligible for the grand prize, but can compete to win a 7-night Bahamas & Florida cruise for two aboard Gem during the 2008 sailing season.

While Gem is the story of the moment, a literally larger story is already unfolding at Aker Yards shipyard in Saint Nazaire, France, where the first steel was cut October 1 for NCL's next generation of ships. Dubbed (for now) the F3 series -- signifying that it's the line's third generation of vessels built specifically for its trademark "Freestyle Cruising" -- the vessels will dwarf anything the line has built to date, measuring 150,000 gross register tons and carrying 4,200 passengers. The as-yet-unnamed vessel is scheduled for delivery in January 2010, and will be followed by two sister-ships later that year and in 2011.

Lindblad Expeditions Expands Partnership with National Geographic

In 2004, adventure line Lindblad Expeditions (tel. 800/EXPEDITION; www.expeditions.com) formed a partnership with the National Geographic Society through which Society scientists, photographers, and film crews sail aboard Lindblad's ships, conducting research and helping passengers get broader insight into their destinations. The line's most adventure-oriented vessel, the National Geographic Endeavour, was outfitted with advanced research equipment, while NGS explorer-in-residence Sylvia Earle and an advisory group helped develop research, conservation, and educational initiatives for the fleet.

Now that alliance is expanding. Effective immediately, the line's Galapagos-based Islander and Polaris were rechristened National Geographic Islander and National Geographic Polaris. The remainder of the Lindblad ships will be relaunched under the National Geographic name in coming months, and an expanded roster of National Geographic researchers, scientists, explorers, and photographers will now be working and traveling with the Lindblad team.

"Given the enthusiastic reception that our initial partnership received from our guests, local communities that we visit, and the world of scientific research, an expansion and deepening of this relationship made enormous sense," said Sven Olof Lindblad, the line's founder and president.

As part of the expanded partnership, Lindblad and National Geographic have formed a new philanthropic fund that will support conservation, education, and sustainable development initiatives, including geotourism around the world, with special focus on the destinations Lindblad sails. (According to Lindblad, geotourism is defined as "tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place -- its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of its residents.") In addition to receiving support from National Geographic and Lindblad, the fund will accept contributions from both guests and non-guests.

"Our alliance has been a tremendous success to date," said John Fahey, president and CEO of National Geographic. "Our organizations share the goal of inspiring people to care about the planet. The chance to make a difference through educational travel, outreach, and giving back in a significant way really distinguishes this initiative."

Princess Touts Spooky Shore Excursions for the Halloween Season

Somebody over at Princess Cruises (tel. 800-PRINCESS; www.princess.com) was in project mode this month. Says Senior VP of Customer Service Jan Swartz in a press release: "We know Halloween is one of the most popular holidays in the U.S., and we thought it would be fun to remind passengers that among the wide variety of nearly 3,500 tours available on our cruises around the world, there are some haunted ones as well."

And then follows a list, no doubt compiled by some hard-working soul who's not a senior VP. Kudos to them, spookiness to you ...

  • The Tower of London -- Sea Princess: From the two little princes haunting the famed Bloody Tower to the ghostly wives of Henry VIII, there are more spooks here per square foot than any other building in the whole of haunted Britain. Sea Princess has two sailings departing from London/Southampton on October 6 and 13.
  • Hill Street Building (Singapore) -- Sapphire Princess: With a turbulent history of inquisitions and torture during the Japanese occupation, this building is well known for sightings of the ghosts of tortured souls. Today, the building houses beautiful works of European, Singaporean, and other Southeast Asian fine arts in the ARTrium@MITA (Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts). Sailing departs October 17.
  • Belcourt Castle (Newport, RI) -- Crown Princess and Grand Princess: Built in the late 1800s, this castle is haunted by a ghostly monk, and passengers can pre-reserve a special ghost tour that includes an opportunity to sit and experience the "Haunted Chair." Newport is a regular port-of-call on Crown Princess' and Grand Princess' "Canada and New England" itineraries in October. Departures on October 6 and 13 on Crown Princess and October 8 and 18 on Grand Princess.
  • Whaley House (San Diego, CA) -- Dawn Princess: Often called "the most haunted house in America," this 1857 home was partially built on a cemetery. Ghosts seen here are so life-like, they are often mistaken for real people, and sightings occur regularly. Passengers on Dawn Princess' Mexican Riviera itinerary can tour the house on their embarkation/disembarkation day (R/T sailings depart from San Diego on October 7, 14, 21 and 28).
  • Eden Brown Estate (St. Kitts/Nevis) -- Sea Princess and Crown Princess: Visitors to this island estate may catch a glimpse of a bride-to-be ghost whose husband was killed in a duel the night before their wedding, causing her to weep and wail for all eternity. Both Sea Princess and Crown Princess make port calls here in late October. Departures on October 13 from London on Sea Princess and from San Juan, Puerto Rico, on October 20 and 27 on Crown Princess.
  • Chase Mausoleum in Christ Church Graveyard (Barbados) -- Sea Princess: Famous in ghostly lore, this mausoleum has a "moving" history dating from the 1800s: Its coffins were said to move around the locked vault, sometimes lining up vertically along the walls. At one time, the governor of Barbados personally sealed the vault, but nine months later the coffins were all rearranged, though the seal remained untouched. On their port call in Barbados, Sea Princess passengers can explore the empty vault and get a taste of the ghostly history. Departures on October 13 from London and October 27 from Barbados.
  • Ghost Tours of Quebec (Quebec City) -- Grand Princess: More than 300 years of murders, executions, mysterious ghost sightings, tragedies, and hauntings are the focus of this tour, conducted by lantern light among Quebec's cobblestone streets and old buildings. Departures on October 8 from New York and October 18 from Quebec City.
  • Ghosts, Graves & Galleries (Dunedin, New Zealand) -- Sun Princess: Passengers can experience the paranormal on a walking tour that visits Dunedin's North Cemetery -- the final resting place for such New Zealand pioneers as the Larnach of Larnach Castle and the Speights of brewery fame -- and discover the supernatural secrets haunting the city streets. Guides relate tales of haunted Dunedin, including the mysterious Octagon fires, and the spine-tingling habits of the million souls thought to wander the city streets at night. Departure on September 23 from Seattle.

BOO!

Silversea Specs Twelve Golf-Themed Cruises for 2008

Well of course, you expect golf on a line like Silversea Cruises (tel. 877/215-9986; www.silversea.com), which caters to the top layers of cruising's upper crust. For its 2008 season, the line has planned twelve golf-themed itineraries aboard Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper, bringing passengers to 35 courses in 16 countries and island destinations throughout the South Pacific, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and Mexico.

"Our golf cruises are an excellent option for the affluent traveler looking to hone his or her game on the finest international links and fairways," says David Morris, Silversea's executive VP of worldwide sales and marketing. "Avid golfers of all levels can combine a luxury vacation with the chance to enjoy guided golf excursions and priority tee times at some of the world's most celebrated courses."

The "Silver Links" voyages offer optional golfing excursions in multiple ports, arranged and escorted by the ship's golf professional. The excursions vary in price from course to course and include transportation, pull or power-drive carts (where available), greens fees, and any applicable caddy fees. Nike Golf clubs and golf essentials are available for rental or purchase on board, the former starting at $45 per day. Multiple-day and equipment packages are also available. Aboard ship, golfers can hone their skills using split-screen computerized swing analysis or take personal instruction from a certified PGA-classed golf pro. Other activities include group clinics, demonstrations, and putting contests.

Voyages and courses will include:

  • Silver Shadow 15-night Panama Canal crossing (voyage #3811) from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles, departing May 16, 2008. Optional golf excursions will be offered at La Iguana at Los Suenos (Puntarenas), Tres Vidas Golf Club (Acapulco), and El Tigre Golf Club (Puerto Vallarta). Silver Sailing cruise fares start at $4,917 per person.
  • Silver Whisper 7-night Mediterranean sailing (#4822) from Rome to Monte Carlo, departing July 19, 2008. Golf excursions will be offered at Golf Park Mallorca (Palma de Mallorca), PGA at Catalunya Golf Club (Barcelona), Servannes Golf Club (Sete), and Sainte Maxime Golf Club (St. Tropez). Advance Payment Bonus cruise fares start at $5,196 per person.
  • Silver Whisper 7-night Mediterranean cruise (#4826) from Barcelona to Rome, departing August 16, 2008. Golf excursions will be offered at Cannes Mougins Golf Club (Menton), Cosmopolitan Golf Club (Livorno), and the Monte Carlo Golf Club. Silver Sailing cruise fares start at $4,546 per person.
  • Silver Shadow 11-night Mexican Riviera voyage (#3823) from Los Angeles to Costa Rica, departing September 17, 2008. Golf excursions will be offered at Cabo del Sol Desert Course (Cabo San Lucas), El Tigre Golf Club (Puerto Vallarta), Club de Golf Marina Ixtapa (Zihuatanejo), and Tres Vidas Golf Club (Acapulco). Silver Sailing cruise fares start at $3,957 per person.
  • Silver Shadow 9-night Caribbean sailing (#3829) from Fort Lauderdale to Barbados, departing December 3, 2008. Golf excursions will be offered at the Cedar Valley Golf Club (Antigua), the St. Lucia Golf & Country Club, and Sandy Lane Country Club (Barbados). Silver Sailing cruise fares start at $3,237 per person.
  • Silver Whisper 15-night South Pacific voyage (#4839) from Sydney to Auckland, departing December 20, 2008. Golf excursions will be offered at Royal Melbourne Golf Club (Melbourne, Australia), Royal Hobart Golf Club (Hobart, Tasmania), St. Clair Golf Club (Dunedin, NZ), Clearwater Golf Club (Christchurch, NZ), Paraparaumu Golf Club (Wellington, NZ), Cape Kidnappers Golf Club (Napier, NZ), Kauri Cliffs Golf Club (Bay of Islands, NZ); and the Tauranga Golf Club (Tauranga, NZ). Silver Sailing cruise fares start at $9,036 per person.

Disney Announces Onboard Airline Check-In and "Island for a Day" Contest

Two items of interest this week from Disney Cruise Line (tel. 888/DCL-2500; www.disneycruise.com).

First, remember after 9/11, when all of a sudden you couldn't check your luggage through from a ship to the airport, or walk into an office building without showing your passport, or cough without taking a loyalty oath? Well, guess what: It's 9/12 now ... sort of.

Starting this fall, "select guests" on Disney's ships will be able to check in for their post-cruise flights aboard Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, eliminating the need to do so at Orlando International Airport and also eliminating the need to trundle your luggage, which will be transported directly from the ship to your flight. To take advantage of the service, guests must meet "certain requirements":

  • They must have purchased their air or ground transfer arrangements through Disney Cruise Line.
  • They must be booked on a domestic flight with AirTran, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, Northwest Airlines, or United Airlines/Ted, and flights must depart from the Orlando International Airport after 11:25am on debarkation day.
  • They must not be traveling with more than two checked bags per person.

And even with all those restrictions, some guests may be randomly selected to check in at the airport, and may not be able to use the service. Eligible guests can enroll for Onboard Airline Check-in by completing pre-registration information at Orlando International Airport or at one of the Disney Cruise Line Hospitality Desks at the Walt Disney World Resort, and turning it in during pre-cruise check-in at Port Canaveral.

Newsy items no. 2 is a little more fun: As top prize in its Year of a Million Dreams "Dream Catalog" promotion, Disney is offering the opportunity to spend a day as the only guest at its private Bahamian island, Castaway Cay. The winner and his or her guests will sail aboard Disney's Disney Wonder, then be dropped off at the island at mid-cruise, where everything will be at their disposal: meet-and-greets with Disney characters, an opportunity to parasail over the island, gourmet lunch on the beach, kayaking excursions through the mangroves, beachside cabana massages, snorkeling with tropical marine life, etc. You can enter the contest during special "Giveaway Periods" at Disney's resorts or, starting on December 19, 2007, by hand-writing your full name, complete mailing address (including postal code), daytime telephone number (including area code), and date of birth on a piece of paper or postcard and sending it to 2008 Disney Dreams Giveaway, P.O. Box 8650, Elmhurst, IL 60126, USA (or, for you UK folks, 483 Green Lanes, Suite 200, London N13 4BS, England). All mail-in entries must be postmarked on or between December 19, 2007 and December 31, 2008 and received by January 14, 2009. For more of the very, very long rules, go to this page.

Crystal Offers Door-to-Door Luggage Service

How much do you hate lugging your bags to the airport? If the answer is "more than anything in god's green goodness," luxe line Crystal Cruises (tel. 888/799-4625; www.crystalcruises.com) has a new option for you.

Effective immediately, the line's new alliance with Luggage Concierge (www.luggageconcierge.com) offers guests easy door-to-door baggage pick-up and delivery service between their homes and Crystal's ports of embarkation around the world. Arrangements for luggage shipment can be made by calling tel. 877-231-6408 anytime, or registering at www.luggageconcierge.com/crystal or through the link on Crystal's website, which will be effective in late October. Crystal's repeat guests will receive a 20% discount on the service, as well as a 10% discount on luggage shipments for other non-cruise related leisure travel if they book directly through Luggage Concierge. The discount will sure help, since shipping prices can be astronomical. Using the website's "quick quote" function, we got a price of about $660 to ship two large suitcases coast to coast, with three-day delivery. But hey, if your back hurts ...

Carnival Expands Guest Loyalty Program ... and Towel Animals

The cruise business is like the Mafia: Loyalty is everything. That's why Carnival Cruise Lines (tel. 800/CARNIVAL; www.carnival.com) just expanded its Past Guest Recognition Program, adding a credit for so-called "milestone" cruises.

With the new benefit, platinum members (those who've sailed with the line 10 or more times) who sail on their 25th, 50th, or 75th Carnival cruise will receive a shipboard credit representing 25, 50, or 75 percent of their cruise fare, respectively, for that particular voyage. Those sailing on their 100th cruise earn a complimentary Caribbean, Mexican Riviera, or Alaska voyage of up to eight days.

In addition to the rewards for significant milestone cruises, all platinum member are entitled to:

  • Priority embarkation and debarkation
  • Priority tender boarding in port
  • Priority spa reservations and complimentary treatment upgrade
  • Complimentary wash and fold laundry service
  • Petit fours and/or canapes delivered to cabin one evening
  • Personalized stationery
  • A special Carnival logo item
  • Guaranteed dining times and supper club reservations
  • Complimentary entry fee into blackjack or slot tournament
  • Complimentary arcade tokens for members under age 18

Now, about those towel animals: Any regular Carnival passengers will know that at the end of each evening their beds will be decorated with an elephant, dog, bunny, dinosaur, or seal pup made out of bathroom towels. Dumb? Maybe, but people love 'em. Altogether, Carnival figures they twist up some nine million towel animals every year, often adorning them with sunglasses, hats, and other personal items that guests have left lying around their cabins. In 2005 they even put out a book about their towel menagerie, offering step-by-step directions and photos for more than forty designs. That little book sold 100,000 copies, so now Carnival has expanded it to include more than 80 different creatures, , including new variations such as a snail, bat, cow, stingray and goat. Retitled Carnival Towel Creations with Freddy (a reference to "Fun Ship Freddy," the line's mascot), the 90-page book is available from Carnival's onboard shops for $14.95. Those who can't wait can go to www.carnivaltowelpals.com and buy miniature "towel pal" plush toys for $7.50 a pop -- and they won't unravel when you grab 'em.

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