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Celebrity Orders New Ship for 2008

Sure, new ship construction has slowed down over the past couple years compared with the build-crazy decade before. But still, exactly one of the big cruise lines has been conspicuous among all the others for building excactly nothing since 2002. Zippo. Nada. Bubkes.

But now that's changed. On Tuesday, Celebrity Cruises (tel. 800/437-3111; www.celebrity.com) announced it has signed a letter of intent with German shipyard Meyer Werft to build the first of a new class of megaships, with an option for a second to be exercised at a later date.

Meyer Werft was responsible for construction of Celebrity's first five ships, Horizon, Zenith, Century, Galaxy, and Mercury. The four vessels that followed -- Millennium, Infinity, Summit, and Constellation, were built at France's Chantiers de l'Atlantique.

The new vessels will be by far Celebrity's largest, with a gross tonnage of 117,000, a length of 1,033 feet and breadth of 121 -- dimensions too large to allow passage through the Panama Canal. Her passenger capacity is pegged at 2,850 double occupancy, and more than 90% of the vessel's cabins will be outsides, with more than 90% of those fitted with balconies. Average standard stateroom size will be 215 square feet.

Other features of the vessel are yet to be announced, though in prepared remarks Bernard Meyer, Meyer Werft's managing partner, hinted at things to come.

"We are excited to be collaborating with Celebrity on this new, breakthrough design and its market-leading innovations," he said. "It has taken us many months to develop a strong, working prototype and this next generation of ships is truly extraordinary."

The company expects delivery of the new vessel in fall 2008. The exercise date for the second ship is March 15, 2006, subject to conditions.

This is the second major announcement from Celebrity in a month, following news that 1995's Century will be given a top-to-toe, $55 million makeover beginning in April 2006, bringing the vessel up to date. Click here for details. The line's first-ever newbuild, 1998's Horizon, is scheduled to leave the fleet this October for service with UK-based Island Cruises.

EasyCruise to Offer $115 Weeklong Caribbean Cruises in 2005-2006

For most cruise lines, the business model is pretty consistent: keep developing more and better cabin amenities, dining venues, kids programs, and entertainment options, and sail weeklong cruises that call at three or four ports and spend the rest of the time at sea. But a new company called easyCruise has a different strategy: Focus on destinations during an ultra-flexible port-a-day itinerary, and charge rock-bottom prices that only cover your stay in a very basic 100-square-foot cabin. For anything else -- including food -- you pay extra.

EasyCruise just started up this past May, offering a repeating 7-night itinerary round-trip out of Nice each Friday, visiting seven ports along the French and Italian Riviera. Now it's announced that its one ship, the 170-passenger easyCruiseone (the former Renaissance II of now-defunct Renaissance Cruises), will sail in the Southern Caribbean this winter, beginning its season November 12 and running through April 26. As in Europe, the itinerary will remain consistent week after week, and passengers can embark wherever they want and sail as long as they want, with a minimum of two nights and a maximum of fourteen.

Ports of call will include Bridgetown, Barbados (Saturday and Sunday); Kingstown, St Vincent (Monday); Fort de France, Martinique (Tuesday); Bequia, Grenadines (Wednesday); St George's, Grenada (Thursday); and Castries, St Lucia (Friday). Barbados, Martinique, Grenada, and St Lucia all have international airports with a selection of direct flights from the U.S., London, Paris, and other destinations.

Now the kicker: Prices start at only $16.20 per person per night, based on double occupancy. Niceties such as daily cabin service cost extra, as do meals, which are available from three onboard venues even though the expectation is that most passengers will dine on shore. Essentially, easyCruise is a Eurail Pass for the 25-50 set: cheap, flexible, and easy -- just like the name says. As long as you're back on board by midnight to sail to the next port, you can do whatever you like.

Bookings are only available through the company's website, www.easycruise.com. All bookings must be made at least 48 hours before sailing.

Royal Caribbean & Celebrity to Introduce Pre-Cruise Online Check-In

If you've taken a cruise, especially on a big ship, you know that checking in at the pier can be one of the longest . . . dullest . . . most time-consuming . . . most frustrating . . . most irritating . . . [looking at my watch] . . . did I mention time-consuming? . . . ways imaginable to start a relaxing vacation.

But it might be getting a little easier, as sister-lines Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises are poised to introduce at-home, online check-in. Soon, guests will be able to log on to the company's website to fill in their personal information, provide immigration info, register their credit card for onboard purchases, and print out a check-in form with barcode. Once you arrive at the pier, you just head for a special check-in line, get your ID and barcode beeped, and receive your boarding card.

Last week, at a conference for travel agents aboard the revitalized Enchantment of the Seas (see this week's feature story), Royal Caribbean president Adam Goldstein said they'd gotten the per-passenger processing time down to sixty seconds in live tests currently being conducted at Florida piers.

Not bad.

With luck, the system will be rolled out fleetwide by September.

QM2 Better than Broom, Ferries Harry Potter to America (And Other Stories)

For some folks, it's treasure: the first signed U.S. copy of the new Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Appropriate, then, that's it was transported in a five-by-seven-foot treasure chest (aka steamer trunk) aboard a Royal British Mail Ship (aka the Queen Mary 2) on a grand adventure (aka a transatlantic crossing) before reaching these shores.

That's the saga of one little book, which was signed by author J. K. Rowling in Edinburgh, Scotland, brought to Southampton by a Scholastic Books executive, and loaded onto Queen Mary 2 bound for New York. The shipment represents a continuation of Cunard's tradition of Royal Mail Service, dating back to the British government contract that gave Samuel Cunard's steamship line its start back in 1840. On arrival in New York, the book was transferred to an armored car. It will be presented June 15 as the grand prize in a sweepstakes open to public libraries nationwide.

In other news, Cunard (tel. 800/7-CUNARD; www.cunard.com) has announced details of QM2's 38-day South America Odysseys for 2006, scheduled to depart westbound from New York on January 15 and eastbound from Los Angeles on March 8. Passengers who can't make the full journey may book any of six segments ranging from 11 to 14 days.

As inspiration for the voyages, Cunard has chosen Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who in 1519 led the first circumnavigation of the globe. QM2 may not travel quite so far (at least this time), but her guests will still sail quite a route, stopping at ports in the Caribbean, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Panama, and Mexico, with a trip around Cape Horn somewhere in the middle. Along for the ride will be a number of expert lecturers who'll provide insight into the cruises' discovery theme:

  • John Chatterton (New York to Rio, Jan. 15-27): A co-host on the History Channel's Deep Sea Detectives, Chatterton is an accomplished commercial diver who's researched and explored the wrecks of the Andrea Doria, HMHS Britannic, RMS Lusitania, and Struma. His discovery and subsequent identification of the German submarine U-869 was the subject of several TV documentaries and a best-selling book.
  • Sir Chris Bonington (Rio to Valparaiso, Jan. 27-Feb. 8): A world-renowned climber and expedition leader who led the first ascent of Mount Everest's southwest face and Annapurna's south face, Bonington is the author of ten books on mountaineering.
  • John Hare (Valparaiso to Los Angeles, Feb. 8-22): A Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and the Explorers Club, Hare has made five expeditions to the Mongolian and Chinese Gobi deserts and is founder of the Wild Camel Protection Fund.
  • David Hempleman-Adams (Los Angeles to Valparaiso, Mar. 8-22): Considered one of the world's most eclectic explorers, Hempleman-Adams has climbed the seven highest peaks of the seven continents and has accomplished numerous "firsts," including being the first person to reach both North and South Magnetic Poles in one year, the first person to ski solo to the Geomagnetic North Pole, and the first to balloon solo in an open wicker basket across the Atlantic from Canada to the UK.
  • Dr. Kathy Sullivan (Valparaiso to Rio, Mar. 22-April 3): A scientist and explorer of sea and space, Sullivan is a former NASA astronaut and the first American woman to walk in space. She is a veteran of three shuttle missions, is a former Chief Scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and is now president and CEO of the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, OH. In 2004 she was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.
  • Sir Robin Knox-Johnston (Rio to New York, April 3-15): Yachtsman Knox-Johnston has made three voyages to the Arctic and twenty crossings of the Atlantic. He has been the UK's Yachtsman of the Year twice and was also named International Yachtsman of the Year. He has written fourteen books.

Published fares start at $8,399 for the westbound or eastbound sailings. Segments start at $2,759.

Radisson Customizes Your Cruise with Travel Concierge Program

Affluent travel strikes again. Last week, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises (tel. 800/477-7500; www.rssc.com) unveiled a program through which passengers can call a Radisson concierge for a one-on-one consultation and prebook special "Concierge Choice" shore excursions and other experiences based on their particular interests.

"The destination experience lies at the heart of luxury cruising," said Radisson president Mark Conroy. "We've created a program that reflects the direct feedback of our guests --and what they've told us they want is more intimate, more uniquely personalized and in some cases tailor-made experiences when they step ashore."

The service includes:

  • A dedicated toll-free phone line (tel. 888-TOUR-321), where guests can talk with Radisson's concierges.
  • "Concierge Choice" excursions, available to only a limited number of participants. Tours include a helicopter ride over the Amalfi Coast, dining by candlelight in the Cisterns of Istanbul, or renting a vintage sports car in Tuscany.
  • "Concierge Collection" pre- and post-cruise hotel programs in turnaround cities, like "Paris Magnifique" (with two nights at the Plaza Ath¿n¿e, a personal shopper, and dinner catered by two-star Michelin chef Jean-Pierre Vigato on the Yachts de Paris) and "Journey of The Maharajas by Private Jet" (with luxury tent accommodations in Jaipur and a Taj Mahal-view room at the Amarvilas Hotel in Agra).
  • Concierge ¿ La Carte service, through which guests can create their own pre- or post-cruise land and/or hotel programs as well as shore excursions in any of Radisson's ports of call.

The personalized programs must be booked by phone once guests have a deposited cruise reservation. There is a $100 per-port non-refundable charge for the "Concierge ¿ La Carte" service, unless the arrangement cannot be secured.

Chef Charlie Palmer Enhances Seabourn Dinner Menus

Celebrity restaurateur Charlie Palmer, of New York's Aureole fame, has been the man behind the menus at Seabourn Cruise Line (tel. 800/929-9391; www.seabourn.com) since 2002, earning the line's consistently high marks for cuisine among both passengers and critics. Now, in the interest of keeping things fresh, Seabourn has that announced fifty new Palmer-created dishes will be rotated into the line's 28-day menu cycle through the end of 2005 aboard all three of its vessels: Seabourn Pride, Legend, and Spirit.

The new dishes, which were developed in collaboration with chef Tony Egger, Seabourn's Corporate Manager of Food & Beverage, cover all courses. A traditional hot appetizer of sauteed escalope of foie gras receives an exotic accent with a peppered mango tatin and basil oil, while a double consomme of beef is gussied up with tiny duck confit cannelloni and roasted shallot petals. Mediterranean-style pan-seared halibut arrives studded with anchovies and adorned with a warm, Nicoise-style salad, crisp giant capers, and black olives. For those in a meat-and-potatoes mood, a grilled hanger steak is paired with a Guinness-braised short rib and complemented by grain mustard mashed potatoes and tomato compote. For vegetarians, new dishes include potato leek crepes with gruyere, young vegetables, and garlic confit; and a crisp polenta and mushroom cake with creamy leek stew and tomato sauce. Ten new desserts include milk chocolate and peanut butter bombe with bittersweet chocolate sorbet and roasted peanut anglaise.

Crystal Cruises Teams with Cleveland Clinic for Wellness Cruises

Most people go on a cruise to indulge -- in the bad sense of that word. For you other folks, though, the ones who go to the gym every day and order from the spa menu at dinner, luxe line Crystal Cruises (tel. 888/799-4625; www.crystalcruises.com) has gotten together with a raft of health and wellness experts to present onboard workshops and seminars on five itineraries in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Mexican Riviera.

The progressive series of 45-minute seminars -- typically three per voyage -- are complimentary and include Q&A periods and "Meet the Doctor" sessions on topics ranging from cardiology to nutrition and dermatology. Participating specialists from The Cleveland Clinic, a not-for-profit multispecialty academic medical center in Cleveland, Ohio, are confirmed on the following itineraries:

  • Sept. 8-20, Mediterranean (Rome to Venice) aboard Crystal Serenity: "Caring for Your Spine" -- Gorden Bell M.D. discusses common back disorders, diagnosis, and treatment and reasons why back pain is among the top reasons people visit the doctor.
  • Sept. 20-Oct. 2, Mediterranean (Venice to Athens) aboard Crystal Serenity: "Heart Health" -- Michael B. Rollins M.D. presents interactive presentations on the diagnosis and prevention of cardiac disease, the number-one cause of death in most industrialized countries.
  • Oct. 22-Nov. 1, Mexican Riviera (round-trip from Los Angeles) aboard Crystal Harmony: "Men's Health" -- James Ulchaker M.D. shares information on the latest methods for diagnosing and treating the various types of prostate disease.
  • Nov. 1-8, Mexican Riviera (round-trip from Los Angeles) aboard Crystal Harmony: "Achieve Your Healthy Weight" -- Celeste Forsyth M.D. addresses the problems caused by obesity, including diabetes and high cholesterol, and shares tips on understanding the new food pyramid, food labeling, dining out, and recipe modification.
  • Nov. 26-Dec. 6, Caribbean (round-trip from Ft. Lauderdale) aboard Crystal Serenity: "Love Your Skin" -- Terri McGillis M.D. shares information on protecting and caring for skin, the largest organ in the human body, yet one that's often neglected.

Cruise fares start at $1,295 per person, double occupancy.

Cruises Inc. & CruiseOne Crank Up Rewards Program

Major cruise sellers Cruises Inc. (www.cruisesinc.com) and CruiseOne (www.cruiseone.com) want to give you some free stuff -- as long as you buy a few cruises from them first. In late June the two companies launched Cruises Inc. Rewards and CruiseOne Rewards, free programs that offer current and future customers the ability to earn credits on future cruises with each purchase from Cruises Inc. or CruiseOne. Customers also earn credits from other national online retailers. Future earned credits range from 1% of the value for cruises up to 15% for merchandise and other products, with the credit amount automatically posted to the participant's online account, viewable 24/7 on the Cruises Inc. or CruiseOne website.

Details about the program can be viewed at www.cruisesincrewards.com or www.cruiseonerewards.com.

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