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Read on for the latest on kosher itineraries, onboard lectures, personal shoppers, towel animals, culinary cruises and more.

Celebrity Cruises Teams with National Geographic Traveler for Lectures, Specials

A lot of cruise lines offer photography classes and lectures, but how many can claim National Geographic photographers as instructors? Not many. Late last year the National Geographic Society partnered with adventure line Lindblad Expeditions to provide scientists and naturalists for its expeditionary vessels, and now National Geographic Traveler magazine has inked a deal with Celebrity Cruises (tel. 800/437-3111, www.celebrity.com) to bring noted photojournalists aboard as part of the line's enrichment program.

"National Geographic Traveler is legendary for offering rare insight into the world's most intriguing places," said Celebrity's director of entertainment and cruise programs, Michael Thomas. "They are the perfect partner to enrich our guests' cruise experience as they travel to exciting and exotic destinations."

The three lecturers scheduled thus far include National Geographic Traveler contributing editor and columnist Daisann McLane (Infinity, February 13 sailing); photojournalist, publisher, and author Pablo Corral (Infinity, February 27 sailing); and photographer Michael Melford (Infinity, March 13 sailing).

In partnership with the magazine, Celebrity also will introduce a National Geographic channel on its in-room TV system, presenting what National Geographic considers its best programming. Celebrity guests will receive an exclusive subscription offer to National Geographic Traveler, and ConciergeClass and suite guests will receive a complimentary book from the onboard lecturers, and an invitation to a private autograph session.

Radisson Says Joi Gin to Diamond, Enhances Remaining Fleet

For the past thirteen years the little 350-passenger Radisson Diamond, operated by Radisson Seven Seas (tel. 800/285-1835; www.rssc.com) under charter from a group of Finnish banks, has been one of the weirdest and most endearing cruise ships going. Basically a gigantic catamaran, she rides 28 feet above the water, balanced on a pair of slim, pontoonlike hulls. She ain't flashy, but she is homey, and as such has earned a devoted following. As one ten-time Diamond cruiser told us a few years back, "She's as comfortable as an old shoe."

Time for him to go to the store for a new pair, because Diamond is set to hit the road as of June 4, purchased by Hong Kong-based Asia Cruises for use as a gambling ship.

Joi Gin, Diamond. Don't forget to write.

The loss leaves Radisson with a much more modern and uniform fleet, comprised of the 46,000-ton, 700-passenger Seven Seas Voyager (2003); the 50,000-ton, 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner (2001); and the 33,000-ton, 490-passenger Seven Seas Navigator (1999). This week, the line announced a series of upgrades that will make those all-suite ships even suiter.

Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Mariner's Latitudes specialty restaurants will get a new "Indochine" menu featuring menu items like Cambodian wafu salad; steamed fresh halibut in a Matsutake mushroom broth with gingered vegetables; and a spiced rack of lamb accompanied by aromatic Jasmine rice, wok-seared snow peas and fresh sprouts in peanut jus. Seven Seas Navigator's Portofino restaurant, for its part, gets new menus inspired by Chef Angelo Elia from the renowned Casa D'Angelo Ristorante in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Elia's brand of Tuscan entrees with southern Italian accents has earned him a spot on Zagat's "America's Top Restaurants" list.

Aboard all three ships, the top three suite categories will get new Bose Wave radio/CD players, while VCRs in all suites fleetwide will be chucked in favor of new DVD players, with an extensive DVD library available for guests to browse and borrow.

On Seven Seas Mariner, new deluxe shower stalls with rain showers and tile seating have replaced bathtubs in 47 suites.

Lastly, for news hounds, all three ships will have NewspaperDirect service, allowing passengers to receive daily printed editions of their favorite national or international newspapers, including the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Le Monde, and USA Today, among others.

NCL Breaks Ground (So to Speak) on Pride of Hawai'i

Last summer, Norwegian Cruise Line (tel. 800/327-7030; www.ncl.com) launched Pride of Aloha, the first U.S. flagged vessel in decades, making it the only cruise operator able to sail cruises completely within Hawaiian waters. This summer Aloha will be joined by the brand-new, 81,000-ton Pride of America, and now the line reports that it's laid the first of 67 keel blocks for yet a third new Hawaiian ship, the 93,000-ton Pride of Hawai'i.

Han Lim, son of NCL Corporation Chairman K.T. Lim, ceremoniously laid the traditional "lucky penny" at Germany's Meyer Werft shipyard before the first block was lowered. It's said that the ship will have good luck if the penny is recovered once the keel is completed and the ship is floated in the dry dock.

Pride of Hawai`i is scheduled for delivery in spring 2006.

Towel Animals Follow Passengers Home from Carnival Cruise

Passengers who've sailed with Carnival Cruise Lines (tel. 800/CARNIVAL; www.carnival.com) 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 towels. Dumb? Maybe, but people love 'em. According to Carnival, cabin stewards undertake more than 10 hours of training to learn how to create the various designs. Altogether, Carnival figures they twist up some seven million towel animals every year.

Now you can learn how to make number 7,000,001 using the Carnival Towel Creations instructional book, which offers step-by-step directions and photos for more than forty different designs. It's available in Carnival's ship shops or direct from your cabin steward for $12.95.

Kosher Goes Exploring at Chosen Voyage

Founded by ordained rabbi and travel-industry veteran Matthew Schollar, Pittsburgh-based Chosen Voyage (tel. 877/462-4673; www.chosenvoyage.com) charters small and midsize ships and transforms their kitchen and dining operations for a kosher clientele. Now in its second full year, the company has been going farther and farther afield and has just announced a pair of truly exploratory cruises aboard Clipper Cruise Line's 5,218-ton, 128-passenger Clipper Odyssey.

From July 7-21, the Alaska's Out Islands & Russia cruise sails a long arc between Nome and Anchorage, along the way crossing the Arctic Circle and visiting remote islands along the Alaskan and Russian coasts, including the Pribilofs, St. Lawrence, Big and Little Diomede, the Aleutians, and Kodiak. It's like a voyage off the map, stopping in places most Alaskans never even see. Cruise prices start at $7,149 per person.

From December 23 to January 4, Odyssey will navigate the waters around New Zealand's North & South Islands, visiting Queenstown, Doubtful Sound, Dunedin, Akaroa, Christchurch, Queen Charlotte Sound, Wellington, Napier, White Island, and Aukland. Cruise prices start at $5,999 per person.

Seabourn Debuts "Personal Shopper" Service in Ports Worldwide

You're in . . . Barcelona. You want one of those . . . things. You know, those perfect handcrafted Barcelona things that guy told you about at the Bensons' party last month. You don't want to waste a whole day looking for them, so your options are . . . ?

At ultra-luxury line Seabourn (tel. 800/929-9391; www.seabourn.com), you can now hire yourself an expert local guide in cities such as Florence, Rome, Athens, Istanbul, Copenhagen, Bangkok, Hong Kong, St. Petersburg, and several ports on the Cote D'Azur including Cannes, Nice, and Monte Carlo. Others will be added as the program gets up to speed.

"Shopping is an important part of a vacation to many of Seabourn's guests," noted Seabourn's president, Deborah L. Natansohn. "A taxi is fine if you know exactly what you want and where to get it, but we thought it would be nice to introduce our guests to a local shopping maven who can help them make the most of their time and direct them to the best things the place has to offer."

In Florence, for example, Seabourn's Personal Shopper service can arrange for selections in the passenger's sizes to be ready and waiting at Ferragamo's or Gucci's flagship stores. If you're interested in more unusual local items, you might be taken to a frescoed chapel whose chemist's shop, founded by monks in the 16th century, offers perfumes and essences created for Caterina de' Medici.

Personal Shopper services include transportation and can be booked in advance at prices ranging from $295 to $895.

Luxe Lines Crystal & Silversea Announce Food and Wine Cruises

Some people think all cruising is a never-ending round of eating and drinking, so why not embrace the concept and give it a gourmet twist? That might be the thinking behind the new food and wine cruises announced this week by ultra-luxe Crystal Cruises (tel. 866/446-6625; www.crystalcruises.com) and Silversea Cruises (tel. 877/215-9986; www.silversea.com).

Crystal's series, offered in partnership with Food & Wine magazine, is now in its ninth year, and will be featured on fifteen cruises in all parts of the globe. Some of the hottest names on the American and international culinary scene will be aboard, including Gray Kunz of New York's Cafe Gray, David and Michelle Myers of L.A.'s Sona, Dominique Filoni of Philadelphia's Bianca, and Alfredo Russo of Dolce Stil Novo in Italy's Piedmont region, plus Italian culinary master Roberto Donna of Galileo, Andre Rochat of Andre's French Restaurant, Hawaiian cuisine master Sam Choy, and Canadian barbeque expert Ted Reader, host of the TV show King of the Q. Cruises will also some of the most prominent names in wine, including Leslie Sbrocco (writer, New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle) and master sommeliers Richard Dean and Steven Geddes. By day, visiting chef will demonstrate cooking techniques, share recipes and tips, and participate in question-and-answer sessions, while wine experts conduct tastings and educational sessions. Once during each cruise, guests will be treated to a four-course dinner featuring each chef's signature dishes, utilizing the sailing region's freshest ingredients, matched with wine pairings by the guest wine expert.

At Silversea, five Wine Series cruises will explore the Mediterranean and Northern Europe this summer. On board, guests will be able to sample great vintages and learn about the tradition and art of winemaking from wine professionals such as Eileen Crane of Napa's Domaine Carneros, Rob and Diana Jensen of California's Testarossa Vineyards, Kathleen Heitz Meyers of Napa's Heitz Cellars, Philip Di Belardino of Tuscany's Castello Banfi Vineyard Estate & Winery, and Francesco Russo of Tuscany's Capannelle Winery. In port, optional shore excursions offer guests guided tours of legendary wine-producing regions, including Provence and Tuscany.

R Family Vacations Offers "Snacks with Rosie" Raffle

Wanna hang with Rosie O'Donnell? R Family Vacations (tel. 866/732-6822; www.rfamilyvacations.com), the gay and lesbian family travel company founded last year by Rosie's partner Kelli and gay travel veteran Gregg Kaminsky, is gearing up for its second full charter cruise aboard NCL's Norwegian Dawn, departing New York on July 10. To drum up excitement, they're running a sweepstakes: Book before March 15th and you'll automatically be in the running for one of three prizes:

  • Snacks and laughs with Rosie: Your family will get to hang out with Rosie O'Donnell in the Dawn's 5,350-square-foot Garden Villa, the largest suite in the cruise world.
  • Dinner with the captain at his private table.
  • Up to four free tickets on American Airlines, good either to get you to the cruise or for travel anywhere in the United States.

Every passenger that reserves by March 15 will count as one entry for the drawings. All passengers currently booked on the cruise will also be entered automatically.

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