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Most Cruise Ports Spared Damage from Hurricane Dean

Hurricane Dean, the first major hurricane of the 2007 season, swept through the Caribbean earlier this week, killing at least 14 people and damaging homes, agriculture, and infrastructure from the Lesser Antilles to Mexico's Gulf coast. Many ships sailing the region altered their itineraries to keep clear of the storm, and the vast majority of cruise ports were spared damage.

Except Costa Maya. The purpose-built cruise destination, located on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, 100 miles south of Playa del Carmen and near the Mexico/Belize border, took a direct hit from the storm and suffered extensive damage. According to Costa Maya's director of sales and marketing, Cesar Lizarraga, damages run into the millions and affect approximately 50 percent of the port's infrastructure, including the cruise ship pier. Early estimates indicate the port will remain closed at least through the remainder of 2007, with reopening projected in early or mid-2008.

The Costa Maya complex opened in 2001 to be a self-contained stop for up to three large cruise ships at a time, with a lavish oceanfront shopping and restaurant complex, a 650-seat amphitheater for cultural performances, two saltwater pools, a pool bar, and daily entertainment right on site. The nearby Maya ruins of Kohunlich and Chacchoben are the big draw, along with silky white beaches and diving and snorkeling at the Chincorro, Mexico's largest coral atoll. Any damage to these sites is not yet known.

The storm spared the Yucatan's other major ports, Cozumel and Playa Del Carmen, which were heavily damaged in 2005 by Hurricane Wilma.

Princess Plans West Coast Sampler Cruises for 2008-2009

The U.S. coasts have always been notoriously underserved by cruise ships, despite having many attractive port cities to visit. To blame? U.S. maritime law that forbids foreign-built and -flagged vessels (read: pretty much every cruise ship in the world) from sailing itineraries consisting solely of U.S. ports. Luckily, there are a number of close-by ports in Canada and Mexico, allowing some ships to make a quick dash and comply with the word if not the spirit of the law.

Next year, Princess Cruises (tel. 800/PRINCESS; www.princess.com) is planning a series of 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, and 7-night cruises in spring and fall along the U.S. west coast:

  • British Columbia and West Coast Coastal (Sapphire Princess, September 20, 2008): A 7-night tour of the west coast from Vancouver to Los Angeles with calls at Victoria, San Francisco, Catalina Island, and San Diego.
  • Wine Country Coastal (Sapphire Princess, May 9, 2009): This 7-night cruise visits the California wine regions of Santa Barbara and the San Francisco area as well as the microbreweries of Astoria, Oregon. Passengers can expand their knowledge of food and wine with shore excursion options to wineries in port, as well as enjoy presentations from a guest wine expert and guest chef who will offer demonstrations, wine tastings and special meals. The cruise sails from Los Angeles to Vancouver, with calls at Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Astoria, Seattle, and Victoria, BC.
  • San Francisco/Vancouver (Star Princess, May 7, 2009): A 2-night journey between tan Francisco and British Columbia's largest city.
  • Los Angeles/Vancouver: 3-night getaway voyages between Los Angeles and Vancouver, offered aboard Coral Princess (September 15, 2008 and May 15, 2009), Golden Princess (September 28, 2008), and Island Princess (September 22, 2008). Island Princess also offers a 4-night voyage on May 7, 2009, festuring a call in Victoria, BC.
  • Seattle/Vancouver: Overnight getaway sailings between Seattle and Vancouver are available on Golden Princess (September 27, 2008) and Star Princess (May 9, 2009). Golden Princess also offers a 4-night Alaskan Sampler cruise between Vancouver and Seattle on May 5, 2009, featuring a call in Ketchikan.

Early-booking fares for Princess Coastal sailing starts at $99 per person, double occupancy, for an overnight sailing.

Holland America Offers Free Parking in San Diego

And speaking of the west coast, Holland America Line (tel. 877-724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com) has just announced a perk for drive-in cruisers in southern California: Guests who book any ocean-view stateroom on fall/winter cruises from San Diego to Mexico, Hawaii, or Tahiti will get free parking near the terminal during their cruise.

The deal saves passengers between $70 (for 7-night cruises) and $290 for the line's 30-night round-trip cruise from San Diego to Hawaii, Tahiti, and the Marquesas Islands, departing January 6, 2008.

American Safari Cruises Plans New Ships, New Hawaii Itineraries

Most people probably haven't heard of American Safari Cruises (tel. 888/862-8881; www.amsafari.com), which offers one of the most luxurious yet adventurous experiences in the small-ship cruise market -- and also one of the most expensive. Designed for people who want a private-yacht experience without the cost of maintaining a yacht year-round, it offers all-inclusive trips to Alaska, British Columbia, Baja California's Sea of Cortez, and the Columbia and Snake Rivers aboard 12- and 22-passenger vessels done up with the comfort of a country home.

After keeping a pretty low profile throughout their ten-year history, American Safari has decided to puff themselves up a bit, announcing two new vessels and an expansion into the Hawaii market.

The company's new vessels bracket their existing yachts in terms of size. At the small end, the 108-foot Safari Legacy will carry only six passengers and be available for full charters only. On the large end, the 150-foot Safari Explorer will carry 39 passengers, nearly twice as many as the 22-passenger Safari Quest.

Safari Legacy will offer 1- or 2-week charters from mid-May through late August, beginning in summer 2008. The four-person crew will help design a custom itinerary sailing round-trip from Juneau. Full charter prices start at $54,995 and include the crew, fuel, food, premium beverages, and equipment for activities.

More affordable for the average well-heeled Joe are 7-night Alaska itineraries aboard Safari Explorer, which will sail a 7-night Alaska itinerary sailing round-trip from Juneau and sticking primarily to wilderness areas, including two days in Glacier Bay National Park, a full day of whale-watching in Icy Strait, cruising time in Frederick Sound, hiking in the Tongass National Forest near Petersburg, kayaking and (with luck) bear viewing off Admiralty Island, and a visit to Endicott Arm. Prices start at $4,395 per person, double occupancy.

In Hawaii, American Safari may not be much competition for NCL's big-ship operation, but still, it's one of the few other inter-island cruise options available.

On the 7-night itineraries, Safari Explorer will sail one-way between Kailua-Kona on the Big Island and Kahului on Maui, with guest experts on board to interpret island history, nature, and traditions. Cruising will focus on the leeward side of the Maui island group, which also includes the islands of Kahoolawe and Lanai, and will offer such included activities as a helicopter tour over Volcanoes National Park, a mule ride into Kalaupapa National Historic Park on Molokai, a drive to Haleakala National Park on Maui, and night cruising along the Big Island to see Kilauea's lava flow into the sea. Prices begin at $3,995 per person, double occupancy.

"Hawaii will never be closer," says Tim Jacox, American Safari's VP of sales and marketing. "This will be a new way to see the islands, places you can only explore by boat. . . . Our goal is to establish new traditions in cruising while respecting the age-old traditions of Hawaii."

Carnival Supersizes Jacksonville Sailings, Miami Short Cruises

Since early 2004, Carnival Cruise Lines (tel. 800/327-9501; www.carnival.com) has operated the only big ships sailing regularly from Jacksonville, Florida, but they've sort of been doing it on the cheap, using one of their very oldest ships, the twenty-year-old, 1,486-passenger Celebration. In the land of the blind . . .

Well, Jacksonville must've scored a little better on its eye test this year, because Carnival's just announced that in September 2008 it will be replacing Celebration in Jacksonville with the larger, 2,052-passenger Fascination. Built in 1994, Fascination is no spring chicken either, but she does represent a significant step up, both for Jacksonville-area cruisers and for Carnival's commitment to the port.

"We at JAXPORT are thrilled to be able to serve an even greater number of guests and allow them to enjoy the kind of quality customer care we have always offered," said Tony Orsini, JAXPORT's senior director of cruise operations. "We also thank Carnival for this clear sign of its commitment to the future of Jacksonville as a cruise homeport."

Fascination will begin offering 4- and 5-night cruises year-round from Jacksonville beginning Sept. 20, 2008. Four-night cruises will call at Freeport and Nassau in the Bahamas. Five-night cruises will stop at Nassau and Key West or Nassau and Holland America's private Bahamian island, Half Moon Cay. Fares for 4-night cruises start at $269, and fares for 5-night cruises start at $289, both based on double occupancy.

Meanwhile, a little to the south, Carnival has just announced plans to operate 4- and 5-night cruises from Miami aboard the 101,353-ton Carnival Destiny, beginning in September 2008.

The ship, launched in 1996 as the first of Carnival's truly supersized megaships, will be the largest ship sailing short cruises from Miami next year. Her 4-night itineraries will call at Key West and Cozumel, while her 5-night cruises will call at either Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios (Jamaica) or Grand Turk, Half Moon Cay, and Nassau.

Cunard Names Speakers for "Insights" Enrichment Program

When you're out at sea for five days straight, with no land in sight, you really have to offer your passengers more than karaoke and team trivia games. Thus the "Insights" enrichment program from Cunard (tel. 800/7-CUNARD; www.cunard.com), which brings aboard experts in such fields as history, world affairs, science, politics, arts, and literature for onboard lectures, Q&A's, debates, social gatherings, and workshops. Personages signed for upcoming 2007 voyages aboard Queen Mary 2 include:

  • Victoria Tennant: British actress, sailing on the August 9 westbound transatlantic crossing.
  • David Hempleman-Adams: Polar explorer, mountaineer, and author, sailing on the August 23 and September 4 transatlantic crossings.
  • John Cleese : Award-winning British actor/comedian/writer, sailing on the September 4 eastbound transatlantic crossing.
  • Dr. Eric Paul Roorda: Director of the Frank C. Munson Institute of American Maritime Studies at Mystic Seaport, the Museum of America and the Sea, in Mystic, Connecticut; a professor of history and political science at Bellarmine University, where he has taught since 1996. Sailing on the August 31 four-day Getaway voyage from New York to Halifax.
  • Jeffrey Hoffman: Former NASA astronaut and current co-director of the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium at MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, sailing on the September 22 westbound transatlantic crossing.
  • Dr. Jean-Pierre Isbouts: Professor of culture and media studies at Fielding Graduate University; also an award-winning filmmaker and the author of numerous publications on the art, architecture, and music of the Near East, the Renaissance, and the 19th century era. Sailing on the September 22 westbound transatlantic crossing.
  • Frank DeFord : Emmy Award winning sports commentator, sailing on the October 7 eastbound transatlantic crossing.
  • Dr Susan Humphris: Senior scientist and chair in the geology and geophysics department at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where she studies the nature and distribution of sea-floor hot springs. Dr. Humphris has authored or co-authored more than 60 scientific papers and is also the co-creator of the Dive and Discover website, which brings oceanographic expeditions in near real-time to students and the general public. Sailing on the October 25 westbound transatlantic crossing.
  • Dr Bradley James Rowe: A PhD in applied eco-psychology and integrated ecology, Dr. Rowe lectures on a wide variety of subjects ranging from coral reef ecology and scuba diving theory to human physiology; the history of Costa Rica, Panama, and the Panama Canal; Caribbean cultural history; Central American history; the national psyche of Latin American countries; ocean rescue; river guide training; swift water rescue; wilderness first-responder training; and other subjects. Sailing on the October 25 westbound transatlantic crossing.
  • Lynn Truss: Bestselling author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, sailing on the October 25 westbound transatlantic crossing.
  • Dr. Jerry Labriola: Dr. Labriola practiced medicine for 35 years and was an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut Medical School, a state senator, and the author of seven mystery novels. With renowned forensic scientist Dr Henry Lee, he also coauthored Famous Crimes Revisited, Dr Henry Lee's Forensic Files, and The Budapest Connection. Sailing on the October 31 Connoisseur's Caribbean voyage.
  • Professor Anthony Grayling: Prof. Grayling is a fellow of the World Economic Forum, a teacher at Birkbeck College, University of London, the author of many books on philosophy, a frequent broadcaster on the BBC, and a columnist for the Guardian newspaper and The Times, and has appeared often in the review and editorial pages of the Independent, the Observer, the New Statesman, the Financial Times, and the Literary Review. Voyage date to be confirmed.

To check speakers on specific sailings, check the Cunard website (www.cunard.com).

Silversea Introduces Viking Cooking School

In a completely new twist on luxury, ultra-luxe Silversea Cruises (tel. 877/215-9986; www.silversea.com) last week announced the creation of its new Viking Cooking School, in which guests will recreate a 10th-century Norse meal, complete with reindeer meat, herring, and Rhine wine. Participants will learn to cook using large boiling pots, roast their mutton on hooks and spits, and serve the whole feast in large, flat bowls, accompanied by roisterous song.

Just kidding.

Silversea's Viking Cooking School is actually a partnership with the Viking Range Corporation, maker of super-pricey stoves, refrigerators, grills, cookware, cutlery, and kitchen accessories -- the kind you see in the movies, when you're supposed to know the characters are rich, rich, rich. On Silversea's vessels, the new Viking school features a custom-designed demonstration kitchen/theater with a large rear-projection screen so guests can easily view different cooking techniques and utensils. A culinary program hosted by Viking chefs will be presented to Silversea guests on select voyages, its curriculum designed to match the ship's itinerary.

Highlights include cooking demonstrations with wine pairings and interactive Q&A sessions; a "Lunch and Learn" event giving groups of 12 to 16 guests a chance to sample a meal of specially prepared dishes; and a "Market to the Plate" experience that provides an escorted tour of a local market followed by a cooking class.

Viking Cooking Schools programs will be featured on the following voyages:

  • 9-night Northern Europe, August 25, 2007: Silver Shadow sails from Copenhagen to Hamburg with calls in Gothenborg (Sweden), Rostock (Germany), and the Norwegian ports of Ulvik, Bergen, and Oslo. The cooking program will be hosted by Viking chef Christopher Green, who honed his French culinary skills at L'Academie de Cuisine in Washington, D.C ., and has taught more than 1,700 cooking classes for a range of companies. Early-booking fares start at $6,236 per person.
  • 12-night Black Sea, August 26, 2007: Silver Cloud sails from Athens to Istanbul with calls in Batumi (Georgia), Constanta (Romania), Nesebur (Bulgaria), Odessa, Sevastopol and Yalta (Ukraine), and Sinop and Trabzon (Turkey). The cooking program will be hosted by Viking chef Lynn Gorfinkle, a certified nutrition counselor who manages training and operations for all Viking Cooking Schools. Early-booking fares start at $9,005 per person.
  • 7-night Iberian Peninsula, August 31, 2007: Silver Whisper sails from Barcelona to Lisbon with calls in Oporto (Portugal) and the Spanish ports of Malaga, Cadiz, and Vigo. The cooking program will be hosted by Viking chef Elizabeth Heiskell, who has prepared dishes for former Vice President Al Gore and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. Fares start at $4,406 per person.
  • 11-night Atlantic Europe, September 12, 2007: Silver Shadow sails from London to Lisbon with calls in Vigo (Spain), Oporto (Portugal), and the French towns of Honfleur, St. Malo, and Bordeaux. The cooking program will be hosted by Viking chef Riki Senn, a 25-year veteran of the culinary industry who writes curriculum for Viking Cooking Schools. Her career highlights include serving as fine dining chef at West Virginia's renowned Greenbrier Resort. Early-booking fares start at $7,046 per person.
  • 12-night Caribbean, October 18, 2007: Silver Wind sails from Fort Lauderdale to Barbados with calls in Key West, Grand Turk, St. Thomas, Virgin Gorda, Antigua, St. Bart's, St. Lucia, and Grenada. The cooking program will be hosted by Viking chef Kathleen Bruno, who develops classes and recipes for Viking Cooking Schools, and her husband Luis Bruno, currently executive chef at the Mississippi Governor's Mansion. Fares start at $4,017 per person.

Passengers Go Inland on Crystal's 2008 World Cruise

One criticism consistently leveled against cruising is that passengers only get to see sites within easy reach of the coast, often missing out on vital travel experiences that just happen to be landlocked. To address this all-too-true truism, luxe operator Crystal Cruises (tel. 888/799-4625; www.crystalcruises.com) has created a whole slew of multi-day overland excursions that can be booked as part of its 2008 world cruise, set to depart January 19 aboard Crystal Serenity, sailing from Los Angeles to London. Besides calls at 45 ports in 22 countries, the trip will offer 34 fully escorted 2- to 6-night overland adventures, for which passengers will leave the ship in one port of call and rejoin it in another.

Highlights of the overland excursions include:

  • Borneo's Kota Kinabalu rainforest and orangutan experience in Sandakan (three nights from Singapore). Distance traveled: over 2,000 miles.
  • Elephant training and a Thai massage in northern Thailand's ancient Chiang Mai (two nights from Ho Chi Minh). Distance traveled: over 3,000 miles.
  • Ayers Rock, the world's largest monolith, in the Australian outback (three nights from Cairns). Distance traveled: over 6,000 miles
  • India's wonders discovered on five adventures showcasing the Ajanta and Ellora Caves, the Pink City of Jaipur and Udaipur, known as the Venice of the East (two to three nights; all from Cochin). Distance traveled: over 10,000 miles.
  • Six different excursions in Myanmar explore treasures such as Mandalay, Lake Inle, and Bagan, the largest archeological site in southeast Asia (one to four nights; all from Yangon). Distance traveled: over 8,000 miles.
  • Three excursions journey through Egypt and Jordan's Luxor, The Valley of the Kings, and along the Nile (three nights from Safaga). Distance traveled: over 1,000 miles.

Fares for Crystal's Overland Adventures begin at $1,205 per person and include all air/ground transportation, accommodations, meals, and Crystal escort.

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