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Dubai Ports World to Sell U.S. Port Operations

In February, Dubai Ports World, a state-owned enterprise based in the United Arab Emirates, acquired control of British port-operations company P&O, which among other assets ran operations at major ports in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans and Miami. Cue political firestorm, as critics on both sides of the aisle sounded opposition based on perceived security concerns.

Aside from cargo screening functions performed by the Department of Homeland Security, port operators in the United States are responsible for the management of the port itself, as well as hiring security personnel and securing cargo coming in and out of the port.

This week Dubai Ports extricated itself from the mess by agreeing to sell its P&O Ports North America (POPNA) division to New York-based AIG Global Investment Group for an undisclosed sum.

Commenting on the sale, DP World chairman Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem said, "While we are disappointed to be exiting the U.S. market, the price we received was fair. We are pleased that POPNA will have a strong owner in AIG and wish them well for the future."

Christopher Lee, AIG Global Investment Group Managing Director, noted that, "An integral component of this acquisition is our full commitment to the importance of this company to national security, and we are very committed to ensuring that the company continues to be one of the industry leaders in setting standards for port security."

Norovirus Strikes World's Biggest Cruise Ship

Last month we asked a question: What's worse than being stuck on a cruise ship during an outbreak of Norovirus, aka the common stomach bug? The answer at the time: being stuck on a 16-day transatlantic cruise when it happens, aboard Carnival's 2,974-passenger Carnival Liberty. This month the stakes got even grosser with news of a Norovirus outbreak in late November aboard Royal Caribbean's 3,634-passenger Freedom of the Seas, the largest passenger ship in the world.

According to reports, the bug -- which causes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea and typically lasts one to two days -- stuck 338 passengers and 46 crew members during a seven-night Caribbean cruise sailing November 26 through December 3. Despite a thorough scrubbing, the bug returned on the following cruise and sickened 97 passengers and eleven crew. The next scheduled cruise was delayed for an intensive round of cleaning and inspection by scrub crews and experts from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The CDC has also reported recent smaller outbreaks of diarrhea and vomiting aboard Holland America's Zaandam, Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas, Celebrity's Summit, and other vessels, though investigations have not yet named Norovirus the culprit.

It's not just a cruise ship problem. As the second most prevalent illness in the United States, second only to the common cold, Norovirus affects an estimated 23 million people annually-- some 8 percent of the U.S. population -- according to the CDC. Whether on land or sea, simple personal hygiene practices such as frequent hand washing are a good foundation for both avoiding contagion and spreading the virus.

For a history of outbreaks aboard ship from 1994 to the present, click here. Also see Heidi Sarna's feature article this week, "All Hands Off Deck! A Hands-On Guide to Fighting a Shipboard Norovirus."

Royal Caribbean Returns to New Orleans with Grandeur of the Seas

Nearly fifteen months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Royal Caribbean (tel. 800/327-6700; www.royalcaribbean.com) has joined the ranks of the returned. On December 2, the line's 2,400-passenger Grandeur of the Seas made port in the still-recovering city, embarking passengers for the first in a season of 7-night Western Caribbean itineraries visiting Cozumel and Costa Maya (Mexico) and Grand Cayman.

"Royal Caribbean's return to New Orleans means a lot for the cruise line, and hopefully for the city and its people as well," said Royal Caribbean president Adam Goldstein. "The impact of Hurricane Katrina was overwhelming, but we are confident that the return of cruising to New Orleans will help bring back the 'Big Easy,' reinforcing the city's legacy as being a truly world-class destination."

RCI's New Orleans cruises run through April 28, 2007, with prices starting at $399 per person, double occupancy.

Norwegian Princess to Christen Greenland-Bound MS Fram

Norwegian Coastal Voyage (tel. 800/323-7436; www.norwegiancoastalvoyage.us), which has been offering combination passenger/cargo cruises up the Norwegian coast for decades, has expanded into expeditionary cruising over the past two years, sending vessels to Antarctica, Norway's Arctic islands, and most recently to Greenland, a destination for which the new MS Fram has been specially constructed.

The 12,700-ton, 318-passenger vessel has just finished her exterior construction at Italy's famed Fincantieri shipyard and is on schedule for her April debut. On May 19, she'll be christened in Oslo by Crown Princess Mette-Marit, the 33-year-old wife of Crown Prince Haakon, heir apparent to the Norwegian throne.

Fram is named after the polar ship built and sailed by Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen on a three-year expedition around Greenland in the late 1800s. Her Greenland season begins on May 24 with a 15-day expedition sailing from Reykjavik to the east and west coasts of southern Greenland. A series of 12- and 19-day Greenland cruises will be offered through September, after which the ship returns to Reykjavik and commences a 66-day pole-to-pole adventure, navigating along the western Atlantic seaboard and the eastern Pacific Coast, ending in Antarctica and South America. She'll sail 13-day Antarctica itineraries through February 2008.

Seabourn Drops Libya from 2007 Cruises

Citing Libya's refusal to permit entry for cruise passengers with U.S. passports, lux line Seabourn (tel. 800/929-9391; www.seabourn.com) has dropped the North African country from all its scheduled 2007 itineraries aboard Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Legend.

Libya was briefly the next "it" cruise destination after the U.S. State Department's 2004 decision to lift restrictions on American travel to the country. Several cruise lines, including Seabourn, Silversea and Oceania, scheduled calls to the country's various ports, but diplomatic disputes between Libya and the U.S. over the past year have forced repeated cancellations.

"We regret the need to change any itinerary," said Seabourn president Pamela C. Conover, "but we have repeatedly petitioned the Libyan authorities to allow all of our guests into their country and they have shown no indication that they will do so."

The change affects two cruises: 12-night voyage departing May 7 aboard Seabourn Spirit from Alexandria, Egypt and the second an 11-night voyage aboard Seabourn Legend, from Rome on October 27. For the May sailing, calls to Tripoli and Derna have been replaced by calls at Kusadasi/Ephesus (Turkey), a transit of the Corinth Canal, and calls at Mykonos and Itea (Greece), the latter near the ancient ruins of Delphi. For the October voyage, a two-day call to Tripoli has been replaced with visits to Naples (Italy), Palermo (Sicily) and Valletta (Malta).

Majestic America Line Launches Website

Majestic America Line (tel. 800/434-1232) was formed earlier this year when travel and event-planning company Ambassadors International acquired both Delta Queen Steamboat Company and American West Steamboat Company and folded them into one company. Purchase of other vessels followed as the new line tried to consolidate a position as one of America's largest small-ship operators.

This week the line took another step toward visibility by unveiling a new corporate logo and a new website, www.majesticamericaline.com.

"We've spent the last few months meticulously building the Majestic America Line brand and we're thrilled to present our logo and website as the first representations of the company to our discerning guests and their travel agents," said David A. Giersdorf, Majestic America's president. "We've gone to great lengths to create an online experience that directly reflects our brand and truly defines what it means to experience America on the ships of Majestic America Line."

Guests can explore all 2007 itineraries for all the company's vessels: the former Delta Queen's Delta Queen, Mississippi Queen and American Queen; America West's Empress of the North and Queen of the West; the stern-wheel river ship Columbia Queen, most recently operated by Great American River Journeys; and the 48-passenger, catamaran-style Contessa, formerly Glacier Bay Cruiseline's the Executive Explorer.

Regent Seven Seas Announces 2008 World Cruise Itinerary

For 2008, Regent Seven Seas (tel. 800/285-1835; www.theregentexperience.com) is planning its longest cruise ever, a 115-night round-the-world voyage hitting 51 ports in 26 countries. Offered aboard the 700-passenger, all-suite, all-balcony Seven Seas Voyager, the trip departs from San Francisco on January 6, 2008, and is bookable either in its entirety or in seven individual segments:

  • San Francisco to New Zealand (Jan. 6-30): Visits the Hawaiian ports of Hilo, Maui and Honolulu before crossing the Equator to French Polynesia for calls in Bora Bora, Moorea, and Tahiti, as well as the Cook Islands. Five days at sea follow before Bay of Islands and Auckland (New Zealand).
  • New Zealand to Sydney (Jan. 30-Feb. 9): Cruises to Tauranga, Napier, and Wellington (New Zealand), before departing for Tasmania, Melbourne, and Sydney (Australia).
  • Sydney to Shanghai (Feb. 9-29): Sails the East Coast of Australia with stops in Hayman Island and Cairns, before sailing the Coral and Solomon Seas for the port of Madang (Papua New Guinea). Voyager then crossed the Equator for Saipan, Osaka, and Kagoshima (Japan) and Shanghai (China).
  • Shanghai to Singapore (Feb. 29-March 13): Includes Hong Kong (China), Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), Bangkok and Ko Samui (Thailand), and Singapore.
  • Singapore to Mumbai (March 13-27): Visits the architecturally diverse colonial town of Georgetown, Penang (Malaysia) before a two-night stop in Yangon (Myanmar) and calls in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Mumbai/Bombay (India).
  • Mumbai to Piraeus/Athens (March 27-April 13): Crosses the Arabian Sea for calls in Dubai (UAE) and Muscat (Oman). Then takes in Jordan and three Egyptian ports before transiting the Suez Canal and entering the Mediterranean for Rhodes (Greece) and Turkey, ending in Athens.
  • Athens to Ft.Lauderdale (April 13-30): Walk the ancient ruins of Athens and Olympia before traveling to Malta, Tunisia, and the Spanish ports of Malaga and Madeira. The trip ends with a six-day crossing of the Atlantic, with one stop in Bermuda.

In all, the trip includes eleven overnight stays, including Tahiti, Sydney, Osaka, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Min City, Mumbai, and Dubai.

Per person prices range from $59,995 (early booking savings) to $209,995 for the 115-night World Cruise, and from $6,597 for individual segments. General booking for the full cruise begins December 18, 2006, with segments bookable beginning January 15, 2007.

In other RSSC news, the line recently selected the Allin Corporation to install its digital interactive TV system on all three Regent Seven Seas vessels in 2007. The system will provide on-demand, in-suite entertainment, provide real-time information on onboard and port activities, onboard shopping, specialty dining and onboard services such as room service and wine ordering.

Crystal Symphony Emerges from Dry Dock

Every ship does a regular dry dock, making necessary repairs and patching the wear and tear of a typical year's sailings: replacing worn carpets, upholstery, furniture, Decking, etc. Sometimes, these dry-docks go further. In November, Crystal Cruises (tel. 888/799-4625; www.crystalcruises.com) had its 1995-vintage, 940-passenger Crystal Symphony up on blocks at the BAE Shipyard in Norfolk, Virginia, undergoing the line's most extensive dry dock ever. Accomplished over the course of two busy weeks, the $23 million makeover rebuilt all staterooms and bathrooms; completely reconstructed a social lounge and casino; refashioned boutiques, shops, and the ship's Bistro cafe; and made dozens of behind-the-scenes improvements.

  • Staterooms were redesigned with a boutique-hotel feel, featuring Murano glass bedside lamps, Rubelli fabrics, and leather headboards. Techno-enhancements include new LED reading lights and 20-inch LCD flat screen TVs. Bathrooms are newly reconstructed with a contemporary style, including oval glass sinks atop granite countertops.
  • The Starlite Club had obstructing walls removed and is now a deck-wide room centered on a round bar and offering panoramic sea views.
  • A new nightclub was created from an underused pass-through space in the Casino. Named Luxe, it has polished aluminum Phillipe Stark bar stools and glass Bizzaza mosaics, and is a cozy spot for drinks, dancing, and conversation.
  • The casino itself was redone with a new black-and-silver color palette, plus new Texas Hold-Em tables and slot machines.

The ship kicks off 2007 with several Panama Canal and Mexican Riviera cruises and then heads abroad for seasons in Asia and Europe.

Carnival Plans 2008 Greek Season for Carnival Freedom

With the new, 110,000-ton Carnival Freedom's debut 2007 Greek season selling well, Carnival (tel. 800/327-9501; www.carnival.com) has already decided to return, planning another season of 12-night voyages for 2008.

Carnival Freedom's 2008 European season will encompass 12-night "Grand Mediterranean" and Mediterranean & Greek Isles cruises, operating May 10 to Oct. 25. Grand Mediterranean cruises will depart May 22, June 3 and 27, July 9 and 21, August 2 and 26, September 7 and October 1 and 13, visiting Naples and Venice (Italy, the latter for a two-day call), Dubrovnik (Croatia), Messina (Sicily), Barcelona (Spain), Cannes (France), and Livorno (Italy). Mediterranean and Greek Isles cruises will sail May 10, June 15, August 14, September 19, and October 25, 2008, visiting Naples (Italy), Rhodes (Greece), Izmir/Ephesus and Istanbul (Turkey), Athens/Piraeus and Katakolon (Greece), and Livorno and Rome (Italy, the latter for an overnight call).

Currently nearing the final stages of construction at Italy's Fincantieri shipyard, the 2,974-passenger Freedom is slated to debut on March 5, 2007.

Celebrity Savors the Caribbean on 2007 Culinary Cruises

Celebrity (tel. 800/437-3111; www.celebrity.com) is set to kick off 2007 with a series of culinary cruises aboard the 1,950-passenger Millennium, sailing the Caribbean from January 7 through March 4. Targeted toward travelers who want to improve their cooking skills, each will feature a noted chef offering two small-group, two-hour classes per cruise. Participants include:

  • January 7: Allen Susser of Chef Allen's (Aventura, FL), creator of "Palm Tree Cuisine."
  • January 14: Cindy Hutson, owner of Ortanique (Coral Gables, FL) and practitioner of "Cuisine of the Sun," combining South American, Asian, Caribbean and American fusion influences. Ortanique has received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence and three stars from Mobil Travel guide.
  • January 21: "Caribbean Cowboy" chef Johnny Vinczencz of South Beach's Johnny V restaurant, known for its Caribbean-influenced cuisine.
  • February 18: Robert Trevino, who mixes his Mexican heritage, classic training, and passion for Puerto Rican cooking to shape his Nuevo Latino cuisine. He has appeared on the Food Network's Iron Chef America show, where he challenged Mario Batali.
  • February 25: Edgar Leal of Miami's Cacao restaurant, which combines the classic and modern influences of Latin America into a Pan-American style. Cacao was recently named one of the best new restaurants in Miami by the Miami Herald.
  • March 4: Carmen Gonzalez of Coral Gables' "Carmen the Restaurant" (named "One of the Best New Restaurants in America" by Esquire) and Norman Van Aken of Norman's in Miami and Orlando, winner of the James Beard Award and Food Arts' Silver Spoon award for lifetime achievement.

In addition to the onboard workshops, interested passengers can also sign up for culinary-inspired shore excursions. In San Juan, guests can enjoy a private cooking demonstration with chef Robert Trevino at his Parrot Club. In St. Thomas, guests can be a part of an intimate cooking demonstration hosted by three-time "Best Chef on St. Thomas" winner Brian Katz at his new restaurant, Wikked.

Millennium's Caribbean itinerary departs round-trip from Fort Lauderdale each Saturday, visiting Casa de Campo (Dominican Republic), San Juan (Puerto Rico), and Charlotte Amalie (St. Thomas). Excursions and cooking classes can be purchased online up to 10 days prior to sailing, as well as onboard if space remains available.

MSC Programs Big Band, Dance, and Classical Cruises for '07

Music-themed cruises haven't been the rage at mainstream cruise lines for quite a few years, but they show no sign of flagging at MSC Cruises (tel. 800/666-9333; www.msccruises.com), which has been taking a stab at returning to an earlier, less complex era of cruising. For its 2007 Caribbean season, MSC has programmed five music cruises and two dance cruises:

  • Big Band Cruises: Offered aboard MSC Opera's 11-night Caribbean cruises departing round-trip from Fort Lauderdale January 14, February 5 and 27, and March 21, featuring the 15-piece Tommy Dorsey Orchestra under the direction of trombonist Buddy Morrow.
  • Dance Cruises: Offered on two of MSC Sinfonia's repositioning cruises, departing November 23 from Genoa to Rio de Janeiro (17 nights) and November 26, 2007 from Genoa to Buenos Aires (18 nights). Dance instructors will offer classes in samba, bolero, tango, salsa, country, lambada, mambo, merengue, rumba, cha cha, and jazz.
  • Classical Cruises: Offered on MSC Melody's Nov. 18, 2007 21-night sailing from Genoa to Durban, featuring afternoon interludes, evening concerts, and lectures on classical music history.

Paste Memories Here: Princess Debuts Onboard Scrapbooking Classes

File this under "Bizarre Promotional Pitch." This month, Princess Cruises (tel. 800-PRINCESS; www.princess.com) began touting its new Scrapbooking@Sea program -- which is sort of like saying "Come on our cruise so you can remember your cruise."

Be that as it may, here's the gist: Scrapbooking@Sea offers a series of onboard classes and a scrap booking kit with themed pages designed specifically for Princess. The free, entry-level "Scrapbooking Basics" class introduces travelers to the nuts and bolts (paste and construction paper?) of creating scrapbooks. Subsequent classes are designed to refine your technique, and are available to all passengers who purchase Princess's $24.95 scrap booking kit, which includes decorative papers, stickers, rub-on emblems, and instructions on creating themed pages.

The program begins rolling out on some Princess ships this month and is expected to go fleetwide by early 2007.

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