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Carnival Corp. to Sell Windstar Cruises

On February 22, in a surprise move, the travel services and event-management company Ambassadors International announced that it had reached a definitive agreement to acquire motor-sail line Windstar Cruises (tel. 800/258-7245; www.windstarcruises.com) from Holland America Line.

Last year, Ambassadors International made big news in the cruise world by buying Delta Queen Steamboat Company and American West Steamboat Company and merging them into a new river and coastal cruise entity called Majestic America Line (tel. 800/434-1232; www.majesticamericaline.com). The new line is based in Seattle, which is also home to Windstar and its immediate parent company, Holland America. Both are subsidiaries of the all-consuming Carnival Corporation.

"We are pleased to be acquiring such an iconic brand from Holland America Line," stated Ambassadors Chairman and CEO Joe Ueberroth, who noted that the acquisition "completes another step in our growth plan to become a leader in the luxury, small ship cruise market."

"We are committed to operate Windstar as it exists today, including its published itineraries, while we take steps to further improve the exceptional experience for our guests," added Ambassadors Cruise Group President David Giersdorf. "We look forward to welcoming the extraordinary officers, crew, and personnel of Windstar Cruises to our family."

The transaction is subject to the approval of the Federal Trade Commission and is expected to close in April 2007. Under the terms of the agreement, Ambassadors International Cruise Group, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ambassadors International, Inc., will acquire Windstar Sail Cruises Limited and its three ships for $100 million.

Disney Cruise Line Plans New Ships for 2011, 2012

Disney Cruise Line (tel. 888/DCL-2500; www.disneycruise.com) is a strange duck in the cruise business. In 1998, it sprang fully formed from the skull of the Walt Disney Company, and has operated almost exactly the same ever since: same ships, same onboard vibe, and same itineraries. In the past couple of years, though, the line has finally started venturing beyond its core Caribbean market, sailing short seasons in the Mexican Rivera and Europe.

And now comes word of an even bigger change: On February 22, the line announced that it had signed a letter of intent with Germany's Meyer Werft shipyard to begin negotiations over building two new 122,000-ton vessels, which would enter the Disney fleet in 2011 and 2012. If built to the current specs, the ships would be two decks taller than the line's existing 83,000-ton ships, Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, and would carry roughly 40% more passengers.

"This is an exciting time for Disney Cruise Line, and we are looking forward to working with Meyer Werft to blend our innovation and creativity with their fine craftsmanship," said Disney Cruise Line President Tom McAlpin. "Meyer Werft has a long tradition of building magnificent ships. We are confident that the result will be ships that take the immersive Disney family-focused cruise experience to an entirely new level."

Cruise Passenger Kills Costa Rican Mugger

Lesson of the week: Know your prey.

On February 21, a group of Carnival Freedom passengers who'd arranged an independent tour in Limon, Costa Rica, were attacked by three armed men wearing ski masks. A U.S. military retiree traveling as part of the cruise group was able to seize one of the attackers and put him into a headlock. The assailant reportedly fired two shots, but eventually succumbed and died of asphyxiation. None of the cruise passengers was injured.

American Queen, Out of Service Since Katrina, Returns to New Orleans

When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in September 2005, the 436-passenger stern-wheeler American Queen, then of Delta Queen Steamboat Company, had had just left New Orleans for a trip to Memphis, and so was spared from damage. Her planned season of 3- and 4-night cruises from New Orleans, though, was not, as the city struggled to get infrastructure back in place to receive both ships and visitors. Today the rebuilding process is ongoing (if excruciatingly slow), but the time is right to welcome American Queen back to what for her is a whole new world.

While the vessel was laid up in St. Louis, Delta Queen was sold lock, stock, and barrel to Ambassadors International, and its three ships now form nearly half the fleet of AmbassadorsÂ? new Majestic America Line (tel. 800/434-1232; www.majesticamericaline.com). On Friday, March 9, sheÂ?ll make her return debut in New Orleans as the new lineÂ?s flagship, sailing a 7-night journey to Memphis.

As part of a fleetwide refurbishment program, American Queen has been upgraded with new exterior paint; a fresh culinary experience designed by celebrity chefs; a revamped onboard enrichment program featuring regional experts; and upgrades in every stateroom, including new premium bedding, flat-screen TVs with DVD players, massaging showerheads, makeup mirrors, spa robes, and plush Pima cotton terry towels.

"We're absolutely thrilled to welcome the American Queen back to service in her homeport of New Orleans," said Majestic America President David A. Giersdorf. "New Orleans is an incredibly unique destination and we're looking forward to having the American Queen rejoin her sister ships, the Mississippi Queen and Delta Queen, in introducing guests to the incredible experiences to be had in New Orleans and the surrounding region in 2007."

Following her spring season on the lower Mississippi River, American Queen will head to the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers for the summer before returning to New Orleans in December to round out her 2007 season.

Silversea Details June America's Cup Sailing

Cruise ships are only distant cousins of racing yachts, but what's a little extra displacement among family? That's why this June, the 382-passenger Silver Whisper of Silversea Cruises (tel. 877/215-9986; www.silversea.com) will manage to be positioned in the bay of Valencia, Spain, directly alongside the race course for the 32nd America's Cup regatta.

The luxe line's planned America's Cup sailing departs Barcelona on June 22 and sails south to Valencia, where it will spend the next two days in the bay, offering front-row seats to race events. On June 25 (a rest day for cup competitors) the ship journeys to Algiers, North Africa, then returns to Valencia for race events on June 26 and 27. On June 28 (another rest day), passengers can explore Valencia, while the final race day, June 29, will see Silver Whisper put on an elaborate poolside barbecue. Guests debark the following day in Barcelona. Sailing officials and experts -- including ESPN sailing commentator and America's Cup winner Gary Jobson and sailor, writer, and America's Cup historian John Rousmaniere -- will be aboard throughout the voyage, providing information on the race's history and rules and offering tack-by-tack commentary.

Cruise fares start from $6,915 per person, including a 10% early-booking discount.

Carnival Takes Delivery of New Freedom

Twenty-two: That's how many ships now sail under the banner of Carnival Cruise Lines (tel. 800/327-9501; www.carnival.com). How do they ever keep track of them all?

The line's newest vessel, the 110,000-ton, 2,974-passenger Carnival Freedom, was officially delivered on February 28 from the Fincantieri shipyard in Marghera, Italy. She was officially named on March 4 at a ceremony in Venice presided over by godmother Kathy Ireland. Her 9-night inaugural voyage departed the next day, sailing the Mediterranean. She'll operate 12-night Grand Mediterranean and 12-night Mediterranean and Greek Isles cruises from Civitavecchia/Rome through October.

The fifth ship in Carnival's Conquest class of vessels, Freedom offers trendy features like a poolside 270-square-foot LED movie screen, 100% bow-to-stern wireless Internet access, cellular phone service, a newly revamped menu of healthy spa cuisine, and a 13,300-square-foot health club, along with 22 bars and lounges and extensive kids' facilities. You can get a preview of some of the ship's features at www.carnival.com/freedom.

NCL Offers Discounts for U.S. Military Personnel

Norwegian Cruise Line (www.ncl.com) has just announced a program of discounts for active-duty military personnel, retired personnel, veterans, and spouses of active military serving duty overseas. The program offers a reduced rate, based on sailing date and itinerary, on one stateroom per sailing on any NCL or NCL America ship, and applies to new reservations only. To take advantage of the discount, call NCL at tel. 866-234-0292 and request promotion code PGMR. Military identification must be shown at the pier on embarkation day.

Investment Firm Buys Forms Strategic Partnership with Oceania Cruises

The investment group Apollo Management L.P. has paid the equivalent of $850 million (including assumption of debt) for a large stake in Oceania Cruises (tel. 800/531-5658; www.oceaniacruises.com), the three-ship cruise line formed from the ashes of the old Renaissance Cruises, which folded in 2001. Oceania will remain a wholly independent brand under the leadership of its founding management team, and will operate with the support of Apollo's $12 billion private equity fund.

Dielmann Plans Golf Cruises on Ocean and River Vessels

German line Peter Dielmann Cruises (tel. 800/348-8287; www.deilmann-cruises.com) is planning a series of golf cruises for its summer season, with six ocean sailings on the 513-passenger Deutschland and seven river cruises on various Deilmann vessels offering play in Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, Dubai, India, Thailand, Singapore, Bali, Hong Kong, France and Germany.

Golf sailings aboard Deutschland include two itineraries that focus on the British Isles. The 11-night Britannia Golf Cup cruise (July 31-Aug 11) features play at St. Andrews and Gleneagles (Scotland) and four courses in Ireland: Ballybunion in Foynes, Fota Island in Cobh, Old Kinsale Head in Kinsale and Marriott Druids Glen and Hotel Country Club in Dublin. Prices start at $5,706 per person, including air transportation from New York and 16 other U.S. cities (with air supplements of $110 and $150 from an additional 34 cities in the Midwest and West), airport-ship transfers, six rounds of golf, transfers to the courses, green fees, golf escort, pull carts and tips. The 14-night Great Britain Golf Cup cruise (Sept 3-17) offers play at three courses in Scotland (Gleneagles in Leith, the 27-hole Greenock course, and the parkland course at Mount Murray on the Isle of Man), the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Tenby (Milford Haven, Wales), and the Wentworth Golf Club near London. Prices start at $6,423, including cruise, transfers, golf and golf extras, and airfare as detailed above.

Other oceangoing golf cruises are available on cruises sailing Southeast Asia (Dec 18, 2007-Jan 6, 2008), eastern Canada (Aug 11-Sept 3) and Dubai (Nov 29-Dec 19).

Golf-themed river cruises are scheduled on six Deilmann river ships beginning with the 12-night Spring Golf Cup aboard MV Casanova, sailing from Basel, Switzerland, to Passau, Germany, on the Rhine and Main rivers and the Rhine-Main Canal, May 19-31. Prices start at $3,446 per person for an outside twin cabin; five hotel nights with breakfast; six rounds of golf in Strasbourg, Miltenberg, Bamberg, Bad Kissingen; and Würzburg; green fees; guides; pull carts; and a half-day excursion to the High Rhön nature reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Other river golf cruises depart in May, June, September, and October.

Hapag-Lloyd's Columbus to Sail Last Great Lakes Cruises This Summer

Until the mid-1960s, the U.S. Great Lakes were popular summer cruising grounds for Canadian and U.S.-flag ships, some of which dated from before World War I. When these ships were retired, the industry died until the 1990s, when a few lines began offering small-ship cruises on the lakes' often choppy waters. In the last few years, though, German line Hapag Lloyd (www.hl-cruises.com) has been offering cruises each September and October aboard the 14,903-ton, 410-passenger Columbus, a more stable oceangoing cruise ship.

Apparently, though, that's coming to an end. This week the Great Lakes Cruise Company (tel. 888/891-0203;www.greatlakescruising.com), which has been chartering the Columbus for its English-speaking cruises, announced that 2007 will be the last year "possibly for many years to come" that the ship will be positioned in the Great Lakes -- so book now or forever hold your peace.

During her final season on the Great Lakes, Columbus will offer three 10- and 11-night cruises departing September 17, September 27, and October 8. Sailing Chicago-Toronto, Toronto-Chicago, and round-trip from Chicago, the itineraries visit the Welland Canal, Windsor, Tobermory, Parry Sound, Hilton Beach, the Soo Locks, and Thunder Bay (Ontario), and Milwaukee (WI), Mackinac Island (Michigan), and/or Traverse City (MI). Prices start at $2,784 per person.

Royal Caribbean Promotes Independence in Europe

We're still more than a year out from the debut of Independence of the Seas, the third in the biggest-on-earth series of Freedom-class ships from Royal Caribbean (tel. 800/562-7625; www.royalcaribbean.com), but at least we know where she'll be going. In a first for these 160,000-ton, 3,634-passenger vessels, Royal Caribbean will be positioning Independence in the UK after her May 2008 debut, sailing a series of 14-night Mediterranean, 4-night British Isles, and 11-night Canary Islands cruises from Southampton until repositioning to the Caribbean in late fall. She'll be the largest ship ever homeported in Europe.

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