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The Ghost of Renaissance, Ch. 1: Oceania Buys Its Own Vessels

When Oceania Cruises (tel, 800/531-5658; www.oceaniacruises.com) started up operations in 2003, it did so with two 684-passenger ships built for now-defunct Renaissance Cruises and leased from Cruiseinvest LLC, which had taken possession of the vessels after Renaissance's 2001 bankruptcy. A third ex-Renaissance vessel, the Nautica, was later added to the fleet.

Now comes word that Oceania has completed a $400 million bank debt offering that allowed it to purchase the three vessels outright, for a total price of $375 million. UBS Securities and Lehman Brothers acted as financial advisors for the transaction and underwrote the credit facilities -- to the tune of a $300 million six-year term loan, a $75 million seven-year term loan, and a $25 million five-year revolving credit facility -- with a syndicate of North American and European financial institutions.

"To reach this milestone in such a short period of time, from start-up to owning our vessels in less than four years, is a momentous occasion and a tremendous achievement for the entire team at Oceania Cruises," said Oceania President and CEO Frank Del Rio, who served as Renaissance's CEO until four months before its final dissolution. "With our enhanced financial performance and flexibility, we can now focus on fleet expansion which will enable us to offer our world-class product to a wider audience of discerning consumers and travel agents."

The Ghost of Renaissance, Ch. 2: Former R6 to Sail for Celebrity in '07

When Renaissance Cruises folded in 2001, its fleet of identical midsize ships was disbursed to the four winds. One, the R6, ended up at Spain's Pullmantur S.A., the country's largest cruise operator. In September, Royal Caribbean announced its intention to purchase Pullmantur for 430 million euro (plus assumption of Pullmantur's outstanding debt), a deal which has now been approved by Spanish and Portuguese antitrust officials. The company anticipates closing the deal sometime in November.

Now comes the fun part: If all goes well, Royal Caribbean intends to swap Zenith, the oldest ship currently sailing for sister-line Celebrity Cruises, for Pullmantur's Blue Dream -- the old R6. To be renamed Celebrity Journey, the vessel would sail for Celebrity's sub-brand, Celebrity Expeditions, which currently operates the 94-passenger Xpedition on year-round itineraries in the Galapagos. She'll undergo a monthlong renovation before beginning a season of Bermuda itineraries from Bayonne, NJ, on May 5, 2007.

"Celebrity Journey will be an ideal ship for the Bermuda market," said Celebrity president Dan Hanrahan, who added that Celebrity Expeditions "is a natural extension of the brand, as we move into new markets with tailored-to-market products."

Zenith will sail regularly scheduled Caribbean itineraries from Tampa until April 13, at which time she will sail a Caribbean and Bermuda itinerary from Tampa to Cape Liberty. The April 13 sailing will be the ship's last as part of the Celebrity fleet. After a drydock period in which workers will add balcony cabins, enlarge public spaces, and customize the ship for Spanish guests, she'll begin sailing 7-night Mediterranean cruises between Athens and Venice.

All passengers currently booked on Zenith in Bermuda will be contacted by Celebrity representatives to transfer their reservations to similar accommodations on Celebrity Journey.

The Ghost of Renaissance, Ch. 3: Princess to Re-Christen Former R8 May 12

Princess Cruises (tel. 800/PRINCESS; www.princess.com) has operated two ex-Renaissance vessels (Pacific Princess and Tahitian Princess) for several years on Asia and South Pacific itineraries. Then, in March of this year, it announced plans to acquire the former R8 from Swan Hellenic, where she's been sailing as Minerva II. With the ship set to begin sailing for Princess on April 19, the line has begun planning an auspicious debut, with Minerva to be rechristened Royal Princess during the same ceremony in which the newest Princess newbuild, Emerald Princess, also receives her name.

It will be the first double christening for Princess, and will take place at the Greek island of Santorini. Both Emerald Princess and Royal Princess will make regular visits to the island throughout their Europe seasons.

"These two ships represent the full scope of our fleet -- from large to small -- and it will be a wonderful contrast to launch them together," said January Swartz, Princess' senior vice president of customer service and sales.

The 30,000-ton Royal Princess will be the second Princess ship by that name, following the transfer of the previous Royal Princess to P&O Cruises, where she now sails as Artemis. That vessel was christened in 1984 by the late Princess Diana, and spent many years sailing European and worldwide destinations. The new Royal Princess will take over a similar deployment when she enters service, sailing 12-night cruises in the Mediterranean, Israel, and the Black Sea.

Emerald Princess is the newest in the line's Grand-class fleet, a 113,000-ton sister to the recently launched Crown Princess. Her first cruise will be a 12-day Greek Isles itinerary. Thereafter, the ship will offer a series of Greek Isles and Grand Mediterranean cruises before repositioning to Ft. Lauderdale in the fall for Caribbean itineraries.

The Ghost of Renaissance, Ch. 4: EasyCruise Announces New 2007 Greek Itinerary

Launched just twenty months ago, easyCruise (tel. 650/385-0563; www.easycruise.com) has already had successful seasons in the Riviera and the southern Caribbean, promoting itself as a youthful, flexible alternative to the traditional cruise experience. Cruises are focused on their destinations, visiting a port every day, and passengers may board and debark at most of them and cruise for as many days as they like. Cabin decor is minimal, and the rock-bottom prices only cover lodging and transportation. For anything else -- including food -- you pay extra.

Now the company's original ship, easyCruiseOne (formerly Renaissance II, one of the original vessels built for Renaissance Cruises back in 1990) is set to sail a new itinerary for summer 2007, taking in Athens; the cosmopolitan islands of Mykonos, Paros, and Ios; and the less-visited islands of Milos, Amorgos, Naxos, Folegandros, Sifnos, and Serifos.

"We are very pleased to announce this new itinerary," said Stelios Haji-Ioannou, easyCruise's Greek-born founder. "For me especially it is very important as it brings easyCruise to my home . . . The new itinerary is also unique -- it is the only way you can visit up to 11 different islands in one go, a number of which have been previously unexplored as holiday destinations."

Passengers can book various segments of the itinerary to make everything from a weekend break to a two-week holiday. Packages include:

  • 3-night midweek mini breaks, sailing round-trip from Athens Mon-Thurs and visiting Poros and Spetes (departures June 4, 18; July 2, 16, 30; August 13, 27; September 10, 4; and October 8)
  • 4-night long weekends, sailing round-trip from Athens Thurs-Mon and visiting Mykonos, Paros, and Sifnos (departures May 31; June 14, 28; July 12, 26; August 9, 23; September 6, 20; and October 4)
  • 7-night cruises, sailing round-trip from Athens each Thursday and visiting Milos, Ios, Amorgos, Naxos, Folegandros, and Serifos (departures June 7, 21; July 5, 19; August 2, 16, 30; September 13, 27; and October 11)

Itineraries can also be combined to make a 10, 11, or 14 day cruise. As is par for the course with easyCruise, initial pricing is startlingly low, with 3-night cruises going for $57 per person, 4-nights from $112, 7-nights from $140, 10-nights from $169, 11-nights from $206, and 14-nights from $245, all based on double occupancy. Cruises begin May 31, 2007, and are already open for sale.

Norovirus Strikes Again, This Time Aboard Carnival Liberty

Question: What's worse than being stuck on a cruise ship during an outbreak of Norovirus (aka the common stomach bug)? Answer: Being stuck on a 16-day cruise when it happens.

Such was the misfortune of passengers aboard Carnival Liberty during the 16-night transatlantic cruise that embarked Rome, Ft. LauderdaleÂ?bound, on November 3. According to reports, approximately 700 passengers and crew were affected by the bug, which causes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea and is contacted by touching contaminated surfaces.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people infected with Norovirus can pass the bug on from the moment they begin feeling sick to between three days and two weeks after they recover, and they can pass it on hand-to-hand -- meaning this and other cruise ship outbreaks have probably been caused by contagious passengers coming aboard and spreading the germ on banisters, tables, etc.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Carnival and Liberty's crew increased cleaning and disinfection procedures; brought aboard CDC staff in St. Maarten to conduct an epidemiological investigation, as well as extra cleaners to help scrub the ship before arrival in Fort Lauderdale; submitted stools specimens to the CDC for analysis; provided daily updates to Centers; and delayed embarkation of the subsequent cruise for two days to implement additional cleaning and disinfection measures.

According to reports, nearly all passengers and crew have recovered fully at this writing.

Mystery Ships to Become Campuses, Condos in 2007

Old cruise ships never die, they just get repurposed. This week, there's news of two completely different uses for ships that may be a little past their glitzy prime.

Taking the high road, Royal Caribbean and six international universities are backing The Scholar Ship (tel. 410/962-7344; www.thescholarship.com), an oceangoing campus that will offer 16-week voyage-semesters to international students beginning in September 2007.

Students and staff will embark The Scholar Ship in Piraeus, Greece, and sail westward to Lisbon (Portugal), Panama City (Panama), Guayaquil (Ecuador), Papeete, (Tahiti), Suva (Fiji), Sydney (Australia), Shanghai (China), and Okinawa and Kobe (Japan). The ship will remain in port for up to six days, allowing time for extensive educational opportunities through academic field study, excursion, and independent travel. The January 2008 voyage will depart Kobe and call on Shanghai, Singapore, Cochin (India), Port Victoria (Seychelle Islands), Cape Town (South Africa), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Casablanca (Morocco), Barcelona (Spain), and Piraeus (Greece).

The program's academic curriculum has been developed by the University of CaliforniaÂ?Berkeley, Macquarie University (Australia), Fudan University (China), Tecnológico de Monterrey (Mexico), Al Akhawayn University (Morocco), and the University of Ghana. Students receive academic credit through Macquarie University.

The Scholar Ship is in the final stages of leasing a vessel on which to host the program. Tuition will be approximately $20,000 per semester, but a $2 million scholarship fund has been established for the 2007/2008 academic year, with scholarships to be awarded based on merit and economic need.

Meanwhile, down in Florida, Condo Cruise Lines International (tel. 877/350-5392; www.condocruiselines.com) has a plan to convert older small and midsize cruise ships that have been retired early into floating condo communities. According to company president Mark Boyd, "We will buy these ships and spend 15-20 million dollars reconfiguring them with luxurious multi-room suites, then turn around and sell them to individuals that want to own their own home on a world-class cruise ship."

Details on the company's first ship are not yet available, though a company press release says condos will start at $382,000 and go as high as $1.3 million for a three-bedroom executive suite. Homeowners Association fees run around $9,000 to $20,000 per year, depending on the type of unit. Other costs of ship operations will be covered by the rental of non-condo staterooms to the general cruising public.

Windstar Takes Your Luggage

Beginning immediately, guests sailing aboard any of the three mega-sailing-ships operated by Windstar Cruises (tel. 800/258-7245; www.windstarcruises.com) can opt to travel luggage-free -- at least to and from the ship.

Using the line's new Monogram Luggage Service, offered through the courier service Universal Express of Boca Raton, Florida, guests may have their bags picked up at their door and shipped via an air valet service straight to their stateroom on the ship, wherever it may be. At the end of the cruise, your luggage is shipped back home.

Windstar cites the increase in luggage hassles at the airport as an impetus for offering the courier option, whose charges are assessed by weight, destination, and type of service. As an example, it will cost $257 to ship a 45-pound suitcase from Florida to Barbados. All bags are automatically insured up to $1,000, with options to insure up to $10,000.

Celebrity Introduces LeapFrog SchoolHouse Programs at Onboard Kids' Centers

New for kids on Celebrity's fleet is a program developed by LeapFrog SchoolHouse, a creator of interactive, electronic education programs and products for the pre-kindergarten through grade-8 education market. In addition to popular topics like dinosaurs, science, space, sports, art, music, and wildlife, exclusive products developed for Celebrity include educational modules for kids 3 through 9 based on the heritage, customs, crafts, art, and music of Alaska, Bermuda, the Caribbean, Mexico, and the Mediterranean, all popular family-cruise regions.

"Shipboard youth programs typically are designed to provide kids with fun activities while cruising," said Celebrity's VP of Entertainment & Activities, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo. "Our goal is to go beyond that concept, providing kids with an environment where they can learn while also having a great time."

LeapFrog SchoolHouse products are now available across the Celebrity fleet.

Celebrity Cancels One Caribbean Sailing to Fix Propulsion Problem

When Celebrity (tel. 800/437-3111; www.celebritycruises.com) introduced its four Millennium-class ships between 2000 and 2002, little did they know that the much-vaunted Mermaid Pod propulsion system -- in which propellers are mounted on swiveling pods attached to the ship's hull, offering greater maneuverability -- would turn into such a headache. But that they have, with frequent instances of worn bearings requiring the line to cancel a number of sailings -- for instance, December 10th's scheduled 7-night Caribbean cruise from Ft. Lauderdale aboard Millennium.

Millennium continues to operate safely, but repairs can only be made in drydock. Following repairs, Millennium will return to its scheduled sailings on December 17.

Guests booked on the cancelled sailing will receive a full refund and a free Celebrity cruise of equal value from North America of up to seven nights, departing on or before December 31, 2007, excluding holiday cruises and trips with Celebrity's Xpedition subbrand.

Crystal Doubles Up on Dubai for 2007

Dubai has been inching up the tourism radar for nearly ten years, and now Crystal Cruises has decided to expand its offerings in the emirate, with both its ships sailing to or from the stylish port in 2007. Offerings include:

  • March 3: Cape Town, South Africa to Dubai, 17 days (Crystal Serenity), with port calls in Durban (South Africa), Maputo (Mozambique), Mombasa (Kenya), Mahé/Victoria (Seychelles), and Muscat (Oman), ending with two days in Dubai
  • March 20: Dubai to Istanbul, Turkey, 18 days (Crystal Serenity), beginning with two days in Dubai and calling at Salalah (Oman), Luxor and Karnak/Safaga (Egypt), Aqaba (Jordan), the Suez Canal, Ashdod (Israel), Alexandria/Cairo (Egypt), and Athens/Piraeus (Greece)
  • May 1: Singapore to Dubai, 16 days (Crystal Symphony), visiting Phuket (Thailand), Yangon/Rangoon (Myanmar, overnight), and Cochin and Mumbai (India) , ending with two days in Dubai
  • May 17: Dubai to Rome, Italy, 14 days (Crystal Symphony), with calls at Salalah (Oman), Luxor and Karnak/Safaga (Egypt, overnight), Alexandria/Cairo (Egypt), and Sorrento (Italy)

"We're offering twice as many cruises to Dubai in 2007 over 2006, and interest in the region still surpasses our expectations," said Bill Smith, Crystal's senior VP of sales and marketing. "Dubai is one of the world's fastest-growing travel destinations -- intriguing for its mix of architecture, cultural tolerance and welcoming hospitality. Of course, to many, one of its greatest attractions is its superb, tax-free shopping."

Cruise fares start at $5,795 per person, double occupancy for the 14-day cruise. Pre- and post-cruise hotel stays are available at $335 for the first night and $250 for additional nights (per person, double occupancy).

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