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Radisson Seven Seas Morphs into Regent, Integrating Land-Sea Operations

The Carlson Companies own a cruise line, Radisson Seven Seas (tel. 800/285-1835; www.rssc.com). They also own a group of upscale hotels called Regent International, with properties in Asia, Europe, and North America. This week, in a move sure to confuse longtime cruisers for months to come, Carlson announced that the two companies would merge immediately, with the cruise line adopting the hotel chain's name and becoming Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

The rebranding signals a move to solidify RSSC's place in the luxury segment of the cruise biz. Since its inception in 1992, and despite its high-end ships, service, and cuisine, the line has had to contend with the mid-market associations of the Radisson name. Though no grand strategic changes are planned for the cruise line under its new name, onboard changes planned for the next 18 months include cabin, decor, amenities, and technology upgrades.

Carnival Corporation's Asia Initiative: Only Nixon Could Go to China

Lest anyone doubt the growing integration of pseudo-communist China into all aspects of the world market, here's this little tidbit from the good folks at Carnival Corporation, parent company of Carnival, HAL, Princess, Costa, and half a dozen other lines: Starting in July, Costa's 1,000-passenger Costa Allegra will begin sailing from Shanghai as the first large international cruise operation licensed to embark Chinese citizens from that nation's ports. The ships will initially offer a series of 24 five-day cruises from Shanghai to Nagasaki (Japan) and Cheju (Korea), marketed exclusively to Chinese clientele.

"Asia is a vastly underserved market," said Carnival Corporation chairman and CEO Micky Arison, "and although these cruises on the Costa Allegra may be just a small step, if it proves as successful as we anticipate, this region could be the next great growth area for cruising." More than 31 million Chinese traveled abroad last year, and that number is expected to grow to 50 million by 2010.

Arison noted that a Costa vessel was chosen for the program "because it is already very international in nature, serving guests of many different nationalities, languages and cultures." Most of Carnival's other brands cater to specific nationalities. Before her transfer to Shanghai, Costa Allegra will undergo a multi-million-dollar renovation to create an on-board product tailored to the preferences of Chinese vacationers, adding an Asian/Italian "fusion" restaurant, a sushi/noodles bar, an Italian restaurant, a wellness center, and a shopping area. Entertainment will be geared toward Asian tastes, as well. The ship's regular deck and engine officers and departmental management will be supplemented by more than 230 Chinese service staff hired from local hotels and resorts.

Meanwhile, Viking River Cruises (tel. 877/668-4546; www.vikingrivercruises.com) is reacting to the growth in western tourism to China by launching a third vessel for its Yangtze River service, which operates March through November. The new 300-passenger Viking Century Sun will join her fleetmates in covering the cruise portion of Viking's China itineraries, which visit landmarks such as the Great Wall, Beijing's Forbidden City and Summer Palace, Terra Cotta Warriors of Xian, and Shanghai's Bund, plus the Three Gorges and Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze. All itineraries include three nights in Beijing, one night in Xian, and two nights in Shanghai; plus a Yangtze cruise of 3, 4, 7, or 9 nights, depending on itinerary. An optional 4-night Hong Kong and Guilin extension can be added to any itinerary.

Cruise Industry Releases Crime Statistics

In the wake of passenger George Smith's disappearance from Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas in July, questions filled the broadcast and print media. Is cruising safe? What exactly goes on out there?

This week, prior to a hearing before the House Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, the industry advocacy group International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL) released information regarding crime on board cruise ships. Information gathered from fifteen cruise lines revealed a total of 206 complaints from passengers and crew during a three-year timeframe (2003-2005), including 178 complaints of sexual assault, four robberies, and 24 missing persons. During this same period, some 31 million people sailed on cruise ships.

As part of its pitch, the industry retained the services of criminologist James Fox to review the data provided to Congress. Professor Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University, visiting fellow with the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, and author of 16 books.

"While virtually no place -- on land or sea -- is totally free of risk, the number of reported incidents of serious crime from cruise lines is extremely low, no matter what benchmark or standard is used," said Fox.

Cruise lines operate within a legal framework under which international, federal, and state authorities investigate crimes on board cruise ships. All allegations of crimes involving U.S. citizens are reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and alleged crimes against Americans can be investigated and prosecuted under U.S. federal statutes even if they arise on cruise ships outside of U.S. waters. In 1999, ICCL member cruise lines adopted a zero-tolerance policy for crime, reporting all allegations and incidents to the proper authorities. Every cruise ship has a dedicated security officer and staff whose sole function is the security of the passengers, crew, and vessel. Security personnel typically have a law enforcement or military background and are trained according to international security regulations.

Holland America Christens New Noordam, Inaugurates Grand Turk Cruises

It's a quartet now for Holland America (tel. 877/724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com), which on February 22 officially christened the 1,918-passenger Noordam, the fourth ship in the line's Vista class, whose names reflect the points on the Dutch compass. Noordam (north) follows Zuiderdam (south), Oosterdam (east), and Westerdam (west).

Academy Award¿winning actress Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God, The West Wing) did the honors in the ship's new homeport of New York City, from which it will sail 10- and 11-night round-trip Caribbean cruises in spring and fall.

"Today is a proud day as we welcome the new ms Noordam to the Holland America fleet," stated HAL president and CEO Stein Kruse. "It is also my pleasure to return to the great city of New York, where Holland America has a long history of operating cruises, dating back more than 130 years."

On February 25, on her inaugural cruise, Noordam became the first vessel to visit the new cruise center at Grand Turk, on the Turks and Caicos islands. The 13-acre complex serves as a gateway to Grand Turk's beaches and dive sites, and has the capacity to accommodate two super-megasized cruise ships. Other lines visiting the island regularly in 2006 include Carnival, Princess, Crystal, Silversea, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas.

Noordam's 10-night eastern Caribbean program visits the new port of call at Grand Turk (Turk and Caicos), plus Tortola (British Virgin Islands), St. Maarten, St. Thomas and San Juan. Eleven-night southern Caribbean cruises call at Tortola, St. Thomas, Dominica, Barbados, St. Maarten, and San Juan. In summer, the ship will sail the Mediterranean from Rome.

NCL's Pride of Hawai'i Leaves Dry-Dock, Begins Fitting-Out

And baby makes three: On February 23, Norwegian Cruise Line (tel. 800/327-7030; www.ncl.com) marked a milestone as the third of its American-flagged vessels, Pride of Hawai'i, was floated out of its construction dock at Germany's Meyer Werft shipyard. The 2,400-passenger, 93,500-ton vessel will spend the next two weeks at a fitting-out berth before beginning sea trials on March 15. She'll officially join the NCL fleet in April before joining Pride of Aloha and Pride of America on inter-island Hawaii cruises.

As Pride of Hawai'i's launch gets closer, NCL is also touting some of its more interesting design features, including a library designed to honor the venerable SS United States, the former flagship of the United States Lines and still holder of the transatlantic speed record for an ocean liner. Built in 1952 to be the fastest, safest ship at sea, it's been laid up since 1969, most recently in Philadelphia. Aboard Pride of Hawai'i, the SS United States Library will honor the ship through photographs, vintage advertisements, and original lithographs from renowned marine artists, as well as wall-hanging annotations from ss United States Conservancy experts to help educate passengers about the vessel's great significance and her place in maritime history.

"The SS United States embodied in one single creation the best of American marine engineering, advanced technology, and artistic style; she was our nation's most visible and best known national symbol in the 1950's and beyond," said Greg Norris, vice president and board member of the SS United States Conservancy. "I sailed in the SS United States eight times during my youth and have always been in awe of her incredible presence and grandeur."

NCL purchased the legendary American liner in April 2003, but has announced no plans for her future. Some speculate that the purchase (as well as purchase of the 1951-built SS Independence, which spent years sailing for defunct American Hawaii Cruises) was designed to prevent competitors from buying and refurbishing the vessels as competition to NCL's Hawaii operation. Or maybe they really do intend to relaunch them someday. Stay tuned. For more information about the SS United States Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of the vessel, visit www.ssunitedstatesconservancy.org.

Meanwhile, down Hawaii-ways, NCL has been busy inking partnership deals with various island-based companies to provide onboard goodies, including Maui-based Roselani Ice Cream (made with homegrown Kona coffee and Macadamia nuts), the Kona Brewing Company (Hawaii's largest brewery), and the Hawai`i Taro Company (maker of meatless burgers made from the indigenous taro plant). Existing NCL relationships within Hawaii's farming community provide the vessels with locally grown tomatoes, cane sugar, and pineapples, while plans call for the vessels to buy home-grown broccoli, romaine lettuce, cabbage, squash, and green beans from the Maui Farmers Cooperative Exchange. A deal with Pacific Biodiesel also converts the vessels' used cooking oil into fuel.

Cunard Sells Out Maiden Voyage of Queen Victoria, Salutes Queen Mary in Long Beach

The new Queen Victoria of Cunard Line (tel. 800/728-6273; www.cunard.com) won't sail her maiden voyage until December 2007, but she's already sold out, booked solid nearly two years ahead.

"The response has been remarkable," said Carol Marlow, Cunard's president and managing director.

Victoria's 10-night maiden voyage is scheduled to depart Southampton, UK, December 11, visiting ports known for their Christmas atmosphere: Amsterdam, Copenhagen (overnight), Oslo, Hamburg, and Zeebrugge. Those who weren't able to get aboard for that sailing can still book the following voyage, a 16-night voyage south to the Canary Islands, departing December 21 and calling at Vigo, Lisbon, Malaga, Funchal, Las Palmas, Arrecife, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Casablanca, and Gibraltar. Christmas Day will be spent at sea.¿Past Cunard passengers get first dibs on berths before tickets go on sale to the general public April 3.

Cunard history was on display recently, as Queen Mary 2 met her namesake on February 23, steaming for the first time into Long Beach, California, where the old Queen Mary has been berthed permanently since her 1967 retirement. As Queen Mary 2 entered the harbor, she was met by a flotilla of 800 boats, 14 helicopters, three blimps, and a squadron of skytypers and skydivers, along with an estimated 6,000 spectators lining the shore. According to ocean liner tradition, the vessels saluted each other by blowing their whistles -- a particularly moving moment since the seven-foot whistle on QM2's starboard side is one of Queen Mary's original midship whistles, on permanent loan to Cunard from the city of Long Beach.

"Since the debut of Queen Mary 2 in 2004, Cunard Line has dreamed of the day these two sister ships would meet," said Captain David Christy, the line's vice president of marine operation. "We are delighted that it is here at last."

AdventureSmith Explorations Offers Very, Very Small Ship Cruising in Alaska

Small ships are great, especially in Alaska and other regions known for their natural beauty. You get to see everything without being distracted by big-ship glitz, and the ships' small size means it can creep into waterways the big ships can't. Most small ships carry between 60 and 120 passengers, but if you want something really small, you have two choices: American Safari Cruises (tel. 888/862-8881; www.amsafari.com) and AdventureSmith Explorations (tel. 800/728-2875; www.adventuresmithexplorations.com), a new tour and travel company that operates according to ecotourism principles set forth by the International Ecotourism Society. For summer 2006, AdventureSmith has chartered the 12-passenger M/V Catalyst (a beautiful former research vessel launched in 1932; www.pacificcatalyst.com) and the 12-passenger M/V Discovery for Alaska cruises that emphasize guided nature hikes, kayak excursions, and exploration by inflatable Zodiac boat.

The company's 6-day "Prince William Sound Discovery Cruise" aboard Discovery explores the vast marine wilderness of Alaska's Prince William Sound, departing round-trip from Anchorage and visiting Chenaga Glacier, College Fjord, Blackstone Bay, and other natural areas. Cruises depart late May through early September, with rates starting at $3,450 per person.

Seven-day "Active Inside Passage" cruises aboard Catalyst features the wilderness areas of Alaska's Inside Passage, sailing between Petersburg and Juneau and visiting Frederick Sound, Admiralty Island, Endicott Arm, Sitka, Wood Spit, Sumdum Glacier, Holkolm Bay, Stephens Passage, and other natural areas. Cruises run June to September, with rates starting at $3,125 per person.

In addition to the ultra-smalls, AdventureSmith has also chartered Lindblad Expeditions' 68-passenger Sea Lion and Sea Bird for 7-night Inside Passage cruises sailing between Juneau and Sitka, May-September (from $4,390 per person) and Cruise West's 84-passenger Spirit of Discovery for 3- and 4-night Glacier Bay Highlights cruises (May-Aug, from $1,399) and 8-night Wilderness Inside Passage Cruises round-trip from Juneau (May-Sept, from $3,849 per person).

Costa's Newest to Boast Largest Spa at Sea

With Costa Cruises (tel. 800/462-6782; www.costacruises.com) set to launch the new, 3,000-passenger, 112,000-ton Costa Concordia in July, details of the ship are starting to come into focus. Latest news: The ship's 20,500-square-foot Samsara spa, which sprawls across two decks and boasts a menu of treatments based on Ayurvedic principles, a state-of-the-art fitness center, new spa accommodations, and the Ristorante Samsara specialty restaurant, serving "wellness cuisine" created by Michelin-starred chef Ettore Bocchia.

Guests booking the new spa accommodations receive unlimited access to the spa's Thalassotherapy pool, two complimentary fitness classes, a personalized wellness consultation with a spa expert, two treatments, two sun-lamp sessions in the solarium, an invitation to a special spa tea ceremony, and free meals at Ristorante Samsara. (Guests booked in regular cabins may dine in the Ristorante for an additional fee.) Concordia debuts in July, following which she'll sail 7-night cruises round-trip from Civitavecchia/Rome, visiting Savona (Italy), Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca (Spain), Tunis (Tunisia), Valletta (Malta), and Palermo (Sicily). Concordia is one of 10 Costa ships in Europe for the summer.

Artist Dale Chihuly to Sail Windstar in June

Artists need vacations too. That (sort of) is why visual artist Dale Chihuly is sailing aboard Windstar's 308-passenger Wind Surf in June, cruising the Mediterranean and, along the way, creating five paintings while docked in port. One painting will be auctioned off aboard the ship, with proceeds donated to Chihuly's designated charity, The Hilltop Artists in Residence Program, a program for at-risk teens in Chihuly's hometown of Tacoma, Washington.

Chihuly will also host a cocktail reception aboard the ship one evening, to which all passengers are invited.

Known for his blown glass artwork, Chihuly was a leader in the development of glass as a fine art. His work is included in more than 200 museum collections worldwide.

Wind Surf's 7-night itinerary will kick off in Rome June 11, with visits to Portovecchio (France), Portoferraio (Elba), Livorno and Portofino (Italy), and Monte Carlo (Monaco) before ending in Nice. The ship will overnight in Livorno and Monte Carlo to allow guests more time for shoreside exploration and dinner ashore. Prices for the cruise start at $2,449 per person based on double occupancy.

Crystal Accepting Online Reservations for Wine-Makers Dinners

Aboard Crystal Cruises' two ships, Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony (tel. 888-799-4625; www.crystalcruises.com), the small Vintage Rooms, seating just 10 to 14 guests, offers special Wine-Makers dinners that pair gourmet cuisine with rare wines. As many as five Wine-Makers Dinners may be offered in a typical 11-day cruise, but you still have to hustle to get a seat.

Enter the miracle of technology. Now, guests sailing with Crystal can prebook their Wine-Makers Dinner on the Crystal website before they leave home. Guests can choose to reserve one or two seats for an all-inclusive cost of $180 per person, or they may reserve the whole Vintage Room for an exclusive private party for $1,800. The price includes a tasting menu reflecting the ships' cruising region, four to eight different wines, and all gratuities. Guests may also create custom menus with wines of their choice, with the price changing accordingly.

As with its Crystal Adventures shore tours, Crystal Spa & Salon appointments, specialty restaurant reservations and Creative Learning Institute classes, cruises must be paid for in full at least 180 days prior to the sail date in order to take advantage of the online pre-reservation service.

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