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NCL Finds Big Jewel in Holland

Last year it was Princess that seemed to launch a new ship every month (with Diamond, Sapphire, and Caribbean Princess all launching within a sixteen-week period). This year it's Norwegian Cruise Line (tel. 800/327-7030; www.ncl.com). Fresh off its mid-June introduction of the 81,000-ton, 2,146-passenger Pride of America, the line has just taken delivery of its newest vessel, the 93,502-ton, 2,376-passenger Norwegian Jewel, at a handover ceremony in Emsehaven, Holland.

A sister-ship to Norwegian Dawn and Norwegian Star, Jewel will begin a series of European voyages August 10 before heading to New York for her U.S. inaugural festivities. On September 18 she'll begin 11-night Canada/New England cruises round-trip from New York, visiting Boston, Bar Harbor, Halifax, Quebec City, Sydney, and St. John, with cruising time in the Bay of Fundy, Cabot Strait, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the Saguenay River. In early November she'll sail south to Miami for a season of 7-night eastern and western Caribbean itineraries, visiting San Juan (Puerto Rico), Antigua, St. Thomas, and Great Stirrup Cay (NCL's private island) on her eastern sailings and Great Stirrup Cay, Ocho Rios (Jamaica), Grand Cayman, and Roatan (Honduras) on her western route. In spring she'll redeploy to Europe for a summer of Mediterranean, Egypt, and Greek Isles cruises.

Like her sister ships, Norwegian Jewel has ten restaurants, three swimming pools, and a large contemporary spa, plus several new features. Ten "Courtyard Villa" suites offer guests a private courtyard, sun deck, and concierge suite just for them (it's good to be king), while down on the public decks a new "Bar Central" has a separate martini bar, champagne and wine bar, and beer and whisky pub all grouped into a central area, making bar-hopping (stumbling?) easier.

Carnival and Coke Team for New Teen Centers

Cruise lines have been making a big push for the teen market over the past two years -- they're tomorrow's paying customers, after all -- and this week Carnival (tel. 800/327-9501; www.carnival.com) became the latest to pile on the goodies.

As part of a new co-branding arrangement with Coca-Cola, Carnival will begin introducing "Club O2" teen programs fleetwide. Targeted at the 15-17 age group, the program will include activities like a welcome-aboard party, karaoke sessions, nightly themed parties, late-night movies, video game contests, basketball, ping-pong, and games based on TV reality shows like The Bachelor, Fear Factor, and Survivor. Activities will be coordinated by a Club O2 teen director.

"We've conducted extensive market research on the unique vacation desires of today's teens," said Carnival president and CEO Bob Dickinson, "and have developed a carefully thought out program that combines modern, inviting facilities and interesting activities, all in an unstructured environment preferred by older kids."

Teen centers are currently in place on twelve of Carnival twenty-one ships, and the majority of the others are scheduled to be retrofitted by the end of the year. All include a dance floor with a DJ and sound/light system, large-screen plasma TVs, and a "Coke-tail" lounge for Coca-Cola products, non-alcoholic specialty drinks, and boneless, attitude-rich lounging. Select teen clubs also feature video game units, 16-monitor "video walls," music listening stations, and a library with popular teen-oriented books and magazines. Other teen programs available onboard include the "Y-Spa" spa program and a selection of teen-only group shore excursions accompanied by a member of the teen staff. Options include cave tubing in Belize, horseback riding in Cozumel, and swimming with stingrays in Grand Cayman.

Song of the South: Disney to Deploy Wonder in Southern Caribbean

Disney Cruise Line (tel. 888/DCL-2500; www.disneycruise.com) is growing a sense of wanderlust. After spending the first seven years of its corporate life sailing the familiar waters of the eastern and western Caribbean, the line finally broke out in May by sending Disney Magic to Los Angeles for a series of Mexican Riviera cruises. Now comes word that Magic's twin, the 1,754-passenger Disney Wonder, will offer a pair of 10- and 11-night southern Caribbean cruises in September 2006.

The 10-night cruise will depart September 7 from the line's custom terminal at Port Canaveral, Florida, visiting St. Thomas, St. Lucia, Barbados, Antigua, and Castaway Cay (Disney's private island), with four days at sea. The 11-nigth cruise will sail the same itinerary and also visit the port of St. Kitts. Rates for the 10-night cruise start at $1,299 per person; 11-night voyages begin at $1,499.

Regal Princess Gets a Reprieve, Stays with Princess Cruises

File this one in the "keeping it in the family" file. In April it was announced that Regal Princess, at fourteen years old the dowager of the Princess Cruises fleet (tel. 800-PRINCESS; www.princess.com), would be leaving in October 2006, heading for service with UK-based sister-brand Ocean Village -- like Princess a subsidiary of the Carnival Corporation empire. Built in 1991, Regal was one of a pair of twin ships designed by Renzo Piano, the modernist architect responsible for Paris's Centre Pompidou. Its sister ship, Crown Princess, had already left the Princess fleet in 2002 for service with Carnival Corporation's German subsidiary, Aida Cruises, where she was renamed AIDAblu.

OK, so: This week, Carnival Corp. announced that, with recent orders bringing three new 68,500-ton ships to the Aida brand over the next three years, AIDAblu would go to Ocean Village instead of Regal Princess, which for the time being will remain in the Princess fleet.

"The strength of the North American cruise market is a compelling reason to keep the Regal Princess within Princess Cruises' fleet," said Micky Arison, Carnival Corp's chairman and CEO. "Market conditions dictate a need for more capacity, not less."

Wasting no time, Princess has assigned the vessel to a series of 10- to 19-night Panama Canal and South America cruises for winter 2006-2007.

Her 10-night "Panama Canal Explorer" cruises sail between San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Acapulco, visiting Aruba, Fuerte Amador (Panama), Puntarenas (Costa Rica), Puerto Quetzal (Guatemala), and Hualtulco (Mexico). Several other Panama Canal itineraries will also be offered, including a port-rich round-trip sailing from Los Angeles. Two 12-night Amazon River cruises will depart January 19 and 31, sailing between San Juan and Manaus, Brazil. Two 12-night Andes/Peru voyages traveling between Lima (Peru) and San Juan will sail March 4 and 16.

Early-booking fares for these new voyages begin at $1,099 per person, double occupancy, and will go on sale August 20.

HAL Adds Ships, Ports to 2006 Mexican Riviera and New England Sailings

Attention West Coasters: Holland America (tel. 877-724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com) wants your business. For 2006, the line has put two megaships on round-trip rotation from San Diego to the Mexican Riviera, with a total of 32 cruises planned in Jan-April and Oct-Dec 2006.

The bulk of those sailings will be offered aboard the 1,848-passenger Oosterdam, one of the line's four large, modern Vista-class ships. From January 7 to April 22, 2006 (and again from October 7 to December 16), Oosterdam will sail 29 weeklong itineraries visiting Cabo San Lucas, Mazatl´n, and, Puerto Vallarta. Cruise fares start at $699 per person, double occupancy.

The 1,440-passenger Zaandam, one of the line's most beautiful ships, will offer three 10-day journeys. Sailings on October 22 and December 11, 2006, concentrate on ports in Baja's Sea of Cortez, visiting Puerto Vallarta, Mazatl´n, Cabo San Lucas, Toplolobampo (where guests can take an excursion to the incredible Copper Canyon), Loreto (the first capital of the Californias, established in 1697), and Pichilingue. November 16's cruisevisits Manzanillo, Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatl´n, and Cabo San Lucas. Ten-night cruise fares start at $999 per person.

Meanwhile, clear across on the other side of the continent and a lot farther north, Canada/New England cruises in fall 2006 aboard Amsterdam will include a stop in Saguenay, Quebec.

"We're especially excited to add the new port of Saguenay in 2006," said HAL's senior VP of marketing and sales, Richard D. Meadows. "It's surrounded by three national parks, including a marine preserve, so the opportunities for wildlife and marine viewing, kayaking, fishing, and flightseeing are exceptional." The line is developing shore excursions around these activities, as well as cultural, culinary, and tree-top canopy tours.

Amsterdam will offer four 10-night cruises between New York and Montreal departing Sept. 7 to Oct. 7, visiting Newport, Gloucester, Bar Harbor, Halifax, Sydney, Charlottetown, Saguenay, and Quebec City, with time spent cruising the St. Lawrence River and Saguenay Fjord. Cruise fares start at $1,699 per person.

The 1,266-passenger Maasdam will also sail Canada/New England in summer and fall 2006, offering 7-night cruises between Montreal and Boston from May 13 to Sept. 30, visiting Quebec City, Prince Edward Island, Halifax, Sydney, and Bar Harbor. Cruise fares start at $999 per person.

Get the Popcorn: Cruise West Offers Web-Based Virtual Cruise Nights

Small-ship cruises can be a hard sell. True, you almost always see more wildlife and scenery, and have a more intimate experience of your destination, but they're expensive -- much more so than your average mainstream cruise.

So how do you sell them? For the second year, Cruise West (tel. 800-888-9378; www.cruisewest.com) is thinking high-tech, offering visitors to its website the option of attending live online previews of its 2006 itineraries. Hosted by a Cruise West expert, each hour-long, no-obligations presentation features photos of scenery and wildlife, plus detailed maps, photos of each ship's facilities, and an interactive capacity that lets viewers ask questions throughout.

To register and view the schedule of Virtual Cruise Night events, go to Cruisewest.com, click the "Attend Live Online Presentations" icon, then go to "View Schedule" and enroll for any presentation you like, covering Alaska, Baja/Sea of Cortez, Costa Rica, and holiday sailings. Upcoming Virtual Cruise Nights are scheduled for August 11, 16, 23, and 24.

Mary Tyler Moore Sends Goddaughter to Japan

As reported here April 13, Crystal Cruises (tel. 866/446-6625; www.crystalcruises.com) will be retiring its original ship, Crystal Harmony, at the end of this year. As a gracious send-off, actress Mary Tyler Moore, who christened the vessel in 1990, will sail on her October 22 Mexican Riviera cruise, one of her last with Crystal. In November the ship will be rechristened Asuka II and begin serving the Japanese market for Crystal's parent company, Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK).

The 10-night Oct. 22 cruise features calls in San Diego, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatl´n, Puerto Vallarta, and Manzanillo. Fares currently start around $1,750 per person.

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