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Cunard's Commodore Warwick to Retire

It's the end of an era at Cunard, which has just announced the retirement of Commodore Ronald W. Warwick, who first joined Cunard as third officer in 1970 -- the same year his father, Commodore William E. Warwick C.B.E., became the first captain of the QE2, toward the end of his own career.

Commodore Warwick got his first captaincy in 1986 aboard Cunard Princess, and also commanded the Cunard Countess and Crown Dynasty before becoming master of QE2 himself in August 1990. From April 1996 he sailed permanently as senior Master on board Queen Elizabeth 2 until his appointment as Master-designate of the new Queen Mary 2 in 2002. In December 2003 he was promoted to the rank of Commodore of the Cunard fleet. In June 2005 he received the Order of the British Empire for service to the Merchant Navy.

Special events are planned aboard QM2 in June and July, leading up to the official retirement date of July 31.

Disney Goes Continental; Plans Mediterranean Cruises for Summer 2007

Disney Cruise Line (tel. 888/DCL-2500; www.disneycruise.com) is branching out. In 2005 the line sailed its first non-Caribbean cruises, sending the Disney Magic to the Mexican Riviera via the Panama Canal. Now comes word that in May 2006, Magic will reposition from its Port Canaveral homeport to Barcelona to begin a season of 10- and 11-night Mediterranean cruises, Disney-style.

"The flexibility and mobility of Disney Cruise Line allow us to offer guests a new way to explore other parts of the world while enjoying a world-class cruise experience," said Walt Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Jay Rasulo. "Disney Cruise Line is a model for the way we are expanding our family vacation business worldwide by offering new experiences the whole family can enjoy."

Ten-night cruises depart Barcelona on Wednesdays, visiting Palermo (Sicily), Naples, Civitavecchia/Rome, and La Spezia/Florence (Italy), Olbia (Sardinia), and Marseilles and Villefranche (France), with two days at sea. Sailing dates are June 6, June 27, July 18, and August 8.¿Eleven-night cruises depart Barcelona on Saturdays, with an identical itinerary and one extra day at sea. Sailing dates are May 26, June 16, July 7, and July 28.

In addition to the Mediterranean cruises, Disney will offer east- and westbound 14-night transatlantic cruises, departing from Port Canaveral May 12 and from Barcelona August 18.

Bookings for these itineraries are scheduled to open on April 4, 2006. Rates start at $2,399 per person, double occupancy.

Princess Adds Third Former Renaissance Ship to Fleet

Following the dissolution of Renaissance Cruises in 2001, its ships -- eight nearly identical, beautifully designed, 680-passenger vessels -- were scooped up by several different cruise lines: three by Oceania Cruises, one by Germany's Delphin Seereisen, one by Spain's Pullmantur Cruises, one by British line Swan Hellenic, and two by Princess Cruises (tel. 800/774-6237; www.princess.com), which changed their names to Pacific Princess and Tahitian Princess and set them to sailing Asia and South Pacific itineraries. Last week, Princess made it a hat trick by acquiring the former R8 from Swan Hellenic, where she's been sailing as Minerva II.

The vessel will join the Princess fleet in spring 2007 under the name Royal Princess. She'll 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.

MSC Cruises Announces Yet Another New Ship

Hey MSC, what gives with all the new ships?

The upstart Italian line, which only launched its first brand-new vessel in 2003 (the midsize, 1,586-passenger Lirica), has already surprised the cruise world several times in the past two years. First it purchased Festival Cruises' almost-new European Vision and European Stars after that company's financial meltdown; then it hired former Celebrity president Richard Sasso to head its North America division; then it launched a sister-ship to Lirica, ordered two new 89,600-ton megaships for delivery in 2006 and 2007, then topped that by ordering two 133,500-ton, 3,300-passenger super-megas for 2008 and 2009.

Guess they figued "Why stop there?" because now MSC (tel. 800/666-9333; www.msccruises.com) has announced its order for a third 89,600-ton ship for delivery in March 2008. That makes four new vessels added to the fleet in three years, and another five ready to be added over the next three.

"We have come a long way since 2002, when we had three ships in service," said Sasso in making the announcement. "We are committed to making investments that confirm MSC Cruises as the dominant force in the European cruise market."

The 89,600-ton, 2,500-passenger MSC Musica will sail her inaugural voyage July 1. Her sister ship MSC Orchestra is scheduled to join the fleet in 2007. The two super-mega ships, MSC Fantasia and MSC Serenata, are scheduled for June 2008 and March 2009.

Carnival Freedom to Debut with Line's First Greek Isles Cruises

Though bigger than big in the Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Lines (tel. 800/227-6485; www.carnival.com) has played it cool in Europe, sticking with itineraries that emphasize ports in Italy, Spain, and France. Starting in March 2007, though, the 110,000-ton Carnival Freedom will debut with a series of 12-night cruises that include the line's first-ever visits to the Greek Isles and Turkey.

The new Mediterranean & Greek Isles Cruises will sail round-trip from Civitavecchia/Rome, visiting Naples and Livorno/Florence (Italy), Rhodes, Piraeus/Athens, and Katakolon (Greece), and Izmir/Ephesus and Istanbul (Turkey), with one night spent at port in Rome to allow time to explore the city. Departures are scheduled for March 14 and 26, April 7 and 19, June 18, August 5, and September 22, 2007. Freedom will also sail a more standard "Grand Mediterranean" itinerary for most of the summer, sailing from Civitavecchia/Rome and visiting Barcelona (Spain), Cannes (France), Dubrovnik (Croatia), Messina (Sicily), and, in Italy, Naples, Livorno/Florence, and Venice, the latter for an overnight stay. Trips depart May 1, 13 and 25; June 6 and 30; July 12 and 24; August 17 and 28; September 10; and October 4 and 16, 2007.

Lindblad Launches Sea Kayaking Cruises on the Sea of Cortez

Lindblad Expeditions (tel. 800/397-3348; www.expeditions.com) was formed in 1979 by Sven-Eric Lindblad, son of adventure travel pioneer Lar-Eric Lindblad, the man who opened Antarctica to travelers. In 2005, the line cemented its place as the top learning-oriented expedition line by inking an alliance with the National Geographic Society, which now provides onboard lecturers, researchers, and explorers for the Lindblad vessels. For 2006, one of those explorers is Kira Salak, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and the first person to ever kayak solo 600 miles down West Africa's Niger River to Timbuktu, Mali.

Salak will sail with three Lindblad Baja/Sea of Cortez voyages this spring and summer aboard the 62-passenger Sea Voyager, leading kayaking expeditions and telling stories of her explorations. Most days the ship will drop the kayakers and then move off to a distant anchorage, leaving guests to paddle in solitude. Experiences kayakers may hit the water for as long as four hours, though less strenuous expeditions are available for those less conditioned. Other activities include snorkeling, swimming, hiking, whale-watching, and exploration by inflatable Zodiac craft. Baja Sea Kayaking cruises depart April 29, May 13, and June 17, 2006. Rates start at $2,490 per person, including airfare from Phoenix, Arizona, to Hermosillo or Guaymas, Mexico.

EasyCruise Contemplates Bahamas Cruises from Miami

Launched just one year ago this month, easyCruise (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. Cabins are bare-boned (if stylish) and the rock-bottom prices only cover lodging and transportation. For anything else -- including food -- you pay extra.

Encouraged by reportedly positive response from US passengers, the company is looking into the possibilities of offering easyCruises from Florida to the Bahamas. Founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou (the brains behind easyJet, easyHotel, easyCar, and a dozen other "easy" companies) was recently in south Florida to discuss the viability of sailing from Miami or Fort Lauderdale in winter 06/07, rather than repeating the line's southern Caribbean season.

"Americans seem to like easyCruise because of the youthful independence it brings to the industry," said Stelios. "I think this gives us the opportunity to enter the lion's den and start offering cruises out of Miami and the Bahamas, the cruising center of the world."

EasyCruiseOne, the line's first and (so far) only ship, is currently sailing the Caribbean. After its April 29 departure it sails for Europe and takes up its usual route along the French and Italian Rivieras, beginning May 13.

Regent Offers Parisian Da Vinci Code Land Program

With the film version of The Da Vinci Code set to release in the U.S. on May 19, Regent Seven Seas Cruises (tel. 800/477-7500; www.theregentexperience.com), which until two weeks ago was known as Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, is jumping on the bandwagon with pre- and postcruise tours that visit sites central to the action. Throughout 2006, guests sailing from Nice and Monte Carlo aboard Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Navigator can explore Da Vinci sites in Paris as part of a new two-night program, which includes a stay at the Hôtel du Louvre, a guided half-day tour of the Louvre museum, a Da Vinci¿themed guidebook, breakfast daily, one-way flight Paris/Nice (pre-cruise) or Nice/Paris (post-cruise), and transfers where applicable. Per-person rates run $1,895 in addition to your cruise fare.

SeaDream Introduces Online Spa Booking

This month, luxury small-ship line SeaDream Yacht Club (tel. 800/707-4911; www.seadreamyachtclub.com) became the latest to jump on one of the newest trends in cruising: Offering passengers the ability to prebook their spa appointments before their cruise. While lines on embarkation day aren't a problem on the 110-passenger SeaDream yachts, the option will allow guests to preplan their vacation days more efficiently.

Booked guests may access the spa-booking engine through the new www.seadreamspa.com website. The spas offer a range of Asian treatments such as traditional Thai massage, Shiatsu massage, and Javanese Lulur body scrub.

Royal Caribbean to Install Royal Beds

Fancy bedding has been one of the cruise industry's major trends over the past three years, with Oceania, Holland America, and Carnival all taking the plunge. Next up is Royal Caribbean (tel. 800/327-6700; www.royalcaribbean.com), which over the next fourteen months will completely change its sleep experience, from bed frames to covers. Additions include new bed frames designed to prevent sagging, nine-inch-thick spring mattresses with separate two-inch microfiber pillow tops, 220-thread-count cotton-blend sheets, new micro-fiber pillows (plus one decorative pillow), and a duvet with cotton-blend covers.

"Though we think bedtime is the last thing on anyone's mind while on a Royal Caribbean cruise, we do realize that sleeping well is essential to our guest's vacation experience," said RCI president Adam Goldstein.

The new bedding will debut in May on Royal Caribbean's newest ship, Freedom of the Seas, and will be rolled out to the rest of the fleet by May 2007.

Peter Deilmann Introduces New Themed River Cruisetours

Want culture in your cruise? German cruise line Peter Deilmann (tel. 800/348-8287; www.deilmann-cruises.com) has a range of themed river voyages planned for this summer and fall, including:

  • Rembrandt and His World: An 11-night cruisetour aboard the 96-passenger Casanova or 106-passenger Heidelberg, marking the 400th anniversary of the artist's death, with four departures between May 1 and September 11. The itinerary begins with two nights in Bruges and two¿in Amsterdam with an excursion to Leiden, Rembrandt's birthplace, for a walking tour with a Leiden University professor. In Amsterdam, participants have a private guided tour of the Rijksmuseum to view the special "Rembrandt 400" exhibit and the extensive collection of 17th century Dutch masters. The cruise sails from Amsterdam on the Rhine to Cologne, then to Bernkastel and Cochem (picturesque wine towns on the Moselle), then continues to Koblenz the old university town of Heidelberg on the Neckar River. Prices start at $4,492 per person, double occupancy, and include the 7-night cruise and four nights in hotels.
  • Vineyards of Burgundy & Delights of Provence: A 9-night program that features a 7-night cruise on the Saône and Rhône rivers and two nights at the deluxe Château de Gilly hotel, with visits to Château de Vougeot (Burgundy's oldest vineyard), Dijon (for a wine tasting), and the famous old wine market town of Beaune. Aboard the 140-passenger Princesse de Provence, the trip visits the towns of Chalôn sur Saône and Macon, the 10th-century Roman Abbey at Cluny, Arles and the Provencal countryside (where Van Gogh painted), Avignon (the papal seat from 1309 to 1377), and Lyon. Four departures sail between May 17 and October 25, with rates starting at $4,249 per person.
  • Eastern European Folklore Cruise: This 17-night cruistour begins in Romania with two nights at the Hotel Intercontinental in Bucharest and three in Transylvania visiting Bran and Peles castles (land of Vlad the Impaler, progenitor of Transylvania's vampire legends) and historic regional towns. From the Danube Delta, participants depart for the Black Sea and an 11-night cruise on the Danube to Belgrade, Budapest, and Vienna. Departures May 23, June 21 and July 11. Prices start at $5,184 per person.

Other cruisetour options are available. See website for details.

NCL Paints Pearls on Pearl

Ever since Norwegian Cruise Line (tel. 800/327-7030; www.ncl.com) was bought by the Asian company Star Cruises in 2000, things have been conspicuously brighter aboard its ships, both inside and, especially, out. Pride of America's hull, for instance, is painted to reflect her name, with red and blue banners and stars on the ship's white background, echoing both the American flag and the streamers ocean liner passengers used to toss from the decks to celebrate their departure. All the other recent NCL ships have similar livery, so it comes as no surprise that the new Norwegian Jewel, due to debut in November, will sport strands of colorful pearls and streamers running back from her bow almost to her midsection, painted in vivid green, plum, cranberry, and sapphire blue.

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