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Cruise Fight! Small Orange Boat Takes on Fun Ship Fleet

As reported here November 21, insurgent cruise line easyCruise (www.easycruise.com) has set up shop in the southern Caribbean this winter, offering no-frills, bargain-priced cruises whose rates cover only your cabin and transportation. Everything else -- including food -- costs extra. The line's one ship, the 170-passenger, creamsickle-orange easyCruiseone, follows a circular route that allows guests to board in practically any port and sail as long as they like. Port calls last late into the night so passengers can explore nightlife -- part of the line's strategy for luring travelers in their 20s and 30s.

Revolutionary? Maybe not in the greater scheme of things, but it is in a cruise business whose traditions often date back to the golden age of ocean liner travel. What is revolutionary, though, is the line's new advertising campaign, which delivers a shot across the bow of industry leader Carnival. One ad, set to appear in the Miami Herald on December 11, reads, "If spending nights at sea in tacky ballrooms full of old folks is not your idea of a holiday then easyCruise.com is for you." A footnote adds, "Any similarity with Carnival ships is purely coincidental."

The ad follows on the heels of a alleged e-mail exchange between easyCruise founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou (aka just "Stelios") and Carnival Corporation chairman Micky Arison, following a broadcast of the British Sky Television's docu-soap Cruise with Stelios. During the broadcast, Stelios is shown touring the vessel Costa Magica and describing its Decor as "tacky." Costa is a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation.

According to the June 26 edition of London's Sunday Times, Arison's e-mail noted that, "It was inappropriate as a guest of Costa to make publicly disparaging remarks, on British television, about the Costa Magica referring to the ship as 'tacky'. Although, based on what I've seen of your ship, you're an expert in what's tacky."

The advertising volley continues a public effort by Stelios to position his cruise venture as the anti-Carnival. In a spring press conference in New York, he noted that "Mickey Arison has made a fortune by playing to the fears of Americans. They want to travel, but they want to travel in a bubble. We appeal to more independent-minded people."

Oceania Christens Third Ship, Angles for Fourth

Oceania Cruises (tel. 800/531-5658; www.oceaniacruises.com), which got its start in 2003 with two of the former Renaissance Cruises ships (and a former Renaissance CEO at the helm), has just christened its third vessel at a ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey. Named Nautica, the 30,200-ton, 684-passenger vessel is an identical twin of Regatta and Insignia, all of them -- as well as five others -- built by Renaissance over an intense period of construction in the mid-1990s.

Soon after the naming ceremony, Nautica embarked on her maiden Oceania voyage, a 24-day cruise from Athens to Singapore. She'll operate cruises in Asia until mid-March, then sail to Athens to begin a season in the eastern Mediterranean.

During the ceremony, Oceania president and CEO Frank Del Rio announced the line's intention of adding a fourth ship to its fleet. To be named Marina, the ship is expected to debut in Hong Kong on July 7, 2007. Oceania spokesman Tim Rubacky would not comment on the source of the vessel except to note that it would come "from another cruise line." The remaining former Renaissance vessels are currently owned or leased by Princess Cruises (Pacific Princess and Tahitian Princess), Swan Hellenic Cruises (Minerva II), Germany's Delphin Seereisen (Delphin Renaissance), and Spain's Pullmantur Cruises (Blue Star).

SeaDream Yacht Club Heads South American Way for 2006-2007

In the last Frommer's Cruise Newsletter we tipped you off that ultra-luxe small-ship line SeaDream Yacht Club (tel. 800/707-4911; www.seadreamyachtclub.com) was planning to reposition its 110-passenger SeaDream I from the Caribbean to South America for winter 2006-2007. Details on those sailings are now available.

Scheduled beginning in late November 2006 and continuing till mid-February 2007, the 9- and 10-night sailings will operate between Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Ports of call from both Rio and Buenos Aires will include Buzios, Parati, Ilhabela, and Porto Belo (Brazil), and Punta del Este (Uruguay). Cruises from Rio will also include a stop at Itajai (Brazil) to position guests for a private jet charter to IguaƧu Falls, included in the price. Cruises sailing from Buenos Aires to Rio will get an additional day in the city, pre-cruise, with accommodation aboard ship.

Commenting on the new itineraries, SeaDream president and CEO Larry Pimentel credited the repositioning to overcrowding. "The Caribbean continues as a fine region for SeaDream . . . [but] there's too much passenger ship inventory in the Caribbean and the area has poor yields."

SeaDream I's sister-vessel, SeaDream II, will continue offering Caribbean sailings, as she has since the line's creation in 2001.

"South America has beckoned us," said Pimentel, who noted at many of the vessel's stops are "small yachting ports with great natural beauty -- wonderful uncrowded beaches, water sports, mountain biking, magical rainforests, eco-tourism, chic resorts, and historic colonial villages."

SeaDream's South America sailings are currently prices starting at $3,999 per person, double-occupancy, plus government and port charges, document issuance, fuel surcharges, and handling and service fees of $585.

NCL Adds Environmental Education to Kids' Programs

Call it what you will, ecology, environmentalism, creation care, or what have you, environmental awareness is slowly seeping into the mainstream of American life. This week Norwegian Cruise Line (tel. 800/327-7030; www.ncl.com) announced that it had partnered with Youth Environmental Programs, Inc. to offer the Officer Snook Water Pollution Program aboard its entire fleet, beginning aboard Norwegian Jewel and rolling out to all NCL and NCL America ships during 2006. The program, which uses games, crafts, story-telling, coloring books, a simulated "Beach Clean Up," and other activities, seeks to educate young people about the importance of clean water and the affects of marine pollution and ways to prevent it. Created by high-school student Jennifer Sevin in 1993, Officer Snook was incorporated into the U.S. Coast Guard Sea Partners Campaign only one year later and to date has had more than five million participants in grades pre-K through 12.

"Youth Environmental Programs and the Officer Snook Water Pollution Program are pleased to form a partnership with NCL," said Sevin, Youth Environmental Programs' president. "By incorporating the Officer Snook Program on board their ships, NCL demonstrates a commitment to environmental protection by helping to educate others about the causes, effects, and solutions to marine pollution."

Celebrity Introduces Cirque du Soleil Shows, Caribbean Culinary Cruises

Last year, Celebrity Cruises (tel. 800/437-3111; www.celebrity.com) recruited fantasy circus troupe Cirque du Soleil (www.cirquedusoleil.com) to spice up its onboard entertainment, transforming the observation lounges aboard the 1,950-passenger Constellation and Summit into "The Bar at the Edge of the Earth -- a place that invites guests, for two hours every evening, to cross the mirror to another universe." Think surreal characters interacting with guests, rather than simply performing from a stage. This month they're introducing Stage II of the Cirque strategy with a stage show called "A Taste of Cirque du Soleil," a 30-minute performance featuring Cirque characters in acrobatic performances.

"A Taste of Cirque du Soleil focuses on the human element; the simplicity of individual artists' talent, creativity and agility," said Cirque du Soleil president and COO Daniel Lamarre. "It is the true essence, and at the core of, what Cirque du Soleil was founded on."

The no-extra-charge performances are presented twice per cruise in Constellation and Summit's Celebrity Theatres.

Meanwhile, sister-ship Infinity will offer Celebrity's third year of "Savor the Caribbean" culinary cruises, featuring internationally known chefs presenting cooking demonstrations, a Bacardi Caribbean-themed party, wine and rum tastings, and lectures. On shore, passengers can book excursions that blend the island's culture with its food -- a cooking class at St. Thomas's 215-year-old plantation- restaurant the Old Stone Farmhouse, hosted by chef Brian Katz.

The Savor the Caribbean series will take place onboard Infinity's 7- night eastern Caribbean sailings from January 15 through March 12, 2006. Guest chefs will include Edgar Leal of Miami's Cacao (January 15), Giancarla Bodoni of Miami Beach's Escopazzo (January 29), Brian Katz of St. Thomas' Old Stone Farmhouse (February 12), Wilo Benet of San Juan's Pikayo (February 26), and Allen Susser of New York's Allen Susser (March 12).

Chosen Voyage Sets First Kosher Cruise for 2006

Chosen Voyage (tel. 800/990-0890; www.clippercruise.com), the Pittsburgh-based kosher cruise company that became a division of international tour and air/sea operator INTRAV earlier this year, has just announced its first cruise of the new year, an 10-day European journey departing April 11 round-trip from Amsterdam aboard the brand-new Sound of Music, a deluxe 128-passenger river cruiser that will make its inaugural voyage with this cruise.

"The 'Passover Splendor in Holland and Belgium' cruise offers a special voyage through some of Europe's most inspiring Jewish history," says Matthew Shollar, vice president of Chosen Voyage by INTRAV. "Discovering legendary sites like the Anne Frank House, the Museum of Jewish History, and the Portuguese Synagogue amongst family and friends is the perfect way to celebrate the Passover holiday. With the addition of our special guest Scholars-in-Residence -- Rabbi Adam Mintz and Sharon Mintz -- guests will enjoy an immersive experience in the highlights of this picturesque region."

Ports include The Hague, Delft, Bruges, and Antwerp. Prices currently start at $4,200 per person, double occupancy.

Ecotourism Operator AdventureSmith Plans Antarctica Sailings

Ecotourism specialist AdventureSmith Explorations (tel. 800/728-2875; www.adventuresamithexplorations.com) a relative newcomer to the small-ship adventure-cruise world, has just announced a new 15-day journey visiting Antarctica and the fjords and glaciers of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America. Sailing from Punta Arenas, Chile, the 84-passenger ice cutter Antarctic Dream will sail through the Beagle Channel and Drake Passage along Cape Horn, visit the South Shetland Islands, and send guests ashore via inflatable Zodiac craft at the Antarctic's Neko Bay and Deception Island. Aboard ship, geologists, historians, and naturalists offer lectures on the region. The cruises will be offered November through March, with prices starting at $5,509 per person, double occupancy. Price includes a pre-cruise hotel overnight, shore excursions and activities throughout the voyage, plus two flights to the Antarctic Peninsula via the ship's private helicopter.

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