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Carnival Shakes Up Deployment in Katrina's Wake

On September 23, Carnival Cruise Lines (tel. 800/327-9501; www.carnival.com) released details on the future deployment of the vessels Sensation, Ecstasy, and Holiday, all currently under charter to FEMA for Hurricane Katrina relief. All three vessels are scheduled to return to cruise service in early March 2006.

After a major refurbishment, the 2,052-passenger Sensation will inaugurate a new program of 4- and 5-night cruises from Port Canaveral, Florida, as of March 23. Four-night cruises will call at Nassau and either Freeport or Half Moon Cay. Five-night cruises will call at either Grand Turk, Half Moon Cay, and Nassau (for all 2006 sailings and cruises departing May-Sept 2007) or Key West and Cozumel (for all sailings departing Jan-April and Oct-Dec 2007). Elation, a sister-ship to Sensation, will take over the program as of Oct. 23, 2006.

On April 8, 2006, after a month-long refurbishment, the 2,052-passenger Ecstasy will resume the 4- and 5-night western Caribbean itineraries she'd offered from Galveston, Texas, prior to her FEMA charter. The 1,452-passenger Holiday is on a similar schedule, undergoing a refurbishment throughout March and then returning to cruise service on March 27, offering year-round 4- and 5-night Caribbean cruises from Mobile, Alabama.

Carnival is offering full refunds for anyone booked on cruises cancelled as a result of these redeployments.

Concurrently, Carnival also took the opportunity to announce its target date for resumption of cruise service from New Orleans: October 26, 2006, when Sensation will once again offer 4- and 5-night Caribbean itineraries from the port.

FEMA is under fire for the $236 million dollar charter of the three Carnival ships, which was arranged hastily in the immediate aftermath of the storm. The three vessels were intended as emergency housing, but evacuees balked, complaining that the ships' intended Galveston berths put them too far from communication, potential job opportunities, and the prospect of resuming a normal life. At present Sensation and Ecstasy are docked in New Orleans serving as housing for police and fire units. Reports in the New York Times and the Washington Post claim they're operating at only about a third of their capacity. Holiday, meanwhile, has not yet left its berth in Mobile, and has thus far been vastly underused in the relief effort.

Based on full capacity (all berths filled in all cabins), the FEMA charter appears to be paying Carnival a rate of approximately $190 per-person, per-day. A quick estimate of rates Carnival is charging for the ships' spring cruises reveals shipwide averages of approximately $117 per berth per day, though this does not take into account additional revenue the line accrues from gambling, alcohol and shore excursion sales, and other onboard charges -- a significant piece of the profit pie for any mainstream cruise line.

When the charters were first announced, Carnival released a statement on their financial impact. Coupled with losses from cancelled cruises and repositioning of other vessels, it anticipated reduced company earnings of between $0.01 and $0.03 per share.

Royal Caribbean Redeploys New Orleans Ship to Tampa

Only three major cruise lines -- Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean (tel. 800/398-9819; www.royalcaribbean.com) -- had ships scheduled to sail from New Orleans this fall. Carnival has chartered one of its New Orleans-based ships to FEMA and has repositioned another to Galveston, Texas, while NCL has repositioned its Norwegian Sun to Houston. Now comes word that Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas, which had been scheduled to offer 7-night western Caribbean cruises from New Orleans beginning in early December, will instead sail 4- and 5-night western Caribbean itineraries from the Port of Tampa beginning December 3. The ship will call in Cozumel on her 4-night cruise and in Costa Maya and Cozumel on her 5-night itineraries. All three ports are on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

"We truly regret that we are unable to sail from New Orleans for the next several months," said Royal Caribbean's president, Adam Goldstein. "The impact of Hurricane Katrina has been devastating, but we know that New Orleans will eventually reclaim its place as a world-class tourism destination. . . . We look forward to returning as soon as circumstances permit us to do so."

Guests booked on cancelled New Orleans cruises have several options:

  • Cancel and receive a full refund, plus a $100-per-stateroom future cruise certificate.
  • Book one of the new Grandeur sailings from Tampa, a Splendour of the Seas cruise from Galveston, or an Enchantment of the Seas sailings from Fort Lauderdale. Guests who rebook on Grandeur will receive a partial refund and a $150-per-stateroom onboard credit. Guests who rebook on Splendour or Enchantment will receive a partial refund and $100-per-stateroom onboard credit.
  • Book any 7-night cruise aboard Vision of the Seas, Enchantment of the Seas, Rhapsody of the Seas, Splendour of the Seas, or Legend of the Seas at the rate paid (price protected) and receive an additional $100-per-stateroom onboard credit.
  • Book any other Royal Caribbean itinerary at prevailing rates and receive an additional $100-per-stateroom onboard credit.

Revised bookings will be accepted today through Nov. 1, 2005.

Grandeur of the Seas guests who have already purchased air transportation through Royal Caribbean will receive assistance in changing their flights to arrive and depart from Tampa or the airport closest to their cruise departure point. Guests who booked their own air transportation should contact their carriers to make alternate flight arrangements. Royal Caribbean reports that it's asking airlines not to hold travelers responsible for change fees.

Brooklyn Welcomes Brits at New Red Hook Cruise Terminal

Though the new Pier 12 cruise terminal in Red Hook, Brooklyn, is still under construction, that didn't stop legendary British line P&O Cruises (www.pocruises.com) from berthing the 1,800-passenger Oriana there en route from the UK to Boston and Canada. The ship is the first to arrive at the facility, where work to deepen the channel, upgrade passenger facilities, and reinforce mooring points is being completed in anticipation of the official opening in April 2006. Heavy traffic at Manhattan's west side cruise terminal forced Oriana to make do with temporary facilities at the Brooklyn site, but by way of compensation the vessel's passengers received an official greeting from New York mayor Michael Bloomberg as well as Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz and other city and port officials.

"Pier 12 on Buttermilk Channel will soon be the official first stop in North America for visitors from all over the world, like those docking here today," said Markowitz. "The cruise industry will be great for Brooklyn, creating hundreds of new jobs and allowing Brooklynites to throw their luggage on a boat and before they know it arrive in the Caribbean or England. Visitors here will get the best views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, right from the deck. And once they step ashore and smell the marinara or taste the bagels or see the brownstones or visit the top-notch museums or experience Brooklynites' world-famous hospitality -- who knows? They might just stay forever."

Beginning in April, the Red Hook terminal will be the official New York home to Cunard's Queen Mary 2, as well as to Princess's new Crown Princess, which debuts in June 2006.

Two Carnival Corp. Newbuilds Finally Placed in Good Homes

In September 2004, Carnival Corporation did what only it can do in the cruise industry: It ordered five new megaships from Italy's Finacantieri shipyards without exactly knowing which of their umpteen cruise brands some of those ships would ultimately sail for. Carnival? Holland America? Princess, Costa, Cunard, P&O, or maybe the German line Aida Cruises? It was anyone's guess.

This week, though, they finally bit the bullet and gave those poor little ships homes to call their own. The decision? Carnival gets one and so does P&O.

P&O news, a legendary British line that's been a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation since April 2003, will get the larger of the two newbuilds, a 116,000-ton, 3,100-passenger vessel scheduled for delivery in spring 2008. The ship, to be named Ventura, will be the largest ever built for the British cruise market.

Carnival, for its part, will get the 112,000-ton, 3,006-passenger ship, also expected to enter service in spring 2008 and representing an all new design for Carnival. Highlights will include an enormous 17,800-square-foot spa spread across two forward decks and featuring an elaborate thermal suite, Carnival's first thalassotherapy pool, and a variety of health and beauty treatment rooms. Encircling the spa's upper level will be a winter garden with a ceremonial tea house. A 5,500-square-foot children's playroom -- the largest in the Carnival fleet -- will be located mid-ship and include a newly designed water play area.

Other vessels covered by the 2004 deal include the 110,000-ton Carnival Freedom for Carnival (due in February 2007), the 116,000-ton Emerald Princess for Princess (due in spring 2007), and the 1,850-passenger liner Queen Victoria for Cunard (scheduled for December 2007).

In related news, Carnival's 70,367-ton, 2,056-passenger Fantasy, one of the oldest ships in the Fun Ship fleet, recently returned to service after a scheduled 21-day dry dock in Norfolk, Virginia. Enhancements include a completely revamped spa with eleven new treatment rooms, a new relaxation/waiting room, and updated equipment and cosmetic enhancements; a new nine-hole miniature golf course; a new photo gallery; and upgraded audio/visual equipment, tilework, carpeting and upholstery. The vessel has already resumed its year-round schedule of Bahamas cruises from Port Canaveral, Florida. Three-night cruises depart every Thursday, visiting Nassau. Four-night cruises depart every Sunday, visiting Nassau and Freeport. Prices start at $249 per person for 3-night cruises and $279 per person for 4-night cruises.

French Country Waterways Launches New Luxury Canal Barge

French Country Waterways (tel. 800/222-1236; www.fcwl.com) has just launched the 12-passenger Adrienne, a luxurious, all-suite barge decorated in 18th-century French provincial style, with custom-made furniture and rich fabrics. The vessel made her maiden voyage September 18 in the Upper Loire Valley, gateway to the châteaux country. Her six suites all have lavishly carved king-size beds, armoires, and granite and marble bathrooms. Her lounge opens onto a partially canopied sundeck, while her dining room is done in Louis XV-style style.

Adrienne sails on 6-night canal cruises between Châtillon-sur-Loire and Nemours in the Upper Loire on Sundays from April 2 to October 29, 2006. Highlights include tours of the magnificent château and gardens of Fontainebleau, a private wine tasting in Sancerre, and dinner ashore at the Auberge des Templiers, a gorgeous country chateau (built in 1690) that was one of the eight original Relais & Châteaux hotels.

Cruise rates start at $3,995 per person, double occupancy.

Windstar Announces "Degrees of Difference" Upgrades

In a long-anticipated move, Windstar Cruises (tel. 800/258-7245; www.windstarcruises.com) has followed parent company Holland America's lead in introducing a branded program of upgrades and improvements to the line's three motor-sail ships, Wind Surf, Wind Star, and Wind Spirit. Dubbed "Degrees of Difference" (as opposed to HAL's "Signature of Excellence"), the initiative will be implemented in stages between now and 2007 and will include improvements to several major areas of the cruise experience.

  • Dining: One hundred new menu items from Windstar's consulting chef, Joachim Splichal, will be introduced, covering both the main restaurants and Wind Surf's reservations-only Bistro, which will serve steakhouse, Italian, French, and Indonesian menus on rotating nights. Other additions will include a new wine list featuring more boutique labels; a selection of exotic fine cheeses (many bought fresh in local markets) served tableside from a cheese cart, and Petit-fours served with coffee after dinner.
  • Accommodations: In addition to the usual upkeep implemented during ships' annual drydocks (new cabin curtains, pillows, etc.), cabins aboard the three Windstar ships will receive a technology upgrade too. Flat screen TVs and DVD/CD players were introduced last year, but now guests may rent laptops from the reception desk and also check out fully loaded Apple iPod Nanos free of charge. Each cabin will be outfitted with a Bose SoundDock so you can use the iPods as an in-cabin stereo.
  • Service: Upgrades to Windstar's 24-hour room service will now include course-by-course in-cabin dining during dinner hours.
  • Onboard Relaxation: New two-person hammocks will be installed on the flying bridges of all three ships, providing a prime relaxation opportunity under the ships' billowing sails.

MSC Hits the Songbook for 2006

Music-themed cruises haven't been the rage at mainstream cruise lines for quite a few years, but if anyone's going to revive the trend it's MSC Cruises (tel. 800/666-9333; www.msccruises.com). A relatively new line in the American market (though backed by Mediterranean Shipping, one of the world's largest container ship operators), MSC has been taking a stab at returning to an earlier, less complex era of cruising.

"The seventies were my favorite era in cruising," says the line's North American president Richard Sasso, late of Celebrity Cruises. "Today, ships have gotten so big they've lost some of their personality. Back then, with companies like Home Lines and Sitmar, there wasn't any spa, there wasn't even a real beauty salon -- just a room with two of those dome hairdryers -- but still you had rich lawyers fighting to get aboard because they knew they'd have the experience of a lifetime."

Count their music lineup for 2006 as contributing to that earlier-era feel.

On January 24, MSC Lirica's 11-night eastern Caribbean cruise from Ft. Lauderdale will feature the great vocal group The Ink Spots, now in its umpteenth lineup since forming in 1932. Honorees of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Grammy Hall of Fame, and the Apollo Hall of Fame, the group's hits include "If I Didn't Care," "Prisoner of Love," and "I Understand (Just How You Feel)." Port calls on Lirica's itinerary that week will include San Juan, St. Maarten, Grenada, Barbados, Antigua, Tortola, and Cayo Levantado, a private beach resort in the Dominican Republic.

On February 15, MSC Lirica will feature jazz pianist Joe Augustine and vocalist Dana Paul. The 11-night itinerary visits San Juan, St. Maarten, Grenada, Barbados, Antigua, Tortola, and Cayo Levantado.

On January 13, March 20, and April 22, Lirica will feature the sounds of the 15-piece Les DeMerle Big Band, featuring vocalist Bonnie Eisele and leader/drummer DeMerle, who has performed with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Mel Torme, the Harry James Big Band, and Wayne Newton. January 13 and March 20's 11-night sailings will call at Ocho Rios (Jamaica), Cartagena (Columbia), the San Blas Islands and Cristobal (Panama), Puerto Limon (Costa Rica), and Roatan Island (Honduras). The April 22 itinerary calls at San Juan, St. Maarten, Grenada, Barbados, Antigua, Tortola, and Cayo Levantado, and is a combination Big Band & Baseball theme cruise, featuring baseball greats aboard for Q&As, storytelling, clinics, and trivia games. Baseball theme cruises will also be held on Lirica's Dec. 10 and April 11 sailings, as well as sister-ship MSC Opera's 7-night sailings departing Jan. 28, Feb. 18, and March 11.

Deal Brings CBS Programming to Royal Caribbean TVs

Add this one to the "Oh, must they?" file, right next to onboard cell phone service: This week, Royal Caribbean (tel. 800/398-9819; www.royalcaribbean.com) unveiled a deal with CBS TV that will bring 24/7 network programming to in-cabin TVs across the line's 19-ship fleet. Dubbed "CBS Eye on Royal Caribbean," the dedicated channel will feature a lineup of CBS comedy, news, sports, and entertainment programming hosted by network personalities such as Survivor's Jeff Probst and CBS Sports' Jim Nantz. And yes, there will be commercials. According to the website of High Seas Media, the company charged with managing ad sales, commercials on the channel will reach "a relaxed, unhurried and receptive audience." That means you. Suggestion: Go out on deck and play instead.

Crystal Stocks Own "C Wines" on Symphony, Serenity

What's the good of being rich (or at least well off) if you can't stock in your own private-label wine? Now in its second year, Crystal Cruises (tel. 888/799-4625; www.crystalcruises.com) proprietary C Wines label debuts this month with six new wines: three premium and three reserve Chardonnays, Cabernet Sauvignons, and Merlots. Made in limited production with grapes from the Napa and Sonoma valleys, Arroyo Seco, and Santa Lucia Highlands, Crystal's second order of C Wines will deliver nearly 55,000 bottles to Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, where they'll be offered by the glass or bottle as part of the ships' extensive wine lists.

US Airways and America West Offer Miles for Cruises

US Airways and America West, which in May announced an agreement to merge, have recently launched a cruise-booking website that will allow travelers to earn up to 10,000 frequent-flier miles when booking a cruise. Created in partnership with leisure travel company NLG, the site offers cruises on seventeen cruise lines: Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Crystal, Cunard, Disney, HAL, MSC, Oceania, Orient Lines, Princess, Radisson, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Silversea, and Windstar. Travelers can earn miles on America West's FlightFund program and US Airways' Dividend Miles program until spring 2006, when the two programs will merge. Miles accrue based on the number of nights sailed:

  • 1 to 5 nights: 1,500 miles
  • 6 to 8 nights: 3,000 miles
  • 9 to 12 nights: 5,000 miles
  • 13 or more nights: 10,000 miles

For more information and to book a cruise visit www.americawest.com/cruises or call 888/843-3839.

Royal Caribbean & Celebrity Introduce Online Check-In Fleetwide

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity's online check-in system, which debuted on a test basis in July, is now up and running for all ships on all itineraries, in English and Spanish. The system, known as "SetSail" for Royal Caribbean International and "Xpress Pass" for Celebrity, is designed to cut check-in time at the pier by allowing guests to fill in their personal information, provide immigration info, register their credit card for onboard purchases, and print out a bar-coded check-in form from their computer, before they leave home. At the pier, you just head for a special check-in line, get your ID and barcode beeped, and receive your boarding card. On average, some 70 percent of guests on both lines are already taking advantage of the program, which reportedly reduces wait times to less than one minute per guest.

To check in online, go to the line's website (www.celebrity.com/onlinecheckin or www.royalcaribbean.com/onlinecheckin), type in your booking number, ship, and sail date, and follow instructions to complete the process in four easy steps. In addition to English and Spanish, the system soon be available in Italian, German, French, and Portuguese as well.

Now, this doesn't mean you'll be able to board ship immediately as soon as you get to the pier. You'll still have to wait till your number is called, but at least it'll save you queue time.

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