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Regal Princess and Crystal Harmony to Leave U.S. Market in '06

What is it about Americans that they insist everything be shiny and new? It's true of cars, celebrities, and trophy brides, and it's apparently also true of cruise ships, because this month both Princess Cruises (tel. 800-PRINCESS; www.princess.com) and Crystal Cruises (tel. 866/446-6625; www.crystalcruises.com) announced the retirement of their oldest ships.

Like a lot of has-been American celebrities, cruise ships don't just go home and collect Social Security when they retire. Instead, they hit the road, playing for mysteriously attentive foreign audiences. Call it the David Hasselhoff syndrome. Why do the Germans love him so much?

Anyway, that's the plan for Princess's 1,590-passenger Regal Princess and Crystal's 940-passenger Crystal Harmony.

Regal Princess will leave the Princess fleet in October 2006, heading for service with UK-based sister-brand Ocean Village, founded in 2003 and oriented toward casual, first-time cruisers. Regal Princess was launched in 1991 on a design by Renzo Piano, the modernist architect responsible for Paris's Centre Pompidou. Its sister ship, Crown Princess, left the Princess fleet in 2002 bound for Carnival Corporation's German subsidiary, Aida Cruises.

"Transferring Regal Princess to our sister company Ocean Village is a natural evolution of the Princess fleet, which for the past decade has grown progressively younger as new ships have been introduced and older tonnage has been transferred to other sister companies in key growth markets," said P&O Princess CEO Peter Ratcliffe. Like Aida and Ocean Village, Princess is part of the vast Carnival Corporation empire.

Princess currently has two new ships under construction: a new Crown Princess, which will debut in early summer 2006, and a second, as yet unnamed sister ship scheduled for spring 2007. Anybody care to guess what her name will be?

Over at Crystal Cruises, it's the end of an era with the retirement of Crystal Harmony, the luxury line's original vessel, launched in 1990. At the end of this year, following her scheduled dry-dock, Harmony will transfer to Japan for service with the cruise division of Crystal's parent company, Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK). In announcing the news, Crystal also hinted at future construction of a replacement vessel, though no details are yet available.

NYK will operate Crystal Harmony as the Asuka II, replacing the 592-passenger Asuka.

Royal Caribbean Goes Big-Box, Buys Cruise Ships in Bulk

Can't fault Royal Caribbean (tel. 800/398-9819; www.royalcaribbean.com) for not planning ahead. Though still a year away from launching Freedom of the Seas, the 160,000-ton vessel that will snatch the "world's biggest" title back from Cunard, the line has just announced an order for a third in the so-called Ultra-Voyager series. Supersized versions of the line's popular Voyager-class ships (Voyager, Explorer, Adventure, Navigator, and Mariner of the Seas), the Ultras will carry a staggering 3,600 passengers, though details of their interiors and attractions have not yet been released.

A second sister, scheduled for delivery in spring 2007, was announced this past September. The new third vessel, to be built at Finand's Aker Finnyards, will enter service in early 2008.

Caribbean Island Turns Away Gay Nudists

It's hard being a gay nudist on a pirate ship. At least that's what 110 passengers aboard Windjammer Barefoot Cruises' Polynesia found last month when they were denied permission to visit tiny Nevis, in the southern Caribbean.

The incident took place on the morning of March 23 when the schooner was intercepted and boarded by a police patrol boat on day four of a six of a six-day charter cruise organized by Miami-based Source Events (www.sourceevents.com).

After discussions between the ship's captain and the Nevisian officers, the ship was denied the right to put in to the island, despite the captain's assurances that passengers would remain clothed.

Initial news reports, quoting a Nevis port authority official, suggested the group's sexual orientation was to blame for the decision. After an immediate outcry in the U.S. media, the Nevis Minister of Tourism, Malcolm Guishard, went into overdrive to claim the decision was based purely on the group's nakedness.

"If this ship had been chartered by a heterosexual clothing-optional group, our decision would have been exactly the same," he said in a prepared release, adding that "We sincerely extend our deepest apologies to those who feel their sexual orientation has been maligned."

In addition to laws against public nudity, the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis also has laws forbidding sodomy. In June 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down similar laws in fourteen U.S. states, citing rights of privacy and individual liberty under the Constitution's Due Process Clause.

Radisson Guests Explore the Seas with Jean-Michel Cousteau

They're a bit more luxurious than the Calypso, Jacques Cousteau's legendary research and expedition vessel, but Radisson Seven Seas' (tel. 800/477-7500; www.rssc.com) luxury ships will get a taste of exploration this year as the line expands its partnerships with the Ocean Futures Society, headed by Cousteau's son Jean-Michel.

RSSC's new program got its start last summer with the "Ambassadors of the Environment" program for kids on Paul Gauguin's Tahiti sailings (see feature story), but will now be going fleetwide, expanded to include adult activities such as lectures by Ocean Future Society experts and original in-suite TV programming. Jean-Michel Cousteau will personally conduct talks, lectures, and shore excursions on select cruises, including the Amazon, Falklands, and Chilean Fjords segments of the Seven Seas Mariner's 62-night "Grand Circle South America" voyage, departing January 10, 2006. Otherwise, select sailings of the Seven Seas Voyager, Seven Seas Mariner, Seven Seas Navigator, and Paul Gauguin will feature Ocean Futures Society experts leading informal workshops and discussions on marine life and undersea habitats. Passengers will be able to watch their dives via live TV uplinks.

Seabourn Goes Bel Canto with 2005 Opera Cruises

Really, when you think about it, there's no reason all cruise ship entertainment has to look like it'll be playing Atlantic City next week. Why not have, say, a small opera troupe onboard?

That's exactly what Seabourn (tel. 800/929-9391; www.seabourn.com) has planned as the Reduced Opera Company, a British repertory troupe, comes aboard for six cruises between now and October. Comprised of just three singers, the company will present two full performances of selections from both grand and light opera, with one evening's performance preceded by a special "Night at the Opera" formal dinner in the ship's restaurant.

Opera will occur on the following cruises:

  • Seabourn Legend: April 7 (7 nights, Lisbon to Monte Carlo) and April 24 (7 nights, Barcelona to Monte Carlo)
  • Seabourn Pride: May 6 (16 nights Istanbul to Lisbon), May 22 (14 nights Lisbon to London), and August 28 (18 nights London to New York)
  • Seabourn Spirit: October 16 (7 nights Athens to Alexandria)

Fares start from $2,998 per person, double occupancy.

Chosen Voyage Offers Kosher Cruises on the Danube and Napa

The words "cruise" and "not enough to eat" don't usually go together, but they often do if you're a Jew who keeps kosher. Yes, the cruise lines provide special meals by request and some kosher groups even bring aboard their own chefs, but you never get the range of options enjoyed by other passengers.

Enter Chosen Voyage (tel. 877/462-4673; www.chosenvoyage.com). Founded in 2003 by ordained rabbi and travel-industry veteran Matthew Schollar, Chosen Voyage charters small vessels and transforms them totally into a kosher environment, bringing aboard its own galley equipment, porcelain, and silverware, as well as kosher wines and activities and excursions related to Jewish culture and history.

For 2005, Chosen Voyage is offering two new sailings.

From August 25 to September 1, the company will charter Intrav's brand-new 142-passenger river ship Amadeus Royal for a cruise called "A Celebration of Jewish History along the Danube." Led by Rabbi and Mrs. Steven Weil of Congregation Beth Jacob, Beverly Hills, the cruise will explore the tapestry of Jewish life in Vienna, Budapest, Bratislava (Slovakia), and other sites.

From October 31 to November 6, Chosen Voyage will charter Clipper's 138-passenger Yorktown Clipper for "A Celebration of Kosher Wine and Cuisine," with two full days in California's Napa Valley for private vineyard tours, wine tastings, and a gourmet chocolate tour, with guest celebrity chefs and experts including Susie Fishbein (author of the cookbook series Kosher by Design) and Miriam Morgenstern of Wine Spectator magazine.

Pricing for the Danube itinerary starts at $2,499 per person, double occupancy. Pricing for the wine country cruise starts at $2,599 per person, double occupancy.

Costa Supersizes for Caribbean '05

For the past couple years, Costa Cruises (tel. 800/GO-COSTA; www.costacruises.com) has been one a massive building kick, launching three new ships between June 2003 and November 2004. This month, it announced that the newest and largest of those, the flagship 105,000-ton, 3,470-passenger Costa Magica, will sail the Caribbean this winter, offering alternating eastern and western Caribbean sailings December through April, round-trip from Ft. Lauderdale.

Eastern Caribbean sailings will visit San Juan, St. Thomas/St. John, Catalina Island (Costa's private beach), and Nassau, plus an evening visit to the Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic for dining and nightlife. Western Caribbean sailings visit Key West, Cozumel, Ocho Rios, and Grand Cayman.

Rates start at $599 per person for inside staterooms, $799 for oceanview staterooms, and $949 for balcony staterooms.

Viking Hits Rhine with Sun

Last week, Viking River Cruises (tel. 877/668-4546; www.vikingrivercruises.com) celebrated the debut of its newest vessel, the 198-passenger river cruiser Viking Sun, designed by Yran & Storbraaten, who have also designed ships for Seabourn, Disney, and NCL.

Four hundred and thirty-three feet long, the Sun offers 99 outside cabins, 37 with floor-to-ceiling opening French windows and 30 with large, openable picture windows.

The vessel is scheduled to sail a 12-night itinerary along the Rhine River April through December, between Antwerp (Belgium) and Basel (Switzerland). Stops will include Brugge, Delft, Schoonhoven, Gouda, Amsterdam, Arnhem, Cologne, Koblenz, Rudeshiem, Heidelberg, Speyer, Strasbourg, and Breisach. Fares start at $2,299 per person.

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