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Carnival Corp. Inks $2 Billion Ship Deal for 2008-2009

If you owned, say, 79 cruise ships that could carry more than 137,000 people, wouldn't you be satisfied? Not if you're Carnival Corporation, the industry giant that owns Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, P&O Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, Windstar Cruises, Cunard Line, Costa Cruises, AIDA Cruises, Ocean Village, Swan Hellenic, and P&O Cruises Australia. Nope, if you were Carnival Corp., you'd be thinking more, more, more.

And so it came to pass that on December 14 Carnival Corp. announced that it had placed an order for not one, not two or three, but four new megaships (with options for two more) with Italy's Fincantieri shipyards, one of the world's largest and most prolific cruise shipbuilders. The deal totals out to more than $2 billion and includes:

  • A 86,000-ton, 2,044-passenger ship for Holland America Line, the largest ever built for that line. Due date: summer 2008, with an option for a sister ship that would be delivered in spring 2010.
  • A 116,000-ton, 3,100-passenger sister ship for Princess Cruises' Emerald Princess. Due date: fall 2008.
  • A 130,000-ton, 3,608-passenger ship for Carnival Cruise Lines, making it the largest vessel ever built for that line. Due date: fall 2009, with an option for a sister ship that would be delivered in summer 2010.
  • A 112,000-ton, 3,004-passenger sister ship for Costa's Costa Concordia. Due date: summer 2009.

All told, the four new ships will add 11,756 lower berths to the Carnival Corp. fleet, and that's not even counting kids and other third and fourth passengers sharing cabins that would otherwise hold two.

Actress Marlee Matlin to Christen Holland America's Noordam

Actress Marlee Matlin, who won an Academy Award for her performance in 1986's Children of a Lesser God and has since been a fixture on TV's The West Wing, has been named godmother of Holland America's (tel. 800/426-0327; www.hollandamerica.com) new 81,769-ton, 1,848-passenger Noordam, set to be christened in New York on February 22.

"Marlee Matlin is an accomplished actress, a generous woman in support of those in need, and a driven advocate for causes that benefit our society," said Holland America's president and chief executive officer, Stein Kruse.

The actress, who has been deaf since early childhood, is active in a variety of charitable and advocacy organizations. In 1990 she was instrumental in the passage of federal legislation requiring U.S. televisions to be equipped with closed captioning technology. She currently serves as a national celebrity spokesperson for the American Red Cross and is a board member of the Children Affected By AIDS Foundation and Easter Seals. In 2002, she published a children's book titled Deaf Child Crossing.

The ms Noordam is the fourth in a series of 81,769-ton Vista class ships following Zuiderdam, Oosterdam, and Westerdam, the names alluding to the four points of the compass, in Dutch. The vessel is set to sail its inaugural season from New York City to the southern and eastern Caribbean beginning immediately after her christening. Fares for the 10- and 11-night cruises currently start around $1,200 per person, double occupancy.

MSC Cruises to Host Miss Italia World Contestants

MSC Cruises (tel. 800/666-9333; www.msccruises.com) is all about being Italian. The cruise arm of Italy's Mediterranean Shipping Company (one of the world's largest container shipping concerns), it has a huge presence in Italy; an Italian icon, Sophia Loren, as its spokesperson; Italian waiters, Italian food, and an Italian sense of fun onboard; and an Italian-American president, former Celebrity head-man Richard Sasso, heading up its growing U.S. division. Next step? Having almost all the candidates in the Miss Italia World 2006 competition sailing aboard the 1,756-passenger MSC Opera for its March 11 Caribbean cruise.

Now in its sixteenth year, the Miss Italia World competition (www.missitaliausa.com) is open to women of Italian ancestry around the world. Contestants from 52 countries outside of Italy will be competing this year, of which 21 -- representing twenty different American cities and 21 representing various Caribbean nations -- will be aboard for the Seven-night cruise, taking part in pageant activities and performances. The events will be filmed by a crew from Italian TV's Rai Uno.

MSC Opera departs Fort Lauderdale round-trip on March 11, calling at San Juan, St. Maarten, La Romana, and Cayo Levantado. At the end of the cruise, pageant participants will head to Miami for the March 18 finale.

RiverBarge Excursions Returns to New Orleans

New Orleans-based river line RiverBarge Excursions (tel. 888/462-2743; www.riverbarge.com) marked a milestone earlier this month, reopening their reservations, sales, marketing, and operations headquarters in New Orleans' historic Algiers Point and beginning their first cruise from the city since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The 198-passenger R/B River Explorer started its New Orleans season December 19, sailing the Mississippi River to Natchez, MS, St. Francisville and Baton Rouge, LA, and plantation country, taking in the tradition of lighting bonfires on the Mississippi River levees. A special 3-night New Year's cruise will depart December 30, with passengers enjoying a free open bar (including premium liquor, beer and wine) at prices starting from $865 f per person, double occupancy.

SeaDream Alters Recently Announced South America Season

A few weeks ago, SeaDream Yacht Club (tel. 800/707-4911; www.seadreamyachtclub.com) announced its inaugural season of 9- and 10-night South American sailings, operating between Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, November 2006 through February 2007. Seems they didn't account for new Brazilian labor laws, though, which require that any ship staying in Brazil more than 30 days employ Brazilian nationals for at least a third of its onboard staff.

As a result, the 110-passenger SeaDream I will augment its previously announced voyages to include two 9-night sailings round-trip from Buenos Aires. Both will emphasize a more adventurous South American experience, featuring small-boat trips on the Parana River (for fishing and birding); horseback riding, mountain biking, kayaking/canoeing, and hiking in Carmelo, Uruguay; exploration of Uruguay's Colonia de Sacramento, a UNESCO Heritage Site; two days in Montevideo for a culture break and a charter flight to Iguaçu Falls; and time in Punta del Este, a Uruguayan yachting resort.

According to SeaDream president and CEO Larry Pimentel, "This change came into effect after we complied with local laws in place at the time when we planned our original schedules and itineraries. In this case challenge was the mother of invention. We knew there was high demand for some sailings that emphasized a more adventurous side of this region and we found a good solution. We will exit Brazil after the 30 days for a required period of 15 days in order to maintain our international maritime status."

Prices for most of the 9-night sailings start from $3,999 per person, double-occupancy. Prices for the new Buenos Aires round-trip sailings start from $4,599, a price that includes the excursion to Iguaçu Falls.

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