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Cunard and Princess Name New Commodores

In the rarified world of cruise ship officer-dom, no title is as lofty as commodore, a rank typically granted to the most senior captain of a fleet. This week both Cunard Line (tel. 800/728-6273; www.cunard.com) and Princess Cruises (tel. 800/774-6237; www.princess.com) elevated their most senior skippers to the post.

At Cunard, new Commodore Bernard Warner has been a seaman for 40 years and a captain for the past twelve, most recently serving as master of Queen Mary 2. A native of the North Yorkshire town of Wetherby, Commodore Warner entered the Warsash School of Navigation at the University of Southampton and began his career serving with P&O's cargo fleet. In 1969 he moved to the passenger side, serving first aboard Oriana and then aboard P&O's Iberia, Canberra, Uganda, and then aboard Princess's Pacific Princess, Royal Princess, Island Princess (his first command in 1994), Dawn Princess, Golden Princess and Diamond Princess. He moved to Queen Mary 2 in June 2005 following Carnival Corporation's merger of Cunard and Princess operations.

At Princess, Captain Michael Fatchen, a forty-year P&O/Princess veteran, has been named commodore of that company's 15-ship fleet. A resident of Gawler, South Australia, Fatchen studied at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and began his career in 1962 as a cadet with the Adelaide Steamship Company. He joined P&O Orient Lines as a fourth officer in 1966 and rose through the ranks, reaching the title of chief officer in 1976 aboard the original Oriana. He was promoted to deputy captain in 1986 when he sailed aboard the original Sea Princess and Canberra and received his first captaincy aboard the original Sea Princess in 1993. His other commands have included the original Pacific Princess (one of the Love Boats of TV fame), Sky Princess, Oriana, Victoria, Aurora, Pacific Sky, and most recently the new Pacific Princess. Commodore Fatchen will take command of the new Royal Princess when she debuts in April.

Princess also celebrated seniority of a different kind recently, as Lorraine Arzt of Beverly Hills, California, celebrated a record-breaking 4,000th day at sea aboard Princess's ships -- a new record.

Arzt began cruising with her late husband, Joe, in the early 1970s aboard P&O's Spirit of London (later renamed Sun Princess); spent 17 years as a regular passenger aboard the original Royal Princess (now sailing as P&O's Artemis); and now spends about ten months of each year aboard Sea Princess. She plans to transfer to the new Royal Princess (an ex-Renaissance vessel that most recently served as Swan Hellenic's Minerva II) when she debuts in the Princess fleet this April. As a celebration of her seniority, Arzt has been invited to be the guest of honor at Royal Princess's inaugural festivities, scheduled for May 12 in Santorini, Greece.

Celebrity Ends Association with Exec Chef Michel Roux, Names New Ship

Since its earliest days, Celebrity Cruises (tel. 800/437-3111; www.celebritycruises.com) has consistently touted its association with three-star Michelin chef Michel Roux, but no more. Last week, the line announced that the fifteen-year relationship will end when Roux's current contract with Celebrity expires.

"Chef Roux has offered valuable culinary consultation and direction since the Celebrity brand was founded, and played an integral role in helping our brand achieve the recognition it maintains today for offering fresh, gourmet cuisine," said Celebrity's president, Dan Hanrahan. "We are very grateful to Chef Roux for the foundation he helped us establish, and are confident in our ability to continue to deliver an extraordinary dining experience for our guests across the fleet."

In other news, Celebrity has just given a name to the vessel formerly known as "Solstice-class no. 3." And the name is . . . Celebrity Eclipse. The ship will make its maiden voyage in 2010, following sister-ships Celebrity Solstice in 2008 and Celebrity Equinox in 2009. The three will be the first new Celebrity vessels launched since 2002's Constellation.

Royal Caribbean Trims the Fat

First New York mandated an end to trans fats in all the city's restaurants, and now Royal Caribbean International (tel. 800/327-6700; www.royalcaribbean.com) follows suit, becoming the first cruise line to move toward removing the "bad cholesterol" enabler from its menus.

Effective immediately, non-trans-fat frying oil will replace the old pour-and-fry oil originally used in food preparation, and entirely-new, trans-fat-free menu options will be introduced to Royal Caribbean's menus. A fully trans-fat-free menu is expected to be in place fleetwide by the end of this year.

"Vegetable oils that have undergone hydrogenation result in a type of fat that doctors have linked to serious health risks, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and increased cholesterol levels," said Michael Bayley, RCI's senior vice president of Total Guest Satisfaction. "If we can offer guests a healthier serving of the foods they love by switching to trans-fat-free oils, while maintaining the same level of satisfaction, why wouldn't we make the switch?"

Costa Classica Debuts in Dubai

In late December, the 1,680-passenger Costa Classica celebrated an industry first, becoming the first ship operated by an international cruise line to homeport in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Though popular as a port of call for luxury ships, Dubai has not, until now, been a mainstream cruise homeport.

The new Dubai-based cruises will be offered from December 23 through April 14, marketed to a mix of Europeans and North Americans. The itinerary includes two nights in Dubai and daylong stopovers in the ports of Muscat (Oman), Fujairah and Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), and Bahrain. Guided excursions in the ports will include desert adventures; trips to some of the best beaches in the Gulf; visits to the finest mosques, historical buildings, and museums; tours of the cities and their markets; and boating excursions for dolphin-watching.

"We're delighted to begin this new cruise program out of Dubai," said Pier Luigi Foschi, chairman & CEO of Costa Crociere, parent company of Europe-based Costa Cruises (tel. 800/GO-COSTA; www.costacruises.com). "These new itineraries are already proving to be very popular with our guests -- and to this end we intend to significantly increase the number of cruises here next winter."

For the 2007/2008 winter season, Costa plans to deploy two ships in Dubai: the 53,000-ton Costa Romantica and the 55,000-ton Costa Europa. Both will sail the same itinerary currently offered by Costa Classica.

Regent Announces 2008 Antarctic Itinerary

Some cruises lend themselves to spur-of-the-moment planning -- as in, "C'mon, honey, let's go to the Caribbean. We deserve it." Others, however, seem to require a little more lead time. Take Antarctica, for instance. Sounds far away. Sounds like an expedition. Sounds like you'd need to plan it a year in advance. Thus last month's announcement by Regent Seven Seas (tel. 800/285-1835; www.theregentexperience.com) concerning its 2008 Antarctica voyages, offered aboard the chartered 198-passenger expedition cruiser Explorer II.

Scheduled to set sail from Ushuaia, Argentina, on January 21, 2008 (for 11 nights) and February 1, 2008 (for 14 nights), the two itineraries will visit the Falkland Islands, Drake Passage, the Antarctic Peninsula (with opportunities for disembarkation and exploration as weather permits), and Cape Horn, with the 14-night voyage also including stops at South Georgia Island, home to large colonies of king penguins and fur and elephant seals.

Per-person rates start from $9,395 for the 11-night voyage and $11,494 for the 14-night voyage, including up to 25% early booking savings coupled with free coach air from 86 gateway cities. Both programs include a one-night pre-cruise stay in Santiago (Chile); round-trip charter flights from Santiago to Ushuaia; a city tour and Patagonian lunch on embarkation day; and a complimentary backpack and parka.

Holland America to Offer More Sea of Cortéz in 2008

Every year, dozens of criuses sail from Los Angeles and San Diego en route to Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and the other ports of the Mexican Riviera. Along the way, most stop at Cabo San Lucas, at the tip of the Baja California peninsula, but few venture north from there into the Sea of Cortéz -- which is a pity, since the area is rich in natural beauty, wildlife, history, and culture.

For 2008, Holland America (tel. 877/724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com) plans to address that situation, increasing to fifteen the number of 10-night cruises it offers through the spectacular area aboard the ms Ryndam. Offered in spring and fall (Feb. 5 to April 15 and Oct. 12 to Dec. 11), the cruises sail from San Diego, visiting the Baja California ports of Loreto, La Paz, and Cabo San Lucas as well as the mainland ports of Puerto Vallarta, Topolobampo, and Mazatlan. Loreto features the historic Misíon Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó (on the site of Mexico's first Jesuit mission) and Topolobampo offers an exclusive, full-day excursion to the magnificent Copper Canyon, which is four times larger than the U.S.'s Grand Canyon and is only accessible by train.

Cruise fares start from $999 per person, double occupancy.

Majestic America Line to Upgrade Cabins, Dining

Majestic America Line (tel. 800/434-1232; www.majesticamericaline.com) was formed earlier this year when travel and event-planning company Ambassadors International acquired both Delta Queen Steamboat Company and American West Steamboat Company and folded them into one entity. Purchase of other vessels followed as the new line tried to consolidate a position as one of America's largest small-ship operators.

That was the hardware. Now comes the software.

Across the line's seven-ship fleet, all staterooms and suites are getting premium pillow-top mattresses, 300-thread-count bed linens, deluxe duvet covers, spa robes, plush Pima cotton terry towels, massaging showerheads, makeup mirrors, and a new "Sleep Options" program will offer guests a menu of different pillows to choose from. Additionally, cabins on the former Delta Queen vessels American Queen and Mississippi Queen and the former Glacier Bay Cruiseline vessel Contessa (formerly Executive Explorer) will get flat-screen TVs with DVD players, matching what's already available on the other Majestic vessels save for the historic Delta Queen. Suites will see installation of new digital entertainment systems, refrigerators, and in-suite safes.

On the dining front, Northwest celebrity chef, author and consultant Kathy Casey will be updating Majestic America's menus, emphasizing local, fresh, seasonal ingredients. A selection of quality American wines will complement the culinary experience, with choices representing the country's finest winemaking regions.

Silversea Details 2008 World Cruise

Sometimes world cruises really are world cruises and sometimes they're not, stopping well short of a full circumnavigation. For 2008, luxe line Silversea (tel. 877/215-9986; www.silversea.com) is doing it right, planning a 2008 voyage that begins in Ft. Lauderdale and returns there 110 days later, having visited more than 50 ports of call in over 25 countries.

Offered aboard the 382-passenger Silver Shadow, the mega-cruise first sails through the Panama Canal and then along the Mexican Riviera en route to four port calls in Hawaii. South Seas destinations like Majuro (Marshall Islands), Pohnpei (Micronesia), Apra Harbor (Guam), and historic Iwo Jima follow. From there, Silver Shadow sails for Asia and Egypt and explores the ports of Europe before crossing the Atlantic for a homecoming in Ft. Lauderdale. Other highlights of the journey include extended overnight calls in Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Mumbai and Barcelona.

Passengers who sail the full 110 nights will receive invitations to exclusive shoreside events (including a hosted event on the eve of departure, with hotel accommodations and private transfer and baggage handling between airport, hotel and ship), an onboard spending credit, escorted shore excursions in select ports of call, invitations to a gala farewell event, and special commemorative gifts.

Carnival Corp. Orders Big New Ship for P&O

It sometimes seems like hardly a month goes by without Carnival Corporation -- owner of Carnival, Costa, Cunard, Holland America, P&O, Princess, Seabourn, and Windstar (plus Ocean Village and Swan Hellenic in the UK and AIDA in Germany) -- ordering another ship. This month is no exception. In the first few days of the new year, Carnival Corp. announced an agreement with Italy's Fincantieri shipyards to build a 116,000-ton, 3,076-passenger vessel for P&O Cruises.

"This latest order results from the strong continuing growth of the cruise market in the UK," said P&O Cruises Managing Director David Dingle. "Each of the new ships which we have built for Britain has increased the demand for cruising through a reputation for innovation, style, and customer service. Our projections indicate that we will require further new capacity to meet this additional demand by 2010."

The vessel will be similar to P&O Cruises' Ventura, which is scheduled to enter service in spring 2008, but with several new features and a different interior design.

Oceania's Regatta Aces Health Inspection

Each year, the Centers for Disease Control's Vessel Sanitation Program (www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/default.htm) conducts two surprise inspections of all passenger ships that sail a foreign itinerary, call on U.S. ports, and carry thirteen or more passengers. The inspections focus on a long checklist of sanitation concerns including the handling, preparation, and storage of food; cleanliness of plumbing, spa, and pool facilities; purity of the onboard water supply; maintenance of relevant equipment; and staff practices. Each ship is given a score based on a scale of 1 to 100, with an 86 or above being a passing score. On December 21, Oceania Cruises' 684-passenger Regatta became one of only fifteen ships to post a perfect score of 100 in 2006. Give that ship a gold star.

The other gold-star vessels for last year were:

  • Carnival's Carnival Miracle
  • Celebrity's Millennium
  • Costa's Costa Atlantica and Costa Mediterranea
  • Crystal's Crystal Serenity
  • NCL's Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Sun
  • P&O's Aurora and Oriana
  • Princess's Caribbean Princess, Crown Princess, Tahitian Princess, and Golden Princess
  • Regent's Seven Seas Mariner
  • Royal Caribbean's Jewel, Navigator, and Serenade of the Seas

Up-to-date CDC inspection reports for all ships are available at the CDC's website.

Windstar's Wind Surf Completes Major Upgrade

In late 2005, Windstar Cruises (tel. 800/258-7245; www.windstarcruises.com) followed parent company Holland America's lead in introducing a branded program of upgrades and improvements to the line's three motor-sail ships. Dubbed "Degrees of Difference" (a complement to HAL's "Signature of Excellence"), the initiative was implemented in stages over the following year, improving dining and cabin amenities. Then, in August 2006, the line announced an add-on program of structural and mechanical changes, along with improvements to guest areas. On December 16, the 308-passenger Wind Surf became the first Windstar vessel to get the treatment, emerging from a five-week dry-dock with all of its improvements in place, including:

  • A new gathering spot on Main Deck, called the Yacht Club. Created by removing walls from the library (which currently sits between two public corridors), the space features an espresso bar with tables and chairs, couches for lounging, a large flat-panel TV for watching movies and sporting events, and eight computers for email and Internet browsing. As in the current library, a selection of books, DVDs, and CDs will still be available.
  • Two new 500-square-foot suites on Bridge deck, each featuring a living room, an entertainment center with flat-panel television and DVD/CD player, a dining area, a separate bedroom (also with TV/DVD/CD, plus a wak-in closet), and a full bath with whirlpool tub and separate shower. Guests in the Bridge Suites enjoy extra amenities such as unpacking and packing service, invitation to dine with Captain, laundry and pressing services, evening appetizers, high tea service upon request, complimentary bottled water, chilled champagne upon arrival, additional L'Occitane bath amenities, and more.
  • Renovation of all stateroom and suite bathrooms, to include updated cabinetry with open glass shelves, granite countertops, white porcelain sinks, new custom shower heads, new shower curtains, and an illuminated magnifying mirror. Staterooms themselves also got granite desk tops and full-length mirrors. Suites received a second flat-panel TV and DVD player.
  • A reconfiguration of the WindSpa and gym to create a couples massage room, add a pedicure chair, and add new weights and TVs in the gym.
  • Rejiggering of The Bistro, Wind Surf's alternative restaurant, including a name change to "Degrees," a redecoration, and a shift in menu, with a steak house menu created by Joachim Splichal four nights a week and menus from Northern Italy, France, and Indonesia on other evenings.

Additionally, Balinese sun beds will soon be added on Star deck and cooling mist sprays will be added near the ship's two pools.

Degrees of Difference updates will be installed aboard the 148-passenger Wind Spirit in spring 2007 and aboard her sister-ship, the Wind Star, in fall.

Carnival Gets Wired, Installs Cell Service Fleetwide

Ring, ring! That's you, scrambling to take a business call in the middle of your relaxing vacation.

In mid-December, Carnival completed installation of the equipment necessary for it to offer at-sea cellular service on every one of its 21 vessels. Made possible through an agreement between Carnival and Wireless Maritime Services (WMS), a joint venture of Cingular Wireless and Maritime Telecommunications Network, the service allows guests to make and receive calls and transmit text and multimedia messages from their personal cell phones, BlackBerrys, or similar devices once a ship has sailed beyond the range of land-based cellular towers.

Other lines currently or soon to be wired fleetwide include Costa, NCL, Oceania, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Silversea, and Regent, plus certain vessels in the Holland America, MSC, and Crystal fleets.

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