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Last U.S. Titanic Survivor Dies

April 15, 1912: William Howard Taft was president of the United States; the Wright Brothers had flown the first powered aircraft only six years before; the first talking movie was still fifteen years in the future; and Lillian Gertrud Asplund, aged five years old, was sailing home with her family aboard the new RMS Titanic, the largest passenger ship in the world.

Last week, Ms. Asplund died peacefully in Massachusetts. She was the last American survivor of the tragedy and the last who was old enough at the time to have conscious memories of the disaster.

The Asplunds had been returning to America after a five-year stay in Sweden, caring for Asplund's grandmother. They boarded Titanic in Southampton, UK, as third-class passengers. According to the website www.encyclopedia-titanica.org, Asplund remembered "being passed through what she described as a window (later identified as the First Class Promenade Deck)¿into a descending lifeboat and looking back up at the sinking Titanic. Having left three of her brothers, including her twin, Carl, and her father onboard the doomed ship, she maintains she was haunted by their faces peering over the rail at her for much of her life."

Mr. Asplund died in the tragedy, along with his three sons. Lillian Asplund abandoned ship in lifeboat 15 along with her mother and younger brother. They were rescued by the Cunard steamer Carpathia and brought to New York, from which they later returned to Worchester, MA.

Two other Titanic survivors are still known to be living. Barbara Joyce West and Elizabeth Gladys Dean, both of the UK, were infants at the time of the sinking, aged ten month and two months, respectively.

Royal Caribbean's Freedom Sails for New York

The world's largest cruise ship, the 160,000-ton, 3,634-passenger Freedom of the Seas of Royal Caribbean International (tel. 800/327-6700; www.royalcaribbean.com), is on its way. The ship, which grabs the "world's largest" crown from Cunard's Queen Mary 2, set sail from Southampton, UK, on May 3, bound for inaugural events set to begin May 10 at Royal Caribbean's Cape Liberty cruise port in Bayonne, New Jersey, across New York Harbor from the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan.

The public will be able to see Freedom throughout the month of May as she makes her way up and down the East Coast:

  • May 10: Freedom of the Seas sails into New York Harbor at 8am and docks at Cape Liberty Cruise Port until the evening of Thursday, May 11.
  • May 12: Freedom makes her TV debut live on NBC's TODAY show while anchored off of the Statue of Liberty for a three-hour broadcast. The ship will return to Cape Liberty Cruise Port and then dock in the afternoon in Manhattan.
  • May 13: The ship will remain docked in Manhattan until 4pm to give the public a closer look.
  • May 15-17: Preview sailings from Cape Liberty.
  • May 19-22: Freedom of the Seas arrives in Boston and docks at Warehouse Berths 6 and 7.
  • May 22: Ship departs for Miami, arriving May 25 for celebrations in preparation for June 4, when she begins her regular service to the western Caribbean.

Celebrity Releases Details of Century's Redesign

Celebrity Cruises (tel. 800/437-3111; www.celebrity.com) is a relatively young cruise line, as these things go. Formed in the early 1990s, it initially operated one older, midsize ship (the long-gone Meridian) before building two of its own midsize vessels (Horizon in 1990 and Zenith in 1992) and then embarking into megaship territory with Century in 1995. Horizon was leased to UK-based Island Cruises in 2005, leaving Century the line's second-oldest vessel -- but that doesn't mean she's out the door yet. In fact, on April 28 Celebrity began a five-week, $55 million makeover designed to bring Century into the millennium. New and updated features will include:

  • A new 66-seat specialty restaurant called Murano, decorated with chandeliers handcrafted from Italian Murano glass, named for the island near Venice famous for its glass blowing. The restaurant's decor will also include a floor designed to resemble medieval European paving stones; a hand-painted mural themed on travel and adventure; and glass-fronted, polished nickel wine armoires displaying backlit bottles. The restaurant's menu will follow the style of Celebrity's Millennium-class specialty restaurants, with elaborate, multicourse meals and tableside cooking, carving, and flambe.
  • A total refurbishment of Century's two-level Grand Restaurant.
  • A new 76-seat Sushi Bar with a casual Asian atmosphere of caramel-colored bamboo plank floors, tabletops inlaid with cracked coconut, and a collection of artifacts and artwork.
  • An outdoor Sunset Bar designed from teak, stone, and stainless steel, topped with an arched-glass canopy, featuring full bar service as well as an assortment of fresh tapas and appetizers.
  • A new Cova Cafe, a popular venue on other Celebrity vessels, serving coffees, teas, and other beverages every morning and afternoon, along with fresh pastries and cookies. At night, the space becomes a lamp-lit wine bar with live music.
  • 314 new verandas, 14 new suites, 10 new staterooms (ranging from inside to veranda category), and an expanded number of Concierge-Class staterooms, offering extra amenities.

Century will emerge from dry-dock on May 30 and embark on her European season, offering a 9-night "Best of Europe" cruise departing May 30, along with a series of 12-night Baltic and 10- and 11-night Mediterranean sailings, a 13-night "Best of Europe" voyage, and a seven-night Norwegian Fjords cruise. In November she'll transfer to Miami and begin offering 4- and 5-night round-trip Caribbean cruises through April 2007.

Silversea 2007 World Cruise to Feature Cronkite, Buckley, and Other Luminaries

When Silversea's Silver Shadow departs Fort Lauderdale on her 126-day world cruise next January 15, her guests can look forward to lectures from some truly influential personages, including:

  • Walter Cronkite, the legendary newsman who was anchor and managing editor of CBS News for nineteen years (sailing April 27 from Alexandria to Lisbon).
  • William F. Buckley, Jr., author, editor, syndicated columnist, public speaker, and television host, founder of the National Review and former host of the TV program Firing Line (sailing May 8 from Lisbon to New York).
  • Lynn Sherr, journalist and 20/20 correspondent (sailing January 15 from Fort Lauderdale to Santiago, Chile).
  • Richard Reeves, author and syndicated columnist (sailing January 15 from Fort Lauderdale to Santiago, Chile).
  • Steve McCurry, the photographer whose cover photo of an Afghan refugee girl in National Geographic has been described as the most recognizable photograph in the world today (sailing January 15 from Fort Lauderdale to Santiago, Chile).
  • Judith Miller, former New York Times reporter (sailing January 31 from Santiago to Papeete, Tahiti).
  • Michael Green, wine and spirits consultant to Gourmet magazine (sailing February 27 from Auckland to Sydney).
  • Rex Reed, author, actor, talk show host, film critic, and historian (sailing March 12 from Sydney to Singapore).
  • John Bertrand, the Australian who won the 1983 America's Cup, breaking 132 years of American domination (sailing March 12 from Sydney to Singapore).
  • Zahi Hawass, archaeologist, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, and Director of Excavations at Giza, Saqqara and the Bahariya Oasis (sailing April 12 from Dubai to Alexandria).

Silver Shadow's World Cruise 2007 will cross three oceans, seven seas, and six continents, visiting 61 different ports, and conclude on the originating coast, in New York City, on May 22. Guests sailing the full 126-day cruise receive five complimentary shoreside events showcasing culture, art, history, and culinary traditions in Santiago, Auckland, Dubai, Rome, and Safaga, Egypt -- the latter a two-day, one-night excursion to Luxor led by Dr. Hawass.

Silversea Cruises: tel. 877/215-9986; www.silversea.com

Holland America Completes Major "Signature of Excellence" Upgrades

In November 2003, Holland America (tel. 877/724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com) announced a $225 million "Signature of Excellence" initiative intended to improve its accommodations, dining, service, activities, and destinations. On April 26, the line essentially completed implementation fleetwide as the 1,266-passenger Maasdam left dry-dock with her new features in place, including:

  • The Culinary Arts Center presented by Food & Wine Magazine, a show kitchen where more than 60 guest chefs and culinary experts per year will provide cooking demonstrations and small classes. Guests in the audience can get an up-close view of the cooking action via large plasma screens, while other guests also may watch these events on their in-cabin TVs.
  • The Explorations Cafe, an Internet cafe run in collaboration with The New York Times, offering a large library, several music listening stations, and computers with free access to the Times' website.
  • An expanded Club HAL kids' center designed for kids ages 3 to 12, with art tables, a big-screen television, a slide, arcade games, air hockey, foosball, Karaoke, Internet access, and Sony Playstations.
  • The Pinnacle Grill restaurant, featuring Pacific Northwest cuisine.
  • An expanded Greenhouse Spa and Salon with more treatment rooms, a thermal suite and hydro-pool, and a new fitness facility.

The Signature of Excellence initiative will be fully completed this fall, when a Culinary Arts Center is built aboard the ms Oosterdam.

Golfer Corey Pavin to Sail Europe with Crystal Cruises

Corey Pavin, who won the U.S. Open in 1995, capping a decade-long string of PGA wins, is set to sail with Crystal Cruises (tel. 888/799-4625; www.crystalcruises.com) August 19 as part of Crystal Symphony's Rome to London Mediterranean cruise. Pavin will participate in golf clinics, lectures, a hole-in-one competition in which the winner gets a free cruise, and will lead play at some of the region's best courses.

Guests participating in the Golf Theme Program will play 18 holes at Golf Club Dell'Ugolino (Florence, Italy), the Monte Carlo Golf Club (Monte Carlo, Monaco), the Ste. Maxime Golf Club (St-Tropez, France), and the Real Club de Golf el Prat (Barcelona, Spain). Golfers will play in organized foursomes, with a 45-minute warm-up session on a driving range or putting green, caddy or motorized cart, 9th hole refreshments, use of locker room facilities, and transfers to and from the ship. On board, participating golfers enjoy complimentary club and golf shoe cleaning after each course, plus free club storage.

Also on hand to lead golf clinics and attend golf themed events will be LPGA teaching professional and golf writer Shannon Dowdy.

The 12-day cruise aboard Crystal Symphony departs from Rome's port of Civitavecchia for Livorno/Florence, Monte Carlo, St-Tropez, Barcelona, Lisbon, Bordeaux (overnight), Guernsey, and London. Fares start at $3,990 per person, double occupancy. Golf program is extra.

Regent Seven Seas Offers Kids' Environmental Program in South Seas

For the second year running, Regent Seven Seas Cruises (tel. 800/285-1835; www.rssc.com) will be offering kids an "Ambassadors of the Environment" program aboard the 320-passenger Paul Gauguin, a vessel built specifically to sail Gauguin's beloved Polynesian islands.

Developed in association with Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures Society, the "Ambassadors of the Environment" teaches kids about the importance of coral reefs, sustainable lifestyles, and traditional Polynesian culture. It will be offered as part of nine voyages this summer (departing between June 10 and August 23) as well as aboard the ship's December 20 and 29 holiday voyages.

The program is designed to educate via direct experience, with kids visiting vanilla and black pearl farms, participating in a turtle rescue, enjoying private snorkeling tours, swimming with black-tip sharks and spotted eagle rays, touring Moorea to view the island's flora and fauna, visiting a marae stone temple, making pareos (traditional island clothing), and sailing with a local children's outrigger canoe club.

According to Cousteau, son of legendary marine explorer Jacques Cousteau, "I want kids to have fun . . . but I also want these educational adventures to inspire their curiosity and appreciation for the underwater world through first hand exploration and discovery.¿These are values they'll carry with them their entire lives, starting with an understanding of Polynesian culture and the value of traditional knowledge. If I can encourage their critical thinking, they'll see the profound interrelationships and connections that exist between land and sea, and ourselves and the natural world around us."

Voyage lengths range from 7 to 11 nights. Seven-night voyages sail round-trip from Papeete, Tahiti, calling at Raiatea, Tahaa, Motu Mahana (Regent's private island), Bora Bora, and Moorea. Ten-night sailings also call at Huahine and feature an onboard overnight in Rangiroa (whose lagoon is large enough to encompass the island of Tahiti). Eleven-night cruises include all the above plus a call at the Marquesas Islands, visiting Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa, where painter Paul Gauguin is buried. Nine-night holiday voyages feature one onboard overnight each in Bora Bora (novelist James Michener's model for the fictional Bali Hai) and Moorea (the inspiration for Herman Melville's novel Omoo), as well as calls in Raiatea, Huahine. and Tahaa/Motu Mahana.

Seven-night sailings July 29 and August 5 start at $2,195, with the July 22 voyage starting at $2,395. Ten-night sailings June 21, June 12, and August 23 start at $2,595. Eleven-night trips June 10, July 1, and August 12 start at $2,795. Nine-night holiday voyages December 20 and 29 start at $3,295. Optional enrollment in the "Ambassadors of the Environment" program is $199 per child, and participation is limited. At standard excursion rate, parents may join their children for parts of the program if space is available.

American West Sets 2007 Columbia & Snake River Schedule

American West Steamboat Company (tel. 800/434-1232; www.americanweststeamboat.com), which along with Delta Queen was recently gobbled up by Ambassadors International, has just announced its Columbia and Snake River program for 2007, featuring an extended sailing season and trips ranging from three to seven nights.

A full sixty-four sailings will depart between February 17 and December 28, 2007. Most are 7-night sailings, which explore 1,000 miles along the Columbia, Snake and Willamette Rivers as they trace the route of Lewis and Clark, transiting eight locks and dams and cruising from lush coastal forests through granite cliffs of the river canyons to the golden, rolling wheat fields of Eastern Washington and Oregon. In addition, the line will be offering shorter 3-night "Path of Discovery" cruises that cover 400 miles of the river system; 4-night "Journey of the Explorers" cruises that trace a particularly scenic section of the Lewis and Clark expedition; and 5-night "Holidays on the Columbia River" cruises at Christmas.

Carrying 235 and 146 passengers, respectively, the line's two paddlewheelers, Empress of the North and Queen of the West, are all about nostalgia, offering cruises that mix port calls with time spent cruising natural and historic areas. Cruises feature guest experts on the sailing regions, giving lectures in the ship's main showrooms and providing narration on each port prior to arrival. The vessels themselves are homey yet elegant, with rocking chairs, cushy couches, and a mixture of regional Native and Americana-style art. Most guests average between 65 and 70 years old.

Rates for American West's 7-night Columbia/Snake cruises start at $999 per person, double occupancy. Rates for 3-night cruises start from $699; rates for 4-night cruises start at $1,199; and rates for 5-night holiday cruises start at $1,099. Travelers who reserve their cruise by September 30, 2006, receive a 10 percent discount on travel fares for all cabin categories.

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