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Cruise News: A Dizzying Array of the Latest Industry Information

The newest, biggest ship is bested before it sets sail; NYC is becoming increasingly popular as a homeport; acupuncture and wholistic medicine are added to a cruiseline's offerings; and a brief roundup of gay cruises in this week's Cruise News.

October 3, 2003 -- The newest, biggest ship is bested before it sets sail; New York City is becoming increasingly popular as a homeport; acupuncture and wholistic medicine are added to a cruiselines offerings; and a brief roundup of gay cruises in this week's Cruise News.

Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Announce New Ships

Just three months before Carnival subsidiary Cunard Line is set to debut Queen Mary 2, the world's largest passenger ship, Royal Caribbean International ( has stolen some of the thunder by announcing construction of the 160,000-ton Ultra-Voyager, besting QM2 by 10,000 tons. Norwegian ( was more modest, finalizing orders for two 93,000-ton ships based on the design of its Norwegian Star and Norwegian Dawn.

Royal Caribbean's order builds on its existing 142,000-ton Voyager-class vessels, popularly known as "the rock-climbing ships" for the rock-climbing walls attached to their funnels -- a concept RCI has since run with, installing them aboard all its other ships as well. The first ships to incorporate ice-skating rinks, rollerblading tracks, main-street-like boulevards running through their interiors, and full Johnny Rockets diners out on deck, the Voyager ships are currently the largest passenger ships sailing, a full 33,000 tons larger than their nearest rivals, Princess's Grand-class ships.

The new Ultra-Voyager will carry upward of 3,600 passengers. It's scheduled for introduction in May 2006, with Finland's Kvaerner shipyards granting RCI the option of building a second Ultra ship for delivery in 2007. Details of any new innovations for the vessels have not yet been released.

Norwegian's new ships, currently known simply as hull S.667 and hull S.668, will be built at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany. Capable of the same 24- to 25-knot speeds as their recent sister ships, they'll be just a hair larger (with a double-occupancy passenger capacity of 2,400) but with many of the same amenities, including ten different onboard restaurants, large fitness and spa facilities, fantastic children's and teen's areas, a 1,000-seat opera-style theater, private karaoke rooms, and a department-store-style shopping area, plus new public areas that NCL plans to announce closer to the ships' delivery, expected in fall 2005 and spring 2006.

According to Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, chairman and CEO of NCL's parent company, Star Cruises, "Star Cruises is committed to the North American market and to completely renewing the NCL fleet by adding at least one new ship a year." No indication of what this means for older NCL vessels like the revered Norway -- currently laid up in Europe after a deadly boiler room explosion in May -- nor for long-in-the-tooth late-'80s/early-'90s ships like Norwegian Sea and Norwegian Majesty. Indications are clear, though, that NCL plans to deploy its new ships according to the industry's new "alternative homeports" framework, spreading them out to cities along both U.S. coasts rather than relying on old-school homeports like Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. NCL currently has ships sailing from 14 U.S. homeports, and according to president and CEO Colin Veitch, "Our ambition is to bring a modern cruise ship to every major coastal population center in North America."

Carnival Miracle to Join Ever-Growing New York Cruise Fleet

Back in the glory days of steamship travel, New York's passenger ship terminal was the busiest on this side of the Atlantic. Now, with cruise lines positioning their ships all around the U.S. instead of keeping them down on the farm in Florida, New York has re-emerged as one of the primo U.S. ports, with about a dozen ships sailing regular itineraries from here in 2004, including Carnival's newest.

The deployment represents the first-ever program of seven-day southbound cruises from New York for Carnival (, departing New York's Passenger Ship Terminal each Saturday from June 12 through August 28, making a long 14-hour stop in Port Canaveral, Florida (to allow guests time to visit the Kennedy Space Center or Orlando's theme parks), then continuing on to Nassau and Freeport. The itinerary is similar to one pioneered this year by NCL's Norwegian Dawn, which sails weekly from New York year-round, visiting Port Canaveral, Miami, Nassau, and Great Stirrup Cay, NCL's private Bahamian island.

The 88,500-ton, 2,124-passenger Carnival Miracle (a sister ship to Carnival Spirit, Pride, and Legend) is currently under construction in Helsinki, Finland, and scheduled to debut in March 2004. It will be the twentieth vessel in Carnival's "Fun Ship" fleet and offers the line's signature bright, fantasy interiors plus four swimming pools, a wedding chapel, a 14,500-square-foot health club, an 1,800-square-foot children's center, and several dining options, including a reservations-only supper club. Located at the uppermost level of the ship's 11-deck atrium, the latter is one of the Spirit-class ships' most distinctive and appealing spaces.

Some 80% of the ship's staterooms will offer an ocean view and/or a private balcony.

Pray for Calm Seas: Celebrity Cruises Introduces Onboard Acupuncture

Adding to its reputation for innovative onboard programs, Celebrity Cruises ( has announced an "Acupuncture at Sea" series, set to debut this month on Infinity's Hawaii and Panama Canal cruises.

In addition to the actual needle-poking, the program will include lectures about acupuncture and related Asian disciplines like feng shui, herbal healing, and general nutrition.

"Acupuncture is not only effective for many of today's ailments, but also is entertaining, interesting, and exotic, which makes it an ideal fit within the environment of a Celebrity ship," said Dr. Philippe Manicom of Florida's OM Alliance, among the professional acupuncturists offering services onboard.

Celebrity was one of the first cruise lines to focus on their spa facilities and programs, introducing gorgeous spaces designed with Asian and Moorish motifs, huge hydrotherapy pools, and exotic treatments like the Rasul steam/mud marathon and the futuristic ionithermie, in which mud and electrodes are applied to the body (allegedly) to stimulate weight loss -- a process with significantly less history than acupuncture.

Dates for future acupuncture cruises have yet to be announced.

Gay Cruises Big and Small

This month, small-ship luxury operator SeaDream Yacht Club announced a pair of weeklong Mediterranean and Caribbean cruises exclusively for the gay community. Meanwhile, longtime group-travel operator Pied Piper Cruises still has space available on a gay group cruise to Rio's Carnaval aboard Celebrity's huge Infinity, plus many other options.

Pied Piper ( has been organizing gay groups on luxury cruise ships since 1990, with many offerings on Cunard's famous QE2. Its hosted trips include an exclusive welcome-aboard cocktail party, private dinner tables for group members, various onboard parties and activities, and optional group shore excursions and arranged visits with the local gay community at the various ports of call. The two-week Carnaval cruise aboard Infinity sails roundtrip from Buenos Aires, departing February 15, and spends three days in Rio plus visits to Montevideo (Uruguay) and Portobelo, Sao Paulo, and Buzios (Brazil). Prices start at $1,670, with rates only guaranteed through October 10.

Ultra-luxe SeaDream Yacht Club ( is a relatively new company and completely new to gay cruises, but its ships' small size, carrying only 110 passengers apiece, means they're ideal for specialized group travel. High-end all the way, SeaDream I and SeaDream II carry a staff of 90 and offer fine dining and accommodations, an open bar, and even in-port use of mountain bikes and several Segway Human Transporters. Despite all the luxe, onboard atmosphere is completely casual, avoiding tux nights, regimented activities, and rigid schedules.

The Mediterranean cruise (Voyage #2444) sails roundtrip from Monte Carlo October 16, 2004, visiting St. Jean Cap Ferrat, St. Tropez, and Cannes (France), Portofino and Portovenere (Italy), and Saint Florent (Corsica), with late-evening departures in Portofino, Portovenere, and Saint Florent and overnights in St. Tropez and Cannes, allowing guests to experience the towns' nightlife. Prices start at $3,399 per person.

The Caribbean sailing (Voyage #2451) cruises from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to St. Thomas, departing December 12, 2004, and visiting St. Martin, Antigua, Nevis, St. Barts, and Jost van Dyke and Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. Prices start at $2,899.

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