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The cruise industry is consistenly inconsistent -- but in a good way. Lines retire the old and bring out the new in way of itineraries, ships, activities and services. We're here to let you in on all that's new and noteworthy.

October 27, 2004 -- The cruise industry is consistenly inconsistent -- but in a good way. Lines retire the old and bring out the new in way of itineraries, ships, activities and services. We're here to let you in on all that's new.

Holland America Signs off on Revitalized Ryndam

Holland America Line (tel. 877/724-5425; began trumpeting its "Signature of Excellence" initiative in November 2003, but last week all the hype became real as the old Ryndam was reintroduced with a whole new look.

Signature upgrades, which include new entertainment, dining, and children's facilities, will be added to the entire HAL fleet over the next year, but HAL has logically chosen to introduce them first on its oldest vessels. Though Ryndam and her three Statendam-class sisters (Statendam, Maasdam, and Veendam, all launched between 1993 and 1996) are classy, well-designed, and comfortably mid-sized vessels, they're also on the old side for U.S.-based cruise ships. On Ryndam, enhancements include:

  • A vastly improved children's center. In the past, HAL was far behind the pack when it came to facilities for kids, simply tacking a "Club HAL" sign onto a conference room door when enough juniors were aboard to warrant it. Ryndam's new Club HAL is a big improvement, with an art-themed room for younger kids (think giant paintbrushes, chairs shaped like overflowing paint cans, tables shaped like palates, a big screen TV, and a tape dispenser-styled slide) and an area for ages 8 to 12 that features arcade games, air hockey, foosball, Karaoke, Internet access, and Sony Playstations. For teens, the Oasis sundeck is a sort of alcohol-free tiki bar located in secluded area toward the stern with hammocks, faux rocks and palm trees, and a waterfall pool with a "cave" behind.
  • A new Culinary Arts Center. Ryndam's new TV-style show kitchen is home to a regular series of one-hour cooking demonstrations, classes, and tasting events featuring regional cuisine that matches the ship's itinerary. Guests in the audience get an up-close view of the cooking action on large plasma-TV monitors, while portable cooking stations allow guests to participate in intimate, hands-on classes (16 guests per class, $39 per person). Along with their education, participants also get a 10 percent discount at the Pinnacle Grill alternative restaurant or free admission to an event at the center's wine-tasting bar. Several Culinary Signature Cruises will be held throughout the year, bringing celebrity and regional chefs on board to lead guests through themed lectures, demonstrations, wine and liquor tastings, seminars, and related shore excursions.
  • A sort of "Internet café plus": The inelegantly named "Explorations Café -- powered by The New York Times" is an expansion of the usual Internet center, a comfortable space where guests can surf the net, browse an extensive traditional library, listen to music at nine listening stations, or grab a cup o' joe. The electronic version of the Times will be available free on the computers (a giant boon for news hounds) and travel-related crossword puzzles will be created by the paper specifically for HAL.

Other changes aboard Ryndam include a revamped and expanded spa, a redecorated Crow's Nest observation lounge, upgraded bedding and other cabin amenities, and the introduction of an Explorations Guest Speaker Series on all cruises lasting 10 days or longer, beginning December 1. A cruise to the Western Caribbean, for example, might feature a museum curator discussing the ancient Mayan civilization and Yucatan Peninsula folk art.

For RCI's Enchantment, Rock-Climbing Walls Just Aren't Enough Anymore

In August, we reported that Royal Caribbean (tel. 800/398-9819; was planning a major renovation to one of its older vessels, the 1997-vintage Enchantment of the Seas. Renewing a trend common in the mid-90s, Enchantment will literally be sawn in half like a magician's assistant, have a new 73-foot midsection inserted, then be welded back together. Now RCI has revealed what that new midsection and other rebuilt areas of the ship will contain, and they're pretty damn cool.

Up on the pool deck, which will grow by 50%, two suspension bridges will stretch more than 75 feet, jutting out past lower decks to overhang the water. On one side will be a new island bar, on the other a stage for poolside musical entertainment. Down below, a new "interactive splash deck" will have 64 water jets on the floor, along the perimeter, and in a central dome. Forty of these will be connected to a touchpad system, letting kids spray each other or create their own water ballet.

Additions to the nearby sports deck will include four bungee trampolines in which guests strap into a harness connected to two bungee cords that keep you from flying over the side. The topside, quarter-mile jogging track will also be augmented with four fitness stops where runners can jump rope; use sit-up/press-up bars to work their arms, back, and stomach; work the calves at a step-up station; and cool down with a series of suggested stretches. Disabled passengers won't be left out, with new accessibility features including pool and Jacuzzi lifts, access to the Splash Deck, a lift to the bungee trampoline area, and improved thresholds and ramps throughout the vessel. Below-deck changes will include the addition of a Latin-themed bar, an expanded casino, a larger shopping area, and a new coffee bar serving Seattle's Best coffee and Ben & Jerry's ice cream -- features currently available aboard RCI's newer vessels.

Enchantment's new midsection is currently is under construction at the Kvaerner Masa-Yards in Turku, Finland. The actual lengthening and overall refurbishment will take place in spring 2005 at the Keppel Verolme Shipyards in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Following her relaunch, Enchantment will sail a series of cruises from New York, Philadelphia, and Boston before resuming her regular 4- and 5-night Caribbean itineraries from Fort Lauderdale in October.

Disney Pumps Up Kids, Dining Options on Disney Wonder

When you think about it, Disney Cruise Line (tel. 888/DCL-2500; is like a giant station wagon in which families can take road trips -- except instead on only a seat to separate the generations, Disney's ships offer whole areas where adults, kids, and teens can do their own thing yet still keep going in the same direction.

That strategy was strengthened last week when Disney unveiled changes to its 1,754-passenger Disney Wonder, which sails year-round 3- and 4-night Bahamas cruises from Port Canaveral, Florida. Accomplished by a team of 600 contractors and 1,000 crew members during a two-week dry-dock earlier this month, the retooling and refurbishments include addition of a new venue for teens and two for adult passengers.

The new teen center, called Aloft, mixes college dorm and trendy coffee shop styling, full of couches, overstuffed chairs, video games, magazines, MP3 listening stations, board games, computers, and a soft-drink/smoothies bar. The Cove Café, located next to the Quiet Cove adult pool, is pretty much an adult version of the teen center, stocked with popular magazines, TVs, and computers. Gourmet coffees, specialty drinks, and light snacks are available here day and night.

A second new adult option, Diversions, is a traditional sports pub filled with flat-screen plasma TVs. Replacing the ESPN sports bars that sat near the top of the vessel in past years, the venue hosts trivia-based game shows and karaoke in addition to televised sports events.

Wonder's sister ship, the Disney Magic, underwent similar renovations twelve months ago, though it has yet to be fitted with the new teen area. This year, Magic is offering Disney's first cruises outside the Caribbean, transiting to Los Angeles for a series of 7-night Mexican Riviera cruises, pairable with a pre- or post-cruise stay at Disneyland. Two 14-night Panama Canal cruises will bracket the season, which runs from May through August 2005.

Celebrity Expands Pseudo-Suite Concierge Class

Celebrity's (tel. 800/437-3111; Concierge Class is like a software application: It's all about what it does, not about the box it comes in -- in other words, you get a 191-square-foot veranda stateroom with many of the benefits of a suite, but priced less than you'd pay for a real suite's extra acreage.

Introduced in April 2003, Concierge Class provides guests with priority embarkation and debarkation, priority luggage delivery, a bottle of champagne in your cabin, afternoon canapés, extra-comfy bedding, a leather key holder, personalized stationery, an oversized tote bag, an umbrella to use throughout the cruise, shoeshine service, expanded room-service options, oversized Egyptian cotton towels and double-thick bathrobes, priority dining time and seating preferences in the alternative restaurants, invitations to special shipboard events, priority shore-excursion bookings, and more.

The class has exceeded Celebrity's expectations. "We anticipated a favorable response," said Celebrity's senior ViP of Fleet Operations, Dietmar Wertanzl, "but our guests have reacted so positively that we accelerated our plans." Currently available in 100 cabins aboard the line's Millennium-class ships -- Millennium, Summit, Infinity, and Constellation -- Concierge Class will expand to 228 cabins on each ship during the course of 2005.

Our favorite Concierge amenity? A pillow menu with four options: conformance, body, goose down and isotonic. Now that's comfy.

Windjammer Announces New Itineraries -- Which Is News All by Itself

You've gotta love Windjammer Barefoot Cruises (tel. 305/672-6453; Whereas other cruise lines sometimes plan out their itineraries years in advance, you get the idea that nobody at Windjammer really knows where their ships are going to be, at least not very far ahead of time. That seems to be OK with the company's many repeat guests, who know exactly what they'll be getting anyway: small, beautiful islands, wacky ambience and rum swizzles anytime they're need 'em. I was aboard for a week once and couldn't remember where I'd been when I got home. In fact, I'm still aren't sure, but I know I had a great time. A company spokeswoman says this is fairly common.

In any case, with only two months left in 2004, Windjammer has finally detailed its fleet positioning for 2005:

  • This winter, Amazing Grace, the line's only fully diesel-powered ship (i.e., it doesn't have sails), will offer 13-day cruises between Freeport, Bahamas and Port of Spain, Trinidad. Starting next summer, she'll alternate weekly homeports between Panama and Costa Rica, exploring the San Blas archipelago. In the fall and winter she'll sail weeklong cruises between Trinidad and either Tortola (British Virgin Islands) or Antigua.
  • In winter and spring, the 294-foot, 4-masted barquentine Legacy will sail 6-day cruises from St. Thomas to the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. Come summer, Legacy will sail on 3-, 4-, and 7-day cruises between Miami and Nassau, dropping in on lesser-known Bahamian islands.
  • Meanwhile, the 236-foot, 3-masted barquentine Mandalay will sail 13-day cruises between Grenada and Antigua in winter and spring, exploring the British, French, and Dutch West Indies and the Grenadines. In summer she'll offer 6-day cruises from Tortola, visiting Norman Island, Jost van Dyke, Virgin Gorda and other ports in the British Virgin Island
  • The 248-foot, 4-masted schooner Polynesia will sail on 6-day voyages out of Sint Maarten this winter and spring, visiting islands in the French West Indies. In summer she repositions to Aruba for 6-day sailings through the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) off the coast of Venezuela. Windjammer's Junior Jammers kids program will be available for Polynesia's summer sailings.
  • The 197-foot schooner Yankee Clipper will continue to sail out of Grenada to the the Grenadines.

Fares begin at $700 per person for 6-day cruises.

NCL to Offer European Sailings on Norwegian Jewel

Norwegian Cruise Line (tel. 800-327-7030; has been concentrating totally on its Homeland Cruising itineraries recently, ignoring Europe in favor of launching its NCL America brand in Hawaii and sailing itineraries from Florida, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, New Orleans, Seattle, Boston, Charleston, Los Angeles, and Vancouver. When the 92,000-ton Norwegian Jewel launched from Germany's Meyer Werft Shipyard in August 2005, however, she'll offer a 13-night Mediterranean sailing and an 11-night Baltic cruise before heading to New York for a series of 11-night Canada/New England cruises. The ship will homeport in Miami for the winter season, sailing alternating 7-night eastern and western Caribbean itineraries.

Like other recent NCL ships, Jewel will offer a huge number of dining choices -- ten to be exact, including a steakhouse; French and Italian restaurants; an Asian complex with Thai, Japanese, and Chinese dishes; a Tex-Mex/tapas restaurant; and a casual burger joint. A new "Bar Central" concept will group a martini bar, champagne/wine bar and beer/whiskey bar into one area for easy bar-hopping. The Sky High Bar will offer an outdoor garden-style option for beer lovers, while the "Fyzz" Cabaret Lounge will feature three private Karaoke rooms.

Prices for Jewel's Mediterranean jaunt start at $2,599 per person. Prices for the Baltic cruise start at $2,499. Berths on her 10-night transatlantic crossing (London to New York) can be had for $899 per person.

Cesare Ditel Named Commodore of Princess Cruises Fleet

While the captain isn't as public a figure on today's cruise ships as he was during the ocean liner age, it's still a damn romantic job. How much more so, then, when you're the commodore of a whole fleet? Kudos, then, to Cesare Ditel, currently master of the 109,000-ton Star Princess, who last week was named commodore of Princess Cruises (tel. 800-PRINCESS;

Hailing from Elba, Italy, Ditel began his maritime studies in 1953 at the Nautical School in Leghorn, Italy, and the Italian Naval Academy. After his naval service, he began a Merchant Navy career in 1961 aboard tanker ships, then moved to passenger cruising in 1964 as a third mate for Sitmar Cruises. He was appointed captain of Star Princess for her 2002 launch, following successful introductions of Ocean Princess (2000) and Regal Princess (1991). He's also commanded Golden Princess, Sun Princess, Crown Princess, plus a number of other Princess vessels.

Royal Olympic (gasp! cough!) Still Not Dead Yet

The Rasputin of cruise lines, Royal Olympic is still kicking and screaming its way into the sunset. Currently operating two older ships (Triton and World Renaissance) under Greek bankruptcy protection, the line has announced that those ships will stay completely within Greek waters for the foreseeable future. The decision follows the temporary arrest of the ships in Turkey on Sunday, October 3.

In late December 2003, Royal Olympic's two U.S. subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy protection. Their vessels were later sold at auction. In January, the vessel Olympia Countess was also auctioned off.

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