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February 12, 2004 -- In every edition, we bring you the latest news in simple, easy-to-digest nuggets. Here you'll find recent itinerary changes, new launches, continuing bankruptcy sagas and more.

Whittier is Prettier for Carnival and Princess

And easier too. Beginning with the 2004 Alaska season in May, both lines will run 7-night cruises between Whittier, Alaska, and Vancouver, Canada, instead of between Seward and Vancouver. Whittier replaces Seward because it's a more convenient embarkation point, cutting the bus ride from the Anchorage airport to the ship in half, from three hours to 90 minutes. Using Whittier as an embarkation port for southbound cruises also allows for a longer eight-hour stay in Sitka, the first stop on most itineraries departing from Whittier. The 2,124-passenger Carnival Spirit will do the Seward-Vancouver run for Carnival, while Princess will have four ships doing this route: the 1,950-passenger Coral, Island, Sun and Dawn Princesses.

Contact Carnival Cruise Lines at 800/529-6792 or online at www.carnival.com; Princess Cruises at 800/ 774-6237 or www.princess.com.

Miracle in Jacksonville

In other Carnival news, the cruise line just introduced its bazillionth ship, taking delivery of the 2,124-passenger Carnival Miracle this month. The $375 ship will be officially named on February 27th by the ship's godmother, former Army Private Jessica Lynch, at a ceremony in Jacksonville, Florida.The Miracle is the line's twentieth ship and the first to sail from Jacksonville, at the northern end of Florida's Atlantic coast. The ship will do 3-, 5- and 6-night cruises from Jacksonville through April 17, followed by a series of seven-night cruises from Baltimore and New York through the fall. The Miracle will then reposition to Tampa to do year-round seven-night Caribbean cruises. The ship, the fourth in the Spirit class, has a large gym and spa complex, well-equipped children's play room, wedding chapel, Internet café, and a reservations-only alternative restaurant. More than half of the cabins have balconies.

Balconies Born on the Costa Victoria

New ships these days gotta have 'em, but balconies weren't always so chic. When Costa Cruises' Costa Victoria debuted in 1996, she had not one balcony (on new ships today, there are typically balconies on half to three-quarters of all cabins). Since last week, though, she's had 246 balconies, representing 43% of the ship's total cabins. They were added to her hull during a drydock in Italy. Along with two-decks worth of new balconies, the ship's buffet area was expanded and two 460-foot-long promenade decks were added to both sides of the ship. After a series of 11-night cruises to Egypt, Turkey and Greece through April, the ship will spend the rest of year doing weeklong Greek Isles cruises from Venice.

For more information, visit Costa Cruises online at www.costacruises.com or call 800/462-6782.

Festival Cruises Struggles to Regain Footing

The Genoa-based line, which goes by the name First European Cruises (www.first-european.com, 888/983-8767) in North America, had its ships seized in recent weeks by the primary lenders/mortgage holders. Though the future in uncertain as the company negotiates to reclaim its vessels, at the present, according to a spokeswoman, the line is hoping to get its ships back to sea by late February.

To create a more homogenous product, the line is pursuing a restructuring plan that would focus on the line's newer premium vessels -- European Stars, European Vision and Mistral. The line's older vessels, Azur, Bolero and Flamenco (the later two are chartered), will no longer be operated by Festival Cruises and, effective immediately, all scheduled cruises on Azur are canceled (those booked on the ship will be offered cruises on the line's three premium ships).

Port of Bayonne Gets a New Name

Not that there's anything wrong with the name just the way it is, but Royal Caribbean (800/398-9819, www.royalcaribbean.com) has announced it will rename its new Bayonne, New Jersey, port facility Cape Liberty Cruise Port. The line will position the 3,114-passenger Voyager of the Seas and 1,602-passenger Empress of the Seas at the New Jersey port this spring.

A 430-acre manmade peninsula extending into New York Harbor, the facility was originally constructed in the late 1930s as a port for international shipping, and was taken over by the U.S. Navy in 1942. It was deeded to the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority (BLRA) in December 2002, after the closing of the Navy base.

The two Royal Caribbean ships will operate out of existing structures until a new cruise terminal can be constructed at the northeast corner of the peninsula, offering views of the Statue of Liberty and New York skyline. Future plans for the complex call for mixed residential use, light industry, office space, film studios, and extensive recreational and park areas.

Things Heat Up, Slightly, on Majesty of the Seas

A small fire that lasted just 21 minutes broke out in the galley on Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas on February 5. The fire was caused by a deep fat fryer in the galley of the Windjammer Café; none of the 2,376 guests or 829 crewmembers were harmed in any way. Though it was completely extinguished within that 21 minutes, as a precaution the captain asked guests to move to their muster stations for a short period. Because of minor damage, the restaurant was closed for the remainder of the 4-night Bahamas cruise, which continued as planned. All guests were accommodated in the ship's second restaurant for the rest of the sailing.

A New Life for the Nordic Empress

In time for the start of its Bermuda season in May, the 1,602-passenger Nordic Empress, Royal Caribbean's second oldest ship at just 14, will undergo an extensive renovation. At the same time, she'll be renamed Empress of the Seas, to match the rest of the 17-ship fleet, all of which have names ending in "of the Seas." After the facelift, the Empress of the Seas will have a new Italian specialty restaurant, Latin-themed bar, nautical-themed Schooner Bar, coffee bar and ice-cream shop (featuring Seattle's Best Coffee and Ben & Jerry's ice-cream), two-level spa and gym, and refreshed cabins. Just about everything that's not new will be repainted, re-carpeted, and generally spruced up. The ship will be based at Royal Caribbean's newest homeport, Cape Liberty, in Bayonne, New Jersey, and spend the summer doing 6- and 8-night cruises to Bermuda, where the ship's been summering for several years now. After her Bermuda season ends in fall, Empress of the Seas will reposition to San Juan.

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