Cruise Guide: Luxury cruise lines to ring in New Year with a bang

The top luxury cruise lines in the world will not be resting on their collective laurels in 2006 and that’s good news for savvy cruise passengers.

Look for a slew of new itineraries to the far reaches of the globe and improvements to a host of top-shelf, onboard amenities.

The 19 members of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), for instance, will take passengers to 1,800 ports of call on more than 150 ships of varying styles, from mega vessels carrying more than 3,000 guests to yacht-like luxury ships carrying 150 passengers.

Nine such member lines Celebrity, Crystal, Cunard, Holland America, Oceania, Radisson Seven Seas, Silversea, Seabourn and Windstar fall into the luxury or premium brand category and will be offering exquisite cuisine, exceptional service and innovative itineraries as the norm in 2006 as opposed to the exception.

Look for Celebrity’s Millennium to embark on a 14-night South America itinerary Feb. 19, which is timed for Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro. The roundtrip Buenos Aires itinerary includes an overnight onboard ship in Rio and will call at Brazil’s Porto Belo and Buzios and Montevideo, Uruguay.

At Crystal, a 14-day Arctic Circle voyage aboard Crystal Serenity (departing Copenhagen, June 26) features a maiden call at Norway’s Spitsbergen, the northernmost port the line has ever visited and among the best ports to view the midnight sun.

Cunard will feature the Path of Magellan South America voyages aboard the Queen Mary 2. Guests can embark in Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 17 on the westbound itinerary and disembark in Fort Lauderdale on April 13 for the eastbound voyage.

Bookings are picking up steam for Holland America Line’s 10- and 11-day Caribbean cruises out of New York aboard Noordam. Thirteen sailings will visit the Southern and Eastern Caribbean aboard the line’s newest vessel. It enters service in February.

A new 14-day itinerary aboard Oceania Cruises’ Insignia mixes the best of Norway and the British Isles, sailing roundtrip from Dover, England. A highlight of the June cruise is an overnight stay in Reykjavik, Iceland. The sailing is also the second-annual reunion cruise for Oceania’s past passengers.

In just a few days guests aboard the Radisson Seven Seas Voyager will embark on a 108-night, six-segment world cruise departing Los Angeles Jan. 10. Adventures on the far side of the globe are coupled with an impressive roster of shipboard programming from celebrity, Smithsonian Institute and Ocean Futures Society guest lecturers to Le Cordon Bleu cooking workshops. In addition, guests might want to choose a selection of one- to five-day overland tours, from an Indian Pacific train journey from Adelaide to Perth in Australia to a private jet from Cochin to Jaipur for an overnight at the Raj Villas tented hotel, or a visit to Agra and the Taj Mahal.

The luxurious Yachts of Seabourn, meanwhile, will offer five, seven-day “Mediterranean Tapestry” voyages between May and October. The cruises aboard Seabourn Legend offer a colorful array of the region’s varied cultures, calling at ports in Italy, France and Tunisia.

Silversea Cruises’ Silver Shadow will sail on a 14-day voyage across the Bering Sea from Tokyo to Anchorage on May 29. Guests can expect visits to the imperial palaces of Japan to the remote Russian outpost of Petropavlovsk.

Windstar Cruises’ Wind Surf will sail a number of new itineraries that explore the far reaches of the Caribbean. Roundtrip from Bridgetown, Barbados, the cruises will sail deep into the heart of the lower Caribbean, including the Grenadines, St. Barthelemy, Tobago, Bequia, St. Martin and Grenada.

Cruise Guide: Crystal Cruises unveils 2007 world cruise itinerary

By Mike Coleman

The cruise industry, like all of us, will soon be ringing in the new year but a world cruise aboard Crystal Serenity scheduled for 2007 is creating a buzz this holiday season.

Just over a year from now Crystal Cruises, the Los Angeles-based luxury operator, will offer its 12th annual world cruise.

The 1,080-guest ship will embark on a 109-day journey that includes a return to Israel, Carnaval in Rio, three days cruising Antarctica, three days in Dubai and Cape Town, and multiple African safari options.

Departing from Miami to Southampton, England, the ship will explore 44 ports of call in 27 countries on five continents the most extensive global crossing ever offered by the line. The voyage features transits of Chilean fjords, the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal, Cape Horn and the Bosporus, as well as opportunities to visit the Galapagos, Machu Picchu, Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, Luxor, Petra, the Pyramids of Giza, Jerusalem, Ephesus, the Acropolis, Marrakech and safaris to Kenya, Botswana and other exotic locations.

Available in seven segments, Crystal is offering departures from Miami; Valparaíso, Chile; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Cape Town, South Africa; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Istanbul, Turkey; and Civitavecchia (for Rome), Italy. The line will be making maiden calls in Coquimbo, Chile; Maputo, Mozambique; and Gabes, Tunisia.

“We crafted an itinerary that blends the wonders of the world, sophisticated cities, romantic and unexpected ports, breathtaking scenery and a fascinating mix of cultures, both modern and ancient,” said Crystal’s president Gregg Michel.

When the ship departs South Florida it is scheduled to transit the Panama Canal before circumnavigating South America from Ecuador (for the Galapagos) to Peru, Chile (for Machu Picchu), Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil. Other highlights include a cruise through the Chilean fjords, the rounding of Cape Horn, cruising through Antarctica, an overnight in Buenos Aires and a stay in Rio de Janeiro during 2007’s Carnaval.

The ship then crosses the Atlantic to Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope, where she will visit Cape Town for three days. The luxury vessel will head up Africa’s east coast to the Seychelles and on to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for a three-day stay.

Continuing from Dubai are ancient cities in Oman, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel (the line’s first visit since 1999), a transit of the Suez Canal, followed by the architectural wonders of Greece, Turkey, Tunisia and Italy. From Rome, the world cruise concludes on a gastronomical note, blending the food, wine and spices of Italy, Spain, Morocco, Portugal and overnights in Bordeaux before arriving in Southampton.

Guests who book the entire 109-day journey will enjoy two exclusive, shoreside events; a complimentary Crystal Adventure ashore on each of the seven segments; a gala event on the eve of departure from Miami; pre-paid shipboard gratuities; private car transfers, a $1,000 shipboard credit (per person) and an array of onboard events and gifts.

Cruise Guide: Cruise passengers aide Cozumel’s recovery efforts

By Mike Coleman

Cozumel, Mexico Cruise ship passengers have returned here with a vengeance just weeks after Hurricane Wilma devastated this tiny, sun-drenched locale.

Instead of docking at the island’s three cruise ship terminals Muelle Punta Langosta, Muelle International and Muelle International Puerta Maya line’s have been anchoring offshore.

Damage to the terminals is so severe officials expect it will take months before repairs are completed but as is the case in so many other Western and Eastern Caribbean ports of call, guests have been departing their respective ships via tender to go ashore.

not the Cozumel you may be used to, Wilma lingered here for two days and wreaked havoc, but the friendly, smiling locals, business owners and tourism officials are pleased with the recovery progress to date and are welcoming thousands of cruise ship passengers and other visitors with open arms.

“Cruise ships have been arriving daily, airlines have resumed limited service and the majority of Cozumel tours, attractions, dive shops, restaurants and stores have been restored and are available for travelers to enjoy,” said Raul Marrufo, director of the Cozumel Tourism Promotion Board.

Electricity and water has been restored to 100 percent of the island and cosmetic improvements continue on a daily basis, according to Marrufo, including the replacement of mature palm trees that adorn Blvd. Adolfo Mateos, the main tourist thoroughfare.

Virtually all of the island’s roads are open. East coast beaches are in excellent condition some are actually wider as a result of the storm and the island’s certified dive shops are open and operating. Snorkeling tours have also resumed. The Cozumel Country Club re-opened this week although limited food and beverage service is available until restaurant and golf shop repairs are completed in early January.

Most of the island’s popular excursions are up and running again, including horseback riding tours, jeep excursions, all-terrain vehicle tours and fishing. The Mayan ruins at San Gervasio have re-opened while the Atlantis submarine attraction is scheduled to re-open next week.

Officials estimate that 90 percent of the shops and restaurants on Cozumel have re-opened although the complex across from one of the main cruise ship terminals the Plaza Punta Langosta which houses Senor Frog’s and Carlos’ N Charlie’s was devastated by the storm. Workers were replacing windows, damaged interiors and facades but it may be a number of weeks still before repairs to arguably the most popular tourist strip are completed.

According to officials from the Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, the shifting of sand in Wilma’s wake has revealed new sites for exploration, including newly-revealed caves at Palancar.

“The reef system has had some time to rest during the last several weeks, but as all dive and snorkeling enthusiasts understand, the habitat will be in a constant state of natural recovery over time,” said Robert Cudney, the park’s director.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the entire dive community. Because they have so vigilantly protected this beautiful natural resource over the past years the reefs were strong and, as such, are expected to recover beautifully.”

While officials are pleased with the speed of the recovery efforts in most sectors, repairs both to the cruise ship terminals and various structures will be on-going. A case in point is the El Cid La Ceiba Beach Hotel, devastated by Wilma. It won’t open its doors until March 15, 2006, following extensive renovations.

“Our goal is to come back stronger than ever,” said Carlos Berdegue, CEO of El Cid Resorts.