Cruise Guide: New luxury line, Cunard monument unveiled in Halifax

By Michael Coleman

Halifax, the Nova Scotia capital so steeped in maritime history, stood briefly this month at the center of the cruise world. 

It wasn’t the nearby Citadel or picturesque Peggy’s Cove that garnered the attention, however. The news instead focused on the building of a new luxury cruise vessel in the Halifax shipyard and the dedication of a statue to the city’s most famous entrepreneurial son. 

Newcomer Pearl Seas Cruises announced that it has signed contracts with Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax to build two new luxury passenger vessels. The ships will carry 165 and 210 passengers, respectively. The first ship is scheduled to begin service in July, 2008 and the second in June, 2009. They will sail international cruises in the Canadian Maritimes, Newfoundland and New England, followed by itineraries in the Caribbean. 

The company says its intimate ships will be small enough to visit off-the-beaten path destinations, as well as larger, more widely visited ports.

Look for the new vessels to feature elegant public rooms and luxurious accommodations. Facilities include a spacious dining room, several lounges, a well-stocked library and state-of-the-art spa.

The ships will feature six passenger decks and 88 staterooms, each with private balcony measuring from 240 to 510 square feet. Amenities include flat-screen satellite TV, DVD players, individual climate control and Internet access.

To create brand awareness in the highly-competitive luxury cruise field, Pearl Seas has just become the twentieth member of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), a trade organization whose member lines collectively represent 97 percent of the cruise capacity marketed in North America. Members include industry giants Carnival and Royal Caribbean, and some of the world’s leading luxury operators, from Crystal and Cunard to Seabourn, Silversea and Regent. CLIA is also comprised of nearly 17,000 travel agencies.


Cunard Honored

The City of Halifax also served as a fitting backdrop for Cunard and civic officials this month as they unveiled a monument to the legacy of Sir Samuel Cunard, a Halifax native who revolutionized commerce and communications between continents by successfully introducing steamships to the North Atlantic nearly two centuries ago.

The bronze statue, created by sculptor Peter Bustin, shows Cunard standing beside a ship’s telegraph, symbolic of steamship travel. It is located on the boardwalk overlooking the site of the Cunard Wharf and Halifax’s present cruise ship terminal.

“Queen Mary 2’s inaugural visit in 2004 rekindled the inseparable ties between Halifax as the birthplace of Samuel Cunard and Cunard Line,” said Commodore Ronald Warwick, recently retired master of the Queen Mary 2 and Honorary Chairman of the monument committee. 

“It is an honor to be involved with this project and to have Sir Samuel Cunard on permanent watch when Cunard liners visit Halifax. The dedication of this monument visibly reinforces the Cunard legacy and the line’s significant connection with the people of Nova Scotia.”

For more than half a century, the S. Cunard & Company wharves on the Halifax waterfront were the center of a vast shipping empire. Cunard became the foremost entrepreneur in Halifax and one of the largest owners of merchant vessels.

He became the pioneer of ocean steam navigation when the paddle steamer, Britannia, first flagship of the British & North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, later known as Cunard Line, arrived in Halifax on its maiden voyage from Liverpool, England, on July 17, 1840. 

Today, the Cunard Line operates Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth 2, arguably the most famous luxury ocean liners in the world.

Cruise Guide: Big or small: Cruise ships drawn to Caribbean

By Michael Coleman

Some 40-plus years after mass-market passenger vessels first began sailing to the region, Caribbean voyages are hotter than ever. 

Island culture, turquoise waters and sun-drenched beaches have been drawing passengers since the 1960’s, and while the scenery is no less stellar today, a host of sleek, amenity-laden ships make the experience all the more enjoyable for a new generation of travelers. 

It doesn’t get much better than Southern Caribbean itineraries, however, as both large and small vessels carve their own special niches.

Carnival Cruise Lines positions a number of ships in the region, but look for the 2,642-passenger, 101,353-ton Carnival Destiny to lead the way. It operates year-round seven-day sailings round-trip from San Juan that call at the islands of St. Thomas, St. John, Dominica, Barbados, St. Lucia and Antigua.

Celebrity Cruises’ Galaxy sails round-trip from San Juan as well, on 10 and 11-night cruises visiting Tortola, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Barbados, Margarita Island, Curacao, Aruba, Dominica and St. Kitts.

Select sailings on the Costa Magica and Costa Mediterranea depart from Fort Lauderdale and visit ports including St. Maarten and Tortola.

Holland America Line, meanwhile, explores the Southern Caribbean with a variety of itineraries that range from 10 to 14 days. Five ships from this premium brand will journey to 18 different ports of call on 36 departures.

The Italian brand, MSC Cruises, takes guests to Grenada, Barbados, Tortola, St. Lucia, Martinique, Margarita Island and Samana (Dominican Republic), featuring the line’s private paradise, Cayo Levantado.

Norwegian Cruise Line features nine, 10 and 11-day Southern Caribbean cruises round-trip from New York and Miami. Destinations include Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada and Tortola.

Princess Cruises features seven, 10 and 14-day Southern Caribbean itineraries from Fort Lauderdale, San Juan and Barbados. Destinations include Antigua, Dominica, Grand Turk, St. Barts, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and Tortola.

Royal Caribbean positions Adventure of the Seas, Empress of the Seas and Serenade of the Seas on deep Caribbean itineraries round-trip from San Juan. Look for three, seven and 11-night voyages.

If a smaller ship fits the bill, look no further than two intimate cruise lines – Star Clippers and Windstar – to add a special dimension to Caribbean cruising. Their respective ships glide from port-to-port under engine power or wind in their sails.

The 170-passenger Star Clipper sails seven-night alternating itineraries round-trip from St. Maarten while the Royal Clipper, the line’s 227-passenger flagship, sails seven-night alternating itineraries round-trip from Barbados.

Premium-brand Windstar Cruises features seven-day voyages to the deep Caribbean from December through March aboard Wind Spirit (148 passengers, round-trip from St. Thomas) and Wind Surf (308-passengers, roundtrip from Barbados).

Cruise Guide: Sun-drenched Caribbean voyages unveiled

By Michael Coleman

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to conclude that Caribbean cruise itineraries are the most popular in the world. 

Over the past few years, port calls in Alaska and Europe have gained momentum among travelers seeking to expand their horizons, but the hands-down winner is just a few hundred miles from the coast of Florida. Southern Caribbean itineraries have taken off, with a mix of exotic adventures often in less-charted waters to the Leeward Islands and beyond. 

“On Southern Caribbean cruises, travelers have the chance to visit islands renowned for their exclusivity, tranquility and African, Indian and European influences,” said Terry L. Dale, president and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the primary marketing organization for 19 of the world’s leading cruise lines and nearly 17,000 North American travel agencies. 

“Unlike visitors to land-based resorts, cruise guests uniquely enjoy a selection of exotic natural environments and diverse Caribbean cultures in one seamless vacation.” 


Luxury lines eye sun

There’s a Caribbean cruise to fit every budget and every expectation, but if you’re looking for a Caribbean trip to remember, nothing beats a luxury cruise into the region renowned for its lore and impeccable beaches.

Crystal Cruises offers a selection of 7-to-14-day itineraries that visit deep Caribbean ports, sailing roundtrip from Miami. Destinations include Antigua, Bonaire, Grand Turk, St. Lucia and Tortola.

Queen Mary 2 sails two seven-day Caribbean itineraries from Fort Lauderdale in December. “Southern Caribbean Liner” and “Dreamers Western Caribbean” itineraries feature calls in Barbados, St. Kitts, St. Thomas, Montego Bay and Cozumel.

Oceania Cruises’ Regatta offers travelers an array of itineraries roundtrip from Miami that visit St. Barts, Dominica, Antigua, Samana and the diving Mecca of Grand Turk.

Regent Seven Seas’ itineraries, meanwhile, call at Dominica, Grand Turk, St. Barts, St. Thomas and Tortola. Seven, eight, 10 and 11 days cruises are available from Fort Lauderdale.

The Yachts of Seabourn offer seven-day southern Caribbean voyages aboard Seabourn Pride from Barbados and St. Maarten in November and December and on Seabourn Legend from St. Thomas in early 2007.

Silversea Cruises features itineraries ranging from seven-to 12-days with departures from San Juan and Barbados aboard Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper in late 2006 and the first and last quarters of 2007.

Perhaps the best part of all is the fact these luxury operators have a crew that will not only remember your name, but your drink and dining preferences as well.

Cruise Guide: Italian flair woos passengers to MSC Cruises

By Michael Coleman

With Sophia Loren as spokesperson and a cruise experience that promises to be “Beautiful, Passionate, Italian,” what’s not to like about an emerging star in the North American cruise market? 

MSC Cruises may not be a household name here just yet, but a $3 billion fleet expansion, a marketing campaign with film legend Loren, and the clever tag line is attracting passengers to this flourishing line.

Company officials are also banking on the belief that potential guests will gravitate to the genuine, onboard Italian hospitality concept and elegantly-appointed, Italian decor vessels.

It was Loren who, as Godmother, christened the line’s latest vessel in Venice, Italy. MSC Musica, a 90,000-ton, 2,550-passenger gem, entered service in June. Loren also christened MSC Opera (60,000 tons/1,700 passengers) in March, 2004 and MSC Lirica (60,000 tons/1,560 passengers) in April, 2003.

The fleet includes three classic vessels – MSC Melody (formerly the Starship Atlantic of Premier Cruise Lines); MSC Rhapsody (formerly the Cunard Princess); and MSC Monterey. Additionally, the line also features MSC Armonia (formerly European Vision) which entered service in May 2004 and MSC Sinfonia (formerly European Stars) which began service in 2005.

By 2009, with the addition of MSC Orchestra (spring 2007), MSC Fantasia (2008), MSC Poesia (2008) and MSC Serenata (2009) – three of which are under construction now – the line will boast 12 ships and expects to host more than one million passengers annually by 2010.

How will they do it? Loren, the Italian flair and appealing itineraries help, but the addition of special theme cruises, authentic onboard Italian cuisine and a European ambiance, say officials, is key. It won’t hurt, either, that the ships are becoming destinations in themselves.

Aboard MSC Musica, for instance, guests enjoy 22,500 square feet of public space, a 13,000-square-foot spa/beauty facility, three pools, four Jacuzzis, well-equipped fitness center, 7,000-square-foot casino, cigar bar, wine tasting bar, art gallery, onboard shopping opportunities, a 1,200-seat theater, music hall, conference hall, panoramic disco and four restaurants – including a Sushi Bar – offering international and traditional Italian cuisine. In the grand central foyer, which features a waterfall and three bridges, passengers can enjoy piano music while seated on transparent flooring suspended over the water.

In Italy, look for departures from Genoa, Rome and Venice. Mediterranean destinations, meanwhile, run the gamut. Caribbean sailings depart Fort Lauderdale and feature deep Caribbean, Caribbean and Panama itineraries, while Northern Europe voyages depart Copenhagen and Amsterdam with itineraries that explore the Norwegian Fjords, Baltic capitals, Scotland and England.

Look for savings of up to 60 percent for Baby Boomers and seniors on select Caribbean and Panama roundtrip sailings out of Fort Lauderdale aboard MSC Lirica and MSC Opera through spring, 2007. 

Baseball fans, meanwhile, can rub elbows with all-stars and hall-of-famers on MSC Lirica’s 11-night Nov. 26, 2006 and April 18, 2007 Caribbean sailings and golfers can hone their skills on MSC Sinfonia’s May 7 and Oct. 22, 2007 Mediterranean sailings with one of the world’s leading golf trainers: Chuck Cook.

Look for the line to also offer additional theme cruises from hobbies and culture to cuisine, music, well-being and more.