Cruise Guide: NCL unveils Gem of a ship

By Mike Coleman

Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) unveiled a new ship over the holidays and, with the New Year now upon us, has produced a series of ambitious fleet-wide resolutions.

The 2,400 passenger Norwegian Gem features, among a host of innovative amenities, 12 posh villas two with their own private gardens and sundecks plus 10 with private courtyard, pool and sundeck.

Look for dining and several entertainment options in 12 onboard restaurants and a 24-hour nightlife complex boasting the second four-lane, 10-pin bowling alley at sea, an NCL exclusive first offered on Norwegian Pearl.

Guests looking for a physical challenge will find a 30-foot rock climbing wall with five different climbing routes, each with varying degrees of difficulty. Norwegian Gem also features the Wii video game system by Nintendo. Wii tournaments are held in Norwegian Gem’s atrium on a two-story LED screen allowing guests to gather and play against each other.

The ship will sail 7-, 10- and 11-day itineraries from her home port of New York to the Bahamas, Florida and the Caribbean through April when she repositions to Europe for a series of 28 seven-day Western Mediterranean itineraries roundtrip from Barcelona. Later this year she will return to the Big Apple to feature seven-day Bahamas and Florida itineraries.

The ship is the eighth vessel purpose-built for NCL’s signature Freestyle Cruising – an approach to cruise travel unlike any other offered in the industry. Freestyle Cruising leaves regimented schedules behind, and is characterized by having no fixed dining times, no formal dress codes, relaxed disembarkation and dozens of on-board entertainment and activity options.

The line, meanwhile, has also announced significant fleet wide enhancements to its onboard product. Dubbed Freestyle 2.0, look for an improved dining experience; stateroom upgrades, new wide-ranging onboard activities for guests all of ages; additional recognition, service and amenities for balcony, suite and villa guests, and the re-launch of a past guest recognition program. 

Among the highlights: Lobster in the main restaurant on multiple days and in one restaurant every night of the cruise; a signature specialty dish in every restaurant; one or two alternative restaurants open for lunch on sea days; a new and expanded room service menu; upgrades in bedding, sheets, pillows, duvets, towels, bathrobes and in-cabin amenities including coffee maker and expanded TV offerings.

Additionally, look for an “at your service” hotline; separate check-in for balcony and mini-suite guests; personal escort to stateroom; plus concierge and butler service in all suites and villas. 

Most of the enhancements are being rolled out immediately and will be largely implemented by summer.

Cruise Guide: Crystal expands partnership with Nobu

By Mike Coleman

Famed global restaurateur Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa, having enjoyed culinary success on both land and at sea, has expanded his partnership with Crystal Cruises.

Renowned internationally for the innovative blend of classically styled Japanese foods with distinct Peruvian and European influences, Nobu-trained chefs will showcase some of Nobu’s most popular specialties in two new restaurants aboard the 940-guest, ultra-luxurious Crystal Symphony.

In The Sushi Bar, guests can indulge in yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño and tuna tataki with ponzu sauce while, among the more than two dozen menu selections at Silk Road, Nobu-style lobster with truffle-yuzu sauce, saikyo miso black cod and beef with three distinctive sauces are cant miss choices.

The new restaurants will debut during Crystal Symphony’s March 3, 2008 Trans-Pacific cruise from Los Angeles to Hong Kong. Nobu will join the ship in March to personally oversee the launch.

Occupying the former Jade Garden space, the restaurants will accommodate a total of 68 guests and will be open most evenings. While there is no additional charge for enjoying Nobu’s cuisine, reservations are recommended for Silk Road. Dining at The Sushi Bar will be on a first come, first served basis.
 
“As our guests explore the world in search of new adventures and discovery, we look to provide them with access to unique experiences,” said Toni Neumeister, Crystals vice president, food and beverage operations. 

“To dine at one of Nobu’s restaurants is a treat unto itself, and we look forward to presenting our savvy clientele with yet another new dimension of choice and superior quality aboard Crystal Symphony.”
 
Described as a “sushi mogul”, Nobu has earned a litany of awards beginning in 1989 when Food & Wine magazine taped him as one of the 10 Best New Chefs. In 1993 The New York Times recognized his Beverly Hills restaurant Matsuhisa as one of the top destination restaurants in the world.

With restaurants in almost two dozen cities – his eponymous empire reaches from Beverly Hills, New York and London to Milan, Mykonos, Melbourne and beyond – Nobu’s lone partnership at sea was forged in 2003 aboard Crystal Symphonys fleet mate, Crystal Serenity.

Like Nobu, Crystal has also earned the highest ratings in its industry. The luxury line has been voted “World’s Best” by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure magazines more than any other cruise line, resort or hotel in history.

Cruise Guide: Cunard unveils onboard museum

By Mike Coleman

Cunard Line’s unparalleled maritime history has come to life in the most obvious of locations: At sea, aboard its latest vessel.

When Queen Victoria was launched Dec. 11, it was the first Cunard vessel to carry an exhibit of company memorabilia, artifacts and vintage souvenirs including Queen Mary’s log book and her historic zig zag clock – that vital timekeeping device that prevented World War II German U-Boat attacks against the famed liner.

The onboard museum – dubbed Cunardia – tells the story of the company’s trio of 20th century Queens: Queen Mary (1936), Queen Elizabeth (1940) and Queen Elizabeth 2 (1969). The exhibit showcases the histories of the iconic ocean liners; trace a ‘typical day’ at sea, from the perspective of both passenger and crew member and feature the role of the Queens as troop carriers during World War II and the Falklands War in 1982.

In addition, retired Commodore Ronald Warwick, former Master of Queen Mary 2 and QE2, serves as honorary curator of the exhibit. Warwick, an avid Cunard historian, was a natural choice, not only due to his own place in the Cunard family, but also because his father, Capt. William E. Warwick, captained Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and QE2. Warwick and his father, by the way, are the only father-and-son captains in Cunard’s 168-year history.

The most significant piece of memorabilia may be the zig-zag clock from Queen Mary during her wartime service. The clock was kept on the bridge to alert navigators as to when to change direction during the operation known as zig-zagging. Regularly changing course was a tactic designed to confuse U-boats. Adolph Hitler had put a price on the ship as a target and as a trophy of war.

Other exhibits include the first log book of Queen Mary (handwritten by Sir Edgar Britten, captain during her maiden voyage); collections of never-before-published images, illustrating the celebrity hey-day of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth; detailed ship models and souvenirs; artifacts and stories related to the “Cunard Yanks,” the young crew who brought the latest New York fashions in clothing and music to post-war Britain.

While focusing on Cunard’s 20th century history, Cunardia also gives a nod to the present, with exhibit references to Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria, including the cork from the bottle of prosecco that was broken over Queen Victoria’s bow by Maureen Ryan, as the ship met open water for the first time. With its typical flair for tradition and ceremony, Cunard chose Ryan, the only known person to have served on four Queens, to serve as the ship’s godmother during Queen Victoria’s float-out celebration.

Similarly, Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall named the 90,000 ton ship, joining a long line of royals who have launched a Cunard liner. As well as being the second largest Cunard liner ever built, Queen Victoria’s arrival is particularly noteworthy, as it marks the first time that three Cunard Queens have been in service together in the company’s storied history.

Cruise Guide: Hot glass show to debut aboard Celebrity Solstice

By Mike Coleman

The wow factor aboard cruise ships just got a little more crowded.

Just when we think weve seen it all aboard todays modern vessels bowling alleys, surf parks, rock climbing walls and skating rinks along comes yet another unique enrichment option: Celebrity Cruises will collaborate with the renowned Corning Museum of Glass to bring the captivating art of glassblowing to sea.

The Museums Hot Glass Show debuts on the new Celebrity Solstice one year from now.

Through Celebritys alliance with The Corning Museum of Glass, one of the worlds premier authority on glass and glassmaking history, the Hot Glass Show will provide live demonstrations and a narrated performance of glassblowing, designed to engage, educate and inspire passengers about the art, history and science of glass.

Were confident our guests will be awestruck by what were offering, said Celebrity Cruises President and CEO Dan Hanrahan. The museums surveys repeatedly show that live glassmaking demonstrations rank as one of the top reasons more than 340,000 people visit the museum each year. Now, its also a compelling reason to sail on Celebrity Solstice. 

The ship, set to debut in December 2008, will be the lines first in a class of four 2,850-passenger vessels with a range of guest-inspired services and amenities. German shipbuilder Meyer Werft, which constructed the lines Century-class fleet Century, Mercury and Galaxy – is building the 122,000-ton vessel.

Located on the ships upper deck within a custom-designed, outdoor glassmaking studio, the Hot Glass Show will present the history and craft of glassblowing, from its ancient origins to its countless, present-day uses. Three resident gaffers highly skilled glassblowing artists will educate and entertain passengers with live glassmaking shows, lectures and workshops.

Live hot glassmaking demonstrations are central to the experience at The Corning Museum of Glass, located in Corning, New York. The Museum, since 2001, has taken its Hot Glass Show on the road to museums, art fairs and public festivals around the world, including the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and Americas 400th Anniversary Celebration at Jamestown.

The ship will make its maiden voyage Dec. 14, 2008, on a seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale, visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico; Basseterre, St. Kitts; and Phillipsburg, St. Maarten. The itinerary will be offered on Sundays through April 5, 2009, with an alternating itinerary calling on San Juan, Puerto Rico; Phillipsburg, St. Maarten; Tortola, B.V.I; and Labadee, Haiti, through April 12, 2009.

Celebrity, which offers an upscale cruise experience, sails in Alaska, Australia, California, the Caribbean, Europe, Galapagos Islands, Hawaii, New Zealand, Panama Canal and South America.

Look for three additional vessels to join its fleet: Equinox in 2009, Eclipse in 2010, and an-as-yet-named fourth Solstice-class ship in 2011.