Cruise Guide: Oceania eyes Down Under voyages

By Michael Coleman 

Oceania Cruises likes what it sees Down Under.

Dubbed the worlds largest upper-premium cruise line by company officials, successful first-ever voyages to Australia and New Zealand last month prompted the line to introduce additional sailings in 2009 and 2010 aboard the 684-passenger Nautica.

Australasia was the most requested new destination in our companys history and subsequently became the fastest-selling voyages we currently offer, said Bob Binder, President of Oceania Cruises.

The upstart, award-winning line debuted in 2002.

Were eagerly anticipating the day we can dedicate one of our ships for a full-season of voyages Down Under, Binder said.

In the meantime, potential guests can mull over four future itineraries to the region aboard Nautica.

Look for a Southern Cross Holiday, an 18-day voyage from Singapore to Sydney, departing December 20, 2008. Port calls include Semarang, Padang Bay, Komodo, Darwin, Thursday Island, Cairns (Great Barrier Reef), Townsville, Whitsunday Island and Brisbane.

A Splendors of Down Under voyage features a 15-day sailing from Sydney to Auckland, departing January 7, 2009 and January 22, 2009 (Auckland to Sydney). Calls include an overnight in Sydney followed by visits to Melbourne, Hobart, Milford Sound, Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Napier, White Island, Great Mercury Island and Tauranga.

A 21-day Coral Seas and Asian Jewels voyage, from Sydney to Bangkok, departs February 6, 2009. Ports include Brisbane, Whitsunday Island, Townsville, Cairns (Great Barrier Reef), Thursday Island, Darwin, Komodo, Padang Bay, Semarang, Singapore, Ko Samui and Bangkok (overnight).

Oceania is offering free airfare from 20 North American gateways and 2-for-1 cruise fares, starting at $4,599 per passenger.

Nautica recently completed a $5 million refit at the Union Naval shipyard in Marseille, France. Soft furnishings were replaced or renewed, new carpeting was laid throughout the public rooms and cabins and more than $1 million was spent installing new bathrooms in the ships 52 penthouse suites.

The suites feature new granite and marble bathrooms, boasting new flooring, countertops and vanities, bathtubs and fixtures. In addition, new 20 and 26 flat-screen LCD televisions with DVD players were installed in all penthouses, concierge level veranda staterooms and stateroom accommodations.

The line sails to more than 180 ports in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, South America, and the Caribbean. Featuring three intimate and elegant mid-sized ships, Regatta, Insignia and Nautica, look for heady expansion plans in the near future.

The line will introduce two new 1,260-passenger mid-size Oceania Class ships to its fleet in 2010 and 2011.

Cruise Guide: Seabourn unveils 150 new menu items

By Michael Coleman 

Not content to rest on its culinary laurels, the ultra-luxury Yachts of Seabourn have unveiled a host of new fleet-wide menu items.

Despite providing the best food experience at sea, according to readers of Conde Nast Traveler magazine polled in 2007, Seabourn has gone back to the drawing board.

From Malossol Caviar, Smoked Trout and Potato Parfait and Seared Beef Carpaccio with Sesame Vinaigrette toasted Shiitake Mushrooms to Butter Poached Jumbo Prawn and Red Beet and Goat Cheese Ravioli, Executive Chef Charlie Palmer has created the new dishes to tie in with a trend of adventurous diners seeking exotic twists on familiar, comforting ingredients.

As we know to expect from Chef Palmer and his team, the changes to the menu are cutting edge and will certainly please the discerning palates of our guests, said Seabourn president Pamela Conover. 

With a very high customer repeat rate coupled with the fact that our guests dine with us each day for several weeks on their cruises, we are thrilled to be updating the menu with 150 new options.

With a variety of modern cuisine, classic dishes or lighter fare, guests will be experiencing the new menu update in a variety of venues aboard each of Seabourns three vessels.

Over the course of a typical cruise, guests chose the dining option that is best suited for each meal. From black-tie dinners in the elegant The Restaurant, the Veranda Cafes outdoor seating overlooking the ships wake, to casual al fresco dining beneath the stars in the Sky Grill or 24 hour in-suite dining with a full course menu.

As founder of New Yorks highly acclaimed restaurant Aureole and two-time James Beard Award winner, Palmer raised progressive American cuisine to a world-class level with creations praised for unusual, yet clever combinations. His use of bold flavors and the finest seasonal ingredients combine to produce delectable creations that remain aesthetically pleasing, as exemplified on his Seabourn menus.

He owns 11 restaurants, including four of New Yorks top tier, and founded celebrated dining establishments with a focus on fresh seafood and the highest grade steaks from Las Vegas and Washington D.C. to Californias Sonoma wine region and Dallas. 

The original relationship between Chef Palmer and the Yachts of Seabourn allowed for hundreds of new signature recipes for cuisine to be served in the exclusive, single-seating restaurants aboard the lines ultra-luxury, yacht-like ships. Seabourn Pride, Spirit and Legend each feature restaurant kitchens, rather than typical cruise ship banquet galleys. The end result, as cited by Gourmet Magazine, is cuisine that is consistently excellent.

The menu additions reflect an ultra-luxury taste with a contemporary twist, said Chef Palmer. Seabourn guests are accustomed to the best and it is our job to constantly amaze them. Using the highest-quality and freshest ingredients, we have created a menu to delight each guest over the course of their cruise.

Seabourn features worldwide cruise itineraries of seven to 72 days, or longer, exploring landmark ports and lesser-known gems where larger ships do not travel.

The line is also building three new ultra-luxurious, 450-guest vessels for delivery in June 2009 (Seabourn Odyssey), summer 2010 and summer 2011. The latter two vessels have not yet been named.

Cruise Guide: Cruise lines catch big wave

By Michael Coleman

Wave Season may mean little to the average consumer but chances are youve recently noticed a host of cruise-related advertising extolling the virtues of a high seas adventure in 2008.

This is the time of year when cruise lines, eager to fill berths, pump up the advertising volume to attract your vacation dollar. More Alaska, Caribbean and Mediterranean voyages are purchased now through the end of February – Wave Season – than at any time of the year.

As such, the incentives for cruise-savvy consumers – like many of the catchy print ads, TV images and jingles – could not be better.

Up first, the luxury lines.  

Crystal Cruises features 10 percent savings on new bookings of all verandah and non-verandah staterooms and five percent savings for penthouse accommodations on virtually all of Crystal Serenity’s Mediterranean cruises this summer. 

Cunard Line is offering onboard credits of up to $300, plus a waiver of deposits for second guests on select Queen Mary 2 sailings and Queen Victoria maiden European voyages. Regent Seven Seas Cruises is offering shipboard credits of up to $500 per suite in addition to normal published offers for new guests of Regent. The offer applies to sailings in Europe, the Mediterranean, Alaska and Tahiti.

Rounding out the luxury category are Seabourn and Silversea. Seabourn is offering two-for-one business class airfare from 38 North American gateways, plus savings of up to 40 per cent for cruises of nine to 15 days in Europe aboard Seabourn Pride, Spirit and Legend. Silversea is offering 40 per cent savings on cruise-only fares for a host of voyages worldwide as part of the line’s “Silver Sailings” program.

Premium/deluxe lines Celebrity, Holland America and Azamara are into the act. Celebrity is offering onboard credits of $50 to $200 per stateroom, based on the length of voyage, on cruises in Alaska, the Caribbean and Europe. Holland America features savings of up to $450 off brochure rates plus upgrades for as little as $100 depending on the sailing. The promotion applies to the company’s eight ships offering select 2008 Alaska departures. Azamara features onboard credits valued at $300 to $800 on any 2008 Europe sailings booked at an ocean view or higher stateroom category.

The mass-market lines are also offering discounts to entice consumers and typically spend the most on advertising to attract both first-time and repeat cruisers. Carnival has unveiled special rates of $249 to $339 per person on select departure dates for three- to five-day voyages on Carnival Imagination and Carnival Inspiration, both with new Serenity adults-only decks and Carnival Waterworks aqua parks.

Princess has unveiled a special “Alaska Wilderness Sale” with savings of $200 per couple plus a $200 onboard credit on Princess cruise tours. And, Royal Caribbean is offering onboard credits of up to $200 per stateroom on select 2008 Alaska sailings/tours.