Cruise Guide: Ultra-luxury cruises in vogue on high seas

By Michael Coleman 

Bigger is not necessarily better according to a pair of expanding, high-end cruise brands. The Yachts of Seabourn and Silversea Cruises are banking that when it comes to ultra-luxurious high seas travel in the near future, less is also more.

Both lines are in the process of adding new ships to their respective fleets but each is bucking the industry trend. Instead of unveiling their own behemoth vessels, smaller, more intimate ships are on the drawing boards.

First up will be the Seabourn Odyssey in June, 2009. It, like two other new vessels on order, will carry just 450 guests.

I think there is a line between a small-ship and a large-ship experience,” said Pamela Conover, Seabourns president and CEO. “We choose not to cross that line because we are committed to providing the sort of individualized experience that is the reason Seabourn guests choose to travel with us. We are building for a particular sort of very discerning traveler who understands the equation between intimacy and luxury.” 

Seabourns new fleet will provide among the highest ratios of space per guest in the industry. As such, look for an expansive 11,500-square foot indoor/outdoor spa, spread over two decks. Ninety percent of the ship’s guest accommodations will have private verandas, and each will feature four alternative dining venues.

But for all their spaciousness, said Conover, the new yachts will be designed to engender the relaxed, sociable lifestyle that characterizes life aboard their existing, smaller ships: Legend, Pride and Spirit. 

Silversea, meanwhile, is building a 540-guest ship. The ultra-luxurious Silver Spirit is due in late 2009.

“Silver Spirit’s design will mirror the distinctive silhouette of our existing ships (Silver Cloud, Silver Wind, Silver Shadow, Silver Whisper) and will offer the same standards of luxury that our guests have come to expect,” said Manfredi Lefebvre, Silversea’s chairman. 

With a total of 270 all ocean-view suites, the new ship will maintain the line’s reputation for intimate yet spacious vessels.  Plans also call for a new gourmet supper club and a new Asian restaurant. Look also for a new spa where guests can enjoy an aesthetically pleasing sanctuary to relax, de-stress and detox with an expanded menu of treatment options.

Silver Spirit will also feature many of the same public spaces found on the line’s existing ships, including an Observation Lounge, Vista Lounge (similar to Panorama Lounge on current fleet), Show Lounge, Humidor and Pool Bar, plus a new Lobby Bar styled along the lines of a European hotel, featuring Italian coffees complemented by champagne, wine and spirits – all served at no charge.

In June, Silversea will launch its own 132-guest, 6,000-ton regal expedition ship: Prince Albert II, complete with spacious library and Internet cafe, boutique shopping, full-service spa, beauty salon, fitness centre, sauna and two top-deck whirlpools. 

The ship will even feature live evening entertainment and The Humidor, where connoisseurs will enjoy the finest cigars and cognacs.

Cruise Guide: Crystal, Princess offer guests distinct amenities

By Michael Coleman 

It will be a summer to remember for guests embarking on either a Crystal or Princess cruise.

The ultra-luxurious setting aboard Crystal Symphony will be matched by a series of utra-exclusive shore excursions in St. Petersburg, Russia. Princess, meanwhile, will be expanding The Sanctuary its popular, adults-only onboard retreat fleet-wide.


From Russia with Love

The 940-guest Crystal Symphony will be making six Baltic cruises departing from London, Stockholm and Copenhagen, June through August, ranging in length from seven to 11 days. Each features at least two days in St. Petersburg. Five of the six cruises boast three-day stays providing guests with the opportunity to dig deeper into one of the worlds most celebrated destinations.

Look for some 30 shore excursions dubbed Crystal Adventures to include an actual flight on a MiG Fighter (zooming over Russia’s landscape at over twice the speed of sound) to a more serene, bicycle trip through Krestovsky Island.

Look also for a visit to the modest memorial apartment of author Fyodor Dostoevsky and an overnight stay in Moscow where guests will explore the Kremlin and its Armory Chamber, complete with its royal crowns, jewelry and priceless Faberge eggs. The visit also includes a trip to the Cathedral of the Assumption and Grand Kremlin Palace – typically off-limits to visitors. The famed State Tretyakov Gallery and the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts are among the other wonders of the Russian capital guests will enjoy.

Crystal Adventures range from less than $50 to as much as $38,695 for the MIG flight. 
Princess Sanctuary

The Sanctuary, which debuted in 2006 aboard Crown Princess, was an instant success. It gave passengers an ideal onboard oasis, complete with a plush, outdoor spa-inspired setting, massage cabanas, signature beverages, light meals, attentive service and relaxing personal entertainment. It enjoyed continued popularity on sister ship Emerald Princess, and will also be available on Ruby Princess, debuting in November.

Beginning this summer, the line’s trademark retreat will be added to Island Princess, followed by Grand Princess and Star Princess by the end of the year.  Additional ships will have The Sanctuary added through 2010. 

In addition, The Sanctuary features two outdoor private cabanas where guests can also take advantage of exclusive Lotus Spa Services including sybaritic favorites such as a Deep Tissue Muscle Massage, a relaxing Swedish Massage or a Full Body Lotus Massage especially for couples.

Half-day passes are available for $10 per person, for 8 am to 12:30 pm or 1 pm to 5 pm.  Passengers choosing to indulge with an outdoor massage may also enjoy an hour’s use of The Sanctuary area after their treatment.

Cruise Guide: Cruise lines unveil busy European season

By Michael Coleman 

More cruise ships than ever before will be exploring some of Europes greatest cities in 2008.

“As the cruise industry continues its global expansion, nowhere are seagoing vacations growing at a faster rate than in Europe,” said Cruise Lines International Association president and CEO, Terry L. Dale.

Azamara Cruises, a new line founded just last year, will offer high-end, destination-driven voyages aboard Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest through summer. Ships will roam from the western Mediterranean to the Adriatic, throughout western Europe, pay
visits to Morocco and offer a handful of 12-night Scandinavia and Russia trips. Two voyages encompass Egypt and Israel.
Carnival Cruise Lines inaugurates its first-ever northern Europe cruise season with
the debut of Carnival Splendor. Featuring a 21,000 square-foot spa dubbed Cloud 9,  the 3,006-passenger ship will sail roundtrip from London to Copenhagen, Warnemunde (Germany), Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallin and Amsterdam between mid-July and the end of August. 

Celebrity Cruises will position four ships in Europe again this year, offering Scandinavia and Russia, Norwegian fjords, western Mediterranean, north Africa, and eastern Mediterranean itineraries. Returning to shipboard life will be “Passaporto di Europa,” an onboard activities/entertainment program featuring the cultures of Europe. Examples include a French wine and cheese fair, a “taste of Spain,” “Dining under the Santorini Stars,” and “Carnevale di Venezia.” Itineraries also feature five new ports for Celebrity: Harwich, Cherbourg, Gijon (Spain), Brest and Split.
Luxurious Crystal Cruises will be offering a choice of 15 Mediterranean itineraries, including voyages through the Black Sea, Greece, Turkey and the Middle East. The line also features a series of port-intensive Mediterranean and summer British Isles cruises featuring overnights in Dublin and Edinburgh.

Offering its most expansive European season ever, Holland America will position six ships, including the brand new Eurodam in the region. Look for 57 itineraries through November in northern Europe, the Norwegian fjords, the Mediterranean, Greek Isles and western Europe. Maiden port calls will be featured including three in Sweden (Lulea, Hudiksvall and Karlskrona); Aalborg, Denmark; Santander, Spain; Portimao, Portugal; and Split, Croatia.

Norwegian Cruise Line, meanwhile, will be offering its largest European deployment in company history. Three of it newest vessels, Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Jade and Norwegian Jewel, will be offering a wide range of itineraries through November, including several voyages aboard Norwegian Jade roundtrip from Southampton.
“More than ever before” is the theme for Princess Cruises’ European season. Six ships will call on 115 ports on 32 itineraries. Two ships – Crown Princess and Pacific Princess – make their European debuts, and Princess will offer five new itineraries, including a “Classical Europe” option that combines the best of Scandinavia and Russia with the Mediterranean in a single voyage aboard the 710-passenger Royal Princess. New ports include Sarande, Albania; Dartmouth, England; and Scrabster, Scotland.