Cruise Guide: Caribbean voyages in vogue

The world’s top cruise ships will soon be ushering in the 2010 Caribbean season. The Caribbean is the top cruise ship destination in the world. Photo by Michael Coleman.
The world’s top cruise ships will soon be ushering in the 2010 Caribbean season. The Caribbean is the top cruise ship destination in the world. Photo by Michael Coleman.

By Michael Coleman

The cruise industry is just a few weeks away from ushering in the 2010 Caribbean season. If picture-perfect tropical islands, sun-drenched beaches and boundless shopping opportunities float your boat, a Caribbean cruise on one of the following mass-market lines may be for you.

Carnival – The largest Carnival ship ever constructed, the 3,646-passenger Carnival Dream launches year-round Caribbean service from Port Canaveral in December. Carnival also is increasing its capacity from Mobile, Alabama by 42 percent with the deployment of the Carnival Fantasy in November (to be replaced by Carnival Elation in May 2010) and by 34 percent from New Orleans when Carnival Triumph begins new Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises in November. And, beginning in May 2010, Carnival Fantasy will launch the first year-round cruise schedule from Charleston.

Costa Cruises – With sailings from Fort Lauderdale, Costa Atlantica returns to the Caribbean with new, exclusive spa accommodations that feature personalized wellness consultations, complimentary spa treatments, fitness or meditation classes, complimentary access to the Wellness Restaurant and more. Guests on Costa Atlantica and Costa Fortuna can also take advantage of “Italy in the Tropics” with a “Free Upgrade” promotion and the popular “Kids Sail Free” program.

Norwegian Cruise Line – Next year marks the arrival of Norwegian Epic, Norwegian’s largest and most innovative ship, which will begin her inaugural Caribbean season in July with alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries available as seven-day individual sailings or 14-day combined sailings and offered through April 2011. Norwegian will also seasonally homeport the 1,936-passenger Norwegian Sun in Port Canaveral beginning October 2010 for seven-day eastern and western Caribbean itineraries.

Princess Cruises – Princess will sail six ships on 13 Caribbean itineraries ranging from seven to 14 days this winter, with 129 departures visiting more than 25 ports. Ruby Princess will take over the line’s 10-day eastern and southern Caribbean itineraries, offering some of the less-visited ports in the region. Crown Princess’s western Caribbean itinerary will feature Roatan, Honduras. Grand Princess returns with an extensive 14-day Caribbean Collection route and Sea Princess will again sail on 14-day voyages from Barbados.

Royal Caribbean — The line will welcome the largest ship in the world, the 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas, to Fort Lauderdale in November when the ship begins year-round Caribbean cruises. Looking ahead, sister ship Allure of the Seas joins the company’s Caribbean fleet for the 2010-11 Caribbean season, which will feature year-round voyages from such ports as Port Everglades, Port of Miami, Port Canaveral, and San Juan, Puerto Rico; seasonal voyages from ports ranging from Cape Liberty to Galveston; and over 20 short itineraries to 15 ports in the Caribbean.

Next week, we’ll look at what the premium and luxury cruise lines have in store for their passengers as they also head into the tropics.

Over-the-edge water coaster, virtual portholes and more announced for Disney Dream

dream duck

When the Disney Dream launches in early 2011, she’ll feature a number of firsts at sea:
– A water coaster that sends guests racing above the upper decks of the ship.
– An animated turtle that engages children in conversation about life in the ocean.
– A lounge where the sun sets over the skyline of a different world-famous city each night.
– A virtual porthole for inside staterooms.

“For more than a decade, passengers have filled their passports with memories sailing around the world with Disney Cruise Line,” said Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Jay Rasulo. “With the Disney Dream joining our fleet, we’ll be able to take families to even more places they never imagined they could visit — in true Disney style.”

AquaDuck Water Coaster

Disney Cruise Line debuts a cruise-industry first: a shipboard water coaster called, what else, AquaDuck. Guests aboard the Disney Dream will get swept away on an exhilarating high-speed flume ride featuring twists, turns, drops, uphill acceleration and river rapids — all while traversing the upper decks of the ship.

– AquaDuck stretches 765 feet in length — more than two and a half times the length of a football field — and spans four decks in height.

– Guests slide 13 feet over the side of the ship in a translucent “swing out” loop allowing them to look down on the ocean 150 feet below.

– Guests experience coaster-like thrills as high-powered water jets push them upwards and forwards at 20 feet per second.

– AquaDuck continues through the forward funnel, encounters a 335 foot stretch of river rapids and splashes down to an end on Deck 12.

A Virtual Porthole for Inside Staterooms

Disney Cruise Line introduces a stateroom innovation with all inside staterooms on the Disney Dream featuring a virtual porthole that provides guests with a real-time view outside the ship. High-definition cameras placed on the exterior of the ship will feed the live video.

As guests observe the impressive outside views, they may glimpse a magical surprise: animated characters such as Peach the starfish from the Disney-Pixar hit film “Finding Nemo,” or Mickey Mouse may pop by the porthole.

A Magical Oasis for Children

The celebration of children’s creativity rises to a new level on the Disney Dream with nearly an entire deck of youth spaces designed to inspire, entertain and unlock the imagination of children. There are two main spaces for children ages three to 10:

At Disney’s Oceaneer Club, children can:

– Play among larger-than-life characters from Disney-Pixar’s “Toy Story” in Andy’s Room.

– Explore the Laugh Floor with lovable monsters Mike and Sully from “Monsters, Inc.”

– Dive under the sea with Nemo and friends or visit Tinker Bell’s fairy forest.

At Disney’s Oceaneer Lab, children feel as though they are embarking on a great seafaring adventure in a room filled with maps, maritime instruments and swashbuckling artifacts. Here, children can try their hand at animation, become a pop star or navigate ships through digital seas.

Both venues offer magical interactions with the animated characters such as Crush, the sea turtle from the Disney-Pixar motion picture “Finding Nemo” and Stitch, the mischievous alien from “Lilo and Stitch.” The characters chat, play and joke with children in live, unrehearsed conversations from their digital undersea and intergalactic environments via 103-inch plasma screens.

Chill-Out Zones for Tweens and Teens

Located inside the forward funnel is Edge — the lounge just for tweens (ages 11 to 13). This tween pad is filled with a multitude of hi-tech entertainment including the ability to create and star in photo postcards and video karaoke using green-screen technology.

Teens have their own exclusive club aboard the Disney Dream with Vibe — a trendy and inviting indoor/outdoor space created especially for guests ages 14 to 17. A “teen-only” swipe card provides access to the nearly 9,000-square-foot club.

Teens can create and edit videos, play computer games, access the onboard social media application or try their hand at spinning and mixing dance tracks. Teens have their own private outdoor deck area with chaise lounges for sunbathing, two wading pools, misters and pop jets for cooling off, and deck games such as ping-pong and foosball.

Personal Touches with Rotational Dining

Disney Cruise Line continues its innovative rotational dining concept onboard the Disney Dream with elaborately themed restaurants and distinctly Disney touches. Throughout the cruise, guests “rotate” through three different restaurants for dinner — with their servers accompanying them. The rotational dining restaurants include:

Animator’s Palate, a signature Disney Cruise Line restaurant that brings the magic of Disney animation into the dining room for a unique experience.

Royal Palace, an elegant restaurant inspired by the classic Disney films “Cinderella,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Sleeping Beauty.”

Enchanted Garden, a whimsical, casual restaurant inspired by the gardens of Versailles and featuring a dining environment that magically transforms from day to night.

Just for Adults

On the Disney Dream, while children are having the time of their lives in the elaborately themed youth areas, adults can look forward to indulgences and relaxation with exclusive areas and offerings designed exclusively for them.

– Adults can escape into The District, a nighttime entertainment area on the Disney Dream with five unique venues. This playground for grownups features sophisticated lounges, each with its own unique design, look, feel, and palate-pleasing delights.

– Senses Spa & Salon offers adult tranquility with 17 private treatment rooms, lavish spa villas with indoor treatment rooms and private outdoor verandahs, and Rainforest, a special section of the spa offering the benefits of steam, heat and hydrotherapy to relax the mind and body.

– At Palo, every seat offers beautiful ocean vistas while a pianist softly serenades guests in an intimate restaurant setting.

The Disney Dream is scheduled to depart on its maiden voyage Jan. 26, 2011, and will sail alternating three- and four-night cruises to the Bahamas and Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. During summer months, the ship will alternate four- and five-night itineraries with two stops at Castaway Cay. Guests can book their Disney Dream cruise beginning Nov. 9, 2009.

To learn more about Disney Cruise Line or to book a vacation, guests can visit disneycruise.com, call Disney Cruise Line at 888/DCL-2500 or contact their travel agent.

Royal Caribbean takes delivery of Oasis of the Seas

18176-17 Oasis Of The Seas copy

After nearly six years in the making, Royal Caribbean International took delivery today of its newest and most revolutionary cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas, from STX Europe in Turku, Finland.

Kicking off a 12-day countdown until her U.S. debut into Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Nov. 11, Oasis of the Seas will be departing Turku on Friday, Oct. 30 with Capt. William S. Wright at the helm. Her transatlantic crossing will be chronicled on OasisoftheSeas.com as new webisodes are posted daily and via Twitter by following @OasisandAllure. A new feature to OasisoftheSeas.com will allow visitors to view a Google Maps application and follow Oasis of the Seas journey. Richard Fain’s “Chairman’s Blog” on OasisoftheSeas.com and “Adam’s Blog” by President and CEO Adam Goldstein on NationofWhyNot.com also will provide personal updates.

Oasis of the Seas introduces unique industry “firsts” including a neighborhood concept — seven themed areas providing guests with the opportunity to seek out relevant experiences based on their personal style, preference or mood. Within these seven neighborhoods — Central Park, Boardwalk, the Royal Promenade, Pool and Sports Zone, Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center, Entertainment Place and Youth Zone — are elements such as the first park at sea, a thrilling zip line that races diagonally nine-decks above an open-air atrium, an original handcrafted carousel, 28 multilevel urban-style loft suites boasting floor-to-ceiling windows, an aquatic amphitheater — called the AquaTheater that serves as a pool by day and a dazzling ocean front theater by night; and an array of epicurean innovations that allow for new culinary experiences each day of a guest’s cruise vacation.

This November, just in time for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, Oasis of the Seas will be unveiled on ABC’s “Good Morning America” who will be there to welcome her into her home port in Fort Lauderdale as well as give viewers an exclusive first glimpse of the ship during a special live broadcast on Friday, Nov. 20.

The official naming ceremony for Oasis of the Seas will take place on Nov. 30 during a one night inaugural celebration-fundraiser to benefit the non-profit Make-A-Wish Foundation. Tickets for the once-in-a-lifetime event begin at $750 per person and guests who wish to continue their adventure onboard will receive an exclusive discount price, beginning at $650 per person, on a four-night cruise package sailing to the cruise line’s private beach destination, Labadee, departing the morning following the event on Dec. 1. For reservations to this exclusive event combined with the four-night sailing, contact Cynthia Paez, Royal Caribbean International, at (877) 202-1520, ext. 12751, or [email protected]
Bookings are also available for Oasis of the Seas’ inaugural sailing departing on Dec. 5. The inaugural sailing will include exclusive entertainment and gifts for guests to commemorate the special occasion.

Oasis of the Seas spans 16 decks, encompasses 225,282 gross registered tons, carries 5,400 guests at double occupancy, and features 2,700 staterooms.

For additional information or to make reservations, call your travel agent, visit www.royalcaribbean.com or call (800) ROYAL-CARIBBEAN.

Cruise Guide: Cunard’s QM2 to host filmmakers

The Queen Mary 2, as part of its onboard enrichment programming, will host acclaimed filmmakers Griffin Dunne and Gary Winick on an upcoming voyage.  Image courtesy Cunard
The Queen Mary 2, as part of its onboard enrichment programming, will host acclaimed filmmakers Griffin Dunne and Gary Winick on an upcoming voyage. Image courtesy Cunard

By Michael Coleman

Acclaimed filmmakers Griffin Dunne and Gary Winick will be featured speakers on Queen Mary 2’s Transatlantic crossing from Southampton to New York, Nov. 11.

The duo will participate in Cunard Insights, the line’s award-wining onboard enrichment program, and will screen one of each of their films: Dunne will discuss “Practical Magic,” starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock; Winick will screen his feature film, “13 Going on 30,” starring Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo.

In addition, they will engage in a panel conversation with the ship’s entertainment director where they will share stories about their multi-faceted careers and the many roles they play in the entertainment industry — from director and producer to writer and actor. All programs will be held in Queen Mary 2’s 450-seat, stadium-style theatre, Illuminations, which is also the only planetarium at sea.
 
Dunne has been involved in the film business for almost 30 years. Beginning as an actor, Dunne starred in John Landis’ cult favorite, “An American Werewolf in London” (1981). A few years later, he had the leading role in Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours” (1985), which is among the many movies that Dunne has produced with partner Amy Robinson through their company, Double Play Productions.

Dunne has continued to appear on both sides of the camera, taking supporting roles as an actor in films such as “My Girl” (1991) and “I Like It Like That” (1994). He made his directorial debut with a short film, “Duke of Groove” (1996) (TV), which was nominated for an Academy Award. Dunne then made the leap to feature films with “Addicted to Love” (1997), “Practical Magic” (1998), “Famous” (2000) and “Fierce People” (2005). Dunne is the son of the late notable writer and investigative journalist, Dominick Dunne, and Ellen Griffin Dunne.
 
Film director and producer Gary Winick has directed films such as “Tadpole” (2002), for which he won the Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival; “13 Going on 30” (2004); and the live-action remake of “Charlotte’s Web” (2006). His most recent film, “Bride Wars,” was released in January 2009. Through InDigEnt, which he founded in 1999, he has produced such films as “Pieces of April” (2003), for which Patricia Clarkson was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress; “Land of Plenty” (2004); and “Starting Out in the Evening” (2007). He won the 2003 Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award for producing “Personal Velocity.”
 
Delving deeply into a variety of compelling and relevant topics, Cunard Insights introduces guests to stimulating experts and accomplished visionaries who reflect the line’s heritage of adventure and prestige. Through a series of lectures, Q&A’s, social gatherings and workshops, guests connect with authors and intellectuals who have achieved notable distinction in areas including history, world affairs, science, politics, arts and literature
 
The crossing is just one of more than 20 six-day voyages between Southampton and New York offered by Cunard this year. In 2010, Cunard will offer more, sailing six and seven-day Transatlantic voyages between April and November.
 
On the Web: www.cunard.com

Cruise Guide Column: New-look Silver Wind Sparkles

The new-look Silver Wind, one of five vessels in the ultra-luxurious Silversea Cruises’ fleet, has received an impressive makeover. A new ship, Silver Spirit, debuts in December.  Image courtesy Michael Coleman
The new-look Silver Wind, one of five vessels in the ultra-luxurious Silversea Cruises’ fleet, has received an impressive makeover. A new ship, Silver Spirit, debuts in December. Image courtesy Michael Coleman

By Michael Coleman

The pending launch of Silver Spirit, Silversea Cruises’ latest vessel, has slightly overshadowed a beautiful, multi-million dollar refurbishment to one of its ageless ships.

Silver Wind, launched in 1995, has a fresh, updated look from bow to stern.

The ship’s main dining venue — The Restaurant – features new upholstery, carpet, wall and window treatments. Suites, too, received new carpets, drapes, bed coverings and furniture.

The biggest facelift, however, was reserved for the addition of a new Observation Lounge, and spa, on Deck 9 forward housing floor-to-ceiling, wrap-around windows.

Suite Life

The ship’s 149 ocean-view suites range in size from 240 to 1,314 square feet, 80 percent of which feature a private veranda. Suite modifications included the addition of an Owner’s Suite complete with a connecting second bedroom suite (Deck 7) plus a new Medallion Suite and Vista Suite on Deck 7.

Fixed queen beds in larger suites have been replaced with convertible twin-to-queen beds. Look also for custom-built TV cabinets added to all Vista and Veranda Suites; new flat screen TVs, new sofa, armchair, desk, vanity, night tables and headboards plus new carpets, drapes and bed coverings. Bathrooms received updated fixtures and bathtubs including new marble countertops, walls and flooring.

The expanded spa, which encompasses the beauty salon and fitness center, features a reception area, four massage rooms, one body treatment room, one dry sauna and one steam sauna. The new fitness center includes a body-building room and separate aerobics room, both offering panoramic ocean views.

Silversea Experiences

While the new-look ship is as inviting as ever, guests, meanwhile, were treated this past summer to a trio of exclusive shore-side performances. The line is renowned for offering special, complimentary tours/events, dubbed Silversea Experiences, on certain voyages.

During my Mediterranean sailing, guests enjoyed an exclusive classical music concert at Magazino Wharf in Valletta, Malta.

The 38-member Amadeus Choir performed just steps from the ship in a refurbished 16th Century venue originally built by the Knights of Malta. Stephanie Degiorgio-Wismayer and choir director Brian Cefai headlined the 45-minute show.

Later, at the Naval Officer’s Club in the Ukraine, the award-winning Black Sea Navy Ensemble, established in 1932 in Sevastopol, performed. Guests were wowed by the singing and dancing performances of this world renowned troup.

And, guest senses were further indulged in September at one of history’s most renowned theatres. The line hosted a classical music concert at one of Turkey’s most magical and best-preserved places of antiquity: Ephesus. 

Guests sat in the Odeon, a semi-circular theatre built in the 2nd century A.D., and listened to the music of famous composers such as Vivaldi, Boccherini, Mozart, Bach, and Faure.

Performances like these and impeccable service standards are Silversea staples.

Besides Silver Wind, the line offers large-ship amenities aboard its other intimate, all-suite vessels: Silver Cloud, Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper. Itineraries span the globe. The line also features an expedition ship, Prince Albert II.

Silversea’s newest ship, Silver Spirit, debuts in December.

On the Web: silversea.com

Cruise Guide: MSC Fantasia guests enjoy red carpet treatment

The 3,900-passenger MSC Fantasia features an exclusive VIP area — the MSC Yacht Club - with suites adjacent to the ship’s spa. Yacht Club members also enjoy a host of high-end perks, from around-the-clock butler and concierge services to a private lounge and pool.  Image courtesy Michael Coleman
The 3,900-passenger MSC Fantasia features an exclusive VIP area — the MSC Yacht Club - with suites adjacent to the ship’s spa. Yacht Club members also enjoy a host of high-end perks, from around-the-clock butler and concierge services to a private lounge and pool. Image courtesy Michael Coleman

By Michael Coleman

One of the world’s largest passenger vessels boasts an exclusive, amenity-laden onboard retreat.

While the ship hosts some 3,900-passengers at full capacity, Yacht Club guests are insulated in their own private area — off limits to other passengers and strictly enforced – complete with special elevator access to the ship’s Aurea Spa.

There’s a private library, a panoramic VIP lounge where breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets are served plus a private pool with sun deck, bar and whirl pools. Soft drinks, wine, liquor and beer, served within the Yacht Club, are complimentary.

Yacht Club guests also enjoy the spoils of butler and concierge service daily.

While the ship is as beautiful and glamorous as Sophia Loren, the vessel’s godmother, one really doesn’t have to leave the Yacht Club at all. Laundry, dry cleaning and pressing services are complimentary as is your favorite newspaper.

Ship architects created just 99 adjoining suites, each with a balcony. Look also for a generous-sized wardrobe closet, bathroom with shower and tub, a safe, interactive TV, telephone, Internet connection and a stocked, complimentary mini-bar.

If you do choose to leave the oasis, however, don’t be surprised if your butler escorts you to the spa or perhaps to the ship’s L’Etoile Restaurant, an a la carte complimentary venue on Deck 15.

The intimate 136-seat venue features refined fare and a stellar wine list. Look for fois gras terrine, snails in garlic butter and traditional gratinated onion soup as starters plus lobster medallions, roasted rack of lamb with garlic cream and wine reduction or filet mignon with mushrooms, sautéed vegetables and truffled Madeira sauce as main courses. Splendid desserts and cheeses, plus exceptional service, round out the gastronomic offering.

Meanwhile, a Mexican specialty restaurant on Deck 7 is a big hit with passengers.

The 108-seat El Sombrero restaurant offers standard Tex-Mex fare with a twist. Tacos, quesadillas, burritos, fajitas, steaks, lamb, spare ribs and even hamburgers have an extra kick. The secret’s in the kitchen where a fusion of friendly Asian, Philippine and Mexican cooks blend a series of spices plus a palate-pleasing Adobo marinade to most dishes. The friendliest servers onboard, bar none, work this special venue.

But, if French cuisine and Mexican fare doesn’t float your boat chefs will offer a host of Italian gastronomic choices in various other dining venues culled from Genoa, Rome, Naples, Palermo and Cagliari region recipes.

And, without question, the best pizza on the high seas is offered nightly aboard Fantasia between 8 p.m. and midnight in – where else? – La Pizzeria on Deck 14. MSC pizzas — fleet-wide – rival many of Italy’s great, family-owned pizzerias across the country.

Fantasia, at 133,500 tons, features 13 passenger decks, 13 indoor bars and lounges, six restaurants, five pools and four outdoor pool bars.

On the Web: msccruisesusa.com