Cruise Guide: The world is yours – Cruise lines unveil global itineraries

By Mike Coleman

The world of luxury cruise ship travel has never looked better. We have yet to say goodbye to 2005 and three major players in the luxury field have already announced ambitious plans for world cruises in 2007.

Silversea, Radisson Seven Seas and Holland America are wowing potential guests with impressive globe-trotting itineraries and perks one would expect from top-shelf lines.
Crystal Cruises will not be far behind. Their plans are expected to be announced soon.

Silversea will debut its world cruise – the line’s first full circumnavigation – aboard Silver Shadow in 2007. Departing Jan. 15 from Ft. Lauderdale, the 126-day voyage will cross three oceans, seven seas and six continents, visiting 61 different ports before concluding in New York City on May 22.

“World voyages are all about cultural exploration, new adventures, and having time to get to know your fellow travelers,” said David Morris, Silversea’s senior vice president of North America sales. “Silver Shadow’s smaller, more intimate design, offers the perfect ambiance where guests can mingle and form lasting friendships, as they journey in award-winning luxury to discover those fascinating and secluded places that are too far off the beaten path for larger ships to visit.”

During the four-month, nine-segment odyssey, guests will enjoy spacious, ocean-view accommodations, most with private verandas, award-winning gourmet cuisine, personalized service, Italian hospitality and Silversea’s selection of all-inclusive shipboard amenities including complimentary beverages, wines and spirits, 24-hour room service, stocked in-suite beverage cabinet and all gratuities. Complimentary butler service is provided in the grand, royal, Rossellini and owner’s suites.

Meanwhile, the 700-passenger Radisson Seven Seas Voyager will embark on a 111-night global itinerary the most extensive circumnavigation the company has ever offered exploring 45 destinations in 26 countries on five continents in six-star luxury. The ship will sail roundtrip from Ft. Lauderdale, Jan. 9 to April 30, 2007. The cruise will also mark the line’s return to southern and eastern Africa for the first time since 2003.
¨”The 2007 itinerary is a result of feedback from our past guests who are seeking a less traditional world cruise, yet a unique blend of wonderful destinations and cultures on five continents,” said Mark Conroy, president of Radisson Seven Seas Cruises. “We’ve ambitiously responded with an exceptional, convenient voyage roundtrip from Ft. Lauderdale.”

During the six segment journey, guests will enjoy 14 overnight stays in popular ports. Acclaimed for her all-suite, all-balcony design, the ship features accommodations ranging from 356 to 1,403 square feet of living space including walk-in closets, large marble-appointed bathrooms featuring separate glass shower stalls and full bathtubs.

Holland America, meanwhile, will expand its grand voyage program in 2007 to include two ships and three voyages. The 1,380-guest Amsterdam will circle the globe in 105 days and the 793-guest Prinsendam will explore icescapes and cities on a circumnavigation of South America and Antarctica for 66 days followed by a 56-day sojourn traversing the Atlantic to ports in Europe and North Africa. The two ships will chart different courses to their respective destinations but will be docked, side-by-side, April 11 in Croatia.

“We are consistently listening to past guests and building innovative itineraries,” said Richard D. Meadows, Holland America’s senior vice president, marketing and sales.

“With two different ships and more extended port stays than ever, these epic cruises feature diversity, luxury and a sophisticated experience.”

The Amsterdam will depart Ft. Lauderdale Jan. 15 on its 33,400-nautical-mile journey to 38 ports in 26 countries and six continents. On her first of two region-specific voyages, the Prinsendam will cruise 17,400 nautical miles to 33 ports in 14 countries, departing Jan. 5 from Ft. Lauderdale. Her second roundtrip journey departs Ft. Lauderdale March 12 and returns May 7.

Guests who prefer a longer voyage can combine both of Prinsendam’s cruises for a 122-day journey.

Cruise Guide: Crown Princess readies for debut

By Mike Coleman

With recent media attention focusing on Royal Caribbean’s pending launch of the largest passenger liner in the world next year, somewhat lost in the shuffle is a new Princess ship being readied for the high seas.

Reprising the name of a former Princess ship, the line will name the next new vessel to join its fleet Crown Princess. She will feature a number of innovations designed for cruising in the Caribbean waters, but the ship will also offer new design evolutions to create additional options for passengers, including a piazza-style atrium, even more dining venues and redesigned public spaces.

The 113,000-ton Crown Princess is scheduled to debut next May and will sail round-trip from New York on a series of nine-day Caribbean and Bermuda voyages. In the fall, the ship begins a series of Southern Caribbean voyages from San Juan.

And while the Royal Caribbean ship Freedom of the Seas seems to be garnering most of the latest headlines – it too debuts in May – look for Crown Princess to steal some of the spotlight if not for her sheer size than for the mouth-watering culinary delights she will soon offer.

The ship will feature a piazza-style atrium, designed to be the bustling hub of the ship with a street cafe atmosphere.

The atrium, on Deck 5, will feature the International Cafe, where passengers will enjoy rotating themes throughout the day and Vines, a wine and seafood bar. Passengers in the cafe might find freshly baked croissants or beignets in the morning, crêpes or bonbons in the afternoon, and chocolate fondue or desserts in the evening. It will also be the locale for pre-dinner tapas or after-dinner petits fours.

Vines, on the other hand, will tempt passengers in the evening with an assortment of fine wines by the glass as well as chilled “seafood cocktails” appetizers including salmon, caviar, sushi, gravlax or other treats from the sea. The venue will also host an extensive menu of wines and food tastings paired for a completely different experience.

Table service from both the International Cafe and Vines will also be available in the Internet Cafe, for those passengers who like to snack and surf the Net at the same time.

Meanwhile, the line’s popular Sterling Steakhouse has evolved into the Crown Grill, a steak and seafood house with a theater-style performance kitchen. Located on Deck 7, the ship’s showplace eatery will entertain passengers with an open, theater-style kitchen where chefs custom-prepare steamed shellfish lobster, scallops, clams and mussels and cooked-to-order steaks and chops. The 160-seat restaurant will feature rich decor, leather appointments, wine display cabinets and the privacy of booths as well as tables and counter seating.

The lines’ Sabatini’s Italian trattoria will be situated on Deck 16, higher here than on other ships, to offer fine dining with a view. The venue offers views on three sides with dramatic vistas overlooking the wake of the ship. The adjacent Adagio Lounge offers a cozy venue for Sabatini diners to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail and relaxing piano music, complete with ocean views.

The ship will offer numerous dining options that passengers have come to enjoy on other Princess vessels. The 24-hour Horizon Court will serve round-the-clock buffet fare, while the adjacent Cafe Caribe will offer unique Caribbean specialties in a deluxe buffet setting, with a focus on a different island or region each night plus seafood extravaganzas on formal evenings.

Passengers can enjoy poolside treats with a hamburger and hot dog grill, pizzeria and ice cream shop. Crown Princess will also serve Princess’ trademark traditional afternoon tea.
Crown Princess will also offer multiple show lounges and a variety of intimately designed public spaces.

Other ship features include a wedding chapel with Internet wedding cam, and an extensive children and teen’s center with splash pool and outdoor play area, sports and fitness facilities, a wide array of educational classes and nearly 900 staterooms with private balconies.

The ship takes on the name of a vessel that left the fleet in 2002. The original Crown Princess, which debuted in 1990, was the first ship built for Princess by the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy. The same yard is working on the new vessel, scheduled to debut in eight months.

Cruise Guide: Repositioning cruises becoming popular

By Mike Coleman

The cruise industry has a secret. Seasoned travelers on the high seas have known about it for years, but today, the secret’s out.

The “repositioning” cruise, a favorite of educated passengers for years, is slowly but surely becoming a popular voyage option for the masses.

Cruise lines will soon be repositioning their ships from one seasonal destination to another. From European waters to the warmer climates of the Caribbean, from Alaska to Hawaii, the West Coast or Caribbean, and from the Canada/New England region to the Caribbean, these special one-way voyages are offered but once or twice a year.

“The majority of vacationers know very little about repositioning cruises, or for that matter, what they really are,” said Terry L. Dale, president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the marketing arm for 19 of the world’s leading cruise lines.

“The itineraries offer guests a tremendous opportunity to experience unusual journeys that normally feature more leisurely days at sea and out-of-the way ports of call. Even better, in most cases, repositioning voyages offer travelers significant value compared with standard itineraries.”

Long days at sea won’t be boring, unless it’s solitude that you’re after. Quiet spaces abound on many ships but one can also enjoy enhanced onboard activities, including distinguished guest lecturers from the arts, sciences, politics and journalism. Itineraries may also feature culinary and wine appreciation seminars, computer classes or other enrichment programming.

While the CLIA umbrella features more than 150 ships for all ages and budgets, it’s the repositioning plans of the luxury and premium cruise lines which caught my attention.

Crystal’s Crystal Serenity celebrates the centennial of the Tommy Dorsey band, led by Buddy Morrow, on a November transatlantic cruise from Lisbon to Fort Lauderdale. Crystal Symphony’s September transatlantic sailing from London to New York is dubbed a Film Festival/Distinguished Speakers Series cruise while its October sailing from Montreal to Fort Lauderdale will include lecturers from the Smithsonian and U.S. News & World Report.

In October, Holland America’s Westerdam sails from Civitavecchia to Fort Lauderdale on a 15-day crossing. In November, Prinsendam sails a 15-day itinerary from Lisbon to Fort Lauderdale and Rotterdam operates a 17-day Lisbon to Rio cruise. Three fall Panama Canal sailings aboard Veendam, Volendam and Zaandam reposition the ships from Vancouver to Caribbean waters. Three Pacific Coast itineraries operate between Vancouver and San Diego.

Oceania Cruises’ Regatta sails on a 10-day Lisbon to Miami sailing Nov. 17 and Insignia on a 12-day Barcelona to Rio de Janeiro voyage Nov. 27. A highlight of Regatta’s repositioning cruise is a visit to Ponta Delgada in the Azores. Sister ship Insignia will make a call at Las Palmas, Canary Islands. The voyages will include an emphasis on wine. Tastings and wine appreciation classes will be offered.

Radisson’s Seven Seas Voyager sails on an eight-night crossing Nov. 13 from Madeira to Fort Lauderdale. En route to Fort Lauderdale, guests will be able to dance to the music of the Nelson Riddle Orchestra with Christopher Riddle conducting from the bandstand. A series of cooking classes, operated by famed Le Cordon Blue chefs, is available at an additional fee.

Guests on Seabourn’s Seabourn Pride can enjoy the line’s repositioning from New York to Nassau, Oct. 16, featuring Seabourn’s third annual Great American Food & Wine Festival. Seabourn Legend sails from Tenerife to Fort Lauderdale Nov. 9. Seabourn Spirit positions from Egypt to Asia on Oct. 23.

Silversea’s Silver Cloud sails in October on a 14-day itinerary from Lisbon to Barbados. Silver Wind departs in November on a 17-day “Passage to the Seychelles” adventure from Port Said, Egypt, to the Seychelles via the Red Sea and Suez Canal, calling at ports in Egypt, Jordan, Eritrea and Djibouti. Silver Whisper, meanwhile, has just returned to North America, having completed a 12-day voyage from London to Boston.

Cruise Guide: Mingle with the stars aboard Crystal, Cunard and Radisson lines

By Mike Coleman

One-upmanship is serious business, especially among luxury brands in the highly-competitive cruise industry.

Take, for instance, executives at Crystal Cruises, the Cunard Line and Radisson Seven Seas Cruises. They create purpose-built ships, top-shelf amenities and onboard programs with the most discerning of travelers at sea in mind.

Who said, however, that it couldn’t be fun? Officials at the three lines are beaming that respective guests will be mingling with celebrities and renowned lecturers this fall.

Seven-time Emmy Award-winning actress Mary Tyler Moore, who served as godmother for Crystal Harmony when it was launched in 1990, will help bid the ship farewell. Harmony will transfer to her Japanese owners in November but not before Moore and guests give this special ship a royal send-off.

Moore is scheduled to sail aboard the 940-guest vessel, round-trip from Los Angeles, on a 10-day Mexican Riviera cruise beginning Oct. 22. Port calls include San Diego, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo.

Meanwhile, pop music legend Carly Simon is scheduled to conclude a trans-Atlantic crossing this week aboard the Queen Mary 2 (QM2), where she performed two concerts. The sessions were recorded for a one-hour PBS network television special, scheduled to air in December. The concerts will be released on DVD by Columbia Records in November.

Simon’s six-day transatlantic voyage, including her concert performances in the ship’s Queens Room, the largest ballroom at sea, and behind-the-scenes moments onboard QM2 were documented for the DVD by veteran concert filmographer Jim Gable.

Passengers enjoying Radisson Seven Seas’ Grand Circle Pacific segments will be entertained and enlightened as they explore Southeast Asia, Australia and the South Pacific this fall aboard the 700-guest, all balcony-suite Seven Seas Mariner.

During a 14-night, Hong Kong to Singapore sailing beginning Oct. 10, noted Irish actor Milo O’Shea, renowned for his Tony award-nominated roles in Staircase (1968) and Mass Appeal (1981) as well as his character Durand-Durand in Barbarella (1968), will screen some of his films and appear in Q&A sessions.

Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe-winning Hall of Fame songwriter Paul Williams will be onboard during the Auckland to Los Angeles segment, Nov. 21. Between calls at Bay of Islands, Rarotonga, Bora Bora, Moorea, Papeete, and Nuku Hiva, the 19-night cruise will feature the composer and his most memorable hits Rainy Days and Mondays, Evergreen, We’ve Only Just Begun, and The Rainbow Connection during one concert and two lectures.

Renowned ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau will also share the spotlight on the Nov. 21 sailing. He will discuss the ocean’s importance to survival of life on the planet.

Have you ever thought what it would be like to return from such cruises with a customized movie of your time with celebrities on board, or for that matter your trek through Machu Picchu or your exploration of the pyramids at Giza? Now you can, thanks to a new digital video editing course, available on Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, where guests learn how to edit their own video with footage from acquired sources, including existing Crystal videos and special effects, to create mini-documentaries of their global travels.

Who knows? Perhaps Moore, Simon, O’Shea, Williams or Cousteau will ask for your autograph.

Cruise Guide: Seabourn taps palate with food and wine festival

By Mike Coleman

Hungry, and in need of a cruise to the Bahamas this fall? The Yachts of Seabourn will have you covered. ¨¨The ultra-luxurious, all-suite Seabourn Pride will tempt palates like never before when it hosts its third annual Great American Food & Wine Festival, during a 14-day voyage from New York to Nassau, Oct. 16.

Guests will enjoy cooking demonstrations and menus featuring signature dishes by some of America’s most acclaimed chefs, as well as wine tastings and pairings featuring award-winning American vintages. Optional shore excursions will also highlight regional cuisine during port calls along the Eastern seaboard.

Charlie Palmer, one of only three chefs elected to this year’s Forbes’ Celebrity 100 list of movers and shakers, heads an all-star lineup of guest chefs and experts. Also appearing will be chef Sue Torres, whose Mexican-inspired Sueños in New York has garnered praises from the New York Times, New Yorker and Vogue and Jean Marie LaCroix, whose eponymous restaurant on Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square was named the Best New Restaurant throughout the United States by Esquire Magazine in 2003 and Philadelphia’s best new restaurant in a decade by Philadelphia Magazine. Wine consultant Rita Faires of Intervine will join the cruise to host tastings and present pairings of American wines to accompany dinner onboard.

The cruise also promises to be a memorable one as the intimate, 208-guest ship makes its way down the Eastern seaboard with calls at many of America’ s most important colonial cities including Newport, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Mt. Vernon, Yorktown, Charleston, Savannah, Amelia Island and Port Canaveral.

If the palate-pleasing onboard fare hasn’t filled you, then culinary excursions to a number of tempting restaurants along the coast will.

In Philadelphia, enjoy a comparative tasting of Philly cheese steaks on site at the rival Geno’s and Pat’s and a morning “Shopping with the Chef” tour in the Italian Market section.

In Baltimore, a classic lunch of steamed blue crabs at Bo Brooks’ Crab Shack awaits passengers. Later, explore the historic 220-year old Lexington Marketplace.

In Charleston, Amanda Dew Manning leads a tour of lowcountry culinary heritage including a demonstration and luncheon. Seabourn’s free experience includes a ride by horse-drawn carriage to a traditional Southern tea in a 19th century home.
In Savannah, a walking tour of the town’s stately squares and a family-style lunch of Southern specialties is scheduled at Mrs. Wilkes’ Boardinghouse.

Meanwhile, on Amelia Island, guests can enjoy a luncheon at The Florida House Inn, Florida’s oldest surviving hotel, in the Victorian-era Fernandina Beach Historic District. And, in Port Canaveral, dubbed “Follow the Wild Ocean Shrimp,” guests can enjoy a boat tour of the Indian River Lagoon and observe a shrimp processor before feasting on local shrimp at Dixie Crossroads.

With savings of up to 39 percent, fares start at $6,948 per person, based on double occupancy, for a 277-square foot ocean-view suite. Past guests of Seabourn or Carnival Corporation-owned cruise lines Carnival, Princess, Cunard, Costa, Holland America or Windstar Cruises will qualify for 50 percent savings and fares from $5,695 per person, double occupancy.

The 10,000 ton Seabourn Pride was refurbished in 2003. The ship entered service in 1988.
¨The line’s 104 ocean view suites include living area and bedroom, five-foot picture window or balcony, walk-in closet, television with VCR, stocked bar, Bose wave radio, CD, writing desk, spacious bathroom with tub, shower and large vanity, hair dryer, direct dial telephone and private safe.

Suite amenities include complimentary champagne upon arrival, 24-hour room service, personalized stationery, fruit basket replenished daily, terry-cloth robes, Frette linen, fine soaps by Hermes, Chanel, Bijan and Bronnley, Pure Pampering Aromatherapy by Molton Brown, nightly turndown service, daily newspaper, World Atlas, clock/barometer/thermometer and umbrella.

And, yes, to work off those calories the ship’s gymnasium is equipped with treadmills, stationary bikes and free weights.

Cruise Guide: Breathtaking fall foliage cruises beckon passengers

By Mike Coleman

It’s hard to tell when the seasons actually change here in Southwest Florida but if you’re among the lucky ones cruising from the United States to Eastern Canada, you know that fall is in the air.

Over the next two months some of the world’s leading cruise lines will be showcasing the brilliant gold, yellow, red and orange autumn hues viewed from high atop a lido deck near you. Many cruises not only feature New York, Boston, Quebec City and Montreal on their fall itineraries, they also include calls on quaint coastal villages featuring regional fare to warm your bones, from steamy New England clam chowder to Nova Scotia’s famed lobster.

Worried that such cruises are too sedentary? Think again. Optional sightseeing excursions run the gamut – from pub crawls in historic Halifax (with your very own band of roving musicians) to clambakes on private islands. Let’s not forget Broadway shows, haunted walks, touring New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy by jet boat, or visiting lighthouses in Maine.

Carnival Triumph will sail a series of cruises round-trip from New York. Ports include Boston, Portland, Sydney and Halifax. Sightseeing highlights include scenic Peggy’s Cove, the Fortress of Louisburg and the Moosehead Brewery.

Celebrity’s Constellation will offer guests roundtrip voyages from Cape Liberty, NJ. Highlights include Boston, Bar Harbor, Halifax; an overnight stay in Quebec City, the Saguenay River and Portland. Among the sightseeing options are trips from Quebec City to the St. Anne de Beaupre shrine, combined with a visit to Montmorency Falls – one-and-a-half times as high as Niagara Falls.

Holland America’s Maasdam will operate a series of itineraries to Canada/New England, from Montreal to Boston and Boston to Montreal. Highlights include cruising the St. Lawrence River with stops in Quebec City, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Sydney, Halifax and Bar Harbor. Guests might want to become a 19th Century Redcoat soldier for a day, as offered on a special shore excursion.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Jewel, which debuted in Europe this month, will sail on a series of 11-day Canada/New England itineraries roundtrip from New York. Itinerary highlights include Boston; Bar Harbor; cruising the Cabot Strait and the Gulf of St. Lawrence; Halifax; Quebec City; cruising the Saguenay River; Sydney; cruising the Bay of Fundy and Saint John. Sightseeing excursions include sea kayaking, a haunted Halifax walking tour and whale-watching sojourns.

Golden Princess will sail a series of seven week-long sailings roundtrip from New York while Sea Princess will debut in the region with three, 10-day departures from New York to Quebec City. The ship will also sail one Canada/Colonial America voyage along the full length of the Atlantic coast -visiting five of America’s 13 original colonies.

Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas will sail out of Boston on seven-night itineraries to Martha’s Vineyard, Bar Harbor, Portland, Halifax and Saint John. On Sept. 25, the ship sails from Boston to Quebec; and on Oct. 2, the ship sails a seven-night itinerary from Quebec to Fort Lauderdale. Sightseeing highlights include a visit to Maine’s Acadia National Park, a canoe trip and lobster bake.

Not to be outdone, the luxury cruise lines are keeping pace this fall with their own unique twists.

Crystal Cruises will offer five fall itineraries ranging from seven to 11 days aboard Crystal Symphony. Highlights include New York, Bar Harbor and Halifax – among a host of other destinations. Optional sightseeing tours include a Broadway performance and private lunch with the cast of Wicked in New York, an evening theater outing in Boston to see Blue Man Group or Shear Madness, and coastal kayaking along Bar Harbor’s Frenchman’s Bay.

Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 will sail on a 12-day round-trip cruise from New York, departing Sept. 26. Highlights include Sydney; Corner Brook, Newfoundland; Quebec City; Halifax; Portland; Boston and Newport. Optional sightseeing excursions include a pub tour in Halifax complete with that band of roving musicians by your side.

The Radisson Seven Seas Navigator will sail Canada/New England waters on seven, eight and nine-night itineraries between New York and Montreal. The line is offering a host of optional shore excursions, including a ghost tour of Quebec and an excursion via a World War II amphibious vehicle.

Cruises, featuring Silver Whisper, will offer nine, 10, and 11-day cruises. Three itineraries sail between Montreal and New York and a fourth sails from Boston to Montreal. Highlights include Bar Harbor, Boston, Corner Brook, Halifax and Sydney. The line is also offering a unique sightseeing option – a flightseeing tour of Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley in all of its autumnal splendor.

Seabourn Pride, meanwhile, will sail seven-day cruises between New York and Quebec City that can be booked as 14-day combination itineraries. Sept. 18 and Oct. 2 sailings from New York to Quebec call at Bar Harbor, Lunenburg and Sydney. A complimentary excursion takes passengers to the Highland Games at Sydney’s Gaelic College. On Sept. 25 and Oct. 9 the ship will call at Halifax, Boston and Newport, sailing between Quebec and New York.

Cruise Guide: It’s a kid’s world, after all, even on the high seas

By Mike Coleman

Cruise lines are not just bending over backwards to make life onboard enjoyable for their young guests, they’re now designing ships with family friendly amenities clearly in mind. ¨¨More than one million children under the age of 18 took a cruise with their families in 2004, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), and it’s easy to see why. From mock game shows, story hours and treasure hunts to family fun events at poolside.

Even the cabins are getting a makeover. Some of today’s accommodations feature large staterooms with cordoned off sleeping quarters for parents and inter-connecting cabins for families with older kids.

While babysitting services are offered by virtually all major lines, who needs it when an amazing array of amenities and supervised activities are available for kids and parents of all ages.

Renowned for their land-based resorts, Disney’s two ships at sea pack a wallop. Disney Magic and Disney Wonder have nearly an entire deck dedicated to children ages 3 months to 17 years. Oceaneer’s Club, for kids 3 to 7, includes dances with Snow White, a Sebastian’s Musical Sea Search for instruments, and games on the line’s private island. Kids 8 to12 can venture to infinity and beyond at the space and science themed Oceaneer Lab. The Stack (Disney Magic) and Aloft (Disney Wonder) are reserved for kids 13 to 17 and include couches, a soda bar, Internet access, plasma TVs, MP3 players and board games.

Camp Carnival, offered aboard Carnival Cruise Lines, features activities for children in age groups ranging from 2 to 5, 6 to 8, 9 to 11, 12 to 14 and 15 to 17. For the younger set, Carnival ships feature kid-friendly amenities and programs supervised by youth counselors in state-of-the-art facilities some of which measure 4,200 square feet. On several vessels children can also enjoy arts and crafts centers, with spin- and sand-art machines; cascading poolside slides; activity walls; indoor climbing mazes and computer labs. The line also offers expanded children’s menus in the dining rooms and poolside restaurants.

Celebrity’s Family Cruising Program, meanwhile, features activities tailored to the interests of five age groups. Each ship has a staff of eight to 12 youth counselors. Age groups range from 3 to 6; 7 to 9; 10 to 12; 13 to 15 and 16 to 17. Celebrity Science Journeys, offered on every ship, encourage children to learn about science and nature. Other program highlights include youth summer stock theater, junior Olympics, magic lessons, treasure hunts and clown parties.

Each of MSC Cruises’ ships feature a designated children’s area, and MSC Sinfonia also offers a Teen Club. Children are under the supervision of trained youth counselors who coordinate organized games, sports, arts and crafts, and special age-appropriate parties. The line’s ships offer suites (double, queen- or king-sized bed plus sofa bed) and are able to accommodate up to four guests. MSC Lirica, MSC Opera, MSC Sinfonia and MSC Armonia also offer family-sized suites consisting of two rooms.

Norwegian Cruise Line ships offers supervised programs (ages 2 to 5, 6 to 8, 9 to 12, and 13 to 17) with a host of Kid’s Krew venues, including dining areas exclusively for kids, video arcade rooms and teen clubs. NCL America’s latest vessel, Pride of America, features extensive recreational opportunities for kids, including 250 interconnecting cabins. The ship also has eight 360-square-foot suites with private balcony, living room with double sofa bed and entertainment center, separate den with a single sofa bed, and private bedroom with two twin beds. Four additional family suites feature two interconnecting cabins that sleep up to eight and include two separate bathrooms.

The Love Boat line, Princess, offers a wide range of activities for children in three age-specific programs, with age-appropriate activities and often separate facilities for kids 3 to 7, 8 to 12 and 13 to 17. Most ships feature youth and teen centers featuring art, game tables, juke boxes and the latest video games. Newer ships feature such diversions as a toddler’s play area and theater, doll’s house, crawl-through castle and splash pool. Larger vessels also offer expansive children’s and teen centers with indoor and outdoor areas or separate areas for each age group.

Royal Caribbean’s Adventure Ocean Youth Program offers five age-appropriate groups for kids. Adventure Science blends science experiments with entertainment. Adventure Art by Crayola offers kids the chance to create cultural masks and pottery. Sail Into Story Time combines a story hour with activities and projects. Adventure Family offers kids and their parents the chance to spend quality time together with a host of activities. The line’s new Freedom of the Seas, scheduled to debut in May 2006, will offer six different family-focused cabin categories specially designed to accommodate larger families.

Not to be outdone, the luxury and premium cruise lines – Crystal, Cunard, Radisson and Holland America – have not forgotten about the importance of their young sailors, either.

Fantasia, aboard Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, features supervised activities, tables and chairs for board games, arts and crafts, giant padded cubes, Sony PlayStation kiosks, and large-screen televisions. Waves is a venue where teenagers can enjoy a video arcade. The line also offers Etiquette Training for Juniors, developed in conjunction with Gollatz Cotillion, where young cruisers learn how to handle themselves in a variety of social situations. During holidays and selected sailings, Crystal offers additional children’s activities under the supervision of experienced Junior Activities Directors in age-appropriate groups.

Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth 2 have nurseries staffed by accredited British nannies. Aboard these British icons kids can participate in a dedicated Children’s Tea, served each afternoon. Queen Mary 2, the world’s largest liner, features age-appropriate programs for children in three groups: The Nursery provides cribs and cots for children ages 1 to 2 years; The Play Zone offers activities for kids 3 to 6 years old, including pizza parties, movie nights, and face painting; and for older children ages 7 to 10 years The Zone offers scavenger hunts, ship tours, quizzes, DJ booth and Xbox games.

Radisson Seven Seas’ Club Mariner program caters to children aged 6 to 17 and is offered on select voyages. Master Suites aboard Seven Seas Mariner and Seven Seas Voyager are able to accommodate families, and Paul Gauguin now boasts more cabin space for families. This month, kids 9 to 15 sailing aboard Paul Gauguin in French Polynesia can participate in Ambassadors of the Environment, a partnership with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society which provides an interactive experience that encourages ocean responsibility.

Aboard Holland America ships, the Club HAL youth program features age-specific activities designed to provide kids and teens with entertaining choices. Activities planned for children ages 5 through 8 include arts and crafts, face-painting, camp-out night and candy bar Bingo. ‘Tweens, ages 9 through 12, can learn to putt, have dance parties, compete in on-deck sports events, play arcade games and tie-dye T-shirts. Teens can enjoy the teen disco, dance lessons, arcade games, sports tournaments, Sony PlayStation and movies.

Cruise Guide: National Geographic kid’s poll – Cruises rule

By Mike Coleman

The high seas are slowly but surely becoming an ocean playground for kids.

According to a National Geographic Kids magazine survey, cruising now ranks as the No. 1 vacation option among youth and rates as the “perfect summer trip”.

The survey revealed that 35 percent of kids said cruises were their most popular vacation choice. Trips to the beach came in second (17 percent) followed by amusement parks (17 percent), big cities (five percent), lakes (three percent) and summer camp (two percent).

The magazine recently polled 401 kids aged 8 to 14.

“More than one million children under the age of 18 took cruises with their families in 2004,” said Terry Dale, president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the cruise industry’s chief marketing organization.

“And, it’s easy to see why cruise vacations appeal to the whole family.”

Dale said the survey results came as no surprise to CLIA whose 19 member lines Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Crystal, Cunard, Disney, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian Coastal Voyages, NCL, Oceania, Orient Lines, Princess, Radisson Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Silversea, Swan Hellenic and Windstar collectively accommodate 95 percent of the North American cruise passenger market.

It’s no wonder that cruising has become so popular with kids. To keep up with the demand for family travel CLIA-member lines continue to add amenities and activities for the family. Most of today’s lines feature extensive and highly-supervised children’s programs where kids are placed in age-appropriate groups. Teen lounges, video arcades, computer learning centers, toddlers’ play areas and even special shore excursions for children.

Cruise industry growth, in fact, shows no signs of abating. In the last 10 years CLIA-member lines added 100 new ships, 62 of which debuted in the last five years alone.
And who sailed on those ships? A record 10.6 million people took a cruise on a CLIA-member line in 2004. Officials predict that more than 11 million travelers will cruise in 2005 including, of course, a record number of kids.

Cruise Guide: Life onboard – The first few hours

By Mike Coleman

Could the glossy cruise brochures depicting your dream vacation be true? Will life on the high seas really be as fun and as exhilarating as you expect?
¨This week, in part two of our three-part series exploring the best way to plan and make the most of your first – or 10th – cruise vacation, we’ll take a look at what to expect during your first few hours on board today’s mega-liners and their intimate counterparts.
 
The purser’s office

Upon arrival, you will likely be escorted to your cabin and your checked luggage will soon be brought to your door by a crew member. While the urge to explore your new home-away-from-home is understandable these, however, are valuable minutes to ensure that your cabin is what you expected. You’ll have plenty of time later to explore the ship. If you paid for a balcony suite but are standing in a cabin with no view, contact the purser’s office immediately, by in-cabin telephone or in person. Kindness goes a long way here so be patient and work calmly with the purser your new best friend to resolve the issue.

This is also the best time to book your coming week’s spa treatment, salon appointment, shore excursion or to reserve a table in one of the ship’s specialty restaurants. While your cruise includes meals, usually at a set hour in the main dining room, it might be nice to step out of the norm later in the week and eat in a specialty restaurant. Spa and salon services, shore excursions and your specialty restaurant are additional expenses, not included in your cruise fare.

Didn’t have much time, before departure, to assess the shore excursion booklet provided by your cruise line? Not to worry. A great way to choose the shore excursions that are right for you is to review them on the airplane or have your spouse/kids read them while driving to the cruise terminal. Space is often limited, especially for the best shore excursions, so do your best to book as soon as you arrive. Note, some lines allow you to book shore excursions in advance on-line, so take advantage of the perk if you can.

If your voyage features a number of ports, it’s also nice to forgo a shore excursion on the day of your choice and spend it, virtually alone, on the ship. While family members and other passengers may be off on a day-long port visit, enjoy the decadent feeling of having the pools, fitness center, dining venues and other on-board amenities to yourself.
 
In-cabin safes

By now, while unpacking, you’ve probably noticed the in-cabin safe. When traveling you should keep your passport, travel documents, other important papers, cash and credit cards on you at all times but while on board it’s a convenient perk to have safe storage at your fingertips.

So, you’ve now made it to the ship, you’ve checked in and spent quality time making the necessary appointments for haircuts, facials, massages, port trips and specialty dining. What’s next? A mandatory lifeboat drill. As required by law, you and your family members, all passengers and crew must participate. You’ll learn where to go and what to do in case of an emergency.

By now you’re no doubt hungry. The ship is sailing toward your first port of call and dinner is around the corner. Once seated, you may be paired for the duration of your cruise with strangers. While this is often a benefit of cruising, meeting interesting people from all walks of life from around the world, prolonged, awkward banter with your new dinner mates may not be what the doctor ordered. Contact the maitre’ d your other best friend on board and politely ask to be assigned to a different table.

Chances are you’ll enjoy the new company, as you and your tablemates look forward to your first evening on board.

The real fun, like the week ahead, is just beginning.

Cruise Guide: Cruise lines create lifetime memories

By Mike Coleman

She kissed me on the cheek, under the stars on the lido deck, and my life has never been the same.

Heck, I was just 13 years old, but there I was on one of Carnival’s first ships, the Mardi Gras, sailing under a moonlit sky some 30 years ago and in awe of the beautiful cruise director who only moments before had planted a big one on my cheek.

She said I was cute, or something to that effect, to my mother. And, for a brief moment, I forgot she was still standing there – my mother, that is – as I soaked in the moment of not just my first kiss, but my first kiss from a woman, no less, on a magical cruise ship sailing the Caribbean seas.

Today’s cruise lines may not promise such fireworks, but they do deliver a variety of dream vacations, each filled with their own unique experiences and memories to last a lifetime.

Embarkation usually begins in Florida – the state is home to the headquarters of many of the world’s leading cruise lines and the five primary cruise ports (Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale), Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville and Port Canaveral) handle most of the nations cruise traffic.

Since 9/11, however, cruise lines have been doing everything they can to bring ships to you, the consumer. As such, homeports have popped up across the nation from New York to Los Angeles, east to west, Galveston to Seattle.

Thanks to new ship launches, on-board cuisine featuring menus from master chefs Wolfgang Puck to Nobu Matsuhisa, wine and film festivals and ambitious on-board activities from rock climbing walls to Berlitz-accredited courses, and you can see why more than 10 million Americans will sail this year.

Each week, this column will explore the latest cruise industry trends. We’ll feature the amazing array of on-board recreational and educational amenities, exciting ports and unique shore excursions offered that will make your highly-anticipated voyage all the more memorable.

And, no Cruise Guide column would ever be complete without looking at the mouth-watering cuisine options the major cruise lines have to offer.

So whether it’s a romantic getaway for two, a business and incentives trip, or a family and friends gathering, this column will lead you to your own unforgettable cruise memory, be it a shared moment with loved ones or even a loved one’s shared moment with a cruise director.