Saturday, March 24, 2012

9 Extreme Cruise Ship Makeovers in 2012
Cruise Critic

Cruise Ship Refurbishments, 2009 - 2012

Cruise ship makeovers, or refurbishments, have become multi-million-dollar events, with big-name lines angling to upgrade older ships in lieu of building new ones. Well in excess of $100 million will be spent on adding burrito and burger joints, ice-topped martini bars and fancy "spa" cabins to the nine patients detailed below. It's almost enough to make cruise fans forget about the dearth of prototypes due out in 2012 (with a couple notable exceptions, you'll have to wait until 2013 for the really new stuff). There are some pitfalls to refurbs -- many lines take the opportunity to add more "revenue opportunities." In other words, for-fee restaurants often replace fee-free spaces. But, as with anything else, the new options are just that ... optional.

So strap on a pair of those nerdy looking safety goggles and check out nine mega-ships heading in for major surgery in 2012.

Ship: Carnival Spirit

Cost of Surgery: $7 million

Date & Location: January

The Makeover: While not as comprehensive as other "extreme" refurbishments, what's intriguing about Carnival Spirit's "Aussification" is how much effort the cruise line made to tweak ship features to appeal to its new source market. (Beginning in October, the ship will be based in Sydney.) The big eye-catcher is the Green Thunder waterslide, a 180-foot-long twister that begins with a near-vertical drop. Serenity, Carnival's signature adults-only retreat, was also added. And, once the ship arrives at its new homeport, passengers will enjoy some unusual twists for the brand -- including a new top-deck barbecue
venue; improved coffee for notoriously picky Aussies; more draught beers, in a nod to regional preference; and more cabins with interconnecting doors (cruising is incredibly popular with
Australian families).

Ship: Sapphire Princess

Cost of Surgery: Undisclosed

Date & Location: January 7 - February 4, Canada

The Makeover: Over the past half decade, Princess Cruises has been busy standardizing its eight Grand-glass ships -- adding poolside jumbotrons (Movies Under the Stars), "Piazza-style" atriums and adult-only deck spaces (the Sanctuary) initially found only on the line's newest vessels, Crown (2006), Emerald (2007) and Ruby Princess. Sapphire emerged from a month-long refurbishment in February 2012, gaining said signature features -- and the makeover couldn't have come soon enough. The formerly dull atrium has been transformed into the effervescent Piazza, a public area with a wine and tapas bar, bakery, pizzeria and performance space. And after years of dedicated service, the rest of the ship benefited from the refit, too. Throughout Sapphire, passengers will find new bar countertops, tiling, teak decking around the main pool, furniture in the casino, an upgraded buffet and a new top-deck "lawn court" (artificial grass) for putting, bocce and croquet.

Ship: Costa NeoRomantica

Cost of Surgery: $120 million

Date & Location: October 2011 - February 2012, Genoa

The Makeover: The refurbishment was so ambitious that Costa Cruises renamed the ship. The 18-year-old Costa Romantica spent 3.5 months in dry-dock, from which it emerged with a slew of new cabins, features and interior design, and a new(ish) name, Costa neoRomantica. Two half-decks were added on the bow-side, comprising 111 new accommodations. Throughout the ship, the number of cabins and suites featuring balconies grew to 160, and total passenger capacity went from 1,697 to 1,800. New spaces include a wine and cheese bar with 100 vinos and cheeses from around the world; a coffee and chocolate bar; an Italian pizzeria; a cabaret lounge; a nightclub; and the beach club-styled Lido Bar Monte Carlo. The line also added a 45,000-plus-square-foot wellness area to neoRomantica. The space features a gym, thalassotherapy pool, treatment rooms, sauna, Turkish bath, 50 spa cabins and six suites, and a special spa restaurant.

Ship: Swan Hellenic's Minerva

Cost of Surgery: $15 million

Date & Location: February 2012, Germany

The Makeover: Minerva's overhaul was the 350-passenger vessel's first update since its original conversion from a military "spy ship." The refurb saw massive balconies added to 32 cabins, an upgrade of all 181 en suite passenger cabin facilities and the creation of new public areas. Specifically, among a host of more minor updates, a new main lounge called Orpheus was added to the promenade deck (pictured). The new lounge features panoramic views through floor-to-ceiling windows and a sprawling dance floor. Under the hood enhancements were also made to improve efficiency and environmental performance.

Ship: Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas

Cost of Surgery: $54 million

Date & Location: March, Singapore

The Makeover: The 15-year-old Rhapsody, one of six "mid-size," 1,998-passenger Vision-class ships, will gain a number of features found on Oasis and Allure of the Seas. New dining venues include Izumi (Asian), Giovanni's Table (Italian) and the Park Cafe, a bistro concept borrowed from Oasis and Allure -- minus the park setting found on those ships.

There are some non-Oasis twists, too. The massive hanging sculpture will be removed from Rhapsody's 60-foot-high, seven-deck Centrum to make way for cirque du Soleil-style aerial performances, and the Centrum's Champagne Bar will become the 60's-style R Bar, complete with iconic furnishings and signature cocktails. Royal is also adding a pair of lounges for its top past passengers and those staying in suites (one lounge for "Diamonds," one for "Diamond Plus" and suite pax). On a more controversial note, an outdoor movie screen will be installed near the ship's main pool. Finally, look for the integration of a slew of new technology-based amenities, including digital signage and iPads in every cabin.

Sister ships Grandeur of the Seas and Enchantment of the Seas will undergo similar surgery in May and December, respectively.

Ship: Celebrity Millennium

Cost of Surgery: $35-$40 million

Date & Location: April 21 - May 12, Bahamas

The Makeover: The 11-year-old Celebrity Millennium will be the final ship in its namesake class to get sliced up in Celebrity's hard-to-pronounce, $140 million "Solstice-ization" program. The goal is to take the quirky Millennium quartet, known for their whimsical art (see Rubanesque nudes by the indoor pool) and colorful spaces, and make them look more like the line's newer, sleeker, more amenity-laden (read: more for-fee options) Solstice-class ships.

Millennium will emerge with 100 new or redesigned AquaClass spa cabins, which feature massage showers, aromatherapy products and passes to the spa's thermal suites; a 24-hour wine bar (the "enomatic" dispensing system makes that work); an ice-topped martini bar featuring juggling servers; a trio of alternative restaurants; and a gelateria. The new dining venues include Qsine ($40 per person), where patrons order whimsical dishes off of iPads and presentation -- think sushi lollipops or spring rolls served in springs -- is the focus; Bistro on 5, a creperie ($5); and Blu, the AquaClass-passenger-only restaurant serving "clean" Mediterranean cuisine (lots of broiled seafood). Millennium will also gain an iLounge, where iEverythings (except iPad 2's) will be on sale at onshore price points. Finally, and less favorably for passengers, the ship will get more crowded; 60 new cabins will be inserted throughout.

Ship: Crystal Symphony

Cost of Surgery: $15 million

Date & Location: June 1 - 16, Germany

The Makeover: In June, luxe line Crystal Cruises will spend almost $1 million a day to spruce up its 922-passenger Crystal Symphony. Rather than putting cash into new for-fee restaurants or theme bars, the line is focusing on reinventing the ship by redesigning lounges and public spaces. These include the jazz-era-style Avenue Saloon, the Galaxy Lounge (main theater) and the Bridge Lounge (the spot for card players). When you're dealing with teak, mohair and marble, the cost adds up.

One example of what's in store: The Avenue Saloon, said Crystal in a statement, will gain a plethora of fancy new seating, including "antique-style, brass-tack couches, a large red wall sofa, and embossed-leaf barstools." Look around and you'll also find hand-tufted carpets, textured wall upholstery and edge-lit glass shelves behind the bar.

It's not all about pleasing Crystal's affluent 60-plus set. A new layout for both the Fantasia kids play area and Waves teen video arcade is also on tap. Grandchildren of that 60-plus set will have access to bean bag chairs, an "interactive" white board and video game stations.

Ship: Carnival Conquest
Cost of Surgery: Not revealed, but part of the $500 million Fun Ship 2.0 program

Date & Location: October 14 - 28, N/A

The Makeover: Fun Ship 2.0 sounds a bit year 2000, but we won't begrudge the name of Carnival's multi-year, 14-ship, $500 million refurb program, which covers eating, (a lot of) drinking and laughing. In late October, Carnival Conquest 2.0 will emerge with a pair of new fee-free casual dining venues, Guy's Burger Joint, a beef-and-bun venue associated with self-promotion machine Guy Fiere, and the Blue Iguana Cantina, a taco and burrito venue.

Conquest will also get four new theme bars, including one celebrating rum drinks (RedFrog Rum Bar), tequila drinks (Blue Iguana Tequila Bar), drinks made by a pharmacist/wizard (Alchemy Bar, with it's multitude of mixed cocktails) and drinks to be consumed while watching the big game (EA Sports Bar). For those wishing to flex their funny bone, Conquest will re-debut with the "Punchliners Comedy Club & Brunch Presented by George Lopez."

Also look out for: Sister ship Carnival Glory is getting a similar refurb in November, with Carnival Dream and Carnival Splendor getting pared-down versions in October and December, respectively.

Ship: Serenade of the Seas
Cost of Surgery: About $20 million

Date & Location: November, Cadiz, Spain

The Makeover: Like sister ship Radiance of the Seas, which enjoyed a $20 million Oasis-style upgrade in June 2010, Serenade will gain eight new dining venues culled from the game-changing Oasis-class duo. Among the new restaurants -- complimentary and for-fee -- are Giovanni's Table, a "family-style" Italian restaurant with a $15 cover charge for lunch and $20 for dinner; the Park Cafe, a fee-free addition specializing in paninis and salads; and Samba Grill Brazilian Steakhouse (dinner-only, $25 per person).

The ships will also gain cabin upgrades throughout -- as with Rhapsody, the line is making iPads a standard in-room inclusion -- a jumbotron installed near the main pool and a Royal Babies and Tots Nursery space, which is open to children ages 6 months to 36 months at a cost of $8 per hour.

That omnipresent Wi-Fi and digital signage will be post-November experience, too.

~~ Cruise Critic

New Cruise Trends: Paddle-Wheelers, Chef Tables, More


Look for a new cruise ship with a dozen outdoor eateries from Norwegian Cruise Line, a chic new chef’s table concept on Princess Cruises’ next ship and a return of wheelers on U.S. rivers. Those nuggets were among news revealed at last week’s Cruise Shipping Miami, an annual cruise industry trade show held each year in March.

But the topic that drew the most attention in this year following the Costa Concordia tragedy and other incidents was safety at sea. Cruise company executives focused on safety during their annual “State of the Industry’’ presentation. Lines showed off the newest simulators used to train shipboard staff for potential emergencies; seminars focused on medical care at sea. At the week’s end the U.S. Coast Guard announced its review of each ship’s safety procedures will now include observing a passenger safety drill now that cruise ships have changed their own rules to require safety drills before a ship leaves port.

Among more upbeat developments:

Luxury cruise lines will continue to focus on destinations, adding exotic new itineraries and overnights in port, while larger ships will continue to focus on ship-board amenities in more familiar destinations that can accommodate big vessels. Destinations encouraging new port development at this year’s conference included Batumi, a Georgian city on the Black Sea; Klaipeda, Lithuania; Busan in South Korea and the islands of Indonesia.

Two companies will be rolling on U.S. rivers this summer with paddle-wheelers. New is the Great American Steamboat Company, which purchased and refurbished the 436-passenger Steamboat American Queen, formerly part of the Delta Queen and Majestic companies; the American Queen goes into service in April and will call Memphis home. American Cruise Lines will bring it’s newly built 150-passenger boat, Queen of the Mississippi, into service in August, with sailings starting in New Orleans and other Mississippi cities... American Cruise Lines announced at the conference that it is beginning construction on yet another new ship; no itinerary or launch date was announced.

Outdoor dining will be a hallmark of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Breakaway, due to launch in April of 2013. Restaurants, shops and bars will line an oceanfront boardwalk spanning three ship decks.

Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess, launching in June 2013, will include the Chef’s Table Lumiere, a chef’s table surrounded by a curtain of light that offers privacy for diners.

Hong Kong opens its new cruise terminal on the site of the former Kai Tak airport in mid-2013 in easy reach of attractions including Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple, Lei Yu Mun Seafood Bazaar and the Festival Walk Shopping complex.

~~ Jane Wooldridge is Travel + Leisure's Cruise correspondent.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dear Travel Agent Partners and friends of Carnival,

40 years ago this month, Carnival Cruise Lines was launched with a converted transatlantic ocean liner and a dream of entrepreneur Ted Arison, a pioneer in the modern-day cruise industry who set out to realize his vision of making a vacation experience once reserved for the very rich accessible to the average person.

The rest, they say, is history! Many of us in this business have grown up together, evolving through decades of growth to the incredible cruise industry we work in today! It's with this in mind that we want to thank you for your continued support, while we take a moment together to look back on our wonderful 40 year history:

1972 - Maiden voyage of Carnival's first ship, the TSS Mardi Gras.

1975 - Carnival purchases Empress of Britain, enters service as the TSS Carnivale.

1978 - The Festivale, formerly the S.A. Vaal, undergoes $30 million refurbishment, begins service for Carnival as the largest and fastest vessel sailing from Miami to the Caribbean.

1982 - Debut of the Tropicale, the first new cruise ship the cruise industry has seen in many years; ship marks the beginning of an industry-wide multi-billion-dollar shipbuilding boom.

1984 - Carnival becomes first cruise line to advertise on network T.V. with the premiere of new advertising campaign starring company spokesperson Kathie Lee Gifford (then Johnson).

1985 - Debut of 46,052-ton Holiday.

1986 - Launch of 47,262-ton Jubilee.

1987 - The 47,262-ton Celebration enters service.
Carnival earns distinction as "Most Popular Cruise Line in the World," carrying more passengers than any other cruise line.

Carnival Cruise Lines undertakes its initial public offering on Wall Street, raising approximately $400 million to fuel future expansion; entity later becomes Carnival Corporation & plc, a multi-line worldwide cruise conglomerate.

1990 - The 70,367-ton Carnival Fantasy - the first and namesake vessel in the highly successful "Fantasy-class" -- enters service as first new ship ever placed on three- and four-day Bahamas cruise program from Miami. Eventually, Carnival would construct eight "Fantasy-class" vessels, the most cruise ships in a single class.

1991 - Launch of 70,367-ton Carnival Ecstasy.

1993 - Carnival introduces its third 70,367-ton SuperLiner, Carnival Sensation.

1994 - Debut of 70,367-ton Carnival Fascination.

1995 - 70,367-ton Carnival Imagination enters service.

1996 - Carnival’s launches sixth “Fantasy-class” vessel, Carnival Inspiration.

Carnival debuts the first passenger vessel to exceed 100,000 tons, the 101,353-ton Carnival Destiny, at the time the world's largest cruise ship.

1998 - Introduction of seventh “Fantasy-class” vessel, the Carnival Elation, the first new cruise ship deployed on the West Coast.

1999 - Debut of the 102,000-ton Carnival Triumph, Carnival’s second “Destiny-class” vessel.

2000 - A third “Destiny-class” vessel, the 102,000-ton Carnival Victory, is launched.

2001 - Carnival introduces a new class of vessel with the launch of the 88,500-ton Carnival Spirit, the first new “Fun Ship” ever positioned in the Alaska and Hawaii markets.

2002 - A second “Spirit-class” vessel, the Carnival Pride, is launched.
Carnival's third "Spirit-class" ship, Carnival Legend, enters service.
Debut of the 110,000-ton Carnival Conquest, beginning a new class of vessel for the line.

2003 - Second 110,000-ton “Conquest-class” ship, the Carnival Glory, enter service.

2004 - Carnival Miracle, the fourth in Carnival’s “Spirit-class,” debuts.
A third 110,000-ton "Conquest-class" ship, Carnival Valor, sets sail.

2005 - A fourth 110,000-ton “Conquest-class” vessel, Carnival Liberty, enters service July 20 operating Carnival’s first-ever Mediterranean cruise program.

2007 - Debut of Carnival’s fifth “Conquest-class” vessel, Carnival Freedom.

2008 - The new 113,300-ton Carnival Splendor enters service, representing a new class of ship for the line.

2009 - The 130,000-ton Carnival Dream - the largest “Fun Ship” ever constructed - is introduced in Europe Sept. 21, 2009.

2011 - A second 130,000-ton ship, Carnival Magic, enter services in Europe May 1 2011, and will launch year-round seven-day Caribbean service from Galveston, Texas, Nov 14.

2012 - A third 130,000-ton ship, Carnival Breeze, is scheduled to enter service in June 3, 2012, operating 12-day Mediterranean voyages from Barcelona before repositioning to Miami on year-round six- and eight-day departures.

Here's to the next "40 Years of Fun", and don't forget to visit us on!

Warm regards,
Joni Rein
Vice President of Worldwide Sales

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

FAA Reconsiders Takeoff, Landing Policy On
E-Readers, Other Devices
By Staci D. KramerMar 18, 2012 6:55 PM ET

Welcome news from Nick Bilton: the FAA finally is revisiting the policy that keeps Kindles, iPads and the like turned off during takeoffs and landing.

The FAA told Bilton it will take a “fresh look” at whether some devices can be used safely and how a policy could be framed. Smartphones aren’t included in the review.

U.S. airlines currently call for all devices to be turned off and stowed before planes can pull away from the gate despite a lack of data proving they are safety risks. Some airlines I fly allow use of cell phones until just before the door closes but insist my Kindle or other device be shut down considerably before that and sometimes as much as 30 or 45 minutes before landing.
The current personal electronics rule dating back to 2006 (described in this this FAA circular) canceled one that banned use of personal electronics and shifted responsibility completely to the operators.

It allows airlines to offer fliers the use of certain devices but only if the airline can prove each allowed device won’t interfere with the plane’s performance. As Bilton and the FAA point out, that hasn’t happened.

Why haven’t the airlines stepped up? To challenge the policy, each one has to test each device on each kind of plane it operates. If American Airlines has tested the iPad 2 on an MD-80, for instance, it wouldn’t be able to allow me to use the third-gen iPad when I leave for New York tomorrow on that same model plane. It’s much easier for them to avoid the problem and far less expensive than trying to run through the hoops every time a new device comes out.

What will change now? The FAA’s Laura Brown tell Bilton the agency is looking for ways to bring the various interested parties from airlines to unions to consumer associations and manufacturers together—passengers, too—to find a cost-effective solution. No details yet on how that could happen or would be funded. (Hmmm, Kickstarter?)

While the primary issue here is potential disruption of avionics, I’ve also been told by a number of flight attendants that having the devices out at all is a safety issue. In a previous reporting life, I covered the Sioux City plane crash and the various elements that contributed to who survived, who died, how and why. After numerous interviews with survivors, including most of the flight attendants on United Flight 232, I’m acutely sensitive to safety issues and I’ve thought about those concerns in that light.

Having headphones and music turned off makes sense. Ditto putting away heavy items like computers. Telling me a Kindle has to be put away when a book can stay on my lap or someone can hold onto a cup of hot coffee is just another way of justifying a policy that doesn’t have the data to back it up. I agree with Bilton:
"It is in everyone’s interest that we move from unscientific fears to real scientific testing."
In the meantime, that reminds me—I need to put the latest New Yorker in my bag.
MARCH 21, 1556

The Archbishop is Executed
When Henry VIII required a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, he turned to his Archbishop in
Canterbury. Thomas Cranmer thus became the chief architect of the English Reformation.
Cranmer denied papal authority over the English Church, paving the way for Henry's divorce
and essentially nullifying the threat of excommunication. Cranmer compiled the Book of
Common Prayer, which became the basis for Anglican liturgy for some 400 years.

The wheel of fate turned, however when Queen Mary I reunited the Church of England with
the Roman Catholic Church. Unfortunately for Cranmer, the Queen was the issue of Henry
VIII and Catherine of Aragon, whose divorce had been allowed by Cranmer. Queen Mary insisted
on Cranmer's trial and execution for heresy. He was burned at the stake on this day in 1556.