Friday, September 19, 2014

Leaf Peeping Update from Maine

Even this early in the season there is a hint of color in northern Maine as The Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry reports low 10-30% color change and very low leaf drop.

“We are right on target for a glorious fall foliage season, said Gale Ross, Fall Foliage Coordinator for Maine. “With the low leaf drop we anticipate that the northern part of the state will soon be a tapestry of beautiful colors,” she added.

From past experience we found many colorful scenes–such as the one here in Bar Harbor–on fall foliage cruises taken in mid-October. For more information on what you can expect to see on your cruise, visit the state’s official website Maine Foliage and sign up for weekly email reports. Peak fall foliage dates for the entire United States can be found at Farmers’ Almanac.

Image © CruiseDiva.com

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Carnival Cruise Lines Extends Its 'Great Vacation Guarantee' Through 2015

This scenario happens, but perhaps not as often as some may think: You’re unsure whether you’ll enjoy a cruise, but decide to take the plunge after weighing the pros and cons. Your vacation dollars are an important consideration, however your time is valuable as well. Once on board, you discover a cruise just isn’t for you. What then? If you are on a Carnival Cruise Lines ship, you have a decision to make because the line is renewing its groundbreaking Great Vacation Guarantee which provides consumers an opportunity to receive a 110 percent refund, complimentary transportation home, and a $100 shipboard credit on a future cruise if they are dissatisfied with their vacation for any reason.

Proof that the vast majority of passengers decide their cruise is a good choice for them is that in the year since Carnival originally introduced the guarantee, the line’s 24 ships have carried 4.5 million guests and the guarantee has been invoked only 47 times. Both consumers and travel agents have lauded the guarantee—the only one of its kind in the cruise industry. But did your travel agent tell you about it? If not, here’s the scoop.

To exercise the Great Vacation Guarantee, guests simply notify the ship’s guest services desk within the first 24 hours of the voyage to receive a full refund of their cruise fare plus an additional 10 percent, along with complimentary return air transportation from the next port of call, and complimentary ground transportation and hotel accommodations (if necessary), along with a $100 shipboard credit to be used on a future Carnival cruise. Carnival will fully handle all travel arrangements to make it a truly hassle-free experience.

The Great Vacation Guarantee is valid on all 3- to 8-day voyages to The Bahamas, Caribbean, Mexican Riviera, Alaska, Bermuda, Canada and New England through Dec 31, 2015, including holiday sailings. The program applies to U.S. and Canadian residents only and guests must possess a valid passport to return to the U.S. by air. Additional information on the Great Vacation Guarantee can be obtained by visiting Carnival.com/VacationGuarantee.

Carnival’s chief marketing officer Jim Berra says, “You are statistically more likely to date a supermodel than you are to invoke the Great Vacation Guarantee. However, we believe it is important to keep the guarantee in place given its effectiveness in communicating to consumers that we stand behind our product and are extremely confident you will have an exceptional vacation experience when you sail with Carnival.”

Berra added that with more than 300 new spaces and experiences added to Carnival’s fleet under the company’s multi-million-dollar Fun Ship 2.0 enhancement program, guest satisfaction has increased considerably since the program was first introduced. Sadly, there are no supermodels on board to date.

Image Courtesy Carnival Cruise Lines

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Princess Cruises Launches New "Seawitch" Craft Beer

Princess Cruises' iconic Seawitch symbol will be more than simply their logo when the line begins pouring a new craft beer to toast its upcoming 50th anniversary. The "Seawitch" West Coast IPA beer—playfully named for the company's logo—was developed exclusively for Princess Cruises, in partnership with award-winning Strike Brewing Company, and is the first in the line's new series of craft beers. The brew will be introduced aboard Regal Princess when the cruise ship debuts in Florida for a season of Caribbean cruises this November.

"We know our guests love distinct experiences and authentic flavors so we're excited to debut a new craft beer series with this special 50th anniversary blend aboard our newest ship," said Jonathan Wilson, Princess Cruises vice president of food and beverage services. "The Seawitch West Coast IPA not only commemorates our milestone anniversary, but is also meant to inspire our guests to celebrate their sea journeys with Princess."

Strike Brewing Company, located near San Francisco—one of Princess Cruises' home ports—is an award-winning microbrewery well known to fans of local craft beer. The Seawitch West Coast IPA (India Pale Ale) features the balanced aroma of lightly roasted malt and barley which is strongly accented by the crisp dry flavor of a unique hop blend.

The Seawitch West Coast IPA will retail for the premium price of $6.25 and be available in bars and lounges throughout Regal Princess. It is expected to be available fleetwide by early 2015. The cruise line will roll out additional Seawitch craft beers in partnerships with regional breweries that specialize in local flavors and represent some of the cruise destinations Princess ships visit.

Princess Cruises will officially kick off its 50th anniversary year with the naming ceremony of Regal Princess on Nov. 5 in Ft. Lauderdale. The company is honoring the role the The Love Boat played in its five-decades-long history by having the original Love Boat cast members serve as godparents for its newest cruise ship.

Image Courtesy of Princess Cruises

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Fit For A King: Holland America Line Names First Pinnacle Class Ship ms Koningsdam

Since 1883 every Holland America passenger vessel has borne the "dam" suffix, and their newest ship carries on that tradition. The word koning means "king" in Dutch, and ms Koningsdam, the unique name selected for the first Pinnacle Class ship, celebrates the majestic new design. The name also pays honor to His Majesty King Willem-Alexander, the first king of the Netherlands in over a century. Slated for delivery in February 2016, while the name the name ms Koningsdam pays homage to the company's rich heritage and deep roots in the Netherlands, it also reflects a new era with a bold name that is an original in Holland America Line's 141-year history. The 2,650-passenger ship is also an evolution in design for the line.

Holland America Line was founded in the Netherlands in 1873 as the Netherlands-American Steamship Company headquartered in Rotterdam. The original headquarters building still stands today as the Hotel New York on the Wilhelmina Pier, with the company's European headquarters located nearby. In celebration of their long, proud history with the Netherlands, all 15 premium Holland America Line cruise ships fly the Dutch flag as they sail throughout the world. The historic greatness of the line's Dutch heritage is shared with nearly one million guests each year. Additionally, the line has many Dutch employees, including most of the fleet's captains and officers.

Many of Holland America Line's ships have been christened by members of the Dutch Royal Family over the past 75 years. Most recently, ms Nieuw Amsterdam was christened by Her Royal Highness Princess Maxima in 2010. And in 2008 ms Eurodam was christened by Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

"In choosing the name Koningsdam, we are honoring our rich Dutch heritage while reflecting that we're entering a new era as a company," said Stein Kruse, chief executive officer of the Holland America Group. "This new Pinnacle Class ship will be our largest, most contemporary vessel, and it was only fitting to give it a name that embodies great achievement for the future, while embracing timeless tradition."

When it debuts in February 2016, ms Koningsdam will be a new type of ship for Holland America Line. At 99,500 gross tons and carrying 2,650 guests and 1,025 crew members, the vessel is the largest ever built for the company. The increased size provides more opportunities to add new public spaces and venues, and several innovative features will debut on ms Koningsdam. Familiar spaces and amenities currently featured across the Holland America Line fleet will also be included on the new ship.

To bring a fresh vision to ms Koningsdam, Holland America Line tapped Adam D. Tihany, one of the world's pre-eminent hospitality designers. Tihany joins distinguished maritime designer and architect Bjorn Storbraaten who worked with Holland America Line on ms Nieuw Amsterdam and ms Eurodam. The two firms will create a modern and contemporary ambiance while incorporating Holland America Line's classic hallmarks.

Image Courtesy of Holland America Line

Monday, September 15, 2014

SeaDream Yacht Club Offers Wine Voyages & Wine Education Certification at Sea

“It’s yachting, not cruising”
For wine lovers, or travelers who want to learn more about the immense variety of wines produced in the world today, SeaDream Yacht Club has an offer that may be impossible to pass up. The line has been approved by the British Wine and Spirits Education Trust to deliver wine courses, exams and certifications under the organization’s prestigious umbrella beginning in the Spring 2015. The accreditation is the latest example of an emphasis on wine and cuisine onboard the two mega-yachts SeaDream I and II.

The British Wine and Spirits Education Trust offers courses in four levels from one to four and guests may now take the first two levels onboard SeaDream. The aim of the Level 1 is to give a basic introduction to wine followed by food pairings.

Level 2 is a comprehensive 12-day program program only offered on dedicated Wine Education Voyages, starting with the 12-day San Juan, Puerto Rico to Malaga sailing departing April 18, 2015. It focuses on the key grape varieties and growing regions of the world as well as what factors influence a wine’s style and quality. The all-around course is ideally suited for the interested beginner or aficionado wishing to strengthen their knowledge.

Additionally, SeaDream recently announced Wine Voyages beginning fall 2014. These experiences add to the two mega-yachts’ innovative culinary and beverage program, which features the first and only full raw cuisine menu onboard as well as showcasing local delicacies from ports of call. Each voyage will offer heightened experiences for beginners and veteran oenophiles with itineraries that have been expertly developed by SeaDream’s Wine Director, Erica Landin, one of Sweden’s most internationally recognized wine writers. Activities onboard the Wine Voyages include visits to high-quality vineyards in the world’s most exclusive wine destinations; informal and formal tastings of local varietals; wine master classes and a special Winemaker’s Dinner, in which a local grower or winery owner shares treasures from their own cellars.

Image Courtesy of SeaDream Yacht Club

Friday, September 12, 2014

Windstar Cruises Highlight Culinary Destinations Around the World with SAVEUR

Foodies often look upon a cruise as a way to savor the cuisine of many destinations, but unless they have recommendations they may not know where the best food is served. To that end, SAVEUR and Windstar Cruises have created a one-of-a-kind platform to uncover the world’s most delicious destinations for culinary travelers. Windstar Local Dining Tips Curated by SAVEUR offer SAVEUR-recommended culinary guides to Windstar’s ports. The tips for more than 20 destinations around the globe include insider advice on where to find the tastiest restaurants, most unique local markets, authentic culinary shops, and hidden watering holes.

“From eating fried sardines at Istanbul’s Karakoy Fish Market to seeking out the go-to coffee shop in Ho Chi Minh City, SAVEUR will help guide those looking for the best culinary experiences abroad,” said Hans Birkholz, Windstar Cruises’ chief executive officer. “We are excited to bring our guests even closer to exploring the world of food in the destinations we sail to throughout the world.”

To celebrate the launch of Windstar Local Dining Tips, the small ship cruise company is giving away a Classic Italy & Dalmatian Coast cruise for two, an 8-day voyage that explores the magic of Venice, the grandeur of Rome, and the stunning beauty of the Dalmatian Coast. Entrants must provide an insider international destination tip on Windstar’s Facebook page.

Windstar Local Dining Tips will be provided to guests through a variety of platforms while on board, with the entire collection also available on Windstar’s blog. Additionally, travelers who embark on a Windstar voyage themselves will be encouraged to post their photos from the local dining tip locations using #WindstarDiningTips for a chance to win a travel tote from SAVEUR and Windstar.

The Local Dining Tips program is the result of a continued partnership between Windstar and SAVEUR, which celebrates human connection through food, cooking, and travel. How we experience cuisine and culture—from childhood meals to five-star destination dining, farmers’ market stalls to artisan shops—becomes part of who we are and informs our entire way of thinking. SAVEUR seeks to indulge readers' culturelust and satisfy their hunger for the flavorful and undiscovered. For more information, visit Windstar Cruises online at WindstarCruises.com or Blog.WindstarCruises.com.

Image Courtesy Windstar Cruises

Thursday, September 11, 2014

MSC Armonia “Stretched” at Fincantieri Shipyard

When a cruise line wants to expand its capacity it doesn’t necessarily have to start from scratch and build an entirely new ship. The process of “stretching” ships is a tried and true method to accomplish expansion and yesterday MSC Cruises began the process of physically enlarging the MSC Armonia, the first of four ships in the line’s fleet to undergo the Renaissance Program. During an event at Fincantieri shipyard in Palermo, Sicily, the separated 14,000 ton bow of the MSC Armonia slowly advanced 30 meters away from her stern to allow a new pre-built 24-meter section to be inserted midship.

The procedure marked a key milestone in the $273 million Renaissance Program, which will enlarge and enhance the MSC Armonia, MSC Lirica, MSC Sinfonia, and MSC Opera, giving them all an array of new improvements and amenities and adding up to nearly 200 new staterooms per ship. After the Renaissance Program, MSC Armonia’s environmental impact will also be significantly reduced. She will receive a new hull treatment to minimize drag and lower water resistance, considerably reducing fuel consumption. In addition, LED technology in all public spaces on the ship will mean less energy is consumed on board. A Variable Speed Drive Inverter will also be installed, an energy-saving system that significantly reduces the ship’s electricity consumption by adjusting it in line with operational conditions. Finally, a new design of propeller blade is being studied by MSC Cruises’ blade manufacturer to maximize efficiency and lower fuel consumption even further.

Additional enhancements that will be available when the cruise begins sailing again on Nov. 17 include new areas for the Baby Club built in partnership with Chicco; a new Mini Club, Young Club, Junior Club, and Teen Club; new exciting features in the buffet as well as extended hours; new lounge area and an extended restaurant; an additional library; upgrades to the MSC Aurea Spa; and a completely new spray park, with a pathway of water features and water cannons.

MSC Armonia entered dry dock on Aug. 31 and will remain on site for 11 weeks, until resuming service on Nov. 17 with a one-off inaugural Mediterranean cruise from Genoa to the Canary Islands.

Images Courtesy of MSC Cruises

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Oceania Cruises To Offer Free Internet to High End Accommodations

In a bid to become the go-to cruise line in the upper-premium category, Oceania Cruises is expanding their inclusive on board amenities by adding complimentary Internet access to guests booked in either a suite or Concierge Level stateroom on any of its five mid-size ships.

This is the first time the upper-premium cruise line has offered a free Internet program, with the new benefit commencing during the 2015 winter season. As part of the program, guests booked in Owner’s, Vista, and Oceania suites will receive unlimited complimentary Internet access to use throughout their voyage. Guests booked in Penthouse suites or Concierge Level staterooms will receive blocks of complimentary Internet time based on cruise length, starting with 200 minutes for a 7-night cruise and extending to 500 minutes for voyages over 16 nights.

Oceania Cruises ships feature a larger number of Concierge Level and above accommodations, which means this free Internet program will cover more than 55 percent of all guests sailing on Marina and Riviera, and nearly half of all guests sailing on Regatta, Insignia, and Nautica. Guests will be able to take advantage of the free Internet either through the ship’s Wi-Fi system or at the Oceania@Sea Internet café. Oceania Cruises recently upgraded the Wi-Fi system across the fleet to increase bandwidth and provide connectivity throughout the entire ship, including all public spaces, outdoor decks, and all suites and staterooms.

The complimentary Internet rollout will be staggered across the fleet, tied to the official start of each ship’s winter schedule. The first sailings will be Nautica on Oct. 25, 2015, followed by Marina on Nov. 3, Regatta on Nov. 4, Riviera on Dec. 2, and Insignia on Jan. 4, 2016, when it begins its third 180-day Around the World voyage. Complete itinerary details for the winter schedule will be released and available to book at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 17, 2014.

“Oceania Cruises is committed to providing our guests with an extraordinary cruise vacation for an incomparable value, so we’re excited to add free Internet to an already long list of included amenities such as free roundtrip airfare and complimentary dining experiences at our exquisite specialty restaurants,” said Kunal S. Kamlani, president of Oceania Cruises. “We know our guests want to stay connected with friends and family while exploring the world with Oceania Cruises.”

Oceania Cruises’ signature 2-for-1 cruise fares include numerous of complimentary amenities such as unlimited soft drinks, coffee beverages, juices, and bottled water. Guests can enjoy some of the finest cuisine at sea at any of the ships’ specialty restaurants without any supplemental dining charges. Oceania Cruises also eliminates the hassle of searching for flights by including free roundtrip air service from major U.S. and Canadian gateways.

Image Courtesy Oceania Cruises

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Back-To-Back Cruises Times 33

Back-to-back cruises can offer double the fun, double the pleasure, and half the cost of getting to and from the ship’s homeport. However, Mark Fosselman of Diamond Head, Mississippi had a more compelling reason for boarding Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Elation to take 33 consecutive voyages totaling a whopping 270 cruise days.

Carnival Elation has a special place in Fosselman’s heart as he and his wife, Becky, sailed on the ship numerous times over the past few years, even after she became ill and was unable to walk or talk. Fosselman said his wife loved sailing with Carnival and believed that the cruises contributed greatly to her quality of life despite her declining health.

After his wife passed away in April 2014, Fosselman decided to return to the ship that brought them so many fond memories, boarding Carnival Elation for the first of 33 consecutive voyages later that month. Fosselman believes that cruising was very therapeutic following his wife’s passing and the Carnival Elation’s staff went above and beyond in providing much-needed support and assistance during this challenging period in his life.

Fosselman embarked in New Orleans for his first cruise in April aboard Carnival Elation and sailed 32 additional 4- and 5-day cruises, visiting the Mexican ports of Cozumel and Progreso dozens of times during that period. It’s believed to be the longest streak of consecutive cruise days in Carnival Cruise Lines’ 42-year history.

When Fosselman debarked the ship after 33 consecutive voyages and 270 days overall on board, the Carnival Elation staff warmly greeted him in the ship’s atrium and held a special farewell reception, including the banner pictured above, which was created especially for the occasion.

Image Courtesy Carnival Cruise Lines

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Great Team: Princess Cruises & Football

It's autumn and you know what that means. The days are getting shorter, the temperatures are cooling off, and football season is here. To celebrate the changing season, Princess Cruises has announced partnerships with the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans, and Chicago Bears to offer fans the opportunity to win a cruise and enjoy a game at sea.

Princess Cruises football fans can catch more of the action than ever before aboard 13 of its ships as the line is showing the most highly watched games the NFL has to offer on its signature Movies Under the Stars screens, and throwing a tailgate party each week to celebrate. Guests will be "ready for some football" while sailing through the balmy waters on a Caribbean cruise or enjoying cruising from the West Coast, with the game showing on a giant LED screen above the pool.

Each Monday, ships will offer Tailgate at Sea parties, bringing the best of the American football experience on deck. Passengers can enjoy their favorite snacks such as hot wings, burgers, hot dogs, chips and salsa, pizza, and other party foods football fans would enjoy during a traditional BBQ in a stadium parking lot or while hosting a football get-together. Beer buckets and team-inspired drink specials will add to the tailgate experience.

San Francisco 49ers
Princess Cruises has become a Proud Partner of the San Francisco 49ers, including a fan-based sweepstakes, expanding the cruise line's presence in this market. As part of the partnership, San Francisco 49ers fans will have the opportunity to win a 10-day cruise to Alaska or Mexico, sailing roundtrip from San Francisco. The sweepstakes, which will be promoted with digital ads on 49ers.com, runs through Dec 31, 2014, and fans can enter at princess.com/sanfrancisco.

Princess offers a variety of ways to explore Alaska and Mexico from San Francisco, including:
• Inside Passage from San Francisco: Golden Princess will sail from the "City by the Bay" on 10-day roundtrip Alaska cruises. The ship offers 14 voyages from San Francisco featuring the scenery of Glacier Bay National Park or Tracy Arm Fjord, with calls at Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Victoria (with some sailings substituting Icy Strait Point). Departures sail between May 12 and Sept 9, 2015.
• Mexico: Star Princess will depart San Francisco on 10-day cruises to Mexico, visiting Cabo San Lucas, Loreto, La Pax, and Puerto Vallarta. Departures sail between Oct 1, 2014 and April 19, 2015.
Houston Texans
Princess Cruises has also become a Proud Sponsor of the Houston Texans, including a fan-based sweepstakes, expanding the cruise line's presence in this key market. As part of the partnership, Houston Texans fans will have the opportunity to win a 7-day cruise to the Western Caribbean, sailing roundtrip from Houston. The sweepstakes, which will be promoted with digital ads on houstontexans.com and game day radio advertising, runs through Dec 31, 2014, and fans can enter at princess.com/texans.
• Princess offers 7-day Western Caribbean cruises aboard Emerald Princess sailing roundtrip from Houston. These cruise vacations visit Roatan, Belize City, and Cozumel and sail between Nov 16, 2014 and April 26, 2015.
Seattle Seahawks
Additionally, Princess Cruises has become a Proud Sponsor of the Seattle Seahawks, including a fan-based sweepstakes, expanding the cruise line's presence in this key market. As part of the partnership, Seattle Seahawks fans will have the opportunity to win a 7-day cruise to Alaska, sailing roundtrip from Seattle. The sweepstakes, which will be promoted with digital ads on seahawks.com and game day radio advertising, runs from Sept 4 to Dec 31, 2014, and fans can enter at princess.com/seattle.

Princess offers a variety of ways to explore "The Great Land" of Alaska from Seattle, as well as nearby Vancouver, for the upcoming 2015 cruise season:
• Inside Passage from Seattle: Ruby Princess and Crown Princess offer convenient weekend departures on two different 7-day roundtrip cruises from Seattle along the scenic Inside Passage. Both visit Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Victoria, B.C., and passengers will enjoy dramatic glacier viewing in either Glacier Bay National Park or Tracy Arm. The two cruise ships will sail on 36 departures between May 10 and Sept 12, 2015.
• Voyage of the Glaciers: Princess' favorite Gulf of Alaska route between Vancouver and Whittier (for Anchorage) features two glacier-viewing experiences on every Alaska cruise, with visits to Glacier Bay National Park plus either Hubbard Glacier or College Fjord. Ships also call at Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway cruise ports. Guests have a variety of cruise ship choices for this signature itinerary, with Grand Princess and Star Princess sailing Saturdays, while Coral Princess and the intimate Pacific Princess sail on Wednesdays and Mondays. In total, the ships will offer a total of 70 sailing choices between May 9 and Sept 12, 2015.
Chicago Bears
In a final partnership announcement, Princess has become a Partner of the Chicago Bears, expanding the cruise line's presence in this key market. Chicagoans will have the opportunity to win a 7-day cruise to the Caribbean, sailing roundtrip from Ft. Lauderdale. The sweepstakes runs through Dec 31, 2014, and fans can enter at princess.com/chicago.

Fans of the 49ers, Texans, Seahawks, and Bears will also have access to special cruise deals from Princess throughout the season.

Image Courtesy of Princess Cruises