As river cruising continues to gain steam, Jane Wooldridge shares the best new itineraries for every sort of traveler.
For the History Buff: Tauck has introduced a 10-night Mississippi voyage designed by filmmaker Ken Burns aboard the American Queen paddle wheeler. Don’t miss the tour of Louisiana’s 1837 Oak Alley, or Oakley Plantation, where John James Audubon worked on his Birds of America. In Europe, AmaWaterways’ Jewels of France sets out from Arles and cruises along the Rhône and Seine, with stops in the medieval town of Perpignan and at Avignon’s massive Gothic papal palace.
For the Explorer: In Egypt, Sanctuary Retreats’ 32-passenger Sanctuary Nile Adventurer ferries guests along a stretch of the Nile that has just reopened after 15 years. (The rock tombs at Beni Hasan are a notable stop.) Even farther afield: Burma, where Orient Express Trains & Cruises is adding a second, smaller boat for sailings on the Irrawaddy to the temples of Bagan and into the remote, rugged region along the Chindwin River.
Jane Wooldridge is the cruise editor at Travel + Leisure.
Photo courtesy of Viking River Cruises; Illustration by Michael Hoeweler
Royal Caribbean is going overboard with a skydiving experience, bumper cars, and Ferris Wheel-like capsule ride aboard its new ship, Quantum of the Seas, launching in fall 2014.
The New Jersey-based ship will be the first from Royal Caribbean to offer solo cabins—and though it's not the biggest among the brand's fleet, it'll carry a whopping 4,180 passengers. Other new features unveiled at a Tuesday press conference include balconies with video scenery for interior cabins. Follow the story here for more details and watch this official video of the ship featuring Kristin Chenoweth.
If you've tried to book a river cruise this summer in Europe, you know that it's close to Mission Impossible. But representatives of A-ROSA Cruises at the Cruise Shipping Miami conference want you to know that they're offering a new luxury alternative that does have availability—largely because few people know about it.
The line itself isn't new; its been operating in Germany for a decade. But beginning this year, the company is dedicating specific sailings to the North American market, with a contemporary cruising product that focuses on fine cuisine and features active excursions (think: biking and kayaking), light decor, a large spa and gym with panoramic views. Cabins measure 156 square feet—smaller than on some ships, but larger than on others. And yes, on these sailings, the language is English.
The cruises traverse the Rhone, Soane, Danube and Rhine rivers for 7 to 14 nights, depending on the sailing. The line is waiving single supplements for a substantive number of cabins each sailing, said A-ROSA's U.S. representative Marilyn Conroy. Pricing includes airfare, all excursions, airport transfers and open bar. Prices start at $4,802 per person from New York, Miami, and Los Angeles.
Azamara Club Cruises took advantage of the cruise industry's annual Miami conference to show off its recently refurbished Azamara Quest. Like sister ship Azamara Journey, the 694-passenger Quest was drydocked for the first time since 2007 for a freshening.
The decor in both public rooms and staterooms retains the casually elegant country club feel, with a few new Deco-inspired leather chairs and a slightly smaller casino. There's also a new caviar-and-Champagne bar and a chef's table in the steakhouse.
But the biggest changes for Azamara passengers won't be on board but in the ports they visit, said Azamara president Larry Pimentel. The brand's focus is on offering unusual "bucket list'' destinations such as Vietnam's Halong Bay, world celebrations like Monaco's Grand Prix, and private experiences otherwise unavailable. Among those is a visit by night to Italy's Verrazano Castle with a surprise concert. The two-ship line will also go to 41 new ports this year.
Says Pimentel: "We create the 'Wow' factor by using the destination as 'Wow.' "
File this under the Department of Not Again: Carnival Cruise Lines has had problems with not one but three of its ships in the last week alone—this just a month after the CarnivalTriumphlimped into port in Mobile, Alabama after a highly publicized four nights at sea without power, air conditioning, and functioning toilets.
And now the Legend ship, reporting mechanical problems with its propulsion system, is skipping a scheduled stop at Grand Cayman Island to get back to port in Tampa. And new information emerged about a steering problem on Carnival Elation the week before; the company said it had asked a tugboat to accompany it as it left port in New Orleans in an excess of caution.
No passengers or crew members were hurt during any of these incidents. And there reportedly was little passenger inconvenience, unlike the situation a month ago when a fire aboard the Carnival Triumph left passengers adrift for days without power. Gerry Cahill, president and CEO of the beleaguered cruise company, announced on Wednesday a comprehensive maintenance review of Carnival’s entire fleet, news he hopes will calm the rough waters his company has hit in 2013. The Triumph is scheduled to be out of service through mid-April; the Dream has cancelled at least one sailing.
The bright side for travelers: Deals may be on the horizon.
More glimpses of the future, from Cruise Shipping Miami:
° Scenic Cruises offers four new European river itineraries and new ship, The Jewel, with balconies that can be enclosed for weather protection. In April it will also launch the first new river cruising ship in Russia in memory from the company. The $10 million remake was set on an existing barge hull.
° The new Hong Kong cruise terminal designed by Sir Norman Foster and set on the site of the old Kai Tak airport features a public green space atop the terminal. The first ship berth becomes operational in June. When it's completed in about 15 months, it will be able to handle four megaliners at once.
° Along with the year-round ship it is taking to the Galapagos this year, Silversea is adding a Northwest Passage cruise aboard its existing expedition ship, Silver Explorer. Bookings are going fast, reported the line. Compagnie du Ponant, which is also launched a Northwest Passage cruise, said the sailing sold out in four days.
Passengers aboard Norwegian Cruise's Getaway can sign up for a truly magic dinner in the Illusionarium, a domed space where Hogswarts meets Jules Verne. The experience, priced at $35, will feature a magic show and dinner, the company announced Wednesday at the Cruise Shipping Miami conference. The project was designed by Broadway director/choreographer Patricia Wilcox, Tony Award-winning scenic designer David Gallo and veteran magician Jeff Hobson.
And get ready to rock. The Getaway, which launches in January 2014 with sailings from Miami, will feature a Grammy Experience venue, with memorabilia and live performances from Grammy winners and nominees. In fall 2014, the ship will host a Grammy Experience themed cruise.
Following the Carnival Triumph disaster in which 4,000 passengers were powerless for days, Carnival Cruise lines announced it has engaged a panel of outside experts to conduct a full review of the Triumph and other ships fleetwide to identify redundancies that would prevent future incidents.
In an exclusive interview with the Miami Herald's Hannah Sampson, Carnival President Gerry Cahill said that the flexible piping that failed and caused the Triumph's disabling fire had been replaced five months before and was due to be checked on its regular schedule about 30 days after the incident. The average life of the part is 18 months, he said. Redundancies that should have kept the ship in working order were also disabled by the fire.
Cruise lines often use the Cruise Shipping Miami conference as a place to reveal details of new ships, and this year is no exception.
Tuesday, Princess Cruises held a press conference to highlight new features of its Royal Princess, which debuts in Europe this June. Its signature feature — a "seawalk'' extending 28 feet beyond the hull — has been driving chatter for the past year. The latest revelations are details designed to keep the conversation going. About half require a separate fee. Among the offerings:
° New (and complimentary) on-demand programming in stateroom TVs, including movies and television series.
° A tea tower and tea sommelier who will help passengers create their own blend to take home.
° Mobile QR-code tour of the ship's $2 million collection of art
° Outdoor art installation by the marine artist, Wyland
° Whiskey flights offered at the signature Wheelhouse Bar
° Onboard intranet
° $3,000 spa package for four including all-day massages in a private cabana
° Largest outdoor movie screen (this one is 30 percent bigger than those elsewhere)
° A daily menu of 8 flavors of hand-made gelato
° Four different "dancing fountain'' shows
Windstar execs also talked about new itineraries for the three ships it has purchased from Seabourn that join the fleet over the next two years. Expect sailings in Latin America, the British Isles, the Far East and a circumnavigation of Sicily. Tahiti sailings start in spring of 2014.
The cruise industry addressed safety issues head-on at its annual industry conference, giving the first question of the annual CEO panel to Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill, who described an in-depth review by Carnival and outside experts to determine how the company and other cruise lines can prevent future incidents. Still, the industry response to the recent Carnival Triumph breakdown and other ship failures at the Cruise Shipping Miami conference were carefully scripted, and specifics about both the cause and future changes were limited.
Cahill stressed the rareness of such incidents and the fact that no one was hurt. But Royal Caribbean CEO Adam Goldstein, who also appeared on the panel, said that in the future all lines will likely pay attention not only to strict safety but also to passenger comfort when an incident does occur. Goldstein also addressed a commonly expressed concern that the industry is poorly regularly. Not so, he said. Regardless of where a ship is, it is under the regulation of various agencies at all times.