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Archive for April, 2009


Norwegian Pearl wows with upgrades

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On April - 24 - 2009

Three years ago I sailed on Norwegian Pearl’s inaugural sailing and back then it exceeded expectations. A recent sailing onboard the same ship proved to be significantly better than my previous cruise.

How is it better? Last year, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) launched Freestyle 2.0 a fleetwide initiative to further improve the guest experience. And, wow have they succeeded.

Fifty million reasons
NCL pledged some $50 million towards the Freestyle 2.0 enhancements that include major investments in the total dining experience, upgraded staterooms and new wide-ranging onboard activities for guests of all ages. All this, along with additional recognition and service and amenities for balcony, suite and villa guests.

One of the first changes passengers will encounter is during boarding where crew members greet guests with a “bubbly welcome” — trays with flutes of champagne or orange juice. Additionally, passengers staying in balcony staterooms, mini-suites and suites are then escorted to their accommodations. These are just little changes that improve the guest experience; however, changes to menus and stateroom amenities have taken this cruise to a whole new level.

Lobster galore
Food is the major focus on any cruise and NCL’s Freestyle Cruising provides guests with the widest variety of dining choices of any cruise line. Dining choices include the ship’s two main dining rooms, Summer Palace and Indigo, which offer traditional and contemporary menus, respectively. There are also the Garden Café buffet area and the Blue Lagoon for comfort food. For a cover charge of $10 to $25 per person, dine at the following premium venues: La Cucina (Italian fare), Mambos (Mexican), Le Bistro (gourmet French cuisine), Lotus Garden (sushi, teppanyaki and Pacific fusion) and Cagney’s Steakhouse (steak and seafood). Still hungry? There’s an on-deck grill, a coffee shop, an ice cream bar and 24-hour room service.

Freestyle 2.0 has improved both the quality and quantity of food in all dining venues. When it comes to food lobster is king and when it comes to lobster, Freestyle 2.0 is pouring it on. The line touts “Lobster Galore” featuring lobster served twice a week in the main dining room. Plus, lobster dishes are on all specialty restaurant menus from lobster ravioli in La Cucina to lobster brioche for breakfast.

In addition, all specialty restaurants have upgraded their offerings. For example, Le Bistro features Cote de Boeuf, a 32-ounce, premium-gold Angus rib-eye steak, braised Maine lobster and Plateau de Fruits de Mer, a cold seafood plate with mussels, lobster tail, shrimp, and raw oysters. Cagney’s steak house has added a 32-ounce porterhouse and Alaska king crab legs.

The Pearl’s Garden Café buffet area offers action stations where guests can select different foods at different stations without having to stand in a long line and pass unwanted choices before getting to desired dishes. Garden Café upgrades also include table clothes and candlelight to enhance the ambiance for those dining at night.

Room service has been upgraded for guests in all staterooms, and even broader choices are available for suite guests. Minibar options have been expanded, and guests are encouraged to ask their room steward to customize their selections.

Expanded entertainment
Entertainment upgrades include two new party experiences to enhance the nightlife. Monte Carlo Night provides singing, dancing, games and prizes in the casino, while White Hot Party features white costumes and hot music. The cruise staff, including waiters and cabin stewards, wear T-shirts promoting the parties during the days they were scheduled. On Monte Carlo Night they wear black T-shirts designed to look like tuxedos.

Entertainment provided by an improv comedy troupe from Chicago’s famed Second City is a favorite among passengers. The group performs a regular show and a late-night show.

An improved Pool Deck experience has been added. Relaxing music is played and there is a designated quiet zone. Drink flags have been placed on lounge chairs to make it even easier to attract a waiter. Cold towels and Evian mists are also provided.

Sports and kids’ programs have been expanded, with a more flexible Kids Crew program and increased Xbox and Wii availability. Foosball, billiards and air hockey have been added as well.

Plusher accommodations
Norwegian Pearl offers 32 stateroom categories, from standard inside staterooms and balcony suites to interconnecting cabins and luxurious villas that come with butler and concierge service. Most suites have a queen-size bed, a separate living area with a dining table, and concierge service. A standard ocean-view stateroom with a balcony encompasses about 200 square feet; regular ocean-view rooms and inside cabins range between 140 and 160 square feet. All cabins have glossy cherry wood walls and furniture, a flat-panel TV, a coffee maker, a mini-bar, a safe and a duvet, and most have a bathroom with separate toilet and shower/tub areas.

A big stateroom upgrade is the Bliss Bed, which features Euro-top foam memory toppers on new, thicker mattresses and a pillow menu that offers six types of pillows. The quality of bed linens and bathrobes has been improved. Duvets have been improved. Elemis shampoo, conditioner and lotions add another touch of elegance. Another upgraded amenity provided to guests in balcony staterooms and higher suites is the choice of what they want in their fruit basket, which is replenished several times during the cruise.

Sweeter suite life
The Pearl has some of the largest and plushest suites at sea including a private top-of-the-ship deck that contains only Garden Villas and Courtyard Villas, which offers a swimming pool and recreation area in its courtyard. Freestyle 2.0 has added private breakfasts and lunches in the courtyard for villa guests. A big perk for the 48-suite guests onboard is the exclusive breakfast and lunch in Cagney’s steakhouse. Breakfast choices include steak and eggs, eggs Benedict over crab cakes. The setting is calm and quiet compare with that of the main dining room and Garden Café.

Additionally, guests staying in suites get their own concierge who will make restaurant reservations for the entire cruise on the first day, whereas guests in standard staterooms can only book one day in advance. Suite guests also receive snacks in their room each day after selecting their choices from a daily menu and VIP disembarkation as they are escorted off the ship ahead of the crowd.

The Norwegian Pearl is one of the prettiest cruise ships afloat and is blessed with a crew that is extraordinarily friendly and accommodating. There’s no doubt that Freestyle 2.0 is delivering a superior cruise experience, and it’s highly recommended for travelers who prefer a resort casual atmosphere with varied dining choices over the traditional assigned seating. While NCL is considered a mainstream cruise line, I felt the upgrades on Pearl clearly put it in the premium cruise category.

If you go:
The Norwegian Pearl sails the Caribbean from October thru late April then the vessel transitions to Alaska from mid-May thru September. Repositioning voyages including the Panama Canal and Mexican Riviera are available. Prices for 7-day Caribbean sailings begin at $539, prices for 7-day Alaska sailings start at $529, and pricing for 14-night repositioning cruises start at $1299. All aforementioned prices are based on inside stateroom, double occupancy. Visit NCL’s Web site for more details.

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Royal Caribbean’s Fain: “Pricing is miserable” – Oasis bookings robust

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On April - 23 - 2009

Royal Caribbean International announced their first quarter earnings today and beat Wall Street projections. The company reported a first quarter loss to $36.2 million, or a loss of 17 cents per share, well below guidance of a loss of 30 cents to 35 cents. Royal Caribbean cites stable close-in bookings and better than expected cost cutting initiatives for the results. Wall Street had expected a loss of 34 cents per share. A year ago, Royal Caribbean posted a profit of $75.6 million, or 35 cents per share.

Royal Caribbean’s chairman and CEO, Richard Fain says current “pricing is miserable” but notes on the bright side a more stable revenue environment for the rest of the year. The company reports that net yields are projected to come at the lower end of previous guidance of down 12 to 13 percent. Reduced revenue expectations are largely offset by an improved cost outlook, and the company now projects 2009 EPS of around $1.35, a nickel below previous guidance.

First quarter revenues were $1.3 billion, down from $1.4 billion from same quarter last year. Net yields came in at down 13.5 percent, somewhat better than guidance of down 14 percent to down 16 percent. Costs per available berth were cut 7 percent, beating guidance of down 4 to 6 percent.

“Given the horrible economy, I am encouraged by a more stable revenue environment and I am proud that our people have been able to reduce expenses and deliver better than expected results,” said Fain. Royal Caribbean described Oasis of the Seas bookings as “extremely robust” and expected to have a significant accretive impact on yields.

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Princess uses Twitter to talk about Golden Princess makeover

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On April - 21 - 2009

As Golden Princess begins what Princess Cruises called the most extensive make-over it has ever undertaken, the company is providing Twitter updates that will showcase a daily photo journal of the ship’s transformation. A first for Princess, the online posts will chronicle the changes throughout the vessel during its nearly three-week drydock at Victoria Shipyards in British Columbia.

The journal has launched at princess.com/goldendrydock and will run through May 5, when Golden Princess re-enters service with its new features, including a piazza-style atrium, an adults-only deck retreat (The Sanctuary), a poolside movie screen and a Crown Grill steak and seafood restaurant, among other enhancements.

Twitter users will receive a daily ‘tweet’ about the latest construction progress after they sign up and elect to follow Princess at http://twitter.com/PrincessCruises.

“None of our other vessels have ever had this many new features added in a single drydock, so our online journal will offer a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the amount of work required for such a huge undertaking,” says Jan Swartz, Princess’ excutive vice president of marketing.

Golden Princess was introduced in 2001.

The amenities being added are already featured in the line’s newest ships, Crown Princess, Emerald Princess and Ruby Princess. Many have also been introduced aboard on Caribbean Princess, Star Princess and Grand Princess during earlier drydocks.

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The loyal Royals get their perks back…sort of

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On April - 15 - 2009

It looks like Royal Caribbean is changing course on its decision to pull back perks for their Crown & Anchor Society past-passenger loyalty program. In a letter sent this week to the line’s Diamond members, Royal Caribbean president and CEO Adam Goldstein acknowledged there was “considerable unhappiness” over the changes and announced that the majority of member benefits would be restored – including access to the concierge lounge.

“While we knew the reaction would be negative, it has been more negative then we anticipated,” Goldstein said. Citing the feedback gleaned from the complaints, Goldstein announced the line would restore a nightly private cocktail party for the group that includes free wine and champagne — considered one of the top benefits of access to the Concierge Lounge. Unlike in the past, however, mixed drinks will not be free but will be discounted by 25 percent, he noted.
The cocktail parties will take place in one of the many bars and lounges on the various Royal Caribbean ships, not in the Concierge Lounge, which as per last month’s announcement will be reserved for the higher level Diamond Plus members of the Crown & Anchor Society.

Diamond Plus status is given to Royal Caribbean customers who have sailed on 25 cruises; Diamond status is for those who have sailed on 10 cruises.
Goldstein stated that the Concierge Lounges on the line’s ships have become too crowded to continue to offer access to both Diamond and Diamond Plus members, and the decision to no longer allow Diamond members access to the lounges will stand. But he said by adding back a nightly cocktail party for Diamond members the line would be addressing several of the biggest complaints the line has been hearing from members.

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Royal Caribbean secures Oasis of the Seas financing

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On April - 15 - 2009

Royal Caribbean Cruises today announced it has arranged commitments for unsecured financing in the amount of USD 1,050,000,000 or 80 percent of the contract price of Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis of the Seas.

The facility will be 95 percent guaranteed by Finnvera, the official export credit agency of Finland, and amortizes over 12 years. BNP Paribas, Nordea Bank and SEB have each committed to provide 20 percent of the financing and each may elect to opt-out after six years. Finnish Export Credit Ltd. will provide funding for the remaining 40 percent. The company has an option of a floating or fixed rate of interest, and overall terms will fall within the company’s financial projections. The commitments are subject only to customary closing conditions.

“We are very pleased to have secured the financing for Oasis of the Seas,” said Brian J. Rice, executive vice president and chief financial officer. “With the tight credit environment and lack of liquidity in the financial markets today, this financing is a testimony to the strength of our company, the terrific partnership we have with Finland, and the outstanding long-term relationships we enjoy with our banks.”

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Silversea serves up epicurean theme cruises with Relais & Châteaux

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On April - 7 - 2009

Silversea DiningThe enlightening café lifestyle of Paris in the 1920s (immortalized in A Moveable Feast) stayed with American writer Ernest Hemingway throughout his life … wherever he traveled … and for Silversea guests, this year’s 11 Culinary Arts voyages promise similar opportunities for personally enriching experiences that will linger long after the journey ends.

These unique culinary theme cruises showcase the artistry of award-winning chefs of top dining establishments from around the world, including the internationally acclaimed chefs of Relais & Châteaux, the distinguished international association of charming properties and finest restaurants.

“We’re delighted to feature some of the world’s most celebrated chefs on our Culinary Arts voyages,” said Rudi Scholdis, Silversea’s culinary director. “Our culinary theme cruises are a great way to meld together fascinating destinations with cooking events and demonstrations that entertain and edify, as well as reveal the personalities, skills – and a few culinary secrets – of the masters of haute cuisine.”

On the culinary sailings, celebrity chefs will display their exceptional talents during dynamic and informative cooking demonstrations where guests can taste and learn firsthand the secrets of enticing signature dishes. Many of the award-winning chefs are also designated Grands Chefs Relais & Châteaux, such as Rick Tramonto, partner and executive chef of Chicago’s Tru, a Mobil Four Star and AAA Five Diamond restaurant; Eyvind Hellstrøm, owner and chef of Michelin Two Star Bagatelle in Oslo; and Anne Desjardins, the chef/co-owner of CAA Four Diamond L’Eau à La Bouche in Ste-Adèle, Québec.

Silversea DiningThe Culinary Arts enrichment voyages also feature escorted provisioning trips to international markets (when the itinerary permits), food and wine pairings, creative regional dishes, and a five-course grand gourmet dinner. Throughout these special voyages, the featured guest chef and Silversea’s executive chef are on hand to share their culinary expertise and answer any questions.

Following below is a list of the Culinary Arts voyages. Fares listed are per person based on double occupancy for a Vista Suite and do not include port charges and handling fees that range from $100 to $500 per person, depending on the itinerary.

ALASKA & PACIFIC COAST

Voyage 3912: Silver Shadow, May 28 – June 7, Seward to Vancouver, 10 days. Early Booking Incentive fares start at $7,050. Jonathan Lindenauer — Bon Appétit magazine’s chef de cuisine will be in residence to bring the Bon Appétit Supper Club to life and offer guests a taste of his signature recipes. This avant-garde concept of a stylish, limited-time dining experience will transform La Terrazza into a New York-inspired restaurant.

Voyage 3917: Silver Shadow, July 20 – August 1, San Francisco (roundtrip), 12 days. Silver Sailing fares start at $4,747. Gregory Short — Executive chef of Masas, San Francisco.

CARIBBEAN

Voyage 1926: Silver Cloud, October 19 – 29, New York to Barbados, 10 days. Silver Sailing fares start at $3,397. Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef Anne Desjardins — Co-owner of L’Eau à La Bouche Ste-Adèle, Québec, Canada.

Voyage 3929: Silver Shadow, November 13 – 22, Barbados to Fort Lauderdale, 9 days. Silver Sailing fares start at $3,047. Relais & Châteaux Chef Stéphane Mazières — Executive chef of Le Gaïac restaurant at Hôtel Le Toiny, St. Bart’s.

FAR EAST & SOUTH PACIFIC

Voyage 3909: Silver Shadow, April 11 – 29, Sydney to Singapore, 18 days. Silver Sailing fares start at $10,496. Relais & Châteaux Chef Mathew Macartney — Executive chef of Chateau Yering, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

MEDITERRANEAN

Voyage 2915: Silver Wind, May 14 – 21, Barcelona to Nice, 7 days. Silver Sailing fares start at $3,197. Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef Rick Tramonto — Executive chef/partner of Tru, Chicago.

Voyage 2922: Silver Wind, July 18 – 28, Monte Carlo (roundtrip), 10 days. Silver Sailing fares start at $6,177. Relais & Châteaux Chef Vincent Nattress — Executive chef of Meadowood Resort, St. Helena, California.

Voyage 4931: Silver Whisper, October 3 – 10, Venice to Rome, 7 days. Silver Sailing fares start at $4,616. Lidia Bastianich — Author, TV chef and co-owner of Felidia and Becco restaurants, New York City.

Voyage 4933: Silver Whisper, October 17 – 24, Monte Carlo to Athens, 7 days. Silver Sailing fares start at $3,297. “World of Relais & Châteaux” — Over seven days, these five Relais & Châteaux chefs are set to take part in what is sure to be the ultimate culinary festival at sea:

Jacques Thorel, Auberge Bretonne (La Roche-Bernard, Britanny, France)
Eyvind Hellstrøm, Bagatelle (Oslo, Norway)
Julien Lahire, Auberge du Moulin Hideux (Noirefontaine, Belgium)
Christian Gölles, Gasthof Post (Lech am Arlberg, Vorarlberg, Austria)
Erwan Louaisil, El Castell de Ciutat (La Seu d’Urgell, Lleida, Spain)

Voyage 2933: Silver Wind, October 18 – 30, Istanbul to Rome, 12 days. Silver Sailing fares start at $5,847. Anton Mosimann — Chef/owner of Mosimann’s, London.

NORTHERN EUROPE

Voyage 1916: Silver Cloud, July 11 – 26, Copenhagen (roundtrip), 15 days. Early Booking Incentive fares start at $11,396. Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef Eyvind Hellstrøm — Chef/owner of Bagatelle, Oslo.

Visit Silversea’s Website for more details.

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