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Archive for the ‘Cruise Profiles’ Category

Windstar’s Wind Surf Debuts New Look

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On December - 14 - 2011

Windstar Cruises, which operates a fleet of three luxury sailing yachts that explore hidden harbors and secluded coves of the world’s most treasured destinations, announces the completion of the first phase of Wind Surf’s refurbishment encompassing the yacht’s staterooms, suites, bridge suites and corridors.

Wind Surf welcomed guests December 10 in Philipsburg, St. Maarten and set sail for the start of its Caribbean season with a new luxurious, classic, stylish yacht look for its accommodations and corridors. Wind Surf’s staterooms now feature leather headboards, stately arm chairs, linen wall coverings, new lighting features, elegant window coverings, plush wool carpeting, art work and stylish bed cushions. Suites were additionally outfitted with new furniture that converts easily to lounging, dining, or accommodating a third occupant. Corridors were completely renovated from floor to ceiling with new wall coverings, carpeting, ceiling finishes, lighting and art work.

WindSurfSuite2“The new look enables us to provide an unparalleled guest experience and dramatizes Windstar’s brand position of providing a unique, boutique yacht vacation that is 180 Degrees from Ordinary,” said Hans Birkholz, President and CEO of Windstar Cruises.

The line is investing $18 million refurbishing the fleet and the second phase of Wind Surf’s refurbishment will take place in the fall of 2012 and focuses on the yacht’s public spaces including the Lounge, The Restaurant, Degrees, Veranda, Compass Rose, WindSpa, Yacht Club and Pool Bar.

  • In the Lounge, wall-to-wall carpeting will be replaced with hard flooring accented with inset rugs, a contemporary mix of furniture, lighter color palette and improved sound insulation around the casino.
  • The Restaurant will be completed with a new seating layout, all new soft goods, and state-of-the art wine display and storage.
  • Degrees Restaurant will be transformed into a Mediterranean bistro, anchored by a central wine bar for counter dining as well as an inviting area to relax before and after dinner.  Wine tastings and cooking demonstrations will also be conducted here.
  • The Veranda’s outdoor seating will be significantly expanded, creating an ideal mid-ship area for enjoying breakfast and lunch alfresco.  The interior will include a new buffet, new lighting, and epicurean style display counters.
  • The Compass Rose will be reconfigured to open up expansively to the adjoining outdoor deck, and its interior completely renovated to reflect the sophisticated elegance of a private club.
  • The Pool Bar will sport new awnings for additional shade, new deck furniture, and improved outdoor dining layout for Candles Grill.

Wind Star and Wind Spirit will undergo complete refurbishments of staterooms, owner’s suite, and corridors along with public spaces including The Restaurant, Veranda, Lounge, WindSpa, Library, Reception, and Pool Bar following their respective Costa Rica and Caribbean seasons. After the completion of work, both yachts begin their Mediterranean seasons with Wind Spirit starting April 15, 2012, and Wind Star beginning April 29, 2012.

Recommended Reading:

Read www.expertcruiser.com’s review of the Wind Surf: Intimate Cruising Aboard Windstar’s Wind Surf

By Anita Dunham-Potter (editor@www.expertcruiser.com)

© www.expertcruiser.com – Your online consumer guide for cruise travel and information.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II christens Cunard liner bearing her name

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On October - 11 - 2010

Greetings from Southampton where Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II has christened Cunard’s newest liner, the magnificent Queen Elizabeth. British monarchs have launched seven merchant ships bearing royal names since the Queen Mary in 1934.

The newest vessel is the third named Queen Elizabeth and interestingly, Queen Elizabeth has witnessed all three christenings with the first being 72 years ago when her mother launched the first Queen Elizabeth. Her first christening was the iconic ‘QE2’ which was retired from the Cunard fleet several years ago.

The ceremony was quintessential British pomp and circumstance complete with color guard, color guard band, symphony orchestra, opera singer, and bag pipers. While music played invited guests watched large screen televisions of the Queen touring the ship. She even rang the ship’s horn to the delight of the audience. The ceremony even included vintage footage of the Queen touring and christening the QE2.

After disembarking the vessel the Queen rode in her official Rolls Royce to the outdoor naming staging area.Wearing a colorful teal blue coat and matching hat and sparkly brooch the Queen blessed the vessel stating “May God bless this vessel and all who sail in her”. Upon those words a jeroboam of 2009 Rothschild white wine smashed against the bow of the ship.

The 92,400-ton, 2068-passenger Queen Elizabeth is the third new vessel for Cunard Line in six years and replaces the aforementioned QE2.

Stay tuned for more from the new Queen Elizabeth .

Filled Under Blog, Cruise Profiles, gallery

Celebrity Eclipse lures landlubbers to sea

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On July - 2 - 2010

Celebrity Eclipse
As I boarded the Celebrity Eclipse in Southampton two words reverberated from the British passengers around me. Brilliant and stylish. The wow factor is exactly what Celebrity Cruises is striving for on Eclipse. But before the line’s newest ship carried any paying passengers it was called to carry out a mission like no other.

To the rescue

Eclipse didn’t set out to be a hero ship on its first cruise with passengers, but that’s just what happened right after it left the shipyard. The vessel’s late April inaugural celebrations were put on hold to participate in a unique and unprecedented rescue mission. Eclipse sailed to Bilbao, Spain to pick up more than 2,000 British tourists stranded by the shutdown of European airspace following the Icelandic volcano eruption.

Simon Weir, Eclipse’s hotel director noted that a party at that time was frivolous. “We had a window of opportunity to do something extraordinary – we had to help out.” And, boy did they. Rescued tourists traveled back to England in the lap of luxury onboard the 122,000-ton, 2,850-passenger Eclipse. Weir said many rescued travelers told him Eclipse was far better than the land-based vacation they had in Spain and were sold on sailing the ship for their next vacation.

Eclipse is easy on the eyes

The line hit a homerun with the launch of Celebrity Solstice two years ago and Eclipse carries on the captivating qualities. Like its two sister ships (Solstice and Equinox) the big appeal is the seamless blending of differing characters throughout the ship. Passengers who have been on the aforementioned sister ships will find themselves in familiar territory. Eclipse offers The Lawn Club, with real, growing grass; The Hot Glass Show, a glassblowing show and studio developed with The Corning Museum of Glass; 10 dining venues, along with vast entertainment offerings including shows with breathtaking aerial acts. But there are some interesting new additions and changes.

There are some cosmetic differences with the interior color scheme, artwork, and various refinements that make the ship even smarter and improve the overall guest experience. One very welcomed change is the modification of the entrance area to the AquaSpa that separates the spa reception area from the entrance to the gym. The previous design had guests funneling through the spa reception area to get to the gym.

Tweaks in the design aside, it’s the new offerings onboard that are making this ship better than its predecessors. The most unique addition is Qsine, a new restaurant by Jacques Van Staden, Celebrity’s vice president of culinary operations. Qsine turns the dining experience upside down—literally. The quirky venue is enveloped in avant garde décor, furniture, and large table lamps hanging upside down from the ceiling. Even the menu presentation is gimmicky – diners are given Apple iPads with descriptions of the main menu offerings and the desert menu is a paper cube that you unfold to find the selections. The menu features childhood favorites with contemporary touches served in small portions. It’s all-you-can-eat for the $30 cover charge.

The food was delicious and a lot of fun. The menu selection called Crunchy Munchies is an assortment of fried items presented in a paper cone. Sushi lollipops are served on a stick. Spring rolls are presented in vertical springs. An assortment of three cold soups is served in test tubes with a straw. Popcorn fish and chips were served in a red-and-white popcorn box. Other options include Kobe sliders, ceviche, tacos, and lobster and escargot fritters.

Another new feature on Eclipse is the Celebrity iLounge, a hip computer center stocked with Apple products, including 26 MacBook Pros. The ship also is authorized to sell Apple products as well as offer classes on how to use them. The iPhone/iTouch classes onboard were standing room only. Clearly a big hit.

Celebrity targets landlubbers

Weir tells me that Celebrity no longer competes with other cruise lines but with the great hotels of the world like the Bellagio. “We’re not just an American product, but an International one and we will adapt to sailing in differing regions,” added Weir.

Celebrity is targeting the cosmopolitan, upscale resort crowd and the Solstice-class ships like Eclipse are the perfect bait. It’s a large ship with a lot of passengers, abundant space, yet it’s still intimate and rarely feels hectic or crowded. Best of all it manages to be two things that many cruise ships aren’t these days — to be exhilarating and classy at the same time.

If you go:

Celebrity Eclipse cruises its inaugural season with sailings from Southampton with various cruises ranging from 14-night Baltic and Mediterranean sailings that begin at $1,913 per person. On October 31, the ship will sail a transatlantic voyage to Miami, Florida, where it will begin a series of alternating 7- night Eastern and Western Caribbean voyages through April 2011. Prices begin at $649 per person. All aforementioned prices are based on inside staterooms, double occupancy. Visit Celebrity Cruises Web site for more details.

Dubai sizzles as the new cruise hot spot

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On March - 19 - 2010

Dubai has had some significant financial turmoil the past few months, but that has not deterred cruise vacationers to the embattled emirate as it is quickly becoming a must-see port of call. More cruise lines are placing ships in Dubai for the winter season, but no cruise line has dedicated more ships in the region than Costa Cruises.

Dubai loves ships

Cruise travel is the fastest growing segment of tourism in Dubai. The timing couldn’t have come at a better time for the emirate as tourism declined 6 percent last year, whereas, the burgeoning cruise industry grew 40 percent.

Costa Cruises, a Carnival Corporation brand, further solidified its commitment to Dubai when it named its newest ship the 2,286-passenger Costa Deliziosa there last month. Even more significant the event marked the first time that a cruise ship was named in a Middle Eastern country. Even the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum turned out to welcome Costa’s newest ship.

Costa Chairman and CEO Pier Luigi Foschi said that by christening and placing the line’s newest ships in Dubai it showed the line’s ongoing commitment. In 2006 the company was first cruise line to ever base a ship in the region because they clearly saw the value of Dubai as a cruise destination.

It’s easy to see why Costa was so enamored with the emirate. With its fabulous cityscapes, prehistoric sandscapes and endless beaches, Dubai is an amazing destination in every way. The city boasts stunning sights and attractions, including the world’s largest water park, and the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa—the magnificent centerpiece of downtown Dubai. Cruise travelers can indulge in excursions that range from “dune bashing,” camel rides, shopping the souks to even skiing on sand or on real snow at the indoor Ski Dubai Alpine slopes.

Costa currently has three vessels based in Dubai for the winter season. Including the line’s newest ships – the aforementioned Deliziosa, its sister ship Costa Luminosa, and the 1,494-passenger Costa Europa. Seeing the growth in the region other cruise lines like Aida Cruises and Royal Caribbean International have also chosen to base ships there.

Will Americans flock to this far and exotic part of the world? Maurice Zarmati, the president of Costa Cruises USA, is optimistic that there will be interest in the company’s Dubai sailings. Currently, most of Costa’s onboard guests for these sailings hail from Europe, but the number of American passengers are increasing each year he said. “We find that the Dubai itineraries appeal to Americans who are more travel savvy,” said Zarmati. Additionally, he touted the value of a 7-night Costa Dubai cruise, which visits Oman, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, and also includes two overnights in Dubai that would appeal to those savvy American travelers. “When you look at the cost for a hotel in Dubai over two nights, factor that into the cruise price, and add on all of the destinations, the value is incredible.”

Rapid growth

In 2009, Dubai drew 100 cruise ship visits and around 260,000 tourists, up 37 percent on the previous year. This year growth is expected to be around 40 percent with Costa’s three ships alone bringing in an expected 140,000 passengers. The rapid growth continues as the emirate expects the numbers to double in 2015 to 195 ships and over 575,000 passengers.

The christening of the Deliziosa wasn’t the only thing to celebrate; Dubai opened the new Port Rashid Dubai Cruise Terminal as well. The terminal, which is more than 37,000 square feet in size, can handle four ships simultaneously and is outfitted with services to make the lives of travelers easier, such as money exchange, ATMs, a post office, duty free shops, and a business center with free Wi-Fi.

Foschi praised the Dubai government for its vision in opening a terminal back in 2001 even when there wasn’t a sign that cruising was possible here. “That foresight has been rewarded by Costa,” said Foschi.


www.expertcruiser.com readers sound off! Would you cruise Dubai? Share your thoughts below.

Silver Spirit takes on the seas

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On November - 13 - 2009

It’s early September as I arrive at the Fincantieri Monfalcone shipyard in Trieste, Italy. Dawn is breaking and the winds are howling down from the mountains. Hundreds of yard workers, vendor specialists, technicians, and Silversea Cruises employees are gathered on the pier to board the Silver Spirit. There’s excitement in the air as Spirit is about to taken out for sea trials.

The majority of cruise passengers probably have never heard of sea trials. But, one thing is certain no cruise ship gets to sail with passengers without going through them.

Pushing the limits
Sea trials are the testing phase of a cruise ship to check the vessel’s performance and general seaworthiness. Over the four days of sea trials, Silver Spirit will undergo hundreds of tests that assess its speed, maneuverability, equipment and safety features.

It is a very unique and amazing atmosphere on the ship during sea trials and rarely are journalists allowed onboard to observe the process. As the vessel sails out from the pier, the bridge is bustling as the shipyard Captain and crew go over the ship’s state-of-the-art navigation and maneuvering systems. Two tug boats follow Silver Spirit during the first critical nautical miles from the shipyard. The ship is buffeted by heavy winds, but you wouldn’t know it; Spirit stays remarkably smooth.

Silver Spirit’s master, Captain Angelo Corsaro is onboard as an observer during the trials. Captain Corsaro has been with Silversea since the company’s beginning in 1994. He will take command on December 15 after delivery and is excited by the ship and impressed with the work being done by the shipyard. Christian Sauleau, executive vice president, fleet operations for Silversea Cruises echoes Captain Corsaro’s assessment of the ship and Fincantieri. “Great job, the team, shipyard.” The stakes are high for Silversea as Silver Spirit is their first new-build ship in six years. According to industry sources, the Silver Spirit costs a little over 400 million dollars or some $500,000 per berth. The delivery of Spirit will bring ultra-luxury line’s fleet to six making Silversea the world’s largest luxury cruise line.

The stakes are high for Fincantieri, too. The company has built 48 cruise ships in the past 20 years, but surprisingly, Silver Spirit is the first luxury cruise ship built there. Clearly, they hope it’s the beginning of many more luxury liner orders.

Testing continues as Spirit goes through a series of twists and turns, yes, it is doing virtual “donuts” in the Adriatic to test the ship’s stability and maneuverability. At high speeds the ship has minimal vibration. As the crew continues their testing it’s time to tour the rest of the ship.

Art deco rising

It’s surreal to walk around Silver Spirit with 500 yard workers onboard hammering, painting, testing, finishing – a far cry from the atmosphere the vessel’s 540-discriminating guests will experience in a mere few months. The ship is more finished than I anticipated – Sauleau tells me it’s around 65 percent completed – well ahead of schedule.

I am escorted to my accommodations for my two-night adventure – a standard Veranda Suite – albeit one with a cot, plastic covered carpet, and paper on the windows. While the suite is technically finished the furniture and luxury accoutrements have yet to be installed. I am informed that those items are the last to be installed. One really cool addition that will be in all suites is two 26-inch, flat-panel televisions (one in the bedroom, the other in the sitting area) both televisions will hide behind a mirror when not in use.

Even with plastic and plywood covering a number of areas the beauty of Silver Spirit’s Art Deco design shines through. The ship’s architect has incorporated a 1930s feel into a modern environment by marrying traditional Art Deco lines with the use of contemporary materials including granite along with intricate wood and metal panels.

While Silver Spirit’s design mirror’s the distinctive silhouette of their existing ships it offers some new enhancements. One of the most striking is the ship’s spa measuring 8,300 square feet with aft facing teak deck and whirlpools. There are also nine treatment rooms, multiple sauna and steam rooms, heated loungers, fitness center with two aerobic studios, weight-training equipment and a climbing wall. Other public spaces include a show lounge, observation lounge, conference room, casino and sports bar, a library, internet cafe, and duty free shops.

Silver Spirit boasts six dining venues that include some of the line’s regulars as well as two new eateries. The well-known offerings include the simply titled Restaurant – offering international breakfast, lunch and dinner menus by Relais & Châteaux, La Terrazza – a buffet style restaurant with ocean views, Le Champagne – a six-course experience in a romantic setting and the Pool Grill. In addition, the ship also has the Stars Supper Club that will offer supper accompanied with live music and dancing and, for an extra fee, guests will be able to dine in the Asian-inspired Seishin Restaurant.

After touring it was time for lunch alongside the shipyard workers – a sit down affair in the Restaurant venue where everyone was served pasta and wine. Not bad for virtually camping at sea.

Thrust buster
Over the course of the day and night, Silver Spirit goes through the paces. Test after test with rudders, thrusters, stabilizers, navigational equipment, communication equipment and a rescue boat drill. Speed is slowly increased then decreased all while being closely monitored to check for proper performance. Halfway through the sea trials a gauge shows a rise in temperature in one of the thrusters. Apparently there’s a faulty bearing and sea trials will have to be cut short to make repairs.

While the bearing issue puts a dent in the sea trials it’s the perfect example of why they are necessary. As Vittorio Facco, technical director responsible for new building for V. Ships Leisure S.A.M., told me a complex system like thrusters cannot be tested at the yard — the vessel must be at sea to check performance.

A few weeks after the initial September sea trials and the thruster bearing being replaced, Silver Spirit set out to sea again to complete the rest of its tests. “It exceeded our expectations,” said Sauleau. He told me during the third day of the sea trials, the ship experienced very rough seas with winds up to 40 knots (Force 7) with swells up to 14 feet. “In those conditions the ship was able to maintain a speed of 19.5 knots. It was very steady in the water with no vibration recorded at maximum speed and full power.”

As for the rest of the ship the outfitting of the interior is progressing very well and Silver Spirit is on schedule for its expected December 15 delivery date.

Celebrity Equinox has the perfect balance of style

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On August - 1 - 2009

Equinox is truly an appropriate name for Celebrity Cruises latest Solstice-class ship. Twice a year, the equinox marks a near-perfect balance between length of day and night across the planet, and the Celebrity Equinox offers cruise travelers an excellent balance of size, style, efficiency, and quality.

Here comes the sun

equinoxsmCarrying 2,850-passengers, the 122,000-ton Equinox is the second in a series of five “Solstice-class” ships. The vessel offers all the seagoing firsts of the Celebrity Solstice: a half-acre Lawn Club with real grass and full-time groundskeeper and the Hot Glass Show presented in collaboration with The Corning Museum of Glass.

Other favorite features are here, too, including AquaClass spa rooms, 10 restaurants (including a creperie and Asian fusion venue); a beautiful spa and large gym with expansive sea views; whispy resort-like pool spaces including one in a solarium; a vast variety of lounges and bars and wonderful nooks and crannies to relax in. As great as these amenities are it is ship’s style and design that received big raves during its debut in Southampton, UK this week

equinoxpoolsm The interior design of the Solstice-class ships is a world apart from the retro-style favored by the majority of cruise lines – there’s nothing out there nearly as stylish. Those familiar with Solstice will find Equinox an almost identical vessel, albeit with some minor cosmetic changes. Changes onboard Equinox includes more color in the mostly white Silhouette Dining Room, other décor changes include in the Silk Harvest restaurant, Martini Bar, and Equinox Theater, which launched new shows. The Sun Deck has been enlarged and can accommodate 100 more deck chairs. Additionally, minor tweaks have been made to staterooms — safes have been relocated from closets to cabinets to allow for slightly more hanging space.

equinoxsilhouettesmEquinox showcases a large number of modern works of art, over 500 pieces including several by Roy Lichtenstein. Interestingly a number of art pieces come from the lauded collection that graced the former Celebrity Galaxy. Still, there is one very unique piece that gets more attention than the rest and is a combination of bead and living art. Hanging from the 12-deck atrium is a ficus tree in a sparkling beaded pot that was created by a team of American bead artists. Underneath the pot, attached to the atrium walls is more bead art with the words “Here comes the sun.”

Intrigue and delight
Equinox features 1,426 staterooms, 85 percent of which include a veranda. Each stateroom is equipped with flat-screen TVs with an amazing on demand audio/visual system includes a library of over 5,000 songs, storage and closet space, spacious bathrooms and plush European bedding. The ship offers wireless Internet access throughout.

The popular AquaClass staterooms — 130 in all — designed to offer a soothing, spa-focused ambiance. Located in close proximity to the ship’s two-story “AquaSpa by Elemis,” AquaClass guests will enjoy unlimited access to the spa’s Persian Garden aromatherapy steam room, featuring heated ceramic loungers and the Relaxation Room, which offers panoramic vistas from comfortable lounge chairs. AquaClass guests also enjoy unlimited, complimentary access to the ship’s exclusive, Mediterranean-influenced specialty restaurant, Blu.

equinoxshowsmCelebrity may have topped itself with the introduction aboard Equinox of a “24-Karat Gold Facial.’’ The treatment uses an alchemy of expert touch, medicinal plants, Rose Quartz and a pure 24-karat gold leaf mask to speed up cell renewal. Guests who experience it will also be able to enjoy a special cocktail inspired by the treatment itself. The “Golden Kiss Martini” features Golden Supreme vodka, cucumber juice, agave syrup and lemon juice, muddled with fresh mint.

With the launch of the new ship, Celebrity started “Celebrity Life,” a series of enrichment programs that encompasses three distinct program categories: “Savor,” “Discover,” and “Renew.” Programs include learning a new language with Rosetta Stone to courses that teach guests to use their iPod through Celebrity’s “digITal” series. – there is literally something to interest everyone on board. The program will be rolled out across the fleet by November.

Like Solstice, Equinox is going green by utilizing 216 solar panels throughout the ship. The energy collected then becomes part of the ship’s power grid — enough to operate 7,000 of the vessel’s 25,000 energy efficient LED lights.

If you go:
Celebrity Equinox begins its inaugural season with a cruise to the Norwegian Fjords on July 31 out of Southampton. Other departures from Southampton include a 10-night “Best of Europe” itinerary to Rome. Then ship will then sail a series of 13-and14-night “Ancient Empires” cruises through October, featuring two new ports of call: Haifa and Ashdod, Israel. These voyages also include an overnight stay in Alexandria, Egypt. Fares for 13- and 14-night cruises begin at $2,099 per person. On November 5, the ship will sail a transatlantic voyage to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where it will begin a series of alternating 10- and 11-night “Ultimate Caribbean” voyages through April 2010. Prices begin at $1,199 per person. All aforementioned prices are based on inside staterooms, double occupancy. Visit Celebrity Cruises Web site for more details.