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Friday File: Favorite Cruise Ships

We’ve often been asked: “What’s your favorite cruise ship?” It’s a question often asked of anybody who cruises a lot by people who cruise a little, or less. Our answer, one we borrowed from the late John Maxtone-Graham, is always the same: “The one we’re on.” That’s pretty much how we feel. When you love cruising, you rarely go on a cruise that you don’t enjoy. At the risk of sounding like Pollyannas, to us cruises are just varying degrees of good. Having said that, over the last six years, these are the six cruise ships we enjoyed the most, for a variety of reasons…


Norwegian Epic: Critics always trash it, but in two cruises we’ve found the complaints mostly trivial.


Allure of the Seas: It’s hard to believe anybody who is objective could find fault with this ship-that-has-it-all.


Coral Princess: In our world, she’s the queen of Alaska, with a feel we call “comfortable in every way.”


Costa Diadema: When you like all things Italian, as we do, you like the flagship of Italy’s main cruise line.


Celebrity Eclipse: When you spend six days at sea, you either love or hate a ship — we loved the Eclipse.


Norwegian Sun: This has everything to do with our longest cruise, 19 days, on a ship that became “home.”

In the news…

• Carrie Underwood joins Carnival Live!  in November to raise funds for vets
• Upcoming SS United States Conservancy announcement to save the ship
• Fog in Tampa once again causes chaos for Carnival Paradise, AidaVita

Today at portsandbows.com: What’s next for Princess Cruises

Carnival Fantasy
4 nights
April 25, 2016
Miami (return): Key West, Cozumel
Inside: $239
Cost per day: $59

New ship No. 9 — Genting Dream

Ninth in a series of new ships for 2016

Don’t stop the presses for this new ship, because it may or may not arrive when announced. The ship — Genting Dream — is the first of two ships for a new cruise line, Dream Cruises, which is owned by Genting Hong Kong, which also owns Crystal Cruises, Star Cruises and 28 per cent of Norwegian, which owns Oceania and Regent Seven Seas. Translation: It’s big. It’s also big because a ship of this size — somewhere north of 3,400 passengers — is competition for all the mainstream lines that are hustling ships off to Asia.

Launch date: Late Autumn

Capacity: 3,400

Sister ships: Unnamed, to come in 2017

Maiden voyage: Unknown

Home port: Asia

Ships then in Dream Cruises fleet: 1

Interesting: The most recent information from Star Cruises (that’s the Star Pisces in picture) is that this first ship for Dream Cruises will have the highest crew-to-guest ratio (2,000-to-3,400) of any Asia Pacific ship. What’s more intriguing is that it will have two submersibles to take passengers 20,000 leagues under the sea…okay, on an underwater adventure “to discover the treasures of the ocean,” four passengers at a time. The ship will also serve as a bridge, between Genting’s luxury brand (Crystal) and its mass-market brand (Star), a category that the parent company calls “premium.” The Genting Dream and the sister ship that’s expected to follow late next year are being positioned as “mega ships” and there are reports the second one will carry 4,500 passengers. But don’t take that to the bank!

In the news…

• Holland America Koningsdam to feature micro greens grown onboard
• Fathom adds four new voluntourism activities in Dominican Republic
• Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection ramps up push for the family market

Today at portsandbows.comHarvest Caye opening delayed nine months

Carnival Fantasy
4 nights
May 9, 2016
Miami (return): Key West, Cozumel
Inside: $249
Cost per day: $62

The Carnival Grinch’s Kind of Christmas

On the 12th day before Christmas, it became official: The Grinch didn’t steal Christmas after all. He brought it early.

If this doesn’t touch you, well, maybe nothing will…

The Grinch is a Dr. Seuss character who, according to legend and a book of the same name, stole Christmas. Dr. Seuss, now a corporation and not an author, has authorized the use of Seuss characters on Carnival cruise ships for more than a year.  During the weekend, The Grinch showed up at facilities where sick kids live in Baltimore and Charleston to bring smiles to little faces that need all the smiles they can get.

Why Baltimore and Charleston? Because the Carnival Pride homeports in Baltimore, and the Fantasy in Charleston.

At both Medical University of South Carolina Children’s Hospital in Charleston and Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore, The Grinch and his entourage – which included crew members from both ships — put on shows with happy endings to celebrate the coming of Christmas. Among the memories for the kids was a Seuss-theme gift bag, accompanied by list of “good deed suggestions to allow them to, just like The Grinch, grow their heart ‘three times its size.’”

It’s one of the perks of having a Carnival ship live in your city…a perk that can never be measured by how much it means to the economy.

CA-GrinchIn the news…

• Windstar first cruise line to visit Montserrat since volcano buried capital oil 1995
• Arsenal of ‘water toys’ for passengers for Crystal Esprit’s maiden voyage next week
• MSC Musica makes maiden call at its new homeport of Abu Dhabi in the UAE

Today at portsandbows.com: So what about those river-ship balconies?

Celebrity Constellation
5 nights
January 18, 2016
Fort Lauderdale (return): Cozumel, Key West
Inside: $351
Cost per day: $70

Cruising: It’s All About The Food

Chef Curtis StoneFor some of us, there’s an old (and probably outdated) saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach…i.e., good cooks get good husbands. The subjects may have changed but the principle has not.

Good cooking gets many cruisers.

As the year winds down, there are two more examples to validate that thinking.

1) Princess Cruises has been hyping the fact that Chef Curtis Stone has opened his own restaurant (SHARE) on select ships, such as the Ruby Princess and Emerald Princess, with more likely to follow. The “headlines” are “Chef Curtis Stone invites you…” and “Chef Curtis Stone shares his love with this special ingredient…”  and “A favorite family recipe from Chef Curtis Stone…”

2) The new Godmother of the Oceania Sirena — next year — will be Claudine Pepin, who has the right surname to be in the kitchen creating cuisines-des-spectacles. She is, of course, the daughter of the famous Jacques Pepin, who is Oceania’s master chef and The Pepinswhose restaurant is named after him and on two ships, the Riviera and the Marina.

See, it’s all about the food.

While we wouldn’t know Curtis Stone from Oliver Stone (we would know him from Sharon), it’s clear this Aussie “Celebrity Apprentice” grad has many followers and many exquisite recipes. He also has a restaurant in Beverly Hills called Maude, which means that a lot of the beautiful people enjoy his menus. And now a lot of cruisers will, too.

Claudine Pepin, also apparently, has some healthy credentials to go with her healthy food. Her Dad, who turns 80 before Christmas, made it big with Julia Child at his side on PBS and now Claudine’s stepping up in class with him at her side. She also had a PBS show — Cooking With Claudine — and this year has her first cookbook on the shelves for Christmas, Kids Cook French.

As generations of cooking go, both she and Curtis Stone represent a passing of the torch.

Or at least the spatula.

In the news…

• MSC Cruises offers 2-for-1 Caribbean fares for balcony guests starting April 23
• Flash from the past: Verandah Restaurant to open in June on Queen Mary 2
• Two sets of tourism students spend a day on Norwegian Epic in Cannes

Today at portsandbows.comSuite time with Celebrity

Carnival Fantasy
5 nights
January 27, 2016
Charleston (return): Nassau, Freeport
Inside: $409
Cost per day: $81

Friday File: Beaches With A Difference

So many places visited by cruise ships have beaches, or beaches nearby, because — let’s face it — everybody’s thinking about finding somewhere warm with the coming months of winter. But beaches are more than just silk sand and warm water, as you will see from a few that we’ve discovered from cruising…

St. Maarten

Perhaps the only beach in the world where you get this close to an airplane in flight, and a regular tourist attraction when cruisers visit Philipsburg, St. Martin​.


This beach is often empty, like this, but 70 years ago on the northern coast of France Juno Beach was populated with thousands of soldiers in World War II.


When Carnival sends its Fantasy to sail out of Mobile next year, one of its three ports of call will be a pretty place called Progeso on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Grand Turk

At Grand Turk, there’s an uncommon shady spot close to the water for cruisers who like going to the beach without being obsessed with getting a suntan..


Cruisers going to Alaska from Vancouver, like the ones this Holland America ship, always pass Ambleside Beach after crossing under the Lions Gate Bridge.

Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen heads the growing popularity of Riviera Maya's beach properties on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, a short ferry ride from Cozumel.

In the news…

• Cunard offering free balcony upgrade on Transatlantic crossings starting October 29
• P&O's first alcholic beverage package on Pacific Pearl may extend to fleet of five ships

Today at portsandbows.com: The return of Carnival to Mobile, Alabama

Caribbean Princess
7 nights
January 17, 2016
Houston (return): Cozumel, Roatan, Belize
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

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