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Norwegian On The Move Worldwide

We could be wrong about this but we detect the heavy hand of Frank Del Rio in Norwegian’s latest news bulletin.

And that’s good.

For the first time in 13 years, Norwegian is sending a ship to Asia and Australia. For the first time ever, Norwegian is sending a ship to the Persian Gulf and India. For the first time since any of us can remember, Norwegian is going to base a ship in South America for two consecutive winters (having taken the Norwegian Sun to South America a few years ago — on what will always be near the top of our favorite cruises — this item really got our attention).

And finally, for the first time since…April, the Norwegian Epic is returning to North America.

All of this is going to start happening next year, and it smacks of the ambitious and gregarious CEO of Norwegian Holdings, Frank Del Rio, who has been on the job just seven months, and his Norwegian lieutenant, Andy Stuart.

That Norwegian would find its way to Asia was inevitable, because there isn’t going to be a major cruise line without a presence there. That its new itineraries would spread to Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and India demonstrates the intent the cruise line has to be a player in those markets.

By ships, here is how it shakes down for the fall and winter of 2016-17…

Norwegian Star will launch its program from Istanbul on October 31, 2016 on a 20-day cruise through the Mediterranean to the Suez Canal and eventually Dubai. After that, its ports on a variety of cruises will include Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Bali, Mumbai and Abu Dhabi.

Norwegian Epic will summer in Europe and winter in the Caribbean, from Miami, an about-face for a ship that was going to sail year-round from Barcelona. The first of its 3-4-and-7-day cruises will be in the fall of 2016.

Norwegian Spirit will replace the Epic in Europe for year-round Mediterranean cruises from Barcelona, Venice and Istanbul.

Norwegian Sun (ah, memories) will continue to be the workhorse in South America, where in the winter of 2015-16 it will be on cruises of two weeks or longer.

Norwegian Jewel will make two trips each way through the Panama Canal in October 2016 and April 2017.

Norwegian Jade will be home-ported in Tampa, for Caribbean winter cruises, likely returning to Europe in the summer.

By the time all this falls into place, the Norwegian Escape will be here (it hits the water October 25 and crosses the ocean four days later. With the return of the Epic, that means Norwegian’s four biggest ships of its 14-member fleet — Epic, Escape, Breakaway and Getaway — will all be spending their winters in Caribbean waters.

So for as much talk as there is about cruise lines and their expansion to Asia and Australia, the core of this business is still Caribbean cruises.

In the news…

• Carnival, Dr. Seuss host two celebrity book-reading events
• America Cruise Lines doubles capacity on Snake, Columbia Rivers

Today at portsandbows.com: Chef Curtis Stone on Princess fleet

Ruby Princess
3 nights
September 14, 2015
Vancouver, Los Angeles
Inside: $99
Cost per day: $33
www.princess.com

Alaska Wildfire Cautions Cruisers

Alaska fires

ANCHORAGE — If there’s one thing Alaska has learned to deal with, it’s uncertainty. Day One of an 11-day experience for us — like many cruisers, four on land and seven on the Star Princess as part of a Princess Cruisetour — was waiting with just such an introduction.

On the eve of the height of the cruise season, the smoke signals spewing from 80 miles north were from the Hotel Captain Cook. They delivered a potentially ominous message to everyone with land excursions before or after Alaska cruises:

Wildfires and highway closures.

That’s highway, singular, because here in The Last Frontier, there is only one that connects north and south, the George Parks Highway. Smoke from the Sockeye Fire, now spread over more than 6,500 acres, has closed the road intermittently. This could leave cruisers wondering if they’ll complete their land excursions if they’re going north, or get to their cruise ship on time if they’re heading south.

Late yesterday, the traffic light was still green. There is reason for optimism…buses and trains were getting through but, like almost everything in Alaska, Mother Nature is in charge. This week, in fact this spring, she has been full of surprises. 

A worker at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport put it this way: “It’s too hot for us Alaskans. Yesterday we broke an all-time record for June 15.” 

The temperature, as he spoke…78 degrees.

In the news…

• Carnival sends Breeze to Galveston, Magic to Port Canaveral
• Costa Fascinosa to join in South America for 2015-16 season

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Grand Princess
7 nights
August 8, 2015
Anchorage, Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay, Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, Vancouver
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71
www.princess.com

Wait-And-See Time If Your Cruise Includes Russia

Was it just a few weeks ago that the world was watching Russia because that's where the Winter Olympics were? Is that short a time all it takes for the world to be watching Russia for wintry reasons far more serious…wintry, as in Cold War?

The world includes people who go on cruises because, since safety trumps everything when you're a tourist, there are trips to Russia on the line this year. Compared to what's happening in the Ukraine, this is incidental. Collateral damage, as it were. Yet it's a disruption for people with upcoming cruises booked in and around the Black Sea.

At least seven cruise lines have ships scheduled to visit Sevastopol this year. That's in Crimea. That's where the Russian Navy has blocked the harbor.

Odessa is a Black Sea port on many cruise-ship itineraries, and some river-cruise itineraries. It's in the Ukraine, but not in a potentially volatile part of it…for now.

It's not just safety that could sour plans. If travel visas are banned, it affects every St. P-Philipp Hienstorfer copycruise that touches the Russian shoreline, no matter how far it is from the troubled Crimea region…such as St. Petersburg (above), which both ocean and river ships frequent.

So far, nothing has been canceled or re-scheduled, but the start of the cruise season is just weeks away.

Cruise lines are watching. So is the rest of the world.

This time, it goes far beyond Sochi. This time, there are no gold medals.

Carnival Sensation
4 nights
April 20, 2014
Port Canaveral (return): FreeportNassau
Inside: $289
Cost per day: $72
www.carnival.com

Is Europe Ready To Be A Short-Cruise Market?

Now here's a real test for whether the cruise public is interested in short cruises. You know, the 3-night and 4-night kind that cruise lines are test-marketing these days. Call in sick Friday, take Monday off and…boom, a 4-night cruise is yours.

The "real test" comes next spring in England, with Royal Caribbean's new (2015) Anthem of the Seas. The cruise line is billing it as a get-to-know-us strategy for Quantum Classpeople who are new to cruising or people who hate (yes, they do exist) the prospect of cruising, in the hope they'll change their minds.

It has been floated out by Princess and Carnival, to name two cruise lines, in North America. However, North America is a different animal than Europe, if you haven't noticed. In North America, people in the workforce get long weekends.

In Europe, they get long holidays. Have you ever seen a European country in August, when it appears to be asleep, or at least taking a nap?

So if 3-and-4-night cruises on Anthem of the Seas work in a climate where 3-and-4-night holidays aren't the norm, Royal Caribbean will adjust its European itineraries accordingly. For now, they're being called "taster cruises" and there are only five of them on Anthem. In six months. When there are also three 1-week cruises, three 2-week cruises, one of 10 nights, one of 12, three of 13 and one 16 nights long.

Maybe it's not a market test after all. Maybe it's just filling out the schedule before Anthem of the Seas sails west to America.

Pacific Princess
10 nights
April 1, 2014 
Papeete (return): HuahineRangiroaRaiateaBora BoraMoorea
Inside: $999
Cost per day: $99
www.princess.com

Rhapsody of the Seas…is this music to its ears?

You have to wonder what Rhapsody of the Seas thinks about this: In 2015, Royal Caribbean is sending it to Turkey instead of Alaska. Did anybody ask the ship how it feels about sacrificing a summer in The Inside Passage for a summer in Istanbul?

Rhapsody of the Seas in AlaskaFurthermore….

Two lengthy cruises that were scheduled before it even reached Alaska have been changed. In April 2015, Rhapsody was scheduled to sail for 16 days from Australia to Hawaii. Not any more. Following that, it was slated to leave Honolulu on a 13-night trip to Vancouver. That's past tense…was.

How would you if somebody told you that you'd be spending a month in the (South) Pacific, and then you wouldn't?

Admittedly, leaving Sydney for Singapore on a 16-nighter isn't a bad alternative, and following it up by coupling a two-week cruise to Dubai and a 15-night sailing to Istanbul is, well, interesting or even fascinating. But skipping Hawaii is like skipping Christmas.

Rhapsody has been around for 16 years, so she's probably seen it all. There are no surprises. She's even been tucked and tweaked a couple of times (in Hollywood they're called facelifts), most recently the year before last at a cost of $16 million. 

The change in plans also affects passengers booked on Rhapsody, but Royal Caribbean is giving them a full refund or a South Pacific cruise on another ship, Radiance of the Seas.

That's probably small consolation to Rhapsody. Taking Hawaii and Alaska away from her is kind of…un-Rhapsody-like.

And without even asking.

Holland America Zuiderdam
11 nights
December 9, 2013
Fort Lauderdale (return): Half Moon CayArubaCuracaoCartagenaPanama CanalColonPuerto Limon
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $49
www.hollandamerica.com

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