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Princess Lands ‘The Voice of the Ocean’

On September 21, The Voice returns to NBC for Season 9. On October 3, The Voice of the Ocean goes on Princess Cruises for Season 1.

The competition on Princess ships is the same concept as in the TV studio. Blind auditions followed by coaching. Performances behind the three rotating chairs occupied by the “coaches.” For any number of reasons, starting with logistics, the chairs won’t be occupied by Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Pharrell Williams or Gwen Stefani.

Because Voice of the Ocean will be on 11 ships and 24 cruises between October and next  May, those coaches will be “charismatic” people who might also be guest performers on the ships, or hotel managers or even captains.

The contestants?

That’s you!

Passengers with talent will be invited to auditions. With mentors by their sides, they’ll be polished and accompanied by back-up singers and musicians. The coaches will pick their The Voice-2teams, just like they do on TV, and on the last night of the cruise members of the audience will vote with remotes to determine who wins The Voice of the Ocean Trophy.

The first show will be on the Regal Princess when it departs from New York. That will be followed by The Voice of the Ocean performances on the Royal, Caribbean, Emerald, Ruby, Golden, Island, Coral, Crown, Grand and Star Princesses with the final departure from Vancouver to Alaska on May 14.

The inaugural cruise, on the Regal, will sail up the coast and into Canada and back during the autumn colors. The cruise is from New York, return. 

Hey, if the winners are good enough, they can go straight to Broadway!

In the news…

AmaWaterways christens AmaSerena on banks of the Danube
• Viking Star: one cruise cancelled, one delayed by mechanical repair
• Low water on European rivers still haunting ships and cruisers

Today at portsandbows.com: More big money people in cruising

Carnival Ecstasy
3 nights
September 18, 2015
Miami (return): Nassau
Inside: $189
Cost per day: $63
www.carnival.com

Panama Canal Delay Not Bad For Everybody

In the midst of a long drive this week, the subject of cruises came up, as it does every…oh, few hours. Specifically, we were thinking about the Panama Canal, because we've only done it once and that was four years ago, which means it's time to see it again.

What we discovered is that prices seem to be generally high and availability generally low for Panama Canal cruises, two things that generally go hand-in-hand.

For example, if you want to go east-west from Florida, the Island Princess is leaving Fort Lauderdale for Los Angeles at the start of the month with the price of an inside stateroom $1,599 (15 days) and an ocean view stateroom for $1,899. Balconies and and suites? Sold out.

If you want to go west-east from San Diego, Royal Caribbean can take you to Fort Lauderdale on the Legend of the Seas on a 15-day journey but you can't get an Canalinside, ocean view or suite because none is available. Only balconies are, at $3,819.

And if you want to make a month of it and cross the ocean at the same time, Cunard has a cruise from San Francisco to Southampton…or had a cruise. At $4,690 for an inside stateroom, the Queen Victoria is completely sold out.

Guess why Panama Canal cruises are more popular than ever?

Because this is the year the Canal was supposed to celebrate its 100th anniversary — next month — by opening the new locks. For one reason or another, or perhaps for many reasons, the renovation to accompany the celebration is delayed. Expansion of the Canal, to accommodate larger ships, is behind schedule.

People who wanted to see the "new" Panama Canal would have booked cruises many months ago. They committed, thinking they would be traversing the bigger, better link between the Atlantic and Pacific.

They're out of luck.

So people will be booking to do the same thing next year, assuming the construction will be completed by then. The prices, presumably, will stay high.

All of which means cruise lines with ships going through the Canal will be getting a chance for two years in a row to charge premium fares if you want to be among the first to see this engineering marvel's new look.

Today at portsandbows.com: Breaking cruise records in Avignon, France

Celebrity Century
7 nights
April 26, 2014
Los Angeles (return): Santa BarbaraSan FranciscoMontereyCatalina IslandEnsenada
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78
www.celebritycruises.com

In Case You're Looking For An Escape…

The pictures below are called a sneak preview. They're also called a way for cruise lines — namely, Norwegian — to get a little attention about new ships that nobody has yet seen.

Except for an artistic rendering of the ship's exterior, Norwegian's Escape is being developed in secret. The following pictures — also renderings, actually — give you a look at what staterooms on the line's first Breakaway Plus ship will look like when it arrives in October 2015.

Studio: There are 82 of these, up from 59 on the Breakaway, not as many as the Epic's 128.

Studio

Inside: 407 of them, with lower beds that convert to a queen (connecting staterooms are available for families).

Inside

Oceanview: The interesting thing here is of the 114 Oceanviews, 48 can accommodate up to five people.

Oceanview

Balconies: All 1,168 include lower beds that convert to a Queen and can accommodate two more passengers.

Balcony

Mini-Suites: The lowers convert to a King, to go with the other king, and a bathtub is among other indulgences.

Mini-Suite

Spa Mini-Suites: Include exclusive access to the spa and fitness center…and a pretty decor, and there are 20.

Spa Suite

The Haven: The variety of 95 suites for the rich and famous, or at least the rich, represent luxury at sea the Norwegian way.

Haven

If you already "cruise like a Norwegian" you'll be anxious to see the Escape in the flesh, so to speak.

Island Princess
7 nights
May 21, 2014 
VancouverKetchikanJuneauSkagwayGlacier Bay, College Fjord, Anchorage
Inside: $648
Cost per day: $92
www.princess.com

An alternative to Hawaii, there's always an Alaska cruise — even for 11-year-old

You have a grandson. He goes on vacation with you pretty much every year, usually to Hawaii. But Hawaii has had some shark attacks in recent months, which makes you uneasy, so you're thinking a change of pace might be good. Also scenery. Ah, Alaska. Sharks have been known to go there, too, but people don't go in the water as much as they do in Hawaii and, besides, you're thinking of watching them from the deck of a cruise ship. Dilemma: How do you know an 11-year-old will enjoy the cruise ship, never mind Alaska.

The preceding came to us as a query, from a travel agent who is a close friend. She asked what we thought.

It wasn't something we'd given much thought to, but if we were taking an 11-year-old on an Alaska cruise, this is probably what we'd do:

We'd tell him we were going to make it a Disney cruise, because Disney Disney-Alaska-1 copyappeals to all kids…even the ones who have grandchildren.

We'd tell him sure Disney has "clubs" that were age-specific, as many cruise lines do, in case he was concerned about getting stuck with someone who might be mistaken for being his little brother. Or, worse yet, little sister.

We'd tell him to soak up the scenery from the ship because, as boring as that might seem in principle, he can never be sure when or if he'd ever see glaciers calve again. Yes, we'd also tell him what calving means, and that it has nothing to do with a cow.

We'd tell him Alaska is one of those places everybody should see, at least once, because for people from big cities it feels like turning back the clock to another time, a time when all transportation wasn't motorized, when the buffaloes and assorted animal friends could indeed roam and when fresh air was really fresh.

We'd tell him there would be much to do. He'd be able to fish, to ride down exciting (rough) rivers on tubes or in tubs, and if his grandparents' pockets were deep enough to get in a helicopter or small plane that would land on a glacier up in the mountains, which are seemingly everywhere.

We'd tell him that just to make sure he encountered wildlife, we'd take him to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center because that's where they care for creatures like a three-legged reindeer or eagles that can't fly. He'd enjoy AWCC-brown bears copywatching the caribou fence with their antlers, and standing 10 feet from a grizzly. If nothing else, it would be a lesson about how this planet is not just for us.

We'd tell him that while he might not otherwise see wildlife up close, he might see it TOO close, so he should know how to behave if a bear or a moose was blocking his path because, yes, it happens.

We'd tell him there was much, much more to Alaska than snow, and that there could be that, too, even in months that elsewhere might be summery but that there is probably no other place where he could ride a sled pulled by dogs that run in the Iditarod, a race across the state in the snow and the cold.

We'd tell him that he will have as much fun as he wants to have, because there is no shortage of things to do in Alaska.

Or on a Disney cruise ship.

Island Princess
10 nights
December 10, 2013
Fort Lauderdale (return): Aruba, Cartagena,  Panama Canal, Colon,  Puerto Limon, Grand Cayman 
Inside: $705
Cost per day: $70
www.princess.com

Panama Canal's 100th season underway in advance of delayed centennial party

If you've never seen it, the first thing you should know about the Panama Canal is that it's not a canal. Not in the sense of a perfectly sculpted channel that cuts the Isthmus of Panama in two neat halves, through which large ships Panama Canal lockspass. It's more of a series of waterways — canals, yes, but also lakes and channels or rivers — with locks that raise and lower ships many feet en route to connecting two oceans, one of which is a mere eight inches higher than the other.

The Panama Canal is a marvel. It is a sight to behold. The reason it's a sight to behold today is that the Celebrity Millennium kicked off the Panama Canal cruise season a few days ago. It will be followed by about 200 more passenger ships in what is the Canal's centennial.

It turns 100 next August.

This was supposed to be a celebration marked by expansion. The expansion began more than six years and $5 billion ago and, like many constructions, it's a little behind. The latest estimate is that the new components of the Canal will be operational by sometime in 2015.

Subject to change, of course.

SS Ceylon Maru, 1920The Millennium is a Panamax ship, which every ship was 90 or 100 years ago (see SS Ceylon Maru in 1920). That means it fits. When the expansion is complete, cruise ships (also tankers and cargo ships) that currently don't fit will fit. According to the figures we've seen, there isn't one cruise ship in the world that's too long, but five of them are too wide (all from Royal Caribbean: Oasis, Allure, Freedom, Liberty, Independence), and a bunch more are going to find things cozy in the locks.

Depending on traffic (sounds like rush hour doesn't it?), cruising from Pacific to Atlantic, or vice-versa, takes about 14 hours. There are locks at both ends and a lake on top (Gatun) and when you allow yourself to wonder how this was built a century ago, it's a jaw-dropping experience to see.

We've seen it once, and can't wait to get back.

Ironically, our crossing was on the Celebrity Millennium. A good name for a ship kicking off the Canal's 100th season, don't you think?

Island Princess
15 nights
November 14, 2013
Los Angeles, Puerto Quetzal, Puntarenas, Fuerte Amador, Panama Canal, Cartagena, ArubaFort Lauderdale
Inside: $1,309
Cost per day: $87
www.princess.com

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