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New ship No. 7 — Seven Seas Explorer

Seventh in a series of new ships for 2016

A year and a half ago, Regent Seven Seas became the luxury wing of Norwegian Cruise Holdings, which owns two other cruise lines, Norwegian and Oceania. The Explorer will become Regent’s poster child for luxury, according to parent CEO Frank Del Rio, who said the Explorer will be “the most luxurious cruise ship ever built, boasting one of the highest space ratios and staff-to-guest ratios ever seen in the modern era of cruising.”

Launch date: July 20

Capacity: 738

Sister ships: None

Maiden voyage: Monte Carlo to Venice (14 nights)

Home port: None

Ships then in Regent Seven Seas fleet: 4

Interesting: The Explorer, physically, is about 15 per cent bigger than the fleet’s largest ship, the Seven Seas Mariner, which years ago became the first all-balcony, all-suite cruise ship in the world. However, Explorer will carry only 38 more passengers (738) and will display luxury at every turn: exotic stones and polished woods in its design, six gourmet restaurants, a Culinary Arts Kitchen that mirrors world-renowned French cooking schools, and wine-and-food Gourmet Explorer Tours in the south of France that can run as high as $799 per person. For most rank-and-file cruisers, it’s too affluent unless they win Powerball tomorrow night.

In the news…

• Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian 1-2-3 in passenger capacity for 2016
• MSC Opera to cruise from Havana, Cuba year-round beginning next year
• Two consecutive years of processing a million passengers for New Orleans

Today at portsandbows.com: Cruise advertising slogans


Crown Princess
7 nights
February 27, 2016
San Francisco (return): Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas
Inside: $509
Cost per day: $72
www.princess.com

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Chef Curtis StoneFor some of us, there’s an old (and probably outdated) saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach…i.e., good cooks get good husbands.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
www.carnival.com

The New Ways Of Norwegian

 Two couples who are good friends of ours were both on Norwegian ships in the last couple of months. The experiences met with mixed reviews, for both, although we have to say that’s never been the case for any of our Norwegian cruises…and the most memorable of them lasted 19 days!

Well, times are changing at Norwegian.

Tom Stieghorst, who’s on top of everything that happens in cruise central (aka, South Florida) for Travel Weekly, authored an interesting article about the cruise line Norwegian is becoming under new CEO Frank Del Rio and President Andy Stuart. If you’ve been on a GetawayNorwegian ship, you’ll be interested in knowing that the freestyle is being scaled back from Freestyle Cruising and that you’ll no longer be encouraged to Cruise Like A Norwegian.

The slogan seemed appropriate until Del Rio rationalized it this way:

“When you tell a German that he has to cruise like a Norwegian, he says, ‘What are you talking about?’”

So Norwegian’s likely to become more global, as it continues to explore venturing where cruise lines are all going, China. It’s also likely to change its marketing approach (one recent hiring was a door-to-door, high-end vacuum salesperson) by introducing more valued-added components and fewer discount prices…for example, combining air fares as Del Rio did with Oceania and Regent Seven Seas, cruise lines where he formerly presided as the head honcho.

As much as we were thrilled about Freestyle Cruising, perhaps it has run its course. At the time Norwegian introduced it to the industry, it was a welcome change from the staid, fixed-seating, four-or-more-to-a-table style of dining that many of us found unappealing. Today, in no small part because of Norwegian’s innovation, almost every cruise line has an abundance of dining options and life on every ship is less structured.

Or more “freestyle.”

Del Rio also wants to make the “guest experience” on board more complete. Among other things, that could mean enhancements to include enrichment programs on the ships, with the kind of experiences and guest speakers Del Rio is familiar with from his Oceania and Regent  past.

For at least half our friends who just cruised on Norwegian, that would be most welcome…and might even bring them back.

In the news…

• P&O Adonia to become first voluntourism ship for 'fathom' cruise line
• Royal Caribbean returns cover charge to Jamie Oliver's (CruiseCritic)
• Death toll over 400 from capsized Chinese ship on Yangtze River

Today at portsandbows.com: Azamara's major re-furbishments

Norwegian Getaway
7 nights
September 19, 2015
Miami (return): St. Thomas, Tortola, Nassau
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78
www.ncl.com

Why Upscale Cruise Deals Are Rare

You may have noticed in our Daily Deals — five days a week, 52 weeks a year — that bargains on "upper premium" cruise lines appear only rarely. There’s a reason for that: The “deals” are often…well, confusing.

An example is one we just received from Oceania.

What caught our eyes was Free 3-night Winelands & Wildlife Safari Land Tour on 6 Voyages promotion. That led us to randomly choose one of the six voyages, a 30-day trip on the Oceania Nautica from Dubai to Cape Town, South Africa, and dig deeper into some of the details:

• 2 for 1 cruise fares — Oceania does a lot of this and the problem is that it’s based on a “brochure fare.” On this one, the promotional fare is $9,999 for an inside stateroom, compared to a brochure fare of $26,398. That’s per person. Really? Somebody would consider paying almost $1,000 a day, per person, on the Nautica?

• Free Airfare* — The asterisk (*) is for the gateway cities where your coach air fare applies, and that transportation to say, Atlanta, is extra. Fair enough. By the way, ground transportation is not included.

• $500 shipboard credit — Okay.

• Free pre-paid gratuities & Internet — That’s pretty straightforward, until you read the fine print, where it says “Free Internet is one per stateroom and applies to Concierge Level Staterooms.”

• Free safari land tour — Also straightforward, except that it is “capacity controlled, limited availability.”

So, here’s the bottom line: Your cruise fare is half the “rack rate” and your air fare is paid from major airports; on the ship you get $500 credit per stateroom, the Internet is free if you book a concierge room ($13,299) or higher, and you get a free African safari for three days as long as it’s not overbooked by people looking for the same freebie.

Confusing?

We thought so, too.

Today at portsandbows.com: Beautiful Budapest at night

Celebrity Millennium
7 nights
June 12, 2015
Anchorage, Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait Point, Ketchikan, Inside Passage, Vancouver
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78
www.celebritycruises.com

Cruising to Cuba: It’s Personal

The day we met Frank Del Rio, he was the founder of Oceania Cruises. Three years later, he is the head of the Norwegian cruise conglomerate. And any day or week or month now, he is poised to take a cruise ship to Cuba.

It’s inevitable that mainstream cruise ships will be taking passengers to the one remaining Caribbean island none of them is allowed to visit. It’s just a matter of when.

Nobody is more anxious than Frank Del Rio.

Frank Del RioWe knew he lived in Miami and his surname should have been a giveaway, but it didn’t occur to us that the Del Rios were Cubans. Not only that, Frank Del Rio escaped to Miami with his parents — as so many Cuban expatriates did — and has lived in South Florida ever since.

It goes without saying that cruising to Cuba, once the embargoes are lifted, is important to Del Rio. Judging from that desire plus his personality, it’s safe to assume that he also wants to be FIRST.

“My unfulfilled dream is to be on the bridge of one of my ships coming into Havana harbor,” he told CBS station WFOR-TV.

First, of course.

Despite all his preparation — proposed itineraries, multiple ports to visit, making it possible to change a ship’s schedule  on short notice — there are still some issues. From all reports, Cuba is not ready for big cruise ships. The infrastructure probably isn’t there yet for the volume of ships and passengers, from port facilities to the ability to process and protect passengers to the on-island transportation needs.

One legal mind is already cautioning the cruise industry to take it slow and easy. Those two characteristics would never apply to Frank Del Rio, who says he’ll be ready “at the drop of a hat.” He has more reason to be passionate about it than his competition.

The race is soon to be on.

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Norwegian Star
11 nights
April 27, 2015
Miami, Ponta Delgada, London
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $36
www.ncl.com

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