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Good as Gold for The Little Cruise Line That Can

It's still more than a month to the Olympics but there's already an underdog with a gold medal…in cruising.

Windstar.

Windstar? It's a small-ship cruise line, right? This big player in a small market is now a big fish in a big pond, as in the ocean. According to Conde Nast Traveler, Windstarwhich every year produces its Gold List of travel for hotels, resorts and cruise lines…sort of like being a five-star ranking in the eyes of an acknowledged expert.

The category for cruising is called Ocean Cruises and seven lines made it for 2014. One of them is Windstar, a sailing fleet that the average cruiser would not think of as being "ocean" vessels. In fact, the only heavyweight in this year's class is Disney…the other five are Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, SeaDream and Silversea.

Clearly, the trending is to smaller ships — at least in awards — with first-class service. In service, Windstar scored 97.3, slightly better than its itineraries (96.7) and food (94.7). Its overall rating for seven categories was 92.0.

Crystal (94.4) was at the head of the class with an overall score of 94.4. Second was Seabourn at 92.6 and Windstar was third.

In Sochi, Russia next month they'll call third place a "bronze" medal. At Windstar, it's gold.

Ruby Princess
9 nights
March 1, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Grand CaymanCozumel, Fort Lauderdale, Grand Turk
Inside: $605
Cost per day: $67
www.princess.com

Carnival Latest: What's In A Name?

Give Carnival at least a "B" for imagination in announcing that its newest ship, due in 2016, will be called Vista. That makes Carnival first to the Vista well of names.

This is an age when cruise lines sometimes appear to be running out of names. Witness Norwegian, using contests to ask passengers for proposing names of its lasttwo (and probably next three) ships. Witness the Carnival Dream, Disney Dream, Pacific Dream and SeaDream, not to mention Carnival Liberty and Liberty of the Seas…and Norwegian Sun and Sun Princess.

Copycatting is acceptable.

Vista is new…more or less. Avalon has a river cruiser called Vista. Holland America has a Vista Class of ships but "dam" the word in this fleet because all the names end in "…dam" (Rotterdam, Westerdam, Zuiderdam, etc.).

Vistadam just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?

So Carnival comes up with the Vista, and that might be the extent of imagination with this 4,000-passenger newbie. Since it's the only ship Carnival has on order for the next three years, a Vista Class of ships is unlikely, at least for now, because apparently Carnival officials sounded confused when asked about which class of ship this would be. Other than the name, the best the cruise line could do in the Imagination Department was explain the name this way:

"We're starting to use the ship names as a touchstone for how we think about the design. A lot of what we are thinking about for the design and the inspiration is the views out to the ocean."

Views…as in vista.

The new ship will be like the Carnival Breeze, but different from the Breeze (above), and nobody at Carnival is saying what those similarities and differences might be. That's for another day.

And another press conference.

Carnival Freedom
6 nights
September 29, 2013
Fort Lauderdale (return): Key WestGrand CaymanOcho Rios
Inside: $294
Cost per day: $49
www.carnival.com

Ships and Yachts for Honeymooners

Our wedding was so long ago it was before The Love Boat, so any thought there was of honeymooning on a cruise ship wasn’t one even the rich and famous entertained. All these years later, it’s just another marketing tool for cruise lines to offer the budding bride and groom. And if they’re really clever, like the people at SeaDream Yacht Club and CruiseOne, they’ll even come up with the opportunity to have somebody else pay for your honeymoon.

At SeaDream, where “it’s yachting, not sailing,” there’s a contest for couples getting married this summer. Ones with creative friends and family need apply. They’re the ones who will promote the bride and groom, as in why they should be the contest winners and go on a week-long, five-star cruise (oops, yacht trip) in the Greek Islands. Friends and family can promote their favorite wedding couple via email, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and personal blogs. They’re calling it a $20,000 honeymoon but, at today’s price for a euro, they’re selling passage on the SeaDream I for that week at less than $4,000, so there must be some upgrades, like the honeymoon suite for starters.

There’s not much about it on SeaDream’s website, but all the details are at an affiliated honeymoon website.

It’s open to honeymooners from everywhere, as long as the “promotions” are in by the end of July. Winners will be announced in early August. The ship sails — or yachts — on September 11 from Dubrovnik, Croatia.

At CruiseOne, there’s a “honeymoon cruise registry.” That means all those people who bring nice gifts for the new husband and wife can, instead, contribute to your cruise fund.

You set up the registry, pick the cruise, and your guests make contributions in increments of $25, after they’ve visited the website to see where you’re going, as “their guests.”

It all seems pretty straightforward…and one of us thinks it sure beats shopping!

Incidentally, is there still a Love Boat?

That’s it, we’re done.

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