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New ship No. 3 — Ovation of the Seas

Third in a series of new ships for 2016


Royal Caribbean’s newest class of ship is the Quantum Class and when Ovation of the Seas joins it, two-thirds of the ships will be based in Asia. Unless you go off to search for it to take a cruise cruise, the only place you’ll find out about it is in places like this. A month after its Southampton launch, Ovation of the Seas is off to Dubai, en route to its Asian home: Tianjin, China. It will briefly visit Australia and New Zealand at the end of the year and no cruises are posted online after its return to Asia (Singapore) in February.

Launch date: April 17

Capacity: 4,180

Sister ships: Quantum of the Seas (2014), Anthem of the Seas (2015)

Maiden voyage: Southampton return (5 days)

Home port: Tianjin, China

Ships then in Royal Caribbean fleet: 25

Interesting: Other than the fact that it has robots serving drinks, a flying pod to give people a 360-degree view of the sea (or whatever else happens to be in sight) and simulators for surfing and skydiving, it’s just like any other cruise ship. Not really. This is a clone of Quantum and Anthem of the Seas, and the differences will likely be hard to find. Like them it also has the Two70-degree lounge/entertainment center and the SeaPlex, where bumper cars, roller skates and basketball are the featured activities. Unlike them, it has virtual balconies so everybody gets to see what’s happening outside whether they’re in the North Star or not. With 16 decks, 25 places to eat and a price tag close to a billion dollars, it’s still not even close to being the biggest ship in the world. That comes — here — on Friday.

In the news…

• Windstar’s damaged Star Pride now out of cruising until after April 9
• Royal Caribbean drops eat-healthy restaurant from Anthem of the Seas

Today at portsandbows.com: Emerald kicks off Wave Season with free are

Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas
6 nights
April 10, 2016
Fort Lauderdale (return): Grand Cayman, Falmouth, Labadee
Inside: $389
Cost per day: $64

Selfie Stick, Bans Both Growing

Selfie StickSometimes, the latest growing trends bring out the worst in people.

Enter the selfie stick.

On some of our recent cruises, we’ve noticed. How can you not? Especially when travelling, because if there’s ever a good reason to use a selfie stick — and we’re not certain there is — it’s when travelling. As an aside, we’re not sure it’s a totally bad idea because we have hundreds of pictures in exotic places where it appears one of us stayed home.

The selfie stick, as surely everyone knows, is that pole with a smartphone (or perhaps camera) on the end. They are growing in both number and degree of annoyance, or so it seems. A cleverly written and fascinating story published online at Travel Weekly last week — here’s the link — is enlightening, entertaining and thoughtful. We had no idea the banning of selfie sticks was growing at close to the same pace as the use of the dreaded “arm extenders”, although probably like you we have seen people rolling their eyes whenever a selfie stick appears.

While it’s all travel that is a selfie target, obviously that includes cruising. You can be trying to watch whales surface from a small boat in the waters of Alaska, and have your view scarred by the stick. You can be trying to cross a dangerously busy street in Asia, and somebody’s trying to catch the unbelievable traffic moment that you’re attempting to survive.

There are too many of them now to think they’ll ever go away but, like so many things in life, we can only hope purveyors will learn to use them more responsibly and with a certain degree of courtesy.

Photo: Courtesy of camera-at-home (Wikimedia Commons)

In the news…

• Royal Caribbean Ltd. applauded for its sexual assault prevention procedures
• Second straight perfect health inspection score for Holland America Noordam
• More luxury for Queens and Princess Grill customers on Cunard's Queen Mary 2

Today at portsandbows.com: Great way to 'wine' on the Koningsdam in 2016

Celebrity Millennium
5 nights
January 31, 2016
Singapore (return): Penang, Langkawi, Phuket
Inside: $449
Cost per day: $89

Angkor Wat: Compelling In Cambodia

SIEM REAP, Cambodia — We’d only walked a few hundred yards into Angkor Wat, the city of temples that everybody visiting Cambodia makes a point of seeing, when we were approached by a young man who wanted to sell us a book. There aren’t many street vendors in this city, but there are some, so this was our lucky day.

“Only twenty dollars,” he said.

We negotiated, because that’s what you do in countries like Cambodia. It’s a game, we’re Angkor Wat-3told. We bought the book for ten bucks. As he walked away in pursuit of his next client, we looked inside the front cover and discovered the book was 12 years old.

Oh well, if nothing about Angkor Wat had changed in 900 years, what could have changed in the last 12?

While it’s all so old, it’s new to first-time tourists. It’s also intimidating. There’s no place like it, although in India the government is building a quasi-replica after seeing how many tourists this one attracts. Only the devout students of architecture and/or history would Angkor Wat-7make the trek to Cambodia just to see Angkor Wat but anybody who happens to be here would feel compelled to see what the fuss was about, since it’s the country’s No. 1 tourist attraction.

We happen to be here because we’re en route to taking our first river cruise, on the AmaDara, the new AmaWaterways ship making its first trip south on the Mekong River from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Because we’re here, Angkor Wat becomes a must.

What is it?

We’ve visited old temples in many places and even to our uneducated eyes, this is unique. It’s Templeland, which means — like Disneyland — you have to consider a three-day pass Angkor Wat-8that costs $40. Since we only have two days, we opt for the one-day pass of $20. For that, you get a taste of Angkor Wat, a 200-square tract of land in the Cambodian countryside that has more temples than even a marathoner could see in 72 hours.

It opens at 5:30 every morning, 365 days a year, and many people go that early to catch the sunrise behind the signature temple, called (surprise, surprise) Angkor Wat. Estimating Angkor Wat-2the size of crowds is impossible but it’s safe to say there are many, many thousands of visitors every day. Many of those are first-timers, like us.

The main temple is a healthy walk from the entrance, made healthier if you climb its 47 steps to the third (top) level. But since most of us only go this way once, who’s going to stay at the bottom?

You will see paths leading off to the surrounding forest…the one we took introduced us to young monks that we playfully called Little Monkees, plus some interesting buildings that Angkor Wat-6couldn’t rival the temples, plus some peace and quiet. You will also likely see elephants at work, giving tourists rides. And, unfortunately, you will see fellow tourists who don’t respect the “rules” of solitude, of removing hats in the temples, of covering shoulders and knees, and of leaving their luggage at home.

Cambodian officials tolerate the offenders.

“If you don’t come,” said one, “I don’t have a job.”

The photos of this and other temples tell you more about them than our words can. What we can tell you is that the preferred mode of travel, in our opinion, is by tuk-tuk. The Angkor Wat-4Cambodian version of the taxi will take you to the park (or city) from Siem Reap (about seven miles away), and from one temple to the next, in some cases a mile or more apart.

Our tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Nary, spoke passable English but not enough to be a tour guide. Each temple has people who do that, for a fee of course, but we didn’t feel inclined, since we were there for more of an overview than for specific facts about temples.

Besides, for that, we had our book.

In the news…

• Costa Luminosa to kick off Panama Canal cruise season October 3
• Grammy Award winner Gregory Porter on Queen Mary 2 in October
• MSC raises $4.5 million for UNICEF with 'Get On Board For Children'

Today at portsandbows.com: What's happening with Silversea in  2017

Norwegian Escape
10 nights
October 29, 2015
London to Miami
Inside: $649
Cost per day: $64

A French Landmark Back In Saigon

Le Meridien-2

SAIGON — A sign of the times in Vietnam’s southernmost city is Le Meridien Saigon. A member of the Starwood chain and arguably this city’s most modern hotel, it officially opened this weekend, still something of a secret to taxi drivers who haven’t ferried enough guests there in the weeks leading up to the ceremonial opening.

Modernity aside, it has all the things that are right about being in Ho Chi Minh City, the more modern and politically correct name, starting with its location. 

It towers over the Saigon River, providing fascinating views of traffic ranging from tankers to speedboats that negotiate between the water hyacinth plants that rise and fall with the Le Meridien-6tide. Around the corner is a quirky little street called Ngo Van Nam, home to restaurants like Quan Bui, recommended to us and home of the best food we’ve had in five days here since leaving the AmaDara after cruising down the Mekong River.

The hotel is staffed by the happiest, warmest and ridiculously friendliest people — and Le Meridien-4there are many of them, at every turn trying to help you out — you could hope to encounter in Southeast Asia, or anywhere else for that matter. There’s never a door unopened, nor a question unanswered, nor a business issue without a solution.

The rooms have all the current computer-driven necessities and gadgets, like energy-saving keys to the lights and electronic blinds to allow you to over-sleep, if inclined. That’s necessary, given the size of the windows that allow natural light to pour into the spacious rooms.

There’s a plethora of good eating in Vietnam, and this hotel has the most extensive dinner buffet we’ve seen in a long time, maybe ever.

While its facade smacks of modern architecture, everything inside has a taste of the French heritage that for 100 years was so much a part of Saigon, from the artwork decorating the walls to the music played on the sound system filtering into lounges and restaurants. Surprisingly, perhaps, French can be heard from the staff, as a second or third language…Vietnamese and English being the other two.

When the French left here — or were driven out — half a century ago, it’s unlikely they’d ever have foreseen one day a hotel called Le Meridien would be such a part of the Le Meridien-7landscape…right down to the French pastries in a shop off the lobby. The service is so personal that guests are cautioned when leaving the hotel about what and where is safe and what and where isn’t, and when you take a taxi the people at the front door know what cab you’re in and where you’re going — they give you a card with the hotel address to make sure the drivers know where your “home” is.

It is, after all, still new to the cabbies.

In the news…

• More than 12,000 cruisers yesterday in Vancouver from three Alaska ships
• Room service charge of $3.95 from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Celebrity cruises
• Free safaris among Oceania perks for North Americans cruising to South Africa

Today at portsandbows.com: Carnival's immersive shore excursions

Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas
11 nights
October 23, 2015
Dubai, Goa, Cochin, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore
Inside: $424
Cost per day: $38

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

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