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Vroom! Grand Prix On The Diadema


ON THE COSTA DIADEMA — Several years ago, we spent almost three weeks driving around Italy. From Tuscany to Turin and back. From Tuscany to Naples to Venice and back to Rome. About 3,000 kilometers in 19 days. By the time it ended, Bob had turned into Roberto. If you’ve ever driven a car in Italy, you know why.

So when we boarded the Costa Diadema in Naples a few days ago, somebody’s eyes lit up at the thought of climbing into the Grand Prix simulator. Maybe another name change — Grand Prix-1Mario, perhaps — was imminent. 

The simulator is one of the fun aspects of cruising on the Diadema, or on any of six other Costa ships. It was one of the cruise line’s innovations that was added to the list of excellent entertainment amenities on this, the 4,850-passenger newest ship for Italy’s (and Europe’s) best-known cruise line.

Rides start at four euros. That’s for three minutes on a choice of international tracks, as they're displayed on three screens just above the cockpit. Step one on the road to Monaco for a real Grand Prix, just like on that poster above, right? In the simulator, thrills and crashes are included. You can go as fast (or slow) as you like and while helmets aren’t required, seat belts are. Nobody wants to be ejected from a Grand Prix car, even a simulator.

North Americans would surely find this a heart-stopping experience. Okay, at least palpitations. For Europeans, just a shrug. Just another day on the Autostrade, where seat-belt laws are observed and speed laws are not (just ask Roberto).

Grand Prix-2Such was our frenetic schedule on the Diadema that we decided to save the best for last. The Grand Prix experience would be on our final night, at the 11th hour. Closing time was 10 p.m. We arrived eight minutes before the hour. Alas, with no line-ups, the operator who locks drivers in the enclosure where a bright-yellow Grand Prix car awaits had also locked the door and shut off the “ignition.” A seat in the cockpit, yes, but no keys. There would be no ride on this night…on this cruise.

Mario would have to wait.

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Norwegian Pearl
5 nights
May 2, 2015
Los Angeles, San Francisco, Victoria, Vancouver
Inside: $269
Cost per day: $53

Nine in '14: Nine worldly events you can get to with a variety of cruises in 2014

One of the more interesting articles to cross our desktops this weekend was from FoxNews.com, which is not exactly known as an acknowledged source of cruise information. This article, by Andrea Rotondo, who appears to be a cruise expert for a network that most of us didn't know had one. It's entitled "9 major events you can attend via cruise ship in 2014" and it's an interesting read.

The events are from all over the world, and they're neatly arranged chronologically, from the Australian Open (tennis) in January to New Year'sAustralian OpenEve in Hong Kong. There is more variety in cruise lines — they're all different — than in events, eight of which are either sports events or parties.

Then again, aren't most "events" that you'd go to great lengths to see either sports events or parties?

The range of cruise lines goes from luxury brands like Silversea and Crystal MardiGrasand Windstar to some of the mainstream lines, such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian…all of which are noted in the same breath as "Mardis Gras" because they all have ships that regularly sail from New Orleans. One "miss" is linking the Monaco Grand Prix only to Star Clippers when Windstar has been taking ships to the GP for a couple of years, at least.

Taking a cruise to a country because a big event was being held there is not something we've ever done, but after reading Ms Rotondo's suggestions (www.foxnews.com), it's worth thinking of taking a flyer.

Or a cruise.

Crown Princess
7 nights
November 30, 2013
Fort Lauderdale (return): Princess CaysCuracaoAruba
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85

From '57 Chevs to Formula One

Three things you might not have heard from the cruise world…

1. Star Clippers, which has a fleet of three ships, offers passengers a look at diametrically opposed worlds. Its flagship Royal Clipper regularly makes runs to and from Cuba, with either Panama or St. Maarten at the other end. Its Star Flyer next year will take passengers to Monaco for the Grand Prix (so Windstar's are not the only yachts going to the Grand Prix — see yesterday's blog). So, from the '57 Chevs of Cuba to the Formula One rockets of Monaco!

2. The third annual National Cruise Vacation Week (isn't every week a cruise vacation week?) has been declared as October 20-27 by the Cruise Lines International Association, otherwise known as CLIA. What it really means is that there will be sales galore available that week because CLIA members (almost all cruise lines) and travel agents come up with special offers and packages. Think of it as a Black Friday that lasts seven days.

3. Princess is staying longer in Houston. After committing to utilizing the new/old Bayport Cruise Terminal for a year (starting in November) when Houston sweetened the pot, Princess has signed a two-year extension that includes two one-year options. This guarantees 77 departures from Houston with an expected economic impact of $155 million. What is not known, at least not yet, is how much the Port of Houston Authority is paying the cruise line to be there.

Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas
7 nights
October 25, 2013
Baltimore (return): King's Wharf
Inside: $419
Cost per day: $59

Grand Prix a Windstar Winner

Last year, we wrote a blog about going on a Windstar cruise to the Grand Prix of Monaco, and what a cool experience that would be if you had even the slightest interest in Formula One cars.

We had no intention of re-visiting the subject this year.

Then a nice woman at Windstar sent us some information about this year's "cool experience." In 2012 (for the GP of May 2-13), Windstar's largest ship (they're called "yachts") — the Wind Surf — took 312 passengers on its Yachting The Riviera cruise. It started in Nice, included a weekend at the Grand Prix with preferred seating, and ended in Rome.

Fast forward a year…

For the GP of May 2014, the Wind Surf will offer the identical package…plus Windstar's newest yacht, the Star Pride, will carry another 212 passengers to the race on the Grand Prix of Monaco itinerary, one that includes all that the Wind Surf does but with grandstand seats for the weekend events, a post-race reception at the luxurious Hotel de Paris and a cruise host who is a former Formula One pit reporter (aka, he has stories to tell).

This will be Star Pride's coming-out party. The first of three vessels purchased by Windstar last year, it is due for delivery next May. No, it will be delivered next May. The other two ships, as yet unnamed, will arrive in 2015.

So having two ships and their passengers going to the next (and 72nd annual) GPOM represents a 60 per cent increase in capacity. Would you say Windstar's venture into the world of Grand Prix is successful?

Naturally, it's costly. Windstar is the industry leader in small-ship cruising and its cruises are priced accordingly. We couldn't locate prices for the Wind Surf on the website but we did find what it costs to go on the new Star Pride for the seven-day cruise from Rome (return) — $6,199. That's per-person.

Hey, there's nothing wrong with dreaming…and, even though it's 300 days before the finish line, you know that Windstar has a winner.

Norwegian Dawn
7 nights
October 25, 2013
Boston (return): King's Wharf
Inside: $449
Cost per day: $64

Vroom, Vroom…Cruising to Monaco


Every once in a while we come across a cruise that prompts this response:

"Now THAT would be cool."

As anybody who has been in our garage knows, we have an affinity for sports cars. Not for under the hood and overhead cams…just for the style. In car racing, nothing is more stylish than Formula One.

Enter Windstar Cruises. Enter the French Riviera. Enter Formula One.

Next May (just so there's lots of time to plan this one), Windstar is taking guests on a Yachting the Riviera voyage that includes the Grand Prix of Monaco. It was won this year by Mark Webber of Australia but you already knew that, didn't you?

The cruise part of the experience is on the Wind Surf, the largest of Windstar's three "yachts" with 312 passengers. The ship departs from Nice, a city that in our opinion lives up to its name, and sails straight to Monte Carlo — it's not that far — in time for Saturday's Grand Prix preliminaries.

The package is kind of like a shore excursion. It includes preferred seating for the preliminaries and the race (Sunday), dinner at the Cafe de Paris in the heart of Monaco, a gala at Monte Carlo's famous Grand Casino, Sunday brunch at the track and a special pre-Monaco Grand Prix dinner on the ship in Cannes.

The race tickets are in Section K, which means something to race aficionados because it overlooks Tabac Corner, a challenging section of the race — see the view from the photo.

It's not for the faint of heart or the faint of wallet – this "shore excursion" costs $2,299 per person, if you book by October.

But that is cool.

When it's over, participants can de-brief by visiting Portofino, Italy, and the Cinque Terre.

Celebrity Summit
7 nights
December 22, 2012
San Juan (return): St. Croix, St. Kitts, Roseau, Grenada, St. Thomas
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $114

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