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Allure of the Seas…More Alluring?

When we heard that Allure of the Seas was going in to be refurbished, our initial reaction was: What could be better?

It is a rite of passage that cruise ships are refurbished every five years or so, even when they’re the biggest and arguably best of all mainstream ships. Until Harmony of the Seas arrives next spring, Allure will retain its big-ship status by about 100 passengers and by about 1,700 tons. It’s a title that has been Allure’s (on a technicality over Oasis of the Seas) since it arrived late in 2010.

The new and refreshed Allure is in Marseille today, early in its first Mediterranean season of weekly round-trips from both Barcelona and Rome, which means passengers can embark in either place. What are Europeans enjoying that North Americans haven’t yet seen, and won’t until Allure returns in November?

Izumi, a wonderful Japanese restaurant that cooked your dinner on a “hot rock” at the table, is now called Izumi Hibachi & Sushi and is fully Japanese cuisine. No mention has Izumi-hot rockbeen made if the hot rock (left) made the cut, but it was cool…proving something hot can be cool.

Sabor Taquieria & Tequila Bar is new. Hopefully, Europeans crave Mexican food as much as North Americans do.

In additiuon to new and upscale shops like kate spade new york and Michael Kors, there are 10 new suites (two Royal, six Grande, two Royal Family) and the Coastal Kitchen with its California-inspired cuisine is exclusively theirs. Does that mean mostly Californians book suites? The suite people also have a new lounge and new sun deck, so a part of the ship has clearly become more exclusive.

Funny…we thought it was already exclusive, just by being Allure of the Seas.

In the news…

• Major cruise lines assessing need to hire lifeguards on ships
• Australia cracks 'magic million' cruise passengers for first time
• Norwegian changes policy on passengers' taking food to rooms

Today at portsandbows.com: Cunard's three Queens 'dance' on the Mersey

Royal Caribbean Splendour of the Seas
7 nights
November 14, 2015
Venice (return): Kotor, Corfu, Athens, Crete, Argostoli
Inside: $588
Cost per day: $84

Making Ships Bigger: Hull Of A Job

Let’s say you own a cruise line and the smallest ships in your fleet have become, in this age of giant cruise ships, just too small. So you’re faced with a competitive choice. You sell them and hope when the euros or dollars settle, there are enough of them to help finance four bigger ships.


You cut them in half and make them bigger!

That’s what MSC Cruises is doing with four Lirica Class ships, the oldest and smallest on its fleet of 12. MSC already has four new ships on order but obviously felt the Lirica sisters Sinfonia— all built between 2001 and 2004 and all equipped to carry about 2,000 passengers — needed to be replaced…or enlarged.

So, at the Fincantieri Shipyard in Italy (the Armonia, Sinfonia, Lirica and Opera) will be cut in half and have a new section inserted in the middle — balance is, after all, important — and then put back together. The new section increases capacity by 193 cabins and costs about $55 million per ship, all of which apparently makes economic sense.

The process has already begun, with the Sinfonia. These are two of the MSC photos and there are more, plus the video, at www.dailymail.co.uk., the London newspaper’s website, Sinfonia-1along with a brief video about the process. This isn’t entirely new — you can find a YouTube video of the same thing happening to the Norwegian Crown, and there hash’t been a ship of that name for almost eight years.

Even so, it’s a fascinating procedure. It takes 10 weeks, plus another couple for sea trials, so the “new” Sinfonia isn’t expected back in service until the end of March.

It gives a whole new meaning to refurbishing a ship, doesn’t it?

Today at portsandbows.com: Change of mind about theme cruises

Carnival Glory
7 nights
June 6, 2015
Miami (return): Cozumel, Belize, Roatan, Grand Cayman
Inside: $649
Cost per day: $92

Lego Latest Lure To Go Cruising

It was just a few years ago that we bought Lego for our eldest child for Christmas. So it’s “just a few years” later that we’re buying Lego for our granddaughter for her birthday this month (but don’t tell her).

Is there anything in life that’s more permanent and more durable than Lego?

That’s what makes it such a safe bet for MSC Cruises. And that’s why all 12 MSC ships (plus two more by 2017) are being out-fitted with Lego play areas in this cruise line’s Sailor Walkaboutrather clever attempt to attract families. The play areas are ostensibly for kids, but how many adults do you know who still enjoy building things with Lego?

The refurbished MSC Armonia will be the first ship to acquire what MSC calls its Renaissance Program when it emerges with the first Lego stations after a couple of weeks in dry dock this month. Children of ALL ages will compete in Lego-themed competitions on a designated day during each cruise. They’ll earn “junior master builder diplomas”…even if they’re seniors. They’ll meet the resident mascot, whose name — Sailor Walkabout — is sure to become better known, especially since it’s barely known right now.

There’s no charge to play Lego on MSC ships, and areas will be designated for kids under three, and for kids six to 11. No mention of where kids far into the double digits will be allowed to ply their Lego skills.

Now, MSC is an Italian cruise line that dabbles in waters all over the world, including North America. Invented 65 years ago in Denmark by Ole Kirk Christiansen, Lego is played all over the world, as testified by the 600 billion pieces of it currently in circulation. It’s been known to be passed down the generations like heirlooms and jewelry.

And yes, cruise passengers will be able to buy it at the Lego Corner at the ships’ shops.

It’s only a matter of time until there’s a Lego cruise ship toy — bearing the MSC logo, of Armoniacourse — created by a privately-owned company that has morphed its plastic blocks into movies, games and theme parks. MSC hopes the participants in this new venture will build more than toys and skyscrapers and animals.

The cruise line would like its customers, young and old, to build memories, because anybody who doesn’t already have a Lego memory should.

Today at portsandbows.com: Something new at Silversea?

Celebrity Millennium
15 nights
September 11, 2015
Vancouver, Dutch Harbor, Tokyo, Kobe, Shanghai
Inside: $849
Cost per day: $56

Oasis of the Seas — More Perfect 

The fact that Oasis of the Seas has now emerged from its inaugural refurbishing means that it is, indeed, five years since the big ship became known as the biggest. There has been nary a complaint about this ship, and its sister Allure of the Seas, which will get its first makeover next spring.

So, about that encore…

For its encore, Oasis emerged from a shipyard in The Netherlands yesterday with a new Oasis of the SeasBroadway show (CATS), changes to its back end (not the stern!) to prepare it for Dynamic Dining, new specialty restaurants and the fastest Internet anywhere that land can’t be seen…according to Royal Caribbean.

All of which proves that it’s tough to improve on near-perfection.

The new dining concept won’t go into effect until spring, because Royal Caribbean wants to introduce it on new ships Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas and the new show, CATS, is a changing of the cast after Hairspray’s five-year run. If you’ve been reading comments on our blogs, you likely saw that one reader thinks the new concept will be a flop.

Whether it is or not, the first big winner with passengers is going to be high-speed Internet access because, if it’s as good as Royal Caribbean says, that’s a game-changer for an industry known for slow-speed Internet.

The refurbishing of Oasis wasn’t without a little controversy. The Dutch website DutchNews.nl reported that “hundreds of workers were flown into Rotterdam” in order to complete the refurbishing on time and that 48 of them  did not have a “work permit.” As a result, the news agency says, Royal Caribbean is subject to fines totaling 600,000 euros.

That’s probably the last anyone will hear of it.

Today at portsandbows.com: Cruise ships built in China?

Caribbean Princess
5 nights
November 24, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Nassau, Princess Cays
Inside: $209
Cost per day: $41

Jewel Shining Light in Houston

There was a celebration in Texas on the weekend when a 9-year-old ship entered a 100-year-old waterway to kick off a cruise experience that’s in its infancy.

Houston has a new cruise ship.

This one is called the Jewel, as in Norwegian Jewel, and after what it’s been through lately it is a jewel. It’s the beginning of a relationship between the cruise line and the port that Jewelwill go on for years…three of them, at least. And when it comes to the biggest city, this is not Norwegian’s first, as they say in Texas, rodeo.

This was the first cruise line to put a ship in Houston’s Ship Channel, 17 years ago. Norwegian came back for another look in 2003 and stayed four years. Now, with a new cruise terminal and lucrative contract, Norwegian began cruises to the Western Caribbean this week, following some of the pomp and pageantry that accompanies such launches.

The Jewel was the shining star. Fresh from refurbishing, it boasts many of the assets of its bigger and newer fleetmates. Passengers will have 16 dining options, Nickelodeon activities Houston Bay Terminaland the largest suites at sea, the 5,000-square-foot, three-bedroom Garden Villas. Among the restaurants is a favorite of ours (O’Sheehan’s), the steak-heavy Moderno Churrascaria and Carlo’s Bakery, all of which came along after the Jewel did in 2005.

With the upgrade, the Jewel jumps into the post-Epic era of Norwegian ships as it begins 27 Caribbean cruises from the Bayport Cruise Terminal, tomorrow becoming the first large cruise ship to visit the new port of Banana Coast, in the Bay of Trujillo, Honduras.

Before leaving Houston, the Jewel hosted a party of sorts. The people from the Port Captain HarstromAuthority put a cowboy hat on the captain (Kenneth Harstrom) and then said all the right things about economic development and happy cruisers who were going to enjoy (and bring their tourist dollars) to Houston.

A hundred years ago last month at another celebration, politicians and local authorities also said all the right things at a party christening the Ship Channel. That ceremony had thousands of spectators, a 21-gun salute and, from Washington, the President himself (Woodrow Wilson) remotely fired a cannon to open the channel, officially, following a bond issue approved by the citizens, who voted 16-1 in favor.

Ironically, it opened the same year as the Panama Canal, as a civil engineering feat of lesser stature, yet critical to the economy. Until then, goods shipped to Houston had to be unloaded in Galveston and trucked more than an hour up the road to the big city. A hurricane that leveled Galveston in 1900 and the discovery of oil around the same time gave legs to the idea of a deep-water channel to Houston.

Needless to say, the investment has been repaid many times over. Now, Houston hopes the same will apply to its investment in cruising.

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Holland America Eurodam
7 nights
November 9, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Half Moon Cay, Montego Bay, Grand Cayman, Key West
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $57

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