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Last week Carnival Cruise Lines introduced a new customer loyalty program with updated perks for frequent cruisers and even rewards for first-time customers. Cruisers can sign up for the Very Important Fun Person (VIFP) Club before they book a cruise for access to special offers and promotions.
For those who sail Carnival regularly – members of Carnival’s previous loyalty program can transfer their accounts to VIFP – benefits range from a free alcoholic beverage on board for second-time cruisers to a free dinner for two at any of your ship’s specialty restaurants for those who have logged 200 or more days at sea with the line.
Carnival will also acknowledge cruisers who sail 25, 50, and 75 times with a shipboard credit equal to 25, 50, or 75 percent of their total fare; customers who sail 100 times will earn a free 7-night trip to the Caribbean, Mexico, or Alaska.
Don’t tell my scale. A little over two weeks ago, I was enthusiastically taste testing my way through the 10 restaurants onboard Oceania Riviera (one of our Top 10 Cruises in 2012), the brand new 1,250-passenger upper premium ship that was christened in Barcelona, a foodie-friendly city if ever there was one! Also a perfect match: the ship’s fit and elegant godmother, Iron Chef Cat Cora (shown at left), who took time from promoting her new Bravo series Around the World in 80 Plates to help break a bottle of bubbly against Riviera’s sparkling white hull just before we set sail for molto magnifico Venice. As I sipped and savored my way around the ship, sampling everything from foie gras with artichoke puree to lobster pad Thai – not to mention whipping up my own flaky scones and fluffy zucchini-and-mint frittata in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center – I began to question whether I love cruising more for the alluring and ever changing ports of call or for the indulgent, food-centric focus of many new ships. Read on to find out whether culture or cuisine won out.
There’s nothing like 3,500-year-old frescoes and 1,000-year-old cathedrals to put 50 years of life or 30 years of marriage into perspective – both are a mere heartbeat in the history of humanity. If you’re the kind of traveler who lives your life forever looking forward, but are entranced by the past, you may want to consider a cruise with Voyages to Antiquity. This two-year-old company offers a variety of 14- to 33-day itineraries in the Mediterranean, Adriatic, and Aegean (through late October) and Asia (November to March and featuring nine new itineraries). What differentiates VTA from other cruise lines is its laser-like focus on ancient cultures explored via extended voyages with lyrical names like “The Light of Greece” and “Those Who Seek Paradise.”
If you’re looking for a break on a luxury getaway over the next several months, here are three great spending credit offers – from a $1,500 air credit to a $200-a-day spa credit – in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Florida:
Four Seasons Resort Nevis: If you’re in the mood for a Caribbean escape, consider a stay at the 196-room Four Seasons Resort Nevis (shown at left), which is fresh from a December 2010 renovation and features a world-class golf course, four restaurants, and a serene spa. Book five nights in a Deluxe Oceanside or Deluxe Oceanview Room or a Plantation Suite, Ocean Suite, or Luxury Suite and you’ll get a $1,000 air credit (applied to your bill at check out). Book a Villa and the credit is $1,500. Rates start at $545/night.
Truth be told, my only experience with a repositioning cruise was as a precocious 6-year-old sailing Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth 2 instead of flying when my family moved back to the U.S. from Paris. Our week at sea was spent watching the newly released Beauty and the Beast and splashing in salt water swimming pools. Even our poor cat, Fuzzy, came along for the ride, although I think she had significantly less fun than we did. (Apparently this trip made quite the impression on me, as the parent volunteers from my first grade class still to this day remember how I regaled them with tales of the QE2.)
Fond childhood memories aside, these types of cruises generally offer the best deals around, since cruise lines need to move their ships from one place to another and offer significant discounts on “one-way” passages. The itineraries can cost as little as $42/night – though note since you spend less time in port you’re more apt (so the cruise lines hope) to open your wallet for the ship’s onboard activities and specialty restaurants.
Appealing to today’s more value-conscious upscale traveler, luxury line Crystal Cruises has added all-inclusive amenities to their standard pricing. These new benefits began with Crystal Symphony‘s first transatlantic voyage from Miami to Lisbon on March 19 (the next all-inclusive sailing will be the Crystal Serenity‘s trip from New York to London on May 8).
The new all-inclusive pricing includes prepaid gratuities for housekeeping, butler, and dining staff, an impressive selection of fine wine and premium spirits in the restaurants, open-bar service throughout the ship, 24-hour room service, and more.
As repeat passengers, my husband and I anticipated exceptional cuisine and a world of imaginative itineraries when we had the pleasure of taking an 11-day cruise through the Panama Canal in January. It was the perfect time of the year to sail from Costa Rica into the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, stopping at the colorful ports of Curacao, St. Maarten and St. Thomas before arriving in Miami.
Unfortunately, it was too soon in the year for us to take advantage of Crystal’s all-inclusive pricing – but there’s always a next time. Read more
There are some amazing cruise deals available online this week – perfect for an easy, affordable, last-minute getaway for two. I’m a fan of cruising for a few reasons: You unpack once, get to see an average of four to six different cities or islands in a week, and enjoy all the advantages of a resort (spa, great restaurants, pool, Jacuzzi) along the way. Here are two great sales you should check out if a cruise is on your travel horizon. Each offers a different kind of romance – either classic and cultured or adventurous and off-the-beaten-path.
As a writer specializing in honeymoons and romantic travel, I have been lucky enough to visit Tahiti five times (go ahead and hate me) and these magical South Pacific islands never get old – but cruise ships do. So I was happy to hear that the m/s Paul Gauguin (shown at left in Moorea), the 332-passenger ship that has been sailing the South Pacific for 14 years, underwent a $7 million refurbishment in January. And when I went aboard in late February for a seven-night Tahiti & Society Islands cruise, the renovations looked great. The new color scheme – muted neutrals and pale blues instead of the old red and dark navy – gives the ship a renewed elegance and sense of place. And the all-inclusive (with the exception of shore excursions and spa treatments) pricing makes the Paul Gauguin, while still a splurge, a great value in a region where overwater bungalows run upwards of $800 per night and food alone can tack on another $500 a day for two. Plus, book in 2012 and cruise fares include free round-trip airfare from Los Angeles. Here’s what you need to know if you’re thinking of booking a romantic sail through the islands of French Polynesia.
Family-friendly cruising is nothing new to Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), which was the first line to introduce a kids program in 1999. What is new are NCL’s “Splash Academy” youth program and “Entourage” teen zone, which have been introduced on the Norwegian Gem and eventually will be offered fleet-wide.
What’s newer still is that when she sets sail from New York City to Bermuda during her inaugural summer season next year, the Norwegian Breakaway (a 4,000-passenger ship that will also sail from NYC to ports of call in Florida, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean) will be equipped with the largest dedicated kid zones in the fleet.
How decked out are we talking about? Well, Splash Academy will span two decks (12 and 13, if you want to start mastering the ship’s layout) that will be adjacent to the Breakaway’s “family-friendly staterooms.”
In this year’s Top 10 Cruises in 2012 we chose Viking River Cruises as the best river ship debut, what with its plans to introduce six new Longships to its fleet in 2012. Just last week four of those Norse-god-named Longships were christened, and another two are due for delivery later this summer. While this is already an unprecedented number of ships for a single year, Viking River Cruises has just announced that 2013 will be more of the same; another six Longships will be added to its fleet.
The sleek Longships, designed by the same firm behind the Disney Dream and the Yachts of Seabourn, are high-tech, modern, and full of sizable rooms – it’s no wonder the demand is high enough for another six. Each of the ships’ 95 staterooms include deluxe amenities like heated bathroom floors and mirrors and Sony HD TVs, and the ships all have an Aquavit Terrace – a lounge with retractable floor-to-ceiling glass walls so that you can fully enjoy favorable weather. The Longships are also more sustainable, with solar panels, onboard organic herb gardens, and hybrid engines that have the added bonus of a smoother ride.
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