Let’s face it, although we say we go on vacation to get away from it all, this is the world in which we live! Here is the press release from Carnival:

The Carnival Dream!

The Carnival Dream!

MIAMI, Sept. 29, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — Carnival Corporation & plc (NYSE/LSE: CCL; NYSE: CUK), the world’s largest travel and leisure company, today announced that it has expanded its innovative hybrid connectivity system to create the cruise industry’s largest Wi-Fi network — and one of the world’s largest satellite mobility networks.

With over 31 advanced satellite systems, the company’s expanded WiFi@Sea connectivity network features the broadest high-bandwidth internet coverage in the industry currently deployed on 30 of its 100 ships — far more than any other cruise line company — with further deployment planned over the next several months. In addition, several of its cruise line brands have introduced new plans and pricing packages that make staying connected on a cruise more convenient and affordable — and are improving the guest experience and increasing the number of guests using Wi-Fi while cruising.

Expected to be extended to nearly 40 percent of the company’s industry-leading fleet across several of its global brands by the end of 2015, the expanded WiFi@Sea service has led to increased guest satisfaction, higher usage rates and greater number of devices connected during voyages. Carnival Corporation’s brands currently using the new features include AIDA Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America Line. Building on existing broadband Wi-Fi capabilities already available throughout its fleet of 100 ships, Carnival Corporation is continuing the deployment of its technology solution with plans to expand the new system on the majority of its fleet across its 10 global brands through 2016.

The company’s system represents a first in the cruise industry on this scale — providing the broadest high-speed global coverage across dozens of ships coupled with onboard intelligence to enhance the guest experience — a breakthrough technology innovation for overcoming the challenging circumstances of sailing in the middle of the ocean and still providing fast, reliable and affordable wireless internet access for guests.

Expanding the System

The system is a first-of-its kind solution that integrates a combination of advanced satellite systems, onboard software, networking equipment, land-based antennas and Wi-Fi from port connections. The technology is expected to change how millions of travelers stay in touch during their cruise and generate even greater interest in cruise vacations, especially among tech-savvy millennials and people of all ages who want to stay in touch, research destinations or share their vacation experiences via social media.

With the continued rollout of the enhanced connectivity system across the fleet, guests will be able to access the websites, social networks and apps most important to them at speeds up to 10 times faster than those previously available on the company’s ships.

“As we continue to enhance our WiFi@Sea system, we implement technologies, packages and overall approaches that will create the best experience and value for our guests wherever their cruise vacation takes them,” said Reza Rasoulian, vice president of global connectivity and shipboard technology operations at Carnival Corporation. “We optimize all of our service layers continuously to ensure a great connectivity experience. With this approach, we are giving our guests faster internet speeds without constraining the time they can be online through our packages, which has led to more people than ever using their devices to connect while on our ships and a steady improvement in guest satisfaction ratings as the new plans and pricing are rolled out.”

New Packages and Pricing Structure

With the new pricing models, Wi-Fi packages are based on the types of services guests will be using throughout their trip versus the previous system of charging for the amount of time they will be online. For example, guests who are only interested in using Wi-Fi to post to their social networks can purchase a basic package for a lower fee.

This change gives guests the freedom they prefer for unlimited use of the specific internet services and applications they are interested in without the worry of time constraints — an important offering for a good number of guests who are looking to stay connected, especially as the industry works to increase interest in and demand for cruising across all demographics, especially among younger guests.

Specific package offerings and pricing structures vary by brand, but in all cases the company is working to create more value and a better overall connectivity experience.

System Enhancements Focus on the Guest Experience

Carnival Cruise Line, the company’s largest brand with 24 ships and its 25(th) ship, Carnival Vista, coming in spring of 2016, announced in August it has enhanced internet access including new social media packages. The packages are now available on 19 of its 24 ships with plans for fleet-wide implementation by the first quarter of 2016. In June, the company’s AIDA Cruises brand announced new flat-rate social media and internet packages, along with bandwidth upgrades that have been installed on seven ships, and will be fully deployed on each of the brand’s 10 ships by November 2015.

Added Rasoulian: “We know that each of our guests is looking for something different when they cruise, whether that is being completely or partially unplugged from the internet or staying plugged in. For those who want to stay connected with their life back home or research the next destination on their trip, we are offering faster, more reliable and more affordable options to give our guests what they are looking for.”

The improved onboard connectivity experience will also help crew members across Carnival Corporation’s 10 brands keep in touch with their family and friends at home during the extended amounts of time they spend at sea. This is an important component of each crew member’s quality of life and has a positive impact on helping them maintain their passion for consistently providing exceptional service for guests during the voyage.

About Carnival Corporation & plc

Carnival Corporation & plc is the largest cruise company in the world, with a portfolio of 10 cruise brands in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia, comprised of Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Seabourn, AIDA Cruises, Costa Cruises, Cunard, P&O Cruises (Australia), P&O Cruises (UK) and Fathom.

Together, these brands will operate 100 ships in 2015 totaling 219,000 lower berths with 17 new ships scheduled to be delivered between 2016 and 2022. Carnival Corporation & plc also operates Holland America Princess Alaska Tours, the leading tour companies in Alaska and the Canadian Yukon. Traded on both the New York and London Stock Exchanges, Carnival Corporation & plc is the only group in the world to be included in both the S&P 500 and the FTSE 100 indices.

Additional information can be found on www.carnival.com, www.hollandamerica.com, www.princess.com, www.seabourn.com, www.aida.de, www.costacruise.com, www.cunard.com, www.pocruises.com.au, www.pocruises.com and www.fathom.org.

Avid traveler, and travel writer, Stephanie Bonilla returns to share her experiences from a recent Chicago visit. Many of our cruisers are from the Windy City, so we are delighted to share this contribution!

I finally booked my trip to Chicago after catching myself constantly looking up airfares from Miami to O’hare. It seemed I was on a subliminal mission to check the ‘windy city’ off my wanderlist. On a celestial Wednesday night, the stars aligned and I was able to find an extremely cheap flight just in time for Labor Day weekend.

Something about Chicago has always fascinated me. There’s something to say about a city whose endured so much (the Great Chicago Fire, every single winter ever) yet prevails year after year, never falling short of any “best cities to live in” list. Every Chicagoan I’ve ever talked with describes how miserable and brutal the weather can be, yet follows up his/her complaint with numerous ways the city blossoms during summer. For only three fleeting months of awesomeness, locals willfully withstand six months of snow storms and insanely cold temperatures. The only other city that comes to mind that houses such a loyal fanbase is NYC, where every winter becomes an obstacle of the spirit for its inhabitants. But why? What makes Chicago the outlier of the Midwest? I was determined to find out.

Friday

After taking the earliest flight out of Miami possible, we were checked in and ready to sight-see by noon. Chi-town is an extremely walkable city, allowing visitors to embark on their respective journeys via foot (or by purchasing a Ventra Card). We quickly made our way to Wild Berry, conveniently located on the outskirts of Millennium Park. The restaurant’s ‘Creamy Nutella’ crepe, which comes sprinkled and stuffed with chocolate drizzled banana goodness, is one of the many delectable dishes diners can choose from. Fall where you will on the brunch debate, this place won’t disappoint. We used our sugar buzz to take on Millennium Park, making it in and out of the park in about an hour and checking out its impressive amphitheatre and infamous Cloud Gate sculpture along the way. It seemed like everyone was out enjoying the summer’s heat, with herds of joggers and cyclists invading the park’s grounds. I started to see why Chicago’s residents are so bewitched by their city.

After wandering around the park’s surrounding area, we hopped on a train and headed to Goose Island Brewing Co., the masterminds behind one of my all-time favorite beers, 312. Although we didn’t make it to the walking tour, we sat in the brewery’s tap room for quite some time. Pint after pint, our buds were awakened with a mix of tasty ales. Already in the beer spirit, we took a train to Rock Bottom Brewery, a brewpub designed with beer enthusiasts in mind. Every craft-beer served at this pub is truly a labor of love. After trying a couple of brewskies and wallowing in the pub’s pungent hoppy aroma, we somehow stumbled back to our hotel to change in preparation for our evening plans. Volare was what was for dinner and marked the perfect ending to our eventful day. This gem should be on every restaurant list published about Chicago.  In fact, any lists printed prior to the opening of this restaurant should be required to be republished. If you like authentic Italian cuisine intertwined with a romantic ambiance, make sure you add this to your itinerary. Reservations are a must, unless you’re cool with waiting an hour or two for a table.

 

IMG_6639 IMG_6621

Saturday

After having such a great first day in Chicago, Saturday had big shoes to fill. We started our morning by visiting the Willis Tower. There is so much to see here, particularly the sky deck that offers spectacular views of the city. If you’re brave enough, you can stand on one of the glass boxes that extend 4 feet from the deck, leaving you floating 1,353 feet up in the air. It’s truly a gnarly experience. After experiencing such an adrenaline rush we decided to indulge in some emotional eating. Fortunately, Giordano’s, Chicago’s famous deep dish pizza eatery, was just a few steps away. It takes around 45 minutes for the restaurant’s pizza artisans to work their magic, but the final masterpiece is worth the wait.

We embarked on a 75-minute Wendella Architecture Tour later that afternoon, learning about Chicago’s glittery skyscrapers and the history behind the city’s remarkable transformation. This tour is a must for design and architecture buffs, allowing passengers to see Chicago in a truly unique way. Once the tour was over, we treated ourselves to more food and drinks at a near-by gastropub called Public House. With a mixed crowd of yuppies and hipsters, this place has an awesome, laid back feel and some really good nachos.

IMG_6755

Sunday

Sunday started as quickly as it ended. Inspired by the city’s abundant energy, we decided to run to Lincoln Park, through the  Lincoln Park Zoo, over to Lake Michigan, stopping to gaze at beautiful brick houses along the way. We were famished by 11:30 a.m., making it back just in time for our brunch reservation at Hutch. From their pulled bacon Benedict to their jalapeno and garlic infused cocktails, this place knows how to fusion. Named on many of Chicago’s “boozy brunch” lists, seating at this restaurant comes much slower than it goes.

We rolled on over to Wrigley Field after brunch, the legendary home of the Chicago Cubs. If you’re visiting during baseball season, I encourage you to buy tickets to a game. Chicago fans are no joke, wearing their royal blue and red jerseys with pride.  Following a big win against the Arizona Diamondbacks, we made our way through the rowdy crowds, seeking shelter at Emporium Arcade Bar, an adult playground come to life.  If you could get your hands on any of the 400 machines found in this ‘barcade’, you can play Ms. Pac-Man while sippin’ on your PBR(s) and jammin’ to awesome tunes. The rest of the night is a little hazy, but I vaguely remember bar hopping and fireball shots being involved.

Monday

We attempted to cure our hangover with sunshine and the consumption of a lot of comfort food. Yolk offers a great food selection with more than just eggs on their menu. They’re known for pushing the envelope with creative breakfast and lunch items which include: scooped out pineapples filled with housemade Greek yogurt and fresh fruits or tasty Red Velvet FrenchToast.  Soon after eating and sipping on some much-needed coffee, we took Uber to Chicago’s landmark, Navy Pier. After taking a ride on the pier’s iconic Ferris wheel, our time left in Chicago was quickly approaching its end.

Our last stop on our trip was Lagunitas Brewing Company. Because why not get over a hangover at a brewery, right? Although the location is a bit rough around the edges, the facility’s size and interior more than make up for the sketchy locality. Be prepared to walk through many trippy hallways blasting Alice and Wonderland tunes.  Afterall, this is the headquarter of a beer-maker that believes the golden hued liquid they discharge out of a tap is the answer to social intercourse. My favorite part of Lagunitas, or any brewery for that matter, was their tap room. We sent our amazing long weekend off with lots of clinks of our Hop Stoopids and Sucks, a reference only true beer fans will understand.

‘Til next time, Chicago.

Contributor: Stephanie Bonilla

If someone told IMG_4108me a year ago that I’d be sitting in my tiny apartment writing about my recent adventure in Thailand, I’d giggle. Since college, I joked with close friends about going to Asia. At that time, taking a trip to the other side of the world was unimaginable. Sure some of us had already gotten a taste for international travel. But for some reason, the Orient always felt so foreign, so distant. In our minds, taking a trip to Asia meant we had made it. Not only in the financial/successful sense since any ticket over $300 at that time would have over drafted our bank accounts, but also in the transformative sense. We knew then that a trip like that would be life-changing. So naturally, when I venturesomely embarked on my Thailand adventure, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride. I had made it and I would never be the same.

Thailand was truly everything I had dreamed of and more. This trip will forever hold the number one spot in my heart. Most of you must be thinking I’m speaking too soon. I haven’t been to every single place in the world (yet), so how could I make such an uninformed decision? Well, you don’t have to be coupled with every person in the world to choose your soul mate, right? Sometimes, “you just know”. So when you get your chance at speed dating with Thailand, here’s how you can fall in love:

Cycle – Bangkok Style

Bangkok is a vibrant city, offering a wide range of cultural activities and historical attractions to choose from. Although this colorful metropolis is mostly known for its lively nightlife, there are plenty of places to explore during daylight. My favorite experience while in Bangkok was the most unexpected: “Follow Me” Bike Tour. I must admit that I was extremely apprehensive about participating when the idea initially presented itself. I am not keen on bike riding, especially not in a city that houses over 10 million people and has the busiest rush hour I have ever experienced. But when in Bangkok…right?

Processed with VSCOcam with k2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with c3 preset
Processed with VSCOcam with c3 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f1 preset

There are various tours to choose from. My friends and I selected the “Siam Boran” tour, the company’s most popular route. This excursion allows you to experience Bangkok like a true local.  Our ridiculously awesome tour guide, Matthew, took us up, down and across the ancient Chao Phraya River, allowing us to explore Bangkok’s lively Chinatown district, vegetable and flower markets, local temples and surrounding slums. For just 1200 baht (approximately $34), riders get a bike, ferry transfers, pictures, drinks, Thai snacks AND get to dip their feet in a fish foot spa—the Thai are just awesome like that. Group sizes depend on how many people sign-up, but we were lucky enough to be the only ones on our tour.

We took this tour on our very first day in Thailand, and I can’t think of a better way to start a trip with a bang! We learned the correct way to enter and sit in a temple, how to fold a real lotus flower; we ate fried grasshoppers, were able to make an offering to Buddha and even left with an irreplaceable keepsake: a piece of the Buddha’s robe. I have never felt so at peace in my life—even when I was sweating my life out, literally IN bumper to bumper traffic with thousands of cars and scooters during Bangkok’s infamous Friday rush hour. Most importantly, I met some of the friendliest locals ever (our tour guide included) who welcomed us to their country with open arms and infectious smiles.

Dine In The Sky

Although it’s very Hangover 2, you should definitely experience one of Bangkok’s sky-high restaurants. Besides serving delicious dishes incorporating juicy steaks, lamb and seafood, these restaurants offer guests a bird’s-eye-view of this magical city.  Teetering on the expensive side, this was the most money we spent on a meal during our stay. However, the amazing views and ambiance were worth every penny (or baht). We dined in style on the 61st floor of Vertigo and Moon Bar under the glimmering stars above and million sparkling lights below. If you’re afraid of heights, mentally prepare yourself. This skyscraper was built to allow the restaurant to be completely exposed, with no walls or structures blocking any views. You really feel like you’re dining on top of the world here.

Processed with VSCOcam with c3 preset

Hang With Monks

There are more than 400 wats (or temples) in Bangkok alone. Fortunately, many of the temples are located near each other, making them easy to find. I mean, who can really miss a towering building topped with shiny gold?

No temple in Thailand lacks majesty, making it difficult to choose which ones to visit. We were fortunate enough to see a lot of them during our stay; most of the famous ones, a few off the beaten path, each one with its own charm. The temple I favored was Wat Kanlayanamit, also known as the “best friends” temple. Unlike the more well-known temples, this house of worship had no crowds and no designated number on one of those “10 must-see temples in Thailand” lists. In fact, you will rarely find this sanctuary on any list. Visited mainly by locals, this is where I got to experience Buddhist rituals and practices. Clusters of bright orange robes surrounded me, as we all kneeled in front of the “awakened one”. I can still hear their penetrating chants today. It’s an indescribable event and one you truly have to experience to understand its greatness.

Processed with VSCOcam with f1 preset Processed with VSCOcam with c2 preset
Processed with VSCOcam with f1 preset Processed with VSCOcam with c7 preset

Become a Budding Cook

I hear friends talk about how much they love Thai food all the time. I apologize in advance for sounding “braggy”, but you’ve never truly experienced Thai food unless you’ve been to Thailand. Specifically, until you’ve taken a cooking class there. We took ours during our stay in Chiang Mai, and let me tell you, I had THE BEST massaman chicken curry and pad thai there! During this jaunt, we got to shop for our food at a local market, cook 6 different meals–which included Thailand’s yummy mango sticky rice– and got to take swigs of our Chang beers as we devoured it all.  You will never eat Thai food anywhere that is not in Thailand or in your kitchen again.

IMG_6429 IMG_6428

Hug a Tiger

You know how they say you can never feel more like a Disney princess than paying a visit to Magic Kingdom? Well, that was true until I visited Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai. I have never felt more like Princess Jasmine than laying face to fur with a real tiger. Although there are a ton of allegations on handlers drugging tigers to keep them tranquil, I myself never saw any mistreatment or foul play. Since I don’t want to make this a controversial piece, I will stick to my visit.

Processed with VSCOcam with c3 preset Processed with VSCOcam with c3 preset

There’s no experience more exhilarating than hanging out in a cage with 5-6 carnivorous killing machines—let alone laying with them, touching them and even playing with them (only the baby tigers are allowed to play with humans).  This is one you have to answer for yourself. If you’re incredibly concerned about animal abuse and this just doesn’t feel right, then it probably shouldn’t be on your list. If you’re skeptical and want to see for yourself, then go give a tiger a high five.

Walk With Gentle Giants

Processed with VSCOcam with c2 presetElephant Nature Park was my all-time favorite experience in Thailand. This park is a rescue and rehabilitation center for abused and orphaned elephants. Their mission is not only to provide a sanctuary for these gentle giants, but to educate visitors on the plight of this endangered species. There is a dark side to elephant tourism that most of us are unaware of. If you’re ever interested in learning why you shouldn’t ride an elephant or have them doodle a picture for you, do your research.

We were lucky enough to have done ours before the trip, which led us to this wonderful pachyderm haven. At Elephant Nature Park, you get to be a trainer for a day. Meaning you get to feed, bathe and play with these magical creatures! As an elephant lover, this was a dream come true. It was an incredible and humbling experience to roam freely alongside these magnificent creatures. I can’t encourage you enough to add this one to your bucket list.

Processed with VSCOcam with s3 preset Processed with VSCOcam with c2 preset

Indulge in a Rubdown

Go to any spa anywhere in the world and you will most likely see “Thai Massage” on the menu. I am still unsure as to why Thai massages became so popular, but I can vouch that the Thai have perfected their craft. There are almost as many spas in Thailand as there are 7-eleven’s, so choose carefully. We waited until we arrived in Phuket to treat ourselves. From the minute we entered the spa, a sense of serenity could be felt. We were immediately handed cool towels and a list of spa treatments to choose from.  Not only did we indulge in massages, we all took deliciously warm milk baths in our own private rooms to help hydrate our skin. After sweating so much, your skin will love you for it.

Processed with VSCOcam with c2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with c2 preset

Island Hop

Processed with VSCOcam with k1 presetEver watch Leo DiCaprio’s movie The Beach and imagine yourself sitting on the sand, looking out into the distance at dramatic limestone cliffs peaking their heads out of glimmering turquoise waters? Yeah, we all have.

If you find yourself in Phuket, you MUST hop on one of those rustic long tail boats and explore the surrounding islands. We opted for a snorkeling trip (shout out to Nudi Tours), allowing us not only to explore the different islands, but the exotic marine life too. I have never felt like I was living in a postcard until I embarked on this journey. We had died and gone to beach heaven.

Processed with VSCOcam with k2 presetThe trip consisted of alternating between snorkeling and basking in the sun –each time on a new island. We were able to see an array of beautifully colored fish and explore islands such as: Phi Phi Don, Maya Bay and Monkey Island. If you ever want to check “Utopia” off your list, make this tour a priority.
Processed with VSCOcam with c8 preset Processed with VSCOcam with c8 preset

Something happened to me on this trip—it’s almost as if the lens on my glasses changed to a brighter, rosier tone. Thailand helped me build my confidence enough to believe that I can do anything. Therefore, I can do everything.

Hopefully now you get a better understanding of my love for the land of smiles!

Processed with VSCOcam with s3 preset
Red Frog Pub

Red Frog Pub

Ice Cream Parlor

Ice Cream Parlor

Seafood Shack

Seafood Shack

Family Harbor example

Family Harbor example

Vista Atrium

Vista Atrium

Carnival Vista

Carnival Vista

SkyRide

SkyRide

Bullet points from today’s Carnival event:

Upon launch in May 2016, Vista will sail a variety of 8 and 10-day sailings from Athens and Barcelona

 

She will also sail a 12-day voyage out of Barcelona

 

After the Euro-summer season, Vista will sail a 13-day voyage into New York City

 

After NYC sailing, she will settle into her new home port, announcement coming later

 

Features to include:
-The first IMAX at sea
-Red Frog Brewery now brewing on board
-Expanded Havana Bar area (now with pool and Havana Cabanas)
-New cabin class called “Family Harbor”, accommodating up to five
-Serenity Deck to have a chopped salad station
-A full ice cream parlor
-Dining on Deck 5 to have indoor and outdoor seating
-The atrium will have a center feature, with LED lighting, that changes colors throughout the day
-The largest Waterworks in the fleet and the largest waterslide at sea (455-feet long)
-A Skyride that goes around Lido Deck

Nieuw Amsterdam

Nieuw Amsterdam

Holland America Adds Six Dancing with the Stars Theme Cruises

Holland America Line will continue the “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” program in 2015/2016. For the third year, the collaboration brings the excitement of ABC’s hit show “Dancing with the Stars” to all of the ships in the Holland America Line fleet. The program will culminate with the annual Champions Cruise competition on ms Nieuw Amsterdam’s Jan. 10, 2016, western Caribbean voyage.

The 2015 schedule will continue to feature “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” programming on all sailings in addition to six special “Dancing with the Stars” theme cruises highlighting the show’s professional dancers and celebrities. In 2013 and 2014 select theme cruises featured professional dancers Tristan MacManus, Kym Johnson, Sharna Burgess, Emma Slater, Lacey Schwimmer, Chelsie Hightower, Mark Ballas and Derek Hough, along with television personality Carson Kressley, singer Joey Fatone, actress Sabrina Bryan and Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson.

Disney Announces Early 2016 Deployment

Disney Cruise Line introduces two popular Caribbean destinations — Tortola, British Virgin Islands and Martinique — into the lineup of favorite tropical itineraries for early 2016. The return to the homeport of San Juan, Puerto Rico brings a new itinerary that includes Martinique.

From the warm Caribbean culture of Tortola, capital of the British Virgin Islands, to the exquisite French island of Martinique, these destinations provide Disney Cruise Line guests the chance to relax on pristine beaches, discover natural wonders and indulge in local shopping and cuisine.

Celebrity Adds River Packages to Cruise Offering

Celebrity Cruises has introduced European river-and-ocean cruise vacation packages.

Unique to the cruise industry and only available on Celebrity Cruises, these one-of-a-kind Celebrity Explorations combine immersive Amras Cruises river journeys with guest-favorite modern luxury ocean sailings.

“Our guests want to continue seeing more of the world with Celebrity, and we are dedicated to providing them with the most destination-rich vacations,” said Michael Bayley, President and CEO, Celebrity Cruises. “By introducing these river-and-ocean cruise packages, travelers can immerse themselves in Europe more so than ever before, with the ease of choosing a vacation package exclusively created by Celebrity.”

The 11 new river-and-ocean cruise packages offer guests the opportunity to explore Europe far and wide by way of four well-known rivers – the Danube, Rhine, Rhône and Seine – and then by sea onboard a breathtaking Celebrity cruise around the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, Russia, Turkey and other destinations.

MSC and Lego Partner for Lego Experience at Sea

MSC Cruises and the LEGO Group have joined forces to bring children and families the ultimate LEGO Experience at sea, including LEGO designed playrooms and entertainment options. More.

AOL Launches Laughs on Deck With Carnival and George Lopez

On October 30, AOL announced the launch of “Laughs on Deck,” a new branded series in partnership with Carnival Cruise Lines starring George Lopez who serves as the cruise line’s curator of comedy. The first two episodes of the new AOL series are now available, with four additional episodes slated to go live in the coming weeks. “Laughs on Deck” marks an expansion of Carnival Cruise Lines’ current relationship with AOL, having signed on as the brand sponsor for AOL Original “Laugh Lessons with Kevin Nealon.”

grand-holiday

Grand Holiday to CMV

Iberocruceros’ Grand Holiday is set for a new life at Cruise & Maritime Voyages. The ship was launched as the Holiday for Carnival Cruise Lines in 1985 and today Cruise & Maritime Voyages announced that the Grand Holiday will be joining its fleet in Spring 2015 as the Magellan. Statement from CMV:

British based Cruise Operator, Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV), is pleased to announce the addition of Grand Holiday from Costa Crociere to the CMV fleet, commencing ex-UK operations under the CMV livery in spring 2015.

Carnival Corporation Unveils Hybrid Wireless Network at Sea

Carnival Corporation & plc today unveiled the cruise industry’s first-of-its-kind hybrid wireless network – an enhanced high-speed service to eventually be rolled out to all 101 of its ships on all nine of its brands.

This technology innovation is expected to revolutionize how millions of its passengers stay in touch during their cruise and generate even greater interest in cruise vacations.

Carnival Corporation’s backbone connectivity network, known as WiFi@Sea™, will integrate a unique combination of strategically located land-based antennas installed along cruise routes, Wi-Fi from a port connection and advanced satellites, forming an innovative network that is a first in the cruise industry on this scale. The “smart hybrid” network is designed to provide passengers and crew with faster and more stable internet access throughout their voyage – a feature becoming increasingly important to travelers of all ages looking to stay connected and share their experiences through social media.

Once completed, the integrated network will seamlessly switch among its various technology solutions to give passengers the highest available bandwidth capacity and strength of signal. The network will be capable of providing Internet connectivity speeds that can be roughly 10 times faster than those previously offered on Carnival Corporation’s ships – ultimately expected to provide passengers with the best possible connectivity in the cruise industry. More.

Princess Partners with Discovery for Onboard Activities

Princess Cruise and Discovery Consumer Products announced their collaboration to create Discovery At Sea, interactive onboard activities and shore excursions. The new Discovery At Sea cruise vacations will feature themed tours, science activities, hands-on programs and games based on Discovery’s breadth of brands and programming. Debuting on Princess Cruises’ ships in early 2015, the interactive experiences are designed to bring to life the nature, wildlife and history of the regions guests are sailing. More.

Costa Victoria to the Rescue in South China Sea

Last Monday morning, while sailing from Hong Kong to Sanya Hainan Island, Costa Victoria rescued the crewmembers of a burning fishing boat spotted in the Southern Chinese Sea.

Holland America in Partnership with Marine Conservation Institute

As part of its “Our Marvelous Oceans” partnership with Marine Conservation Institute, Holland America Line has created a new program that highlights and educates guests and crew about marine protected areas around the world. Developed with the team at Marine Conservation Institute, the program will educate guests and crew through on-board presentations by shipboard personnel. Topics will cover what a marine protected area is and how to visit one without causing harm to the habitat and wildlife. This information can be enhanced through participation in featured shore excursions.

Port Tampa Bay Welcomes Norwegian Sun for Winter Season

Port Tampa Bay officials welcomed the Norwegian Cruise Line ship Norwegian Sun to Tampa during a plaque exchange ceremony Sunday, November 2, commemorating the ship’s inaugural call in Tampa, as well as the start of the busy 2014-2015 winter cruise season.

Carnival Corporation Will Increase Fleet Capacity by Nearly 10 Percent through 2016

Carnival Corporation & plc announced it will increase fleet capacity by nearly 10 percent from 2014 through 2016, fueled largely by the addition of four new ships across four brands in less than 18 months. More.

love-boat-cast-regal-princess-naming-lg

 

Regal Princess Launched in Star-Studded Ceremony

Princess Cruises, the cruise line made famous as the backdrop of the iconic Love Boat television series, christened its new Regal Princess with a tribute to the show as all six of the original cast members served as the ship’s godparents, and were joined by 25 of the show’s past guest stars.

The star-studded Love Boat themed festivities, which also launched the line’s 50th anniversary, celebrated the role the show played in Princess Cruises’ five-decades-long history.

All six Love Boat cast members – Gavin MacLeod (Captain Stubing), Fred Grandy (Gopher, the chief purser), Ted Lange (Isaac, the bartender), Bernie Kopell (Doc, the ship’s doctor), Lauren Tewes (cruise director, Julie) and Jill Whelan (Vicki, the captain’s daughter) – pulled a lever that first sent a record-breaking fifty champagne bottles smashing against the ship’s hull as a nod to the company’s anniversary celebration, followed by the breaking of a giant Nebuchadnezzar-size 51st bottle signifying Princess Cruises’ continued future success. More.

Carnival Gift Cards Now Available In More Than 9,000 Retail Locations

Carnival Cruise Lines’ gift card program – a prepaid card that can be used as payment toward a “Fun Ship” vacation or a variety of shipboard purchases – is now available in more than 9,000 retail outlets throughout the U.S. This marks the first time that a cruise line-specific gift card has been made available at retail establishments ashore. More.

PORT EVERGLADES 2015 CRUISE GUIDE AND NEW CRUISE APP

Port Everglades is making it easier and more convenient for cruise guests to plan their next ocean-bound vacation with an online version of the Cruise Guide (CLICK HERE) and a new, user-friendly cruise app for mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads (CLICK HERE).

CARNIVAL & DALLAS COWBOYS TAILGATE TAKEOVER

On Sunday, October 19th, Carnival Cruise Lines, the Official Cruise Line of the Dallas Cowboys, held its first-ever Tailgate Takeover at AT&T Stadium with an appearance by Chef Guy Fieri – whose Guy’s Burger Joints are on several of the line’s “Fun Ships” – as well as a pre-game concert by country music superstars Rascal Flatts.

MIAMI’S OLDEST BAR TO GET NEW HOME ON NCL ESCAPE

In celebration of Norwegian Escape’s one year to launch milestone, Norwegian Cruise Line today announced that Miami’s oldest and most legendary bar, Tobacco Road, will find a new home aboard the line’s newest and largest vessel.

The acclaimed establishment, which was issued Miami’s very first liquor license, is closing its original location this week after 102 years in business. In an effort to preserve the tradition of this iconic Miami landmark, Tobacco Road and Norwegian Cruise Line partnered to bring the Tobacco Road experience onboard Norwegian Escape, which will begin sailing from Miami in November 2015.

COSTA DIADEMA PRESENTED

On October 25, the Costa Diadema was officially presented at Fincantieri shipyard in Marghera (Venice), to Costa Cruises’ CEO, Michael Thamm and Fincantieri’s CEO, Giuseppe Bono. The ship will then set sail from Marghera on October 30 and will reach Trieste, from which her “Vernissage Cruise” will start on November 1.

ROYAL CARIBBEAN LAUNCHES TERMINAL IN NEW JERSERY, FOR QUANTUM

On October 24th, Royal Caribbean and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey dedicated the new cruise terminal at a small gathering at Cape Liberty Cruise Port, which will be the home for Quantum of the Seas starting on November 10.

(News compiled from cruise company press releases, Cruise Industry News and Tourism Boards)

NCL Jewel

NCL Begins Port Houston Service

Norwegian Cruise Line returned to the Port of Houston for the first time in more than seven years with the arrival of Norwegian Jewel on Saturday, October 11 at the Bayport Cruise Terminal. This inaugural call marked the beginning of the 2014 fall cruise season for Houston. The Norwegian Jewel will sail 27 Western Caribbean cruises through April 11, 2015.

Oasis of the Seas Upgrades

Royal Caribbean International has announced that the Oasis of the Seas, which completed a 14-day drydock October 14th, has a new look, including “reimagined dining,” high-speed internet, new retail offerings, a new Broadway show, and new suites with exclusive suite dining and a lounge. Royal Caribbean’s Dynamic Dining offers guests more choices and flexibility by offering 20 restaurants, said to be as vast and varied as dining in the world’s most cosmopolitan cities.

Crystal ReCRYSTAL-CRUISES-LOGO1ceives Atlantic Alliance Award

The Atlantic Alliance has given Crystal Cruises its “Triple A – Award” for 2015, which it presented to Crystal in Los Angeles last week. Each year the Atlantic Alliance awards cruise companies that have made a particularly significant contribution to the region with its “Triple A – Award”.

Holland America Adds Pros to Dancing with the Stars at Sea

Holland America Line has added the professional dancers Sharna Burgess and Artem Chigvintsev to the remaining two 2014 Dancing with the Stars: At Seatheme cruises. Both currently performing on the ABC hit show Dancing with the Stars, Burgess and Chigvintsev will join the Westerdam departing Nov. 29 and the Champions Cruise that sets sail Dec. 6. Both cruises sail roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean.

C-Equinox_090731-2492_bAll Inclusive Packages Offered by Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Cruises has announced an All-Included Europe Package beginning Monday, Oct. 13. Guests can now fly directly from New York or New Jersey where they can embark on their European vacation. The Celebrity All-Included Europe Package is available for the following prices: $2,999 Oceanview lead rate for seven-night Celebrity Equinox Mediterranean sailings; $3,499 Oceanview lead rate for 12-nights on the Silhouette to the Baltic; and $3,499 Oceanview lead rate for 10- or 11-nights on the Reflection on Mediterranean sailings.

The package is available on seven-to-12-night European cruises ocean view or higher stateroom sailing between April 27 and October 12, 2015 on the three ships with round-trip, non-stop flights from JFK or Newark to Barcelona,  Rome, Amsterdam , Venice, Istanbul, Stockholm and Athens. Onboard amenities include a Classic Beverage Package for two including beer, wine and spirits;  non-alcoholic beverage packages for third and fourth guests; all cruise gratuities;  air and cruise taxes and port fees; and round-trip ground transfers.

Carnival Vista Construction Begins

Carnival Cruise Lines’ celebrated the keel-laying of its newest ship, the 3,954-passenger Carnival Vista, in a ceremony held last week at the Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone. The 133,500-ton vessel – the largest “Fun Ship” ever constructed – is set to debut in spring 2016.

Chinese Ports Brace For Immense Growth

By 2020, if estimates are correct, China’s cruise market will make up 4.5 million passengers and $8 billion in local economic impact. With that potential, government-backed ports are working hard to upgrade their infrastructure in time for new tonnage and more ships.

vikingstarViking Ocean Names Captain of Viking Star

Viking Ocean Cruises has announced that Captain Gulleik Svalastog will be at the helm of its first ocean ship – the 930-passenger Viking Star – which will sail its first cruise in April 2015.

Carnival Corp May Start Entry Level Chinese Cruise Line

Carnival Corporation is making moves in China and may add another brand to its portfolio in a Chinese entry-level/mass market cruise product.

Four Home Ports and Quantum in China for Royal Caribbean

Putting the Quantum of the Seas in China will not only attract new Chinese passengers but also promote pre- and post-China visits from international guests, according to Adam Goldstein, president and COO of Royal Caribbean Cruises. Building up in China, Royal Caribbean International will sail the Mariner from Tianjin in 2015, the Quantum from Shanghai, the Legend from Xiamen and the Voyager from Hong Kong, according to Goldstein, speaking today at the China Cruise Shipping Expo hosted by the China Cruise and Yacht Industry Association.

Ruby Princess Helps Set Port Saint John History

Port Saint John welcomed its 1000th cruise call on Oct. 16, while last year marked the 25th anniversary of cruising to Saint John since 1989.

The Rhapsody in Brazil: 2015-2016

Royal Caribbean International has announced that the Rhapsody of the Seas will be deployed in the Brazilian market, sailing from Santos for 2015/2016 season. The Rhapsody will arrive in Santos December 5, 2015 and will be on the South American coast until April 10, 2016.

Ebola Scare on Carnival’s Magic

Late afternoon on Wednesday, Oct. 15, CCL was made aware, by the U.S. CDC, of a guest sailing this week on board Carnival Magic who is a lab supervisor at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. This person handled specimens from the patient who died at that hospital earlier in the month. At no point in time has the individual exhibited any symptoms or signs of infection and it has been 19 days since she was in the lab with the testing samples. She was deemed by CDC to be very low risk. At the time of this posting, this hospital worker was cleared of the disease, The Magic returned home, and everyone was cleared to disembark.

Mediterranean Cruise-Land Package by MSC for Divina in 2015

MSC Cruises has announced inclusive air/land/sea vacation package deals for guests sailing on MSC Divina, the line’s largest ship specifically dedicated to North American travelers, while the ship is in the Mediterranean from May 16 through Sept. 19, 2015. Starting at $1,899, the 10-night package includes round-trip airfare to Rome or Barcelona, a seven-night cruise, a two-night post-cruise stay in a four-star hotel, and all transfers needed, including from the airport to the ship, from the ship to the hotel and from the hotel back to the airport.

(News compiled from cruise company press releases, Cruise Industry News and Tourism Boards)

panama

 

 

 

 

Panama Canal Season Begins

The Panama Canal cruise ship season has “officially” begun with the transit of the Coral Princess, on a repositioning voyage from Los Angeles to Ft. Lauderdale. The Panama Canal Authority said it expects approximately 200 cruise ships to transit through the canal during this season that spans from October 2014 to April 2015.

 

Local Banks to Finance Port of Galveston Cruise Terminal Expansion

Three Galveston County community banks have worked together on financing for a $13 million expansion of the Port of Galveston’s Cruise Terminal No. 2. Texas First Bank, HomeTown Bank and Moody National Bank each pitched in for the unique funding package for the expansion of Cruise Terminal No. 2 to accommodate larger vessels and more passengers.Galveston

When completed next spring, Cruise Terminal No. 2 will feature 150,000 square feet of space and have a seating capacity of 1,600 passengers. The port currently handles over one million cruise passengers a year and is the 4th busiest cruise port in the nation–and ranks among the top 20 in the world.

 

Princess Launches 50th Anniversary “Inspiring Stories” Contest

Princess Cruises has announced that it is inviting past guests to join in celebrating its 50th anniversary by participating in an “Inspiring Stories” essay contest, sharing a moving experience that occurred on a Princess cruise vacation. The winner will ride on the line’s first-ever float in The Rose Parade on New Year’s Day in Pasadena.

The author of the winning entry, and up to three guests featured in the story, will be awarded a four-day trip to Pasadena, Calif., to join the cast members of The Love Boat as they “cruise” down the five-and-a-half-mile parade route on January 1, 2015.

 

First Tattoo Theme Cruise Set for April 2015 on Royal Caribbean

The first-ever tattoo-themed North American cruise, Ink or Swim, will sail April 16 – 20, 2015 from Fort Lauderdale to Cozumel, Mexico on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas. The first annual cruise will offer guests the exclusive opportunity to sail the high seas while getting ‘fresh ink’ from some of the most in-demand artists in the country, as well attend exclusive Ink or Swim events including onboard Burlesque shows, tattoo contests, complimentary photo shoots and a private beach party in Cozumel.

 

Holland America to Mexico and Hawaii this Coming Season

cruises-hawaii_596x334
Holland America Line is promoting its cruises to Hawaii and Mexico on a variety of itineraries ranging from seven to 18 days from this fall through spring (2015).

 

 

Carnival Announces Spring Live Concerts

Cruising has never sounded so good, according to Carnival Cruise Lines, which today unveiled its new Carnival LIVE Concert Series roster for spring 2015, bringing more of “the best live music to sea from some of most popular and highly requested music acts.” Coming onboard in the first part of next year will be Journey, Rascal Flatts, Little Big Town, Smokey Robinson, and Styx, back by popular demand for the second season, Carnival said.

 

P&O Offers Solar Eclipse and Northern Lights

P&O Cruises is offering an opportunity to witness two natural phenomena in one holiday; to see a total solar eclipse and, with luck, spot the elusive aurora borealis. Exclusively for adults, the Oriana’s will sail 14 nights roundtrip from Southampton on March 17, 2015 to the Faroe Islands and northern Norway.

(News compiled from cruise company press releases, Cruise Industry News and Tourism Boards)

It seems Bermuda has a plan; one which it hopes will help lure additional amounts of cruise ships to visit the beautiful island.

Next time, there will be people in this photo!

Next time, there will be people in this photo!

In their most recent attempt at allowing cruise ships’ casinos to open while in port, the Bermuda Cruise Ship (Casino) Act 2013 passed last October. On-board casinos can now operate between 9pm and 5am, in return for a license fee per ship payable to the Bermuda Government. Smaller ships, with a passenger capacity not exceeding 2,000, would not be charged the fee. It is interesting because Bermuda has seen a decline in attracting smaller, high-end cruise ships. The Parliament feels the exemption would encourage more visits.

Bermuda from above!

Bermuda from above!

At the same time, Bermuda does not want to discourage the larger, newer vessels; ships like the forthcoming Quantum-class of Royal Caribbean, for example. In the news recently, Parliament is investigating ways in which narrow channels can be widened to enable mega-cruise ships to visit Bermuda. In order to allow bigger liners access, Parliament is considering realigning either the North or South Channel or upgrading the existing route of the South Channel.

Whether you are a fan of mega-ships or not, the real news here is the fact that Bermuda is open to all of this. In past years, Bermuda has had some of the most stringent policies regarding what cruise companies may and may not do while visiting. It seems the  Bermuda Cruise Ship (Casino) Act is a sign of things to come.

As big as the cruise industry is, I am quite surprised with the lack of local advertising, aimed at folks who live within short driving distances of home ports. I’ve lived in South Florida for over 22 years, and I would see at least a dozen commercials a week, from Disney World, promoting deals for Florida residents. Look, I realize the industry’s bread and butter is the extended holiday/vacation, and the short cruise business may be doing well enough, but there are more dollars to be made there.

All across the U.S., particularly in or near port cities, casinos and entertainment venues are popping up. In many cases, they are popping up because people want things to do before and after their cruises. I know I would purposely arrive to ports like New Orleans a day or two early just to enjoy what the city has to offer! But what about the locals? For those who enjoy a night out, like a nice dinner for two, followed by a show and maybe drinks and/or dancing afterwards…this can get pricey!

Some weekend cruises rival the cost of one night out in Miami!

Some weekend cruises rival the cost of one night out in Miami!

Well, if you live near a cruise home port, and can make weekend getaway decisions within a window of one to two weeks (give or take), a weekend cruise can cost you significantly less than ONE night on the town for two people! That’s right, call the babysitter…call the grand parents…you are going to want to get away for the weekend because we are going to do  a comparison!

We recently dined at a well-known steakhouse in Miami, followed by a show with drinks. Here is the breakdown:

  • 1 Pea Soup: $9.50
  • 1 Stone Crab: $24.00
  • 1 Lamb Chops: $46.00
  • 1 Colorado Ribs: $53.00
  • 1 Creamed Spinach: $12.50
  • 2 Glasses House Red Wine: $24.00
  • 2 Import Beers: $19.00
  • 1 German Chocolate Cake: $9.00

Then at the show, a Broadway musical, two tickets were $120 and four drinks cost us $32. The figures above, not including tax and gratuities, total $349.

Just recently, on February 10, Norwegian Cruise Line had several fares, for a 4-nighter, starting at $119 per person.

Weekend cruises were advertised as low as $134 per person. Port charges and fees are a bit extra, but prices for three and four nights certainly rivaled our night out in this case. And for those of you who may be cruise newbies, what was included with the cruise advertised for $119pp? Well, five complimentary dining options, all entertainment in the Theatre and Show Lounge and live music and dancing venues throughout the ship, fitness center/sports court/pools/hot tubs, youth programs (if needed) and of course, excellent service! Oh, and yes…two tropical destinations along the way!

The view from aboard the Allure of the Seas as she departs from Port Everglades, in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

The view from aboard the Allure of the Seas as she departs from Port Everglades, in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

Shorter cruises offer many benefits, such as an alternative to land-based casinos (and you don’t have to drive home after drinking) and allowing new cruisers to try it out for a shorter period and a lower cost. It is also a great change from trying to find parking at local entertainment venues and beaches around the U.S. One of our Facebook fans had her own reason…she arrived for her 7-day cruise a few days early, and taking a three night cruise (before her longer cruise) was  much less expensive than staying in a hotel for two nights. Yes, hotel rates on cruise weekends, in port cities are not cheap, and, you better reserve early!

We can help with your cruise wants and needs. We can also answer your questions. Check out our new sister website, CruiseCX.com, and start researching your next cruise or travel escape. Happy Hump Day everybody!