Royal City Carlson Wagonlit Travel's Blog

Can Cruise Travel have an Edge? Celebrity Cruises Thinks So.

We don't normally go gaga over ships that haven't launched yet… But this news we just had to share with you. At a cruise industry event last week, Celebrity Cruises announced the first of a new class of ship: The Edge.

The first ship designed entirely in 3-D, in (parent company) Royal Caribbean's Miami Innovation Lab in the world's largest and highest resolution 3-D virtual reality simulator in the world, we think the billion (with a 'b') dollar Edge earns its name.

Imagine this: designers were chosen for their inexperience – inexperience! - with cruise ships and cruising.  Celebrity wanted a truly fresh approach to how to enjoy life at sea.  No preconceived notions, and nothing  was off the table.   New-to-cruise travelers, this could be the ship for you!

Highlights of their revolutionary approach include outward-facing design, a big break from traditional inward-facing design, connecting guests more to the seascape around you and practical, make-life-easy digital innovations – not just gimmicks.

In a Class of its Own: The 'Magic Carpet'

Originally conceived as a tender (small boat to shore) launch but evolved into an engineering feat that is so much more: the world's first cantilevered venue at sea that travels up and down 13 stories on the side of the ship, transforming into different venues on different decks: an al fresco specialty restaurant under the stars, an expansion of the pool deck, a luxury embarkation station.

Then there's…

  • The Resort Deck, encompassed by an outward-facing, untraditionally asymmetrical terraced pool deck nearly 22 feet high that makes the ocean views and landscapes the focal point while lounging poolside.
  • Spectacular martini glass-shaped hot tubs suspended elegantly in the air on the slenderest glass stems and bookend the pool.
  • A larger-than-life artistic mirror installation – an ever-changing, abstract piece positioned above the Pool Bar.
  • The pool deck's oversized sculptural pieces unlike anything we've seen at sea. Dramatic, unique tree sculptures add an air of whimsy and create an intimate setting at night when lit up.
  • The Rooftop Garden, a living, urban playscape designed to awaken the inner-child in everyone, tended to daily by a resident horticulturist, an interactive space, including pop-up live music performances from musicians in the treetop sculptures.
  • The Retreat Sundeck rivaling any high-end resort, with over-water hanging chairs while the water laps beneath your feet or you lay back in the shaded resort-style cabanas and soak up the nearly 240-degree panoramic views on the forward end of the ship.
  • The Retreat Lounge, located just below The Retreat Sundeck and open around the clock, touching the sea on both the port- and starboard sides, and offering seemingly endless ocean views.
  • Edge staterooms with Infinite Verandas, revolutionizing the standard veranda stateroom with the touch of a button, blurring – even erasing – the boundaries between inside and outside. The entire living space becomes the veranda, letting you walk right out to the water’s edge.

Altogether: a uniquely nautical interpretation of a stand-out, stylish, boutique resort… that happens to deliver you to a new port of call every day. 

The head-turning design is matched by technology:

Digital Technology on the Edge

  • 'Frictionless arrival', eliminating the stop-and-go check-in process that frustrates modern travelers, replacing it with a seamless experience harnessing facial recognition software and a system of geofenced beacons.
  • The cruise industry's first–keyless entry using a smart phone.
  • Another cruise-first: stateroom automation allowing guests to precisely adjust lighting, window shades, temperature, and service with a simple touchscreen.
  • Virtual Concierge app harnesses Artificial Intelligence, allowing guests to order drinks, book dinner reservations, or reserve shore excursions.
  • Way-Finding using smart phones with sensors.
  • 'X-Ray Vision' (actually, a system of HD cameras) allowing you to peek behind walls and closed doors of selected locales, like the bridge, the engine room, or even the anchor.

We can't wait to see the Edge come to life.  You won't be able to sail on this ground (wave?)-breaking new ship until December 2018, but you can already reserve your place so you can be among the first to see if you agree: there's real Edge to this new ship.

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Video: Man vs. Jetstream and other things you didn't know about St. Maarten

From the outrageous antics on Maho Beach at the end of the airport runway, to the hidden gems (literally!) of the island, this BestTrip.TV travel video shares our favorite - and most unique - things about the island.

So is it St. Maarten or St. Martin?  If you don't know why both of those names are correct, you need to watch this video!

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Who's the Best Bartender at Sea?

2500 entries.  13 cruise lines.  All competing for the title of 2017 Bacardi Legacy Cruise Competition Bartender of the Year.

The finals took place in Miami in February in a live competition judged by a panel of cocktail and spirits experts, held at award-winning restaurant Alter in Miami’s hip Wynwood neighborhood.  

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Wade Cleophas came out on top of the 'spirited' competition, and now wears the crown of Bartender of the Year.

Wade’s winning creation is the ‘Legend Reviver’ - inspired by classic cocktails with spices reminiscent of traveling to exotic places - featuring Bacardi Ocho Anos, mixed with star anise-infused sweet vermouth, caramel/cinnamon syrup with drops of whisky barrel aged bitters and finished with a mist of Absinthe.  As we like to say, 'Tastes like another!'

His perfectly presented cocktail was artistically finished off with a garnish resembling the sails of a merchant ship and the wings of the Bacardi bat.

A key element of the competition was the requirement for finalists to promote their cocktail around the world.  In the three months that Wade was promoting Legend River Reviver, Norwegian sold almost 2000 servings of the specialty drink. We think that's a strong vote for Wade's creative mixology.

Wade began his bartending career over 12 years ago, starting out in his hometown of Cape Town, South Africa, progressing to work with many leading bartenders in Dubai and Miami, before joining Norwegian Cruise Line.

Wade will now move on to The Bacardi Legacy Global Cocktail Competition in May in Berlin.  It's a global search to find a cocktail that can stand the test of time to become a true Bacardi classic; a cocktail that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with cocktails of legends, such as heritage classics like the Daiquiri or Mojito.

In the meantime, you might be able to sidle up to the bar to taste his magic with a cocktail shaker; Wade is the Assistant Beverage Manager onboard Norwegian Escape, sailing weekly from Miami to the Caribbean.

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A New Viking on the High Seas

The Viking Sky has set sail on its maiden voyage.  It's the 3rd ship for Viking Ocean Cruises and a sister ship to Viking Star and Viking Sea.

The Viking Sky launched from Rome’s Civitavecchia port last week on her first cruise en route to Barcelona. Sister ship to the award-winning Viking Star and Viking Sea, Viking Sky begins her maiden season sailing itineraries throughout the Western and Eastern Mediterranean before heading north into Viking territory to sail Scandinavian and Baltic itineraries in the summer. Viking Sky crosses the Atlantic this fall and finishes out the year sailing itineraries in the Americas and the Caribbean.

Scandinavian Design

Considered a “small ship,” the all-veranda Viking Sky, like her sister ships, boasts 465 staterooms – that's less than a thousand passengers. Viking's ocean ships are designed by experienced nautical architects and engineers, as well as the same interior design team responsible for the award-winning fleet of Viking Longships.  On board, guests find serene Scandinavian spaces, where every room is beautiful and functional, quiet, and filled with light.

The 'Viking Way' of Exploration

Viking Sky, like all Viking's ocean ships, is deliberately small to get guests closer to your destination, with more time in port, more overnights and fewer days at sea. All-veranda design means that guests experience every day with a new, expansive vista. With the most al fresco dining at sea, Viking’s guests can truly dine in their destination. A focus on cultural enrichment brings immersive experiences onshore and on board, including these highlights in the destinations of the new Viking Sky's maiden year in service:

·         The Hermitage Behind Closed Doors, St. Petersburg, Russia – Guests receive a Privileged Access view of the vaults of one of the world’s greatest art collections at the magnificent Hermitage Museum. 

·         Vistas, Vikings & The Village Woodturner, Torshavn, Faroe Islands Guests can gain insight into daily village life and the rich Viking heritage as they explore the village of Kvivik, site of a 10th-century Viking settlement.

·         King Crab Safari, Honningsvåg, Norway – Guests can set off in a deep-sea raft into the pristine waters of Sarnesfjorden to catch their own king crab in this thrilling excursion.

The trio of ocean ships will become a quartet in late 2017, when Viking’s fourth ocean ship, Viking Sun, will be delivered in November.  The Viking Sun will spend her maiden season sailing the cruise line's first-ever World Cruise.

They'll be joined by the Viking Spirit in 2018 to sail itineraries in Australia, Asia and Alaska. A sixth, yet-to-be-named ship will be delivered in 2019.

With the arrival of the sixth ship, Viking will go from a river-only cruise line only a few years ago, to the largest small ship ocean cruise line.

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Cruise with Oprah on Holland America Line

Oprah Winfrey will sail on a HAL cruise to Alaska in July 2017 as Holland America Line and O, The Oprah Magazine partner to celebrate travel.

If you're a fan of Oprah, you already know that Oprah Winfrey and her magazine are all about personal growth. They've teamed up with Holland America Line to explore the life-changing power of travel.

Oprah Winfrey, Gayle King and others will join the inaugural O, The Oprah Magazine Share the Adventure Cruise setting sail to Alaska this July.

For Oprah, who has designated 2017 her 'Year of Adventure', this will be her very first trip to Alaska, and fellow cruise travelers will be a witness to her experience of America's Last Frontier on HAL.

O, The Oprah Magazine Share the Adventure Cruise to Alaska will take place July 15–22, 2017.

Four additional O, The Oprah Magazine Adventure of Your Life sailings featuring O Magazine-inspired activities will be scheduled aboard select North America ships through 2018.

O, The Oprah Magazine Adventure of Your Life cruises will include the following dates/destinations:

  • November 29, 2017 – 11-Day Southern Caribbean Wayfarer roundtrip from Ft. Lauderdale on ms Koningsdam
  • March 3, 2018 – 7-Day Eastern Caribbean roundtrip from Ft. Lauderdale on ms Nieuw Amsterdam
  • August 11, 2018 – 7-Day Alaska roundtrip from Seattle on ms Eurodam
  • October 28, 2018 – 7-Day Western Caribbean, ms Nieuw Amsterdam

Living your Best Life Programming: O, The Oprah Magazine Adventure of Your Life cruises and more HAL Cruises

The O, The Oprah Magazine cruises will feature exclusive programming developed with the magazine’s editors. Members of the SuperSoul 100 — thought leaders and visionaries who use their talents to elevate humanity — will be on board sharing inspirational ideas and tips for living your best life.

In addition to the 5 specific O-partnered cruises, more than 300 Holland America Line cruises sailing in North America from August 2017 through 2018 will have a variety of engaging, stimulating activities that bring the magazine's philosophy to life, including:

  • meditation,
  • tai chi,
  • healthy cooking demonstrations,
  • an onboard book club and more.

The magazine kicks off the partnership with a contest in March 2017 awarding three deserving readers the chance to join the inaugural cruise to Alaska with Oprah and Gayle. Oprah fans can keep track of the partnership with HAL in Oprah's magazine, TV, and online channels through through 2017 and 2018.

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Spoiling you at Sea: Lifestyle Brands on the World's most Luxurious Ships

If you've never sailed on a small, luxury cruise, you don't know what you're missing.  

It feels like being on a large, private yacht that can sail right into the heart of a destination, allowing you to stroll on and off the ship at your leisure. Imagine an all-suite environment that includes walk-in closets, butlers, exquisite dining and breezy, never-crowded decks with attendants who anticipate your every want and need.  

These cruise lines partner with some of the most premium lifestyle brands in the world to create a signature experience at sea you won't soon forget. BestTrip.TV's cruise expert, producer/host Lynn Elmhirst, shares her favorites from Crystal, Silversea, and Seabourn.

Seabourn:

Sterling Caviar: Seabourn’s culinary excellence demands quality ingredients produced by methods that are sustainable and environmentally responsible. Sterling supplies Seabourn with hand-crafted caviar harvested from native California white sturgeon raised in carefully controlled conditions. It's been compared to the finest imported Osetra. In the time-honored tradition of the Caspian Sea fishery, Sterling adds nothing but salt, and then ages the caviar to attain the perfect buttery texture and flavor.

Caviar is center stage for one of Seabourn's signature experiences 'Caviar in the Surf', where uniformed staff plunge into the water during a private shore beach barbecue to serve up – you guessed it – caviar and champagne in the waves (pictured above).

Moulton Brown: This London-based fragrance pioneer has partnered with Seabourn not just to supply sumptuous bath amenities in all suites. It has used its expertise at blending rare ingredients in collaboration with Seabourn's marine spirit and the coastlines it explores to create two Seabourn Signature Scents exclusively for guests on all its ships.

Immersive Samphire & Eucalyptus brings to life the uplifting aromas of fresh samphire from the rocky, salt-sprayed Atlantic coast of France and enlivening eucalyptus from China, balanced with cardamom, cedarwood, violet and mint for a captivating finish in the fresh, revitalizing body lotion and bath & shower gel. Inspiring Basil & Vetiver blend Vietnamese basil oil and aromatic vetiver from Haiti with cardamom, bergamot, cedar wood and petitgrain for a relaxing, sophisticated shampoo and conditioner.

I guarantee these scents will forever evoke memories of your Seabourn cruise.

Hublot: the renowned Swiss watchmaker is the Official Timekeeper of Seabourn. Guests enjoying voyages on any Seabourn ships are kept abreast of the current ship's time by means of handsome Hublot wall clocks, designed and finished with the same flair and elegance that have made Hublot's wristwatches icons of an unparalleled watchmaking tradition.  And of course, they help your ship to arrive in port on time!

Silversea

Pierre Marcolini Chocolates: You know when you sometimes find yourself in your suite in need of a little sweet something mid afternoon, or after an evening of fine dining, cocktails and entertainment?  On Silversea ships, you'll be reaching for a Pierre Marcolini chocolate.  All guests receive an assortment of these Belgian chocolate confections in their suites. This master chocolatier was named World Champion of Pastry in 1995 and is known in fine chocolate circles for fantastic creativity that marries chocolate with apple, pear, blackcurrent and melon, but also ingredients such as pepper, chestnut, tonka beans and even patchouli, sandalwood and oak.

They will melt in your mouth and melt your heart!

Pratesi Fine Bed Linens: Silversea guests will find your sleep experience elevated to a new level of comfort and luxury with Pratesi custom-made bed linens. The legendary Italian linens firm known for creating masterpieces for European aristocracy brings its high-quality and stylish creations to the beds in every Silversea suite. 240 thread count, 100% Egyptian cotton satin sheets, duvet covers and pillowcases… if it weren't for arriving in an amazing port of call every day, you might not want to get out of bed!

Etro Bathrobes and Slippers: After you gaze in wonder at the spaciousness of the walk-in closet in your suite, you'll probably be tempted to wrap yourself in the plush Etro Bathrobe and slippers you'll find there. 

The Italian fashion label remains a family business, producing menswear and womenswear lines, in addition to accessories, fragrances, and other home products.  They will be as hard to say goodbye to as your suite butler.

Crystal Cruises

Frette: This Italian fine linen company's superb wares make an appearance for Crystal guests in staterooms and suites, and also in dining rooms and restaurants.  Since its beginnings in France, Frette has supplied legendary grand hotels – and more recently, Crystal cruise ships - with the finest, softest bed and dining linens.   So legendary has Frette quality become, it is the answer most people would provide if asked to name a luxury bath, bedroom and dining room linen brand.

Frette terry cloth robes, Villeroy & Boch china, and the ultimate in stemware, Riedel crystal adorn staterooms or suites on Crystal cruises.

And dining experiences are no less glamorously appointed, with table linens by Frette as well as Garnier Thiebaut, Schott-Zwiesel crystal, Villeroy & Boch and Wedgewood china, Royal Doulton dishware, Sheffield and Sambonet flatware as you sink your feet into Axminster wool carpets beneath your table.

TaylorMade: More concerned about your swing? This Californian-born company (now owned by Germany's Adidas) is the exclusive golf equipment provider on Crystal's golfing facilities.  If your game isn't improved by the spectacular view from the top deck of a Crystal ship, maybe TaylorMade's 'No. 1 Driver in Golf, No. 1 Fairway in Golf and No. 1 Irons in Golf' clubs will help!

 

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New Cruise Ships in 2017

It will be a full year of breaking champagne bottles against sparkling new ship hulls. Every new cruise ship gives cruise lines the chance to spread their wings and launch design, culinary and entertainment innovations. This year, there are even new-in-class ships never seen before.

Here's what's new at sea in 2017.

Seabourn Encore:


 

First out of the gate, luxury small ship cruise line Seabourn's Encore was christened in Singapore the first week of January and is sailing in Asia, heading to Australia, New Zealand, then back to Dubai and the Mediterranean.

What we love: Curving lines, feel of a sensuous, luxury yacht styled by celebrity hospitality designer Adam Thihany.  All suites, 300 of them, with marble baths, all veranda. The culinary styling’s of 3-Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller in the Grill. An aft water sports marina that opens when the ship anchors, so guests can kayak, windsurf and paddle about in the sea.  The draped Retreat on the top deck, with private cabanas, a spa cabana, bar and the sea breeze.  Seabourn's partnership with UNESCO promoting sustainable tourism at World Heritage sites.

Silver Muse

April brings us the ninth and largest ship for luxury, small ship line Silversea Cruises. The Muse will be the flagship and the largest in the fleet.

What we love: Silversea is calling it a leap forward to 'ultra-luxury ocean cruising'.  600 guests will enjoy 7 levels of suites.  An incredible eight restaurants, three of them outdoors, including the line's signature pool deck Hot Rocks al fresco, table-top meat and seafood grill. Only one involves a fee, La Dame, the Relais & Chateaux French restaurant with local ingredients. A sophisticated indoor/outdoor cigar and whisky bar.

Viking Sky and Viking Sun

Twin sister ships to Viking Star and Viking Sea, Viking's two new ships launch early spring and late fall this year.  Also like their sister ships, Viking Sky and Viking Sun will host 930 guests on cruises that include long calls in port and plenty of overnight calls so guests can immerse themselves in the destination experience.

What we love: Viking's signature 'Nordic' lifestyle: Scandinavian design, a Nordic spa, Finnish sauna, even a 'snow room', plus a cozy and sociable fire pit.  The indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace dining rooms, 'magrodome' pool with glass roof that opens in fair weather, and a main restaurant also transforms from cozy 'hygge' atmosphere to a breezy, open air venue.

MSC Meraviglia

Slated as the biggest ship at sea by passenger capacity when it launches this spring, the MSC Meraviglia means 'wonder', with 3 more ships in its class due by the end of the decade.  MSC Meraviglia will homeport in Europe.

What we love: The two-deck indoor amusement park, three large pools, and massive aqua park. The Mediterranean-style indoor promenade featuring a 262-foot-long LED "sky" that transforms through the day. MSC's wristband technology, for making payments and bookings and keeping track of family members.  And who wouldn't be excited about Cirque du Soleil's first at-sea partnership? Plus the eco-friendly technology to neutralize carbon dioxide emissions and equipment to be water-emission free.

MSC Seaside

Launching at the end of the year, the MSC Seaside launches a new class of ships, just for MSC in North America. It will homeport in Miami and sail year-round in the Caribbean.

What we love: An unimaginable nearly half million square feet of public space. See-through glass walkways (top picture) that hang over the ocean and open-air spa. An outdoor promenade that wraps around the whole ship where you can enjoy shops, bars and alfresco dining. Terraced balcony cabins, with both sea views and a view over the promenade below. Five water slides in a huge aqua park, a ropes course, and a zipline. An expanded MSC Yacht Club – the line’s ship-within-a-ship concept so family fun and butler-catered refined luxury are all on the same ship.

National Geographic Quest

When Lindblad Expeditions launches the National Geographic Quest in the summer for sailings in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and Central America, it will be the largest ship in the fleet.  Not your traditional expedition ship.  Half of the 50 cabins will have balconies.  Family-friendly connecting rooms. Even the rarest of expedition cruise ship amenities: a spa!

What we love: The spirit of exploration. Technology that connects you to nature, like remotely operated vehicles (ROV), a hydrophone and bow-cam to hear humpback whales and film dolphins. Being able to get close to Nature with on-board sea kayaks, paddleboards, expedition landing craft, warm and cold water diving gear, and underwater cameras.

American Constellation

This summer, American Cruise Lines launches its first new ship in several years. The American Constellation will be the cruise line's largest ship; a 163-guest coastal cruise ship built to sail itineraries on the US Eastern coastline and inland waterways including Chesapeake Bay, New England, Hudson River, Mid-Atlantic Inland Passage, and the Southern U.S.

What we love: Most staterooms have private balconies and there's even a selection of single rooms for solo travelers. Menus with regional cuisine, sourcing local ingredients at ports.

Flying Clipper

Star Clipper celebrates its silver anniversary not just with a new addition to its fleet of masted sailing ships, but a near-replica of the largest ship of its kind ever built. The 300-passenger, 5-masted Flying Clipper will be powered by 32 sails constituting nearly 40,000 square feet of sail (with backup fuel-efficient engines). 

What we love: Wind-through-your-hair sailing adventure.  Get harnessed into the rigging and climb to the crow's nest for the best views at sea; learn knot-tying, celestial navigation, and sailing techniques. Two nets strung on either side of the bowsprit rock you gently in the sun. Three pools, including one that arcs sunlight through the ship's atrium into the dining room, a dive-training pool descending 18 feet through 2 decks with glass sides so passengers can watch at the Dive Bar, a water sports platform with snorkeling, kayaks, water skiing.

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Kung Hei Fat Choy! 

BestTrip.TV discovers the traditions, the spectacle and the little known facts behind one of Hong Kong's biggest festivals.

Chinese New Year - or Lunar New Year - is celebrated not only in mainland China, plus Hong Kong and Macau, but also in Chinese communities around the world, as well as throughout South-East Asia: Singapore, Viet Nam, Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines and others.

Chinese New Year in 2017 - the Year of the Rooster -  falls on January 28th. Celebrations last days in Hong Kong, and include adorable lion dances, temple activities, special foods, flowers, and plants, wearing red, exchanging gifts and other traditions for good fortune, a magnificent parade in downtown Hong Kong... and fireworks!

We visited Hong Kong on Chinese New Year, and we think it's one of the most exciting times to visit one of the world's most exciting cities.

It's hard to imagine the awe-inspiring Hong Kong harbor front skyline become even more spectacular... but this Chinese New Year fireworks show takes it to a whole new level.

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Cruise to Cuba? Yes You Can!

10 ways you can cruise to Cuba this year.

One of the biggest travel stories of the past year has to be the renewing of relations between Cuba and the US and the rise of Cuba as a destination for American travelers. Cuba has long been a favorite sun and culture destination for Canadians and Europeans. Only US citizens were prevented from traveling to the Caribbean's largest island.

Now American cruise ships are permitted to sail to Cuba, and late in 2016, Cuba approved a number of US cruise lines' applications to make port calls.  A few international cruise lines could always go, and they have increased sailings and itineraries.  So cruising to Cuba is one of the biggest travel stories this year.

Canadians and Europeans now have a lot more choices to cruise to Cuba, and Americans now have that cruise option, although they still need a visa. US cruise lines now sailing to Cuba generally facilitate a 'people-to-people' visa for American guests.

BestTrip.TV's cruise expert Lynn Elmhirst rounds up 10 ways you can cruise to Cuba this year.

From single days in port in Havana, to a week or more exploring the island, cruises to Cuba allow you to get a taste or immerse yourself in Cuba's culture, history, and natural wonders.

ALL-CUBA CRUISES

Celestyal Crystal

This Greek line claims to offer the only true circumnavigation of Cuba on 7-day, all-inclusive cruises departing every Monday from Havana, and every Friday from Montego Bay, Jamaica.  

Formerly known as Cuba Cruise, this cruise began sailing 3 years ago, and now sails year-round in Cuba on a 1200 passenger ship that was renovated in 2016. They offer the p2p program visa for American citizens.

Itineraries include two days in Havana and various calls including Maria La Gorda, known for its impeccable beachfront and underwater marine life, the perfect destination for scuba divers, snorkeling enthusiasts and beach lovers, Punta Frances on the Isle of Youth, Cienfuegos, an 18th-century fortress, and historic Santiago de Cuba, 16th century capital of the Spanish colony of Cuba.

Ports and shore excursions provide city tours, history, adventure, cultural walking tours, hiking, beach days and snorkeling to passengers of all ages and tastes.  This cruise is family-friendly, with a supervised children's program for 4-12 year olds.

National Geographic - Lindblad Expeditions

Lindblad Expedition cruises' partnership with National Geographic means these cruises are for travelers serious about in-depth expertise: photographers, naturalists and cultural specialists join guests on the 11-day trips. These land and sea tours are an extension of Nat Geo's existing land tour programs, and they fulfill the p2p visa requirements for Americans.

Trips begin with a flight from Miami, and include several days in Havana, as well as stops in Trinidad, Cienfuegos, the historic Bay of Pigs, Isle of Youth, and Cayo Largo.

Fewer than 50 guests are on board the Panorama II, a small expedition ship, as it makes ports of call that highlight Cuba's marine and natural wonders and culture, highlighting music, history, and interacting with locals like artists, mechanics who inventively keep those classic US cars running, members of Cuba's renowned medical community, and naturalists protecting endangered species.

Natural highlights include searching for the smallest bird in the world, the bee hummingbird, a visit to a sea turtle breeding center, diving, and lots of wildlife and scenic photography.

G Adventures

Canadian tour operator G Adventures provides a less intense/ serious, and more youthful and affordable version of a Cuba expedition cruise on its 8-day 'marine tour' of Cuba's Canarreos archipelago in a catamaran with only 14 people on the tour. This cruise option is one of several types of trips to Cuba the company offers.  Americans are welcome, but need to arrange their own visas.

Cruises start and finish in Havana, and spend 5 low-key, soft-adventure days exploring off-the-beaten-path islands and island communities, with relaxed days of snorkeling, kayaking, sailing, easy exploring, visiting lighthouses, enjoying seafood dinners, and lazing on deck or on the beach. 

Pearl Mist

Pearl Seas Cruises (a sister company to American Cruise Lines), offers 10-night 'Cuban Cultural Voyages' that fulfill the American p2p visa requirements.  On the 200-passenger Pearl Mist, guests enjoy luxury elements including all private balconies on its 100 staterooms and high-end culinary offerings, but the company also makes sure to point out that there is elevator access to all decks and on board medical for its senior guests. 

These cruises run January through April, 2017, and start up again in November.  There's a packed program of stops on the island beginning with 2 days in Havana, and other ports include Isla de la Juventud, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, El Cobre, Santiago de Cuba and Parque Baconao.

Guests engage first hand with local tradespeople, artists, musicians and historians at museums, national parks, art studios, architecturally significant homes and UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Photos courtesy MSC Cruises

CRUISES THAT OVERNIGHT IN HAVANA

MSC Opera and MSC Armonia

MSC Cruises, a European company, was one of the first major cruise lines to feature Cuba in its itineraries for its European and Canadian guests. The cruises have been so popular, MSC has homeported 2, 2000-passenger ships, the Armonia and the Opera, in Havana.

Guests spend about 2 days in Havana on MSC itineraries. MSC does not design its Cuba itineraries to meet American citizens' requirements for p2p visas, so guests have more flexible options that include not only historic and cultural attractions, but also beach days in Cuba as part of cruises that also include other Caribbean destinations.

Azamara Quest

Royal Caribbean's smaller-ship, sister brand Azamara has just one Cuba port of call this season: it's added an overnight in Havana to one 12- night Caribbean cruise on the Azamara Quest departing March 21st from Miami with stops in Key West, Tampa, New Orleans, and Cozumel, Mexico as well as Havana.

The cruise line says it's planning to introduce more dates and more Cuban ports, but it already offers an impressive line up of 6 of its signature 'Land Discoveries' immersive destination programs, including Hemingway's Havana and Havana by Classic American Car.   The programs fulfill visa requirements for Americans, so this cruise is a destination-focused opportunity for the Azamara Quest's 700 guests to get a taste of Cuba.

Seven Seas Mariner

Regent Seven Seas Cruises is the only North American classic luxury cruise line to sail to Cuba – yet. 

It has added Havana to two Caribbean cruises aboard the 700-guest Seven Seas Mariner on April 11th and 18th.   The itineraries are identical, with an overnight in Havana as part of week-long cruises that also call on Harvest Cay, parent-company Norwegian Cruise Holding's upscale resort destination in Belize.

Regent Seven Seas cruises are all-inclusive, with fares that include airfare, unlimited shore excursions, alcoholic beverages, WiFi, gratuities and more.  Its Cuba tours fulfill US p2p visa requirements and provide guests with authentic Cuban experiences that explore the people, music, art, history and culture of the island.

Norwegian Sky

Norwegian Sky, with 2000 guests, is the largest US vessel sailing to Cuba in 2017.  NCL has scheduled 5, 4-day roundtrip cruises from Miami to Cuba on May 8, 15, 22 and 29th. 

The cruises overnight in Havana, and also spend a day at Norwegian's private island resort in the Bahamas, Great Stirrup Cay. Norwegian Sky's cruises to Cuba, like some of its others in the Caribbean, include an open bar, so overall, these short cruises will have mostly a party atmosphere.

However, guests will be able to go ashore to visit sites in Cuba's capital, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Old Havana, and experience the local art and music scene; engaging with local artists (and fulfilling US p2p visa requirements).

CRUISES WITH ONE PORT DAY IN HAVANA

Marina

Oceania's Marina is the first of the Norwegian family of cruise lines to sail to Cuba. The 1250-guest, upscale ship begins one day or overnight calls in Havana in March, with programming that meets visa requirements for Americans.  These 10 day or two week Caribbean cruises depart from Miami in multiple itineraries that also include NCL's new private island resort Harvest Caye in Belize.

Empress of the Seas

Royal Caribbean recently updated and renovated the 1600-guest Empress of the Seas for its Cuba itineraries. Beginning in April, 4, 5, and 7-night cruises depart from both Miami and Tampa on Western Caribbean itineraries with one day in port in Havana.  Royal Caribbean's Cuba shore programming allows Americans to meet visa requirements while enjoying Royal Caribbean ship experiences like rock climbing, multiple pools, restaurants, nightlife, and even the Cuban-inspired dance club Bolero.

Cuba is a brand-new destination for Americans, and cruising to Cuba is novel even for Canadians.  A travel advisor can help you choose the right ship and itinerary, and navigate the details to ensure your cruise to one of the world's newest cruise destinations is all you dreamed.

 

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Introducing the Seabourn Encore

Seabourn's new Encore was introduced to the world at a festive evening ceremony pier side in Singapore January 7th, 2017, and we can't help gushing over the first cruise ship arrival of 2017.

International recording artist and the world's best-selling soprano Sarah Brightman presided over the naming ceremony as Godmother of the new 600-guest ship, the first of two new all-suite vessels for the luxury, small-ship cruise line.

Guests and VIPs joined Seabourn staff to enjoy the vibrant, entertainment-filled launch festivities as a projection screen showed the climactic moment when Brightman sent a bottle of champagne smashing against the bow of the ship, a time-honored ship christening tradition. A host of local musicians and cultural acts, including lion dancers and stilt walkers, energized the event to send the ship and her guests off in style.

The launch of Seabourn Encore marks the start of a new era of ultra-luxury cruising.  It's the fourth all-suite vessel to join the Seabourn fleet and the first of two new ships to be designed by hospitality design icon Adam D. Tihany. The second, Seabourn Ovation, is currently under construction and is scheduled to launch in spring 2018.

All ships maintain some of the signature elements we love most about Seabourn: a high ratio of space per guest, enabling highly personalized service by close to one staff member for each guest on board, all-suite accommodations, Seabourn’s signature water sports Marina, an open-bar policy serving premium wine, champagne and spirits, and renowned menus. With the addition of these two new ships, Seabourn will have the youngest and most modern ultra-luxury fleet in the world.

Intended by Tihany "to feel more like a luxury yacht," Seabourn Encore features modern design elements and innovations. Somehow, they manage to take our breath away, and still stay in keeping with Seabourn's understated elegance. The Encore has an additional deck and newly expanded public areas. New features include The Retreat, a secluded sanctuary for you to stretch out and relax in private cabanas, and Sushi, a one-of-a-kind dining destination found on no other ship in the Seabourn fleet.

With the inaugural voyage, Seabourn Encore is also marking the formal debut of several new onboard partner programs we've written about before: Spa and Wellness with Dr. Andrew Weil offers guests a holistic spa and wellness experience that integrates physical, social, environmental and spiritual well-being; a new production show, 'An Evening with Tim Rice', created exclusively for Seabourn will also have its debut on board in the ship's Grand Salon; and Seabourn Encore will also feature The Grill by Thomas Keller, a restaurant inspired by the classic American chophouse that first opened on Seabourn Quest last year.  If you're not sailing on the Encore, you can still enjoy all three programs on other Seabourn ships; they'll be rolled out across the entire Seabourn fleet by 2018. 

Following the naming ceremony, Seabourn Encore departed on its Inaugural Voyage, the 10-day Gems of the Java Sea cruise, bound for Indonesia. The ship will then move on to Australia and New Zealand voyages, then cruise back to Singapore, on to Dubai, and cruise through the Holy Land before ending her winter season at Athens at the beginning of May.  She will then summer in the Mediterranean, arriving in Barcelona, Spain, on September 13 for the start of her autumn season.  

A busy debut sailing season for one of luxury cruising's most highly anticipated new ships. Wishing the Seabourn Encore, and everyone who sails on her, Happy Voyages!

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Celebrate Music and Modern Architecture in Hamburg

The landmark, modernist Elbphilharmonie, designed by 'starchitects' Herzog & deMeuron, has opened its doors at last this month. The complex adds three world-class concert halls, a hotel, and a public area with a panoramic view to the city famously associated with the music of Mahler, Brahms and the Beatles.

Hamburg is Europe's second largest port.  It handles large, ocean-going ships, so it's considered a seaport, even though it's nearly 70 miles (110 km) inland from the North Sea on the Elbe River at its confluence with 2 other rivers.

The Elbphilharmonie is in a unique location in Hamburg’s historic port.  It's part of Europe’s largest inner-city urban revitalization project, in direct proximity to the Speicherstadt warehouse district UNESCO World Heritage site. 

In location, in design, and in function, the Elbphilharmonie serves as a symbol of the city’s past, present and its future.

Spectacular Architecture

The renowned Swiss architecture firm Herzog & deMeuron designed the exciting structure to perch on top of a brick warehouse that used to store tea, tobacco and cocoa arriving from abroad. 1700 reinforced concrete piles support the modernist, glass structure, whose wave-like roofline rises above the water of the port that surrounds it on three sides.

The Plaza is the area that links the warehouse and the new structure, and it's the central meeting place in the Elbphilharmonie. There's a viewing platform here that's open to the public. Even getting to it is an experience: an 82-metre-long (over 250 foot-long) curved escalator transports visitors through the building. Once you get there, you have a stunning panoramic view over the city and port of Hamburg.


The heart of the Elbphilharmonie is the spectacular, Grand Concert Hall. 2,100 seats are arranged around a centrally located stage, designed to remind you of visits to terraced vineyards. Amazingly, no member of the audience is seated more than 30 metres (about a hundred feet) from the conductor. Being so unusually close to the action turns this new acoustic space into a place of unforgettable musical encounters.

In order to achieve optimum acoustics, the architects developed a special wall and roof structure together with internationally renowned acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota. 10,000 individually shaped fibre panels cut with millimetre precision ensure targeted sound distribution that reaches you in every corner. For the Grand Hall, the German organ builder Klais developed an extraordinary concert hall organ with 4,765 pipes that are located in, next to and even behind the audience stands.

A Boundless Music Experience

In addition to the one-of-a-kind Grand Hall, the complex includes the acoustically outstanding, wood paneled Recital Hall and The 'Kaistudios', the Elbphilharmonie’s interactive music education area for people of all ages. The 'Kaistudios' are also home to the new 'Elbphilharmonie World of Instruments': diverse workshops in which children and adults can try out instruments from all over the world.

Are you thinking this all sounds fantastic, but you really aren't a fan of classical music? Don't fear: there's a line up of concerts and performances that not only include orchestral and operatic performances with the best orchestras in the world; piano, string quartet and German 'lieder'; but also world music, popular, and even electronic music.   Music for every fan, and a reflection of a city that not only supported famous composers, but also has had a world-celebrated club scene since the earliest days of the Fab Four.

They call it 'a perfect symbiosis of architecture and music'.  We agree.  The new Elbphilharmonie highlights Hamburg on the map of must-see global destinations for lovers of music and celebrated modern design.

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Go Island Hopping in the South Pacific

The very word 'Tahiti' evokes the mystique of one of the most remote and romantic island destinations in the world.

An island hopping escape to even a few of the 118 islands and atolls in this South Pacific paradise is not only the ultimate escape from northern winters, it's the trip of a lifetime.

Picture your arrival, welcomed by Tahitian music and fragrant Tiare flowers… and use these highlights of some of the key islands to start planning your island hopping fantasy escape:

They call the island of Tahiti 'The Queen of the Pacific'. It's the largest and most populated island, and is the starting point for travelers, who fly into the capital city Papeete. Don't miss Marae Arahurahu, an ancient Tahitian outdoor temple, or, in the centre of town, the market with tropical produce and fresh local fish and Tahitian arts and crafts, including the biggest selection of pareus (sarongs) in the country. Outside the city, Tahiti boasts spectacular scenery: lush green peaks tower over cascading waterfalls and rippling pools in the interior, and black- and white-sand beaches and turquoise lagoons at the sea.

Photos: Chris McLennan

Moorea is a mere 11 miles across the Sea of the Moon from Tahiti. If that doesn't already sound like a fairytale, consider Moorea's nickname: 'The Magical Island'. It is even said to be the inspiration for the mythical island of Bali Hai. You've seen it in the movies, from Mutiny on the Bounty to Love Affair. But film can never do full justice to the dramatic beauty of the island. Make sure you go to Belvedere Lookout, with its breathtaking views of Moorea’s twin bays, Cook’s and Opunohu. Look on Moorea's hillsides for its signature produce, pineapples, and visit a local distillery to sample exotic liqueurs from pineapple, mango, coconut, vanilla and other Tahitian flavors.

Here's another magical nickname: the 'Garden of Eden'. Huahine is 110 miles northwest of Tahiti, and actually consists of two islands joined by a bridge. Its main town, Maeva, means 'welcome' in Tahitian! Drive into the hills for spectacular views over white-sand beaches and brilliant turquoise lagoons, and visit restored Tahitian marae (temples), centuries-old stone fish traps, and plantations of melons, vanilla, coffee, taro, mango, and flowers. Do you surf? There are world-class waves at Avamoa Pass, and the world’s largest outrigger canoe race begins here each October.

Bora Bora is a tiny island with a big reputation. 'The Romantic Island' has been called the most beautiful island in the world. It's only 18 miles around, circled by a necklace of coral. Lush mountains provide a dramatic backdrop for the indescribable turquoise, lapis and aquamarine of the famous, sheltered lagoon. Bora Bora is home to world-class resorts and quaint continental restaurants, where celebrity A-listers vacation in luxurious seclusion.

The Tuamotu Atolls are the largest of the Polynesian archipelagos, Tahiti’s 'Strand of Pearls' with 76 islands and atolls spread over more than 7500 square miles. Four of these atolls – Rangiroa, Manihi, Tikehau, Fakarava – offer world-class scuba diving, horseback riding, shark feeding and deep-sea fishing. In addition, the ecosystem in the Fakarava atoll is a UNESCO biosphere reserve. And Manihi is 'the Pearl Island', the site of the first of many pearl farms that have made Tahiti famous for prized, cultivated black pearls.

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Go Glamping in Antarctica

Antarctica may be on your travel bucket list, but what if even the prospect of being one of the few people ever to set foot on the surreal, winter wilderness of the South Pole isn't enough to convince you to rough it?

Well, you don't have to. We've discovered a tour operator that takes only a dozen visitors at a time to what they call the 'real' Antarctica, inland from cruise shore excursions, all the way to the actual Geographic South Pole.

And they do it in style.  Inspired by luxury safaris of yesteryear complete with china, chefs, hampers and fine linens, White Desert creates an encampment of luxury pods that furnishes almost as unique an environment inside as outside.

Taking off from South Africa, it's a half-day's flight to the camp. While nothing to look at from the outside (and why would you want to when you're surrounded by scenic glaciers and ice waves?), the interior design would be at home in any luxury lodge. It's 'glamping' – that's 'glamour' meets 'camping'.

All photos: White Desert

The camp has six sleeping pods for two, equipped with a bed, desk, and wash/toilet area.

There are separate structures for showers, a kitchen, and lounge and dining areas, and your meals are catered by an award-winning chef.  With your comfort assured, it's time to explore.

Guests can choose from two, eight-day trips, and even an extraordinary, 'best day ever' single day to Antarctica and back. Expert polar guides help you discover the wonders of the immense 'white desert' continent through different excursions out from base camp. You may trek to a magnificent colony of 6,000 majestic Emperor Penguins, explore exhilarating ice formations and tunnels, go technical rock climbing, abseiling, kite-skiing, even take a trip to the actual Geographic South Pole and the science station nearby.  Imagine standing at the single place on earth where all points lead… only north!

Your actual footprints will be swept away by the snow, and the company ensures no ecological footprint will be left behind in this pristine environment either. The company's zero impact policy is complete: the camp is temporary, and re-created each season; all waste – including human – is removed; solar and wind power the camp; and even your flight emissions are offset through dedicated carbon projects around the world.

It's an Antarctic luxury 'safari' where you can have the world's rarest scenery, rushes of adrenaline, and stylish comfort, too.

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Our 'Plan a Cruise Month' Smorgasbord of Offers

Mark it on your calendar. October is 'Plan a Cruise Month'. 

This is the time of year when the world's top cruise lines introduce some of their best offers of the year.

And with the nights getting chillier, thoughts of getting away this winter to the Caribbean's turquoise waters, exotic Polynesia, or fun loving Australia leap to mind.  Or an expedition of a lifetime to South America or Galapagos. And there's always Europe and the elegant Mediterranean in the spring.

There's a smorgasbord of cruise offers available right now, so if you were thinking of a romantic escape, a family or multi-generation holiday, an expedition cruise of a lifetime, even an employee incentive trip or a group getaway with your club, here's our round up of some of the best offers available.

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