Thursday, January 31, 2008

Win a free cruise by naming new Royal Caribbean ships

Royal Caribbean is running a "Name That Ship" contest for its two new Project Genesis ships that will be officially christened in 2009 and 2010.

The names must end in the words "of the Seas" and are supposed to "capture the scope of amenities and innovations" on the upcoming ships. Royal Caribbean describes them as the "newest, largest, and most innovative cruise ships in the world." The cruise line suggests not focusing on the sheer size of the ships, but the range of experiences that will be available on them. Both names should share the same theme, such as "Freedom of the Seas" or "Liberty of the Seas" (two current ship names).

The contest, which is being run in conjunction with the newspaper USA Today, began January 18 and will end at 6 pm EST on February 29, 2008.

A number of Finalist prizes will be awarded, topped by two Grand Prizes that involve free cruises on either Project Genesis ship. Six Finalists will be named beginning March 14, 2008, and the Grand Prize winner(s) will be announced by the end of May.

The winner(s) won't necessarily be choosing the actual names of the ships, however; Royal Caribbean reserves the right to choose its own names.

For detailed contest rules, click here. For an entry form, click here.

Freedom of the Seas photo from Royal Caribbean.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Today-only Carnival special: family of four cruise for under $1,000

Carnival is offering savings of up to $200 per stateroom today (January 30) that could enable you to book a three-day cruise for base fares starting at $979 for a family of four, a four-day cruise for fares starting at $999 for a family of four, a five-day cruise for the same family for fares starting at $1299, and a week-long cruise for the family at fares starting at $1799.

Friends are also eligible as long as you don't mind staying four to a stateroom. Savings for three- to five-day cruises between February and May 2008 range up to $100 per stateroom, while savings on seven- and eight-day cruises between February and May range up to $200 per stateroom.

The offer doesn't include West Coast sailings, so check with the cruise line to make sure the voyage you want is on the list.

When you call the cruise line (888-CARNIVAL) or a travel agent, ask for fare code CPDW for the first and second passengers, and fare code CP43 for the third and fourth passengers.

Government taxes and fees are additional, as is a $5 a day fuel supplement per passenger. A full deposit is required and only new bookings are eligible. The offer expires at midnight January 30.

Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Early booking perks on Majestic America cruises

Majestic America Line is offering free airfare and upgrades on some of its seven-night 2008 Columbia and Snake River cruises aboard its vessels Empress of the North, Queen of the West, and Columbia Queen.

For instance, book a 'D' inside category stateroom (dates from March 22 to April 19, 2008) aboard the Empress of the North by February 22, 2008, and be upgraded to a 'CC' outside verandah stateroom. Or book a 2008 spring cruise (dates from March 23 to April 13, 2008) aboard the Queen of the West by the same date and receive a free stateroom category upgrade from 'EE' to 'D', or 'D' to 'DD'.

The offers also include free roundtrip air to Portland, Oregon. The itineraries include views of waterfalls, gorges, and Lewis and Clark historic sites along these Northwestern rivers.

Early booking fares begin at $1,999 per passenger, based on double occupancy.

For more information, click here for the Majestic America website or call 800/434-1232 or a travel agent.

Empress of the North photo from Majestic America Line.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Hurtigruten offers savings for Norway coastal voyages

Hurtigruten, formerly Norwegian Coastal Voyage, is offering free trans-atlantic airfare for both passengers in a double-occupancy cabin on selected 12-day voyages along the Norway coast in March or April, or between October and mid-December, 2008.

Free companion air tickets are available for selected six- and seven-day voyages during the same time period. Or you can get 50 percent off a companion ticket for May and September sailings.

You can combine the airfare offers with discounts ranging up to $500 per person on the same cruises.

Those booking a southbound trip (ending in Bergen) will also receive a free shore excursion.

To be eligible for these discounts, you must book by March 15, 2008.

For more information on available dates, click here for the Hurtigruten website (then click on "News" in the upper righthand corner of the homepage) or call 866-257-6071 or a travel agent.

Having sailed on the Norwegian Coastal Voyage in 2006, I can attest that Hurtigruten's slogan "The World's Most Beautiful Voyage" is hardly an exaggeration; the scenery (mountains, fjords, island fishing villages) is staggering throughout.

Photo courtesy of Hurtigruten.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Leaving Ocho Rios, Jamaica, aboard the Carnival Freedom

Yeh mon, no problem. Our third and last port stop on our week-long Carnival Freedom cruise through the western Caribbean has been Ocho Rios, Jamaica. We’ve now left Ocho Rios and are sailing back to Miami, but not before being assured there’s “no problem, mon” several dozen times. And, generally speaking, there wasn’t.

Ocho Rios is a lushly situated, lively port along Jamaica’s north coast. It’s located on a lovely beach-lined bay, easily accessible from the dock. You can walk to town in about five minutes, once you get past all the security people. Then all you have to do is politely wave off dozens of eager but not overly aggressive taxi drivers, unless, of course, you do want to hire a taxi.

Besides the beach and the usual plethora of shopping plazas one finds nearby the cruise ship docks in the Caribbean, Ocho Rios has some very worthwhile nearby attractions. Bob Marley’s home is located way up in the hills, a couple of hours away by taxi, and makes for a nice, if slightly perilous, drive.

Much nearer – maybe ten minutes by taxi or bus -- is Dunn’s River Falls, a spectacular multi-level cascade that you can walk up if you’re willing to get very, very wet. I did, and it’s well worth the effort. You can rent water shoes and lockers – don’t even consider trying to carry a backpack up or even a camera (though a few do) – and it’s best to wear a bathing suit and perhaps a T-shirt. Water shoes are important to get a good grip; I wore Teva sandals and was fine.

Most climbers go in large groups led by guides who know the best pathways, though it’s possible to sneak in at certain points and go solo. Some guides carry video cameras and will sell you a video of your climbing experience. To get the full effect, start all the way down at the beach and climb, climb, and climb some more, reaching various plateaus along the way where you can immerse yourself in the refreshingly cool water and get even wetter.

Allow plenty of time for the experience – don’t rush this one (though some guides may go faster than you want). And after you finish, as my bus driver noted, “you’ll feel five years younger.”

Near Dunn’s River Falls is Dolphin Cove, where I spent much of the rest of my port time. Dolphin Cove has swimming with dolphins opportunities along with swimming with stingrays and even with sharks; the dolphins put on shows as well. It also has a smallish sandy beach, kayaks, a snorkeling area, a shopping area (naturally), a jungle trail, and of course plenty of food and rum-soaked beverages. Try the rum and Ting (but don’t try to climb the Falls afterwards). They cram a lot in to a fairly compact area along a gorgeous cove, where, I was told, Ursula Andress once rose from the water in a James Bond film.

After Dolphin Cove, I had just enough time for a stroll along Main Street, where I had to fend off a few men offering illegal substances of various types, and then back to the ship by 3 pm. My advice in Ocho Rios is to leave a little extra time getting back to the ship, because the Jamaican security forces do a thorough check of everyone’s bags – and sometimes various body parts – on the way in. A few dozen people were a bit late getting back, but the ship duly waited for them – yeh mon, no problem.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A day in port in Grand Cayman with the Carnival Freedom

Those of us cruising on the Carnival Freedom this week just pulled out of port in Grand Cayman after a sunny warm day here. Grand Cayman is a bit dull for my taste, but it does have one sparkling attraction, which I enjoyed this morning: Stingray City.

Most visitors to Grand Cayman end up on this shallow sandbar at one point or another, or at least should: dozens of extremely tame stingrays hang out here waiting for humans to show up in hopes of being fed chopped up squid. When I was there today, there were about six tour boats all pointing toward the center of the sand bar, disgorging tourists in snorkeling gear eager (or in some cases reluctant) to swim with, feed, and touch or kiss the stingrays.

The boat guides hold up a stingray so that each tourist can have his or her picture taken stroking or kissing one of the loveable beasts. But the real fun is having a ray or two or three swim right up to you and take food out of your hand, or, in some cases, “kissing” you (I’m told they like the taste of salt from your skin). A number of passengers weren’t at all sure they enjoyed this experience and practically jumped out of the water when a ray snuggled up to them, but for the most part everyone thought it was great sport.

Those passengers who didn’t go to Stingray City mostly walked around the capital, George Town, and shopped for jewelry and other island items, and perhaps hung out a bit at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville or Senor Frog’s. This is a tender port, where all ships are connected to port by small boats, or tenders, and to catch the ship to Jamaica one had to be on a return tender no later than 3:45 pm.

I heard that one couple did not make the ship after our Cozumel port stop two days ago – even though they had till 9:45 pm. No doubt a few too many margaritas at Margaritaville (it’s a chain). They were to rejoin the ship after flying to Grand Cayman via Miami. Note to self: do not miss ship! No stingray is so cuddly as to warrant having to fly to Jamaica at my own expense. At least none that I’ve met so far.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

At sea (Caribbean) with the Carnival Freedom

Today is a sea day on the Carnival Freedom en route from Cozumel to Grand Cayman, which we’ll reach early tomorrow morning. I’m glad to say the sun is back and the multitudes have returned to the Lido Deck around the pool to catch some rays. Above the pool is a gigantic LED screen – 12 feet high by 22 feet wide – that is the centerpiece of Carnival’s Seaside Theatre, which shows movies, sporting events, concerts, and Morning Shows hosted by the ship’s congenial cruise director, John Heald.

John is getting only four hours of sleep per night this week as he doubles as cruise director and host of the first-annual John Heald’s bloggers cruise. Aboard are some 700 fans of his highly popular blog about life on a cruise ship, which you can read at

The Freedom, which had its inaugural cruise last March, holds just fewer than 3,000 passengers and contains 22 bars and lounges, most of which appear to be hopping at all hours. I’ve been impressed with the food service, including the Fish and Chips Restaurant in an out-of-the-way nook, where I had my second lunch of the day: fried calamari fritters (also featuring shredded zucchini and Maui onions) with chips. I wasn’t hungry after downing a buffet lunch an hour or so earlier, but just couldn’t pass it up – yum. The Freedom also has a tandoori oven for Indian food, a sushi bar, 24-hour pizzeria, a Tex-Mex bar with enchiladas, afternoon teatime with classical music – everything an omnivore could ask for.

Over the course of each week-long cruise, the Freedom will serve up more than 3,000 pounds of prime rib, 6,480 pounds of chicken, 2,150 pounds of lobster, and 23,750 shrimp – of which I’ve had maybe, oh, 10,000. That’s because I’ve laid off the hot dogs (5,600 per week) and burgers (7,350 per week). We won’t discuss the total amount of alcohol consumed.

Carnival has set up hand sanitizers throughout the ship to try to head off mass virus attacks of the kind that have plagued so many ships in recent years, and I commend the cruise line for taking proactive steps to prevent sickness from spreading. Cabin TVs and the cruise director have also spread the gospel of hand washing, which has joined knowing how to put on a lifejacket as essential survival info on modern cruise ships.

One mystery: with so many young children on board, why aren’t they in school? (Is this what they call “ski week?”) Oddly, I haven’t heard even one of them complaining about missing class…or not going skiing.

Monday, January 21, 2008

On Board the Carnival Freedom bloggers cruise

Greetings from the port of Cozumel: I’m on a Carnival Freedom week-long cruise in the Western Caribbean. This cruise has a special theme: John Heald’s bloggers cruise, and SmarterCruising will appear on an onboard panel later this week to talk about the joys and pain (well, joys) of blogging.

Many of you who have sailed on Carnival are familiar with John Heald, the cruise line’s Senior Cruise Director, bon vivant and storyteller extraordinaire. John’s catchphrase, “Life’s too short not to have fun,” shows up when he’s holding court on board and in his robust waistline as well (sorry, John!).

John launched a blog last spring and has garnered a million and a half readers who enjoy his tales of life at sea, which provide inside glimpses into what it’s like to live and work on board cruise ships. You can read his blog at

The Freedom’s week-long itinerary is taking us from Miami to Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Today we’re in port in Cozumel, where I explored the town for the first time post-hurricane (recovering nicely) and took an interesting Atlantis submarine ride 100 feet below the sea to view a tremendous variety of coral and colorful tropical fish.

It proved to be a good choice of excursions: a light rain was falling as we submerged and the overcast weather made it not much of a beach day. The sky is looking better at the moment and, we hope, sunshine will prevail the rest of the way. In any event, it beats the 10-degree weather I left a few days ago in upstate New York.

I’ll have more on the Freedom cruise in the next few days. Don’t forget to check out John Heald’s blog in the meantime.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Special online 2 for 1 offer on Dutch river cruise

Vantage Deluxe World Travel is offering its week-long "Canals and Waterways of Holland" river cruise at prices as low as $1,699 per person for its March 13, 2008, departure on the ms River Discovery. That represents a two-for-one deal or the equivalent of a 50 percent discount per person.

Thirty-five total cabins are left on the cruise as of today (January 17), with four in the lowest price category. Other cabins are also going at two-for-one rates, ranging from $2,099 up to $4,299 per person.

Roundtrip international airfare is included from a number of U.S. cities. The price includes fuel surcharges but does not include government taxes and fees.

Besides roundtrip airfare from some U.S. cities, the package includes seven nights aboard the ship in a riverview stateroom, eight sightseeing tours, and other perks.

To take advantage of this offer, you must book online by January 24, 2008, and request promotion code EM15030. Click here to book, and then click on the box "Click Online" to get the two-for-one offer.

Map courtesy of Vantage Travel.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Holland America offers free or $99 3rd and 4th fares for week-long Alaska cruises

Holland America is offering free or $99 fares for third and fourth passengers in a cabin on its week-long Glacier Bay Discovery Cruises this summer (weekly departures from mid-May to mid-September) aboard the ships Zaandam or Volendam.

Fares for each of the first two passengers in the stateroom start at $499 for inside cabins and $649 for oceanview; these are available on the May 25 sailing.

The free third and fourth passenger fares are available on the May 11 and 18 departures (all cruises depart from either Vancouver or Seward and disembark at the other). The $99 per extra passenger fares are available on all other sailings.

Similar fares are available on the seven-day Hubbard Glacier Discovery Cruises aboard the Veendam, with weekly departures from Vancouver or Seward mid-May to mid-September. Third and fourth passengers are free on the May 23 departure, $99 on the rest.

Fares do not include fuel supplement charges of $5 per passenger, per day (maximum $70 per person). Nor do they include taxes ranging from $94 to $148 per passenger.

For more information and bookings, call 800/391-6258 or a travel agent and ask for promo code RA/RH for the double-occupancy fares and promo code Z3 for the third and fourth passenger fares.

Photo courtesy of Holland America Line.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Savings on Alaska cruises from Cruise West

The small-ship line Cruise West is offering savings from $100 to $550 for passengers who book one of five 2008 Alaska Inside Passage itineraries before February 29, 2008.

Choices include the ten-night "Gold Rush Inside Passage" cruise between Seattle and Juneau, available on six ships and offered in May, August and September at prices starting at $3,599 per person, and the eight-night "Alaska's Whales & Wilderness Inside Passage" cruise, round-trip from Juneau May through August at prices also starting at $3,599 per passenger.

Three- and four-night "Glacier Bay Highlights" cruises roundtrip from Juneau are also available from May to September for prices starting at $1,799 per person. Two other more expensive eight- and 11-night itineraries are offered at discounts as well.

All discounts are per passenger based on double occupancy in a cabin. Cruise West's nine ships have a maximum passenger capacity of 78 to 138 passengers.

For bookings, call 888/851-8133 or a travel agent before the end of February.

Photo courtesy of Cruise West.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Savings of $1,000 per cabin on Viking River Cruises

Viking River Cruises is offering a number of river cruises and cruise tours in Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and China for a savings of $1,000 per stateroom if you book by January 25, 2008.

In Ukraine, you can choose the 11-day Kiev to Odessa "In the Footsteps of the Cossacks" cruise along the Dnieper River, including nine guided tours along the way. Stops include Sevastopol and Yalta. Five sailings are up for sale -- two in June, two in August and one in October -- and prices begin at $2399 per person in double occupancy. Three 12-day cruises from Odessa to Kiev are also available June to September; the latter starts at $2499.

The 12-day "Paris to Prague" trip includes an 8-day cruise along the Moselle, Rhine, and Main rivers as well as two nights in Paris and Prague on either end. Eleven guided tours are included from start to finish. Cruises are offered from March to October, with prices starting at $2699 for a March 21 departure.

The 16-day "China's Cultural Delights" travels from Beijing to Shanghai or the reverse and includes a 10-day Yangtze River cruise as well as three nights in Beijing, two in Shanghai and one night in Xian; intra-China flights, 16 guided tours and various cultural events are also included. Dates range from March to October and cruisetour prices start at $3399 per person in double occupancy.

For more information or to book any of these trips, call 877/668-4546 by January 25 and ask for offer 14Echo. You can also call your travel agent.

Full payment is required at time of booking. Prices include port charges but do not include fuel surcharges of $49 per passenger.

Photo of Viking Fontane (used in the "Paris to Prague" cruise) courtesy of Viking River Cruises.

Friday, January 11, 2008

12 days around S. America for $905 is featuring a 12-day South American voyage on Princess Cruises from Santiago, Chile, around Cape Horn to Buenos Aires, Argentina, this March for just $905 per person for an inside cabin and only $200 more per person for an oceanview cabin.

The cruise aboard the Star Princess also stops in Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas, Chile; Ushuaia, Argentina (known as the world's southernmost city); and Montevideo, Uruguay.
The $905 per person inside cabin price represents a 69 percent discount from the brochure price, while the $1,105 per passenger oceanview cabin is a 63 percent discount. Both rates are based on double occupancy and include port charges. Some taxes and fees may be additional, and airfare is not included.
If you're interested, act fast: availability is limited. Call 800/338-4962 and ask for Fast Deal #11204. Click here for the Vacations to Go website.
Photo of the Star Princess courtesy of Vacations to Go.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

St. Petersburg to Moscow cruise for under $1,900

European River Cruises is featuring a Gate 1 Travel 12-day Russian river cruise tour from St. Petersburg to Moscow in May 2008 for $1,829 per person in double occupancy. The cruise price is for an outside cabin aboard the 131-cabin M/S Ivan Bunin.

If you want to add roundtrip airfare from New York to your package, the price is $2,729 per person.

Prices include a number of shore excursions along with ten nights on board, meals, transfers (ifyou book the air), and port charges. Some fees and taxes are not included. You may also choose optional shore excursions for an additional price.

Stops between St. Petersburg and Moscow include the village of Mandrogi, the island of Kizhi, the town of Goritsy, and the cities of Yaroslavl and Uglich, all of great historical, architectural, or scenic interest.

To book this cruise or for additional information, call 800/510-4002 and ask for Fast Deal T77286.

Photo of M/S Bunin cabin courtesy of Gate 1 Travel.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

French Country Waterways river cruises at 40 percent off

French Country Waterways is reducing the cost of its six-night cruises aboard the 18-passenger luxury barge Esprit to $3,200 per person, double occupancy, from the brochure rate of $5,295 -- a 40 percent discount -- available on several select departures through June 2008.

The Esprit's route through Burgundy's Côte d'Or wine-growing region follows the Canal du Centre overlooking vineyards of the Côte de Beaune, then along the River Saône and the Canal de Bourgogne between St. Léger-sur-Dheune and Dijon.

Daily sightseeing excursions include a walking tour of Dijon,; the privately owned 18th-century Château de Longecourt; medieval Clos de Vougeot; Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy; the port of Chalon-sur-Saône; 12th-century La Rochepot castle; and a tasting of Burgundies in the private cellars of a local vintner in Santenay. During free time passengers can relax on the sundeck and walk or bicycle along the towpaths.

For more information, go to the French Country Waterways website or call 800/222-1236.

Photo of Esprit courtesy of French Country Waterways.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy New Year from Smarter Cruising

Here's wishing you the cruises of your dreams in 2008!

Our very best for the New Year,

Clark Norton and all of us at Smarter Cruising