Cruises are the #1 choice for vacations for Singles, Couples, Families, and Seniors. The ability to travel to exciting destinations all over the world while never having to change your room, along with the included world class dining options available on almost every cruise line make this a great choice from those who want to splurge, to those looking for bargain packed vacation options!
Here at Destinations with Character Travel Services, LLC. we have fully embraced the cruising tradition, and offer our clients exciting and breathtaking cruises to hundreds of destinations from 16 different cruise lines!
Whatever your needs may be, there is a solution available from one of our fantastic cruise suppliers!
If after reading any of the descriptions below of our cruise line offerings, you’re interested in finding out more information, or possibly planning and booking an Enchanting Cruise for Yourself or You & Your Loved Ones just send us an email at Destinations with Character Travel Services, LLC. and one of our talented travel consultants will be happy to get you the information you seek, and even begin working with you to plan a magical cruise vacation of your dreams!
American Cruise Lines
Whoever said, “Everything old is new again,” might very well have been talking about American Cruise Lines. Part of the boom in small, American flagged coastal cruising that started in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the company operated simple but comfortable ships on US coastal itineraries from Maine to Florida and the Mississippi River system, until it went out of business in 1989.
Jump to 2000, and the same owner who initially started the line (but sold out before they went under), decides to do it all over again, including owning the shipyard where his ships are built. Using the same name, same logo, mostly the same itineraries and the same concepts, the company was reborn with the then brand-new 49-passenger American Eagle (which has since left the fleet). Since then, the American Cruise Lines has steadily grown, introducing new ships for the coast and rivers at a rate of about one per year.
Unlike the competition, ACL offered much larger cabins (averaging 220 square feet), the first and only balcony cabins in the U.S.-flagged coastal industry, and multiple public rooms instead of the industry standard of just one forward observation lounge. Sailing exclusively along the Eastern seaboard of the United States and a handful of American rivers, American Cruise Line’s ships are American built and American crewed. The emphasis is on comfortable exploration along sheltered, inland waterways and in the smaller ports and inaccessible to larger ships. Itineraries are scheduled to be in port every day and alongside the dock at night. An onboard lecturer helps to provide a focus on the historical significance and natural beauty of reach region.
One of the delights of sailing with American Cruise Lines is the lack of hassle. There is no need for ID cards — passengers just walk on and off, with the crew member at the gangway recognizing everyone by face. If you have a friend in one of the ports you are visiting, just let the hotel manager know and it won’t be a problem to have your guest join you onboard for dinner and the nightly lecture. Decide at the last minute you don’t want to do a shore excursion you signed up for? No problem — if you don’t show up, you won’t be charged (at least one daily excursion is offered free on the river sailings).
With such a small, cozy ship, getting around couldn’t be easier. If you forget your glasses, you are only a few feet from your cabin, and some passengers don’t even bother locking their door when onboard. Repeat passengers feel at home the moment they step on the gangway, as all ships are basically interchangeable, with not only the same layout but also the same carpets, furniture and decor! As well, complimentary drinks during Happy Hour create a pleasant, relaxing atmosphere that is a step above its competition.
Sailing mostly in protected and inland waters, the ships rarely move and make a popular choice for anyone worried about becoming seasick. When they do get into any sort of exposed passages, however, their small size, basic design and lack of stabilizers mean there will be some uncomfortable motion. These passages do not last long, but they can be unpleasant for those not used to cruising. Independence, however, was built with stabilizers.
Avalon Waterways River Cruises
Avalon Waterways is owned by the Lugano, Switzerland-based Globus family of brands, a long-established, family-owned tour operator that serves more than 500,000 passengers each year with escorted tours around the globe. Other companies include Cosmos and Monograms. When Globus decided to enter the growing market for small-ship river travel, it created Avalon, introducing the new river cruise line in 2004. Since then, Avalon, which itself is based in Denver, Colorado, has launched at least one new-build each year. 2014 was a bit more special as the line introduced three newbuilds. In 2015, it introduced its “suite ship” concept to France’s Rhone and also to southeast Asia, where it built new vessels for Burma and Mekong Delta itineraries. Expansion continued in 2016 with two suite ships added in Europe.
Azamara Club Cruises
Azamara’s catch phrase is “destination immersion,” and its fleet of two small ships achieves this in several ways. Itineraries include less-touristed ports and cruise regions, and often feature late-night stays and overnights in port. Plus, nearly every cruise includes an “AzAmazing Evening,” a complimentary shoreside event that presents the local culture in an intimate or exclusive setting. When possible, Azamara also tries to schedule its cruises around major destination events, such as Carnaval in Rio or the Grand Prix in Monaco.
Azamara Club Cruises joined the industry ranks in 2007 as Azamara Cruises. Its two ships started out as part of the Celebrity Cruises fleet, after parent company RCCL acquired the Spain-based Pullmantur and transferred the two ships from Pullmantur to Celebrity. (Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. owns Celebrity, Pullmantur and Azamara.)
Celebrity took on Journey and Quest, with plans to fold them into its Celebrity Xpeditions subbrand — but then changed its mind. “We learned that these ships don’t just constitute a slightly more upscale product than Celebrity,” RCCL Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said at the time. “They are so distinct they deserve a line of their own.”
The line was re-branded and became Azamara Club Cruises in 2009. It competes with other up-market cruise lines such as Oceania Cruises and Viking Ocean Cruises.
When the line first entered the market, Azamara struggled to make its mark in the deluxe cruising niche. In 2009, luxury cruise industry veteran Larry Pimentel — an executive with 25 years of experience working with lines such as Cunard, SeaDream and Seabourn — took the helm. Pimentel introduced a raft of changes with an emphasis on creating more immersive itineraries and, in a nod to the true luxury players, making the overall product more inclusive.
Azamara Club Cruises, which specializes in destination immersion, offers longer stays, more overnights and night touring. With more time in port, Azamara passengers can explore their interests with a local connection, especially through the line’s Cruise Global, Connect Local Shore Excursions. These are divided into areas, such as Taste Local (culinary tours and restaurant visits), Bike Local (cycling tours), Meet Local (cultural exchanges with local families and residents) and Nights Local (for evening outings). The line also offers options for overnight excursions to inland cities like Berlin, Madrid and Moscow, and trips to UNESCO World Heritage sites like Bagan and Angkor Wat that require full days or longer. All voyages feature AzAmazing evenings, private onshore experiences offered complimentary to all passengers once a voyage, usually with a cultural theme.
Azamara has also introduced Country Intensive Voyages, itineraries focused around ports in just one country, so cruise travelers can get an in-depth look at one destination. Countries include New Zealand, Mexico, Norway, Japan and Spain.
Carnival Cruise Lines
A kids’ program that starts at age 2 with dedicated time for parents to play with infants, onboard water slides and aqua parks, and plenty of free, kid-appealing food options also makes Carnival a standout in the family department. Add in some of the largest standard cabins in the industry (plus family-specific staterooms), the interactive “Hasbro, the Game Show,” Seuss at Sea programming featuring a character breakfast, lots of homeport sailings and affordable cruise fares, and the family vacation has just found a new destination.
The cruise line offers separate cool clubs for tweens and teens, and shore excursions just for 12- to 17-year-olds, chaperoned by the youth staff. Look for ships with outdoor movie screens, water parks with water slides and soaker areas, ropes courses and mini-golf for all-day fun.
The Fun Ship line has always been king of the budget cruise offerings. A variety of short itineraries, frequent promotions and plenty of close-to-home sailings allow you to get a vacation at sea for less. Plus, the line is committed to making onboard amenities accessible to all, and many of its new entertainment and dining options are included in the fare (unlike on other lines, where every new feature seems to come with an extra fee).
It’s no shock that the Fun Ships are ideal for night owls. Carnival’s piano bars just might be the happeningest in cruising (true night owls know the songs get raunchier after midnight), and karaoke is offered nightly. You’re never far from a bar or dance club, and the casino is often in the heart of the action. Late-night 18-plus comedy has always been a staple event at the line’s Punchliner Comedy Clubs.
Carnival Cruise Line, founded in 1972 and headquartered in Miami, is the world’s largest cruise line. The company’s humble origins pigeonholed the line as the cruise industry’s version of a floating fraternity party for a long time. But that was yesterday, and while Carnival still commands a certain reputation for a flashy, neon atmosphere — and by no means skimps on elaborate lounges and discos — its ships continue to evolve.
In particular, Carnival earned kudos for enhancing cuisine (never a high point in the old days), investing in a top-notch children’s program, and expanding its itinerary offerings beyond traditional Caribbean and Bahamas trips to regions like Alaska and Atlantic Canada. Carnival offered its first European itineraries in 2002 (Carnival Legend sailed a few cruises after its inauguration in Harwich), and in 2005, Carnival Liberty spent a full season in Europe — a first for the line, which has since offered cruises to the Continent regularly. But the company’s bread and butter has long been three- to seven-night cruises embarking from regional U.S. ports, including Miami, Boston, Charleston and Los Angeles.
Carnival Cruises is one of the world’s most innovative cruise lines. In 1996, it debuted the first passenger vessel to exceed 100,000 tons: Carnival Destiny. It was also the first major cruise line to build and operate a completely smoke-free cruise ship, Carnival Paradise. (After nearly six years of butt-free sailings, the ship went to a “limited smoking” policy.) Effective December 1, 2011, smoking will be prohibited in all staterooms across the fleet.
Standard cabins include robes, and the “Comfort Bed” sleep system features deluxe plush mattresses, soft duvets, high quality linens and upgraded pillows. (Suite passengers have a “suite pillow menu” from which to select a specific pillow of their liking.)
In addition, the line offers a vacation guarantee program that allows passengers unhappy with their cruise the chance to disembark at the first port and get a refund. It also provides senior discounts via AARP, as well as very successful weddings at sea and golf offerings.
Celebrity is all over the specialty dining scene, devoting tons of square footage on its ships to a variety of onboard restaurants. Choices range from upscale Tuscan steakhouse cuisine to an exclusive venue serving spa cuisine and a whimsical venue specializing in out-of-the-box international comfort food. Add in a grill-your-own-meat/bake-your-own-pizza eatery, delectable gelato and an alfresco soup and sandwich venue, and you might forget to stop at the cruise ship staple main dining room or buffet.
One of Celebrity’s goals is to offer sailings to every continent, including Antarctica, with more overnight calls and more small-group excursions. (Clearly, it’s following in sister Azamara’s footsteps.) A Destination Concierge is on every ship; these port experts assist passengers in making the most of their time ashore, even going as far as creating individual excursions tailor made to your touring desires. A fleet of three expedition ships cater to cruisers looking to explore the Galapagos.
With the introduction of its Solstice Class of ships, Celebrity Cruises entered a new era of larger ships and higher capacity, but don’t mourn just yet for the little cruise line that offers personalized service. Doubts emerged with the birth of its Millennium-class ships, but the line managed quite nicely, adding a series of enhancements that pleased even the most stalwart fans of smaller ships.
Celebrity Solstice (2008), Celebrity Equinox (2009), Celebrity Eclipse (2010), Celebrity Silhouette (2011) and Celebrity Reflection (2012) measure 122,000 tons (Silhouette and Reflection are slightly larger). All are about 30 percent larger than Celebrity’s Millennium-class ships. With the announcement of a new class of ships, the Edge Class, the line will go back to its “small ship” roots; the two vessels, launching in 2018 and 2020, will carry 2,900 passengers each.
Beginning with its Solstice Class, Celebrity rocked the notion that a cruise line that positions itself in the “premium” market must keep its ships small and cozy. The plan has worked. The interior architecture of the Solstice-lass ships is the best we’ve seen in some time, and even on a full sailing, the ships feel half empty. Passenger flow is excellent, with no lines and no crowding, and onboard evolutions — including a top-of-ship Lawn Club featuring real grass — have been welcomed and successful. The Solstice-class features were so popular that Celebrity added some of the restaurant, lounge and decor concepts to its Millennium-class ships.
Aside from these “new ship” developments, Celebrity Cruises has spent the past few years — pretty much since the launch of its last Millennium-class ship, Constellation, in 2002 — upgrading onboard services and amenities. The goal in turning its attention inward is to introduce enhancements that would position the cruise line as a competitor to luxury lines, albeit with a younger passenger demographic.
Celebrity also has been focusing on land-based options bundled with cruises, giving passengers the chance to spend time in destinations, such as Alaska, the Galapagos and Ecuador.
Celebrity was founded in 1989 by the Greece-based Chandris Group, which established the line’s reputation as an upscale big-ship operator. Celebrity was acquired by Royal Caribbean in 1997 and operates as its sister cruise line. With the 2004 launch of its wildly successful Celebrity Xpedition program, the line has been able to offer its upscale, active passenger base a new option: a once-in-a-lifetime, up-close-and-personal Galapagos Islands experience. Celebrity has become the only big-ship cruise line to offer year-round sailings there. It’s been so successful, Celebrity will add two more ships to the region — Celebrity Xperience and Celebrity Xploration — in 2017.
Costa Cruises, which began as a fleet of freighters transporting fabrics and olive oil between Genoa and Sardinia in the mid-1800s, became a fully owned subsidiary of Carnival Corp. in 2000. But it’s still an Italian company with a modern fleet of ships, destination-intensive worldwide itineraries and a distinct Italian personality.
The Costa fleet sails under the “Italy’s Finest” banner; its international family of ships spans the globe offering cruises of five days and longer throughout the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, the Arabian Gulf, Asia, the Indian Ocean, China and trans-Atlantic.
Some passengers have disliked Costa because of the extensive smoking aboard their ships, but following Italian government regulations ashore, all internal areas of the ship, with the exception of designated cigar lounges, are smoke-free. Travelers enjoy the uniquely European atmosphere — after all, Mediterranean-influenced cuisine, regional wines and warm, rich decor are all part of the Italian tradition.
Alas, Italian stewards, part of the line’s heritage, are no more. Cabin and dining room stewards are now as multinational as the passengers, with Filipinos, Indonesians, South Americans and Indians in the mix. As they speak English, the former criticism of English-speakers that they were not understood has been ameliorated.
Another great line for classic cruising, Cunard offers the only regular season of transatlantic crossings on its flagship Queen Mary 2, evoking the days of the great ocean liners. On-board, you will be dressing up for formal dinners and ballroom dance parties, attending performances of well-regarded plays or jazz concerts, sipping Darjeeling and nibbling scones at afternoon tea, or playing lawn bowls on deck.
With sea day-filled ocean crossings and other sailings, Cunard is experienced in finding top-notch enrichment programs to fill passengers’ days. Its Cunard Insights speaker series and Cunard Book Club literary discussions are offered on all three ships, while flagship Queen Mary 2 offers even more programs. Embrace your inner thespian with Royal Academy of Dramatic Art acting workshops, gaze skyward with members of the Royal Astronomical Society, and get intellectual about your musical entertainment with Juilliard Jazz groups.
Cunard Line, a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation, has a long and illustrious history. The line was founded in 1840 by Samuel Cunard, a businessman from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Cunard applied for and received a contract from the British government to carry the Royal Mail from Britain to North America on a fleet of steamships that would maintain a weekly service. The first route was from Liverpool to Boston via Halifax, but the western terminus was soon moved to New York.
Throughout the 19th century, Cunard Line produced larger, faster and more luxurious ships. Its ships never pushed technological boundaries — when a new technology was proved by other lines, Cunard adopted it. The line also could boast never having lost a life at sea due to failure of ship or seamanship.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Cunard applied for and received a subsidy from the British government to build a pair of ships that would not only be the largest in the world, but also the fastest. The government agreed to the subsidy to keep the Cunard Line British at a time when J. P. Morgan, the American financier, was acquiring steamship companies in an attempt to form a trust. In return for the subsidy, Cunard Line agreed to permit its ships to be used as armed merchantmen in time of war. The two new liners, Mauretania and Lusitania, were one-third larger than any existing ship and powered by turbine steam engines, a new technology. Mauretania was the slightly faster sister and quickly took the North Atlantic speed record (and held it for a record 22 years). It had a long, profitable career. Lusitania, on the other hand, was less fortunate. Continuing to carry passengers and cargo during World War I, it was sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland.
Cunard’s express liners carried three classes of passenger: first, second and steerage. First class was opulent, with public rooms imitative of the decor of country houses and hotels. Second class was comfortable and cheaper. Steerage was for immigrants. Even though immigrant fares were low, the volume of immigrants carried made this the most profitable class of passenger.
Between the world wars, Cunard fielded a fleet of three grand liners on the premier Southampton to New York run: Mauretania, Aquitania (a larger four-funnel ship that would sail for 35 years) and Berengaria, a former German liner (Imperator) that had been surrendered as war reparations.
In the late 1920s Cunard laid down plans for a pair of liners that would be capable of maintaining the weekly service between Southampton and New York. Construction was delayed by the Great Depression, but the British government issued loan guarantees on the condition that Cunard merge with its rival, White Star Line. Cunard-White Star Line launched Queen Mary in 1935 and Queen Elizabeth in 1939. Queen Mary won the speed record for the North Atlantic from the French liner Normandie and kept it for the next 16 years.
Both Queens and numerous smaller Cunard ships served with distinction as troop carriers during World War II. Winston Churchill credited the two Queens with shortening the war in Europe by a year, as they were able to transport 10,000 troops each trip — without escort — because of their speed.
After the war, Cunard resumed trans-Atlantic service with its Queens and a large fleet of smaller ships, including the notable Caronia, Cunard’s first purpose-built cruise ship. With the arrival of the jet airplane, however, the profitability of line voyages between ports, of ship travel as transportation, declined. Cunard’s ships began to lose money, and, one by one, they were withdrawn from service. Queen Mary was withdrawn in 1967 and sold to the City of Long Beach, California, to become a hotel and conference center. It remains there to this day, having been a shoreside attraction longer than it sailed the seas. Queen Elizabeth was withdrawn in 1968. It later burned in Hong Kong harbor, as it was fitting out to become a floating university.
In 1960, the British government agreed to lend Cunard money for the construction of a new liner on the condition that the ship could be requisitioned for national service in an emergency. Initially, an 80,000-ton Atlantic liner with accommodation in three classes was envisaged, but by 1965 the planned Q3 was replaced by a concept of a smaller ship of some 65,000 tons that could make Atlantic voyages — but which was also well suited for cruises. Hence the Q4 design was born.
In 1967, Queen Elizabeth II launched Queen Elizabeth 2, named for the earlier ship, Queen Elizabeth. QE2, as it became known, made its maiden voyage in 1969, as a two-class ship for crossings and a one-class ship for cruises. To replace inefficient steamships, Cunard acquired two ships already being built, launched in 1971 and 1972 as Cunard Adventurer and Cunard Ambassador.
From the 1970s until the 1990s, Cunard Line passed through a series of owners that tried to build or buy running mates for QE2. The first was Trafalgar House, a properties investment company that acquired Cunard in 1971. It commissioned two new ships for the line, Cunard Countess and Cunard Princess (Cunard Ambassador was gutted by fire, and Cunard Adventurer was sold).
In 1982, the British government requisitioned QE2 to serve as a troopship in the Falklands campaign. Upon its return it was refurbished and returned to cruising.
In 1984, Cunard acquired Norwegian American Cruises and its highly regarded ships, Sagafjord and Vistafjord. In 1986, the line acquired Sea Goddess I and Sea Goddess II from Norske Cruises.
In 1987, QE2 was re-engined. Its trouble-prone, bulk oil guzzling steam turbines were removed and replaced with diesels. The improvements in fuel efficiency and reliability ensured the ship’s survival.
In 1994, Cunard, by then a division of Norwegian conglomerate Kvaerner, acquired Royal Viking Sun, the last surviving ship of Royal Viking Line.
In 1998, Cunard was acquired by Carnival, which merged the management of Cunard with Seabourn, its other luxury brand. By that time, Cunard was down to two ships, QE2 and Vistafjord (later renamed Caronia). Carnival’s chairman, Micky Arison, had big plans for Cunard. With the deep pockets of Carnival Cruises behind it, Cunard commissioned a new liner, one that would be superlative in every way.
The year 2004 was a momentous year in Cunard’s history. In January, Queen Mary 2 — the largest, longest, highest and most expensive ship ever built — was christened by Queen Elizabeth II and made its maiden voyage attended by worldwide media coverage. In May, Queen Mary 2 took over the North Atlantic liner service between Southampton and New York and became the flagship of Cunard Line. In that month QE2 was repositioned to make cruises out of Southampton for the British market. In November, QE2 became the longest serving ship in Cunard’s history, and Caronia was sold.
And 2004 was momentous for another reason. As one of the Carnival family fleet of cruise lines, Cunard was later in the year moved under the Princess/P&O Cruises umbrella, where its operations were overseen by an almost entirely new staff (both onboard and on shore).
The year 2007 saw the inevitable happen as Cunard unveiled the sale of QE2 — for $100 million to developers from Dubai, where the ship will be converted for use as a hotel. The venerable ship sailed its last voyage in November 2008.
That same year, the company debuted the 90,000-ton, 2,014-passenger Queen Victoria and ordered its sister ship, Queen Elizabeth (the third Cunard ship to have that name). The 92,400-ton, 2,092-passenger Queen Elizabeth entered service in October 2010.
Under Carnival Corp. ownership, Cunard has adopted a much tighter focus. It only operates large ships that are British in feel and that fly the British flag. In design, Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth capitalize on the long history of the company. Gone are the days of the 1980s and 1990s, when the Cunard name was blurred by sub-brands — such as Cunard Sea Goddess, Cunard NAC and Cunard Crown — that operated a mixed bag of ships in terms of size, age and ambiance.
Disney Cruise Line
It’s no surprise that Disney leads the pack for introducing the little ones to cruising. Its ships offer nurseries for babes as young as three months, themed playspaces for preschoolers and school-age kids, plenty of Disney character interaction (including dress-up princess teas and pirate parties), and cabins that cater to families with split baths (with tubs), extra berths, a room-dividing curtain and childproof balcony locks.
Disney knows the entertainment biz better than anyone, and that shows in its cruise line offerings as well. Its onboard stage shows mix original productions with live versions of hit movies like “Frozen” and “Tangled,” but all feature catchy tunes, creative props and costumes, and favorite Disney characters. Its best known event is its once-a-cruise pirate-themed deck party, which combines an interactive musical show with dance parties and at-sea fireworks.
When Disney execs decided to enter the cruise business they looked back to the 1920s for inspiration. The result: Both Disney Magic and Disney Wonder resemble luxurious ocean liners of a bygone era that just happen to have all the modern bells and whistles to boot. The twin ships’ elongated dark blue hulls, matching red funnels and elaborate yellow insignias make these sleek ships a beautiful sight to behold in port.
Inside, the ambiance is casually elegant with plenty of subtle nods to the Mouse that started it all, from the etched-in-pewter characters bordering the atrium to the hidden mini-Mickeys in the adults-only restaurant’s china pattern. What Disney Cruise Line does best though is prove that “elegant” and “family-friendly” don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Disney offers one of the most distinctive cruise experiences afloat. With these ships, Disney has introduced a number of innovations. Chief among them are its cabins with a bath-and-a-half and a rotating dining room schedule in which passengers eat at three different restaurants, albeit with the same tablemates and waitstaff. It was the first cruise line to launch the “soda card” concept, an idea which has been picked up by competitors, and now they’ve even gone one better, offering soda gratis in the three restaurants and at the self-service beverage stations on the pool deck.
Equally distinctive is what Disney ships don’t have: casinos or libraries.
Though the line operated a two-ship fleet for nearly a decade, Disney built two new ships (Dream and Fantasy), that are significantly larger than Magic and Wonder — two decks higher and measuring 128,690 tons. They will do this again in the 2020s with their two largest ships yet. While the passenger count is 2,500, it’s important to note that Disney’s load factor is the highest in the industry (remember: lots of kids). The typical passenger count onboard will be in the range of 3,500 to 4,000 people.
Emerald Waterways Luxury River Cruises
A 2014 debut complete with two innovative new sister ships — Emerald Star and Emerald Sky — made Emerald Waterways one of the newest river cruise lines to launch in Europe. Two more identical ships, Emerald Sun and Emerald Dawn, joined the fleet in early 2015 and three more will launch in 2017.
Emerald Waterways has positioned itself somewhere between the three- and four-star markets. The line aims to compete with established four-star brands like Viking Cruises and Avalon Waterways by boasting a handful of innovative design touches and less expensive fares that still include a lot within the price of the cruise. Included in the cost are drinks (soft and alcoholic) at lunch and dinner, shore excursions in every port (including one gentle walkers tour), transfers and tips. Emerald’s main marketing push is with English-speaking clients, with about half hailing from Australia.
Holland America Cruise Line
If you had to pick one word to describe Holland America Line, that word would be “venerable.” The brand is arguably the most historic and tradition-laden on the seas. Its first ship, Rotterdam, set sail on a voyage between Holland and New York in 1873, and, today, Holland America ships sail all around the globe.
The line was originally named the Netherlands-America Steamship Company, but it soon became known as the Holland America Line because it carried great numbers of immigrants from Holland to America. The company concentrated on the transatlantic passenger trade, as well as on commercial freight shipping until the 1970s. Its first purpose-built passenger ship was constructed in 1973, and, since then, the line has excelled in cruise vacation travel.
In 1978, Holland America moved its headquarters from Rotterdam to Stamford, Connecticut. The company’s headquarters then moved to Seattle, Washington, in 1983, in order to consolidate operations with Westours, an Alaska tour company in which Holland America purchased a controlling interest. In 1988, Holland America purchased Windstar Cruises, operator of four- and five-masted, computer-guided sailing ships. It ultimately sold Windstar to a smaller ship operator.
One year later, Carnival Corporation acquired Holland America Line, which remains headquartered in Seattle.
Holland America is now a U.S.-based cruise line, but it continues to maintain strong ties with its Netherlands heritage. Ships in its fleet — since the 1890s and continuing today — bear the suffix “dam.” Most of the names are inspired by actual dams that traverse the rivers of the Netherlands. Others, such as those within the Vista Class, represent points of the compass. (Oosterdam is east, Westerdam is west, Noordam is north, and Zuiderdam is south.) Many of the names are in their fourth, fifth or sixth incarnations. Eurodam was christened in Rotterdam in 2008 by none other than the Netherlands’ Queen Beatrix. Nieuw Amsterdam, HAL’s newest offering, was christened in 2010 by the Netherlands’ Princess Maxima, marking the 11th time a member of the Dutch Royal Family served as a HAL godmother.
HAL’s midsize ships appeal to mature travelers with their cruise traditions (afternoon tea, gentleman hosts, ballroom dancing), comfortable cabins and focus on enrichment with cooking and technology classes. In addition, its wide range of itineraries — from family-friendly one-week sailings to weeks-long exotic journeys and world cruises — appeal to retirees looking for multi-generational trips or long vacations to new places.
Even before dedicated cabins, solo cruisers were choosing Holland for its social atmosphere and a ton of independent travelers sail the line every year. HAL’s Single Partners Program is designed for single cruisers with meetups, activities and events geared just toward solos. On longer itineraries, social hosts serve as greeters and dance partners for women. Prinsendam now features single cabins and Koningsdam, the line’s newest vessel, has solo cabins without a single supplement. If you’re sailing a ship without a solo cabin, the program can arrange for you to share your room with another same-sex single to save you money.
Pay attention, North Americans. MSC Cruises is making an effort to reach out to the U.S. market, positioning Divina and Seaside in Miami and tweaking its European product for Yankee vacationers. To lure new-to-MSC cruisers aboard, the line is constantly offering promotions and low fares (including inside cabins starting at $40 to $60 per person, per night).
When you’re cruising the European way, be sure to adjust to European bedtime, when even the smallest children are found in the nightclub around 10 p.m. That’s the vibe on MSC, even on its U.S.-geared ships. Piano bars, sports bars, lounges with wine-blending classes and hangouts with international beer — it’s all there. What keeps the nightlife lively isn’t only the atmosphere, it’s the clientele; MSC passengers typically keep the party going until the wee hours of the morning.
Geneva-based firm Mediterranean Shipping Company is one of the world’s biggest players in international shipping. It began its operations in 1970 with a single ship and expanded to passenger cruising in 1988.
The turn of the millennium was a massive breakthrough for MSC, when huge container ship operator Mediterranean Shipping Company, the line’s parent, decided it was time to expand its presence in the cruise market. The result was an order for a pair of brand-new 58,000-ton ships — the very first new-builds in the company’s history. Three years later, in 2003, the company took delivery of their first-born, MSC Lirica, setting off an epic expansion that would catapult MSC to the number four spot worldwide — and number two in Europe — in a matter of years.
MSC Opera debuted in June 2004, carrying 1,756 passengers. The line then bought several vessels from the defunct First European/Festival: MSC Armonia and MSC Sinfonia; both ships measured 58,625 tons and carried 1,566 passengers. The ships in the Lirica Class were stretched and expanded through the line’s Renaissance program, adding additional staterooms to each vessel.
The introduction of a new class of ships — larger, more amenity-laden and featuring an even higher ratio of private verandahs — emerged with MSC Musica. Measuring 89,600 tons and accommodating 2,550 passengers, that class “master” was launched in June 2006; siblings include MSC Orchestra (debuted in spring of 2007) and MSC Poesia (spring 2008). MSC Magnifica, the fourth ship in the Musica class, launched in 2010.
The Fantasia Class of ships followed in 2008. MSC Fantasia (137,936 tons, 3,274 passengers), which debuted in December 2008, was the first of four Fantasia-class vessels. Sister ship MSC Splendida (137,936 tons, 3,274 passengers) debuted in 2009, and MSC Divina (139,072 tons, 3,502 passengers) arrived in May 2012. MSC Preziosa (139,072 tons, 3,502 passengers) joined the fleet in 2013. These two post-Panamax-sized vessels are based on a unique protoype that incorporates first-ever features, such as the ship-within-a-ship Yacht Club concept for suite holders, a pool with a magrodome for all-seasons swimming and an interactive center with a 4D theater and a Formula One simulator.
In 2014, MSC announced four new ships, the first of which — MSC Meraviglia — will debut in June 2017. Carrying 4,500-passengers, it will be second only to Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class in terms of passenger capacity. MSC Meraviglia is being built in the same shipyard as the Oasis-class ships — STX France — and will be the biggest ship ever built by a European-based cruise line. Meraviglia — the name means “wonder” in Italian — will spend its first summer sailing the western Mediterranean with three homeports: Genoa, Marseille and Barcelona.
Hot on its heels will be the launch in November 2017 of MSC Seaside, heralding another new class of ship — Seaside. It will be smaller than Meraviglia at 160,000 gross tons, and it will have 2,067 cabins holding 4,134 passengers in double occupancy. It will launch in Miami, be christened there and homeport there year-round, in a further bid for the line to break into the U.S. market. A second Seaside class ship will follow in May 2018.
The line has also set its sights on China: MSC Lirica made its homeport in Shanghai in May 2016, initially for two years. It also ventured into Cuba, basing MSC Opera there in 2015 and MSC Armonia in November 2016.
Uniquely, in an era in which cruise lines choose a different celebrity godmother for each ship in the fleet, the Mediterranean-influenced MSC has remained loyal to legendary actress Sophia Loren. She’s served as godmother for every new ship since MSC Lirica.
Norwegian Cruise Lines
Older kids will appreciate Norwegian’s freestyle approach — no set dining times or eating with strangers, no strict dress code (jeans are always acceptable) and plenty of choice for entertainment and food. Teen clubs offer gaming stations, exclusive parties, teen outings to see the comedy show onboard and late-night snacks. Plus, onboard facilities like video arcades, water parks, outdoor sports courts and cool musical venues and shows mean no one ever complains of being bored.
First it was onboard bowling in a funky disco setting. Then it was a rock-climbing and rappelling wall and a two-story climbing cage. Now new ships are debuting ropes courses and group classes in TRX suspension training, Flywheel indoor cycling, bootcamp, Fight Klub and Zumba. Large gyms, sports courts and large-screen Wii tournaments round out the line’s active offerings.
Some of the lowest cruise fares we’ve ever seen have been on shoulder-season, weeklong Norwegian cruises. Eagle-eyed deal spotters with flexible schedules can save a buck or two sailing with this line, if you plan to stick to what’s included in your cruise fare. In addition to the off season, look at short sailings and repositioning cruises for the best value. Just be sure to avoid all the for-fee dining options once onboard, or you might be tempted to blow your savings.
If you want an exclusive experience on a large, mainstream ship, splurge on a suite in Norwegian’s Haven. Depending on which ship you pick, The Haven will feature a communal area only for top suite residents with a private pool, sun deck, fitness center, restaurant and/or lounge. You can choose from an array of spacious suites, all with butler and concierge service, but still enjoy Norwegian’s big-ship amenities — multiple dining venues, a plethora of watering holes and plenty of top-notch entertainment.
Norwegian ships have an array of bars and lounges, from the bordello-meets-bowling-themed Bliss Ultra Lounge to Getaway’s Sugarcane Mojito Bar and other specialty venues focusing on beer, whiskey, cocktails or Champagne. Norwegian’s signature White Hot and Glow Parties (they vary depending on what ship class you are on) are the hottest dance parties aboard, where cruisers come dressed in white and the entertainment staff, bedecked with angel wings or layered in neon, keep the fun going with group dancing and on some ships, a mesmerizing video screen. We’ve also heard some mighty impressive karaoke on these ships.
Norwegian is RCI’s competitor when it comes to innovative entertainment options. The line has also introduced Broadway-quality shows including “After Midnight” and “Million Dollar Quartet.” Add to that a production featuring the cult hits of “16 Candles” director John Hughes, the unique Cirque Dreams and Dinner Show (part acrobatic show, part alternative dining venue), jazz and blues clubs, celebrity musician impersonators, dueling pianists and comedians, and it’s hard not to be entertained.
Norwegian’s much acclaimed Studio cabins proved to the world that solo travelers aren’t always overlooked. Norwegian Epic offers the line’s largest studio offering with 128 single cabins measuring 100 square feet with a corridor-facing window, mood lighting and access to a shared social space with large-screen TVs, coffee-making facilities and a bartender. You’ll find 82 studio rooms on Escape, with an area that includes a lounge bar and social space. Getaway has 59 studio cabins, with access to a two-deck lounge, complete with a 50-inch TV and a self-service wine bar, as well as a tea and coffee machine.
Princess Cruise Lines
The cruise line that owned the original Love Boat still clings to the notion that cruising is the ultimate in romance. While midsized and large ships might not be your idea of intimacy, Princess turns on the charm with alfresco balcony dinners for two, adults-only sun decks with spa-like atmospheres and several alternative dining venues perfect for date night.
What began as “the little cruise line that could” has evolved into a cruise industry giant. Beginning with a 6,000-ton converted ferry chartered from the Canadian Pacific Railway, Princess operated the small luxury liner between Los Angeles and the Mexican Riviera in 1965.
The line now has 17 ships sailing the globe offering a slew of itineraries that range from one to 100+ days and visit more than 300 ports.
Princess is part of the industry’s giant Carnival Corporation, a merger that occurred in 2003 when Carnival acquired Princess’ parent company, U.K.-based P&O Cruises, in a hostile takeover tug-of-war with Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines
As Royal Caribbean rolls out toddler play-spaces and nurseries with babysitting to more of its ships, it continues to solidify its reputation as one of the better family bets. The line has always been a leader with innovative kid programming and expansive youth facilities. A partnerships with DreamWorks brings the characters little ones love onboard with parties, parades and photo ops sure to please preschoolers and their parents.
Boxing? Check. Ice skating? Got it. Surfing, rock climbing, basketball, jogging track and huge gyms with cardio machines, free weights and weight machines, and class space for Pilates, cycling and aerobics? It’s all there. Add in active shore tours (kayaking, hiking and more) and plenty of space for dancing the night away, and you’ve got a fitness-lover’s dream cruise.
This line loves to the push the boundaries of onboard entertainment options. It’s the only line to offer ice-skating shows and water-based acrobatic shows. Plus, it was the first to bring Broadway to the high seas with condensed versions of “Chicago,” “Hairspray” and “Saturday Night Fever.” It utilizes every square inch of space onboard to keep the fun going, with toe-tapping parades along its indoor Promenade shopping and dining district and aerial performances in the atriums of its Vision-class ships.
The world’s second-largest cruise line, Royal Caribbean International (originally Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines) began in the late 1960s as a consortium of Norwegian ship owners who wanted to get in on the rapidly expanding American market. Ever since its first ship, Song of Norway (no longer in the fleet), debuted in 1970, the company has prided itself on introducing new shipboard innovations. After completing its first three ships (the others were Nordic Prince and Sun Viking) by 1972, Royal Caribbean “stretched” its first two ships and built the much larger Song of America in 1982. These early Royal Caribbean ships became the prototype for virtually all cruise ships since.
But Royal Caribbean’s biggest splash came in 1988 with the monumental Sovereign of the Seas, the very first mega-ship of the modern era. While only midsized by today’s standards, at over 70,000 tons, Sovereign of the Seas was massive in its day, and completely dwarfed every competitor of the era. The most sensational feature — aside from sheer size — was the introduction of the first modern shipboard atrium, complete with glass elevators and a grand piano, reminiscent of an opulent hotel — but with a view no hotel could match.
Not content to wait for other lines to catch up, the even larger sister ships, Monarch of the Seas and Majesty of the Seas, followed in quick succession, along with the smaller Nordic Empress, the first ship designed for cruises shorter than a week. Royal Caribbean also bought Admiral Cruises, a company specializing in short cruises, and turned its nearly new Stardancer into Royal Caribbean’s Viking Serenade after a massive refit. (To date, Viking Serenade, which left the fleet in 2002, remains the only ship to fly the Royal Caribbean flag that wasn’t built for the company.)
By the early 1990s Royal Caribbean moved on to another challenge: designing ships for use outside its traditional cruising grounds in the Caribbean. While the company had sent some of its oldest, smallest ships farther afield to destinations like Alaska and Europe — Royal Caribbean hadn’t built a ship specially designed for worldwide cruising. This changed in 1995 with the introduction of Legend of the Seas, a spectacular new ship that brought Royal Caribbean into a whole new era. Smaller than the Sovereign-class ships, Legend was by far the most luxurious ship Royal Caribbean had ever built, with bigger cabins, more space per passenger and a wider variety of public areas and open decks. The popular shipboard mini-golf course was introduced, as was Royal Caribbean’s now-signature adults-only indoor/outdoor pool area, the Solarium, one of the most impressive shipboard spaces that had been built to date. Legend was closely followed by its sister, Splendour of the Seas, and then by two pairs of slightly larger near-sisters: Grandeur and Enchantment of the Seas, and Rhapsody and Vision of the Seas.
At the same time, between 1995 and 1999, the company disposed of the four original ships and replaced them with the new Vision-class ships designed specifically for worldwide itineraries.
Having established itself outside the Caribbean, Royal Caribbean turned back to developing its core market. In the mid-1990s, as the Vision-class ships entered service to rave reviews, the company began planning a new ship that would redefine the cruise industry as much, if not more than Sovereign of the Seas had in the previous decade. Code-named “Project Eagle,” the ship began sailing in 1999 as Voyager of the Seas — and completely blew away every mega-ship that had come before. With features like an ice rink, rock wall and indoor promenade, Voyager of the Seas was the most innovative ship design in decades, the first ship that genuinely felt more like a resort than a ship. Four ships would follow, and the Voyager class became the defining mega-ship design of the early 21st century.
Meanwhile, four Radiance-class ships were built in the early 2000s as a follow-up to the Vision-class vessels of the 1990s. Similarly designed for worldwide cruising, they are larger, with more balconies, dining choices, public areas and greater luxury all around.
After the launch of so many new ships, the company’s formerly innovative older ships were beginning to look old and tired. Royal Caribbean spent millions of dollars to refit Monarch of the Seas, Empress of the Seas (formerly Nordic Empress), Sovereign of the Seas, Enchantment of the Seas (including a “stretch” of Enchantment) and Majesty of the Seas. Despite the refurbishments, a few ships just didn’t cut it. Royal Caribbean transferred two ships to its Spanish subsidiary, Pullmantur, in 2008: Empress of the Seas in March and Sovereign of the Seas in October. Monarch of the Seas was transferred to Pullmantur in 2013. However, Empress of the Seas was transferred back to Royal Caribbean in 2016 after a massive refurbishment.
In recent years, the big news at Royal Caribbean has been ever-larger ships. In 2006, the line debuted Freedom of the Seas, an enlarged, enhanced version of the Voyager-class design that introduced new features like a water park and onboard surfing to the array of Voyager-class amenities. The Freedom class also includes Liberty of the Seas and Independence of the Seas.
In fall 2009, the line launched the 225,282-ton, 5,400-ton Oasis of the Seas. A year later, sister ship Allure of the Seas debuted. A third Oasis-class ship, Harmony of the Seas, debuted in 2016. At over 40 percent larger than Freedom of the Seas, the Oasis-class ships are the biggest cruise ships in the world. The strategy of increasing size with each class ended when the 158,000-ton, 4,100-passenger Quantum of the Seas, the first “Project Sunshine” vessel, launched in fall 2014. Sister ship, Anthem of the Seas debuted in spring 2015, while Ovation of the Seas launched in spring 2016. Quantum of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas represent the line’s first serious foray into Asia; Quantum of the Seas sails full-time out of Hong Kong, and Ovation is homeporting in China until December 2016 when it heads to Sydney, Australia for a season.
Scenic Luxury River Cruises
Founded in 1987 by Australian Glen Moroney, parent company Scenic (then known as Scenic Tours) began by offering coach trips to the Australian coast, originally aimed at Melbourne’s senior citizen homes. Since then, the company has grown to include theater and special event tours and has expanded its operations to Norfolk Island, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, South America, South Africa and China. More North Americans than Australians now take the land tours Down Under.
In 2007, Scenic opened offices in United Kingdom and Canada, eventually coming to the U.S. The company’s inaugural river cruise season followed in 2008 with the launch of its first riverboat, Scenic Sapphire. The river cruise division has enjoyed rapid growth; today, Scenic Cruises operates 16 river ships in Europe and Asia.
In 2018 the line will debut its first ocean cruise ship, Scenic Eclipse, which will cruise worldwide including Antarctica and the Arctic.
Seabourn’s fleet of four modern ships, which carry 450 to 600 passengers, are havens of luxury. Indulge yourself at the two-level, 11,400-square-foot spa (complete with a spa pool and private spa villas); relax in a suite tricked out with marble bathrooms, high-end sound systems and upscale bedding; enjoy complimentary drinks and course-by-course in-cabin dining; and generally let the attentive staff cater to your every whim.
Another big-name luxury line with a water sports platform is Seabourn. Its marina is stocked with all the toys: banana boats, kayaks, pedal boats, water skis, windsurf boards and the “doughnut,” an inner tube in which you sit while being pulled along by a speedboat. If you’re excited about taking advantage of this option, choose your itinerary wisely — cooler weather sailings and busy ports are not conducive to marina use.
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