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MS Europa: Day 2 at Sea
Travel Agent’s Dave Eisen is sailing aboard the MS Europa this week. This is his second report.
Forgive me if you have logged on hoping to read all about Tallinn, Estonia. In my haste, I forgot that day two of the itinerary is at sea, followed by Tallinn on Wednesday. Perfect: It allows me the opportunity to give you my first impressions of MS Europa, the luxury cruise ship, recognized as one of the most elegant and luxurious ships plying the seas today. That is without question. What is debatable is whether it’s the right ship for affluent American cruisers. Let’s debate.
First the pros, of which there are many. The ship itself is a study of superior class and luxury: flawless service, five-star cuisine, spacious and luxurious accommodations and top-of-the-line design with amenities to match. I can’t think that any other luxury ship does it better.
First, service. From the time you step aboard, personnel are there to cater to your every whim, whether it is your favorite drink served in a proper glass, a warm blanket while passing time by the pool or anticipating your want of an afternoon snack (waffles, yes waffles, are served poolside). The service is seamless from the chambermaids to the dining room staff.
And dining is where MS Europa really shines. On Deck 4, three restaurants are positioned next to one another: the larger main dining room and two smaller specialty restaurants, one serving Asian cuisine, the other Italian. Interestingly, unlike some other ships, the specialty restaurants do not carry an extra charge. If they charged $50 a head, I’d still recommend them, at least the Asian restaurant, where I dined Tuesday night.
A small menu sample: spring roll with Siberian caviar, swordfish sashimi, spiny lobster medallions, chili-marinated beef Paillard. It being our first evening, we were also allowed to choose items off the main dining room menu. Yes, please! How about the Siberian caviar served in a silver bowl with all the traditional garnishes? The kicker: a chilled glass of Russian vodka to complete the dish. And on it went: veal carpaccio and crispy chantarelles ravioli, fried foie gras on polenta and (my favorite) grilled lobster. When I say I’ve never had better food on a cruise or otherwise, it’s no exaggeration.
After dinner, the action moves updeck to the lovely Sansibar, which overlooks the water. What a watering hole. Its elegance is simple, with a lovely center bar and red leather booths. Again the service there is impeccable and drinks are always poured into the correct glass with (go figure?) actual ice chunks. We’re not talking about the shoddy ice most regular bars adhere to. This is the high life we are talking about.
Our accommodations are, of course, in line with the rest of the ship. I’ve never seen a bathroom in a regular stateroom that is so large and well appointed. There is a deep soaking tub along with a stand-up shower that is enclosed by a glass shower door (plastic shower curtains and shower rods need not apply).
The room itself is also well put together, with a spacious veranda and comfortable beds. It would be nice if the entertainment system included a DVD player, but the TV does offer CNN, pre-loaded movies and the ability to send and receive e-mails at no cost.
Here’s my only concern. Is this a ship for North Americans? Understand that close to 100 percent of the guests are German. Lovely as they are, it makes it difficult for an American, such as myself, to feel truly comfortable. Much of the staff does know English, but there still is that disconnect. Most, if not all, of the announcements are in German, though daily literature is also in English.
It really boils down to a different vibe. It’s a cruise, yes, but a German cruise. My masseuse, Doris, who gives the best deep-tissue massages this side of the ocean, said I was the first American she had ever plied her trade on. Fine, but it goes to show you that MS Europa has yet to tap the English-speaking market. It is too bad because avid cruisers are missing one of the best luxury ships around.
If your clients enjoy surrounding themselves in a foreign environment, I would recommend they try MS Europa. As I have stated, the ship’s presentation is flawless. Note: This is not a ship for young couples, though I did see a couple of families onboard.
However, if after you qualify your clients and they remark that they’d rather cruise where they aren’t the minority, MS Europa could be a tough sell. Hapag-Lloyd is trying to market a bit more to North Americans and I hope they succeed, as this is not a ship to miss out on.
It’s small (about 400 passengers) and is very serene and peaceful. If clients are looking for loads of entertainment and activities, MS Europa is not the ship. Remember, there is no casino. That said, luxury doesn’t get any better than this. Now excuse me while I polish off this Belgian waffle.
Tomorrow, Tallinn. I promise!
Read about Dave Eisen's visit to Copenhagen on Day 1 of his trip.
Royal Caribbean Reveals New Neighborhoods on Oasis of the Seas Ship
During an online virtual event attended Tuesday night by 16,000 travel agents, news media and consumers, Royal Caribbean International revealed the latest two new “neighborhoods” for the 220,000-ton Oasis of the Seas, which launches in late 2009. Agents will discover plenty of “wow factor” elements.
Located above the Central Park area, the Pool and Sports Zone neighborhood will feature the first zip line at sea, multiple pools that include a new zero-entry Beach pool, an H20 Zone that resembles a huge octopus with long tentacles spouting water, private cabanas with attendants, a pair of FlowRiders for surfing, a sports court, and a nine-hole miniature golf course.
Designed for adults only, the Pool and Sport’s Zone’s glass-paneled, two-deck Solarium will boast six whirlpools including four cantilevered 136 feet above the water, “islands” of seating areas, a relaxation area and a pool. The Solarium’s bistro will serve healthy fare from the Vitality Spa menu during the day. At night, it will transform into Club 20 for casual dining and dancing.
The second neighborhood, the Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center, will field such new features as a dedicated children and teen spa, new Kinesis group classes, and a thermal suite with three couples’ massage suites and seven treatment rooms. During the virtual event, sponsored by AAA Travel and the Canadian Automobile Association, Royal Caribbean also said all Crown & Anchor members, the line’s repeat guests, may book Oasis of the Seas voyages starting today at AAA and other travel agencies. Previously, only Diamond and Diamond Plus members were able to book the ship.
General bookings open September 3. The 5,400-guest Oasis of the Seas will sail from Port Everglades, FL.
Nickelodeon Family Cruise Announces Two Cruise Itineraries for 2009
Upon the recent return of the first-ever Nickelodeon Family Cruise with Royal Caribbean, Nickelodeon and Royal Caribbean International announced plans for two more joint journeys at sea together in summer of 2009. The two companies will offer an exotic cruise from each U.S. coast, with the Mariner of the Seas taking passengers to the Western Mexican Rivera and the Freedom of the Seas to sailing to the Eastern Caribbean.
The first of the 2009 Nickelodeon Family Cruises will depart Los Angeles on July 26, 2009 and make its way to the Mexican Rivera. The Eastern Caribbean itinerary will leave on August 9, 2009 from Port Canaveral, FL, and will sail to St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Royal Caribbean’s private island, CocoCay, the Bahamas.
Onboard, Nickelodeon provides families with interactive game shows, meet-and-greets and performances by Nickelodeon stars, and plenty of Nickelodeon's signature slime. Meanwhile, families will enjoy all of the accommodations that Royal Caribbean cruise liners offer, including an onboard ice-skating rink, full-size basketball court, inline skating track, rock-climbing wall and the Royal Promenade, a boulevard of shops, restaurants, bars and lounges that runs nearly the length of the ship.
Vacation packages for each Nickelodeon Family Cruise go on-sale to the public beginning in mid-September. A new sales program for travel agents will also be implemented. The 2008 Nickelodeon Family Cruise sold out relatively quickly so act fast.
Carnival Initiates Travel Agent Forum with Executives
Travel executives from the U.S. and Canada joined Carnival Cruise Lines executives at the Ritz-Carlton in Fort Lauderdale, FL earlier this week for the first meeting of the Carnival Executive Forum. The new forum will provide travel agents and Carnival executives opportunities to discuss issues relevant to the cruise industry, including product, sales and marketing policies, and distribution. The forum will meet twice a year during intensive two-day conferences with members serving two-year terms.
The travel agent executive forum will also provide Carnival management with a vehicle for enhancing their understanding of unique challenges faced by travel agents while looking for best-practice solutions that will benefit all parties involved.
“Travel agents are the largest and most vital part of our distribution system," said Lynn Torrent, Carnival’s senior vice president of sales and guest experience. "And while Carnival has always enjoyed an excellent relationship with the travel agent community, this new executive forum offers an opportunity to enhance our dialogue with agents while seeking new ways to make them more successful and profitable in today’s marketplace.”
The 19 travel agent members that comprise the Carnival Executive Forum were specifically chosen to represent a wide range of business models, including traditional “brick and mortar” agencies, home-based travel agents, consortia, and online retailers. Additionally, the members represent agencies of different sizes and from various regions throughout the U.S. and Canada.
The travel agent members include:
Roberta Christman of AAA Northern California
Brad Anderson of America’s Vacation Center
Sandy Cleary of Cru Con Outlet
Anthony Hamawy of Cruise.com
John Keen, a cruise consultant
Vicky Garcia of Cruise Planners
Michael Drever CruiseShipCenters
Ross Spalding of Cruise Value Center
Koreen Mcnutt of Expedia
Joyce Landry of Landry & Kling
Makis Xenatos of Liberty Travel
Jackie Friedman of Nexion
Ed Rudner of Online Vacation Center
Marcia Rowley of Our Vacation Center
Filomena Andre of Signature
Mark Jacobs of The Cruise Line Limited
Ken Lorey of Travelocity
Emerson Hankamer of Vacations to Go
David Crooks of World Travel Holdings
Carnival executives participating in the forum include President and CEO Gerry Cahill, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Guest Experience Ruben Rodriguez, Senior Vice President of Sales and Guest Experience Lynn Torrent, Vice President of Field Sales Joni Rein, and Vice President of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships Edie Bornstein. Other members of Carnival’s senior management team will be participating in this function, as well.
Sell Three Cruises, Take One For Free
Crystal Cruises has set two promotions enabling agents to earn a free Crystal cruise for two on many remaining 2008 and most 2009 worldwide departures. Agents selling three staterooms on Crystal Symphony's 2008 New England/Canada cruises or three staterooms on Crystal Symphony's 2009 China/Japan and Southeast Asia cruises can enjoy a free cruise in a stateroom with verandah.
Crystal is also providing travel specialists with these incentives:
* Third berth free and lower starting fares on 2008 New England/ Canada cruises;
* Two-category upgrade, $2,000 per person penthouse savings, and Crystal Family Memories group package (one free berth for 10 guests) on China/Japan cruises; and
* Two-category upgrades and Crystal Family Memories package for its Southeast Asia cruise.
The three Canada/New England 11-day cruises depart from either New York or Montreal on September 16, 27 and October 8; one 10-day cruise departs from Montreal on October 19.
The luxury line's China/Japan cruises are set for March 27 from Hong Kong to Beijing and on April 5 from Beijing to Hong Kong. The 15-day inclusive vacations offer a 12-day cruise and a three-day Beijing package featuring Beijing sightseeing, hotel accommodations and meals. The 11-day Southeast Asia cruise departs from Hong Kong to Singapore on April 20.
Christmas on the Danube
Gate 1 is offering a selection of Christmas Cruises on the Danube. Clients can begin in either Vienna or, for the reverse itinerary, in Nuremburg. The special also offers dinners on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on board the ship.
The price is as low as $919 for 8 days/6 nights, or $1,599 with airfare from New York (including transfers to the ship). Clients can choose from two ships—the MS Royal and MS Symphony—and vacations from 8 to 10 days, departing December 17 or 19. Cabins can be upgraded, beginning at $130 per person. Single cabin price is $1,570 cruise only, $2,250 with airfare, which is based on New York departures to Vienna with return from Munich.
Clients can add on two days Prague or Budapest (from $1,139 cruise/land, $1,689 air and land/cruise) or four days Budapest and Prague (two days in each city, from $1,389 land/cruise only, $1,959 air inclusive).
For more information, call 800-682-3333 or visit www.gate1travel.com.
Freestyle Cruising to the Caribbean
Since every client wants more options for their cruise, NCL offers more departure ports and more itineraries. More departure ports, like Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia and Boston. Recent Freestyle 2.0 upgrades implemented fleet-wide include expanded menus with new signature dishes, enhanced service and better-than-ever amenities on the ship and in the staterooms. And of course, Freestyle Cruising gives your clients no set dining times on board, so they can dine when, where and with whom they want. That’s Freestyle Cruising. Check out NCL’s Caribbean itineraries so you can start giving your clients more.