What’S New In World Of Cruising?

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What’s new in cruising? Lots of changes.

Firstly, Cruise Port Travel is moving — effective July 1, 2009 — to our home in Woodland Meadows. The address, 900 W. Driftwood Dr., is on the corner of Driftwood and Heritage. It can be accessed either from Lakeshore at the western end of Longhorn, or from Payson Parkway, turning onto Pioneer Trail, then immediately left onto Heritage. Our hours of operation will remain 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and other times by appointment. We will continue to serve Payson selling land vacations, airfare and cruises.

In conjunction with the move to a “home based agency” Cruise Port Travel has affiliated with America’s Vacation Center. AVC is one of the largest host agencies. What does that mean for our customers? It means better prices, the ability to book into more groups with group amenities and special promotions directly from the cruise lines only with America’s Vacation Center.

The 2010 itineraries are out, and now is the time to take advantage of the early booking discounts.

There are some changes to Alaska cruises. Next year practically ever cruise line will be reducing their deployment to Alaska by one ship each. This, in combination with the new Alaska cruise tax, which the cruise lines are currently contesting in the courts, will increase the price of Alaska cruises and cruise tours to Denali. There is still limited availability for Alaska departures for this year. If you’ve always wanted to go there; now is the time to take advantage of the lower prices.

Alaska will become somewhat easier to get to by air. Princess led the way this year with round trips to Alaska from Seattle. That makes the flight more affordable for consumers, since it can now be a round trip ticket vs. 2 one-way tickets. Look for more cruise lines to jump on this bandwagon in 2010. Because of the Jones Act, the ships will still be required to stop in Canada, but passengers will be bused from Vancouver to Seattle to catch their flight to or from home.

While many cruise lines are refurbishing older ships with beautiful results, Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises are introducing some new ships.

Celebrity launches the second ship in their Solstice line, the Equinox, in the Mediterranean on Aug. 8, 2009. The third Solstice class ship, the Eclipse, will follow it in 2010. The original Solstice will now be deployed year-round in the Caribbean.

What’s so special about this line of ships? They are the largest in the Celebrity fleet, over 1,000 feet long, with 15 decks, and carrying 2,850 guests. The brochure calls the Solstice class ship “a floating masterpiece crafted by world-class architects, designers, and stylists.” The most obvious innovation is a live, growing lawn at sea. In a setting reminiscent of a country club, you can practice your putting or join in an afternoon bocce tournament. In the evening, attention turns to the spectacle of molten glass being transformed into art. The Hot Glass Show is a unique collaboration between Celebrity Cruises and the Corning Glass Museum. The staterooms and bathrooms on the Solstice class ships are on average 15 percent larger than other Celebrity ships. There are more triple and quad cabins, adjoining cabins and balconies for larger families, and larger safes, capable to storing laptop computers. There is also a new class of stateroom, the Aqua class, which allows guests free access to the Aqua Spa relaxation room and Persian Garden, as well as complimentary dining in a specialty restaurant, Blu, which serves healthful yet delicious cuisine. As on all Celebrity ships, there is a children’s program with four different age groups.

I’ve saved the biggest and best for last.

Royal Caribbean is introducing the most innovative ship ever, the Oasis of the Seas, in December 2009, to be followed in 2010 by the Allure of the Seas. Both will be sailing the Caribbean.

Some of you are familiar with Royal’s innovative Royal Promenade, which is a 5-story interior space with shops, coffee bars, deli and ice cream bars, and several different lounges, found on the Voyager and the Mariner. What makes this space unique are the promenade staterooms. Instead of an interior cabin with a blank wall, you can have an interior cabin with a window that overlooks the Promenade, offering a great view of special parades and activities, or just plain people watching.

The Oasis goes one step further with a six-deck high, open area of different neighborhoods that runs through the middle of the ship. There are balcony cabins that over look the Central Park neighborhood, a tranquil outdoor space, open to the sky with gardens and winding paths. Then there is the Boardwalk neighborhood, again open to the sky, with overlooking balcony cabins.

It features the only carousel at sea, as well as casual restaurants like Johnny Rockets, the Seafood Shack, and a coffee and donut shop. At the end of the Boardwalk, on the stern of the ship, is the groundbreaking Aqua Theater. During the day it’s a pool and sun deck. After dark, lounge chairs turn into theater seating for 600 for a water show of high-diving aerial performances and water acrobats. The water show is set against a backdrop of ocean and horizon. Six decks of balconies overlook both the Boardwalk and the Aqua Theater, providing private views of the shows.

Then there are the pool and sports zone, including two signature rock climbing walls, this deck features a miniature golf course, two Flow Riders (surf simulators), a basketball court, a kids pool, a sport pool dedicated to laps, and a beach pool with sloping entry which simulates walking into the ocean.

Topping it all, a Zip Line that soars over the Boardwalk area nine decks below.

The ship also features a two-deck high adult retreat in the Solarium, an ice skating rink and never before Loft Suites with two story tall windows. Of course there’s still a spa and fitness center, children and youth supervised programs, and the Royal Promenade with an innovative Rising Tide bar that rises three decks from the Promenade level to Central Park, transporting its patrons from indoors to outdoors.

There are 2,700 staterooms in 37 different cabin categories, holding 5,400 passengers at double occupancy.

Wow! I can’t wait to see this ship.

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