Antarctica Continues To Heat Up, As A Cruise Destination

Crystal Cruises

Antarctica is the southern most continent on Earth and can reach temperatures as low as −129°F (−89°C). But to cruise travelers, the home of the South Pole is one of the hottest new destinations around and cruise lines are sending them there in ever-increasing numbers. Once seen as a place of treks for hearty explorers, burly men of substance and adventure travelers, luxury cruise lines are finding Antarctica a popular choice, offering a variety of itineraries.

In ‘Antarctica For Sissies? Hardly, As Luxury Cruise Line Turns New Page‘ Gadling reported luxury line Seabourn refitting Seabourn Quest to make 21- to 24-night expedition sailings later this year. The 450-passenger ship will sail from Buenos Aires, Argentina, stopping by Montevideo, Uruguay, then the Falkland Islands before spending five days in Antarctica, running Zodiac landings to a variety of ridiculously amazing places.

Now, Crystal Cruises is sailing to Antarctica for a Christmas/New Year’s cruise beginning December 21, 2013. The Buenos Aires-Valparaíso voyage aboard 922-passenger Crystal Symphony sails through Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Falkland Islands, Drake Passage, Cape Horn, and the Chilean Fjords, going ashore on the Antarctic continent multiple times.Unique to the Crystal version of Antarctica, passengers can fly, hike, and zodiac over and on the icy continent and overnight at the Chilean Eduardo Frei Antarctic Base (INACH). Neither are cheap rides though, prices start at $7,450 per person.

Ice Melting in Antarctica From Underneath

Summer Travel Bargains, Available Now During Brief Buying ‘Sweet Spot’

Moyan_Brenn/ Flickr

Summer travel season is right around the corner but exciting travel opportunities are often limited by price. There are plenty of places to go, but they are often priced out of reach. Still, with some research and timing, summer travel bargains are out there right now. Why? Sellers of travel want occupancy and booking levels to be at a certain target number right about now. If the numbers are not where they want them to be, they bring on the discounts to shore up summer season bookings. Here are some we found as standout bargains.

Disney World, Discounted
Summer is usually a popular time to visit Florida’s Walt Disney World and this year is no exception. Many families have to do vacations during the summer, when kids are out of school, most often driving prices up. Still, with hotel capacity running a bit ahead of reservations, deals are out there. Savings of 30 percent on select Disney hotels on Disney property, free dining with a hotel and ticket package, and more can be found at Disney’s Special Offers webpage.

Hike the Blue Mountains in Jamaica
Strawberry Hill is offering guests 25 percent off rates for stays through October 31 with its “Discover the Blue Mountains” package. The three-night stay includes two hikes on Gordon Town Trail and Settlement Trail, daily breakfast, a fruit and cheese welcome amenity, dinner with a bottle of wine, daily Blackwell Rum cocktail and a spa treatment. Don’t come home without a pound or two of that Blue Mountain coffee.Summer for Less at Nantucket Island Resorts- Nantucket, Massachusetts
Nantucket Island Resorts is offering 30 percent off room rates at White Elephant Village, The Wauwinet and the White Elephant Hotel to guests who book five consecutive nights July 7-19. Rates start at $2,500 for five nights. Visit nantucketislandresorts.com/hotel-deals for more.

Pick A Cruise, Any Cruise
Practically every cruise line sailing has felt the sting of recent widely publicized events so prices have gone down. Some lines are advertising like never before, others have quietly just not raised pricing as they might have normally done at this time of the year, choosing instead to go for maximized occupancy. Best deals can be found in the Mediterranean where prices can be as low as $75 per person, per day. Short Caribbean and Bahamas sailings are also showing fall-like pricing for summer sailings. That never happens.

Cheap Not Good Enough? How About Free?
Ultra-luxe cruise line Crystal Cruises is allowing kids ages 17 and under to sail free when sharing a third berth stateroom with two adults. Families can choose from seven- to 15-day voyages in the Mediterranean, Western Europe, North Cape, Baltic, British Isles, Canary Islands and across the Atlantic from May-December aboard Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. Book by June 28, 2013.

Take A Road Trip, You Will Not Be Alone
Compared to many summer travel options, a road trip is still a standout winner for budget-minded vacationers. A timely YP survey published in TravelPulse compared driving versus flying and found that Americans believe they have a greater flexibility in schedule (35 percent) and sight-seeing (33 percent) when driving vs. flying. They also liked having the ability to easily take more stuff with them (11 percent), avoiding crowds and security lines (9 percent), and the ability to more easily take pets (7 percent).

Perhaps something a bit more exotic? How about one of these James Bond-inspired destinations?

5 James Bond Inspired Summer Travel Destinations

Big Ship Cruises Not For You? New Cruise Line Has You In Mind

Viking Oceans

Cruise travelers who are turned off by the big ship ocean cruising experience or just want to try something different, increasingly turn to a river cruise. On tiny ships, they ply the waters of European rivers, sailing directly to iconic destinations. Viking River Cruises is a major player in that arena and is quite successful at what they do. With other cruise lines, that success would be a win and they would continue to do what they do best. Vikings, however, look at that sort of thing a bit differently. As in ancient times, the Vikings of today are charged with exploring new worlds. Viking River Cruises intends to do just that, sailing new ships that will be custom built to redefine ocean cruising.

At a gala event at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Viking River Cruises effectively became Viking Cruises and split off into a company with two distinct focuses. Viking Rivers will continue to sail their popular longships with a rapidly expanding fleet. Viking Oceans will build a fleet of ocean-going ships that will begin with a new 928-passenger ocean liner, Viking Star. The new ship will set sail in 2015 visiting ports of call around the perimeter of Europe that river cruise ships can’t get to.

“There is a hole in the market somebody should fill,” said Viking chairman Torstein Hagen at the same Beverly Hills venue used for the Golden Globe awards. “I feel we invented modern river cruising. Now I hope we can revive the destination part of ocean cruising.”

Viking Oceans

To do that, Viking Star will begin with a choice of three summer European itineraries. All sailings will begin and end with overnights in the first and last ports on the itinerary. That’s a significant difference to most other lines that board passengers at the first port then sail away a few hours later. On the backside, the last port on other cruise lines is most often never seen by passengers except on the way to the airport. Viking Star will sail to the last port, stay overnight then disembark passengers the next day. Ports between the beginning and end will have more flexibility too as Viking Star will stay there longer, often allowing passengers to experience nightlife, something other lines never allow to happen.If any of that sounds a bit familiar, there is good reason for it. In ‘Cruise Line Destination Focus Brings Off-Ship Adventures’, Gadling introduced readers to the term ‘destination immersion’, coined by luxury small-ship line, Azamara Cruises that recently added a complementary off-ship event called an Azamazing Evening to each sailing. Ultra Luxe Crystal Cruises has their version too called Overland Adventures that take Crystal guests to unique, immersive events ashore.

Still, the elements of the Viking Oceans experience takes what Viking does on rivers, applies it to the ocean then promises to set a new standard for ocean cruising that is new, fresh and significantly different.

Viking Oceans

Considering only the all-balcony stateroom feature of new Viking Star (starting at a generous 270 square feet) other ocean-going ships of similar size will be put on notice: The Vikings are coming.

But roomy places to sleep are just one feature of Viking Star, the first of two ships on order with a third possible. Viking Oceans will take the lessons learned on their popular river cruise “longships” and apply that same school of thought to ocean cruising, something they have little history with, creating an entirely different and unique choice for cruise travelers.

Unique to Viking’s ocean cruise experience are a number of included features that commonly cost

Viking Oceans

extra on other cruise lines-

  • Shore excursions, a hallmark of the Viking river experience are complementary
  • Free WiFi, all the time for all passengers, in all areas of the ship
  • All staterooms will have not queen, but king-sized beds
  • Bathrooms will feature a generous 12 sq ft shower
  • Beer, wine and soft drinks are included with meals
  • Specialty restaurant options (an Italian grill and Chef’s table), normally an extra charge on other lines, are free

Going head to head with other cruise lines, Viking’s ocean ships will compete favorably, offering options that often exceed what other lines are doing right now-

  • Optional stateroom categories include 338 sq ft Penthouse Verandas, 405 sq ft Penthouse Junior Suites, Explorer Suites that range between 757 and 1,163 sq ft and a 1,448 sq ft Owners Suite
  • Two small cinemas
  • A main pool with retractable roof
  • A sauna crafted with Nordic inspiration that features a ‘snow’ room
  • The main dining room’s floor to ceiling windows will have the ability to slide open, offering an al fresco dining experience

But a Viking Oceans cruise is not for everyone, and that is exactly the way they want it. “I want people like me,” said 70-something Hagen, describing their target passenger as 55+ years old, English-speaking, well educated, affluent, curious and active and interested in history, culture and music.

But take the ’55+’ out of that equation and the Viking Oceans experience could indeed be a good fit for a great many more travelers. What they do could be a totally viable option for travelers who have never cruised, turned off by the idea of a big ship, floating hotel travel experience. Viking Star will have no children’s programming, no cabins that will hold more than two guests, no amusement park-like rides, no casino, no giant fitness center and no bar on every street corner.

What Viking Oceans does have is a continuation of Hagen’s philosophy that what other lines do as a “drinking man’s cruise”, Viking does as a “thinking man’s cruise”, now on not just rivers, but the oceans of the world too.

Beyond The Floating Hotel, Travelers Find Value Ashore

floating hotel

If I say “cruise,” odds are good that the first thought that comes to mind is that of a big floating hotel that ambles from island to island in the Caribbean. That’s not totally wrong either; a lot of cruise ships do just that. But looking at a cruise ship as a mode of transportation, like a commercial airliner that flies from airport A to airport B, should bring different thoughts. Thinking of cruise ports as a gateway to new worlds we may never have experienced before, it’s a whole different ballgame.

So often cruise itineraries focus on what lies at the port itself, and for good reason. Many cruise ships do not stay in port long enough for travelers to go very far and get back before the ship leaves. But some cruise lines are staying longer, often well into the night – if not overnight – allowing more time to explore. That gives the notion of a cruise ship being a “floating hotel” an entirely different, much more positive meaning.

A good example of a port of call that is far more than what one might see just walking off the ship for a few hours is the UK’s Port of Tyne.

Located in Northeast England, the Port of Tyne is home to miles of coastline dotted with castles, cathedrals, stately homes and gardens, plus one of Europe’s most culturally exciting cities. Interspersed along the way are historic regions that spawned the English language, are home to dual UNESCO world heritage sites and that make the Port of Tyne a world-class destination. But it is not the port itself that draws travelers but Newcastle, the city that came back to life in the 1990s after a rebirth of the downtown Quayside area.

An interesting contrast of historic landmark buildings alongside new, modern structures, Newcastle sits on the north bank of the river Tyne. Known today as home of Newcastle Brown Ale (which is actually no longer brewed there) and the Great North Run, the world’s most popular half marathon, Newcastle offers a wide variety of attractions.

Structures dating back to 124 A.D. sit not far from modern engineering marvels like the world’s only tilting bridge.

%Gallery-184993%So which cruise lines sail this sort of an itinerary – one that allows travelers to linger longer in port? Azamara Club Cruises, Seabourn, Crystal Cruises and others with smaller ocean-going ships do. River cruise lines like Viking River Cruises, AMA Waterways and others have a shore-side focus as well.

But larger ships also offer overnights from time to time, although it is not their main focus.

Carnival Cruise Lines, for example, will overnight in Venice, Italy, on a Mediterranean sailing, as will Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International. Still, big ships full of features need people onboard using them – playing in their casinos and shopping in their stores – to make a profit.

Expect to pay more on small ship lines that have a destination focus to make up for you not being on the ship, spending. Still, that premium price might well be worth it if compared to a land travel option that requires airfare, hotel accommodations and meals, any or all of which might be discounted or included with a small ship cruise.

Planning on traveling the world in a cost and time-efficient way? Including travel by ship in your travel toolbox can help.



[Photo credit - Port of Tyne]

Ultimate Dinner Parties At Sea, Just $1000 To Attend

dinner parties at sea

Have a conversation about cruise ships and the topic of dining options usually comes up. It’s just a popular topic that cruise lines invest a lot of time and resources in, striving to provide exactly what their passengers desire. Now, more than ever, cruise lines are doing just that, often tapping well-known culinary experts to bring their shore-side influence aboard the ships. Crystal Cruises is no exception and has their own unique twist on the food focus with what they call Ultimate Dinner Parties At Sea.

To begin the name-dropping we have Napa Valley vintners Bo and Heidi Barrett and multiple Michelin star-winning Master Chef Nobu Matsuhisa each hosting one of Crystal Cruises’ 2013 Ultimate Vintage Room Dinners, all for the first time ever.

“The Ultimate Vintage Room dinners allow us to push the culinary envelope over the top, with each event truly a once-in-a-lifetime affair created just for Crystal guests,” said Toni Neumeister, Crystal Cruises vice president, food and beverage operations in a World Traveler article.

The exclusive events can accommodate just 12 to 14 guests (per event) who will have the opportunity to attend one of the seven-course, ultra-rare, wine-pairing feasts, either while sailing a Mediterranean cruise aboard Crystal Serenity (starting May 18) or the Black Sea aboard Crystal Symphony (departing July 13), respectively.

Held in the ships’ private Vintage Rooms just once or twice a year, the “dinner tab” to attend is $1,000 per guest.

Will it be worth the price? First, check the pedigrees of the hosts:

dinner parties at seaChef Nobu Matsuhisa
A noted celebrity chef, restaurateur and the brains behind a culinary empire, Matsuhisa will be on board with his first-ever “ultimate” meal for Crystal, accompanied by rare wine and champagne pairings.

Nobu will also hold autograph sessions, cooking classes, and larger omakase dinners throughout the sailing.

Bo and Heidi Barrett
Between Bo’s Chateau Montelena winery, depicted in the film “Bottle Shock,” and Heidi’s award-winning “cult” offering 1992 Screaming Eagle (averaging $6700 per bottle), the Napa couple is aptly credited for putting California wines on the map.

Accordingly, they will be personally selecting each vintage served for the evening.

The cruise itself? Not shabby either, a choice of two, 12-day voyages boast equally interesting itineraries that chime in on the destination focus craze staying late in port if not overnight.

The May 18 sailing actually overnights three times, in Monte Carlo (during the Grand Prix) and in Istanbul and Barcelona with visits to Mykonos, Santorini/Thíra, Sorrento, Bonifacio/Corsica and Florence/Livorno.

The July 13 Black Sea voyage explores Rome/Civitavecchia, Sorrento, Sicily/Taormina, Contanþa, Yalta and Sochi, with overnights in Odessa and Istanbul.

Cruise lines have been charging extra for upscale dining for quite some time. This is nothing new. But ultra-lux Crystal Cruises touts a more-inclusive way of doing things and fabulous culinary experiences as part of what they do.

Standard fare on a Crystal cruise includes the line’s unique cheese and wine cellars, overseen by on-board, certified cheese and wine sommeliers. Passengers enjoy fresh, chef-like cocktails served by certified mixologists too. Featuring gourmet dining options at every meal, whether in the Crystal Dining Room, at afternoon tea, or in the privacy of a stateroom, Crystal seemed to have all the bases covered.

Still, even Crystal has to draw the line somewhere.

Why not a $1000 upcharge for a lifetime dining event with world-class culinary experts? It’s probably a bargain.


[Photo credit - Crystal Cruises]