Carnival Magic completes sea trials on way to May 1 launch

On track to debut in Venice, Italy May 1st, new Carnival Magic has completed sea trials in the Adriatic Sea.

Currently under construction at the Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy, the 3,690-passenger vessel had a full contingent of officers, technicians and engineers on board who thoroughly tested the Carnival Magic’s sophisticated navigation and mechanical systems.

A sea trial is the testing phase of a watercraft (including boats, ships, and submarines). It is also referred as a “shakedown cruise” by many naval personnel. It is usually the last phase of construction and takes place on open water, and can last from a few hours to many days.

Following sea trials, Carnival Magic returned to Monfalcone, where it is undergoing final interior outfitting prior to its delivery late next month.

Carnival Magic will introduce a number of new features, including the Caribbean-inspired RedFrog Pub with its own micro-brewed draft beer, Thirsty Frog Red, and a menu that includes conch salad, spicy chicken wings and other bar food favorites; Cucina del Capitano, a family-style Italian restaurant that taps Carnival’s Italian heritage to the table; and SportSquare, a top-deck recreation area featuring cruising’s first ropes course and outdoor fitness area.

Carnival Magic is set to debut in Europe with a series of seven- to 12-day Mediterranean cruises operating May 1 – Oct. 16, 2011. Following a 16-day trans-Atlantic crossing, Carnival Magic will launch seven-day Caribbean service from Galveston, Texas, Nov. 14, 2011, becoming the port’s largest year-round cruise ship.

Photo courtesy Carnival Cruise Lines

Norwegian Epic studios win design award from Travel + Leisure

Hailed by single cruise travelers as the first and only cruise line to offer special accommodations for the solo cruiser, Norwegian Epic’s studio staterooms were recognized for their innovative design.

“The Studio staterooms on Norwegian Epic have been extremely well received and we are pleased to be able to offer solo traveler’s an opportunity to visit great destinations while experiencing Freestyle Cruising on board our most innovative ship,” said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian Cruise Line’s chief executive officer and former star of TV’s Undercover Boss.

Norwegian Epic was awarded “Best Transportation” for its innovative studio staterooms, a private key-card access complex on two decks consisting of 128 staterooms and the Studio Lounge.


The staterooms are secure and comfortable for one person…two on a lucky night at the Studio lounge, just steps away. (Well, the line does say “you’re free to do…whatever!”) Each Studio stateroom has about 100 square feet of living space and features a contemporary design with a full-size bed and separate areas for the bathroom, sink and a larger-than-average shower (two can easily fit). The separate areas for bathroom, sink and shower received mixed reviews when the ship was first launched, mostly by passengers sharing a stateroom with another person.

Singles, however, loved the design of the studios and gave the special accommodations rave reviews.

Design Awards were selected by an esteemed panel of judges, including Henry Urbach, curator of architecture and design for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Norma Kamali, fashion designer; Danny Meyer, restaurateur; Paulette Cole, CEO and creative director of ABC Carpet & Home’s; and David Childs, Chairman of Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill.

Photos- Nowegian Cruise Line

Another cruise ship redeployed, US West coast loses again

Continuing an cruise industry trend to deploy ship to more profitable waters, Carnival Cruise Line is moving Carnival Spirit from the U.S. West coast to Australia in 2012.

Currently sailing 3 to 5-day Mexican Riviera, Alaska and Hawaii sailings from San Diego, Vancouver and Seattle ports, 2667-passenger Carnival Spirit will based full-time in Australia starting October 2012.

“Carnival Spirit adds another dimension to cruising in Australia” Carnival Australia CEO Ann Sherry told Travel Blackboard. Carnival plans to customize the ship to the Australia market with Aussie beers and changes in lingo, entertainment style and kids activities.

This makes one more ship previously serving US passengers to move away. Last month Norwegian Cruise Line announced that they were sending 4 ships to Europe in 2012 and 2013, their largest deployment ever.

The common fear with these moves is that less supply of ships in North America will force higher prices as cruise vacations continue to be in high demand. This move of the Carnival Spirit takes yet another ship from the U.S. West coast who recently lost Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas to Europe.

On the bright side, Carnival fans have a friend in the land down under now and you can bet past-guest special pricing will be available. The line brings it’s own brand of fun wherever it goes too along with special pricing aimed at including guests world-wide.

Just yesterday AOL Travel’s cruise expert Fran Golden reported Carnival was “sweetening the pot on Europe cruises this summer with free upgrades and on-board credits of up to $300 per cabin, for reservations made by Jan. 30.”

Which ship will be next to be redeployed? We know the UK would sure like to see Oasis of the Seas.

Flickr photo by AC/BC

Cruise Line Price Guarantees: nice but a little bit sneaky

Cruise line pricing has always been front and center when making a buying decision. With many variables to figure into the equation, finding a price point you can live with is often difficult to determine. “Is NOW the time to book?” we often ask ourselves. One factor to consider is what happens with pricing after booking. Prices go up and down all the time in a comoddity-like fashion sometimes. A price guarantee to stabilize that aspect of the process is a good thing being offered by some lines now. Just the notion of a “price guarantee” sounds like something we would want to have as consumers. But some are better than others and how they all go about it is a little bit sneaky.

Carnival Cruise Line was the first to do it, a guarantee that once booked, guests would be given 110% of the difference in price in onboard credit should they find a lower price within 48 hours. Aptly titled their 110% Best Price Guarantee, the line even provides an easy online form to make a claim.

Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Internationals price guarantee programs are similar with the same 110% on-board credit offer. Those lines also gives guests the ability to have the booking repriced at the lower rate too.

This is good to know if booking late, within what cruise lines call the “penalty period”; usually within 90 days of sailing. But booking outside of that 90 day penalty period, say 6 months in advance for example, guests are in a different situation.

In that case, price guarantees lose a bit of their bite as booked guests can cancel and rebook at the lower price without penalty anyway. That’s significant because up until recently, cruise lines commonly honored lower pricing and simply applied it to existing bookings if they were asked to. It wasn’t automatic, you or your travel agent had be looking for a lower price then call to make it happen.

The idea was that the cruise lines were grateful to those who booked well in advance and held them in high regard.

Cruise lines live to sail full ships, that’s universal among all lines, and traditionally honored guests who booked well in advance. They were not about to turn their back on those who booked way ahead by granting those booking at the last minute a lower fare and not honoring it on an existing booking, should it be asked for.

Now here’s the sneaky part.

In the past, a quick call to the cruise line, any cruise line, got that new lower pricing applied to an existing booking before final payment. If that lower price came along after final payment, either a refund issued or on-board credit added for the difference. Special sales or promotions like Royal Caribbean’s weekly Sales Event never qualified and there were a few other exceptions with minor variances from line to line. But for the most part, guests who booked far in advance could count on the cruise line to stand by them and do the right thing.

Not so much any more.

Now, say I book a fare 6 months in advance, pay on time and the price goes down after final payment has been made. On Royal Caribbean or Norwegian, I’m out of luck. That guy who waited until the last minute got a lower price and there is nothing I can do about it. I’m not feeling quite as valued now. Carnival runs about the same way too.

At least Carnival gave me an option, and it was a better option that I ever had before, when they invented the Early Saver Fare. This one is guaranteed by Carnival to be the lowest price, no matter what, no matter when, up to two days before sailing or they give on-board credit (like cash on the ship) for the difference. They’ll add that on as often and for as much as I can find when I compare my fare to any other fare they advertise.

It’s not without cost though, the Early Saver Fare has absolute restrictions they don’t waver on. A Non-refundable deposit is required and no changes can be made to the booking once deposited are the two biggies that scare wishy-washy people off. It shouldn’t. The gains way outweigh the possible losses. Like they say “Non-refundable” on the deposit but that’s not totally accurate. If you have to cancel, you can pay a $50 per person administrative fee and carry that deposit forward to another booking to be used within a year. Its not a total loss. No Changes is pretty much what they say. They might let you change a letter or two in the spelling of a name but otherwise that $50 per change administrative fee is charged.

Still, the Early Saver Fare is a good way to go if you are for sure going on your cruise no matter what and odds are your plans will not change. The trick is finding a Travel Expert who will watch pricing for you and snag those lower prices when they come along.

Most people don’t really think about the price over the life of the booking. They should. Prices change.

2011 Cruise news headlines: what to expect

We pulled out the crystal ball and came up with a bunch of predictions for the cruise vacations in 2011. Check back in a year to see how close we came on these possible cruise news headlines.

  1. Higher fuel costs mean higher fares for cruises and airfare too. Airfare will get hit first, cruise lines will be more cautious. An additional fuel surcharge for airlines is no big deal. Add on a charge for pat-downs, magazines in flight or something new, that would be a big deal. Cruise lines don’t want a fuel surcharge but if the price of oil hits and holds above $100 a barrel, they will and this time they won’t have to give it back later.
  2. Spring Break sailings will fill up fast and there will be few last-minute deals on them. If you want to go on a Spring Break cruise, pretty much any time in March or April, book it yesterday. Cruise lines have been warning of a price increase but they do that every year at this time when “wave” season hits and demand is high for cruises. They’ll hold that higher pricing longer this year.
  3. 2011: the Year of Ala Carte Pricing with cruise lines and travel agencies offering more optional choices as they move toward customizing each individuals vacation experience. This is way a good thing. Last year we blew the lid off the notion of a cruise being totally “all-inclusive” and bought into the reality of cruises having an “all-inclusive nature”. More than a subtle difference, look for more dining options, pre and post cruise hotel stays and options that before now, were a good idea but not really pushed all that much.
  4. Social Media blossoms in the cruise business with more lines “getting it” and moving forward with plans to engage us in a conversation about cruise vacations before, during and after sailing. In 2011 Facebook and Google ARE the Internet and those stuck elsewhere will fail. Losers: Faceless Internet Cruise Brokers, cruise lines not engaged in social media. Winners:Travel Agents who “get it”
  5. Multi-generational cruises take huge leap in popularity. An aging population will wake up more this year than in the past and want to travel with the kids and grand-kids. We saw a lot of this in Alaska and the Caribbean last year, look for more this year.
  6. European sailings skyrocket as cruise lines have repositioned ships to the Mediterranean, so goes the booking interest as supply of ships sailing from U.S. ports declines and prices go up. Last year saw some unbelievably good values in the Caribbean, that won’t happen as much this year.
  7. Cruise Lines ramp up security checks. It’s just inevitable that this will happen. Look for TSA-like security procedures and plan on taking a longer time to get on the ship, either upon embarkation or when in port.

Flickr photo by RambergMediaImages