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

Travel welcomes multi-generational groups with open, engaging arms

Mom, Dad and the kids like to travel. They like theme parks, resorts and cruises. They like to bring along the grandparents too. It’s nice for the kids to have quality time with the grandparents. It’s even better if the grandparents are buying. Multi-generational travel (3G) is hot and sellers of travel are going after it with every engaging tool they can find.

Many couples in the U.S. work more, make less and struggle with mortgages and bills. In a new, more realistic U.S. economic system that doesn’t allow them to live on maxed-out credit cards, something has got to give. Money they don’t have. Time they have but they give it up to answering emails at night. On the weekends they reach out or engage in other activities to help shore up their employment security in uncertain times.

Heather Scott from says “multigenerational travel experiences are becoming more and more common, especially now as many families struggle to take time out of both parents’ work schedules to spend not just with their children, but with grandparents and other family members.”

Grandma and Grandpa, on the other hand, have both time and money. They can go on vacation just about any time and have the money to pay for the whole group. (Remember, this is the greedy generation that caused this mess.) They also are more physically fit, able to do more and will probably live longer than the grandparents of yesteryear.

Multi-generational Travel is increasing and it’s a good match for grand parents that don’t see enough of the grandkids anyway and Mom and Dad who otherwise wouldn’t be going on vacation at all. Parents like that price tag and like having the Grandparents along for built-in babysitters too.

Theme parks, all-inclusive resorts and cruise lines are courting the 3G market like never before. Mommy-bloggers get front row seats to everything Disney and other theme-park operators have to offer. They know Mom’s opinion, as direct caretaker of the kids, weighs heavy on the vacation decision-making regardless of who is paying. They want Mom on their side and promote their brands to her on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets with gusto.

Cruise lines too are going after the 3G bunch with increased interest. The cruise industry evolving and settling in to more detailed individual branding. At first it was “Go on a cruise” as the industry worked to swing vacationers from land-based vacations. Not long ago it was “Go on OUR cruise” Right now it’s “Go on OUR cruise and bring your family” as lines are target families of all shapes and sizes, going after their business in some unique ways.

Starting out 2011 with an engaging bang, Carnival Cruise Lines became official confetti sponsor for New York’s Times Square New Years celebration. In that defining event, the line dropped a ton of confetti on the crowd at midnight and social engagement became a huge part of what they do.

Much of that confetti came from visitors to Times Square who stopped by the line’s “wishing wall”. There, they hand-wrote their hopes and dreams for 2011 on red, white and blue slips of paper included in the drop onto party-goers. It doesn’t get a whole lot more engaging than that.

Not that social efforts are something new to Carnival, John Heald’s Blog written by the lines highly-visible senior cruise director dates back to 2007, draws thousands of fans daily and provides the cruise line with a non-corporate voice to deliver their message.

They are not the only ones either. Princess Cruises thoughtfully entered the social arena with their Twitter #FollowMeAtSea trips where travel bloggers and writers were sponsored for an actual cruise to share with followers on Twitter and Facebook. I was on the last one, a 12-day cruise tour through Alaska last June that travelers still ask about today.

Princess has evolved their efforts now to include their 50 Essential Experiences: The Travel Bucket List blog. The weekly posts that will run for a year are written by their own destination experts about some place that Princess sails to. The deeply personal posts as well as background on their writers are resonating with readers who spread the unique content to like-minded friends via Twitter and Facebook.

Royal Caribbean International too is engaging potential 3D travelers in another unique way.

Called the “Ocean Views” film project, Hollywood’s James Brolin, Jenny McCarthy and a boat load of stars recently wrapped up shooting a series of original short films as Hollywood goes to sea on board Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas.

McCarthy’s film is called “The Allure of Love” and tells the story of two friends and their plan to get two exes back together.

Brolin directs and stars in “Royal Reunion,” a short film about a multi-generational family voyage on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas.

The cruise line hopes the series attracts a variety of audiences, including those who may not have otherwise shown interest in taking a cruise vacation.

“In today’s ever-changing digital landscape, it’s important to recognize that consumers are getting their information from a variety of channels,” said Betsy O’Rourke, SVP Marketing, Royal Caribbean International.

The two films debut today on Allure of the Seas followed by a release to the general public via Royal Caribbean’s website and YouTube channel at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time. Later, the line will host Jenny McCarthy(@jennymccarthy) along with Justin Baldoni (@justinbaldoni), Amy Yasbeck (@amyyasbeck4real) and Scott Elrod (@scott_elrod) to discuss the films and their experiences onboard Allure of the Seas. Join the party by following #OceanViews on Twitter and follow host @RoyalCaribbean.

Flickr photo by JPott

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More cruise lines cancel calls to Mazatlan after shooting

Carnival Splendor is back after months of repairs after the disabling fire of last November. There will be no call in Mazatlan though as Carnival Cruise Lines, along with Norwegian Cruise Lines canceled calls to Mazatlan last week. The shooting of two men in the parking lot of a hotel is to blame.

The two men shot were not tourists or cruise ship passengers but the hotel is one frequented by tourists on a regular basis and that was good enough reason to divert ships.

Carnival Splendor spent an extra day in Cabo San Lucas on it’s seven-day Mexican Riviera itinerary that returns today. Carnival will decide on future calls after a full assessment of the situation.

Norwegian Cruise Lines decision was much more final, canceling all future calls for the rest of the season.

Right at a month ago, Mazatlan and Mexico government officials were doing all they could to get more cruise lines back after a series of violent acts forced them to cancel calls.

“We highly value our long-standing relationships within the cruise industry, and are dedicated to ensuring that Mazatlan remains among the top cruise destinations on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. Mazatlan has hosted nearly 1.5 million cruise passengers since 2008 and is widely regarded as one of the safest destinations in Mexico.” said Julio Birrueta, spokesperson for the Mazatlan Tourism Trust at the time.

On future calls to the area, Carnival said “Until we are able to obtain all of the facts and fully assess the situation, no decision has been made regarding future calls” in a statement.

Flickr photo by ccharmon

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Breaking: Carnival booking record signals improving economy with eye on value

Carnival Cruise Lines set a one-week reservations record booking 165,308 guests between Feb. 7-13, 2011, topping the previous one-week reservations record set nearly four years ago. Recent moves made by the line suggest an improving economy but cautious consumers are still seeking value.

“Clearly, consumers are taking advantage of the incredible value that a Carnival cruise provides, not only in terms of our fun on-board experience but also our many convenient close-to-home departure points and wide variety of short itineraries,” Cahill said. “This activity reaffirms that even in today’s economic climate, consumers still want to have fun and view their vacations as an important part of their lives,” he added.

Carnival did not just stumble in to a record-breaking week. They have been working on it for quite some time.Kicking off the year in a socially engaging way, Carnival threw its signature “Fun” hat in the ring as official confetti sponsor of the Times Square New Years Eve 2011 celebration. The sponsorship included multiple opportunities for the line to infuse its version of fun into the festivities including a free-cruise giveaway.

Indeed, Carnival took the lead steering the cruise industry through uncharted social waters introducing their “Hey America, DidJa Ever?” campaign where the line is collecting the “Top 100 Firsts” from over 420,000 Facebook fans. Fans are encouraged to tighten up relationships by sharing experiences through photos and videos aimed to create events and memories. Carnival will help make those dreams come true for fans giving away anything from cruise vacations for four to appearing on stage with a favorite band.

Value is the name of the game when it comes to cruise pricing and Carnival’s Early Saver Fare, guaranteed by the line to be the lowest available, has become wildly popular. Ranking high on top cruise value lists, the fare is much like a restricted air fare. The Early Saver fare requires a non-refundable deposit and no changes can be made without penalty. But the trade-off is the best value offered by the line, even beating past-guest, military and senior rates.

The big question: Why don’t other lines offer a similar program?

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Top 10 cheap cruise extra values of the week

Every week, the major cruise lines have special offers that can mean extra value to us. They may be promoting cheap cruises, discount fares, bonus amenities, upgrades or some other extra value or promotion you may qualify for. It all adds up to getting more for the same or less than normal. Here are the upcoming week’s promotions from several of the major cruise lines.

Check with your Travel Expert first before buying, they may have additional values to add on to your booking that add up to real dollars and cents savings to you. More importantly, having a Travel Expert on your side will insure you keep that best value, get you additional values that may come along over the life of your booking and maximize your vacation experience.

  1. Guaranteed Low Fare– Carnival Cruise Lines is all about the Early Saver Fare, a popular program now in it’s second year that guarantees the lowest price. Much like a restricted airline ticket, the deposit is non-refundable and no changes can be made after booking without a $50 per person administrative fee being applied. This week’s special pricing includes a 3-day cruise from $169 per person + taxes and fees.
  2. Free Upgrade– Princess Cruises has what they call a Balcony Bonanza going on right now on select sailings that let guests book a balcony stateroom for the price of an ocean view.
  3. Onboard Credit– Another bonus from Princess Cruises for active or retired military members is a Military Onboard Credit, applicable to all sailings. The onboard credit amount is $50 for cruises 6 days or less, $100 for cruises of 7-13 days, or $250 for cruises of 14 days or longer, offered on a per stateroom basis
  4. Military Rate– Disney Cruise Lines has a special Military Rate available to book through Sunday, February 6, 2011. Rates are per person based on double occupancy on the categories noted. Other categories are available at higher prices. Rates are in U.S. dollars and are not combinable with other discounts or offers.
  5. Europe and Alaska– Special Offers from Carnival also include extra savings on European cruises on the new Carnival Magic and Alaska from $674 per person + taxes and fees
  6. Select sailings Royal Caribbean International has some limited-time offers on sailings from Baltimore starting at $65 per person, per day, cruises sailing from Florida ports starting at $80 a day and sailings from New Jersey from $85 per person, per day.
  7. Kids sail free- Disney Cruise Line has Kids for Free to Alaska AOL Travel reports “Disney Cruise Line is gong to Alaska for the first time this year and offering a discount on select sailings with a new “Kids Free” promotion.” On this one, kids are free when they share an Oceanview or Verandah stateroom with two adults, port charges and taxes are still due but the cruise fare is free. The Kids Sail Free program as well as other discount rates can be found any time on the Disney Cruise Lines website under Special Offers.
  8. Free Upgrade– Norwegian Cruise Line is offering Free Upgrades for All granting a balcony cabin for the price of an Oceanview through February 13Th.
  9. Free upgrade– Celebrity Cruises weekly sale next Tuesday only features 11 to 14-night Caribbean sailings on Celebrity Millennium or Infinity starting at $599 per person +tax. They also have an “Upgrade Your View” promotion going on that gets a balcony cabin for the price of an oceanview on some sailings
  10. Valentines Day– Costa Cruises has is offering several “sweetheart deals” throughout the month of February. Each week the “Month of Amore” will feature a different promotion on one of Costa’s romantic European itineraries.The “Month of Amore” launched this week with seven-night eastern Mediterranean itineraries from just $599 per person, double occupancy. The eligible cruises for this offer sail round-trip Venice, Italy, and call at ports in Greece, Turkey and Croatia.

Flickr photo by Nicholas RIVET