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Thursday, July 12, 2007
Swan Hellenic cruise line to rise again

Rejoice, Swan Hellenic fans. The small-ship line is about to make a comeback. 

U.K.-based All Leisure Group says it will revive the educational-focused brand, known for its port-intensive "discovery" itineraries, in May, 2008. And that's not all. It even will use the very same ship that Swan Hellenic fans had come to love: The 394-passenger Minerva.

The company recently acquired the 11-year-old vessel, which has been cruising as Abercrombie & Kent's Explorer II, and has done a deal with former P&O Cruises chairman Lord Sterling, who had bought the (shipless) Swan Hellenic brand from Carnival Corp. in March.

Swan Hellenic hasn't offered cruises since Carnival transferred its only remaining ship, the Minerva II, to Princess earlier this year. That ship is now sailing as the Royal Princess.   

As cruisecritic.com points out this week, many Swan Hellenic regulars preferred the intimacy of the original Minerva to the bigger Minerva II, which carried 710 passengers.

Tell us, Cruise Loggers, have you ever sailed with Swan Hellenic? What was it like?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Queen Mary 2 to sail around the world in 2009

Queenmary2xlarge She'll do it again in 2009.

That's the word from Cunard, which says the much-ballyhooed Queen Mary 2, which made headlines this year with its first around-the-world sailing, will repeat the voyage in 18 months.

Cunard says the 2,600-passenger ocean liner, the biggest ever to circumnavigate the globe, will depart Ft. Lauderdale on Jan. 13, 2009, on a 90-day voyage -- eight days longer than the first trip.

What do the globetrotting maestros of Cunard have in store this time? Too big to transit the Panama Canal, the four-year-old ship will start out sailing around South America to Los Angeles, then across the Pacific to Honolulu in Hawaii. Continuing from there, it'll head for New Zealand and Australia (stops include Pago Pago, American Samoa; Auckland, New Zealand and Sydney, Australia) and then across Asia to the Middle East (stopping in Dubai; Salalah, Oman; and Alexandria, Egypt).

The final calls are in Europe. The voyage ends in New York on April 14, 2009. Early booking fares start at $20,745 per person, double occupancy.

And so will the Queen Victoria . . .

Meanwhile, in a sign of just how popular world cruising has become, Cunard also announced this week that it will send a second ship, its new Queen Victoria, on an around-the-world voyage in 2009.

The new ship, which launches this winter (taking the place of the soon-to-retire Queen Elizabeth 2), will depart from Ft. Lauderdale the same day as the Queen Mary 2 on a longer, 99-day voyage that takes it to 37 ports across five continents. Smaller than the Queen Mary 2, it'll transit the Panama Canal before heading across the Pacific to Asia, the Middle East and Europe. 

Port calls include Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; Shanghai, Chica; Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands; Rabual, Papua New Guinea; Sydney, Australia; Goa, India; and Hobart, Tasmania. The ship also will visit 18 ports for the first time, including Apia, Western Samoa; Aqaba, Jordan; Nagasaki, Japan; and Nha Trang, Vietnam.
 
The journey ends in Southampton on April 20, 2009. Early Booking Fares for start at $20,955 per person, double occupancy.

Tell us, Cruise Loggers, would you ever consider an around-the-world cruise?

Photo courtesy of Cunard.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007
A tough week for Celebrity Millennium passengers

Things definitely didn't go according to plan the past week on the Celebrity Millennium, which was cruising in the Mediterranean.

Thousands of passengers had their 12-day vacation interrupted -- and then canceled outright -- after the ship hit submerged rocks early last week, damaging a propeller. At first, it looked like divers were going to be able to replace the propeller blades in a jiffy, causing a slight delay. But one of the blades just wouldn't budge, and a one-day delay dragged on into a second and then a third day.

On Sunday, the line finally canceled the current cruise as well as the next sailing for the ship, scheduled to depart Venice on Thursday.      

By all accounts, Celebrity has handled the crisis as well as can be. Passengers, no doubt disappointed at having their grand tour of Mediterranean ports cut short, will get a full refund for the entire cruise (even for the part that occurred before the incident), plus a credit for a future cruise. Celebrity also offered passengers the choice of a free flight home from Rome, where the damaged ship was stuck (in the nearby port town of Civitavecchia) or use of the cruise ship as a floating hotel for the week and then transportation to Venice, where they could catch their original flights back.

The ship will go into drydock for repairs and return to service July 24. Cruise Log readers, have you ever had an itinerary canceled like this? Did the cruise line provide adequate compensation? Share your stories below.

Friday, July 6, 2007
Is the Caribbean losing its allure?

The Caribbean just isn't what it used to be.

At least, that's the word from Lorraine Artz, 80, of Beverly Hills, Calif., the famously well-traveled cruiser we profiled last week. Artz, a growing legend in the industry who has sailed more than 4,000 days over the past three decades -- and seen just about everything -- says the region has become her least favorite.

"Forty years ago, the Caribbean was wonderful," she told us. "But now you go into a Caribbean port and there are seven ships a day there, it's crowded and (the locals) stand there with their hands out."

Artz, who took her first Caribbean cruises way back in the 1970s, says that it's heartbreaking the way the big Caribbean ports have become overrun with overpriced stores and other tacky touristy attractions. "I wish I didn't have the memory of what it was," she says.

The good news, says Artz, is that there are a growing number of options for those who want to cruise in other, less overrun parts of the world, such as South America.

Artz' comments got us thinking: Has the Caribbean seen its best days -- at least for cruising? Tell us, Cruise Loggers, what do you think? Is the Caribbean "over" as a cruise destination? Tell us about your experiences there while sailing -- both good and bad -- and your favorite and least favorite stops.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007
Carnival Liberty jumper was trying to sever lifeboat cables

The Baltimore Sun this morning reports that Scott Durbin, the Maryland resident who jumped off the Carnival Liberty late Sunday night, had climbed into a lifeboat and taken an axe to cables that connected it to the ship before he jumped.

The paper, citing FBI investigators, says a crewmember saw him and notified security, which dispatched an officer who tried unsuccessfully to stop him. It was then that Durbin jumped overboard, the paper says. It's unclear why Durbin was doing what he did, but the FBI told the paper Durbin boarded the ship around 11 a.m. and began drinking before it even left port. The FBI told the paper there's no indication Durbin was trying to commit suicide.

New details also emerged this morning on the Texas teenager who jumped to his death Sunday from the Carnival Ecstasy. In a lengthy front page story, The Houston Chronicle reports that David Ritcheson climbed a tower at the bow of the ship before jumping, and security officers and a friend tried to talk him down for an hour before he leapt in an apparent suicide.    

Carnival heading to South America

Carnival fans soon will have a whole new continent to explore. The mass-market "fun ship" line, best known for its low-budget Caribbean voyages, says it will launch its first cruises in South America in January 2009.

The trips will take place on Carnival's soon-to-debut, 3,006-passenger Carnival Splendor, which will sail a series of three 14- to 18-day departures that will take it "around the horn" of South America as it heads to its new home in Los Angeles (the 113,000-ton vessel is too big to fit through the Panama Canal).

The first, Jan. 31-Feb. 17, 2009, will go from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Buenos Aires. The second, Feb. 17-March 3, 2009, sails from Buenos Aires to Santiago, Chile. The third, March 3-21, 2009, continues on from Santiago to San Francisco. Diehard Carnival lovers could even string all three together for a 47-day mega-cruise. Prices start at $1,099 per person.

This isn't the first time the Caribbean-focused line has branched out. Carnival began sailing a single ship in the Mediterranean last summer. And next year it plans its first cruises of Northern Europe.

Tell us, Cruise Loggers, would you sail Carnival in South America?

Monday, July 2, 2007
More cruisers jump ship

There was a happy ending this morning in the latest case of an allegedly drunken passenger jumping off a cruise ship.

The U.S. Coast Guard says it rescued Scott Durbin, 28, of Rockville, Md., just after midnight after he reportedly leapt several stories off the Carnival Liberty. The ship had left Ft. Lauderdale just hours before on the first leg of a six-night western Caribbean cruise.

The Coast Guard says one of its cutters, the Bluefin, was just nine miles away when the Liberty reported the man overboard and rescued him in less than an hour. The Orlando Sentinel quotes a Coast Guard officer as saying Durrin appeared to be intoxicated and smelled of alcohol.

The incident comes less than 24 hours after a teenager jumped to his death from the Carnival Ecstasy in what appears to be sadder circumstances. The Houston Chronicle reports that several passengers saw 18-year-old David Ritcheson leap on Sunday morning, and his body was pulled out of the water shortly thereafter. The ship had just left Galveston, Texas, the day before on a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico.

Ritcheson, who is Hispanic, had been dealing with the aftermath of a brutal hate crime last year that made national news. Less than three months ago he testified about the incident before Congress, describing how two teens shouted "white power!" as they assaulted him. The teens burned him with cigarettes, tried to carve a swastika into his chest, poured bleach on his face and body and left him for dead. Ritcheson endured more than three months in the hospital and dozens of surgeries.

The two incidents are just the latest in an unusual string of "man overboard" cases. Less than two weeks ago a passenger disappeared off the side of Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, just months after two passengers on the Grand Princess and a passenger on the Carnival Glory also went overboard.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007
The Cruise Log is on vacation

Gene Sloan is away all this week, so the Cruise Log will not be updated during that period. New posts will resume starting on July 2.

Friday, June 22, 2007
Passenger dies after fall on Norwegian ship

A 22-year-old passenger on the Norwegian Majesty fell to his death this week while the ship was docked in Bermuda.

The Boston Globe reports that Richard Mulloy of Boston was trying to slide down a banister when he plunged four flights of stairs. The paper says he had just returned to the ship after having drinks with a cousin in St.George's and was heading to the seventh-floor disco.

The incident happened shortly after midnight on Wednesday. 

New passport rule: What it means for cruisers

It's a simple question: Do I need a passport to take a cruise?

Unfortunately, for several years now, there's been no simple answer. And the U.S. government's latest tinkering with the rules, announced Wednesday, didn't make things much clearer.

The Department of Homeland Security announcement delayed the January implementation of a rule requiring passengers on sailings to the Caribbean, Bermuda, Canada and Mexico to carry passports. But it was vague about how long the delay would be. At least until "summer of 2008," it said.    

The bottom line: If you plan on sailing from a U.S. port to the Caribbean, Bermuda, Canada or Mexico, in most circumstances you WILL NOT need to bring along a passport starting in January, as previously announced. But you better go ahead and get one if you plan a cruise to one of those destinations for summer, 2008, or beyond.

And keep in mind, you WILL need a passport if you're flying to any of those destinations to board a cruise ship. As of Jan. 23, the Department of Homeland Security requires that U.S. citizens carry passports when flying to any destination outside the United States, including Canada (where you used to be able to get away with lesser documentation). A U.S. citizen who drives to the port of Vancouver for an Alaskan cruise, for instance, does not need a passport. But a U.S. citizen who flies to the port of Vancouver for the same Alaskan cruise, does need one (a bit nutty? you betcha).

Tell us, Cruise Loggers, have you had trouble getting straight answers about passport requirements for upcoming cruises? Have you encountered any trouble when re-entering the USA?