Fleet-wide renovations planned for Norwegian ships

Norwegian Cruise Line has revealed it plans to invest $250 million (£147 million) in fleet-wide renovations that will take place during the course of 2015.

The NEXT makeover programme will focus on bringing “new enhancements, experiences and transformations” across the fleet and will include improvements to food and drink facilities, as well as entertainment amenities.

According to the firm, the renovations will bring older ships inline with the more modern Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway liners.

Kevin Sheehan, chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line, said: “The youngest fleet at sea continues to get even better with our robust enhancement taking place over the next two years, and we want to continue to provide fresh and relevant experiences to our guests every time they sail with us.”

The firm will continue its partnership with children’s television network Nickelodeon and plans to create further entertainment options for its youngest passengers.

According to Norwegian, the iConcierge app will be rolled out to all ships and Wi-Fi facilities will be upgraded. In addition, touch screens and digital signage will be fitted across the whole fleet.

Further technological improvements are planned, focusing specifically on improving efficiency and reducing the carbon footprint of the fleet.

‘Exorcist’ temple falls into the hands of jihadists in Iraq

Editor Comment;
 I know this has Nothing to do with Cruising but I feel Very Strongly about this problem, Buildings and places of historical significant’s should not be damaged, pillaged, destroyed, or looted by any group whether the buildings, or area of special interest, does not fit into their believes or teachings. These 
Buildings and Statues belong not only to the country they are in, but to the people of the world, not just some mindless fanatics who know no better. We as a species learn from or mistakes and from our history and we need these buildings and statues as a reminder that we have got a past and all that has gone with it.
I hope all of you who read this feel the same as I do, and repost the article on your sites, and you never know somebody out there might just stop and think before we lose more history.

Thank you
Dave Jones  
The pre-Christian worship complex at Hatra in Iraq, a vast network of sun-god temples that is a UNESCO world heritage site, features in the opening sequence of the 1973 horror classic The Exorcist.
The pre-Christian worship complex at Hatra in Iraq, a vast network of sun-god temples that is a UNESCO world heritage site, features in the opening sequence of the 1973 horror classic The Exorcist.PHOTO: PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
By Colin Freeman in Baghdad

An ancient temple that featured in the film The Exorcist has fallen into the hands of jihadists who have taken over northern Iraq.

The pre-Christian worship complex at Hatra, a vast network of sun-god temples that is a UNESCO world heritage site, features in the opening sequence of the 1973 horror classic.

It now lies in the territory claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), prompting fears that its stone statues could be destroyed as idolatrous images by the militants.

Already, Isis fighters in the city of Mosul, 110 kilometres north-west of Hatra, have demolished a statue of Othman al-Mousuli, a 19th-century Iraqi musician and composer, and a statue of Abu Tammam, an Abbasid-era Arab poet.

A councillor from the Hatra area told The Daily Telegraph that the 20-strong squad of Iraqi policemen who had guarded the temple from looters had fled after the area fell to tribal militants and Isis fighters a fortnight ago.

Locals say that since then, the area has been targeted by Iraqi warplanes that have bombed the jihadists less than a mile from the temple.

“The guards all ran and left their weapons behind when they heard that the tribes and ISIS were coming,” said Mohammed Abdallah Khozal, the councillor whose own son was killed in the fighting with the jihadists.

“Currently there is no one protecting the temple at all, and it is in control of the rebels. I am concerned about its safety, although I am also worried about government forces doing bombing.”

An oasis of pre-Christian civilisation in the middle of the desert that stretches toward Syria, Hatra’s columns and statues make it one of the most impressive of Iraq’s archaeological sites.

Dating back to about the 3rd century BC, it is dedicated mainly to the sun god Shamash, whose statues and masks adorn its limestone and gypsum walls.

William Friedkin, the director of The Exorcist, filmed the first scene in Hatra in which a priest at an archaeology dig unearths a talisman belonging to Pazuzu, an ancient Mesopotamian demon. A child bogeyman in Mesopotamian folklore, Pazuzu is said to be alerted whenever his talismans are disturbed or touched, and in The Exorcist he goes to possess a young girl.

For most of 40 years, Hatra and its Hollywood connection have been all but forgotten. Under Saddam Hussein, the site was effectively closed to outside visitors and since his fall, Iraq has been largely too dangerous for tourists.

Its potential as a tourist site was spotted in 2003 by U.S. troops from the 2-320 Field Artillery Regiment who guarded it after Saddam’s fall, when they were billeted in a disused hotel nearby.

They stumbled on its film connection by chance, when a captain serving with the regiment watched The Exorcist on his DVD player and realized that the opening sequence, showing the sun rising over the temple’s skyline, had been shot from his hotel window.

The troops then trained up local guides, hoping what they called “The Exorcist Experience” would help to attract tourists. But Iraq’s growing insurgency meant the scheme never came to fruition. Since then, the only foreign visitors to the site have been a handful of archaeologists, while some of its more valuable artefacts have been removed for safekeeping in the Mosul and Baghdad museums.

Dr Lamia Al Gailani Werr, a London-based archaeologist who works with the Iraqi national museum, said she had heard from friends that so far no harm had come to either Hatra or any of the other ancient sites around Mosul, which lies on the foundations of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh.

But last week, UNESCO issued an urgent warning that the sites were at risk. There are fears that they could suffer the same fate as the Buddha statues in the Afghan town of Bamyan, which were blown up by the Taliban.

Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO, said: “I call on all actors to refrain from any form of destruction of cultural heritage, including religious sites. Their intentional destruction are war crimes and a blow against the Iraqi people’s identity and history.”

Scenic Cruises unveils new pool concept for upcoming river ships

By Michelle Baran
Scenic Cruises plans to christen two river cruise ships in Europe next year, the 169-passenger Scenic Opal and Scenic Jasper.

The Opal and Jasper will introduce a new pool concept — a relaxation pool filled with warm water on one side, and a pool with a jet stream (enabling lap-like swimming) on the other.

The vessels will also feature a redesigned bar and lounge area and an indoor/outdoor extension of the Portobello restaurant, with the ability to enclose the area with a moving glass wall of windows.

The two new vessels will bring Scenic’s Europe fleet to 12, including the Scenic Gem, which is launching this year on the Seine in France.

In addition to launching two more ships, Scenic is adding several new itineraries in 2015, including a Bordeaux sailing and a Rhone-only sailing in France.

Other new sailings in 2015 will include a 16-day Vienna to the Danube Delta itinerary that traverses six countries, and a 21-day Jewels of Europe adventure that adds three nights each in Prague and Berlin to a 15-day Amsterdam-to-Budapest river cruise.

Scenic’s river cruises include complimentary beverages, wines and spirits at any time; open bar service in the lounges; complimentary mini-bar items; personal butler service in all cabins; a personal GPS commentary device, which serves as on onboard tour guide service; all airport transfers; all meals; all gratuities; and free WiFi throughout the ship.

Scenic Cruises is owned by Australian parent company Scenic Tours.