Azamara Pursuit to sail Norway itinerary for the first cruise

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P&O Adonia to become Azamara Pursuit.

The first Azamara Pursuit cruise will depart Southampton, England, on Aug. 1 and visit eight Norwegian destinations, including Kristiansand, Flam and Haugesund, with overnight stays in Oslo and Bergen.

The Azamara Pursuit is being acquired from P&O Cruises, where it sailed under the name Adonia. It was built for Renaissance Cruises in 2001. It will be Azamara Club Cruises’ third ship.

Prior to its first Azamara departure, the ship will be refurbished at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland, by outfitting specialist MJM Group. Work will begin in the spring and will be completed by the end of July.

Following the Norwegian voyage, the Azamara Pursuit will sail a cruise in Iceland departing Aug. 13, a christening voyage on Aug. 28, and then a “wine and romance” itinerary departing Southampton on Aug. 30.

NCL, Oceania and Regent get permission to sail Cuba cruises

The Norwegian Sky will sail Cuba voyages from Miami.

After waiting for six months, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) finally got the call it had been seeking from the Cuban government allowing it to start cruises to Cuba from Miami, beginning in March.

The authority is temporary and will expire in May. But it covers three brands (Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania), the first time a cruise company has won approval to marshal multiple brands in a strategic foray into the Cuban market.

“We are tremendously excited to have all three of our award-winning brands receive approval from authorities in Cuba to offer cruises to Cuba from the United States,” said Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio, who was born in Cuba.

“This is truly a dream come true for me, and I cannot wait for our loyal guests to experience the sights and sounds of my hometown of Havana and get to know its rich culture and its warm and welcoming residents,” he said.

Cruises will sail on the 1,928-passenger Norwegian Sky, the 1,250-passenger Marina and the 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner.

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Seven Sea’s Mariner,

The first Oceania cruise to Cuba will depart Miami on March 7, leaving less than three months to prepare the ship, the itinerary, the crew and to sell the cruises. The Marina voyages will include “many multiple-day calls to allow guests to explore Havana and its environs,” the company said.

The Norwegian Sky will sail a series of four-night voyages over nighting in Havana in May, while Seven Seas Mariner will call on Havana during two cruises in April.

Pricing was not released. On Carnival Corp.’s Fathom, the only other cruise line to gain approval to sail between Miami and Cuba, fares start at about $1,900 for a seven-day cruise.

Fathom’s ship, the Adonia, is older and much less luxurious than the Marina, which was built in 2011. The Adonia is about the same age as the Norwegian Sky.

It isn’t clear why Cuba is giving NCLH such a small window in which to operate. However, Fathom’s authority to sail to Cuba will also expire in May.

The opening for NCLH comes at a crossroads in relations between the U.S. and Cuba with both countries going through a transition in top leadership. Some analysts had expected a pause in new business approvals, while others saw an acceleration to take advantage of the Obama administration’s open stance towards Cuba.

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Fathom Cruise entering Havana

Cruise tourism to Cuba remains bound by the “people-to-people” framework in place since 1982. That requires shore excursions to be structured to promote exchange activities, such as cultural and humanitarian visits. Norwegian said its cruises would comply with Treasury Department rules.

To sail the new itinerary, Norwegian and Oceania will have to re-accommodate guests already booked. The March 7 Marina departure is currently listed as a 14-day cruise to ports in the western Caribbean, Central America and Colombia. The ship was scheduled to leave for Europe on April 10.

The Norwegian Sky does three- and four-day cruises from Miami that typically attract late bookings.

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Regent Seven Seas Explorer

NCLH’s application to sail to Cuba has been pending for at least a year. At a July news briefing onboard the new Regent Seven Seas Explorer, also an NCLH-owned ship, Del Rio said he was “literally waiting on a phone call for the final, final approval” from Cuba.

But after the Adonia’s authority was granted in March, no other cruise ship approvals followed until now.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. is among the cruise companies with applications pending. It plans to use Royal Caribbean International’s Empress of the Seas to ply the Florida-Cuba route.

MSC Cruises sails to Cuba but does not market the cruises to U.S. residents. Celestyal Cruises offers seasonal Cuba cruises that Americans can take by flying to either Havana or Montego Bay, Jamaica, and enrolling in a people-to-people group program for shore excursions.

Carnival Corporation strikes deal to tighten security

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Carnival Corporation is to strengthen its security procedures through an agreement with international criminal police organisation Interpol.

The deal, claimed as a first for the maritime industry, will see advanced security screening across the group’s 10 brands and fleet of 101 ships that carry almost 11 million passengers a year to more than 700 ports around the world.

Carnival Corporation is to integrate its global passenger check-in process with Interpol’s I-Checkit system, a secure method for screening travel document information against its Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) database, containing more than 69 million records from 175 countries.

The agreement follows a three-month trial of I-Checkit on four Princess Cruises ships which included 34,000 travel documents that were successfully checked against the SLTD database to demonstrate the system’s ability to enhance security for the global cruise industry.

I-Checkit will be deployed across Carnival Cruise Line, Fathom, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Seabourn, AIDA Cruises, Costa Cruises, Cunard Line and P&O Cruises in the UK and Australia.

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Staff will be able to automatically query the SLTD database before and during the boarding process to see if any travel documents have been reported lost or stolen.

Interpol head of the I-Checkit system Micheal O’Connell said: “With its real-time secure global alert system, criminal intelligence potential and compliance framework, I-Checkit provides an invaluable preventative and investigative capability for global policing.

“I-Checkit’s initiative with Carnival Corporation offers an additional layer of safety in the travel sector by creating an international standard for security screening.”

Carnival Corporation chief maritime officer Bill Burke – a retired vice admiral of the US Navy – said: “One of our top priorities at Carnival Corporation is the safety and security of our guests, our crew and our ships.

“As the world’s largest cruise company carrying hundreds of thousands of daily passengers, having a highly effective and efficient security screening process is a crucial part of how we serve our guests every day.

Partnering with Interpol enables us to seamlessly enhance security across our global fleet while also maintaining our commitment to providing our guests with a great vacation experience.

“This is another important step for our company and industry as we continue taking proactive measures to enhance the safety and security of our passengers and crew members.”