Virgin Voyages Cancels New York Introduction

Scarlet Lady
The Scarlet Lady in Liverpool

Virgin Voyages has cancelled its March introduction events of the Scarlet Lady in New York and the ship will instead sail straight to Miami, its homeport.

Said Virgin in a prepared statement: “In light of the current news headlines, we want to ensure everyone feels it is the right time to celebrate with us. We understand people may want to focus on other things at the moment, so we have made the decision to reschedule our upcoming Showcase Tour stop and events in New York City. We plan to sail back to New York soon for you to visit her.

“We have absolutely no health concerns or issues onboard and elevated our health protocol and processes when we took delivery of the Scarlet Lady to keep our crew and visitors well and happy.

“With no other events scheduled in New York at this time, we will instead sail Scarlet to her new home in Miami, where we will continue our plans for the launch and welcome our Sailors for the first time.”

Norwegian Encore will have guests on their feet

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Norwegian Encore outside Meyer Werft where she was built.

NEW YORK — The Norwegian Encore arrived here Monday to make its debut as the newest Norwegian Cruise Line ship and take a bow as the last in the Breakaway Plus class.

Travel sellers who have seen any of the Encore’s sisters — the Escape, Bliss or Joy — will be familiar with the basic layout of the ship. But there are always modifications to each ship in a class, and so it is with the Encore. Norwegian has added a chic new restaurant, Ondo by Scarpetta, and brought on new evening entertainment. 

The ship is also notable for being the last to be delivered to president and CEO Andy Stuart, who is leaving the company and will be replaced in 2020 by Harry Sommer.

In an interview on board the Encore, Sommer said the Norwegian brand was “in a great place,” and a priority would be to “spend more time on that marketing message to really have guests understand what a fascinating experience, a fantastic vacation a ship like this represents.

A popular feature of the Norwegian Bliss is the Speedway race track, where passengers can drive go-karts. Photo Credit: Dave Jones

“I credit Andy for creating experiences — a combination of ships, restaurant choices and activities onboard — that really provide a wonderful vacation for our guests,” Sommer said. “We’re not changing that.”

A two-day, pierside preview of the Encore was conducted for travel partners, VIPs and media ahead of the ship’s repositioning to South Florida. 

The experiences on the Encore appear at first glance to be tilted toward active ones. The aft sections of the top decks are devoted to activities like the Speedway, a fast-paced, go-kart ride that got its start on the Norwegian Joy. Waterslide options include the Ocean Loops, which, as its name suggests, drops riders down a tube that twists up and down and beyond the edge of the ship. 

Norwegian describes the laser-tag section as “laser tag meets augmented reality” set in Atlantis. 

On Deck 17 are the Galaxy Pavilion, a room with multiple virtual-reality games, simulator rides and an escape room.

Even the evening performance in the Encore Theater was active in a sense. “Choir of Man” features about a dozen young men singing and playing contemporary and classic hits in unique and fun ways under the pretence of hanging out in an Irish pub. In the hour-long show, the performers sing (occasionally in beautiful a capella harmony), dance and play live instruments. As I said, it was active: The show brought the audience to its feet for two standing ovations. 

A view of the Norwegian Encore's midship pools.

A view of the Norwegian Encore’s midship pools. Photo Credit: Rebecca Tobin

However, the Encore isn’t all about heart-racing activity. The ship also has a large observation lounge that wraps around the forward section of Deck 15, where there are couches, loungers and nooks galore for relaxing with a Kindle and a coffee (a Starbucks shop is located on Deck 6). Or if the sun is what passengers desire, there is the Vibe Beach Club, which occupies the topmost Deck 20 of the Encore. Additional relaxation options are offered to Haven passengers in an exclusive zone of the ship. 

As far as dining options, the Encore introduces Onda by Scarpetta, an a la carte Italian restaurant. There are about 20 eateries on the Encore, from old favourites like Le Bistro, Cagney’s Steakhouse and Teppanyaki to relatively newer entrants such as Ocean Blue and the Food Republic.

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MSC Cruises goes in big on the U.S. market

The MSC Meraviglia's promenade ceiling is alight with LED lights that change patterns and even put on a show.

The MSC Meraviglia’s promenade ceiling is alight with LED lights that change patterns and even put on a show. Photo Credit: Rebecca Tobin

NEW YORK — The MSC Meraviglia arrived here on Monday from Europe, with MSC Cruises executives noting more than once that it is the largest cruise ship to dock in Manhattan.

The Meraviglia (pronounced Mer-a-VEE-lia) is sailing three cruises from New York, and then it will reposition to Miami for the winter season. The Meraviglia joins the MSC Seaside, the line’s year-round ship in the Caribbean, and the MSC Divina and MSC Armonia this fall. For the first time, MSC has four ships serving the North American market simultaneously. 

The Meraviglia, one of the largest ships in the fleet, carries 4,488-passengers at double occupancy and is 171,598 gross tons. In the U.S., only Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships are bigger.

Night views: The MSC Meraviglia's pool deck.

Night views: The MSC Meraviglia’s pool deck. Photo Credit: Rebecca Tobin

“This is a perfect example of our commitment to growing in the North American market,” COO Ken Muskat said in brief remarks Monday night. “We are the fastest-growing cruise line in the world. … We are growing in North America in a very big way.” 

Even so, he added, “We’re very passionate about our European roots and our European style. You’ll see that in the decor, you’ll see that in the hardware, you’ll see that in the culinary experiences, and you’ll also see that in our entertainment.” 

The European flavour is on display the moment guests step into the center promenade. The ceiling is made up of thousands of LED lights that change into different patterns and put on an evening light show. On various visits to the promenade over the course of the evening, the ceiling changed from a pattern reminiscent of the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele in Milan to a cloud-filled sky to a homage to the Sistine Chapel.

The dramatic Swarovski crystal staircase on the MSC Meraviglia.

The dramatic Swarovski crystal staircase on the MSC Meraviglia. Photo Credit: Rebecca Tobin

The vessel is massive with plentiful public spaces. There’s a full-size, indoor basketball court. One big area with a swimming pool gives way to another big area with a swimming pool. When you get on the elevator and your guide says, “Press the button for Deck 16,” it’s not even the top deck; there are 19. 

Although it is mega in size, the Meraviglia is broken down into smaller gathering spaces that make it seem positively intimate at times. Take the Carousel Lounge, which is purpose-built for MSC’s exclusive Cirque du Soleil at Sea shows. It’s a small theatre in the (almost) round, and guests are close enough to the performers to make eye contact.  

A selection of tapas at the Hola! restaurant. The restaurant features culinary creations by Michelin-starred chef Ramon Freixa.

A selection of tapas at the Hola! restaurant. The restaurant features culinary creations by Michelin-starred chef Ramon Freixa. Photo Credit: Rebecca Tobin

The Meraviglia has no shortage of celebrity and brand partnerships. In addition to the Cirque du Soleil performances, a tapas restaurant features the dishes from Michelin-starred chef Ramon Freixa. The Chocolat and Cafe bear the name of pastry chef Jean-Philippe Maury. The kid’s clubs are Lego designed. A partnership between MSC and Martha Stewart includes curated shore excursions, gift packages and onboard holiday dinner menus.