Seabourn bans smoking on balconies

Seabourn Sojourn

Seabourn will ban smoking on the balconies of its ships starting in late November with a Seabourn Quest voyage departing from Buenos Aires.

In a bulletin to loyalty club members, it said changes were being made “to better align with your wishes,” based on surveys conducted during the past year, as well as comments from guests and travel agents.

The rollout of the policy will continue with the Dec. 4 departure of Seabourn Encore from Athens, the Dec. 5 departure of Seabourn Sojourn from Dubai and the Dec. 7 departure of Seabourn Odyssey from Lisbon.

Designated outdoor smoking areas remain, including the starboard half of the Sky Bar on Deck 9, the starboard half of the open terrace aft of The Club on Deck 5 and the starboard side of the open terrace aft of Seabourn Square on Deck. 7.

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The Future of U.S. Cruises to Cuba

Havana Cuba.
Havana will soon be bustling with U.S. cruise passengers

Although U.S. laws still prohibit leisure travel to Cuba, cruise lines are waiting with plans in hand for the green light. Since last month’s announcement that Fathom, Carnival Corporation’s new social impact brand, was granted a license to sail from the Port of Miami starting next May, the floodgates seem ready to open.

Although Fathom is accepting bookings, negotiations with Cuba are not yet complete, and settling on ports of call remains up in the air. Rates for Cuba cruises, which start at $2,990 per person, are double those for Fathom’s originally announced Dominican Republic sailings, and Cuban fees will be tacked on to the cruise fare.

Meanwhile, Tom Baker, co-owner of Houston-based Cruise Center, has found land tours extremely high-priced in comparison to cruises.

“We’re looking at around $1,000 per day for a destination that is not a luxury experience,” he said. “I’m sure the tour operators are doing wonderful things, but they are still left with mediocre hotels, terrible roads and buses that may or may not maintain air conditioning. So I went to Cuba Cruise, where the highest-priced staterooms run around $3,000 for two people on a weeklong cruise, including shore excursions and an all-inclusive beverage package. You don’t have to take long bus rides, and both food and accommodations are going to be comfortable, at the very least.”

Baker originally booked a people-to-people cruise for himself, then decided to see if a LGBT group he was working with wanted to go as well. Now, he has more than 200 clients sailing on a Jan. 1 cruise, and the number of passengers continues to grow, all with little marketing.

Bonnie Habel, president of Fuller Travel in San Antonio, sees the current requirement for cruise passengers to interact with locals on the ground as another positive selling point.

“A lot of work and thought goes into those excursions, and it’s not just shopping and seeing a historic site,” she pointed out. “And with the cruise, people get a predictable level of food and lodging.”

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Fathom announcement is that president Tara Russell is also tasked with finding social impact cruise opportunities for other brands in Carnival Corporation’s huge fleet.

Habel and others believe they could sell the highest-level accommodations on a luxury ship in Cuba.

“If Carnival is smart, they will put Seabourn Cruise Line in there,” Habel said. “The highest-priced accommodations would fly out the door.”

Cuban-born Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., called the Carnival move a “critical first step.”

“Cuba will shine new light on the Caribbean, still the biggest cruise destination in the world,” he said.

According to Del Rio, Cuba has five or six ports with qualities “as different as New York and Texas,” and he believes all three of his brands — Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises — could differentiate themselves enough to more than satisfy the desires of various clienteles.

In addition to Fathom, a group of Florida ferry companies has been approved by the U.S. government to operate service to Cuba, including United Caribbean Lines, run by veteran cruise executive Bruce Nierenberg. His company is working with Haimark Ltd. to put the 210-passenger Saint Laurent into operation as the first small ship operated by a U.S. cruise line to circumnavigate Cuba in more than four decades. The line will offer nine-night roundtrip departures from Miami to Cuba beginning Feb. 20, pending final government approval.

 

Why Pick a Luxury Cruise?

Thinking about making the leap from a mainstream mega-ship to a more intimate luxury vessel? With so many new ships of all kinds sailing the world’s waters, competition is fierce. Every cruise line is looking to entice new passengers — sometimes with exceedingly low prices. And while a luxury cruise is certainly no small investment, the per-person cruise fare can represent a very good value when you consider everything that may be included.

Before you book on your usual cruise line, do some calculations. Figure the cruise fare, plus any extras like beverage packages, specialty restaurant fees, entrance to the adults-only pool, laundry services, etc. Now, compare that with the base fare of the luxury cruise lines on your wish list. Try to compare apples to apples. For example, if Regent Seven Seas Cruises is on your list, remember that the cruise fare includes shore excursions. You might be shocked to find what you’re paying on a mega-ship isn’t all that less than what you’d pay for a sailing on a high-end vessel.

It’s not all about the money, though. If you’re planning a special getaway, you might want to spend a few extra dollars to splurge on an experience you won’t soon forget. Luxury ships are generally smaller than their mainstream contemporaries, and great pride is taken in the level of personalized service provided. Lines like SeaDream Yacht Club, Seabourn Cruise Line, Silversea Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Compagnie du Ponant, Paul Gauguin Cruises,Oceania Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises all deserve a look.

To jump-start your luxury cruise planning, consider 10 compelling reasons to make the switch.

 

1. Pre- and Post-Cruise Pampering

Champagne Welcome - photo courtsey of SilverSea

Every traveler wants convenient ground transportation from the airport to port and back. Unlike mass-market lines that generally offer bus transportation, high-end lines feature a range of options — from taxis, private cars, shared vans and buses.

Luxury lines also tend to have robust pre- and post-cruise land packages so you can make the most of your vacation experience.Silversea in particular offers fantastic options with its “Silver Shore Land Adventures” to places like Australia’s Outback, Southern Africa’s game reserves, Peru’s Machu Picchu and India’s Taj Mahal — among other destinations.

2. Accommodations

Verandah view of the sea - photo courtsey of Crystal Cruises

Here’s something to love about luxury ships: most offer all-suite accommodations with ocean views (no inside cabins!), and a majority of staterooms have a balcony. Easy access to the outdoors is especially important when you’re sailing Alaska, Hawaii, the Caribbean, Chile, Norway, French Polynesia, or anywhere where you just can’t get enough of the spectacular views. (Psst! Look in the dresser drawer in your cabin and you’ll probably find a pair of binoculars to use throughout your voyage. It’s just a tiny example of how high-end lines try to exceed your expectations.)

Luxury staterooms and suites tend to be quite spacious and feature niceties like a dressing table with magnifying mirror, a full tub and shower in the bathroom that’s generally decked out in granite or marble, black-out curtains and high-end toiletries from purveyors like Bulgari, L’Occitane, Ferragamo and Molton Brown. Flat-screen TVs, en-suite Wi-Fi and iPod docking stations are also very common.

3. Service

Waiter on Deck - photo courtsey of SilverSea

Luxe lines like Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn and Silversea take pride in their crew. In fact, these lines have rigorous training programs for crewmembers like butlers and stewardesses. OnSeaDream yachts, cabin stewards, bartenders and waiters seem to magically know your name from the moment you set foot onboard. Need those sunglasses cleaned or your luggage polished? These tasks are proactively tended to — no need to ask.

4. Gratuities Included

Tips are already covered - photo courtsey of karen roach/Shutterstock

Despite the high level of personalized service you’ll encounter, you are not required to tip on luxury lines such as Azamara, Crystal, Paul Gauguin, Regent, SeaDream, Seabourn and Silversea. Gratuities have already been built into the fare. Of course, if someone goes above and beyond, feel free to offer something extra by making a donation to the crew fund at Reception.

5. Free Beverages, Including Alcohol.

Champagne in Suite - photo courtsey of SilverSea

On most of the luxury lines — Azamara, Regent, Paul Gauguin, SeaDream, Seabourn and Silversea — there is no charge for alcoholic beverages — at the bar, in the restaurants and lounges, or even in your stateroom (your minibar will be stocked with a bottle of wine or champagne, beer and soft drinks). It’s true that if you have expensive tastes (the only thing you can drink is a Chateau Mouton Rothschild, for example, or an Opus One), you’ll pay extra. Maybe a lot extra, but most people don’t have that problem.

6. Fine Dining

Lobster dinner - photo courtsey of Regent Seven Seas

Many renowned chefs have teamed with luxury lines to develop memorable dining experiences. Chef Nobu Matsuhisa created the Japanese-centric Silk Road for Crystal Cruises. The luxury hotel and restaurant brand Relais & Chateaux created Le Champagne for Silversea ships. Parisian chef Jean-Pierre Vigato developed signature cuisine for Paul Gauguin Cruises, in L’Etoile aboard Moana and at La Veranda on Paul Gauguin.

Beyond famous chefs, you’ll find incredibly accommodating maitre d’s who are happy to fulfill your special requests. Just give the chef a bit of a heads-up, and he or she will create a magical meal to your specifications.

7. Itineraries

Wine excursion - photo courtsey of SilverSea

Smaller ships, including those in the luxury category, are able to visit places their bigger counterparts can’t or don’t. In Alaska, that means spots like Petersburg, Haines and Misty Fjords. In the Western Mediterranean, expect more exclusive ports such as Portofino and Capri. And exotic stops like Indonesia’s Komodo Island in southeast Asia. Another trick: Luxury ships often visit very popular ports, say Greece’s Santorini, on a day and time when the village isn’t overrun with tourists from the mega-ships.

In a growing trend, luxury lines also tend to overnight in popular ports so travelers can get a real sense of the place and enjoy both daytime and nighttime shore excursions.

8. Shore Excursions and Exclusive Events

Geiranger, Norway. - photo courtsey of Azamara Club Cruises

One of the most compelling things about the luxury cruise lines is the importance they place on developing special shore events for passengers.

In addition to regular excursions, lines such Azamara and Seabourn host complimentary outings, just for customers.Azamara takes passengers on an “AzAmazing Evening” once per cruise. Expect to visit the Mikhailovsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia, a polo match and reception in St. Tropez, France or a festive gala at the Titanic Belfast museum in Northern Ireland. One of Seabourn’s most famous complimentary excursions is a lovely evening of classical music at the Odeon theater at Ephesus in Turkey.

9. Fewer Announcements

Silence is golden - photo courtsey of mikute/Shutterstock

Because they don’t always offer a never-ending stream of onboard entertainment opportunities, these lines don’t need to have the cruise director constantly harping on the public address system (“Hey folks, in 15 minutes, we’ll be starting our jackpot bingo in the main show room, with a prize today standing at $600!”). There’s generally a morning announcement of the day’s events, maybe a lunchtime follow-up — and that’s it.

10. Getting to Know People

Formal evening onboard - photo courtsey of Regent Seven Seas

On big ships, especially those with freestyle dining and alternative restaurants, you often meet people once — and never see them again. On a smaller ship, you tend to be thrown together more easily, and more often. Many cruisers make friendships that last long after the journey.

These are just a few ways in which luxury cruise lines differ from the mass market options.