Tauck Doubles Down On Small Ships

Originally published on Travel Market Report.

Tauck River Cruising will double its small-ship cruising capacity over the next four years, president Jennifer Tombauch told reporters at Seatrade this week.

Through a partnership with French-owned cruise line Ponant, Tauck will use four Ponant new-builds, starting with Le Lapérouse in summer 2018. By 2020, Tauck expects to be sailing a total of nine ships.

Le Lapérouse will debut with a seven-night “Iceland: Land of Fire & Ice” itinerary on July 3, 2018, sailing out of Reykjavik and stopping at tiny villages and isolated islands.

Tombaugh said demand for Tauck’s small ships is high, but the fleet has only five Ponant ships for 10 itineraries. Still, “we’d like to think we do small better than anyone,” Tombaugh said. And the partnership, which includes the new underwater lounges that were revealed this week, also falls in line with Tauck’s desire to showcase destinations.

“It’s how we blend the destination in with our overall experiences that make it so special,” she said. “It’s about being the best at what we do and delivering those great experiences to our guests.”

Tauck also revealed this week that it will add sailings to Cuba on Le Ponant starting in December 2018.

It’s how we blend the destination in with our overall experiences that make it so special.

Tauck will run the itinerary—which includes a seven-night cruise plus a one-night pre-cruise stay in Miami and two nights in Havana— three times in December 2018 and three times in January 2019. The cruise starts in Havana, and then sails around Cuba to Cienfuegos, Trinidad, and Santiago de Cuba.

Meanwhile, on the river, the 92-year-old Tauck will debut two of its refurbished river vessels this year—Emerald and Sapphire, both with fewer, but bigger, cabins. The middle decks, which previously had 30 115-square-foot cabins, will now have 20 225-square-foot cabins.

Sapphire, which previously held 118 guests total, will sail on April 3 with only 98; Emerald will relaunch on April 7. The ships will also get The Bistro, a new dining venue on the upper deck, with a dedicated kitchen and chef.

Tauck will do the same to the rest of its 110-meter vessels for 2018.

Norwegian Cruise Line Gives Sneak Peek Into Project Leonardo

Originally published in Travel Market Report. 

At Seatrade on Wednesday, Norwegian Cruise Line showcased a few details about its four next-generation ships, part of an agreement it signed with Fincantieri S.p.A. shipbuilders last month.

The ships, which will be delivered every June starting in 2022, are designed to “bring guests closer to the sea,” president and CEO Frank Del Rio said.

They will sport huge lower decks, which Del Rio called “Beach Decks,” with infinity pools and restaurants. “We’re famous for breaking molds and going against the grain,” he said.

The ships will all come in at 140,000 gross tons and will carry 3,300 guests—a number small enough to still allow the ship to enter smaller ports. “It provides flexibility to deploy these vessels around the world,” Del Rio said. More details about the new builds will be released in coming months, including some “breakthrough technologies” that will enhance the guest experience.

Norwegian Bliss
The third ship in Norwegian’s Breakaway Plus class, Norwegian Bliss, will debut in June 2018, sailing from Seattle to Alaska.

Bliss, which enters the Breakaway Plus class after Escape and Joy, will be sailing out of Seattle’s new Pier 66, a “brand new guest experience,” senior PR director Vanessa Picariello told reporters.

Bliss’s observation lounge will span the entire forward part of the ship and will provide 22,000 square feet of lounge space, each foot with access to a 180-degree view of where the ship is headed. In the middle of the lounge, Norwegian has installed a bar with a polished aluminum front and a granite top.

The ship’s “ship within a ship” complex, The Haven, has been “designed to give folks the luxury cruise experience with the bells and whistles of a big ship and the ability to sail with their families,” Picariello said.

The Haven on Bliss will have the same number of suites as on Escape, but the public area will be doubled, with a new two-story observation lounge as its centerpiece feature. The observation lounge will open at the front part of the ship, giving guests “the connection with the destination you’re sailing to,” Picariello said.

Cuba update
The Cuban-born Del Rio, who emigrated in 1961 right before his seventh birthday, told reporters that “so far Havana and Cuba in general have been very well received by our guests.”

The first five sailings “sold like nothing else we’ve ever seen before,” at meaningfully higher prices.

Norwegian’s Cuba itineraries, which started this month, leave Miami Monday afternoons and land in Havana on Tuesday morning. The ship then stays over Tuesday night and until 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, when it departs to Great Stirrup Cay, and then returns to Miami on Friday morning.

There are 15 different shore excursions in Cuba, including “The Life of Hemingway in Havana,” “The Legendary Tropicana Cabaret” and “The Art Of Cuba – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” All shore excursions are OFAC-compliant.

“We’re very pleased with the performance on the shore excursions; guests were very happy,” Del Rio said.

Ponant Unveils ‘Multisensory’ Underwater Lounges

Originally published on Travel Market Report. 

Fort Lauderdale, FL— Ponant gave guests a glimpse of one the more innovative details of its new builds this week when it announced the addition of underwater lounges to four of its new yachts.

“It continues to demonstrate how we’re innovating because it’s a way to very respectfully enjoy and understand the ecosystem and the environment you live in,” Ponant’s CEO of Americas Navin Sawhney told TMR at Seatrade. “All our leadership on expedition cruising is based entirely that.”

While the cruise line wouldn’t reveal many details about the lounges, it did say that they would be “multi-sensorial” and the first-of-their-kind at sea.

The lounges will be added to the ships in the new Ponant Explorer series—Le Lapérouse, Le Champlain, Le Bougainville and Le Kerguelen.

Two of the ships are currently under construction. Le Lapérouse continues with the laying of the first block, and the first sheet of steel was cut for Le Champlain in early March. Those ships will hit the water in summer 2018.

The next two ships—Le Bougainville and Le Dumont d’Urville—will arrive in time for summer 2019.

All four ships will measure 430 feet in length, with 92 cabins and suites, and 110 crewmembers. All have the same fine French cuisine and service for which Ponant is known, including an infinity pool and all- balcony staterooms. And all will comply with the international “Cleanship” label for innovative green equipment, including: a dynamic positioning system to avoid dropping anchor in order to protect the sea bed; silent and fuel-efficient electronic propulsion; FarSounder sonar providing 3D vision of the sea bed at different depths; diesel engines that can run on lighter, less-polluting marine diesel oil; wastewater and sewage treatment systems on board; and low-energy bulbs for lighting.

With the additions, Ponant will have eight ships in all, making it the youngest and largest expedition fleet in the world.

For travel agents, Sawhney said, the ships will act as a draw not only for veteran cruisers but also for the new-to-cruise market, because of the unique destinations to which they sail.

“The commission is the price of many average cruises and the client will have an experience they will be so proud to share with others,” he said.

For agents who have yet to sell Ponant, the cruise line provides webinars and training on how to sell an expedition ship on its travel agent website.

MSC Continues Focus On North America With Meraviglia Deployment

Originally published in Travel Market Report. 

Thirteen years and twelve ships since MSC Cruises started its quest to become a dominant force in the North American market, the cruise line is getting ready to make a splash with three ships set to sail out of Florida by the end of 2018.

“We are ready to make the further step to North America,” executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago told reporters at Seatrade Global Conference in Fort Lauderdale this week.

Of the 11 ships that MSC has on order, two will debut this year when Meraviglia hits the water in June and Seaside does the same in December.

Seaside, dubbed “the ship that follows the sun” for its Caribbean focus, will be the first of two new builds heading to the North American market. Meraviglia will then join Seaside in the fall 2018 and is “coming here to stay,” president of MSC North America Roberto Fusaro said. Those ships will join MSC Divina, which is already homeporting in Miami.

“Three ships, two of them year round, our three newest classes of ships [will show] the best of shipbuilding can offer,” he added.

Initially, MSC focused its growth the company’s “back garden”—Europe—and that’s reflected in its numbers. Of the 1.8 million guests that cruised with MSC last year, only 10%, or around 200,000, sailed in North America.

But, according to Vago, “supply drives demand” and the cruise lines believes that putting new additions and expanding in North America will inevitably drive those numbers up.

Part of the expansion was finding the right partners and MSC believes it did that when it signed agreements with Cirque du Soleil, Samsung and Hewlett Packard, all of which will have products onboard MSC ships.

“We want to ensure that we are able to elevate the guests experience with qualified partners,” chief executive officer Gianni Onorato said.

MSC invested $20 million to accommodate Cirque du Soleil at Sea onboard its ships, building an exclusive on-site dinner lounge for up to 100 guests booked for each show.

Executives told reporters that MSC for Me, the program that includes new wearable technology and a mobile device app, will not only debut on all new builds, but will be retrofitted to the rest of the cruise line’s fleet.

MSC for Me will have five basic functions for guests. The first, it will help them navigate ships with interactive maps and real-time monitoring of kids via the wearable technology. The second is a concierge service that gives guests access to online booking services for restaurants, excursions and more. Then, there’s an organizer function that will allow pre-cruise bookings and mobile check-ins to allow guests to make the most of their time.

New VR technology will also allow guests to see experiences in real time, including photo galleries showing an ongoing story of a sailing. And last, MSC for Me will allow personalized recommendations and face recognition to help staff take care of every need.

The team also said that while the focus on MSC’s move to North America has been the Caribbean, they have plans to bring the ships to many other North American destinations, including homeporting a ship in New York “sooner rather than later.”

“We will have lots of opportunity for our American guests,” Fusaro said. “We are certainly looking at all options.”

In A Year Of Record Growth And Innovation, Cruise Industry Sees More To Come

Fort Lauderdale, FL — The cruise industry is “truly in the largest growth and innovation era this industry has seen” and expectations are sky-high for the future, agreed industry executives at the keynote session at the Seatrade Global Conference in Fort Lauderdale this week.

In the 12 months since Cindy D’Aoust was appointed CEO and president of the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), the demand for cruising has reached record heights—and the next decade will bring 200,000 passenger births, 1 million jobs, and a whopping $117 billion in economic impact worldwide, she said.

Demand for cruising has grown by 62% in the past 10 years, and “there’s no signs of this unprecedented growth slowing down.” The growth will come all over the world, with new ports and destinations being added all the time, but “Asia has the potential to surpass the North American market in 10 years.”

CLIA is working  with local leaders in Asia on operational safety and building a tourism community to foster growth in that area, D’Aoust said.

Carnival focuses on brands
Carnival Corp. is fostering its growth through a particular type of innovation. “Without realizing it, our guests became a part of a community, and when they’re gone they can’t wait to come back. That’s the sort of innovation we’re focused on,” said CEO and president Arnold Donald.

With that goal in mind, Carnival is defining each of its brands, so consumers can more easily identify whether they prefer Princess or Carnival.

It’s also focused on delivering “an even greater, even more personalized, elevated guest experience.”

Other initiatives include the company’s new partnerships with Oprah and Ellen Degeneres and its new Ocean Medallion that was launched earlier this year.

“It’s like an iceberg; what you see is a very small part of what exists,” Donald said.

“Travel agents bring us the right guest onboard the right ship on the right brand.”

NCL focuses on destinations
At Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, meanwhile, there’s nothing more vital than where a cruise ship is sailing, president and CEO Frank Del Rio said. It’s so important that he personally reviews each and every itinerary before it goes on sale.

“Destinations not only sell tickets, they generate the most onboard revenue,” he said.

Designing itineraries is difficult, challenging and rewarding at the same time, Del Rio said. For instance, there are nearly 50 possible ports just on the route between Barcelona and Rome, which means thousands and thousands of itineraries are possible. To choose the right ones, Norwegian relies on factors including consumer demand, geopolitical climate and yield. And they listen to the input of NCL’s most important partners, travel agents.

“Travel agents bring us the right guest onboard the right ship on the right brand,” Del Rio said.

RCCL focuses on the environment
Most moves from Royal Caribbean Cruises are aimed at moving it ahead of its competition in the industry. But when it comes to the environment the whole industry is working together.

“On environment and safety we don’t compete, we work together for the importance of our industry and for the benefit of our industry,” president and CEO Richard Fain said. “It’s nice to have one thing we all can agree on.”

The goal is always to bring a cruise ship’s environmental impact down to zero. While a number of new innovations, including liquefied natural gas and fuel cell power, are helping cruise lines reach that goal, even the smallest thing can cause a problem.

When Royal Caribbean wanted to crush and recycle used wine bottles and then bring them to a recycling facility, it found the bottles fostered bacteria that could be a health hazard if not handled properly. Now it stores the crushed bottles in special freezers, solving the problem.

Avanti Expands In Asia, Cites Travel Agent Support

Mount Kinabalu Park Heritage Site. Photo: CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

FIT tour operator Avanti Destinations’ three-year plan to expand its offerings to Asia is off to “a great successful start” mostly because of “the support of travel agents,” managing director for Asia Mark Grundy told a group of travel agents in Huntington, NY earlier this month.

Avanti just completed the first year of its Asian expansion and sales for the region have been robust, Grundy said. Its original six destinations—China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia—sold strong in 2016 and bookings for 2017 have already exceeded those numbers.

The region, one that Grundy calls the fastest growing one in terms of popularity amongst U.S. travelers, is becoming more and more attractive partly due to an increasingly strong U.S. dollar—but also, Grundy said, due to the work of agents.

“We sell our products exclusively through travel agents. It’s something that is built into the company’s DNA,” he said.

Grundy hopes that the new offerings from Avanti—tours in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan—will build on it 2016 success. (Dubai, while not officially offered, is available for pre- or post-tour stopovers, something Grundy said is particularly attractive for east coast travelers).

The new Asian tours include “Indonesia: Private Day in the Life of a Balinese Farmer,” which includes a five-hour tour in Tabanan, learning how to make local dishes and time working in in a field; “Malaysia: Private Kinabalu Park and Poring Hotel Springs Tour,” which includes a drive along mountains road, a walk in the city’s botanical gardens and a soak in a hot spring; and “Philippines: Private Shark Encounter,” which includes a visit to Tumalob Falls and exploration of the jungle around it.

Those new offerings bring the total number of Asia countries available to tour with Avanti to 14, each fully customized and directed by local private guides from the moment travelers arrive, something the tour operator specializes in (Avanti moved 40,000 people globally in 2016, each one on a customizable itinerary).

Each trip also includes everything clients need, from air, rail rental cars and hotels to sightseeing and attraction tickets, transfers and experiential travel options.

As far as agent help, Avanti employs 20 travel consultants for its Asian journeys to assist clients in their travels, so even if a client can’t get in touch with an agent half-the-world-away, they’ll be able to get the assistance they need. Those consultants also can assist agents with personalizing each available tour for their client.

“Avanti is committed to having experts talk to you, the other experts,” Grundy said.

German Christmas Market Attack Leaves 12 Dead

Twelve people were killed and many more were injured on Monday evening when a truck drove through a crowded German Christmas market in central Berlin.

The truck, which was registered in Poland and filled with steel beams, came to a stop on a sidewalk near the market, leaving a trail of destruction in Breitscheidplatz Square near Kurfürstendamm Boulevard, one of the busiest shopping districts in the German capital. At least 12 people were killed and more than 40 people were sent to nearby hospitals.

According to reports, police arrested a suspect but say they are unsure he was the driver; a passenger died at the scene.

The U.S. Department of State had issued a travel alert to U.S. citizens traveling in Europe during the holiday season last month, cautioning tourists to “exercise caution at holiday festivals, events, and outdoor markets. U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance when attending large holiday events, visiting tourist sites, using public transportation, and frequenting places of worship, restaurants, hotels, etc.”

The attack bears a resemblance to July’s Bastille Day attack in Nice, France, when a lorry ran through a crowd, killing 86 people and injuring 200 more, but officials are not sure this is related in any way.


The incident occured near the Kasier Willhelm Memorial Church.

Travel industry reacts
Christmas markets are a popular destination for river cruise companies, though it’s not clear if any were in the area or if future sailings will be affected.

AmaWaterways told TMR it had no sailings in the area and no activities or guests were impacted.

Avalon Waterways also had no sailings in the area, though it said in a statement that it was “disheartened to get the news of the tragedy in Berlin today” and that its “thoughts are with those affected by this senseless act.”

Viking River Cruises told TMR that while no Viking guests, crew or itinerary were directly impacted, it was “saddened to learn about the incident on Monday in Berlin, and our hearts go out to the families of those affected…The safety and security of our guests and crew is always our top priority, and we will monitor the situation closely as the investigation develops.”

Berlin Airport has not been affected by the incident, either, as planes are taking off on time.

Some airlines are offering travelers options to return home early.

British Airways says it is contacting passengers in the city with a range of options, which include flying home early if space is available on flights. EasyJet also is offering travelers in Berlin the option of flying home early.

Diane Bean, a travel agent with Off On Vacation in Bangor, ME, said that it’s painful anytime there’s terrorism in the world, but this attack hit her hard because it took place in her hometown.

“I was born in Berlin and lived there as a child and again as an adult. I am so incredibly saddened. My mother called me immediately. My son messaged me. [We’re] all in shock,” she told TMR. “But as a career travel advisor, I will continue business as normal and I am not going to cancel the plans for my European Christmas Market River Cruise in 2017.”

Bean also noted that this event underscores the importance of travel insurance. “I share the importance of travel protection with all of my clients; I can’t remember the last time one traveled without the purchase of it. Many clients ask my thoughts on buying it and I tell them, if they can afford the loss of their entire trip and possibly a Medivac back to the United States then pass. If they buy it and don’t use it, then consider it money well spent and be thankful you didn’t have the misfortune to need it.”

Christi McGown, an agent with Cruise Planners in Bowling Green, KY, sailing with Avalon this week, reported on Tuesday that she just left the market in Passau about 30 minutes ago. “I’m seeing enhanced security at all of the markets, and I’ve encouraged our group to continue to be aware of our surroundings and step aside if something feels or looks off with the travelers around them.”

But they remain intrepid. “We will visit Nuremberg and Prague later this week,” she said.

There is one Insight Vacation Group in Berlin; the tour directors have advised that all guests are doing well and are enjoying their holidays. All trips are operating as scheduled. There is also a Trafalgar Group arriving tomorrow; they will “review their program,” said Insight Vacations president Phil Cappelli.

Peregrine Dives Into Cruise Market With New Adventure Offerings

Peregrine.jpg

Peregrine, a pioneer in the small-group tour industry, is expanding its offerings in the experiential travel market with a new set of adventure cruises, regional director of North America Leigh Barnes told TMR.

The tour operator is part of one of the world’s largest adventure-travel companies, the Intrepid Group. It started with small-group adventure treks through the Himalayas 39 years ago and eventually grew to the company of today, offering a range of premium small-group adventures such as touring through Italy to Machu Picchu or Southeast Asia.

“It’s about always trying to get people off that beaten path to have a real under-the-skin experience,” Barnes said.

The newest product is a set of 10 adventure cruises centered on local experiences, visiting small ports in Croatia, Cuba, Iceland, Portugal, Panama and the Greek Islands that big ships can’t get to. The trips are on small ships with no more than 50 travelers, and at a slower pace, operated by local guides, and  designed to give guests a taste of each city, with activities that let them interact with and support the local community.

“The real focus of the trips is the destination, allowing guest to understand what it’s like,” Barnes said.

The ships don’t have all the bells and whistles of the big cruise lines—there’s no casino or pool or bowling alley, Barnes said, but rather a more informal experience with an emphasis on food and drink.


Dining area onboard Peregrine’s cruises.

Two of the itineraries that will really resonate with North American clients, Barnes said, are the Cuba and Croatian and Iceland sailings.

The Cuba itinerary, eight days roundtrip from Havana, has its first sailing on Dec. 24 and continues through February. Onshore excursions include visits to one of the local paladeres or restaurants offering live music to salsa dance, a walk through historic Cienfuegos to get a taste of the city’s French Neo classical architecture, and taxi rides through the country’s historic capital, Havana. It starts at about $1,500 per person.

Travel agents earn commission on all bookings. Barnes said that the cruises are ideal for travelers who are interested in cruising but want to have a true destination experience.

The groups are usually composed of travelers aged 45 and older who are “looking to embrace that bit of adventure.”

“People want to connect with other people and have a real experience more than anything,” he said. “It’s those real tangible moments.”

Carnival Ends Fathom Experiment

adonia123Carnival Corp.’s social-impact brand Fathom will cease operations by the summer of 2017, less than a year after it began operating, and will return its lone ship, the Adonia, to British line P&O Cruises.

The Fathom experience and its socially conscious shore excursions will live on, however. Carnival announced earlier this month that guests on six other Carnival Corp. brands will get the chance to participate in a social-impact excursion.

But the cruise line, the first of its kind, will no longer have its own place in the Carnival fleet, despite “overwhelmingly positive” feedback from Fathom guests and the cruise line’s Dominican partners, according to its president Tara Russell.

“Fathom is continuing, but just in a different form working through all our brands,” Carnival spokesperson Roger Frizzell told TMR. “We are anxious to see it grow and expand in other ways going forward.”

Fathom began operating last April, sailing social-impact cruises to the Dominican Republic. It added Cuba sailings a month later, becoming the first cruise line to sail Cuban sailings from a U.S. port.

While Fathom’s Cuban sailings have been popular—in September, Russell said sailings for the rest of 2016 were almost sold out and there is “extremely strong demand for 2017”—its social-impact branding failed to catch on.

When it was initially launched, Russell said the goal was to provide “meaningful travel” opportunities to people looking for “one of the most powerful life-changing experiences one can ever have.”

During Dominican Republic sailings, guests were brought on excursions to improve homes and common areas in impoverished neighborhoods, work with special-needs rehab therapy patients, support arts and crafts at a women’s cooperative, and visit one-on-one in the homes of Dominican host families.

But Fathom started to shift its shore excursion selection toward a more traditional setting when it added visits to the former home of Ernest Hemingway and tours of the countryside and small towns outside of Havana earlier this year.

Carnival still hopes to continue its presence in Cuba after Fathom’s last sailing; the company has requested permission for its other brands to sail to the island starting June 2017.

“We plan to continue sailing to Cuba for many years to come based on the success of our first cruises to the country, which have proven to extremely successful,” Frizzell said.

Meanwhile, Adonia is now being scheduled to sail in the UK for the summer season for Carnival’s P&O brand.

Taking a different tack on socially-responsible tourism, meanwhile, the Travel Corporation, the parent company of Trafalgar and Uniworld among other brands, last month launched a program of its own.

It partnered with ME to WE, a well-established organization whose founder Craig Kielburger has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, to offer luxury-level “purpose-driven” excursions where guests interact with locals on long-term social-impact projects in Ecuador, India and Kenya. With customers including Madonna and Natalie Portman, Sir Richard Branson and Prince Harry, ME to WE says the right approach is to combine luxury accommodations with high-end accommodations.