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Sailing date for review: August 17, 2012
Itinerary: Seward, Alaska to Vancouver, British Columbia
The Celebrity Millennium was launched in early 2000, and relaunched after “Solsticizing” during 2012, in time for the Alaska cruise season. Solsticizing is a clever branding term for a major face lift. The Millennium was remodeled in many public areas, and freshened in others. New staterooms called “Aqua Class” were squeezed onto deck 11 where apparently the walking track used to be (it’s still there, just a shortened version), and the ship was given new restaurants called Qsine®, and Blu. Other notable new additions are a mid-ship Martini Bar and a wine bar.
The ship carries just over 2,100 passengers. This is a very desirable ship size for me. I find it manageable for getting around; can find the various amenities, yet still have the occasional surprise. The number of passengers also means there is a good chance to actually connect with people, without being either overwhelmed by numbers, or giving up all anonymity.
- Gay gatherings were included several times in the printed daily program. The listings were in a section called “Top X Tips,” on the inside of the newsletter—not mixed into the “Today’s Activities” section. They were listed simply as “LGBT” with the time and place (always Martini Bar). The first listing occurred on the first full cruise day, and set the tone for the entire cruise. The gays were at the Martini Bar nightly, announcement or not.
- We presented as a couple throughout the ship—often holding hands, and usually referring to each other as “husbands,”—and felt completely comfortable in every setting, including interactions with cabin staff, dining staff, shops staff, and ship’s officers.
- Yes: Other MeetMeOnBoard.com members on board. We connected on board with MMOB members we had communicated with before the cruise.
- I would give this ship a 5/5 if they had assigned a gay staffer to attend the LGBT socials.
- Artwork. We found the artwork throughout the ship to be particularly attractive and engaging—it seemed to fit Celebrity’s hip and upscale image. Of special note were the human caricature sculptures nestled in the forward stairway alcoves, by German artist Stephan Balkenhol.
- Captain’s Club host. Bruce Van Der Boon, a South African, has spent many years working on ships and really exudes hospitality and warmth. We had numerous chats with him around the ship, and knew we could count on him for solid advice. He was often available at the Captain’s Club desk on deck 3.
- Martini Bar. Located midship on deck 4, this very public spot was the nightly gathering place for the many gay passengers onboard—along with many straight folks. Service was outstanding, and there’s some fancy choreography to the bartending. It’s social and fun.
- Qsine. This upcharge restaurant on deck 10 has great views out the windows, but the highlight is the clever,
unexpected dining concept which essentially turns everything you thought about cruise ship cuisine upside down. The menu is presented on an iPad (unfortunately, they haven’t got them synched with the kitchen to allow you to actually order from your iPad—you still need a server). The food is essentially a sampling of international cuisine—including unique twists on spring rolls, butter chicken, and filet mignon. Of course, you can eat all you want—we left overstuffed. We also found the service in this restaurant to be the best on the ship: the servers seemed to really enjoy their work. We were very comfortable as a gay couple, and were served a dessert decorated with “Happy Honeymoon” while the staff serenaded us.
- Olympic Restaurant. This lower deck restaurant is a nod to the traditional side of cruising, and the décor feels like old-Europe. The food was probably the best we ate on the ship, of special note was a trio of small filet mignon pieces, wrapped in pastry. The chocolate soufflé was probably the single-best desert of the cruise. The full menu for this restaurant is available on Celebrity’s website.
- Michael’s Club. This bar area specializes in beers from around the world, but we liked it because of the cozy, old-boys-club atmosphere and the outstanding service. It was a great spot for Denni and me to just chill together, as well as an end-of-cruise, late-night gathering of our newfound gay friends where we could talk easily and exchange contact info.
- Grand Foyer. My inner princess just couldn’t get enough of walking up and down the chic, back-lit onyx staircase that connects the Martini Bar area of deck 4 to the guest services area of deck 3. It was the perfect spot for formal photos.
Our stateroom was deluxe verandah, far forward on deck 9. It was nicely appointed, and I found the bed to be very comfortable—Denni found it hard. Everything was operational, and the room was clean. Décor was pleasant but not memorable. The stateroom service was appropriate—our Indian (Goa) cabin attendants were friendly but never intrusive, and one of them often wished us a “blessed day.” Upon arrival, our the bed was already configured as one bed for a couple, and we were not questioned by the attendants as to whether we wanted it separated, as has happened on some ships.
- Qsine & Olympic Restaurants: see above in highlights.
- Main Dining Room “Metropolitan”: While the taste of the food was very good, we found the food temperatures to be inconsistent—which is not up to Celebrity’s reputation. We advised the hotel manager of this toward the end of our cruise, and hopefully it has been resolved.
- Buffet “Ocean Café & Grill”: The food quality in this buffet setting was very good. We were able to find plenty of healthy choices, and especially enjoyed the salad bar and freshly-made sandwiches. They also generally had a meat carving station, some Asian-focused choices, and some Indian foods. The poolside grill area’s offerings included delicious turkey burgers.
- Solarium Aquaspa Café: Items offered here included organic breads, yogurt parfaits, and more. The quality was outstanding, and its relatively obscured location on the ship made it less crowded than the main buffet for breakfast.
- Blu. This restaurant is limited to Aqua Class guests. We did not travel in Aqua Class, so did not dine in Blu.
Entertainment & Leisure
- The Millennium’s evening production shows were predictable (Broadway, variety singer/dancer), and of excellentquality, and music around the ship was always enjoyable. The onboard comedian didn’t impress us. With the LGBT gathering happening nightly at 7:45 and the general busy-ness of an evening on this ship, we didn’t find ourselves “looking” for the stage shows like we have on some ships. The ship’s crew talent show, on our last sea day, included some very good singers and was enjoyable.
- Gym and spa. We found the gym on this ship comparable with most mid-sized ships these days. The variety of cardio and weight equipment was satisfactory, and was in good shape. Our only complaint was the fitness class music was played too loudly, and benefited relatively few people. We didn’t choose a spa package on this ship, although did take a look at the steam rooms during the Day 1 “tour the ship” time. We smartly realized that the long shore days on the itinerary would not permit much spa time, but would consider a spa or steam bath package on an itinerary with shorter shore days or more sea days. The men-only dry sauna had at least one user every time I popped by (5-6 times during the cruise). I did not use the facility—only checked on it for our readers’ interest. I didn’t perceive that anything sexual was going on, although the moderate privacy level of the facility could have permitted a tiny indiscretion or two. It did appear that a window facing into the bathroom/locker area was probably installed to prevent that very thing.
- Shops. We quite enjoyed watch shopping on this ship, and Denni actually bought. The ship includes a sexy Tag Heuer boutique, and it is supposedly owned by Tag with pricing guaranteed. In more practical shopping, I was frustrated that the basic Celebrity logo wear didn’t come out until our final sea day, as I wanted to replace an old logo sweatshirt—much of the logo stuff for sale pushed the Alaska destination concept. I asked early during the cruise, and was surprised that the clerk told me it would come later in the cruise, but didn’t offer to get it for me earlier.
- Photographers. We found the photography staff on this ship to be particularly enjoyable and engaging, and gay-welcoming. You can read more about our out experiences with them here.
Disclosure: As is customary in the travel writing profession, the cruise was provided by the cruise line for the purposes of reviewing the experience. Opinions remain unbiased, and are those of the author.
Oceania Cruises has done it once again. The new Riviera made her European debut in great style sailing from Monte Carlo on May 6th and ending in Venice on May 15th. This spectacular vessel is nearly a twin sister to the also new Marina which entered service in March of 2011. Oceania has become my favorite cruise line as it offers a supremely high-quality cruise vacation and a country club relaxed dress code!
Riviera is considered an Upper-Premium class ship by its owners and carries only 1,250 passengers at 65,000 tons, making her one of those special mid-sized ships that are so coveted by avid and experienced cruisers. This is a foodies’ cruise with the most extensive menus at sea. The price is mostly all-inclusive and includes the alternative restaurants bottled water, soft drinks, coffee drinks and so much more. All of this is done in such style and panache that honestly it reminded me more of a Crystal or Regent type of cruise! Yes, the quality is that high. There is more dedicated galley space on these medium sized ships than a liner of 125,000 tons. This alone is amazing and shows Oceania’s dedication to the dining venues. You can choose from the Grand Dining Room with extensive, changing daily menus , Red Ginger (Asian), Jacques (French), Toscana (Italian), Polo Grill (Steak House), the Terrace Café, and more. One cost exception onboard is the La Reserve venue with a multi course gourmet meal paired with lovely wines, selected and managed by Wine Spectator magazine. For the more health conscious – Canyon Ranch Spa club offerings are spectacular and a great and tasty choice.
Cabins are gorgeous and average 282 square feet. The bathrooms are improved over Marina with a repositioning of the shower, adjustable shower head, and usable bathtub shower area. The ship boasts more than 300 fundamental improvements over her sister ship, but Marina is still not to be missed. My penthouse measured some 422 square feet and was exceptionally designed. My Indian butler, Rozario, was trained in England and had perfect manners and was quite helpful for a number of requests I had during my 9-days onboard. The butler training onboard these ships is some of the best I have encountered. Décor in the suites rivals that of the highest end luxury ships in the cruise industry.
The Penthouses are some of the largest in the industry and Oceania’s top suites are unheralded in the cruise business at 1500-2500 square feet in size.
The ship offers a marvelous Bon Appetite Culinary Center where I made seafood paella (it is great fun), has an Artists’ Loft where those with art in their hearts can create, and an amazing Canyon Ranch Spa Club at Sea.
We were fortunate to visit Marseille and a trip to Avignon on the TGV which took only 34 minutes from the port. We also enjoyed a two day christening event in Barcelona with Celebrity Chef, Cat Cora, of the Food Network and Iron Chef fame, and then off to amazing Venice. Spring in Venice is the best time to experience this wonderful city. A post cruise two-day stay at world famous Cipriani Hotel was the frosting to a remarkable multi-layer cake vacation.
My hat is tipped once again to Oceania Cruises, Frank Del Rio and his team for making one of the greatest success stories in the cruise industry. Oceania Cruises will be my favorite for a long time to come. If you have sailed on those other premium lines, are tired of being nickel-and-dimed, fighting long lines, crowds, and facing inconsistent cruise experiences (yes this does happen), try Oceania. You too will discover one of the best quality and best kept secrets in travel!
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One of the fastest growing segments in travel is European river cruising. This is quite different from ocean travel and port hopping that the bigger ships offer worldwide. The big difference is these long (360-440 foot long) cigar looking boats ply the European Rivers and carry anywhere from 118-200 passengers depending on the line. As a matter of fact, this exciting form of river travel typically sells out nearly a year in advance due to the limited capacity of these small boat-ships and there just isn’t similar capacity comparing to those larger ocean-going vessels.
I was invited to attend the christening and preview of a different type of river boat-Scenic Cruises new 169-passenger Scenic Crystal. This 443 foot long, 4 deck vessel offers a nearly all-suite, all-inclusive experience.
Scenic Cruises is a division of Australian mega-luxury tour operator, Scenic Tours. This fast-growing highly respected company is equivalent to Tauck Tours in the USA and is wholly owned by 42 year old Aussie entrepreneur, Glen Moroney. He started tours not too long ago by operating bus tours to see Phantom of the Opera in Melbourne and saw the need for an upscale tour company-VOILA!
Moroney decided to build his own boats to his companies own specifications after successfully chartering lesser boats in the mid 2000 era and decided to build his own luxury vessel after a client pulled him aside on a chartered tour and told him that the boat they were on was not up to the Scenic Tours fine standards. Today, Scenic has 6 virtually identical luxury vessels with 82% of all suites having a true private balcony. These vessels carry 169 passengers but have exceptionally large cabins that average 205 square feet. The normal cabin is only 135-160 square feet. Scenic features a very clean and crew friendly experience onboard. The décor is more Scandinavian meets B&B Italia and not overdone by any means. The crew makes the experience very personal and the food quality is very high. Scenic even operates its own fleet of luxury coaches that follow the boats along the river to provide guests with a consistent quality experience along the way during the daily sightseeing tours! While onboard, the experience is virtually all-inclusive with all tips, sightseeing, meals, and most beverages included. NEW FOR 2013, all cabins on all soon to be 7 boats will have butlers with room service and will become truly all-inclusive with alcoholic beverages included too! WOW!
The Scenic Crystal is unique in the fleet with its “Space Ship” appearance and Exclusive “Scenic Sun Lounge” wherein all balcony cabins can become enclosed with a sliding glass partition that can be quickly raised or lowered by the push of a button creating a solarium or open balcony at the guests’ whim or due to a weather change.
Cabins/suites are downright spacious with large slumber beds, a pillow menu, room service, amazing butler service, large bathroom and an amazing shower with its own mood lighting… The greatest feature was the innovative interactive Apple TV complete with complimentary internet and fast internet-I might add. Most other boats and competitors ask guest to go to an internet “corner” to use computers and are not connected like this amazing technological wonder. Internet was FREE everywhere and it worked great! My butler, Andréa, was a dream and brought my personally made pot of coffee with six espresso shots and delicious 2 chocolate croissants daily at 7am and was a welcome wake-up call each day.
The meals onboard were delicious. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style with an option to order entrees from a daily menu. Dinner is served along with the buffet used for extensive salad bar, sushi, and desserts. The preparation was gorgeous. Scenic also offers a River Café in the main lounge that offers a variety of “to-go” items throughout the day and was akin to a luxury Bistro. There are coffee and tea stations, and a complimentary reservation based superb Italian optional dining room called Portobello’s.
Cruising along the European rivers is unique and offers extensive sightseeing options. The days can be quite long if one opts to take all the exciting tour options as I did. My days were full of superbly guided tours to the old cities of Germany and France. This type of cruising is quite special as you have choices for full historical sightseeing, visits to private homes or winery’s, and on every trip Scenic offers at least one evening tour of a spectacular German Castle with a tour, cocktail party, and gala dinner with excellent music or opera provided. All of this is included in your price! The boat offers bicycles for a nice ride if you have free time, and even GPS self-guided tours for those not wanting a guided experience for self-exploration. You can even have a massage or work out in the small but well equipped fitness center onboard!
I loved this experience as it was intimate, offered a unique experience in the heart of Europe, gave a personal and warm travel experience with NO LINES, and was like traveling on a yacht…
My cruise ran from convenient Rudesheim (near Frankfurt) in Germany and ended in Basel, Switzerland. I headed home from Zurich after spending the night at the remarkable Dolder Grand Hotel. Now this is a ultra-luxury and very special hotel set in the foothills about Zurich with the Alps in the near distance!
This cruise is scenic, interesting, historical, and offers a wonderful alternative to ocean going vessels. The prices are a bit higher than normal cruises but remember it is all-inclusive and yacht like. This is no Royal Caribbean or Holland America type of travel experience. It is very special with rates averaging $350pp a day+.
I was fortunate to see some of the other competitors and while there are some good river companies, I suggest you look at Scenic, Tauck Tours, Uniworld, and AMA Waterways only. The others PALE by comparison! If you are going to take this trip, take a river cruise with the BEST!
Happy River Cruising!
Photos: © Tom Baker | CruiseCenter
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In a world of hundreds of cruise choices, bargains, and confusion among cruise line brands, one cruise line stands out above the rest.
Disney Cruise Line has launched a pair of amazing 130,000 ton, 4000 passengers, longer than 4 football fields, and 14 decks high. The twins Disney Dream (launched last year), and Disney Fantasy (launched in 2012), are the grand liners built for the 21st century with a touch of yesteryear!
I was fortunate to spend three days on the new Disney Fantasy during a preview cruise to top producing travel professionals and the jury was easily reflected in the accolades from all passengers I spoke with that this company offers the BEST contemporary or premium cruise experience…period! It’s not just for families with kids and grandkids but is a line suited for anyone looking for a true high quality 5-Star experience.
I would recommend this line to anyone seeking fun and quality.
Disney built these ships at a cost of some $780 million each and apparently sent in its Imagineers to add, enhance, and make the ship a true Disney product with no expense spared and the added costs have not been shared with the public. Once onboard, you’ll experience the fine detail of workmanship, technology, and quality. It does not get any better.
Disney Cruises are significantly more expensive than many other ships and I have heard many qualms from clients about that as to how can they sell their cruises for that compared to other lines. I think the prices they charge are worth every penny. Disney gives that much more.
It’s about the perfect service, fine dining, much larger accommodations than virtually all other cruise lines, sublime entertainment options, and a ship dedicated to superlative decor, design, and add-in Disney’s Magic! I left this preview cruise and gave the ship a perfect 10 out of 10 rating!
I was overwhelmed by the amazing options for kids of all ages, adult only areas and entertainment options, as well as Disney’s Magical entertainment options.
Check out my photo link of interior and exterior photos taken during the cruise:
This is a ship that one could spend a week on and still not be able to complete all the entertainment options. Some of my highlights were as follows:
• Seamless transfers to and from the airport to the port with complete luggage delivery including airline bag check-in;
• Perfect embarkation and splendid pier facilities in Port Canaveral;
• A ship with immaculate decor and interior design;
• Broadway class entertainment that rivals the best of the best;
• The largest standard cabins at sea-an best decorated with a bathroom and a half configuration! Cabins average 268 square feet;
• Incredibly friendly and well-trained international staff that love being working for Disney;
•Spectacular fireworks display and Pirates of the Caribbean outdoor show & deck party;
• First run movies in 3D or Dolby 7.1 sound, live ABC and ESPN feed, and the best large screen TV on deck showing Disney movies and entertainment;
• The Aqua-Duck “water-coaster” that traverses some 765 feet above and around the ship-really great FUN;
• Spectacular dining entertainment each night in the three progressive theme main dining rooms;
• Upscale adults only sun decks, pools, and bar nightclub areas;
•Disney’s Private Island Castaway Cay in the Bahamas offers a perfect beach day for all guests with un-ending options of things to do!
All-in-all, this product works well for everyone. If you are an adult and have tried other lines, come to Disney Cruise line. It will exceed your expectations. If you are a family, come to Disney Cruise lines as the whole family will be royally treated and entertained. It isn’t a ship with screaming or unruly kids. I think Disney maintains dignity and its programs are so superb, they entertain kids of all ages so well, that there is no added time for trouble as experienced on other ships.
I am ready to go back.
HAPPY CRUISING !
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Celebrity Cruises has just launched a marketing campaign called ‘Modern Luxury’ as the tag-line for its fleet of premium class 5-star rated ships.
Is this luxury? I would argue the semantics of this. I think marketing today over promises categorically by many brands but this new campaign might be pushing the envelope. Modern Luxury, according to Celebrity Cruises, is equating the superb décor of many (not all) of its ships and the overall experience to that of driving an Audi. The new ad campaign by this prestigious brand shows old guard luxury and new guard luxury – where it believes it fits.
The fact remains True Luxury exists in today’s cruising World with all-suite, mostly all-inclusive ships that offer travel experiences in the $350-$1000+ per person a day. Luxury ships offer experiences for 200-700 passengers with no lines, no nickel-and-diming, and exclusive travel experiences. Celebrity offers a fantastic cruise experience but most of its 7-day cruises offer lead-in rates for far less than $100pp a day. At this price point this is not luxury but rather mass market…sorry, it’s a fact! I found a 10-day Mediterranean Cruises on Equinox from $869pp and 7-day Caribbean Cruises on Summit from $529pp. This is mass-market pricing and fits most of today’s average traveler’s budget. This is a GREAT VALUE – just not luxury!
Louis Vuitton does not offer fire sale or reduced prices to its clientele. It has a standard and price point that keeps it exclusive-it is luxury. Celebrity ships carry 2000-3000 passengers per ship. How does that equate to Modern Luxury? Celebrity Cruises is FAR from all-inclusive – you pay for everything extra onboard other than most meals, accommodations, and entertainment. How is this Modern Luxury? I’m not beating them over the head but debating an important point of differentiation and perhaps overselling!
The true LUXURY (5-6 star rated) cruise lines in today’s cruise market include: Crystal, Regent, Seabourn, and Silversea (there are some other smaller players but these are the main players).
The true PREMIUM (4-5 star rated) cruise lines in today’s cruise market include:Oceania, Azamara, Cunard, Celebrity, and Holland America
The true MASS-MARKET Contemporary (3-4 star rated) cruise lines in today’s cruise market include: Princess, Royal Caribbean, NCL, MSC, and Carnival
Don’t get me wrong. I love Celebrity ships and think the soon-to-be five Solstice Class ships are BEST IN CLASS – but, in the 5-star premium market. Having exceptional décor and amazing marine architecture doe not make luxury – even Modern Luxury.
Even Oceania Cruises (a line that says unabashedly that it is a high premium class experience) offers smaller ships than Celebrity with a capacity of 700-1200 passengers, offers airfare, pre-hotel stay in Europe, local port transfers, unlimited alternative dining, bottled water, soft drinks, and all coffee drinks and juices included. This line does not call itself Luxury yet, it includes more value.
This is just a point of differentiation between brands.
I don’t want today’s cruise consumer to be completely confused. Celebrity is a GREAT BRAND, has a GREAT REPUTATION, and is a LEADER in the 5-Star premium cruise experience. It’s Solstice Class ships are luxurious in décor and offer a very fine cruise experience but, it is not a luxury travel experience.
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“This ship may just be the crowning jewel of the cruise industry! — Tom Baker
Have you sailed Oceania? Please comment at the bottom of this review!
The Marina has arrived! She was christened by E entertainment host and Godmother Mary Hart in early February, 2011.
I was fortunate to be among early travelers on a 3-day voyage to the Bahamas from Miami on this one-of-a-kind new ship.
It was my first Oceania Cruises voyage and one filled with many pleasant surprises. This 774 foot-long ship carries 1,258 passengers, and caters “upper premium” (not luxury) traveler.
While Marina is quite a bit larger than the smaller trio of 700-passenger ships in the Oceania fleet, she is a lovely addition and will be one of the most coveted ships in the cruise industry–this I promise. Oceania has a very loyal following, they post sold-out signs on cruises worldwide much farther in advance than any other premium line. This speaks for itself…
The company positions itself above Holland America and Celebrity with prices that run about $100 per person a day higher than those major players… It is a cruise ship for well-traveled foodies who enjoy a true country club atmosphere, port-rich itineraries, and a relaxed dress-code onboard.
The reality is that the ship offers many luxury elements that exceed some of the best luxury lines I have been on… What does this mean?
- There are eight dining venues.
- Included in the cruise price are Asian-inspired Red Ginger, Polo Grill (steak house), Toscana (Italian), Terrace Café (lido buffet), and Grande Dining Room. All require reservations except for the Grand Dining Room and Terrace Café.
- There are two fee restaurants: A 6-course meal in La Reserve with pairings from Wine Spectator Magazine at $75pp; and the luxurious, intimate (maximum 10 guest Prive where the fee is $100 per guest for a gourmet feast.
- Most menus are designed by Master Chef and notable food celebrity, Jaques Pepin, with a no-cover-charge restaurant named for him onboard.
- The Grand Dining room has open seating and ever- changing continental cuisine menus including French inspired Jaques’ favorites.
- For the calorie-conscious, there are items from Canyon Ranch Spa Club.
- The ship is drop dead gorgeous and filled with custom designed residential style furnishings, has a $7 million dollar contemporary art collection, and is spacious beyond other ships in her class.
- Her lobby is filled with exquisite Lalique.
- New touches include a culinary arts cooking center sponsored by Bon Appétit Magazine and the Artists Loft where guests can learn to paint among other artful touches.
- There is full scale entertainment
- Canyon Ranch Spa Club at sea… The pool areas are exquisite and rival any land-based resort for elegance and comfort.
- We sailed in a Concierge Class cabin, at 282 square feet with balcony. They are extremely comfortable, spacious, are well designed.
- The all marble/granite bathrooms include separate full-sized tub shower stall–a plus. The shower stall was a bit small, however, and the rain shower head would be difficult to use for anyone over 6 feet tall.
- These lovely rooms have a special amenities including laptop usage in the cabin, upgrade Bvlgari bath products, priority alternative dining reservations, and a dedicated Concierge Lounge with many more touches…
- There are many penthouses and suites onboard and some of the largest ever designed including massive suites designed entirely by noted designer Dakota Jackson and Ralph Lauren Home.
- There are non-concierge outside cabins and some inside cabins as well, with reduced sizes and different bathroom layouts, but still very pleasant.
Staff: The service staff on Oceania hail mostly from the Philippines and Eastern Europe. They are hospitable and have a polite can-do attitude.
I just returned from a 4-day cruise that sailed from Athens, Greece to Genoa, Italy. It was aboard a relatively unknown product for the US cruise marketplace but one that promises to become a household name in years to come… MSC Cruises is now the third largest brand behind Carnival corporation (and its multiple brands) and Royal Caribbean International (and its brands). MSC is owned by MSC container company, the 2nd largest private shipping company in the World based out of Naples, Italy. It is owned by the Aponti family of Geneva and is Europe’s favorite contemporary/premium brand.
MSC sails seasonally from the U.S. Due to it’s unknown status they have had a rough go of it because they have had to offer the lowest price points in our market to attract passengers and has suffered by largely not attracting the right customer on its ships. Lower price points attract a lower caliber of traveler in most cases. This is not a judgment statement but a known fact.
MSC Ships offer a solid 4-Star (contemporary) cruise experience with premium and luxury elements (yes, please read-on). They offer a great European style cruise experience that is fun filled, great entertainment, and an affordable onboard experience. Drinks and other onboard facilities are less expensive than other competitive US based brands. The MSC fleet of ships are among the cleanest in the World. Each ship goes into dry-dock every 2 years to ensure it is not only spotlessly clean but “eco-green”. BTW, no other cruise line goes to this extreme measure.
MSC has one of the newest fleets of ships that I would compare to traveling to Europe and staying in a fine European hotel. The staff all speak English but guests come from a myriad of countries across the board. There is only one public announcement made each day at 4:30pm but is made in 5 languages. This is truly a United Nations travel experience.
I just sailed on the 1.5 year old MSC Splendida christened in July of 2009 by MSC godmother, Sophia Loren. This 135,000 ton mega ship has gorgeous lines and looks like a huge yacht. She is gorgeous inside and out. There are 1636 cabins and suites and she sails year round in the Mediterranean along with her slightly 7 month older sister, the MSC Fantasia. These two ships are gorgeous masterpieces filled with exciting Italian décor, style, and sparkle inside and out. They are superb reflections in modern shipbuilding, design, and Italian style!
MSC Cruises is on a fast track to build new ships and will invest nearly $5 billion dollars in new builds over the next few years but has a very special niche product that I am going to introduce today. It is called the MSC Yacht Club and is found only on the Fantasia and Splendida (twin sister ships and MSC’s biggest ships). It is a special ship-within-a-ship. The Yacht Club consists of 72 suites found on decks 16 and 17 (and 3 panoramic suites on Deck 12) in an enclave that is a card access area for guests in the Yacht Club suites. These are very special accommodations and offer something unique in today’s cruise experience. All of these suites range around 300-600 square feet and give guests intimate butler service (all butlers are trained in Holland and are true professionals). Door-to-door welcome service for meet and greet on the pier and a quick whisk to the guests lovely suite along with luggage-no waiting in lines here-EVER! This key only access enclave for Yacht Club members offer an ALL-INCLUSIVE cruise experience with beverages, alcohol, mini-bar, private restaurant for all meals, private large concierge lounge called the panoramic over the bow view Top Sail Lounge that has its own bar, continuous elegant snack, meal service, daily high tea, and so much more. The Yacht Club entrance is flanked by a large 2 story spiral staircase made of gold colored Swarovski crystals valued at $3000 Euro per step. There is private access to the Aurea Spa with priority spa appointments, free access into the Thermal Suites and Turkish Sauna, and there is The One Pool on Deck 17 that offers Yacht Club an oasis of a gorgeous private pool, Jacuzzi’s, sunning, area, bar with complimentary beverages, and meals-all with incomparable butler service! It was great to have this amazing enclave of elegant services in supreme style and luxury but have the ability to “Go Downtown” to enjoy the ships other venues, entertainment, and activities.
The suites are all decorated in rich jewel tones and have a smart retro Italian design. They are spacious and have a flat screen interactive Samsung TV with Nintendo, walk in closets, Masciano sheets and bathrobes, fine Delorean mattresses and pillow, 24-hour room service, complimentary fully stocked mini-bars, spacious marble bathroom, nice sized balconies and 24-hour butler and concierge service.
THE BEST PART
The butlers may seem a bit much for some guests but this is truly where MSC Yacht Club shines. I encountered the most gracious butler service ever! My assigned butler was Titan, a gracious Indonesian man who was trained at the Butler’s Academy in Holland and has been providing this type of service for 12 years. He was kind, sensitive, and never overbearing. I always looked forward to seeing his smiling face and being escorted around the ship to my reserved showroom seats, or going to the gift shop to pick my up some Excedrin when I had a headache. He also escorted me on and off the ship through any possible lines or delays. I was surprised to see him at the gangway waiting for me to take my parcels of shopping items back to my suite after a shopping spree in Palermo, Italy! MSC provides this service to all Yacht Club members including a private arrival and departure area where you and your luggage are delivered to your suite in tandem – this never happens even on the most luxurious of ships. I am now a fan of this NEW 5-star product and will come back time and time again as it is quite affordable compared to booking a suite on almost any other line. Please note that the Yacht club with butler service is only available on MSC Fantasia, Splendida, and the NEW Divina coming in May 2012.
So, I just gave you a thumb nail sketch about these amazing ALL-INCLUISVE services that are available for a very reasonable price compared to other cruise lines and are only 10-15% higher priced than MSC’s standard suite accommodations. The latter do not have Yacht Club access. This exclusive enclave can be had for 7-days in the Mediterranean from just $3999 per person for a MSC Yacht Club suite including airfare, All-Inclusive beverage program, private transfers to and from the ship, full amazing butler service, all private facilities, dining, lounge, and pool, a day prior hotel departure with hotel stay, and a $100pp onboard credit. No other cruise line can touch this luxury value.
MSC Yacht Club (a solid 5-Star+ Experience) is perfect for any cruiser who is sailing on a contemporary or premium class ship in higher accommodations but looking for something extraordinary. It is great for small ship luxury guests who are taking their multi-generational family members on a cruise who want exclusivity but still can “Go Downtown” to enjoy the ships other activities, incredible entertainment, and other facilities that are more contemporary and offer a (4-Star Experience). I highly recommend this one-of-a-kind cruise experience in the MSC Yacht Club!
Having recently spent two days aboard the new Seabourn Sojourn, it has become apparent to me why this small ship cruise line is the pinnacle of luxury and has the highest standards in today’s competitive cruise industry.
This new ship is some 30,000 tons, 600 feet long and caters to only 450 guests in all-suite accommodations. Seabourn refers to the Sojourn as a yacht but she is a cruise ship albeit a small one. As the unabashed winner of Conde Nast’s annual Readers Choice Awards as the ‘Best’ small ship line, I will agree that this company sets the standards for higher levels of food, service and accommodations. The staffs attitude is to always please the guest, to never say no, and to go the extra step to provide a guests every need. The training that takes place for Seabourn staff must be nothing less than remarkable as they are unfailingly polite, courteous to every request and go that extra mile.
I am sitting in my spacious suite which is nearly 365 square feet, including my balcony, a comfortable living room, two soft plush leather tub chairs and a dining table. The bedroom is separated by sliding silk curtains and there is a full bar with the guests choice of premium alcohol. The smallish flat screen interactive TV has more pre-programmed movies and TV shows than one could possibly watch. Room service is among the best I have ever encountered anywhere. After a late night in the ships Club where the band played with a lively crowd until at least 2 am, I retreated to my suite and ordered a delicious Caesar shrimp Salad and crisp fries – served to absolute perfection!
The touches of quality are everywhere! This ship has abundant marble and granite, fine art and has the look of a plush country club. Simply elegant but not pretentious. My room stewardess Monika was waiting in the hallway to greet us on embarkation day with two glasses of champagne and some salmon hors de oeuvres’. She kindly offered us a choice of elegant bathroom soaps while discussing the benefits of the luxurious suite. The suite had a stunning masculine bathroom adorned in brown marble and grey granite, a large walk-in closet and plenty of storage space for a significant wardrobe. Monika is perfectly adorable. On our final night she left us a sweet note on the bed with a red rose. The entire staff was just delightful!
I am going to add that Seabourn has dropped its enforced dress code to far fewer formal nights and has even adopted a primarily elegantly casual dress code. I think this is wonderful and falls in line with the needs of today’s traveler. The food onboard has been nothing short of marvelous. The meals are as close to gourmet as one could find onboard a ship and service unfailingly professional and superb. It truly does not get better than this. For around $400 a day per person- you too can have an all-inclusive (truly) luxury experience in a suite. I doubt seriously that anyone could match this value on a large mass market cruise ship where you pay for all the extras including tips, alcohol and many other services that Seabourn includes.
If you have sailed on Seabourn, I would love to hear your thoughts.
NCL is reinventing the Freestyle concept to a whole new level and taking it a notch more upscale too when its newest ship, Norwegian Epic is launched next month. She is going to be one-of-a-kind. Most new ships are simply sister ships (copies) of existing vessels. While interiors are slightly different, one sees most of the same.
Norwegian Epic will be different. Highlights:
- First of their kind “studio” staterooms will help alleviate single supplement.
- boxy-looking ship profile with luxury villa suites set on top of the ship overlooking the bow.
- The option of 20 dining venues (many with a surcharge)
- 20 bars & lounges, (even an ice-bar where one wears a Russian fur, goes into a sub-zero room and enjoys a vodka drink of choice in an iced cup)
The Gay Cruise Innovator
NCL has been and is the cruise industry innovator of firsts, including many things that especially appeal to gay passengers. NCL has welcomed and respected its Gay community travelers for many years long before its main competitors Royal Caribbean and Carnival.
- Innovator of the now-expected “Friends of Dorothy” get-togethers for GLBT travelers!
- Introduced the largest ship in the World in 1980,
- First company to produce full Broadway musicals at sea
- Created Freestyle Cruising and dining (now copied by almost all lines)
- NCL has dedicated 2 full-pages to the GLBT community in its Welcome Aboard “Freestyle” books found in each stateroom throughout the fleet.
- Invited gay icon, Rosie O’Donnell, to be godmother of the magnificent Norwegian Pearl in 2005. You may remember, Rosie chartered many NCL ships under her R’ Family Vacations venture with her former-partner.
The Impressive Facts
- 153,000 tons
- 1,080 feet long
- 153 feet wide
- Carries 4,228 passengers
- Crew of 1690!
The decor of all staterooms is more attractive and palatable than the last fleet of NCL ships; Epic is definitely going upscale.
First of its kind “studio” stateroom: The Epic has a first of its kind single stateroom called the “studio”. This 99 square foot cabin is sold to single travelers and has a private lounge for single travelers to enjoy each others company. The design is unique with mood lighting, an innovative porthole into the corridor for more light, pull-down shades for privacy, and even padded walls. It looks quite space ship like and will be a first for single travelers to be able to avoid paying a high single rate…Go NCL!
Standard cabins are primarily balcony rooms called “New Wave Staterooms”. Each room has a curved figure in the design. The look is impressive with taller than usual ceilings. The bathroom is broken into two distinct areas with frosted glass walls for privacy. One side holds the toilet, the other the shower stall. The flooring around and between is wood; the sink is in the cabin itself. This innovative design creates 20% more living space.
Suites and penthouses are mostly housed in a private key access area called the Courtyard Villa. This enclave of suites has its own gym, restaurant, nightclub, shop, concierge, and gorgeous pool for those willing to pay for it. It is a ship-within-a-ship and one of the hottest most sought after type of accommodations in the entire cruise industry. I have stayed in this Courtyard Villa area on other NCL ships but on Epic the space goes to a whole new level.
Freestyle 21st Century. The most innovative cruise line has also updated Freestyle to more choices of options to do or not do. 20 dining options and many with a surcharge keep the venues capacity controlled and actually create a restaurant like atmosphere. The Freestyle “free” (included) dining choices will be many too so guests who do not want to pay extra won’t need to t worry.
Entertainment options will be unbelievable with the Blue Man Group, Las Vegas Legends In Concert, Second City Comedy Troupe, and a new Cirque Dreams dinner theatre with offers a dinner show with circus performances and lasts 110 minutes-this NEW venue comes with a $20 per person fee attached.
This unique ship will spend her first season sailing roundtrip out of Miami on 7-day junkets to the Eastern and Western Caribbean. In the Spring of 2011, The Epic moves to Europe’s Gayest Mediterranean city, Barcelona, for a long season of 7-day Mediterranean Cruises.
Who will want to cruise on this ship? Anyone looking for innovation, excitement, and options. It is really going to be more like a Las Vegas resort floating at sea than a conventional cruise ship due to the options for dining and entertainment. I will be spending a week on her on September 4th and am excited to give a full first-hand report.
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