Tag Archives: Celebrity

Cruises Offer More Dining Options

main_dining_hero

Celebrity Cruises just announced the introduction of Celebrity Select Dining. This new option allows passengers to dine in the ship’s main restaurant, but not have a preassigned dining time, as is the traditional dinner schedule. Instead, guests can select to dine at any time between 6:00 and 9:30 pm., and even make reservations online up to 4 days before the cruise.

The program is being rolled out sequentially to all Celebrity ships (except for Celebrity Xpedition), starting with the Equinox on the September 26th sailing. It will be completed by February. Reservations will be on a first come, first served basis, and for passengers who elect to participate, gratuities will be automatically charged to the on board account.

It used to be that cruise lines offered 2 set times to dine in the main restaurants. You chose between early and late dining, and were stuck with that choice for the duration of the cruise. If you wanted to have dinner at a different time, you had to go to one of the alternate restaurants. In the last few years, however, starting with Norwegian Cruise Lines, the option to have dinner in the main restaurant (or one of them, at least), has been introduced by several lines. The following is a summary of the offerings:

  • Norwegian Cruise Lines: They were the pioneers of the flexible options with their Freestyle Dining. You’ve surely seen the commercials; do whatever you want, whenever you want. Norwegian has done away with the set dining times altogether, and bases dining service on offering different menus in different restaurants. Their newer ships, like the Jewel and the Gem, have even been designed with the Freestyle philosophy in mind. NCL ships offer smaller restaurants, with up to 13 different restaurants on board.
  • Carnival: The Fun Ships don’t currently offer a flexible option. It’s either early, late, or one of the other restaurants.
  • Royal Caribbean: Their “My Time” dining allows passengers to have dinner at any time in the main restaurants. It’s very similar to Celebrity’s Select Dining, which is likely based on My Time. In addition, Royal Caribbean offers “Family My Time” dining. This program is targeted to families with younger children. Appetizers are served immediately, and the children’s dinner is finished in 40 minutes.  They are then taken to evening activities with Adventure Ocean counselors, while the adults continue the meal at a more leisurely pace.
  • Princess Cruises: Their anytime dining allows passengers to dine at the main restaurant between 5:30 and 10:00 pm. Some ships have dedicated Anytime Dining restaurants, separate from the traditional dining restaurants, but providing the same menu and service.
  • Holland America: Provides an open schedule in its main dining room, as part of their As You Wish Dining program.
  • Cunard: Guests can dine any time between 7 and 9 pm, but some restaurants offer either early or late dining only.

Any way you look at it, dining is one of the prime attractions of a cruise, and a very important part of the cruising experience for most passengers. If you’ve been on a cruise, you understand why. If you have not, I invite you to experience it. Just contact us and we’ll plan the perfect cruise for you.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

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Repositioning Cruises

If you’re looking for very good deals for a cruise, you’ll often be told to look for a repositioning cruise. So, what is a repositioning cruise? As the cruising seasons change, cruise lines need to relocate (or reposition) their ships where demand is stronger and where they can command better prices. Other factors that play into moving ships around like this are weather patterns (like the Atlantic/Caribbean hurricane season) and the need to provide repeat cruisers with new itineraries in different regions or ports.

The two most common types of repositioning cruises are:

  1. Transatlantic cruises: Ships leave the Caribbean for Europe in the Spring and return from the Old World in the Fall. This also coincides with the hurricane season for the Caribbean routes, and this is when cruise lines keep the fewest ships in the area (most likely for financial reasons than climatic ones, though).
  2. Transcanal cruises: Cruise lines often advertise Panama Canal cruises of around 10 days leaving and coming back to Florida. In reality, these sailings enter the canal, reach Gatun Lake, turn around, and come back to Florida. However, as the Alaska sailing season begins in May, and again when it ends in September and October, ships make a full transit of the canal as they move from one coast to the other.

Other repositioning cruises are made when ships come back from South America to the Caribbean, from Alaska or the West Coast to Asia or Australia, etc.

So, how good are the deals for these cruises? Sometimes they’re really good. Back in April, I have clients who traveled on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas from Fort Lauderdale to the UK, and paid $700 per person for a 13-day cruise, and sailed on Balcony cabins! Granted, this was an extremely good deal, but not really unheard of. This one for Celebrity Century’s trip back in November comes close.

The main drawback of repositioning cruises is usually the airfare. By definition, you need to purchase one-way tickets, which especially for international flights, tend to be expensive. However, I just came across one offer from Royal Caribbean that solves this problem. They are moving the Enchantment of the Seas from Fort Lauderdale and Colon, Panama. They have also chartered flights to return passengers back to Miami. This allows them to offer much better prices and lock the air fares as well:

RCCL Enchantment Repositioning

As you can see in the flier above, prices for this 8 day sailing start at $749 per person, including the flight back! This is less than $100 per person per night, for a cruise that goes all the way South to Cartagena, and includes the flight back to Miami. It’s really pricing that you don’t see very often. Of course, the also offer cruise only pricing for those who want to stay in Panama longer, or who want to fly back directly.

If you would like to know more about repositioning cruises, or want to look into booking this sailing of the Enchantment, please let me know.
Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Deployment News

This past couple of weeks, there have been several newsworthy press releases from several cruise lines, announcing very interesting developments on their 2010-1011 ship deployments:

  • Royal Caribbean will base it’s Freedom Class Independence of the Seas year-round in the U.K. in 2010. Cruise lines have typically limited their European season to the months between April and November. Independence joins Brilliance of the Seas as the only Royal Caribbean ships based in Europe all year. Independence’s Winter season will visit the Italian Rivera, the Sorrento and Naples areas,  and the Balearic islands. Sailings for the 2010 Winter season go on sale this June.
  • Also from Royal Caribbean, year-round Caribbean sailings on 5 ships from 4 ports. Serenade of the Seas expands season sailings from San Juan to the whole year. Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas, Independence’s older sisters, will continue to alternate Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries from Port Canaveral (close to Orlando) and Miami respectively. Finally, the new Oasis of the Seas, and its sister, Allure of the Seas, will sail from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. These two will be the biggest cruise lines in the world and will offer an incredible host of amenities.
  • Princess Cruises has revamped and simplified its Alaska itineraries. Princess is recognized as one of the best cruise lines for Alaska. They will now offer 4 different itineraries aboard 7 ships. They will include more sailings through Glacier Bay National Park, and will include sailings on the smaller Royal Princess, whose size allows to visit some smaller ports.
  • Carnival Cruise Lines is basing it’s newly refurnished Carnival Fantasy in Mobile for 7 night Western Caribbean sailings. The new cruises visit Montego Bay, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. The seven-day voyages complement the line’s four- and five-day schedule from Mobile on the Holiday. Carnival Fantasy underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation last year that included the addition of the Carnival WaterWorks aqua park, new Serenity adults-only retreat and redesigned tropical-themed main pool area.
  • Celebrity Cruises is basing its newly refurbished Century, one of their most popular ships, in the Caribbean year-round. Century will alternate 5 and 4 day sailings, which give new cruises an ideal way to experience what cruising, and especially Celebrity cruising, is all about.
  • Azamara Cruises is deploying the Azamara Journey next Winter season with cruises from Miami and San Diego, as well as 2 full Panama Canal transits between these 2 ports. From Miami, Journey will visit ports such as St. John, St. Croix, Saint Martin, St. Kitts, Guadeloupe, St. Barts, Virgin Gorda, St. Lucia andDominica. The San Diego cruises will focus on ports in the Sea of Cortez, such as Mazatlán, Topolobampo, Loreto, Guaymas and La Paz. Panama Canal sailings will add Cartagena, Colombia; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua; and Huatulco, Acapulco, and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to the itinerary

These new offerings give options to every type of traveler, from the relax of a Caribbean cruise to the exploring opportunities on a European voyage. And this year, prices can’t be better. If you’d like to explore the opportunities available, please contact me and we’ll work together on planning the perfect cruise.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Royal Caribbean Profits Down 98%

Royal Caribbean reported this week that 4th quarter earnings were down 98% compared to the previous year.  It’s not a surprise that earnings would be lower. With the economy as it is, many companies are seeing sales go down. People have declared that 2009 will be the Year of the Deal, where travel is concerned. Cruise cabins, just as hotel rooms and airline seats, are time sensitive products. Once the ship has sailed, well, the ship has sailed. Conventional wisdom is that some revenue is better than none, and so prices go down to at least put some people in those rooms and cabins.

In the case of cruises, sailing full is even more relevant because cruise passengers add to the line’s income by spending money onboard.  In fact, USA Today states that Royal Caribbean gets 25% of their revenue from on board spending. All the more reason to discount the price of the cabin to get people to spend on board!

Royal Caribbean has acknowledged the need to lower prices, as have most other cruise lines. However, CEO Richard Fain has said that he’d rather have empty cabins and not sacrifice prices to levels that would be artificially low. Through the last couple of years, Royal Caribbean has been able to keep prices up compared to competing lines like Carnival and Princess, mainly because of the high demand the Freedom class ships get.  Even so, I have clients sailing on the new Independence of the Seas in April for less than $700 per person, for 13 days, including all taxes (and there are even lower prices available!).

In addition, Royal Caribbean is offering reduced deposits until February 28th. Celebrity Cruises, also owned by Royal Caribbean, has a similar promotion, but they are offering up to $300 on-board credit with many sailings as well.  You can read my review of their newest ship, Solstice, and see the details below and contact us for more information or to book your cruise:

Amazing Ships, Amazing Perks

Feel free to contact us for details on these promotions, or to plan your next vacation.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171


A New Solstice

A few weeks ago, we had the fortune to sail on Celebrity’s brand new ship, Solstice.  We were invited by the cruise line to a 2-night pre-inaugural cruise, where they showcased the ship to travel agents and some top customers.  This was a very exciting event because this is Celebrity’s first new ship since the Constellation was launched in 2002.  It is also now the largest ship in Celebrity’s fleet, and is the first in a class of at least 3 more ships, starting with the Equinox, to debut later this year.

Some of the ship’s main points are:

  • It carries more than 2850 passengers
  • It has 1425 staterooms. 85% of them have balconies, and 90% have ocean views
  • It is over 1000 ft. long and 121 ft. wide
  • It cruises at 24 knots

Here are my impressions of the ship…

Solstice

The ship is very nicely decorated; the different common areas seem to blend with each other, and it just looks like a very elegant hotel. Everything was in working order, and as you’d expect on a new ship, very clean and well cared for. These pictures of the main atrium and the ship’s solarium will give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

Main Atrium

Main Atrium

Solarium

Solarium

The ship was fairly easy to navigate, with most restaurants and bars on decks 4 and 5, and the rest on the Lido deck by the pool. There were several spaces where you could just take a book and “hide”, both indoors and out.

Staterooms

We boarded the ship around noon and headed straight to our stateroom, which was ready for us. We stayed in stateroom 9106, a Balcony stateroom on the Panorama deck, forward. We also toured different types of staterooms, from Inside cabins, all the way to the largest and most expensive suites.

The cabins on Solstice have been designed with passenger comfort in mind. Of course, they use the latest technology, like flat screen TVs and WiFi (WiFi is actually available throughout the ship, and has an additional fee).  Storage space was sufficient, and it included space under the beds. As usual in cruise ships, beds can be configured as 2 twins or 1 queen.

Balcony Stateroom

Perhaps the biggest improvement was in the bathroom. It was larger than in most cruise ships and more ergonomically designed. The shower was rounded, with sliding doors.

One very cool thing Celebrity did when designing the staterooms is to invite 5 women to participate in the design process. The women were an experienced cruiser, a hotelier, a travel agent, a travel writer, and a potential cruiser. Their insights resulted in redesigned layouts for better ocean views, improvements to storage, softer colors, and a more efficient use of space overall.

The ship has the typical range of accommodations, from Inside and Oceanview cabins to Balcony staterooms and Suites. It also has 2 categories unique to Celebrity:

  • Concierge Class cabins are Balcony Staterooms that offer additional amenities, such as early embarkation and debarkation, priority for shore excursions, express luggage delivery, dining and seating preference, and a host of in-cabin goodies.
  • Aqua Class cabins, new on the Solstice, adds to the Concierge Class by offering a more relaxed atmosphere through unlimited access to the ship’s AquaSpa relaxation room and Persian Garden, programming and wellness classes, and exclusive access to Blu Restaurant.

Dining

Without a doubt, one of the more anticipated aspects of any cruise, is dining. Food aboard Solstice was certainly plentiful. We had breakfast and lunch at the Oceanview Cafe on the Lido deck. Breakfast had your usual assortment of cold cuts and cheeses, plus several other selections, and an egg station. Lunch was also varied, with stations for pizza and pasta, sandwiches, and a very popular (and very good) Asian grill, in addition to salads and other hot food options.  The quality of the food was OK to good. Nothing terrible, but nothing to write home about either. The low point, as I’ve found to be true of most buffets, was dessert. One other negative point is that food was not always labeled, so you had to keep asking if a dish was chicken or pork, or what kind of fish was used.

We had dinner at the main restaurant, the Grand Epperny, which spans 2 decks. Food here was actually very good to excellent. I had fish both nights, and they were very well prepared and presented. The salads and soups I had were also very good. Even the creme brulee was excellent!

Grand Eperny Restaurant

Grand Epperny Restaurant

We also tried the gelato at Cafe al Bacio, which was very good, and the crepes at Bistro On Five. The crepes were good, but our Nutella crepe came with chocolate instead of Nutella (I think that was a misunderstanding with the waiter, though).

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try the specialty restaurants, of which Solstice has 4.

Service

As you get to know me through this blog, you’ll realize that I’m a very tough customer when it comes to service. I know things don’t always go as expected, but well trained service providers should be ready to anticipate and respond to those situations.  That is certainly how I run my agency.

In any case, service on Solstice was very good. We didn’t have any problems, and service was unobtrusive and efficient. This includes the stateroom attendants, restaurants, pool area, bars, etc.

I did hear a report of room service taking up to 2 hours, but I couldn’t verify it, and I find that hard to believe. In any case, if that were true, I can’t believe Celebrity would ignore the problem.

Pool Area

Always one of the busiest areas on a ship, this is no exception on Solstice. There are loungers all around the Lido and part of the Lawn Club Deck, as well as in the Solstice Deck, the highest deck. The Solstice deck was actually one of my favorite places. It has a very relaxed atmosphere, perfect for taking in the sun and reading on one of the extra large loungers.

Pool Area

Pool Area

Pool Area

Pool Area

Other Common Areas

The ship has plenty of spaces to pass the time, day and night. I won’t describe them all here, but will tell you the more popular ones were the Martini Club, the Entertainment Court, with access to Quasar and Celebrity Central, and where an a capella quartet performed nightly, and the shopping arcade.

Martini Club

Martini Club

Entertainment

We saw 2 of the nightly shows that will be performed on Solstice’s 7-night sailings. Solstice is a Cirque du Soleil style show which was very impressive for something being performed on a moving ship. The downside was that sometimes it felt too long or too slow.

The other show we saw was Ghostlight, a review of Broadway songs. This one was very good, very lively, and well executed.

There were other venues with comedians, bands, etc., but I can’t comment on those.

The other big entertainment outlet is the casino. It is big, as you’d expect, and has a variety of slot machines, plus the usual blackjack and poker tables, roulette, and craps.

Other Innovations

Celebrity waited 6 years to introduce a new ship, so you’d expect a few new things.  Granted, this is not a ship that will have a surfing pool or bowling lanes. The more visible innovations are:

  • The Lawn Club, an area on the top deck with real grass. The area is supposed to be used for putting, croquet, and just strolling. Most of the time we were aboard, the lawn “was resting”, so you couldn’t walk on it.

    The Lawn Club

    The Lawn Club

  • The Glass Show, right next to the Lawn Club, features a glass blowing show presented by the Corning Museum of Glass. The show was very interesting and well presented. Pieces from the show are exhibited, but not sold, on board, and are auctioned for charity.

    The Glass Show by the Corning Glass Museum

    The Glass Show by the Corning Glass Museum

The other improvements have to do more with efficiency and “greening” the cruise ship. A synthetic paint is used to reduce drag and fuel consumption; LED lighting has been implemented; and solar panels have been installed to generate electricity. They don’t supply power to all the ship, but every little thing helps.

Summary

I can’t cover all aspects of the ship in this review. There are parts of the ship I barely had time to see, like the spa and the gym. Others may not be representative of what you’d see on a regular 7-day cruise. Still others may continue to improve as the crew gets used to the ship and fine tunes the service, quality of food, etc.

However, all in all, I think the experience was very positive. I’ve never had a complaint from a Celebrity passenger, and I think most will be happy with Solstice. As with Celebrity in general, this ship is not best suited to people who want to party 24×7, and there are lines that are more oriented towards children’s needs.

I do recommend Celebrity, and Solstice in particular, to couples who enjoy a more sophisticated atmosphere, to cruisers who enjoy Celebrity’s other ships and want to try something a little bigger, and to multi-generational families, who will find something for everyone aboard her.

The Solstice is currently sailing from Fort Lauderdale to the Eastern Caribbean, and will move to the Mediterranean in April, from where she’ll sail 10 to 12 night itineraries. Space is also still available on the repositioning Transatlantic cruises (in April and November).

If you’ve already sailed aboard Solstice, or are planning to, I’d love to hear your impressions or expectations, so please enter your comments below.

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171