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Adventure Travel Cities Island

10 Bucket List Cruises for 2020

When it comes to cruises, travelers have a dizzying array of options, from small expedition ships visiting remote islands to big vessels with all the trimmings. Whichever type of ship fits your travel style, there’s a bucket-list cruise out there for you. The list below offers the best cruises for 2020, spanning itineraries around the globe at a variety of price points.

Note that all listed cruises had available cabins at the time of publication, but sailings may sell out at any time. Book early to avoid disappointment.

Go Island Hopping in Indonesia

Satonda Island in Sumbawa, Indonesia

Pink sand beaches, Komodo dragons, and hidden waterfalls you can swim in are just a few of the unforgettable sights you’ll see on an eight-night Indonesian island cruise with Intrepid Travel. You’ll board a 48-passenger motor-yacht in Bali, then set off for some of the archipelago’s less-traveled gems—including Satonda Island, where you’ll swim in a volcanic crater lake; and Banta Island, where deserted beaches are the norm. You’ll also learn about traditional weaving techniques and have lunch in local villages. This trip departs on select dates between May and September.

Discover the Peruvian Amazon

View of a small village in the Amazon rain forest on the shore of the Yanayacu River in Peru

Home to rare and endangered wildlife, the Amazon is the ultimate destination for nature lovers. Explore the Peruvian part of the rainforest with this new 10-night Uniworld itinerary featuring kayaking excursions, jungle walks, tours of remote villages, and nights gazing up at the stars. During your trip you’ll see animals such as monkeys, sloths, exotic birds, and maybe even the elusive pink dolphin. The all-suite Aria Amazon has just 16 cabins, each with floor-to-ceiling glass windows to let you watch the jungle slipping by right from your bed. This bucket-list cruise departs on select dates in September, October, and November.

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Find Paradise in the South Pacific

Young couple snorkeling over reef next to resort on a tropical island with over-water villas

Tahiti. Bora Bora. Moorea. Stop daydreaming about these idyllic islands and knock them off your bucket list with a Paul Gauguin cruise in 2020. The one-ship luxury line offers a variety of South Pacific itineraries, but there’s a reason its seven-night Tahiti and the Society Islands cruise is a classic: It includes stops in Moorea, Huahine, and Taha’a, and caps things off with an overnight stay in Bora Bora, giving you plenty of time to snorkel in the lagoon, swim with reef sharks, take an outrigger canoe ride, or simply relax on stunning Matira Beach. The ship holds just 332 passengers and has three dining venues, a spa, and a watersports marina. This itinerary sails on select dates throughout 2020.

Experience the Caribbean’s Quieter Side

People take bath in Emerald Pool near waterfall Central Forest Reserve. Dominica island, Lesser Antilles

Some of the busiest ports in the Caribbean see millions of visitors each year. If that sounds a little busy for you, consider a cruise to the Southern Caribbean, which tends to be less visited than the busier Eastern and Western regions. Princess offers a variety of Southern Caribbean itineraries, ranging from seven nights to nearly three weeks. Ports to look out for include Dominica, with its lush waterfall hikes; Antigua, which has a beach for every day of the year; and stylish Martinique, known for cultural history and a touch of French flair. Cruises depart on select winter, spring, and fall dates.

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Take an Epic Journey from England to South Africa

Aerial view of Praia city in Santiago - Capital of Cape Verde Islands

If a one- or two-week vacation just isn’t long enough, treat yourself to this 28-night Fred.Olsen cruise from Southampton, England to Cape Town, South Africa. In the beginning of the trip you’ll call at various Atlantic islands including Madeira, Tenerife, and the archipelago of Cape Verde. You’ll then have numerous days to relax at sea aboard the 881-passenger Boudicca as you approach the African mainland, where you’ll stop in two different port towns on the coast of Namibia. Excursion options there include bird watching, sandboarding down dunes, and colonial architecture tours. You’ll finish with an overnight in Cape Town. This cruise departs on November 5.

Discover the Mekong River

Angkor Wat is a temple complex in Cambodia

Colorful floating markets, quiet fishing villages, and the magnificent ruins of Angkor Wat await on a Mekong River cruise with G Adventures. Between the trip’s beginning in Ho Chi Minh City and its final stop in Siem Reap, you’ll visit temples and palaces, taste fresh fruit and honey, learn about Cambodia’s difficult history, and meet welcoming locals. This nine-night cruise has departures throughout the year. (It’s also available in reverse.)

[st_related]Exploring Southeast Asia Off the Beaten Path on a River Cruise[/st_related]

Savor Food and Wine in the Pacific Northwest

Columbia River at Astoria, Oregon

Taste your way through Oregon and Washington on a seven-night culinary journey along the Columbia River with Uncruise. An onboard sommelier assists with wine pairings on the 86-passenger Legacy, which stops in ports such as Astoria and Walla Walla. Activities include everything from culinary demonstrations and wine tastings to art museum visits and boutique shopping. This trip departs throughout fall 2020.

Get in Shape on a Fitness-Themed Cruise

WOD on the Waves fitness bootcamp

If getting more exercise is one of your 2020 resolutions, pack your sneakers and head to the Bahamas with WOD on the Waves. This four-night fitness cruise aboard Celebrity’s 2,170-passenger Infinity ship is jam-packed with workouts ranging from boot camp to yoga, as well as seminars on fitness and nutrition. You don’t need to be a hardcore athlete to join the cruise, as there are options for all fitness levels. The cruise sails round-trip from Miami on April 16 and includes stops in Nassau and Cococay, a private island in the Bahamas.

[st_related]Bahamas Update: Can You Visit After Hurricane Dorian?[/st_related]

Sample the Best of Northern Europe

People are walking on Viru street at Viru gates in Tallinn, Estonia

From colorful historic capitals to the deep, pristine waters of Norway’s fjords, there’s more to see in Northern Europe than you could ever manage on a single trip—which is why a cruise can offer such an appealing sampler. Italian cruise line MSC offers a variety of Northern Europe itineraries; enticing options include a 14-night round trip from Copenhagen with stops in Finland, Russia, Estonia, Norway, and Germany; and a seven-night voyage from Warnemunde, Germany, stopping in Sweden, Estonia, Russia, and Denmark. Trips run throughout the warmer months.

Take an Adults-Only Voyage on a Brand-New Ship

exterior of scarlet lady the new virgin voyages cruise ship

The latest venture from business mogul Richard Branson is a new adults-only cruise line called Virgin Voyages; its first ship, the 2,750-passenger Scarlet Lady, will make its maiden voyage in April 2020. The ship will spend its first year cruising the Caribbean, mostly on four- and five-night sailings calling at ports such as Cozumel, Key West, Costa Maya, and Playa del Carmen. With short itineraries, a sleek ambiance, and plenty of onboard nightlife, Virgin Voyages will likely draw a younger crowd than most traditional cruise lines. Learn more about Virgin Voyages.

What to Pack

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

For more ideas, see The Top Travel Destinations for 2020.

More from SmarterTravel:

Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Categories
Booking Strategy

The Best Cruise Ships for Every Taste and Budget

Looking for the perfect cruise ship? There’s a source of solid advice for that: the 2108 Cruisers’ Choice Awards, from Cruise Critic.

[st_content_ad]Based on reviews posted to the Cruise Critic site during the past year, the awards recognize the best ships in multiple categories: best cabins, best for dining, best for entertainment, best for fitness, best for value, best for families, and so on.

Whatever your idea of the perfect cruise ship entails, Cruise Critic has you covered.

[st_related]Save 10% with Wyndham’s New Members-Only Rate[/st_related]

Here are some examples of the best large ships in several categories. If large ships aren’t to your taste, there are also ratings of mid-sized, small-mid, and small ships for each category, making it easy to home in on ships that meet your criteria.

Top 5 Large Ships Overall

  1. Celebrity Equinox
  2. Harmony of the Seas
  3. Celebrity Reflection
  4. Celebrity Silhouette
  5. Allure of the Seas

Top 5 Large Ships for Value

  1. Celebrity Silhouette
  2. Celebrity Equinox
  3. Harmony of the Seas
  4. Celebrity Reflection
  5. Allure of the Seas

Best Large Ships for Entertainment

  1. Allure of the Seas
  2. Harmony of the Seas
  3. Disney Dream
  4. Oasis of the Seas
  5. Freedom of the Seas

Best Large Ships for Dining

  1. Celebrity Equinox
  2. Celebrity Silhouette
  3. Celebrity Reflection
  4. Allure of the Seas
  5. Oasis of the Seas

As an admitted non-cruiser, I find these recommendations very helpful; without them, I’d be clueless. If I were in the market for a cruise on a large ship, my clear choice, as someone who cares most about dining and value, would be either the Celebrity Silhouette or the Celebrity Equinox. Both are top-rated in the relevant categories, as well as in the Best Overall category.

Reader Reality Check

What are you looking for in a cruise ship? Comment below.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Booking Strategy Budget Travel Frequent Flyer Travel Trends

Recap: The Week’s Biggest Travel Stories and Best Deals

Following is our regular summary of the latest travel news and best frequent traveler promotions reviewed during the past week.

If it was a good deal—or a notably bad deal—from an airline, hotel, or car rental loyalty program, you can read all about it here, and plan your travel accordingly.

How to Fly for (Almost) Free Using Credit Card Points

Free flights just for using your credit card? Yes, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Here’s how to do it.

Uber Changes Course, Adds Tipping Option to App

Uber this week did the unthinkable: The world’s dominant rideshare company reversed its long-held no-tipping policy. Great for drivers; less so for riders.

Amex Adds New Perk to $550 Platinum Rewards Card

American Express has added a new perk to its Platinum travel rewards card: a discount on premium-class international tickets.

From Delta: “Even More Ways to Use Miles”

The latest mileage-redemption options from Delta confirm the airline’s plan to peg the value of its loyalty currency at a paltry 1 cent per mile.

Marriott Imposes New Customer-Unfriendly Cancellation Policy

Marriott’s new cancellation policy shows that the company isn’t afraid to use its market power to put its own interests ahead of its customers’.

U.S. Carriers Fare Badly in Latest Global Airline Survey

In the latest Skytrax survey of the world’s best airlines, the highest-rated U.S. airline only managed to rank 32nd among the top 100.

Ritz-Carlton Reveals Plans to Upgrade the Cruising Experience

Imagine a floating Ritz-Carlton resort. That’s the idea behind the luxe hotel company’s new cruise line, set to launch in 2019.

The End of Virgin America’s Elevate Program – What You Need to Know

On January 1, 2018, Virgin America’s Elevate program will be discontinued, with points transferred to Alaska. Here’s what happens between now and then.

Win a 4-Day Trip to Jamaica for 2 (Don’t Forget the Sunscreen)

Enter to win a four-day trip to Jamaica for two, including air, three nights at Jewel Dunn’s River Resort & Spa in Mammee Bay, meals, and VIP lounge access.

Somebody has to win this trip, right? Might as well be you.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

Categories
Island

Caribbean Ports — St. Bart’s, Antigua, Tortola

Author: Dr. E. P.
Date of Trip: January 2001

The other reason (after the food) that we enjoy cruising are the ports of call. Our cruise left from San Juan and was scheduled to call at Virgin Gorda, then Antigua, then Tortola, then return to San Juan.

ST. BART’S:
Because of the ocean surge at Virgin Gorda, the tenders were considered unsafe and our first port of call was cancelled. After some communication with the Silversea head office, our master decided to spend the first day motoring to St. Bart’s instead, where the anchorage is more protected. Essentially we had an unscheduled day at sea, anchoring at St. Bart’s in the late afternoon, with shore tenders available from 4-11pm.

Having never previously called at St. Bart’s, which is reputed to be one of the most wealthy and stylish islands in the Caribbean, we were interested in seeing as much as we could in the two hours of daylight we had left. Fortunately we reported to the tender gangway early, because our late arrival in port meant that everyone was eager to disembark and the wait was a bit longer than usual.

Meeting the tenders onshore in Gustavia were taxi (mini-van) drivers willing to provide a one hour island tour for US$12 per person (for a minimum of six people or $72). There were about 60 passengers on our tender, and not a single one was interested in seeing the island. They all headed directly to the main shopping street, which is lined with enough designer boutiques to satisfy any affluent Parisian. It was like watching a zombie movie, but the zombies were lusting after designer fashions instead of human flesh. It seemed an apt commentary on our consumer society, where even those who have everything seem to spend their vacations searching for more.

In any case, since daylight was limited we did not wait for the next tender to provide more possible tour participants. Instead we walked along the waterfront clockwise past the small Anglican church and then over a small rise to nearby Shell Beach (Plage de Grands Galets). The route is marked or one can ask a local person. It is a pleasant ten minute walk from the tender port.

What added to the pleasure of the walk was a line of the largest and most elegant sailboats we have ever encountered. Apparently a regatta was scheduled to start in a few days, and luxury sailboats ranging from about 40 to 60 meters in length were lined up at the dock. One could smell the affluence, even though the crew members we spoke with (perhaps an occasional owner hidden among them) were quite personable. Each boat had a minimum crew of ten, and what we saw of the rigging and the interiors was breathtaking.

Shell Beach is quite pleasant, with rough rather than fine sand (as the name implies). The near end has a beach bar and restaurant that is convenient for those spending several hours at the beach, but we preferred to wade around the rocks to the far end of the beach for more privacy. We had a wonderful sunset swim and saw no one else from the SILVER WHISPER on the beach. There were a few yacht owners swimming laps parallel to the shore, with their crew following them back and forth in zodiacs for safety.

As we were passing the Anglican church on our way back to the tender port we heard singing and stepped inside. The church choir was practicing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah for their upcoming Easter service. We sat for a while and enjoyed their amateur but joyous rendition. It was dark by the time we made it back to the tender port, feeling refreshed and happy that we had a chance to enjoy our brief stay on St. Bart’s.

ANTIGUA:
The SILVER WHISPER docked at the cruise pier in St. John’s and was dwarfed by an adjacent RCL cruise ship. Exiting the cruise pier leads one through a gauntlet of tourist shops, tour operators, and taxi drivers.

The natural tendency of cruise passengers is to walk briskly through this gauntlet, ignoring the various people offering goods and services. Instead of ignoring them, at least acknowledge our shared humanity by looking at them directly and thanking them politely when declining their offers. Remember that these people own the island and we are their guests.

In our 17 cruises we have never opted for a tour organized by the ship. We prefer to explore on our own, using xeroxed sections of guidebooks we purchased or obtained from our local library.

On Antigua we enjoy the inexpensive public transportation. Official minibuses leave frequently from the west side and east side bus stations, covering almost any destination (or beach) on the west or east side of the island respectively. From the cruise pier, the west side bus station is three blocks inland to Market St., then several blocks south to the market (which is located behind the large white statue and is worth a quick visit in itself). The east side bus station should be (we have not used it for a few years) one block north to High St., then several blocks inland to the park. Any local can direct you.

From the west side bus station we usually take the bus south to Jolly Beach (US $1.50 pp). It is the end of the line (about 15-20 minutes by bus) and has frequent service because many locals work in the shops and resorts there. A dispatcher at the bus station will guide you to the correct bus. When using the local minibus, it is customary to greet other passengers as one boards, and to move as needed for passengers to enter or leave. We have found our fellow passengers to be very helpful in answering questions or pointing out destinations.

At the end of the Jolly Beach bus line, follow the signs to the gravel road public access west and south around the gate-guarded resorts to the south end of the beach. Walk north along the beach past the various resorts (they get a little more upscale as one walks north) until you find the perfect patch of sunshine (or shade) for your beach towel. Jolly Beach is travel poster perfect, and typical water activity rentals are available.

On this visit, for the first time during any of our many visits to the Caribbean, we came across a little “attitude”. We had put our beach towels on the sand in a patch of shade under a thatch roof on the beach (all of which is public land). An hour later a hotel security guard chased us off– apparently a guest felt that the shady spot was his because he had placed a beach chair there several hours earlier. Cruise ship “pool pigs” leave a book or T-shirt on the chaises longues early to reserve them for use later in the day, a practice we dislike and think should be eliminated. This little beach incident was similar but took us by surprise. Generally the public access to, and public use of, beaches is respected.

If you prefer, minibuses to Dickenson Beach head north from the west side bus station, but we have not gone there.

From the east side bus station buses head southeast across the island to English Harbour (Nelson’s Dockyard historic district). Shirley Heights is not far away from there, and one might consider exploring that too. If I recall correctly, there is a nice, very private beach over a small hill just a short walk away from Nelson’s Dockyard. Any local can direct you (ask at the nearby store). Last time we were there, an enormous yacht was anchored nearby, and a Duchess of Windsor type surrounded by several of her stalwart sailing crew motored ashore and shared the beach with us.

Riding local minibuses can be as exciting as watching an Imax movie. On this trip our driver made change for passengers, smoked a cigarette, spoke on his cell phone, shifted gears, and turned the steering wheel, all while driving on the left and dodging pedestrians (which is the reason we do not rent cars in the Caribbean). As in an Imax film, if you get frightened during the drive, just close your eyes.

In the afternoon, as the day cools, consider a walk though the town of St. John’s. It is a somewhat gritty town, but the people are polite and very friendly. There is a large old Anglican church on the hill several blocks east and north of the cruise pier. When we were there this time, the funeral of a prominent citizen was taking place. The parishioners were beautifully dressed, and the sound of their 500 voices singing traditional hymns in harmony echoed off the beamed ceiling and penetrated to the heart. It was a most moving experience.

TORTOLA:
The SILVER WHISPER was scheduled to tender into Road Town, but since we were the only ship in port, we docked instead. Tortola is very much like St. Thomas but more affluent and less crowded. One of the nicest local beaches is Cane Garden Bay, which resembles Magen’s Bay on St. Thomas but has no fee and is less private. Just east of Cane Garden Bay is Brewers Bay, which is said to provide good snorkeling. Taxis wait at the pier and will take you north over the spine of the island to the beaches, with fantastic views in all directions along the way, for about US $6 pp each way.

Alternately, an open taxi (jitney style with sun protection) waits at the pier and offers a 3 hour round island tour, again with fantastic views of neighboring islands and photo stops along the way, plus an hour swim at Cane Garden Bay, all for US $20 pp. The driver’s name on this visit was Larry, and I think he meets each cruise ship. If not, the local tourist board representative or taxi dispatcher who are at the pier should be able to arrange it for you.

As Caribbean islands become more crowded, especially when more than one ship is in port, my wife and I prefer to escape to some of the nearby islands for a beach day in solitude. In this case, one can take the private ferry to nearby Peter Island (still owned by the Amway Corp. I believe) for US $15 round trip. This is a very quiet, very upscale island resort that allows day visitors but requests that they use the far east end of Deadman’s Beach. The near end is reserved for resort guests. The far east end of the beach is shared with the yachters whose boats are anchored offshore. A restaurant is available in the middle of the beach, and we were told it takes credit cards.

A taxi will take you from the cruise pier to the Peter Island ferry pier (caution, there are several ferry piers) for US $4 pp each way. Notify the ferry captain on your return that you need a taxi, and he should be able to radio ahead. As I write this, outbound ferries leave Road Town at 0830, 1000, 1200, 1400, 1530. Return ferries leave Peter Island at 0900, 1130, 1330, 1430, 1630, 1800 and 1930. Verify the schedules with the tourist office representative (or on the net) to make certain you do not miss your boat! Other ferry services run to neighboring islands, but these are farther away and less practical for a day escape.

Categories
Luxury Travel

Comparison of Royal Plantation and Silver Whisper

Author: Host DebbieH103
Date of Trip: June 2001

This is a comparison of our recent experience on Silversea Silver Whisper with our overall experiences at Royal Plantation. We’ve stayed at Royal Plantation 8 times and went another time on a day pass and have stayed in every category except the villa since 2001 when they opened as Royal Plantation. We plan a July, 2006 return. On Silversea, we stayed in a midship veranda suite. We plan a February, 2007 return to Silversea, this time sailing on Silver Wind. This is going to be difficult to write since not everything is apples to apples, but bear with me.

Venue Introduction
Royal Plantation is a Leading Small Hotel of the World and also a member of the Leading Spas of the World, the only hotel in Jamaica to receive such an award, and they are also 5-star Diamond AHSS recipients. They are now members of Elegant Resorts as well. The hotel is a boutique property with 77 suites situation near Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Staff to guest ratio is quite high, and personal attention is at a high level at almost all times. While the hotel has a lot of continental features, there is also Jamaican charm evident. Royal Plantation began as an all-inclusive property (I am, for this review ignoring all the years the property existed as the popular Plantation Inn). It now offers a choice of all-inclusive vs. European Plan. We stick with the all-inclusive (Royal) plan.

Silver Whisper is a small luxury ship that holds 382 passengers. The roots are Italian, and staff members were European and Asian, for the most part. Service was slanted toward European customs. Silversea scores very high in a number of surveys, notably Conde Naste. You will see higher scores in surveys for service (and also for other luxury lines) than you will for resorts with similar class and perhaps better service. It is just the way it is.

What is included
The Royal Plan at Royal Plantation includes transfers by private car. An in-room bar with a number of liquors, beers, wine and champagne, along with mixers is provided in every room category. Spa treatments are extra, but the steam rooms are complimentary.

The included liquor is premium brands. For beer, they have Red Stripe or Heinekin. The sparkling wine is either a local or a decent tasting French. They have several house wines — 4 to 6 white and 4 to 6 reds. They do have premium wines available, and at dinner, a wine list is usually provided. Vueve Cliquot, Mumms, etc. are not included in the cost. Caviar is available at the C bar in an elaborate setup or anywhere you choose, but this is not included. Also, a real pet peeve of mine is that they charge a $10 room service delivery charge per room meal. This really is my only thing I do not like about the property at all.

Tipping is included in the Royal Plan. You sign for items but never pay extra for them. You can add additional gratuities at that time or leave envelopes for staff at the end of your stay.

Silversea does not include the transfers. On our trip, they offered a transfer in private car for $55 per person with baggage handling and then $19.50 pp for van transfer on the return, plus additional cost per bags. They also offer options like shipping your bags from your house to the ship at a reasonable cost. We chose to do our own transfers and did pay $19.50 each way plus $2.50 for our bags, then we tipped driver and also tipped a guy at the pier to bring bags to the ship. It still did not add up to $110 but likely wasn’t the same level of service. Tipping is included. Champagne such as Mumms and Vueve Cliquot are included, as is caviar, though it is now from the Mississippi River due to some new import laws. Some people do tip, but it is suggested that you give to the staff fund instead, if you desire. There are never any room service charges on Silversea.

Check-in and Check-out Policies
I covered the transfers, so I will start with check-in.

At Royal Plantation, the official check-in is at 3 p.m. Your room may or may not be ready before that time. However, vacation at Royal starts the moment you step off the curb and are welcomed home, so you are free to dine or enjoy any other public areas of the property as soon as you arrive. There is no extra charge to arrive early. Upon departure, you will often need to vacate your room at the regular checkout time (11 or 12) but can sometimes extend an hour with a phone call if the resort is not too full. You can vacate your room and stay until your bus departure time (about 4 hours before your flight, at least) without an extra charge.

When you arrive, you are greeted by staff and whisked a few steps to the lobby where house champagne or any other cocktail is offered, along with an ice cold towel. Check-in is always personal and relaxing, and it is at this point I always get the feeling I am at home ready to just melt into my surroundings.

On Silver Whisper, the suggested arrival time for embarkation was 3-5 p.m. on most cruises. Sometimes, they offer early embarkation or late debarkation (no late debarkation in U.S. ports) for $100 pp. We arrived at 11:25 and were allowed to pay $100 pp to board. This allowed us the opportunity to use public areas, get our suite before noon and have a 5 course lunch, along with cocktails or soft drinks.

We had to vacate our suite by 8:30 and debark the ship at 9:50 when our color was called.

Suites
This is a very difficult one. There is no doubt that dollar for dollar, the suites at RP would beat those on Silversea for size and features, but comparing Silversea to its competitors, it is the best in class. So, let’s talk more about features and amenities.

Every suite at Royal Plantation has either a French or “regular” balcony. The regular balconies start in the 4th category. All suites have a sitting area. They all have a stocked fridge that is much larger than those on Silversea. All have a table of some sort for in-room dining.

All suites at Royal Plantation have electronic safes. The closets are all different sizes, depending on the suite. They are never huge. The premiums do have a decent sized closet. The 3rd category and higher rooms have jet tubs and separate showers. The first two categories have a combo shower and tub. The beds are Sealy king (or you can get a luxury with two large twins) and are VERY comfortable, and they include very nice duvets. They also have a lovely pillow menu available in all rooms.

The rooms all have satellite television with a number of channels. They offer room service 24 hours with a variety of nice choices. They come with lovely, thick robes to use during the stay and slippers. Toiletries include shampoo and conditioner with a tropical scent and lemongrass body lotion, along with aloe vera gel. They also include French milled soap. All of these are the resort’s brand. Last stay, we were in the top suite and had bath salts. I don’t know if all rooms have this now or not. Rooms get larger and larger, and when they have a sale, these upper rooms are a very good value Like on Silversea, they book up way in advance.

Silversea has two class of ships — the 382 passenger Shadow and Whisper and the 295 passenger Wind and Cloud. On Whisper and Shadow, all suites have a separate shower and double marble sink. There is a separate sitting area with a coffee table that can be converted to a dining table easily, small stocked fridge, liquor cabinet, TV/VCR plus DVD player, daily fruit. The TV only gets news and ship channels, but they offer 4 channels with late run movies (free) and also a library of movies.

The bed can be queen or twin. They have nice duvets and also a pillow menu. They offer the Acqua di Palma toiletries from Milan. We were given shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, glycerin soap and milled soap. The former toiletries were Bvulgari, and our stewardess brought us a full set of these, as well.

All suites have at least a large picture window, and there is a curtain that can be drawn between the sitting area and the living area. Eighty percent of suites have balconies. The balconies have two adjustable lounges and a small end table. Those suites have glass floor to ceiling. Te Silver Wind and Cloud have a smaller bathroom with shower incorporated in the tub and a single marble sink. The Silversea suites have a large walk-in closet with electronic safe. Ours had built-in shoe and tie rack and a chest of drawers. Thick terry robes are provided, as are slippers. The Silversea suites come with fruit, replenished as needed. Room service with no fees is available 24 hours, and during meal hours, you can also get the restaurant menu ensuite. They are always willing to set it up beautifully, and you can get dinner served course by course at no additional charge.

Public Areas
This is tough to compare in a resort with approximately 160 guests maximum vs. a ship with 382 guest maximum.

Royal Plantation has a lovely gathering spot, the Appleton lounge. Here, you can sit in air conditioned comfort and order from the extensive martini menu or any other premium drink you want or from the house wines. They have peanuts or sometimes mixed nuts (should be all the time!). You can sit in the cushy chairs or hang up at the bar with the bartenders and chat. Sometimes, there is a pianist there.

Royal Plantation has a nice game room with billiards, board games, a nice TV/DVD player and a small honor system library. As late as December, they had pay as you go internet there, but now the rooms all offer high speed internet, so I don’t know if they kept this terminal or not.

Outside of the Appleton Lounge is the tea terrace. This is a lovely place. They have a nice tea time at 4 pm daily, included for even EP guests. They have scones, finger sandwiches, tarts, etc., along with a number of teas. You can always have sparkling wine or whatever else they offer. They usually have the manager’s cocktail party on the tea terrace, and the mento band will play there. We’ve seen other entertainers here, also. Lots of people sit out here and just chat, relax, etc. during the day or evening.

The resort has a patio beyond the terrace where some people sit in the evening for cocktails or while the evening show is playing or just to rest and look at the pool or ocean. The pool and hot tub area is very nice. There is a two-level hot tub, one level flowing into the other. The pool may seem small, but it is large enough for the number of guests, you will never see more than 6 people there, and it was almost as large as the pool on Whisper, I think. It is the only heated pool in Jamaica, but they only heat it upon request. This came in handy a couple of times in December. They have a very nice drawing room with a grande piano. They use this sometimes for wedding receptions, repeat guest parties, tea with interesting local lecturers, and the like.

The gift shop offers local souvenirs and some nice things like scented candles, perfume, etc. They sell local rum and coffee and logo wear and beachwear. I’d like to see more jewelry and some other more upscale shopping offerings somewhere on the property. The gift shop doubles as the tour desk.

The concierge desk is off of the lobby and is a place where you can see the restaurant menus. You can make reservations if you desire. At the front desk, you can get a fax NY Times daily.

The spa and beauty salon offer a large variety of treatments, and they have extensive hours. It is fairly easy to get an appointment. They have lovely steam rooms and nice changing facilities. The services offered include hydrotherapy, and they have an emphasis on natural ingredients throughout the program. Service here is very good. They offer tea or water and will help you into the steam room, provide nice robes and slippers, lockers, etc.

The resort has a great conference center. We even got the GM to arrange an Easter service there a couple of years ago. The resort also has tennis courts lit for night play, and you can attend included lessons or engage the pro to play with you. There is a small fitness center with adequate equipment for the few guests that use it. If you want organized classes, you have the ability to go next door to Sandals Ocho Rios for some outstanding fitness classes that are offered a number of times each day. At Royal Plantation, they do have yoga on the pier, weather permitting.

Royal Plantation has two beaches, east and west. If you want a beach where you walk for miles, you will be disappointed, but at Royal, you will be offered mango mimosas in the morning, fruit will be brought around, you might get rose mist, and they will offer drink service at the beaches and the pool/hot tub.

You have to be down at one of the two piers at the property or one of the 3 rooms at the end of the west room block to see the sunset or out in the ocean. They are beautiful, but most already have gone to their room by then to get ready for dinner. You can see sunrise around most of the property part of the year, and at other times, it is too far east and behind things. When you do see it, it is over the water and very beautiful.

On the Whisper, there are a number of public areas besides the restaurants. They have self launderettes, which include the supplies needed. This is all complimentary. We did not use them on this 4 night trip but would likely use them even on a week-long cruise. On deck 5, they had a jewelry store and another boutique. These are not open while in port, so you have to make a conscious effort to go there when they are open. We did not do that, so I can only comment on what I saw through the window. It all looked inviting at least for a look. When I needed batteries, the concierge was able to get me some from her “stash” and charge to my room on a couple of minutes notice.

Deck 5 also has the casino. This also is not open when the ship is in port. We went there the two nights that the ship left port at 6. They have blackjack ($10 minimum), roulette ($2 minimum inside and $10 minimum outside) and a number of slots. We really enjoyed the table games tremendously. The nights we were there, everyone that wanted to play was able to get a spot. There were both high and low rollers there. They have a very nice small bar next to the casino, The Grappa, and the waitress there also services the tables in the casino. Also on 5 is the main bar. In the evenings, they have some of the entertainment there, even before dinner. The seating is very comfortable at tables or people can enjoy sitting up at the bar. They have some other things here, such as lectures and the main check-in.

The show lounge cascades down from deck 6 to deck 5 and has very nice chairs and tables. There isn’t a bad seat there. They do have drink service there, but it isn’t fast enough for the number of guests there, and in all 4 nights, we never got waited on, though most did. They have production shows here and also things like the lifeboat drill and check-out. On deck 7, there is a nice conference room and a nice card room. They had bridge get-togethers in the card room.

On deck 8, they have a nice library and internet center. They have about 6 internet machines or you can use your own wifi in a number of areas. They have VHS tapes that you can take right there on an honor basis, or you can get the DVD box and take it to reception. Also, daily, they have a soduko puzzle and crossword available here. They have chess and a group puzzle here. There are a number of books available and also scanned full versions of newspapers, not just the sample pages like hotels have. There were oceanviews from this room and plenty of places to sit. Deck 8 also had the panorama lounge. During the day, you can sit inside or outside and they have lots of places to sit. In the mornings, there is juice and pastries. During the day, there is full (elegant) bar service — walk-up and get nuts and wait for drink or sit in your seat and let the lovely waitress bring drinks from the menu or whatever you ask for. If you order wine here, they explain what it is. This is the location of the afternoon tea, which features scones, pastries and sandwiches. In the evening, they have dancing to different types of music, even if something is going on in the bar lounge. This is a lovely room, and I bet many never discover it.

Deck 8 has the pool. The pool is salt-water. It will be empty when you board the ship and filled that evening. They have two hot tubs there that are also filled the first evening. They were perfect temperatures the whole trip. Service is offered at all of these locations, and there are loungers all over. There are two showers, one at each hot tub, and they are an actual shower stall.

There are a lot of tables on either side of the pool, and you can get some shade there. This is part of the meal service I will discuss in another section. There is a very nice pool bar. Lots of people stop by here, but it is usually quiet and a good place to go for soft drinks, too. They have a nice setup and offer premium drinks, a selection of wine and also sparkling and regular water. They come around with service on this deck and deck 9 to offer drinks, water mist, and cold towels during the day. This area is also a place for sailing parties sometimes, and they have the pool bbq out here sometimes.

On deck 9, they have the jogging/walking track. They set out a cooler of water here. This is very popular. You can sun or shade lounge here, too. On this deck, they also have the golf cage for practice. Clubs and balls are provided. On deck 10, the spa is there. They have nice facilities, and they have tea and reading material if you wait. They also have the beauty salon. I think they have a sauna and steam room,

The fitness center on 10 has two sides, the room with machines and the room for classes. The room with machines had enough to offer for those in attendance, and they kept towels and bottled water. There were headsets provided for the TVs, and I saw an ipod and a few other gadgets laying around for guests. They offered yoga, pilates, weight toning, step, and wellness lectures during my stay, and the setup was very nice. Deck 10 has a large observation lounge. They had pastries and juices or coffee and tea here and a number of games and books. The view here was spectacular, and you could go to the deck outside for photo ops, also. Restaurants

Royal Plantation only serves 77 rooms, but they have several dining choices. You can dine for all 3 meals at Bayside. Sometimes, meals are inside, other times, they are on the restaurant’s covered patio, and others, they are out on the patio next to the entertainment gazebo. A flambé option is available most nights. Sometimes this is done indoors, other times it is outdoors. Bayside has a dress code, but it is never fancier than slacks or sundress type wear. Meals at Bayside are almost always a la carte except for a jazz brunch once a month and an elegant bbq once a week.

Le Papillon at Royal Plantation is a fancier option than Bayside, and meals may linger 2 ½ or 3 hours at times vs. 1 ½ to 2 at Bayside. This is dressier, and they have a jacket policy, but it is often relaxed due to the Caribbean heat, etc. There is a Caviar bar here, but it is not included in the all-inclusive plan. Royal Café is a beachside option. They have a la carte lunches for those that do not want to leave the beach. This is no beach grill. Food here is excellent quality. No need to get further than a beach coverup here, and you can get served in your beach chair or at the pool, too. No regular menu items have a surcharge at Royal Plantation, only the caviar bar does, and also, you can have a private dinner at the gazebo for an extra charge.

Silver Whisper has buffets offered for breakfast and lunch in La Terraza. At night, this is an Italian themed restaurant. Reservations are required, and seating is limited. We could not get in. Le Champagne on Silver Whisper costs $150 pp and offers multi-courses paired with premium wines. Royal Plantation offers something similar as an option to any guests that want it. I think this captains table option is still available.

The Restaurant offers a la carte meals at all three meals. Dress code varies on different nights and is posted the night before. Generally, there will be two formal nights a week and two casual nights and 3 informal nights. The informal night is more formal than any night at Royal Plantation. I’ll discuss the meals around the venues first and then mention room service as a separate item.

Breakfast
Breakfast at Royal Plantation takes place in the Bayside, either on the terrace overlooking the ocean or inside, as you choose. Menus are always a la carte except for a monthly Sunday Jazz Brunch that is quite extensive. The menu features many items. You can get eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, omelets, potatoes, eggs benedict, steak and eggs, smoked salmon, papaya, pineapple, grapefruit. You can also get blueberry pancakes, French toast, waffles. There are Jamaican specialties, also. Daily there is a resort breakfast special. I’ve often had either shrimp or lobster scrambled eggs on a toasted bagel. There is a variety of juices, champagne and mimosas. They also have coffee and a variety of teas. They have wonderful pastries, including chocolate croissants. They offer cereal and yogurt.

On Silver Whisper, we only had breakfast in the room or at the buffet. They offer a la carte breakfast, which would have been my preference. The buffet was somewhat small but very good. They had lunchmeat and cheeses, fruits (including berries), scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, Canadian bacon, ham, Dutch ham, Belgian waffles, potatoes, bagels, muffins, Danishes. They also had hot and cold cereal and eggs to order. They offer fresh squeezed juices. Juices and pastries are also available in the lounges. I particularly enjoyed the fresh squeezed grapefruit juice.

Lunch
Royal Plantation’s lunches are a highlight of the day.

Many guests choose to dine at Royal Café for lunch. This restaurant is usually open from 11-4, and they have great dishes either at tables by the beach or from your chair. Every day, they start your meal with homemade chips and salsa. There is always a special of the day and always a soup of the day. Soups are usually just great. We’ve had pumpkin, red pea, broccoli, conch, pepperpot, crème crey, gazpacho and many others. They have great stuff here — lobster blts, market salads with fabulous mango dressing, seafood in papaya, jerk quesadillas, jerk ribs, salmon croissant. Often they have mussels. Sometimes it is oysters. They have prime beef burgers with a lot of toppings. They also offer things like crab cakes, coconut shrimp, and Jamaican patties. On our last visit, I had them making a lobster Greek salad every day that I’d discovered at the other restaurant. They also have an ice cream menu.

Up at Bayside, we always have a feast for lunch. Sometimes, they have had a fetuccini alfredo with chicken as a special, and most stays, Todd asks for this even though it isn’t on the menu. He has been known to order it several days. The menu is multi-course. We usually have most courses. They have gazpacho every day and wonderful soups of the day. They have bruschetta , melon cocktail in port, papaya with seafood, and fried calamari as appetizers. These change from time to time, but you will get the idea. Salad might be smoked marlin with greens, Caesar, greens with mango dressing, Greek with lobster, conch salad, or fruit and cheese. You can get sandwiches such as shaved turkey on Kaiser or crab salad on wheat or a burger. Most will have the entrée type items like English fish and chips, mixed seafood grill (usually salmon, lobster, scallops and shrimp with wonderful veggies and rice or something equally as good), Weinerschnitzel, sirloin steak, a pasta special, seafood crepes (lobster, scallops, salmon, etc), grilled mahi mahi, lamb curry, filet mignon benedict, chicken breast. I left out the soups, which are high caliber, similar to at the beach but not always the same, usually not and always wonderful. Dessert is things like sorbet of the day, key lime pie, almond tulip with rum and pineapple cream, white chocolate cheesecake. Difference in this and the cruise, is most things are offered daily, and then they add specials. There were vegetarian dishes, also.

On Silver Whisper, lunch can be had a la carte at the restaurant or by buffet at La Terraza or burgers and such at the poolside. The a la carte lunch was great. We had salad-Caesar for Todd and field greens with balsamic for me. The soup was cauliflower, I think. Very good. I had grilled flounder, while Todd had a filet. For dessert, I had crème brulee and a cup of fresh mixed berries, while Todd had ice cream. This was one of our best meals of the cruise. Lunch at the buffet was better one day than the other day. This tended to feature some of the a la carte lunch items. They had a small salad bar daily or some beautifully done salads, lunchmeats, beautiful cheeses. They also served smoked salmon and sushi. They had items such as lasagna, beef schezwan style (great), lemon fish, grilled vegetables, gazpacho, pumpkin soup, raspberry chilled soup, carved chicken, crisp and delicious pizzas,. The pool offered things like burgers and hot dogs, onion rings, etc. and some wraps. I thought some more upscale items were needed.

Dinner
The main restaurant at Royal Plantation is Bayside. Nightly, dinner will either be outside or inside, depending on the entertainment or the weather. Everything here is a la carte and in courses. The menu is extensive, and there are chef specials of the day. We have been through 4 chefs there, and I think they are on the 5th now. Dishes have always been wonderful. Here are some examples. For appetizer, dishes such as smoked salmon and crab timbale, satay trio, melon cocktail with port, shrimp cocktail, proscuitto with tropical fruits, frog legs, pot stickers, duck terrine with tropical fruit salad. For soups, they bring a nice silver terrine. They have gazpacho and conch chowder every day and lovely soups of the day that are thick but not rich, the way I like. Pumpkin is our favorite. You can always get a market salad or a Caesar, and they have had others such as goat cheese salad, etc. The entrees are extensive. I love the veal dishes, with veal marsala being my favorite when they have it. They have tenderloin, lamb dishes, chicken dishes, broiled mahi mahi, grilled tiger shrimp, duck, ostrich, etc. at times. Presentation is excellent. For dessert, there are always several choices.

An often overlooked dining option at Royal Plantation is the Flambé restaurant. This must be reserved in advance but is fairly easy to get into. When you reserve, you pick what you are going to have. It is all show cooking. When we dined there last year, they had beef carpaccio or crab salad for the first course. We had the crab salad. Next, they made a flamed seafood bisque that was very good. The salad was a classic Caesar prepared tableside. For dinner, the choices were shrimp, lamb or beef mignons. We tried the beef and shrimp. The beef was just excellent. For dessert, they offered Italian eggs with marsala mousse, crepe Grande Marnier with vanilla ice cream, bananas foster with coconut ice cream, and very popular flamed coffees.

Le Papillon is the more formal restaurant at Royal Plantation. They have often been jackets required, but sometimes this is relaxed due to the Caribbean heat. A meal here can be had indoors or outside overlooking the Bayside terrace where you can view the show if one is going on. A meal here will take 2-3 ½ hours. Different chefs have had a different emphasis the last 5 years. They have had continental, seafood or French. All are always on the menu, and some chefs feature more of one than the other. Here are some things we’ve seen for appetizers: Caribbean crab cakes, marinated princess conch, peppered tuna sashimi with papaya salad, smoked salmon in puff pastry, shrimp and saffron risotto, marinated octopus, steamed mussels, frogs legs, shrimp cocktail, escargot. For soup, we’ve seen Bermuda fish chowder, hot and sour with wontons and shrimp, crayfish bisque, bouillabaisse, gazpacho of ox heart tomato. For salads, we’ve seen dishes such as Royal Caesar with jerk conch, ahi tuna nicoise. Organic salad with beets and goat cheese, tomato Napoleon wth bammies and mozzarella, baby spinach Caesar with king crab meat, organic greens with walnuts, bacon and boiled egg in red wine vinaigrette. For the entrée, there are things such as roast Caribbean lobster, tiger shrimps grilled Atlantic Salmon with baby asparagus, Dover sole with baby shrimp and asparagus, blackened swordfish with garbanzo beans and citrus butter, medallions of veal, broiled lamb chops with mint jelly, pan seared scallops with capers, pan seared chicken, venison, pan fried black grouper with white truffle sauce, grilled Black Angus sirloin with Café de Paris butter and Portobello mushrooms, Mexican style red snapper, pan seared grouper, and marinated wild pheasant. Dessert is things like Baileys cheese cake, chocolate parfait with fruit, trio of banana with banana mousse, raspberry mouse, banana crème brulee with carmelized banana, liquid center chocolate cake with Appleton rum ice crème, lemon tart with raspberry sauce, poached peach with vanilla ice cream, and also they have petite fours.

Dinner on Silver Whisper is available in The Restaurant a la carte without reservations. You can dine on gourmet Italian regional delights at La Terraza. They have limited seating nightly, and we could not get in during our entire cruise. Le Champagne offers multi-course dining with premium wine pairings per course. This is $150 per guest.

My Silver Whisper dinner review will be all about The Restaurant. Some of the seafood items were cut during our cruise even though menus were placed in our suite. This didn’t make me happy, but there were many good things to eat. For appetizers, there were items such as king prawns with Indian spices, melon and pear timbale, fresh berries in Blue Curacao, pan-fried goose liver with poached plum, always a pasta dish a Greek salad inside a tomato, seared salmon with avocado salsa, mango, papaya and pineapple medley, goat cheese ravioli, gnocci, asparagus ravioli. My favorite soup was a celeriac apple soup. We had a celery one, a cauliflower one, pumpkin and carrot, and cauliflower that were fabulous. I had a great gazpacho, and Todd had a couple of the consommés that he liked. I had a red onion and ginger one that was just fantastic. I didnt try the chilled fruit soups, but I hear they are great. They always had mixed greens with balsamic and Caesar with anchovies. There were others, but we stuck with these two. For entrees, I always had fish, and Todd always had a beef dish. Some dishes included beef tenderloin with cilantro dressing, Weiner schnitzel, grilled sirloin steak, poached Atlantic salmon, broiled halibut with red wine reduction, leg of lamb, charred chicken breast, lobster thermidor, pan fried sea bass, roasted prime rib, crispy roasted duck, pork chop in herb butter, poached izumi dai, beef bourgninne, pan fried pompano, beef fillet, veal osco busso. They had a cheese a fruit cart nightly, homemade ice cream, sorbet, various cakes and other desserts and always petit fours.

Wine is always available at meals at both resort and ship, as are premium other drinks. You’ll sample a wider variety of included wines on Silversea, but at RP, you will at least get a menu! Both have premium wines for sale. Silversea has a sommelier on board.

Royal Plantation’s 24 hour room service is extensive. You can get omelets 24 hours a day, as well as many other classic fare items. From lunch until late evening, you can get multi-course meals. We’ve ordered steaks, lobster, shrimp cocktail, soups, salads, etc.

Silver Whisper had a nice menu. They had the room service breakfast cards, as does Royal Plantation, but like Royal you can just call also. They have extensive choices that are offered served course by course,and during restaurant hours, you can order off their menu (previewed in your suite each day). We used this for breakfast two days and I used it for lunch one day. The pizza margherita was the best pizza I have ever had at a vacation venue. I also had double shrimp cocktail and a marvelous salad.

At meals at Bayside, you will see women in capris, pant suits and dresses. Men will be in khakis and either polo or button down shirts with usually deck shoes. At Le Papillon, a few men will wear ties. Some wear jackets (sometimes required, but loaners are available). Women will wear dresses or slacks but nobody wears formal wear.

On Silver Whisper, casual nights involve slacks or dresses for women, khakis with polo or button down shirts for men or casual jackets. On informal nights, men wear jackets, tie optional. Women wear pant suits and dresses, smart resort wear. On formal nights, women wear cocktail dresses or evening gowns or nicer dresses with accessories or fancy pantsuits. Men wear dark suits and ties, dark dinner jackets or tuxedos. On formal nights, you can dine at La Terazza if you can get in or in your suite, and you can wear informal wear in public areas that night if it meets the informal dress code I described. Generally at 6 or 7 on formal night, you should not be running around in your resort casual wear.

Comparisons of the bbqs
Royal Plantation’s bbq usually has Caribbean lobster on the grill, in season, shrimp, grilled fish, grilled steak, a carved meat, salads, including seafood, soup, and desserts such as strawberry mousse, crème brulee, and bananas foster.

The Silversea buffet was small and not my favorite. They had appetizers at each table-pizza, canapés, etc. The buffet had make your own tacos, a carved pig, lobster claw paella, ribs, chicken and steak. Ice cream was available, with a number of toppings. They had fruits and cheeses and a number of desserts.

Royal Plantation has a Sunday Jazz brunch once a month that is very nice, and Silversea sometimes has a galley brunch where they open the kitchen and serve items around there in a buffet fashion.

Activities and Entertainment
The activities at Royal Plantation are light. They have a cooking demo, a cigar rolling, hot cocoa demo, yoga, tennis, a fitness center (for organized classes, go next door to Sandals), billiards, afternoon tea. Golf with green fees and transportation and a local waterfall tour are included. They have a pianist or the mento band at their activites such as afternoon tea and weekly manager’s cocktail party. The mento band plays at lunch and at the weekly bbq. They often have a flutist, steel band, singers that do jazz, adult contemporary or local favorites. They sometimes have costumed dancers in a local theme. Tennis is available with the pro, and the courts are available at night. They have glass-bottom boat tours and snorkeling included, as well as diving included. You can take hobie cats out or kayaks or sunfish. Instruction is included.

Silversea has daily activities such as group trivia, golf putting contests, a golf putting cage, a walking/running track Fitness classes such as Pilates, yoga, body toning, and step are offered every day, and there is a cardio room with machines. There are also fitness lectures. Needlepoint was offered during afternoon tea. They also had shuffleboard contests and table tennis tournaments. Some of the activities gave points. We claimed two money clips and a memo holder. These activities are quiet and not loud or annoying. They also have dancing in the lounges — sometimes it is 60s music to an electric piano or it might be ballroom tunes or disco dancing. The pool bbq had salsa and party dance tunes. Nightly there was a production show with costumed dancers. Some cruises have a magician, and they always have lectures. There is also a casino that is open at night when not in port that offers black jack, roulette, and slot machines. They have an excellent golf program where you can play with the pro. This costs extra, as do the shore excursions offered in port. They had a sailing party one night with a few appetizers and a welcome cocktail party.

Both resort and ship have board games available and videos and books for loan. This is much more extensive on Silversea. Silversea also has an outstanding program where they show movies in room that probably are not even on DVD yet. These are at no charge, and a schedule is given. TV channels are much more extensive at Royal Plantation, but you can get news channels on Silversea and watch the ship’s navigation. You might even get to go on a bridge tour.

At the resort and on Silversea, you will get a daily information sheet about weather and activities and will get nightly turndown service and daily maid service.

Staff
The staff at Royal Plantation will easily get to know your name and preferences and will be informative but not intrusive as you wish. Personal attention and requests can often be accommodated, and no is not uttered on reasonable requests within the parameters of the program. Most are Jamaicans and from the island, while others have been all around the world in many areas of the hospitality industry.

The staff on Silver Whisper was mostly European and Asian. We found service to be good but not particularly personal, though we have heard a lot about personal service on longer cruises than the one we were on. The cabin stewardesses never once were annoying. Since each were assigned so many cabins, they seemed to watch for when people were leaving or when they put out the service requested card. They seem to have thought of every request and were ready right away with whatever was needed.

Guests
Royal Plantation allows adults only, and you will find people from 20s to 80s with most being 40s to 60s. You will find people from all walks of life here, and lots of people visit, meet, etc. since it is so small, but you don’t ever have to join others if you don’t want to.

On Silver Whisper, they allow children but have no organized programs. There was one baby and maybe 7 or 8 other kids, mostly teens. All wore the appropriate dinner attire and were quite well behaved. Guests were from all over the world, and there were two large groups that did seem to get preferential treatment, and some of their guests were not exactly exemplary, but this was a small lot. Since this was the Caribbean and a shorter cruise, there were a number of guests in their late 30s to 50, but guests went up to their 80s. Normal would be 50s to 70s as the majority.

Overall Opinions
Royal Plantation meals offer much more variety even though they have at most half the guests even of Silversea’s smallest ships. However, they aren’t floating in the ocean carrying all of that around. Quality is about as good on Silversea, but the variety on a specific day is not even close. Over a trip, though, you can sample some nice cuisine and have good experiences.

Dollar for dollar, you will have a much larger room at Royal Plantation, but both resort and ship have great accommodations. Entertainment is more extensive on Silversea as far as shows, dancing, and gambling, but both have a variety of activities to do overall. You can meet other interesting people that are likely to be like-minded or at least worth chatting with either place. The charm at Royal Plantation is unparalleled, but there is nothing like being on a ship watching the scenery go by or to see what is next. Silversea is going to take you to some exotic places in luxury. Entertainment is more extensive on Silversea as far as shows, dancing, and gambling, but both have a variety of activities to do overall. You can meet other interesting people that are likely to be like-minded or at least worth chatting with either place. The charm at Royal Plantation is unparalleled, but there is nothing like being on a ship watching the scenery go by or to see what is next. Silversea is going to take you to some exotic places in luxury.

Categories
Island

Caribbean Cruise: A Touch of Colonial Spain

Author: Host DebbieH103
Date of Trip: March 2007

We took our first Silversea cruise in April 2006 on Whisper. That was a voyage out of San Juan. We had a wonderful time — saw beautiful places, had a great cabin, wonderful food, met other nice guests and staff and relaxed. We liked it so much that we booked 2 other cruises while onboard. One of those was to be in 2/2007. Something came up at work, and we switched to 3/2007, but we kept all of our booking incentives and still had a wonderful trip. This time we were booked on Silver Wind.

Trip and Time in San Juan
I chose American to bump myself over the points I need for a freebie on the next trip, but I didn’t realize Todd already had enough Continental points to go free this time. When I was pricing the trip, it was under 400 but then 2 hours later, it went to $600 plus for coach on all airlines. So, I booked the first/business class combo for about $660 each. This turned out to be wise. We had a nice omelet and fruit and biscuit on the first segment, and on the second segment we had edible pizza and salad. They had chicken tenders/pasta, but they gave that to all the kids (many) in business who ate not a bite. Either their parents ate it or it was tossed untouched. They also had hot nuts and hot chocolate chip cookies.

We took a cab to Sheraton. The standard government fare is $19 plus $1.50 for each bag. We had 3 bags. Todd handled most of that since they were heavy. There were about 3 people in front of us to check in. We got to our room at 5:55 p.m. We were given 2 card keys. The room had an electronic safe, a nice armoire with hangers, iron and ironing board, a chest of 6 large drawers, a comfortable king bed with so so pillows, a large TV, 2 sitting chairs, free wi-fi in the room or an ethernet for $9.95 a day, coffee/tea, and also they have a decent sized tub and decent shower. Waffle robes would be nice. This is not the Ritz, but for a night before or after a cruise, it met our needs, and we had a lovely time. The SS terminal is almost across the street.

Todd checked out his March Madness scores while I explored. I found the same trendy restaurants as before – Asian, seafood, steak houses, all infused w/ Latino. I also found an interesting seafood place I hadn’t seen with great selections by the item or pound. Lots of places in the section I hadn’t discovered before had tables outside. One had great looking spiny lobster.

Next I saw a girl eating cotton candy, so I went in pursuit. I wandered into a street fair where there were candy apples, cotton candy, ice cream and lots of local treats including oranges where they were coring off the peeling and using the inner white peeling like a cup. These were wildly popular. There was a band playing and people sitting everywhere and then a local bar/restaurant at the end. Further up the hill, there were a lot of souvenir stands mixed with pina colada stands and then what else, a Starbucks.

Near the hotel there is a homemade hamburger joint that sells breaded shrimp for $3.50. Also across the street now there is Senor Frogs.

I went to check out the casino and the pool before my walk and then came back for Todd after spending $1.30 on cotton candy.

We got in the hot tub. It was dark, and by then nobody was up there. You walk through a decent fitness center to get there, and they have nice towels up there that you just pick up with no hassle. We sat in there for a long time.

Next, we took $100 each to the casino. We aren’t big on slots, but the roulette tables were full. We shared $40 of my allotment, and gave that all to the casino. Next, we played roulette. They have a $2 minimum and $20 max per bet. I turned my $60 into $150, and Todd turned his $100 into zero. So, I made $50 total, and he lost $100. We played for several hours, and they do bring drinks if you want them. It was a great time, I just love roulette and enjoy turning 60 bucks into 150.

Then it was time for a shared burger from Senor Frogs. Don’t go there for the prices. A cheeseburger and fries is $11, but one was all we needed. We had that in the room after watching all the games. They were playing Name that Tune and then a game we saw at Beaches Turks where people have to sing a song when they are called until they can’t think of anything.

The pool and hot tub are open from 9 am to 11 pm. Checkout is at noon, but they will keep your bags until you can get on the ship. We enjoyed the room and the pool/hot tub until checkout and then focused on getting over to the ship asap.

The Sheraton’s $270 internet rate ended up being $340 with the 3 different types of taxes added in. Others might consider El Convento. It is cheaper and quainter but not nearly as convenient.

Monserrat

This was not a port, but we got to spend a few hours seeing it in the day and at night, and some guests even did the helicopter over it (on a separate day). Only about 1/3 of this island is now inhabited. We saw a lot of ash. At night, Todd was fascinated to watch the tiny eruptions and splashes of red.

Sailing on Sea Day
We saw St. Kitts and most of the Virgin Islands one by one as we sailed along. This is the time that it is nice to have a balcony so that you see the postcard before you. Of course, the picture windows are nice, too.

Il de Saintes, Guadaloupe (Les Saintes)

Well, some of my fears about Les Saintes were true. We went to the breakfast buffet and had some hot items and fruits and then ventured on the tender over to Les Saintes. There was one scooter shop that ignored us when they heard the American accent and rented to all the Europeans behind us until they ran out. Next we went to another place, and the woman was cooking in her kitchen and told us she didn’t speak English. Finally we found a place that rented us one scooter for 38 Euros for the day. You need your driver’s license, and that is it. We shared one scooter. You cannot rent by the hour, only by the day or week. We were told to go to “the garage”. This was no small feat since we didn’t know and all along the way did not like Americans.

Well, we did get on our way and made our way up and down every travelable road on the island!! We had such a blast and saw every beach accessible. If you are adventurous, this is a DON’T MISS!!!!!!!!!! One of these had a number of topless women, and when we looked it up later, we read it can be a nudist beach. We also traveled up to the fort for great views of the ship. The beaches were free, and some were pretty secluded. At any of them, you could easily bring a romantic picnic and not be bothered by anyone else.

If you did not want to do all of this, you could set out on foot until getting tired and see the fort or the closest beaches. Be aware, some of the island siestas from noon to 2:30. Plan accordingly.

Barbados/Sandy Lane

We only saw the west side of the island because we planned to spend much of our day at Sandy Lane in Barbados. I wrote golf@sandylane.com and spa@sandylane.com after viewing their website.

We went out to the terminal in Barbados and asked for a cab to Sandy Lane hotel. We paid $20 US plus tip. The spa and hotel are on one side of the road, and the 45 holes of golf are on the other side and down the road.

I was brought curbside to the spa. For a hotel with 112 rooms, I was not expecting it to be so large. I’d seen pics of certain things but not the whole overall picture.

Todd played the country club course alone. He brought his own shoes and rented clubs. They have mandatory caddies, and he had a cart, etc. He shot a 78. The course is very scenic, and he saw monkeys. He finished in under 3 hours. During that time, I had a 90 minute facial and then toured the hotel.

I was impressed with the spa at Sandy Lane. I wish I had booked like a half day there. Normally, I like to spread my spa treatments throughout a trip, but I loved the facial so much that I would have loved to have more done here.

The dressing rooms are very nice and well appointed. The treatment rooms are even nicer. My room had two lounge chairs, and my view was a beautiful fountain. The treatment started out with choice of water or tea in my lounger in my treatment room. Then the facial started, and Judy adjusted a bed that molds itself in all directions to your body shape.

I had a rose anti-aging facial because it was 90 minutes and seemed different than anything I’d done. There were a number of phases, including some ice cold stones that were massaged on my face. The therapist was honest about any questions I asked, and she never tried to sell me a thing.

I toured the facilities, and they have a nice gym, fitness center, etc, and a great water area back there. I was very impressed with the hotel. It opened in 1961, but they tore it down in 2001 and rebuilt, preserving most of the look. Added were modern things, such as a panel that controls everything in your room, even the drapes. I toured a dolphin luxury suite. It had 42 in. plasma in the bedroom and living room, a stereo system, a fax machine, desk, etc. The bathroom had a large tub in the middle, but it was not a jet tub. There was a kitchenette where the mini-bar is customized, as are the snacks.

On the beach, beautiful loungers are set out for each guest daily, whether they show up or not. They have an assigned spot. The beach was nice, and a few waves came up. The beaches are public in Barbados, but it was pretty secluded.

There are a number of pools running around the property, and there are many places to find serenity. The hotel has some meal plans, but they don’t have an all-inclusive plan. They are 5 diamond AAA for 2007, no easy feat, and their Conde Naste rating was 91.6 in the last book, though the dining got 77.

Bequia

Here, you could take the Mustique tour with the ship or some other St. Vincent tours, etc. We chose just to see Bequia. We took the tender over and hired a cab driver for an island tour. He said $25 per hour. We were gone an hour and gave him $32. We saw some scenic points and went to the turtle sanctuary. He did not try to sell us anything extra or anything. It was very nice, and we were able to spend a lot of time on the ship and still got to see some breathtaking sites.

Antigua
Here they offer nice sightseeing tours. Last trip, Todd had a great golf outing here. You can also get off the ship and go to King’s Casino right near the pier or look at the shops. We had day passes for Sandals. We took a cab – $13 going and $11 returning. We walked the beach, had ribs for lunch, sailed a hobie cat and laid in a garden pool on floaties and used the hot tub there. We also observed the Mediterannean Village that is set to open late this summer.

Virgin Gorda
If you haven’t been here, don’t miss seeing the Baths. We did that last time. This time, they stopped the ship to tender some guests for that and then went on to North Sound and anchored there. We had some more spectacular views. They started tenders at 11.

Lunch was from 12 to 2. They had a bar and service in the chairs for everything from water to whatever. You could stay totally under cover, also. They had burgers, dogs, grilled steak and swordfish, along with a variety of salads, fruit carved onsite and cookies and cakes. They had a vocal group singing Caribbean and adult contemporary tunes. Todd joined the volleyball game. There was swimming and snorkeling if you had your own gear.

Debarkation and Trip Home

We had to have our bags out by 11 the night before departure, whereas on Whisper, it was 11:30 p.m. We were ready at 10 p.m. and then enjoyed a little time on our last night with the ship activities.

The ship got into San Juan before 7:30. They started the immigration before 8. We had put our two large bags out at 10 pm. That left only our small bag to pack. Unfortunately, we did not bring a ziplock baggie and had lots of toiletries.

Our color was orange, and we went for our passports when called at 8:25. At that point, we did not return to our cabin.

We went to the buffet and had a champagne breakfast. Next we went to the panorama lounge where juice, coffee, tea and Danishes were available if desired (or you could ask for something else), and guests could also go to the sit-down breakfast at the main restaurant. Our color was called about 9:45. The last call was at 9:50. By then, we’d said a sad goodbye to Maria, Allesandra, and Chris (the social bunch), and Hermann, the hotel director.

We took a cab back to the airport, which cost $23 including tip. We had an 11:52 flight on American. This went off without a hitch. In business class, they served a choice of enchiladas or hot roast beef sandwich. I had enchiladas, and Todd had the sandwich. We enjoyed them, along with the salad. They did not even have the TV shows for entertainment. Oh, in Puerto Rico, they SOLD us a zip lock baggie for $1. They threw out my dry suntan oil and 4 oz toothpaste gel and did not throw out Todd’s 6 oz one. Everything else, they watched us stuff in the baggie that they sold us. Lame.

In Miami, we walked the trek to our C3 gate where it was VERY crowded. We had to sit in a seat far away. We did board on time. On all 4 of our American flights, they served hot nuts, then gave hot towels, served a meal and then hot chocolate chip cookies. This flight they showed the same CBS shows we saw coming down and then followed with some more sitcoms. This flight was delayed 45 minutes due to a tire needing changed!

We arrived at home at 8 p.m. It was back to the grind in one day, but we had a wonderful, wonderful trip without one single complaint.

Categories
Entertainment Experiential Travel

Swimming Among the Piranhas: Facing My Fears in the Amazon

“It’s not actively bleeding,” the paramedic mused as he examined a small cut on my heel. “It probably won’t attract the piranhas.”

Feeling less than reassured, I eyed the pitch-black waters of the Amazon River that I was about to plunge into for a refreshing afternoon swim. My itinerary for the week flashed through my head: still to come was searching for caiman (a crocodile-like creature with teeth that were just as strong and sharp) and fishing for piranhas, all in the same river I was about to dive into.

Caiman. Piranhas. Swimming. It seemed to me that one of these activities did not quite fit with the other. On the other hand, when else would I get a chance to swim in the Amazon River? Besides, the Peruvian sun overhead was beating down, and the mosquitoes were relentlessly feasting on my sweaty limbs. The water would offer relief (but hopefully not the eternal relief kind). I took a leap of faith.

The water was cool and dark—we were swimming in a section of blackwater.  Here, the river was opaque and black, stained by tannins leached from the decaying vegetation below, which meant (for better or for worse), I couldn’t see what other creatures were sharing the water with me.

Behind me, I suddenly heard a sharp exhale of water, followed by a gasp from my fellow swimmers—grey river dolphins splashed in the river just a few yards away, alerting us to their presence with bursts of air from their blowholes. Rather than fearing the boat and group of tourists in their water, they seemed amused by us, possibly because we were using brightly colored pool noodles to stay afloat in the river.

The Amazonian river dolphins are revered and protected by locals—thanks in large part to local legends that promise harm and misfortune to anyone who kills or eats the creatures. The dolphins circled around us for a few magical minutes before disappearing back underwater and heading on their way.  I felt reassured—it’s said that dolphins won’t swim near caimans, so I hoped my chances of becoming bait were lower than I had feared.

As we bobbed gently in the water, the sounds of the jungle surrounded us. The boat engine was off and the air filled with the calls of parrots, the chatter of monkeys, and the constant buzz of insects. I was well and truly immersed in the Amazon—feeling its cool water around me, hearing its jungle song, and seeing the green trees towering around me.

Eventually, I climbed back into the boat, exhausted and exhilarated. Our guide pulled celebratory beers out of the cooler, and we sipped ice-cold cervezas as our skiff raced back to our home for the week, the Delfin II, a river cruise ship that was tied up a few miles away. The wind and still-powerful setting sun dried us off quickly as we sped over the water. As the brilliant green forest rushed by, I gazed down at the water and felt a huge sense of pride, happiness, and relaxation.

A trip down the Amazon forces travelers to meld with the ways of the river—there’s simply no way to make the river to adapt to your small, human needs. No matter how luxurious your tour, you have to confront all of the wonderful and sometimes scary aspects of the jungle and the water. You can’t explore the lush green forests without getting a few bug bites and spotting a few snakes. There’s certainly no Wi-Fi (even on a luxury river cruise) and so you’re forced to disconnect from your usual life—your only focus is the environment around you. Forgot something or want a snack? The nearest corner store is hundreds of miles away.

The Amazon forces you to be truly, authentically present within it, and that’s what sets this destination apart. You’ll come here and face your fears: of piranhas, of being disconnected, and of being vulnerable. But you’ll be rewarded with a true sense of discovery and accomplishment. And, of course, bragging rights for having braved swimming in the Amazon.

 

More from SmarterTravel:

Caroline Morse was hosted by Delfin Amazon Cruises on her trip to the Amazon. Follow her on Instagram TravelWithCaroline and on Twitter @CarolineMorse1 for photos from her adventure. For more information about Delfin Amazon Cruises, visit www.DelfinAmazonCruises.com

Categories
Sustainable Travel

10 Cruise Lines Going to Inspiring Lengths to Protect the Planet

If you’re an environmentalist on a cruise ship, you have to contend with some serious cognitive dissonance.

Being a passenger on a typical cruise liner means being responsible for almost three times the carbon emissions you produce on land, and even more CO2 per passenger mile than being on an airplane. (Plus, you’ll likely have to take a plane to get to your embarkation port.)

A 3,000-passenger cruise ship puts out seven tons of trash and 21,000 gallons of sewage per day—again, much more per person than on shore. Much of this wastewater is only lightly treated before being dumped into unregulated international waters. And according to the EPA, each day that an average cruise ship is at sea, it emits more soot than one million cars, and more sulfur dioxide than 13 million cars.

Occasionally, a ship will drop an anchor on irreparable coral reefs.

You can read more shocking eco-facts about cruises here (and check out cruise lines’ most recent environmental fines here). But since travelers aren’t about to start jumping ship—cruises will transport 24 million passengers this year alone—cruise lovers can comfort in knowing that things are slowly getting better.

Elinore Boeke, a spokesperson for CLIA, the cruise industry trade association, points out that though CLIA members’ 300 or so oceangoing cruise ships comprise far less than one percent of the global maritime community, “they’re at the forefront of developing responsible environmental practices and technologies, including advanced wastewater treatment systems, exhaust gas cleaning systems, efficient lighting, and solar panels.”

Still, until the leisure-boat industry as a whole does a more thorough job of cleaning up its act, travelers who are concerned about preserving the planet—and protecting the oceans—might consider supporting these 10 cruise companies (listed here in alphabetical order) that are making huge efforts to offset the damage. They’re not perfect, but they’re trying harder than most.

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Categories
Adventure Travel Booking Strategy Budget Travel Miscellany Money Outdoors Packing

What Every First-Time Cruiser Should Know

Congratulations on booking your first cruise. If you’re looking for some tips that’ll make the experience that much better, who’s more qualified to give advice than first-time cruise travelers who’ve just returned from their first voyage? What they didn’t know (packing, cocktails, ports, dining), they learned the hard way. But just as valuable, however, are the insights offered by the long-time cruiser, a grizzled ocean vet who knows the decks bow to stern. We’ve gathered top tips from both parties—three from first-timers and three from stalwart sea-goers.

 

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Best New Cruise Ships for 2010

In 2009, the 225,282-ton, 5,400-passenger behemoth Oasis of the Seas shook the foundation of cruise travel (think Loft Suites, live trees, AquaTheater, Hairspray). 2010 will be the year in which another distinctive prototype design—Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic—makes its debut. The 153,000-ton, 4,200-passenger Norwegian Epic has a bevy of new-to-cruise features to tout, including an ice bar, entertainment offerings headlined by the stylish Blue Man Group, the first-ever inner tube waterslide, and minimalist “studio” cabins that are aimed at a budget traveler.

On the small ship front, we’re really excited about Sea Cloud Hussar, the latest offering from the venerable Hamburg-based Sea Cloud Cruises. The luxurious 440-foot, three-masted tall ship, all burnished brass and gleaming woods, will offer cruises in the Red Sea starting in November. 2010 will also see the debut of new river ships from Avalon Waterways, Viking River, and AMAWATERWAYS, all lines that have both enjoyed explosive growth over the past few years.

There are a few key trends in 2010:

Carbon Casting from the Cruise Ship Mold. Of the 15 new cruise ships due out in 2010, all but three are at least the second (if not the third, fourth, or fifth) in a line of sisters. Costa took a surprising step down in size with Costa Luminosa in 2009, and sister Costa Deliziosa will be the second in its mid-size class. MSC Magnifica is the fourth in the line’s Musica class. Celebrity’s Eclipse carries on traditions begun by siblings Solstice and Equinox. German-based AIDA Cruises is debuting AIDAblu, the fourth (of six!) ships in its Sphinx series. And Allure of the Seas, the second in the Royal Caribbean’s revolutionary Oasis class, will debut at the end of 2010.

But … Sister Ship Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Spitting Image. Take British cruise line P&O Cruises’ Azura, which is physically identical to sister ship Ventura. While Ventura went after the family sector by way of bungee trampolines, circus school, and an impressive kids’ club, Azura is taking aim at a more sophisticated set of mainstream cruisers—such as couples that would be comfortable on Celebrity’s Solstice-class vessels.

New Ships Get Unusual Homeport Assignments. While cruise lines have long relied on North American passengers—and so have often debuted ships in the U.S.—there’s been a sea change over the last few years. Celebrity Equinox was christened in the U.K. last summer and Eclipse will actually be based in England for a full season when it debuts this spring. Costa Cruises, which has been offering Dubai-based Arabian Gulf itineraries with its older ships, will seasonally homeport its two newest ships—Luminosa and Deliziosa—there in 2010.

Beyond the trends, here’s a line-by-line rundown of what’s on tap in 2010:

Cruise Line: Costa Cruises

Ship: Costa Deliziosa

Maiden Voyage: February 5

The Inside Scoop: While there isn’t much structurally to distinguish the 92,700-ton, 2,260-passenger Costa Deliziosa from identical sister ship Costa Luminosa, the homeport for the ship’s maiden season—Dubai—is truly unique. Costa Deliziosa will be christened in the Emirate on February 23, marking the first time a new cruise ship has been named in the Middle East. It’ll then offer a season of cruises out of Dubai through early May.

Design-wise, Deliziosa and Luminosa will differ in terms of decor—both are designed by Joe Farcus, a ship architect best known for his dramatic and whimsical Carnival Cruise Lines interiors. Deliziosa’s theme is “life’s pleasures.” This new class of ship represents a smaller prototype for Costa Cruises, and these more mid-size vessels can actually fit through the Panama Canal. Onboard highlights include the fleet’s highest proportion of balcony cabins (772 of 1,130 cabins or 68 percent), PlayStation 3 (PS3) game consoles in every cabin, a 4D cinema, an 18-hole championship golf course simulator, and the line’s now trademark double-deck Samsara Spa with adjacent spa accommodations.

Where It Will Sail: Deliziosa will launch in winter 2010 with a season of seven-night roundtrip cruises from Dubai that’ll visit Muscat, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, and Fujairah. Then it’s on to Europe, with sailings in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, and British Isles.

Cruise Line: AIDA

Ship: AIDAblu

Maiden Voyage: February 9

The Inside Scoop: AIDAblu is the fourth ship in the German cruise line’s Sphinx series, which is currently comprised of AIDAluna, AIDAdiva, and AIDAbella. With the exception of an additional half deck of spa cabins, there will be few differences between AIDAblu and its three older sisters. Still, the series is one of the breeziest in cruising, with stylishly designed spaces and an absence of cruise conventions like dress codes and fixed seating. Onboard, the ship boasts the fabulous Theatrium—a soaring venue that plays host to everything from theater-in-the-round dance performances to shore lectures and cooking demos. Other high points are its massive spa and wellness area, themed buffet evenings, a selection of upscale boutique restaurants, and the first ever brewery on a cruise ship.

In another interesting touch, the ship’s godmother, designer Jette Loop, will do more than just give the nod for the Champagne smash; she’ll also be designing uniforms for the masters and officers in the AIDA Cruises fleet.

Editor’s Note: While AIDA is owned by U.S.-based Carnival Corporation, this is a German/Austrian/Swiss product through and through. There is absolutely no effort made to reach out to non-German-speaking travelers, though of course all are welcome onboard.

Where It Will Sail: The ship will offer cruises to Western Europe out of Hamburg during spring 2010, followed by cruises to the Baltic out of Warnemunde in the summer, and finally Canary Island cruises from Tenerife from September 2010 through April 2011.

Cruise Line: MSC Cruises

Ship: MSC Magnifica

Maiden Voyage: March 7

The Inside Scoop: Sister ship to the 93,300-ton, 2,518-passenger MSC Musica (2006), MSC Orchestra (2007), and MSC Poesia (2008), MSC Magnifica will share many of the same onboard features. These include a central foyer with three-deck-high waterfall; a large percentage of balcony cabins (about two-thirds of cabins have balconies); five restaurants; and a 16,000-square-foot spa area. There are, however, a couple of new features on Magnifica that weren’t on its siblings. The biggest addition is a retractable roof, or “magrodome,” above the mid-ship pool, which allows for continued swimming during inclement weather or on the ship’s cooler weather cruises. On the smaller side, the Chinese specialty restaurant introduced on Orchestra, but absent on Poesia or Musica, is back by popular demand.

Like other ships on our 2010 list, what really distinguishes Magnifica from its three sister ships are the itineraries. Magnifica will debut with a series of rather traditional Mediterranean voyages—but then the ship will cross the Atlantic to New York for a fall season of Canada and New England cruises, a first for the line and highly unusual for a European operator. MSC’s aim here is most definitely to court more stateside cruisers—but it also wants to introduce its core European market to new itineraries, and Canada (and New England) definitely qualifies. The line’s massive popularity in Europe will assure that even on the Canada cruises, the passenger mix will be cosmopolitan: a blend of Europeans and Americans.

Where It Will Sail: Magnifica will sail in the Mediterranean followed by Canada and New England. After the fall foliage season, the ship will reposition south to Fort Lauderdale, where it will offer Caribbean cruises.

Cruise Line: Avalon Waterways

Ships: Avalon Felicity and Avalon Luminary

Maiden Voyage: March 28 for Felicity; August 1 for Luminary

The Inside Scoop: River cruising has always been a popular form of travel with Europeans, but as the cruise style has gained in popularity with English speakers in the 2000’s, a number of fledgling English-language operators—including Avalon, AMAWATERWAYS, Viking River, Uniworld, and Tauck—have enjoyed rapid expansion.

Avalon Felicity and Luminary are the fourth and fifth ships, respectively, in Avalon’s “Scenery class” (Avalon Scenery debuted in 2008 as the first in the series). Like their predecessors, the new-builds feature an all-outside cabin setup, with standard cabins measuring 172 square feet—healthy footage for a river ship (where cabins are particularly tiny)—and junior suites at 258 square feet. A number of the ship’s cabins have “French balconies,” sliding glass doors with a protective railing (though you can’t step out). Onboard, passengers will find a sun deck with a small pool, a “Sky Grill” for al fresco dining, two lounges, an open-seating dining room, a hairdresser, and a fitness center. Felicity and Scenery also boast some of river cruising’s most modern touches, including flat-screen TV’s in the cabins and an elevator for general passenger use.

Where They Will Sail: Both ships will offer traditional river cruise itineraries along Europe’s great waterways, including the Rhine, Danube, and their tributaries.

Cruise Line: AMAWATERWAYS

Ship: Amabella

Maiden Voyage: May

The Inside Scoop: Like competitor Avalon Waterways, the AMAWATERWAYS fleet has been expanding quickly—striving to increase capacity without having to reinvent the wheel. Like its half dozen near-identical siblings, Amabella will offer almost all-inclusive cruising. Beyond the cruise ship standards—food, accommodation, entertainment—there’s complimentary wine and beer with dinner, unlimited Internet use, and guided tours in each port. There are also about 20 bikes available for exploring onshore (bike use included in the fare).

Then there are the onboard innovations, the modern additions that have made AMA’s ships some of the most modern on Europe’s rivers. All cabins have “Infotainment” setups, basically flat-screen TV’s with Internet access, movie and music libraries, bow and navigational cams, and more. Amabella also boasts bow to stern Wi-Fi, an elevator, wireless audio devices for port tours, and a collapsible bridge that enables it to pass underneath even the lowest river bridges.

Editor’s Note: For its first year, Amabella has been chartered for the Australian cruise market. It will be marketed exclusively to Aussies.

Where It Will Sail: The ship will likely sail itineraries along Europe’s great waterways, including the Rhine, Mosel, Main, and Danube.

Cruise Line: P&O Cruises

Ship: Azura

Maiden Voyage: April 12

The Inside Scoop: P&O Cruises’ Azura will actually represent a dramatic departure from the family-centric Ventura, with which it shares a basic layout. That’s because the 116,000-ton, 3,080-passenger Azura is being geared primarily to adults and couples. The majority of sailings will be two weeks or longer, which naturally limits the number of families, and the onboard ambience will be more refined.

Highlights of Azura include single cabins, an adults-only sun deck sanctuary called The Retreat (with adjacent spa cabins), and an upscale Indian Restaurant, Sindhu, backed by celebrity chef Atul Kochar. Azura will also feature P&O’s first giant poolside movie screen, a concept borrowed from sister line Princess Cruises. All this isn’t to say Azura will be anti-family—the bungee trampolines and Wii room from Ventura are back, too.

Where It Will Sail: Azura will debut with a season of Mediterranean cruises out of Southampton, then cruises to the Caribbean, then the Canary Islands (starting in October 2010), then the Caribbean. Most cruises are two weeks or longer, with a few shorter cruises mixed in.

Cruise Line: Celebrity Cruises

Ship: Celebrity Eclipse

Maiden Voyage: April 26

The Inside Scoop: Celebrity Eclipse is the third in the innovative Solstice class of ships, which as of now includes Celebrity Solstice (2008) and Celebrity Equinox (2009); a fourth, Celebrity Silhouette, will launch in 2011. The 117,000-ton, 2,850-passenger Celebrity Eclipse will debut in Southampton and will offer all of Celebrity Solstice’s innovations—the multiple dining venues from French to Asian fusion; the Lawn Club, a grass-covered spot for picnics, bocce, and other activities; a glass-blowing studio; and a gorgeous solarium with an indoor pool. Differences will be minor; decor and color palette will vary slightly, and there’s a possibility that one or two of the restaurants may have new themes and menus.

While sister ship Celebrity Equinox flirted with the U.K. cruising public—it was christened in Southampton in July 2009—Celebrity Eclipse is looking for a full-blown love affair. The ship will homeport out of Southampton for its maiden spring and summer season before heading to the Caribbean to offer roundtrip sailings out of Miami. Celebrity won’t be going all out to cater to the local market (it also anticipates it will appeal to its core North American audience), but there will be little tweaks. Additions to the food menu include mushy peas, steak, and kidney pie.

Where It Will Sail: Celebrity Eclipse will offer ex-U.K. sailings around the British Isles and Ireland, Scandinavia, and the Canary Islands, followed by Caribbean cruises out of Miami during the colder months. The ship will head back to Southampton in 2011.

Cruise Line: Compangie Du Ponant

Ship: Le Boreal

Maiden Voyage: May 6

The Inside Scoop: French line Compangie Du Ponant has two super sleek new-builds under construction at Fincantieri Shipyard in Italy: the 264-passenger Le Boreal, which will debut in May 2010, and sister ship L’Austral, which will set sail in 2011. These ships will be razor-sharp, state-of-the-art yachts, featuring all-outside cabins ranging in size from 200 to 398 square feet (95 percent of them will have balconies).

Le Boreal will feature two restaurants, a main restaurant serving upscale French and international cuisine, and a casual outdoor grill venue. Other public areas include a venue for lectures and performances; a panoramic lounge with Internet access, a library, and a cocktail bar; a lounge for dancing, live music performances, and afternoon tea service; a sun deck with swimming pool and outdoor bar; a casino; and a spa and fitness center with massage rooms, steam rooms, and a Turkish bath.

Intrigued but don’t speak French? English-speaking audiences will get a taste of the ships via charter agreements with American-based Tauck World Discovery.

Where It Will Sail: When Le Boreal debuts in 2010, it will be a path-finding super-yacht offering Mediterranean and Northern Europe (including Iceland), U.S. and Canada, Caribbean and Amazon River, Antarctica and South America cruises.

Cruise Line: Seabourn

Ship: Seabourn Sojourn

Maiden Voyage: June 6

The Inside Scoop: The 32,000-ton, 450-passenger Seabourn Sojourn, the second ship in the luxury line’s Odyssey class, will be identical to the first-in-class Seabourn Odyssey (a third, still-unnamed sibling will debut in summer 2011). According to a spokesman from the line, there will be a handful of differences, but nothing major—slight tweaks in decor, for example, or a couple of new things in the spa.

Speaking of the spa, Sojourn and sister ship Odyssey share the distinction of having the largest spa on any luxury cruise ship. Like Odyssey, Sojourn’s 11,400-square-foot spa will span two decks and include indoor and outdoor treatment rooms, as well as a Kinesis wall in the fitness center that will combine cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility training into one workout. The decadent, 750-square-foot spa villas are back as well, as are Odyssey’s range of dining options, which include the avant garde Restaurant 2 with its tasting menu of innovative dishes; the indoor-outdoor Colonnade restaurant, where diners can watch their breakfasts, lunches, or dinners being prepared in the open kitchen; and course-by-course, in-suite dining. Also included in the design are traditional Seabourn favorites, such as a water sports platform.

Seabourn Sojourn will be christened in Greenwich, England.

Where It Will Sail: The 14-night maiden cruise will visit the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Norwegian Fjords, and the following itineraries include sailings in Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, and even the rivers of Western Europe. For the winter months, the ship will reposition to the Caribbean with cruises out of Fort Lauderdale.

Cruise Line: Norwegian Cruise Line

Ship: Norwegian Epic

Maiden Voyage: June 24

The Inside Scoop: Norwegian Cruise Line’s 153,000-ton 4,200-passenger Norwegian Epic, the lone new-build to emerge from the once two-ship “F3” project, will debut in summer 2010 as the largest, trendiest, and most innovative new design ever from NCL. While the line is transferring much of what already works on its smaller ships—freestyle dining (Epic will have over a dozen restaurants), a nightclub-cum-bowling alley (NCL’s added another three-lane alley in the sports bar, O’Sheehans), tons of balconies (the majority of outsides will have them), and the Courtyard Villa complex—there are plenty of new concepts as well, solidifying Norwegian Epic’s status as the most eagerly anticipated new cruise ship of 2010.

On the sun deck, a sprawling Aqua Park will boast three waterslides, including one that utilizes an inner tube (“Epic Plunge”); a twisty slide (a la Carnival Dream‘s corkscrew slide); and one just for kids that actually goes right through the rock-climbing wall. The ship will also boast an impressive variety of active pursuits, including cruising’s first batting cage at sea, a climbing cage called the “Spider Web,” and a ropes course.

As for accommodations, the already-trendsetting NCL is introducing a new style of cabin, the “Studio.” There are 128 modern studios, a miniscule 100 square feet apiece, on Decks 11 and 12. The studios are all insides that sleep two passengers, each with a corridor facing window. Similar in concept to the ship-within-a-ship Courtyard Villa idea (though perhaps more like easyCruise in style), studio passengers get an exclusive, shared social space called the Living Room, featuring a bar, two large TV screens, a concierge for booking dinner reservations and shore excursions, and comfy seating for hanging out, ordering room service, or sipping pre-dinner drinks.

On the entertainment front, the Second City improve troupe gains their own stand-alone comedy venue, and Vegas favorite Blue Man Group will join NCL’s already innovative entertainment offerings.

Where It Will Sail: Norwegian Epic will sail alternating weeklong Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises through April 2011. The Western Caribbean cruise includes stops in Costa Maya, Roatan, and Cozumel. Norwegian Epic’s Eastern Caribbean itinerary includes calls in St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Nassau.

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Nieuw Amsterdam

Maiden Voyage: July 4

The Inside Scoop: The 86,000-ton, 2,106-passenger Nieuw Amsterdam, the fourth ship in Holland America’s venerable history to carry the name, is a sibling to Eurodam, which launched last year.

History aside, Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam will be largely identical to sister ship Eurodam, though interiors will pay homage to its namesake New York City. As part of the fleet’s evolutionary Signature class of ships, new innovations include the addition of the Pan-Asian Tamarind restaurant; the fabulously exotic Silk Den lounge; Canaletto, a casual Italian eatery; Holland America’s impressive enrichment opportunities (photo, culinary, and computer classes); and state-of-the-art navigation and safety systems. The ship will also feature the Retreat, an exclusive, open-deck area with private cabanas that are available for rent.

Where It Will Sail: Nieuw Amsterdam will sail a variety of 12-night Eastern Mediterranean itineraries roundtrip from Venice or between Barcelona, Spain, and Venice. These cruises will visit ports throughout Greece, Croatia, Turkey, and Italy.

Cruise Line: Cunard

Ship: Queen Elizabeth

Maiden Voyage: October 12

The Inside Scoop: The 90,400-ton, 2,092-passenger Queen Elizabeth is a sister ship to Queen Victoria, which debuted in late 2007. There will be a few tweaks to Queen Elizabeth, including a very different design scheme evocative of art deco (Queen Victoria was more focused on British opulence). Other additions include a glass roof erected over the games deck (with its sporting pursuits inspired by those from the 30’s, including bowls, croquet, and paddle tennis).

Minor differences aside, both ships are aiming to please the classic cruise aficionado looking for Cunard tradition. There’s the 1,000-square-foot dance floor for ballroom dancing during formal evenings, the wood-paneled 6,000-book library, the elegant theater complete with private boxes, and the cruise class structure (passengers in the Princess Grill suites, for instance, have their own dining room). In line with the ambience of elegance at sea, Queen Elizabeth’s shopping parade will feature Harrods and Hermes shops.

Where It Will Sail: Queen Elizabeth’s maiden voyage will follow the same path taken by QE2 on its first voyage. Departing Southampton on 12 October, 2010, the 13-night voyage will sail from Southampton to Vigo, Lisbon, Cadiz, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Palma, and Madeira. Other itineraries, from October 2010 to January 2011, include voyages to the Western and Central Mediterranean and the Caribbean.

Cruise Line: Sea Cloud Cruises

Ship: Sea Cloud Hussar

Maiden Voyage: November 4

Inside Scoop: Sea Cloud Hussar, Sea Cloud Cruises’ stunning 138-passenger, full-rigged, three-masted tall ship, will debut in fall 2010. At 440 feet long, the ship will be the largest of its kind at sea. The luxury sailing ship is currently under construction in Spain at Factoria de Naval Marin.

Onboard, amongst the antiqued brass and polished veneer, passengers will find an elegant lido bar and bistro; lounge; traditional restaurant; library; spa with sauna, steam bath and relaxation area, hydro-massage shower, and treatment rooms; swimming platform; sun deck; and a small gym. All cabins are oceanview (23 have balconies) and feature bathrobes, slippers, hair dryers, TV’s, and direct e-mail access. But beyond the upscale ambience, a cruise on Sea Cloud Hussar will focus on the sailing experience, and nautically minded cruisers will enjoy the top deck spaces where masts and sea breeze connect.

Where It Will Sail: After an inaugural cruise from Athens to Larnaca, Cyprus, Sea Cloud Hussar will begin sailing cruises out of Dubai to destinations in the Arabian Gulf including Muscat, Fujairah, and Abu Dhabi.

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Allure of the Seas

Maiden Voyage: December 12

The Inside Scoop: The 225,282-ton, 5,400-passenger Allure of the Seas will join sister ship Oasis of the Seas as the biggest cruise ship ever constructed—the Oasis-class vessels are a whopping 40 percent larger than the previous titleholders, Royal Caribbean’s Freedom-class trio. Allure of the Seas will feature all the same mind-blowing innovations found on Oasis of the Seas, including its Loft Suites, cupcake cupboard, zip-lining, 20-plus dining options, and zero-entry beach pool. Of course, the revolutionary neighborhood concept pioneered on Oasis is back. The ships are divided into seven regions, each with its own purpose—from Central Park, a tropical plant- and tree-filled promenade with cafes, restaurants, and boutique shops, to the Boardwalk, a Coney Island-esque space featuring a handmade wooden carousel and AquaTheater.

Where It Will Sail: Allure of the Seas will sail alternating seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises every Sunday from Ft. Lauderdale starting December 12, 2010. The Eastern Caribbean voyages will call on St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and Nassau. The Western Caribbean voyages will call on Falmouth, Jamaica’s new cruise port; Cozumel; and Labadee, Royal Caribbean’s private beach on Haiti. Both itineraries will feature three days at sea.

What ships do you look forward to sailing on in 2010? Do you think the new ships have left any amenities out? Share your thoughts, experiences, and ideas by submitting a comment below!

The 10 best Caribbean cruises

The Caribbean Sea is the world’s fifth largest body of water and is home to more than 7,000 islands. While you can’t sail a major cruise ship to every nook and cranny of the Caribbean, you do have an abundance of choices when it comes to picking an itinerary.

Feeling overwhelmed? No worries, mon! I’ve pared down the cruise line’s offerings to the top 10 Caribbean itineraries. This list will give you a sense of what the different voyages have to offer, and help you decide where you want to go on your next island cruise.

Western Caribbean

New to Caribbean cruising? The basic seven-night western Caribbean cruise is one of the best itineraries for first-timers. You can depart from a variety of homeports and get a mix of Central American and island ports, as well as days at sea. [% 14460 | | Princess’ %] cruise on the Grand Princess departs from Ft. Lauderdale and calls at the quintessential western Caribbean ports of Jamaica; Grand Cayman; Cozumel, Mexico; and Princess Cays (Princess’ private island in the Bahamas). Activities range from snorkeling and scuba diving off Grand Cayman, exploring Mayan ruins in Mexico, and climbing a waterfall in Jamaica. Plus, you get two days at sea to enjoy the ship.

Eastern Caribbean

The sister itinerary to the western Caribbean is the seven-night eastern Caribbean cruise. Many ships alternate between the east and the west each week, creating opportunities for back-to-back two-week sailings. Such is the case with one of the largest ships on earth: [% 15420 | | Royal Caribbean’s %] Freedom of the Seas. Its eastern Caribbean itinerary stops in Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten with three days at sea. You can enjoy shopping, lying on the beach, and exploring rainforests on the islands, and spend the remaining days rock climbing, ice skating, and boxing on this gargantuan floating resort.

Southern Caribbean

Experienced cruisers who’ve sailed the Caribbean before look to the southern Caribbean for more exotic and less crowded islands. Most weeklong itineraries depart from Puerto Rico or Barbados because the islands are too far to reach from the U.S. mainland. To cruise in style, try [% 16844 | | Silversea’s %] eight-night voyage out of San Juan on the Silver Wind. With only one day at sea, you can visit Grenada, Barbados, Bequia, Dominica, Antigua, and the exclusive St. Bart’s. Look for unspoiled beaches, spice plantations, and romantic settings.

The deep south

No, I’m not talking about a cruise through Mississippi and Alabama, but a voyage to the southernmost reaches of the Caribbean sea: the ABC islands and the northeast coast of South America. These off-the-beaten-path itineraries aren’t offered by every line, but they can be especially good choices during hurricane season because most storms don’t strike that far south. [% 9668 | | Regent Seven Seas’ %] 11-night cruise on the Seven Seas Voyager out of Ft. Lauderdale visits not only Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao, but St. Lucia, St. Kitts, Puerto Rico, and Grand Turk as well. You’ll experience the Caribbean from tip to toe.

Short Caribbean cruises

The great thing about the Caribbean is that it’s so close to the southern ports of the U.S. If you don’t have a lot of time for your vacation, consider a short cruise. You’ll definitely feel like you escaped the office without taking too many days off work. [% 14665 | | Celebrity %] offers a top-notch five-night cruise on the recently renovated Century. You’ll depart from Miami for Jamaica and Grand Cayman, spend two days at sea, then return refreshed and tan from your short break.

Long Caribbean cruise

Retirees and other lucky folks with lots of vacation time can choose to explore the entire Caribbean on one two-week cruise. With so much time to sail, you can save money by departing from a U.S. homeport, yet still see a great deal of destinations. [% 9823 | | Holland America’s %] 14-night southern Caribbean cruise aboard the ms Veendam takes you to ports in the southern, eastern, and western Caribbean, as well as South America, with just four days to spend at sea. You’ll depart Tampa for St. Thomas; Dominica; Barbados; Grenada; Isla de Margarita, Venezuela; Bonaire; Aruba; Grand Cayman; and the line’s private island, Half Moon Cay.

Central America

Not every Caribbean destination is an island. Recently, cruise lines have been experimenting with their western Caribbean itineraries, adding more calls in Costa Rica, Belize, Guatemala, and Panama. These “exotic Caribbean” cruises, as they’re sometimes called, give you the opportunity for more adventurous activities ashore. Try [% 12025 | | Norwegian’s %] seven-night cruise out of New Orleans with stops in Roatan, Honduras; Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala; Belize City, Belize; and Cozumel, Mexico. Or, for a few more days at sea, check out [% 11986 | | Carnival’s %] eight-night itinerary from Ft. Lauderdale to Colon, Panama; Limon, Costa Rica; and Belize City, Belize.

Private islands

A favorite destination for many cruisers is their cruise line’s private island. You can experience pristine beaches without the hassles of paying for lounges, changing money, and avoiding locals hawking their wares. Plus, the cruise line will set up barbecue lunches, water sports, and cabana massages for guests. Sound good? Now imagine an itinerary with two days devoted to one of these exclusive paradises. [% 13509 | | Disney Cruise Line %] has recently added a new voyage on the Disney Magic complete with two stops in Castaway Cay. The seven-night sailing departs from Port Canaveral/Orlando and also calls in Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico.

Short Bahamas cruise

OK, so the Bahamian islands are technically in the Atlantic, not the Caribbean. But given the island nation’s warm weather and oceanfront attractions, I think cruisers considering a Caribbean voyage shouldn’t rule out a Bahamas cruise—especially if you’re short on time. Several cruise lines offer three-night itineraries for the perfect long weekend or midweek escape. [% 11986 | | Carnival’s %] three-night cruise on the Sensation departs from Port Canaveral, overnights in Nassau, and spends the final day at sea before heading home. You get a taste of both the Bahamas and onboard life before you have to return to your normal routine.

Long Bahamas cruise

If you’d prefer to explore several Bahamian islands, a longer Bahamas cruise is the answer. These sailings can visit several ports within the Bahamas or include an overnight in one port so you can experience the island’s nightlife. [% 12025 | | Norwegian’s %] seven-night Bahamas and Florida cruise on the new Norwegian Gem is a convenient getaway for East Coast residents. The voyage departs from New York and stops in Port Canaveral before spending three days in three Bahamian destinations—Nassau, Grand Bahama Island, and Great Stirrup Cay.

News roundup from premium and luxury lines

Read the latest news from Crystal, Cunard, and Holland America, plus find out if your favorite lines garnered an award from Travel Weekly.

Crystal

[% 13516 | | Crystal %] announced its 2009 itineraries, which include visits to all seven continents. The luxury line’s 57 voyages will sail to a total of 185 ports and will feature new itineraries in South America, Europe, and the Middle East. Highlights include a return to Amazon cruising, a fall cruise to Israel and Egypt, and maiden calls to Kotor, Montenegro; Lipari, Italy; Patmos, Greece; Sinop, Turkey; Alesund, Norway; and Kiel, Germany.

In March 2008, look for two new restaurants to debut aboard the Crystal Symphony. World-class master chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa has teamed up with Crystal to create Silk Road and The Sushi Bar, which will offer Japanese food influenced by Peruvian and European cuisine.

Cunard

[% 9732 | | Cunard %] fans have the opportunity to witness a once-in-a-lifetime event on January 13. For the first and only time, the three Cunard queens will sail together out of New York Harbor. The Queen Elizabeth 2, Queen Mary 2, and Queen Victoria will depart at 6:30 pm and cruise past the Statue of Liberty at 7 pm to a fanfare of fireworks. You can watch the ships from Battery Park, Robert F. Wagner Park, The Esplanade, and Hudson River Park.

Holland America

[% 9823 | | Holland America %] revealed the itineraries for its newest ship, the ms Eurodam. The ship will set sail on its 10-night maiden voyage on July 5, 2008, and visit Norway’s fjords and the Scottish Highlands. Prior to that, it will sail a three-night prelude cruise from Rotterdam to Copenhagen via Hamburg. The ship will remain in Europe for the summer. It will then transit across the Atlantic to sail a three-night cruise out of New York City on August 29 before beginning a season of fall Canada and New England sailings, followed by Caribbean voyages for the rest of 2008.

Accolades

Travel Weekly (registration required) announced the winners of its Reader Choice Awards. Here are the winners in the cruise category—do you agree with its results?

Domestic: Carnival
Alaska: Princess
Caribbean: Royal Caribbean
Europe: Holland America
Luxury: Regent Seven Seas
Sales and service: Carnival
Overall: Royal Caribbean

Travel Weekly also singled out a few noteworthy ships, including the Liberty of the Seas (rookie of the year), the Queen Mary 2 (luxury), and Carnival Spirit (best overall).

New nightlife options on the Celebrity Solstice

[% 14665 | | Celebrity’s %] next ship—the Celebrity Solstice—will not launch until December 2008, but the cruise line is already leaking information about the vessel’s amenities. Today, Celebrity released details of the ship’s new nightlife options.

The Solstice will offer several new bars and lounges, as well as updated versions of Celebrity favorites. Here’s what you’ll find onboard:

  • Cellar Masters: This new wine bar will offer wines by the glass and by the bottle, as well as wine-tasting programs throughout the cruise.
  • Ensemble Lounge: This cocktail lounge will have a jazz music theme, reflected by the room’s design and furnishings.
  • Passport Bar: This nautical-themed bar will be located on the ground floor of the Grand Foyer.
  • Quasar: A nightclub with a ’60s and ’70s theme, Quasar will feature cocoon-shaped chairs suspended from the ceiling, leather banquettes shaped like vintage cars, and special lighting and LED screens for nightly light shows.
  • Sky Observation Lounge: Guests can take in panoramic views or dance the night away at this top-of-the-ship lounge. The room’s lighting and decor will change to reflect the style of dance showcased in the space each evening.
  • The Martini Bar and Crush: The Solstice will feature a Martini Bar similar to the one on the Century. In addition, it will offer Crush, a small room with an ice-filled table where cruisers can taste caviar or vodka.
  • Fortunes Casino: This casino will be the largest in the fleet with 16 gaming tables and over 200 slot machines.
  • Michael’s Club: Like other ships in the Celebrity fleet, the Solstice will offer a clubby piano bar featuring scotch and cognac tastings.

New ships for 2008 and how to save

This year, seven new ships and two refitted vessels will make their public debuts. You’ll see some carbon copies of ships you already know, such as Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas and Princess’ Ruby Princess. At the same time, Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, and MSC Cruises are rolling out new classes of vessels with their 2008 new-builds. Look to these lines for innovations in ship amenities and design.

As always, book early if you want to snag a maiden-season voyage for the lowest possible price. Short preview sailings allow you to try out a new ship on the cheap. Or, look for repositioning cruises to offer lower-than-normal per-night rates.

Here’s what to expect in 2008.

Carnival

On July 2, the “largest ‘Fun Ship’ ever constructed” will set sail on its inaugural voyage. The 3,006-passenger Carnival Splendor will offer diverse itineraries and innovative amenities within the [% 11986 | | Carnival %] fleet.

The Splendor begins its career with an eight-night Mediterranean cruise before heading to northern Europe for a series of 12-night sailings. Then it’s back to the Med for 12-night fall cruises before repositioning to Ft. Lauderdale for seven-night Caribbean voyages. In 2009, the Splendor will become the first Carnival ship to sail around South America before it settles in Long Beach for year-round Mexican Riviera cruises.

Onboard, the ship’s design aptly focuses on “splendid things.” The new Cloud 9 Spa will feature a thalassotherapy pool, a full gym, and 68 spa staterooms accessible by private elevator. The central pool deck area will sport a retractable glass dome and Carnival’s popular Seaside Theatre with a 270-square-foot outdoor LED screen. The ship will also feature the Pinnacle Supper Club (Carnival’s specialty restaurant) and a 5,500-square-foot children’s play area.

You can sail the Carnival Splendor this year for as little as $249 per person. Reservations are currently available for 2008 and 2009 itineraries.

Celebrity

The Celebrity Solstice, due in December, will introduce a new class of ships for [% 14665 | | Celebrity %]. The design will incorporate touches of luxury throughout the 2,850-passenger ship. Staterooms will be larger with spacious bathrooms, expanded storage space, and modular closets. The AquaClass cabins will feature spa amenities and provide guests with exclusive access to the AquaSpa relaxation room, Persian Garden steam room, and the intimate specialty restaurant, Blu. Everyone onboard will be able to appreciate new and updated bars and lounges, as well as the first-ever glassblowing demonstrations at sea.

The ship’s maiden season features seven-night eastern Caribbean itineraries from Ft. Lauderdale to Puerto Rico, St. Kitts, and St. Maarten, alternating with voyages to Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, Tortola, and Labadee. The Solstice will sail these routes through April 12, 2009.

Fares start at $819 for inside cabins, but the verandah cabins (priced from $1,099) will be the big focus on this ship. Inaugural season cruises are currently on sale.

Holland America

[% 9823 | | Holland America %] will also introduce a new class with its new ship. The ms Eurodam will be the first Signature-class vessel when it debuts this July. The 2,104-guest Eurodam will have one more deck than its Vista-class siblings and feature three specialty restaurants (including pan-Asian and Italian eateries), more high-end shops, and staterooms on the top decks.

The Eurodam will set sail on a three-night prelude cruise on July 2 before departing for its maiden voyage to northern Europe on July 5. The ship will remain in Europe through August, then head to New York for Canada and New England voyages through mid-October. The Eurodam will reposition once again, this time to Ft. Lauderdale, to embark on seven-night eastern Caribbean cruises through April 2009.

If you want to check out the Eurodam on the cheap, book either its three-night prelude cruise in Europe or its three-night introductory cruise out of New York. Prices start at $599 and $499 per person, respectively.

MSC Cruises

[% 2360581 | | MSC Cruises %] is the only line debuting two new ships in 2008. The MSC Poesia will debut on April 5 in Dover and then sail to its Venice homeport, where it will offer seven-night eastern Mediterranean cruises through November. Of the 1,274 staterooms on this Musica-class ship, 80 percent are outside and 65 percent sport a verandah. The ship will also have four restaurants, 10 bars, a children’s play area, mini-golf, a theater, and a spa.

The MSC Fantasia will debut at the end of the year, likely in December. It will be the first in a new class of ships for MSC Cruises, featuring new luxury elements. The ship will offer a VIP area called MSC Yacht Club with 99 staterooms. These cabins will include butler service and access to an exclusive area with a pool, bar, solarium, and hot tubs. Other facilities include 1,637 cabins, the Aqua Spa with a thermal cave, five restaurants, four pools, a Formula One simulator, a 3D cinema, and a children’s area with a two-story waterslide.

Take advantage of MSC Cruise’s early-booking prices to get the best deal on an inaugural-season cruise aboard the MSC Poesia. Fares start at $899 for inside cabins.

Norwegian

For the first time in years, [% 12025 | | Norwegian %] is not launching a new ship in 2008, but it is re-launching an old ship. The Pride of Hawaii will sail its last Hawaii cruise under the NCL America flag on January 28. Then the ship will go into wet dock in Los Angeles where it will transform into the Norwegian Jade and be reflagged. The ship will receive new hull artwork (no more giant hula dancer) and a casino.

The Norwegian Jade will sail its first cruise under its new identity on February 16. The ship will journey from L.A. to Miami and then on to Barcelona. After another wet dock, the Jade begins 12- to 14-night eastern and western Mediterranean cruises. On May 30, the ship will move to its summer home of Southampton for cruises to the Mediterranean, North Cape, western Europe, and British Isles. In December, the Jade will once again cross the Atlantic and spend the winter cruising the Bahamas, Florida, and the Caribbean out of New York.

Fares start at $349 for an inside cabin on a one-time-only two-night cruise to nowhere out of New York. For an excellent deal, book the 13-night transatlantic sailing on February 29. Inside cabins start at $599—that’s only $46 per night.

Princess

The 3,070-passenger Ruby Princess launches November 15, 2008. [% 14460 | | Princess’ %] new ship will sail seven-night western Caribbean cruises out of Ft. Lauderdale, calling at Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, and Princess Cays (Princess’ private island). The ship will sail this itinerary through May 9, 2009.

The Ruby Princess is a sister to the Crown Princess and Emerald Princess. Like its siblings, the ship will feature Movies Under the Stars, two specialty restaurants, and an adults-only sun deck. Eighty percent of all outside cabins will have balconies.

The Ruby Princess’ inaugural season is currently on sale. Prices start at $634 for inside cabins.

Royal Caribbean

[% 15420 | | Royal Caribbean’s %] last Freedom-class ship will make its debut in May. The Independence of the Seas will feature the class’ signature amenities: FlowRider surfing, H2O Zone water park, cantilevered whirlpools, ice skating rink, and rock-climbing wall. It can carry a total of 4,375 guests in 1,817 staterooms.

The Independence will, however, be the first Freedom-class ship to explore Europe. It will sail a variety of four- to 14-night Europe cruises out of Southampton this spring, summer, and fall. The ship will then reposition to Ft. Lauderdale to sail six-night western Caribbean cruises to destinations in Central America, alternating with eight-night eastern Caribbean cruises.

Prices start at $629 for six-night western Caribbean sailings. For the best per-night rate, try a 13-night transatlantic cruise on November 6, 2008, or April 12, 2009. With so much to do onboard, you won’t be bored during all those sea days.

Silversea

As with Norwegian, [% 16844 | | Silversea’s %] new ship is also not a new-build. The luxury line acquired an expedition ship, which it will retrofit and launch in June as the Silver Dawn. The ship’s multimillion-dollar refurbishment will include upgrades for all staterooms and public areas and the addition of eight state-of-the-art Zodiac boats. After its makeover, the ship will carry 132 guests in 66 oceanview suites, many with balconies.

The Dawn will set sail from London and head for the Arctic Circle, Greenland, and Iceland during the summer season. For the fall and winter, the ship will reposition to South America and Antarctica. Starting in 2009, Silversea’s new ship will spend every April through October in Tahiti and the rest of the year in South America and Antarctica.

Pricing is not yet available for the Silver Dawn’s maiden season. If you’re hoping for a bargain, keep your fingers crossed that one of the voyages will be included in Silversea’s Silver Sailings discount program.