Friday, August 20, 2004

PORT’S-A-POPPIN: Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades, where nearly 50 cruise ships from 20 lines call, is posting record cruise passenger growth for 2004. Just nine months into the current fiscal year, numbers eclipsed 2003’s passenger total, and just one month later, the South Florida cruise port powered past its all-time annual high mark, set in 2002. By 2004’s end, the port expects another first -- topping the four million annual passenger milestone. Bullish stats reflect unabating appeal, according to port honchos, who project continued strong growth, thanks to Fort Lauderdale’s popularity as a destination, facility development, and rapid growth of nearby Fort Lauderdale / Hollywood International Airport. The cruise passenger surge has been fueled by addition of a third daily cruise line, St. Tropez Casino Cruises, as well as significant growth from the port’s other major lines, introducing larger ships such as the 3,100-passenger Caribbean Princess, the 2,620-passenger Queen Mary 2, the 2,114-passenger Costa Mediterranea, the 1,848-passenger Oosterdam and the 1,586-passenger MSC Lirica, among others. Passenger counts also rose with last November’s relocation of several ships from the Port of Miami during the Free Trade Area of the Americas event downtown.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

SCRATCH THE NORWEGIAN: Long called NCL, the entity historically known as Norwegian Cruise Line truly now is the acronym, as in NCL Corporation Ltd. In a realignment of corporate structure under its parent (Star Cruises Group) and through two new financing transactions, the newly named corporation has raised a bundle (as in $1.05 billion) to service existing debt and build more ships. Formed for the group’s North American-based activities, the new entity covers the NCL, NCL America and Orient Lines brands. Corporate realignment and new financing transactions involve a new six-year corporate level banking facility of $800 million, comprising a $300 million term loan and a $500 million revolving credit facility, fully underwritten by seven Norwegian and German shipping banks. Colin Veitch, president and CEO, calls this a big step toward “all kinds of interesting developments” and for transitioning from a mixed bag of several aging mid-sized ships to a brand new fleet of large ships, purpose-built for Freestyle Cruising. The parent group, picking up all six of the mid-sized ships, is chartering them back until the new ships are ready for launch and the old can be redeployed to Asia. Pride of America, to debut next June as the second of three U.S. flagged ships sailing Hawaii, will sail seven-day roundtrips from Honolulu as well as three- and four-day inter-island cruises between Honolulu and Maui. For details, call (800) 327-7030.

Monday, August 16, 2004

HAL’S FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH: To lure a younger crowd, Holland America is upgrading its Youth Program fleetwide. Previously serving ages 5 and older, CLUB HAL now offers creative activities for ages 3 to 12, with nifty art-themed facilities and separate getaway areas for teens. The youth-oriented expansion is part of the premium line’s $225 million Signature of Excellence initiative. Club HAL, with art tables and a tape dispenser-styled slide, has colors swirling on the ceiling, with paint brush pillars and enormous pencils adorning walls. Activities are supervised by permanent, full-time directors and staff with degrees in education, childhood development, recreation, leisure studies and related fields, so kids enjoy safe, supervised fun. Ages 8 to 12 have their own area for arcade games, air hockey, Karaoke, Foosball, Internet access and Sony Playstations. Ages 13 to 17 can get away from family and siblings at The Loft, resembling a funky New York artist’s pad. A special passageway leads to a secluded teen deck near the stern called The Oasis, perfect for soaking up rays or cooling off in a one-of-a-kind waterfall and cave. Other features include the Little Artist program, Luau at the Oasis, Teen Superstar and Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) contests, Campin’ under the Stars and Wacky Olympics. Families can take advantage of Cranium Family Game time, Family Olympics and Karaoke. A new service, Club HAL After Hours, lets parents enjoy time alone while children have fun elsewhere aboard. At $5 per child per hour, the service extends from 10 p.m. to midnight. Improvements will be fleetwide by 2006.
ATTENTION, SUNDAY CRUISE SHOPPERS: Next week, MSC Cruises opens a second reservation center with expanded services and hours at the company’s new Fort Lauderdale headquarters. The added rez center operates in tandem, thanks to a new phone system, with an existing center in Moonachie, N.J. Effective Aug. 16, staff will be on hand Mondays-Fridays 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at (800) 666-9333. The goal is to make things easier for travel agents, enhancing a TrueBlue Partnerships program. Itineraries up for grabs include Caribbean sailings of both the MSC Opera, departing Genoa on Nov. 15 for a 17-night transatlantic to Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades, and MSC Lirica also arriving for its gala intro to the North American market, starting Dec. 4. Both ships sail 7-, 10- and 11-night eastern / western Caribbean and Panama Canal itineraries before returning to Europe on 17-night transatlantics in spring, 2005. The line, launching a $3 billion expansion last year, scooped up the MSC Sinfonia (built in 2002) from bankruptcy last month, and has two Panamax ships on order.