Friday, June 18, 2004

SKY POSES NO LIMIT: Four days after launching a privately developed rocket plane into history, creator Burt Rutan will sail off on Celebrity Cruises' Mercury. The aviation legend -- teaming with investor / philanthropist Paul Allen of Microsoft fame -- is attempting the first non-governmental flight to leave earth’s atmosphere. On June 21, “SpaceShipOne” is set to rocket 62 miles into sub-orbital space above the Mojave Civilian Aerospace Test Center. If it works, Rutan says the feat opens the space frontier to private enterprise. Ruten designed the Voyager, the first airplane to circle the world non-stop without refueling. His company, Scaled Composites, developed the catamaran for Dennis Connor in the America’s Cup challenge and the gondola for Virgin Atantic CEO Richard Branson in his effort to circle the world nonstop. As featured speaker in the line’s “Celebrity Discoveries” enrichment lecture series, Rutan will hobnob with guests onboard the ship’s June 25 seven-night cruise departing Seattle for Alaska. Other series speakers range from film critic Leonard Maltin to sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

VINTAGE SAILINGS: Clos Du Val (a Napa Valley winery specializing in Pinot Noir, Cabernet and Chardonnay), Clos Pegase (a Calistoga winery known for Cabernet, Chardonnay and Merlot) and Rosenblum Cellars (on the island of Alameda, with award-winning Zinfandels) have joined vintners participating in Cruise West’s California Wine Country cruises from San Francisco. Three- and four-night itineraries include private dining in winery settings, storage-cavern tastings, and tours of vineyards, wine museums and art collections. Departures run Sept. 17 through Nov. 15 aboard the line’s 102-passenger Spirit of Endeavour. Both itineraries (with close-up views of Alcatraz, Angel Island and Tiburon’s hillside mansions) visit Benziger, Ledson and St. Supéry wineries. The three-night also visits Clos Du Val, Clos Pegase and Domaine Carneros, while the four-night adds Schramsberg, Markham Vineyards, Viansa Winery & Italian Marketplace, Rosenblum Cellars and a wine-tasting at Sausalito’s Bacchus and Venus Gallery. Fares ($699 to $1,399 per person, double, for three nights, and $1,049 to $1,899 for four nights) include on-board tastings, shore excursions with meals and wine, transfers, taxes, and fees. Guests can extend stays in San Francisco with two-night pre / post-cruise hotel packages in Fisherman’s Wharf or Union Square, from $245.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

BIG FLAP OVER PRIDE: The Stars & Stripes had scarcely been raised over Norwegian Cruise Line’s revamped Pride of Aloha during milestone ceremonies in San Francisco when Monterey's KSBW Channel 8 managed to create an environmental stir. NCL America, the line’s domestic brand, has come back swinging. It disputes notions that the first modern cruise ship to fly a U.S. flag in nearly half a century was in the wrong place at prime time during this month’s flag-raising. Broadcast aside, NCL says two onboard Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and San Francisco Bar Pilot Hugh Cannon (aboard to ensure proper anchorage) confirm that the 2,000-passenger vessel was in a designated cruise ship anchorage. More specifically, NCL says Monterey Harbor Master Steve Schleibleuer confirms that the ship was at Anchorage A. That bit of news was not included in the offending broadcast, NCL says, noting the TV station had relied on use of onshore lasers and GPS. To avoid harming the marine sanctuary, NCL America enlisted Cannon (whose Pilot’s association is regulated by the State of California) because of his familiarity with area waters. “Environmental protection is among NCL’s highest priorities,” the line said in a statement. “… NCL’s environmental policies and technologies onboard its ships are among the most stringent in the industry and exceed existing laws and international conventions.” The ship – formerly the Bahamian-flagged Norwegian Sky -- just wrapped a multi-million dollar refurbishment for the first company in recent memory to offer inter-island Hawaii cruising aboard a modern U.S.-flagged, U.S.-crewed megaship. After June’s Pacific Coastal series, the ship homeports in Honolulu for a July 4th christening followed by regular seven-day, year-round Hawaii cruises, calling on four main islands and offering up to 96 hours in port. Included are two overnight stays in Kauai and Maui and full-day calls in Kona and Hilo on the Big Island.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

KGB SPOOKS, VODKA & BROWN BREAD: Europe takes on more intrigue with Holland America Line's Signature of Excellence initiative with more Medallion Collection shore excursions while introducing Signature Collection touring. In St. Petersburg, Russia, 16 excursions include Moscow tours of the Kremlin and KGB spy quarters, Russia’s only Vodka Museum, Hermitage Museum, or Catherine the Great’s Pushkin Palace. On Guernsey, shore adventures include trips to car-less neighboring Sark Island. Signature Collection Touring provides a private car / minivan, driver and guide for two to eight guests in 47 European ports, with unlimited mileage, tolls, parking fees and bottled water. Medallion Collection shore excursions ($25 to $529) include offbeat experiences. Fitted out with an apron, bowl and all-important ingredients, guests can knead their way to perfect loaves of Irish Brown Bread in County Cork, learn to dance the Walls of Limerick and Siege of Ennis, lunch at a pub, and get instruction on the sport of road bowling. The day ends with brown bread, slathered in Irish butter. Signature Collection tours are $300 to $2,400, depending on group size, port, duration and vehicle. Cruises start at $899 per person, double, plus tax.

Monday, June 14, 2004

ROMANCING THE TOME: Ultra-luxury Seabourn Cruise Line tantalizes with Chart A New Course, a breezy 108-page catalog with 134 small-ship cruises aboard Seabourn Pride, Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Legend. The romantic all-suite yachts sail to 250 ports in 76 countries during a 16-month 2005 / 2006 stretch to Asia and the Pacific, Europe, the Americas, India and Africa. The cover -- embossed, debossed and accented with gold foil -- looks more like a coffee-table tome than a catalog. Inside the front cover, all 134 sailings list departure dates, length, and Early Booking Savings. A second gatefold shows ports of call and days at sea. Early booking trims fares by up to half, and most cruises combine for even more savings. EBS has no expiration, but percentages decline or disappear as departures fill. Booking two or more cruises totaling up to 17 days can earn an added 10 percent Combo Savings. Grand Voyages (totaling 18 or more days) qualify for 50 percent off brochure fares. In the Mediterranean, combinations can create up to five weeks of Grand Voyage savings. Plus, 38 Club Signature Value Sailings offer 50 percent off to past guests or alumni from the World's Leading Cruise Lines alliance, including Carnival, Holland America, Princess, Cunard, Costa and Windstar. Order the catalog at (800) 929-9391.