Blog Posts by Elissa Richard

  • 5 new cruise ships to watch for in 2014

    (Photo: Royal Caribbean International)A new year means new ships, so we've scoured the roster of 2014's most anticipated debuts to give you a sneak peek at next year’s five biggest wave-makers. From an innovative megaship complete with wow-factor amenities (bumper cars! skydiving!) to a brand-new, close-to-home cruise line's smaller but shiny new vessel, these five cruise ships are sure to grab headlines.

    Quantum of the Seas

    Royal Caribbean's much-anticipated Quantum of the Seas will mark the first in a new class of "quantum" ships for the cruise line when it rolls out in November 2014. The 4,180 passengers aboard can expect tricked-out cabins (even windowless inside cabins will be outfitted with "virtual balconies," courtesy of floor-to-ceiling LCD screens projecting ocean views). It will also feature plenty of first-at-sea diversions like bumper cars, a skydiving simulator and even a "North Star" observation pod that reaches over the ship's side for bird's-eye views over ports and the sea.

    The Quantum of the Seas will

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  • World’s largest cruise ship will be removed from duty for repairs

    Allure of the Seas. (Photo: Royal Caribbean International)

    The world's largest cruise ship (a title it shares with its sister ship, the Oasis of the Seas)—Royal Caribbean's 5,400-passenger, 225,000-ton Allure of the Seas—will be temporarily removed from service this February to undergo unscheduled repairs to its propulsion system. The decision comes after a slate of recent mechanical problems centered on one of the vessel's three propulsion motors.

    While the cruise line has stated that the recurring issues with the malfunctioning propulsion unit pose no safety issue or affect the maneuverability of the ship, the result of wear on a bearing in the problem propulsion "pod" has limited the ship's ability to reach top speeds.

    As a precaution, until the repairs are made, the Allure of the Seas’ eastern Caribbean itineraries from Port Everglades, Fla., will be slightly modified with shortened port calls to accommodate slower travel speeds; its western Caribbean itineraries will remain the same. The move to reduce the ship's speed "has reduced the

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  • Cruise lines planning changes after Venice announces ban on large ships

    The Disney Magic cruise ship arrives in Venice. (Photo by David Roark/Disney via Getty Images)A year from now, landlubber vacationers to Venice's historic center—a longstanding mainstay on the well-trodden Southern Europe cruise circuit—will be spared the company of colossal ships looming in the lagoon. A new government policy limiting large ships is a victory for local residents and conservation activists who have protested the potential risks and environmental impacts of the cruise industry’s fast-increasing presence in a city known for the fragility of its urban infrastructure and marine setting.

    As one of the region's leading cruise ports, Venice reportedly sees as many as nine cruise ship calls per day during peak season; the new regulations would permit no more than five ships to be berthed there at any given time and limit their passage to sunrise and sunset.

    The new regulations will also reduce cruise ship traffic in sections of the Venice lagoon between the mainland and Giudecca island by 20 percent from 2012 levels come January (for vessels larger than 40,000 tons),

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  • Maldives protesters hijack Twitter convention hashtag, urge tourism boycott

    Bandos Island, Maldives. (Photo: Malcolm Browne / Flickr)

    The Maldives, best known in travel circles as a sunny Indian Ocean archipelago popular with discerning travelers in search of idyllic beaches and high-end resorts, is gaining a different kind of publicity this week at one of the world’s largest travel conventions.

    Human rights activists are hijacking an official Twitter hashtag associated with the annual World Travel Market in London, using the convention to urge a boycott of the island nation's plush resorts.

    Visitors to the fair's official hashtag, #WTM13, will discover streams of photographs depicting alleged instances of police brutality in the Maldives. Some appear connected to an alleged coup last year that ousted former President Mohamed Nasheed. The activists blame Qasim Ibrahim, a wealthy businessman who owns some of the country’s biggest resorts. Ibrahim took third place in the first-round voting during September’s election but claimed electoral fraud, which led the country’s Supreme Court to annul the vote.

    The activists

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  • 5 unique Buenos Aires tours

    Tourists take cell-phone snaps with Foto Ruta iPhoneography. (Photo: John Garay)
    For visitors to Buenos Aires ready to look past the city’s well-trodden tourism circuit of legendary tango shows and killer steakhouses, these five tours with a twist are sure to shine a new light on the Paris of South America. I just returned from a two-month tour of Buenos Aires, and herewith are five personally vetted choices for the best outside-the-box tours brewing in BA today.

    1. Foto Ruta iPhoneography

    The message from the photography fanatics behind Foto Ruta is clear: Don’t underestimate the power of your smartphone camera. These nifty half-day tours, held in the hip Palermo ‘hood, were launched last summer and are led by a professional photographer (and Canadian expat) who demonstrates just how advanced today’s smartphone cameras and assorted photography apps can be. After a quick tutorial on the scope of current iPhone camera technology and photo-snapping techniques, hone your skills along the lively streets of bustling Palermo and at the Mercado de las Pulgas, a quirky

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  • Cuenca, Ecuador attracting visitors who don’t want to leave

    One of Cuenca's 52 churches. (Photo: John Garay)

    A colonial jewel of Ecuador, spilling over with cobblestoned streets, well-preserved churches and attractive leafy plazas—all tucked into a verdant Andean valley traversed by four winding rivers—Cuenca wins out as the country’s most idyllic urban locale.

    From the Inca to the Spanish to the most recent wave of foreign settlers—this time, in the form of thousands of American retirees—it’s little wonder that outsiders have long descended on Cuenca in droves. Ecuador’s third-largest city, UNESCO-protected Cuenca is second to none when it comes to urban appeal, with a small-town, old-world feel that’s pleasantly devoid of what can be overbearing noise, pollution, and crowds in larger Ecuadorian cities (Quito, Guayaquil).

    Tourists and settling pensioners alike can count on rave-worthy restaurants, welcoming watering holes, cozy cafes, heavenly handicrafts shops, and copious cultural events—all to be enjoyed at refreshingly low cost (easy enough to quantify, since Ecuador uses the U.S.

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  • Scenic rail-and-sail vacations that combine trains and cruise ships

    (Photo: Courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer)

    Double the adventure, double the fun: Pack two top trips into a single dream getaway, courtesy of these bundled “rail-and-sail” vacations. Read on for 10 seamless journeys that combine cruising with leisure train travel, and be put on the fast track to an unforgettable escape.

    1. Alaska & the Canadian Rockies

    Rocky Mountaineer’s new partnership with Norwegian Cruise Line pairs Inside Passage Alaskan sailings with train trips between Seattle or Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest and Canadian Rockies (this latest collaboration joins the rail line’s already established offerings with Holland America Line). Five different itineraries are on the roster—try a run that includes the new Coastal Passage route between Calgary and Seattle, stopping off at Vancouver, Banff, Lake Louise, and more, before (or after) setting sail on a weeklong Alaskan cruise aboard the Norwegian Jewel or Norwegian Pearl. Thirteen- to 14-night packages from $4,866/person.

    (Photo: Holland America Line)

    2. More Alaska Rail & Sail Combos

    Alaska

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  • Concert cruises where you can mingle with rock stars

    The Kiss Cruise. (Photo: Will Byington)

    From Kiss to Kid Rock, Matchbox Twenty to Weezer (and many more in between), chances are that one of the coming year’s concert-themed cruises will really float your boat. With several concert cruise promoters in tune with the wants of rock ‘n’ roll fans, cruise-goers can now listen to chart-topping bands while charting the seas.

    Best of all, with rates as low as $500, some of these cruise getaways are priced for a song. Bookings as far out as April 2014 are available.

    The Kiss Kruise III
    Dates: Oct. 28-Nov. 1, 2013
    Rates: From $1,000/person

    Sailing a four-night route (Miami to Key West to the Bahamas) aboard the Norwegian Pearl, The Kiss Kruise III comes headlined by Kiss for a fitting Halloween cruise with one of rock ‘n’ roll’s best-costumed bands. From their full-blown concerts to “un-masked” acoustic deck shows to band-hosted onboard activities and group Q&A sessions, you’ll get plenty of face time with Kiss themselves. Plus, expect quirky extras like a Kiss-themed vow renewal

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  • Christmas in July: book now for holiday cruise deals

    Antarctica (Photo: Crystal Cruises)With the heat wave that’s been sweeping much of the nation, thinking ahead to the winter holidays might seem a bit counterintuitive. But there’s good reason to be contemplating Christmas in July, now that numerous cruise lines have announced early-booking discounts geared toward holidays on the high seas.

    This year, leave the holiday hassles back on shore in favor of the festive décor, special activities and sumptuous traditional meals set to be served up by these merry-minded cruise lines and get your clan onboard for a new holiday tradition: adventure!

    High-adrenaline holidays on adventure voyages

    Why should Santa and those reindeer be the only ones to enjoy some thrills this year? Head out for a wilderness- and wildlife-themed, naturalist-guided weeklong adventure aboard the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic Journeys in the Sea of Cortez Christmas sailing to Mexico’s Baja California aboard the 62-passenger National Geographic Sea Bird. Book by September 30, and the kiddies

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  • 5 short but sweet summer cruise getaways

    (Photo: Bermuda Department of Tourism)
    Even if you’re short on time or money, that doesn’t mean coming up short on fun. Spice up summer with a last-minute cruise getaway that won’t break the bank. We’ve rounded up five quick and easy summer cruises that are setting sail soon from close-to-home ports. Best of all, each of these three- to five-night mini-voyages — taking off to ports in the Bahamas, Bermuda, Mexico and more — ring up from as little as $219.

    1. Bermuda sailings from the NYC area — from $699

    The itinerary: Five-night Bermuda cruises sail round trip from Bayonne, N.J. (just across the river from Manhattan), this summer. Set sail aboard one of Royal Caribbean’s two Saturday departures this August and enjoy two days at sea and another two in port at King’s Wharf, Bermuda. Set off for excursions to the isle’s famed pink-sand beaches (best enjoyed under summer sun), or amble the cobbled streets of the UNESCO-protected town of St. George.
    The cruise ship: Onboard the 3,114-passenger Explorer of the Seas, look out for

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