Royal Caribbean Announces Cruises to Cuba

Royal Caribbean Cuba
Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images

Cuba continues to pique the interest of American travelers, and as of this week, it’s become a whole lot easier to get to the Caribbean island via a cruise ship.

Just after Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd. announced that all three of their brands would begin sailing to the destination, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. stated that the Cuban government had granted two of their brands—Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruses—approval for sailings, too.

“Our guests have expressed real interest in having the opportunity to experience Cuba, and we look forward to bringing them there,” said Richard D. Fain, chairman and chief executive officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. “Our discussions with our travel partners indicate that Cuba is a destination that appeals to a new generation of travelers.”

Royal Caribbean and Norwegian also join Carnival Corporation’s experiential line Fathom, which began traveling to Cuba earlier this year. Fathom’s single vessel, Adonia, was the first U.S. cruise ship to call in Havana in 50 years. Stay tuned for updates on when the Royal Caribbean and Azamara itineraries will be available for booking.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Gets Permission to Cruise to Cuba

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(2:03 p.m. EST) — Shortly after Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. revealed it would deploy two cruise ships to Cuba, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. said it received approval from the Cuban government to send all three of its brands — Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas.

Oceania Cruises’ Marina will kick off the season, with the first cruise from Miami on March 7. The 1,258-passenger ship, which was part of the company’s Cuba plan revealed July 2016, will call on Havana on select Caribbean itineraries; many will be multiple-day calls.

Regent’s 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner will follow, with two cruises slated to visit Havana in April 2017.

Norwegian will send its 2,004-passenger Miami-based Norwegian Sky on a series of four-night cruises, with overnight stays in Havana, throughout May 2017.

“As a Cuban-American and founder of Oceania Cruises, I am incredibly proud that one of Oceania’s vessels will be our company’s first to sail to Cuba,” said Frank Del Rio, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.

“This is truly a dream come true for me, and I cannot wait for our loyal guests to experience the sights and sounds of my hometown of Havana and get to know its rich culture and its warm and welcoming residents.”

Both ships will offer shore excursions in compliance with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control regulations, focusing on Cuban culture, art and history. U.S. citizens are prohibited from engaging in purely tourist activities; the OFAC requires that “they maintain a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities…”

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. will release full details and dates for its Cuba season next week for Oceania Cruises and in late December for Norwegian Cruise Line.

What’s next for Cuba? We report live from Havana to give you a glimpse of the mood and locals’ visions for the future at the end of an era.

–By Gina Kramer, Associate Editor

Cunard Line, P&O Cruises cancel all 2017 calls to Turkey

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Turkey’s tourism industry has been dealt some heavy blows in the wake of deadly terrorist attacks and an attempted coup this summer.

According to Cruise Critic, Carnival Corporation’s Cunard Line and P&O Cruises have both confirmed the cancellation of all calls to Turkey next year.

“After careful consideration, we have taken the decision to remove Turkey from all itineraries in 2017 for both Cunard and P&O Cruises, based upon various sources including advice given by the U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office,” the cruise lines said in a statement.

Planned stops in Turkey will be replaced with calls in Greece and Albania.

The news may disappoint travelers looking forward to enjoying some of Turkey’s historic sites, Cunard and P&O aren’t the first cruise lines to pull out of the troubled destination.

AUSTRALIA’S BIGGEST CRUISE SHIP, OVATION OF THE SEAS, ARRIVES IN FREMANTLE FOR AUSSIE SUMMER CRUISING SEASON

It’s the fourth biggest cruise ship in the world, and the biggest to ever sail in Australia and today it arrives in Fremantle.

Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas will be based in Australia for the summer season, making its maiden call to Fremantle today followed by Adelaide on December 11, Hobart on December 13 then arrive in her new summer homeport of Sydney on December 15 in what is expected to be a landmark day on the famous Harbour.

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Ovation of the Seas, with its 18 decks and extraordinary adventures on-board. Picture: Chris Ison/PA Wire

Launched in April this year, the 4905-guest Ovation of the Seas is smashing record after record including its viewing capsule, North Star, that rises 90m above sea level.

To get an idea of just how enormous this ship is, we’ve collated some stats that will literally blow your mind, including how they cater for so many guests on-board what has been dubbed the biggest hotel in Australia.

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North Star capsule is breaking cruise ship records.
WHAT YOU’LL EAT

On a seven-day cruise, Ovation of the Seas will cater to 4905 guests with:

3300kg of chicken
3750 dozen eggs
714kg of lobster tail
5100kg of beef
850kg of salmon
238kg of ice cream
4286kg of flour
1700kg of french fries
6803kg of potatoes
1803kg of bacon

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Dine on lamb at Jamie’s Italian on-board. Picture: Royal Caribbean
And has total restaurant seating for 3474.

The ship uses seven million litres of freshwater per day;

Has eight specialty restaurants with more than 150 different dishes served daily;

Stocks 40 brands of beer;

Stocks 340 brands of wine;

Stocks 127 different specialty cocktails;

Uses 40 varieties of fruit;

Uses 80 varieties of vegetables;

Offers 40 kinds of breads;

Offers 80 kinds of pastries;

Uses 37,000kg of ice-cubes daily.

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American Icon Restaurant on board Ovation of the Seas. Picture: RCI
IT’S ENORMOUS

• At 168,666 gross register tonnage (internal volume, not weight) Ovation of the Seas could fit 843 million mangoes.

• It can carry almost 6500 guests and passengers — eight times as many as an Airbus A380.

• If stood upright, at 347m the ship is almost as tall as Uluru and more than two and a half times as high as Adelaide’s tallest building the State Bank building.

• At 92m high the North Star gondola capsule is higher than a Sydney Harbour Bridge pylon.

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The pool bar is the perfect spot for a sunset drink.
• Ovation’s four bow thrusters produce 4694 horsepower each — more than double the horsepower of a five-car city train.

• At 41m wide, Ovation is about as wide as 17 Adelaide trams or 14 Melbourne trams.

• With 2091 staterooms and carrying 4905 guests at full capacity, Ovation will be the biggest hotel in the nation — more than triple the rooms of the Crown Metropol in Melbourne and the Four Points Sheraton in Sydney.

•The iFly skydiving simulator has a maximum wind speed of 250km/h.

Source: Royal Caribbean International

Travel to the High Desert of Chile

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The Atacama region of Chile is a place of stark beauty. The resorts in this area of South America are undiscovered gems for travelers from the United States. The climate of this part of the world limits the number of resorts as well as the population as a whole. Some of the hidden lodges we found are some of the best I have visited in all of my travels.

The Atacama region of Chile is recognized as the most arid place on earth. The region averages .6 inches of rain a year, although some locations, notably Arica and Iquique, average one to three inches per year. Many weather stations, however, go three to four years between rain fall, and some stations have never received rain. The desert is on a plateau with high mountains to the east and west preventing most moisture from reaching the area. The average elevation is more or less 9000 feet. This is lower than Cuzco, Peru (the gateway city to Machu Picchu) and La Paz (the capital of Bolivia) but higher than Denver (5300 feet). You may feel the effects of the altitude when you first arrive in the area. It is always a good idea to limit your alcohol consumption when you first arrive in a high altitude environment.

What to do? This is, after all, a desert, and very remote. I took a mountain biking trip from my hotel through a landscape that I would describe as breathtaking, almost like being on the moon. The trek went through a valley with sheer rock walls on either side and then up a mountain for amazing views. Another tour I took was to the salt flats in the region that is home to flamingos, which merits a visit. I also visited Moon Valley, where there once were mines, that is now a national park, and also visited some prehistoric rock carvings (petroglyphs). For those with an interest in native cultures or their history, this is a must see. I couldn’t do all the offered tours, so it is best to come and find out for yourself, and enjoy more adventurous tours as well. This part of the world, with its high altitude, no humidity, and almost no light pollution, has the deserved reputation for being one of the best places on earth to view the night sky. There are so many stars they looked like a cloud. I had never seen the Milky Way so clearly. Even if you’re not a star gazer with an interest in astronomy, you will enjoy seeing the sky in a way that is impossible in the United Sates or any city environment in the world. The night sky will take your breath away. You can check out packages available through Condor Tours & Travel.

Getting there is easy. There are several daily flights from Santiago, Chile to Calama, since that is still a strong mining town. The equipment used is modern jet passenger aircraft. The flight is about two hours. You will be met by an English speaking guide and driver and driven to your resort. The drive is about an hour and half to get to San Pedro, where the lodges are located. The lodges I visited were outside of the town of San Pedro de Atacama. This is a small town of 4000 people during high season, and is now mostly dedicated to tourism, and thus is very friendly with English spoken regularly.

There are several lodges I can recommend. The Alto Atacama Desert Lodge and Spa, where I stayed, is a boutique hotel with three room categories. There are ten Quitor rooms, which are closest to the common areas of the resort. These 550 square foot rooms have private terraces over-looking the resort’s gardens. There are 27 Standard Catarpe rooms, which have more private terraces and are also 550 square feet. The terraces of these rooms have uninterrupted views of the Cordillera de la Sal mountain range and the Catarpe valley. The ten Suite Tilo rooms offer even more privacy on their terraces. These 770 square foot room have views of the resort’s lagoon and the Catarpe valley and an outdoor shower. The staff was wonderful to visit with, and the pools and spa were a delight. As for the food, I was so pleased with the quality and options, considering the remote location and lack of fresh produce available in this region.

Another beautiful property is the Tierra Atacama. This is a beautiful boutique desert resort. There are three room categories, the Oriente, the Poniente and the Family Suite. The Poniente is larger than the Oriente, however both offer outdoor as well as indoor showers and private terraces. The Oriente room does not have a bath tub. Both have one king bed or two twins. The Family Suite is two stories with a master bedroom upstairs and two bedrooms downstairs. Each bedroom has its own bathroom. These suites also have private terraces overlooking the hotel gardens.

Both resorts have great pools. And with this climate, you will spend time in the pool! The spa services offered were exceptional. Despite the fact that they are in the driest of all deserts, water from glacial snow is what makes San Pedro de Atacama an oasis, and it makes the spa a strongly revitalizing experience. Water, expert hands and aromatic scents are the tools for invigorating your body and spirit after a day of exploring the desert. Spa options include the Finnish Sauna, Turkish bath, Scottish showers, indoor and outdoor hot tubs, to name a few. A four day / three night package or five day / four night package is all you need here. The number of nights you would need would be based on how much adventure you want, as many of the tours available are hikes and longer bike trips. Check out a package you can do in Atacama that combines nicely with Patagonia.

The night sky of the Atacama desert region is enough to add this part of the world to the travel bucket list of the discriminating traveler. For the avid star gazer and eclipse watchers, this area is a must for visiting in July 2019 for viewing of a full solar eclipse!