Just Back From Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze: Hits & Misses

May 15, 2015 | By | No Comments

wine on a cruise ship

Taking three ships, all designed and built in the 1980s, from one cruise line to another is a challenging task — as small ship cruise line Windstar discovered. Despite an ambitious $2 million plan to upgrade Star Pride, one of three 212-passenger Seabourn ships, the effort wasn’t perhaps ambitious enough, leading to poor reviews when the line relaunched the vessel last year.

Now on its second time around with Star Breeze (and Star Legend, which arrives in May), Windstar got a lot more right. First, it upped the ante on the refurbishment budget to almost $9 million. And one badly designed feature — the ships’ sun decks, which felt carved up, choppy and unwelcoming — has been redesigned, to magnificent effect. And finally, Star Pride’s time in service provided Windstar executives with plenty of feedback; the line has relied strongly on insights from its passengers when making improvements.

So now that we’re off the ship, here are our hits and misses.

Read on for more

    Hot on the Forums: Should Corkage Fees Be Uncorked?

    May 15, 2015 | By | 2 Comments

    wine on a cruise ship

    One of my little cruising rituals is to enjoy a glass of wine in my cabin when I’m getting ready for dinner, and usually it’s a tipple I have brought onboard. Most cruise lines allow you to bring a bottle or two with you, for this very purpose. Step over the threshold, however, and you’re likely to be landed with a corkage fee.

    Although it can be hard to swallow a massive mark-up on wine you buy at home for a fraction of the price, it’s a fact of life that alcohol sales are a revenue spinner for restaurants on dry land and at sea. On lines where you’re paying for your own drinks, it’s easy to understand why you’re paying a corkage fee.

    But what about paying a corkage fee when wine is included in your fare? Some upscale lines do have this (up to $20 a bottle in some circumstances) — and it makes no sense to Cruise Critic member Bfson who provides an interesting take on the Azamara forums.

    He writes: “I don’t understand the corkage policy. Wine is included in the fare. If I bring my own wine, I save Azamara dollars by not drinking their wine. For the act of saving them money they want to charge me $10 a bottle. Huh?”

    The comment unbottled a flurry of responses from other members.

    Read on for more

      Just Back From Celebrity Eclipse: New Additions to the Ship

      May 14, 2015 | By | 5 Comments

      World Class Bar

      First launched in 2008, Celebrity’s Solstice-class ships are by no means old, but Celebrity is not a line to stand still.

      So far, it has updated two of its S-class ships — Equinox and Eclipse — with some brand-new features, including a new bar and a new restaurant.

      We got onboard Celebrity Eclipse last week, just after an eight-day dry dock, to find out what’s new.

      Here are our thoughts.



      Formerly the Passport Bar, this space on Deck 4 in the main atrium, has been renamed the Gastrobar. It offers food as well as 45 different craft beers — which is very on trend right now (Britannia, P&O Cruises’ new ship, has 75 different bottled beers, ales and ciders from 56 U.K. counties). The main changes are a double-fronted fridge packed with beers and an extremely knowledgeable beer sommelier (yes, there is such a thing). The beers are from all over the U.S., Canada and Europe and include a Rogue Farms 7 Hop from Oregon that retails at — deep breath — $35.

      The food is a mixture of tapas-size plates, which start at $6 for pork buns to bigger dishes such as a beef burger or a steak and Guinness pie for $12.

      Overall, I liked Gastrobar. I liked the vibe, the position off the main atrium and of course, the vast choice of beer. On my short sailing it was packed in the evenings. It’s in a good spot, off the main atrium, diagonally opposite Moonlight Sonata (the Main Dining Room) and on the way to the theater. What impressed me most was that the beer sommelier took time out from behind the bar to recommend some fine ales.

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        Steal of the Week: Solo Expedition Cruises to Cuba

        May 14, 2015 | By | No Comments

        piggy bank sailing worldwide
        Everyone is looking for the deal of the century. So how do you choose the one that’s right for you? Check the Lido Deck each week to get the scoop on our favorite deals — then grab the phone and pack your bags.
        Editor’s Note: Due to demand, the Raj Ampat offer has been extended by International Expeditions until May 29.
        THE DEAL: Expedition cruise line International Expeditions is waiving the single supplement on all 2015 and 2016 expedition cruises to Cuba, as well as the far-flung divers’ paradise, Raja Ampat, located off the northwest tip of Bird’s Head Peninsula on the island of New Guinea (when you book this trip by May 29).
        WHAT WE LOVE: As the doors of tourism open up to Cuba, we believe cruising is a fantastic way to see the island. IE’s weeklong Cuba cruise matches you with expert guides in the region for an immersive look behind the former veil of this Caribbean island teeming with its own unique culture. Sail around the island’s Western crescent, stopping on the island of Cayo Largo, home to a sea turtle breeding center, as well as Viñales Valley. Other highlights include dance lessons, local choir performances, pottery workshops, visits to museums, and calling on artists in their studios. With no single supplement, see Cuba as you want to see it, starting from $4,599 per person.
        Additionally, solo cruisers save up to $4,559 when you reserve a cabin aboard the January 30, 2016 Raja Ampat cruise by May 29, 2015.
        WHAT GIVES US PAUSE: Despite the savings, these cruises remain pricey due to exotic itineraries, small-ship expedition cruising fares and demand. Be sure to discuss your solo fare savings before booking — the Raja Ampat departure is only offering a break on single supplements if you book by tomorrow. Also, keep in mind these sailings are about the destination and not the cruise ship; if you’re seeking luxury digs, this may not be the cruise for you.
        HOW TO BOOK IT: For all the nitty-gritty on these deals (including that pesky fine print), click here.
        Compare flight prices with our sister site TripAdvisor’s meta-search tool.
        Looking for cruises for under $75 or even $50 a day? We’ve got ’em listed on our Cheap Cruises page.
        Get great cruise deals — and exclusive member offers — delivered weekly to your inbox.

          Cruise Tip of the Week: How to Get a Cabin Upgrade

          May 13, 2015 | By | 9 Comments

          Cruise ship suite

          Tip: Getting a free or low-cost cabin upgrade isn’t impossible — you just need a strategy. One way to up your chances is by booking a guarantee cabin. With a guarantee, the cruise line is essentially choosing your cabin. You’re assured space in the category you requested, but won’t know the exact cabin until a week or so before departure. Guarantees vary by cruise line. If it works out, you can save money or — if your category fills up — even score a free upgrade.

          Full Article: Read four more ways to get a cruise ship cabin upgrade.

          Want More?: Check out our related links below for more info, tips and advice.

          – Despite the money you can save, guarantees are still a gamble. Learn more about them, here, where we break down the odds of an upgrade.

          14 Unusual Cruise Ship Balcony Cabins

          Best Cruise Ship Suites

          Stay tuned for more Cruise Tips of the Week — revealed every Wednesday!

            Member Review of the Week: Family Meets Fun Ship 2.0

            May 12, 2015 | By | 1 Comment

            Tiki bar on cruise ship

            Cruise Ship: Carnival Glory

            Itinerary: Western Caribbean

            Member: MicheinMA

            Background: For MicheinMA and her family, Carnival Glory’s Fun Ship 2.0 upgrades were the perfect cure for a 10-year cruise withdrawal. She felt the food was fantastic, the shore excursions unforgettable and the ship’s overall vibe an ideal fit for her, her husband, teen and tween. Plus, she even found time for an adults-only respite on the Serenity Deck. Read on for details on what made her cruise so special.

            Onboard Highlight: Guy’s Burger Joint and BlueIguana, where MicheinMA and her family enjoyed breakfast and lunch each day. The Seaday Brunch also made for a tasty treat.

            Port Highlight: The “Amazing Race” shore excursion in Cozumel, Mexico. Remember to bring sneakers!

            Don’t Miss: Carnival’s FTTF program, which MicheinMA felt was worth every penny.

            Watch Out For: Balcony cabins on the spa deck. MicheinMA’s was open at the top, although the limited privacy didn’t put a damper on their experience.

            More: Read MicheinMA’s full review for more details about the food, life onboard the ship and shore excursions.

            For their efforts, MicheinMA, bkbish, amatt005, lovevacation61 and ellenmm receive Cruise Critic logo items.

            Each week, we choose five cruise reviews written by our members, and showcase one as the Member Review of the Week.

            Read more reviews or write your own cruise review.

              We Try It: Celebrity Cruises’ Suite Class

              May 11, 2015 | By | 6 Comments

              Luminae suite restaurant on Celebrity Eclipse

              More and more, mainstream cruise lines are adding separate areas for their highest-paying passengers.

              Think executive floors on hotels or premium cabins on airplanes, with lounges, separate dining areas and personalized service — only at sea. MSC Cruises has the Yacht Club, Norwegian Cruise Line has The Haven, and Cunard has long had Grills Class. Just last week Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley said it’s likely Suite Class will roll out across the Royal fleet.

              Celebrity Cruises’ entry into the market is its Suite Class, launched this year. Although the only structural difference suite passengers will notice is a brand-new restaurant, Luminae, high rollers on Celebrity ships now receive priority embarkation, premium drinks, dining across specialty restaurants, private minibar, exclusive access to Michael’s Club and your own personal butler, among other perks.

              Do these perks smack of “elitism?” Arguably, yes. On a ship such as Celebrity Eclipse, where we sampled the service, just 132 people — out of a total of 2,852 — get to experience all of this. But is there any difference between traveling in Suite Class and First Class on planes? (Also, the trend isn’t going away: Celebrity President & CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo has said the line’s new Edge Class of ships, debuting in 2018, will continue Suite Class.)

              We got onboard to find out for ourselves. Here’s what living the “suite life” is like on Celebrity.

              Priority Embarkation

              Passengers within Suite Class receive priority check-in and embarkation, and indeed, I got fast-tracked (but that might be because I was press). I was checked into my Sky Suite in less than 15 minutes.

              Reports Emma Hanbury-Chatten, who traveled in a Royal Suite for her first voyage on Celebrity: “Everyone was welcoming and helpful. It’s a very, very well-oiled machine. The suite was in perfect order, everything was in place.”

              Read on for more

                Q&A: HGTV’s Property Brothers Talk Cruising

                May 11, 2015 | By | 16 Comments

                Scott brother twins sitting on chairs outside

                If you binge-watch HGTV like I do, you’re most likely familiar with Jonathan and Drew Scott. The duo best known for helping couples find, buy and flip fixer-uppers into their dream homes in “Property Brothers” will be hosting Sailing With the Scotts: Ultimate Design Cruise this November 16 – 20.

                The four-night theme cruise on Carnival Ecstasy will offer a chance to get to know the guys, soak up some sun over umbrella drinks and participate in a variety of games, competitions and fun informative sessions. And in typical Scott brother fashion, there will be a ton of surprises.

                Jonathan and Drew — who I was excited to learn share a cruising addiction — also will be joined by fellow home design-savvy TV stars such as Jason Cameron, Jillian Harris, their brother JD Scott and the Junk Gypsy Company as well as singer and songwriter Adam Hambrick.

                I caught up with the two Scott brothers (yes, they’re twins) to chat about what’s in store for the cruise. See what they’re most excited about, what fans onboard can expect and more, below.

                What made you guys decide to host a theme cruise?

                Jonathan: It mainly came out of the demand from fans. They love getting together with us and seeing us live. It’s very fun — we spend half the time educating people and the other half making fun of Drew, which everybody can get onboard with. So the fans were saying, “Why don’t we think of doing a big meet and greet?” That’s when we said, “Well wait a sec, what about doing these cruises?” Friends of ours like Lady Antebellum and KISS and New Kids on the Block — they’ve all done these celebrity-themed cruises, and they said it’s just been an absolute joy.

                Read on for more

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