NEW YORK -- Festival Cruises opened about 25 "Hilton Suites" on the 1,550-passenger European Stars, marking the first cobranded collaboration between a cruise line and a hotelier.

Makis Xenatos, president of Festival's North American operations, said partnering with Hilton Group, the London-headquartered company that owns the rights to the Hilton brand, Hilton International, outside the U.S., will give the line a brand boost in the U.S.

"Hilton is a well-known name, and that gives a seal of approval to our cruise line," Xenatos said.

The Hilton Suites concept will roll out over the next month on three of the line's six ships. Although the line primarily is marketed in Europe, Xenatos said about 20% of Festival's customers come from the U.S. In North America, Festival is marketed as First European Cruises.

The concept is similar to suite-level amenities on other lines: It includes a butler, expedited check-in and checkout service and special dining arrangements -- in this case, a 20% discount on onboard purchases.

The butler, however, will be called a Hilton Concierge and will be trained by Hilton. Hilton-branded amenities will be available in the cabins.

Hilton sales reps will market the Hilton Suites, a spokesman for the hotel company said.

Discounts will be available to Hilton HHonors members; in addition, 40,000 HHonors points can be redeemed for an additional 8% discount.

"This is a first, and it's something that will keep the [Hilton] brand fresh," the spokesman said. "It also gives us ... a way of introducing new people to the Hilton brand."

He declined to go into the financial specifics of the deal but said it should be "a profitable one" for both Hilton and Festival.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI