Operators sail into spring with new vessels

NEW YORK -- Several small-ship and niche operators are introducing vessels this spring. The following is a list of some of the latest entrants:

• Norwegian Coastal Voyage. The 674-passenger Midnatsol pushed off on its first cruise of Norway on April 15.

The Midnatsol is nearly identical to its sister ship, the Trollfjord -- both boast an increased number of suites, balconies and Jacuzzis in some cabins and Internet cafes -- but is different in one noticeable aspect: its color scheme.

"Midnatsol means 'midnight sun' in Norwegian," said marketing director Monika Tillman. "So, on this ship, the interior is dedicated to the Norwegian summer -- a lot of oranges, reds and yellows."

Norwegian Coastal Voyage operates 12 ships, 11 of which sail up and down the Norwegian coast. The vessels visit 35 ports, ferrying people and cars to different cities, delivering supplies and providing a unique vacation experience.

Tillman said about 20% of the line's passengers are from North America.

For more information, call (212) 323-7436 or visit the travel agent section of the line's Web site at www.coastalvoyage.com.

• Swan Hellenic. This month, Swan Hellenic swapped its tried-and-true Minerva for the larger Minerva II, formerly Renaissance Cruises' R8.

Swan Hellenic swapped its ship the Minerva for a newer, larger vessel, the 684-passenger Minerva II, above. The Minerva II will continue to offer the line's brand of "discovery" cruise in a setting that Swan Hellenic says has a "British country-house flair."

The 684-passenger vessel includes four restaurants, three bars, a library, a pool, a fitness center and a lounge that serves as the spot for guest lecturers during the day and entertainment in the evening.

This year, the ship will spend its spring and fall in the Mediterranean and its summer in the Baltic region and northern Europe.

The Minerva II will pass through the Caribbean in December on its way to South America.

For more information, call (877) 219-4239 or visit www.swanhellenic.com.

• Amadeus Waterways. This new river-cruise entrant christened the Amadeus Symphony -- a sister ship to the Amadeus Classic -- in March and started the vessel's maiden cruises through the Netherlands and Belgium this month.

The Amadeus Symphony will switch to Rhine cruises on May 4 and then sail on the Danube beginning in June.

For more information, call (800) 262-0126 or visit www.amadeuswaterways.com.

• Uniworld. This Europe river operator is introducing two ships this year: the River Countess and the River Dutchess.

The 138-passenger River Countess was set to launch April 19 on a nine-day Netherlands tulip cruise. For most of the spring and summer, the ship will sail along the Danube, calling as far north as Amsterdam and as far south as the Black Sea.

In November, the vessel will switch to the Rhine for a series of holiday cruises.

The River Dutchess will cruise mostly between Prague, Czech Republic, and Budapest, Hungary, following its June debut.

For more information, call (800) 733-7820 or visit www.uniworld.com.

• Victoria Cruises. The China operator will introduce three ships in 2003 for Yangtze River cruises.

The company has been hit hard by SARS-related cancellations; however, company officials said they still are planning to take delivery of the ships later this year.

For more information, call (800) 348-8084 or visit www.victoriacruises.com.

• Bora Bora Cruises. Sister ships the Tu Moana and the Tia Moana are slated to sail inaugural seven-day cruises to the Tahitian islands of Riatea, Tahaa, Huahine and Bora-Bora in June.

The yacht-size ships are built to slip into smaller Tahitian lagoons. The cruises will focus on Tahitian culture; guests can learn about Polynesian dance, fashions and crafts.

For more information about Bora Bora Cruises, visit www.boraboracruises.com or e-mail [email protected].

• American West Steamboat Co. The Empress of the North is on schedule for a June inaugural sailing.

The ambience of the vessel will be similar to that of the line's existing ship, the Queen of the West, according to marketing vice president Joel Perry, but also will include displays of regional artifacts, photos and paintings.

The ship will operate a series of 11-day cruises between Seattle and Juneau, Alaska, through September.

From October through May, the Empress of the North will sail the Columbia, Snake and Willamette rivers.

For more information, call (800) 434-1232 or visit www.americanweststeamboat.com.

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