Travel Weekly's Cruise E-Letter June 17, 2003

LARGER THAN LIFE? Royal Caribbean International has a ship even larger than its 3,114-passenger Voyager-class vessels on the drawing board, and it could be afloat by 2006. The newly designed "Ultra-Voyager" ship would be just under 160,000 tons, RCI said, 18,000 tons bigger than its Voyager cousins and about 10,000 tons bigger than the upcoming Queen Mary 2; it would carry 2,600 guests, 500 more than the current Voyager ships. The cruise line signed an agreement with Finnish shipbuilder Kvaerner Masa-Yards that could lead to a firm order of an Ultra-Voyager ship by the end of August or, under certain conditions, by December -- provided that euro-dollar exchange rates move to a more favorable position, Royal Caribbean said. Another option is available for a delivery of a second ship in 2007 or 2008.

FREESTYLE, DUDE: Norwegian Cruise Line will homeport the Norwegian Star in Los Angeles next fall to offer the line's first regularly scheduled Mexican Riviera cruises. The eight-day itineraries feature an overnight stay in Acapulco, as well as calls in Zihuatanejo, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. The Norwegian Star will not return to its original home in Hawaii any time soon: The ship is scheduled to stay in LA through April 2005. NCL said a "state of the art" casino will be added in Dazzles nightclub, as per the Norwegian Star's original design, after the ship leaves Hawaii for Alaska in April 2004.

PRINCESS CRUISES, meanwhile, said it will "dramatically" expand into the Hawaii market in 2004. The Island Princess will take over the 15-day roundtrip sailings from Los Angeles in place of the previously announced Regal Princess, and five additional sailings have been tacked on -- for a total of 15 Hawaii-bound departures. The Island Princess will offer sailings between Sept. 21, 2004, and April 19, 2005. The Regal Princess, meanwhile, moves to a series of Panama Canal cruises.

ORIENT LINES slated new itineraries in the British Isles and the Baltic region for its ship the Marco Polo in 2004. The Marco Polo will sail 57 European cruise tours between March and November 2004, with lengths ranging from 11 to 37 days.

WHO'S ZOOMIN' WHO: The Empress of the North, American West Steamboat Co.'s newest ship, was floated out of its drydock Monday at the Nichols Brothers shipyard in Freeland, Wash. The Empress will undergo nearly two more months of outfitting and crew training prior to its Aug. 10 debut.

THE FEDERAL MARITIME Commission's plan to raise the $15 million bonding requirements for cruise ships departing out of U.S. ports could cost cruise lines around $2.3 billion annually and still do little to protect consumers if a cruise line goes bust. That's the view of cruise line and credit-card-company reps who testified before the commission in Washington last Wednesday. Representatives for Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line said, in separate testimony, that complying with the proposed rule would tie up funds that otherwise would be used for building new ships and making other investments. Meanwhile, the cruise lines said, there was nothing to stop cruise lines from departing out of foreign ports and circumventing the bonding requirement. The FMC is considering new cruise bonding rules in light of several cruise ship bankruptcies and concerns about terrorism.

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