Travel Weekly's Cruise E-Letter: Nov. 18, 2003

AN INQUIRY OPENED into the fatal collapse of a gangway that connected the Queen Mary 2 with the shoreside embankment at the Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, France. According to Chantiers' parent company Alstom, 15 people, including seven workers on the QM2, died from injuries caused by the sudden gangway collapse Nov. 15, and another 28 were hospitalized. French president Jacques Chirac visited the yard Nov. 16 to visit with family members. Cunard Line, which won't take delivery of the Queen until late December, issued a statement offering its "deepest sympathies to those who were killed or injured." Endel, a French company that set up the gangway, also expressed condolences and said it would cooperate in the investigation. The ship is still scheduled to sail its maiden voyage Jan. 12.

STAR CRUISES turned a $58.6 million profit in the third quarter, up 4.3% from third-quarter 2002, on slightly lower revenue of $437.5 million. The Asia-based cruise operator, which owns Norwegian Cruise Line and Orient Lines, included in its third-quarter results a $9.2 million loss-of-hire insurance payout related to the Norway's boiler explosion in May. Net yield for the NCL Group, which comprises NCL and Orient, was up 1.6%, and occupancy rates were 106.8%, one percentage point down from third-quarter 2002.

WHITHER NORWAY? NCL's liner has been out of service since a boiler explosion damaged it in late May, and the company hasn't yet revealed its plans for the ship. But one analyst, Robin Farley with UBS Investment Research, said NCL is in discussions with insurers -- and is also considering alternative uses for the Norway, including sending it to the Star Cruises brand. NCL declined to comment.

HOLLAND AMERICA LINE'S $225 million upgrade program is "unprecedented," Stein Kruse, HAL's newly-named president, told Travel Weekly. "Kirk [Lanterman, the CEO], David [Giersdorf, the executive vice president, sales and marketing] and I talked about how to energize ourselves a little bit," Kruse said. After meetings, focus groups, consultants and several months of planning, the Signature of Excellence plan -- with about 50 or 60 different components -- took shape. Some updates...

... HAL IS TESTING its new dinner schedule on the Veendam and Zuiderdam in preparation for a fleetwide rollout. There will be four restaurant times, instead of just two, which would overlap each other as the evening goes on.

... SOME OF THE NEW STUFF will be geared toward the younger market, and to children in particular. Kruse said a focus is to add dedicated kids facilities to the older HAL ships and to put activities that "skews to a younger demographic" on the line's private island. Look for wave runners, a stingray city and an aquapark on Half Moon Cay.

... HAL ALSO INTRODUCED an early check-in program for embarking guests, bumping passengers' boarding time up to 11:30 a.m. HAL passengers can hang out on the Lido deck [suite guests will be shown to the concierge-level Neptune Lounge] or make spa, shore excursion or restaurant reservations, until their cabins are ready.

WINDSTAR CRUISES began a $6 million refurbishment last week, starting with wet-dock work on its 308-passenger Wind Surf. All three of the line's ships will get an overhaul: new soft goods, public- room renovations, pool-deck upgrades, spa and exercise-room enhancements and new technology goodies like DVDs and flat-screen TVs.

NEW BERTHS...

... THE MARINER OF THE SEAS departed on its inaugural cruise Nov. 16, after a christening ceremony where Olympian Jean Driscoll was the godmother. The Mariner will offer alternating, year-round, seven-day cruises to the eastern and western Caribbean from Port Canaveral, Fla.

... COSTA CRUISES, meanwhile, took delivery of its largest ship to date, the 105,000-ton Costa Fortuna. Inaugural events take place this week and culminate with a christening ceremony Nov. 22 in Genoa, Italy.

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