Travel Weekly's Cruise E-letter: Jan. 27, 2004

THE QUEEN MARY 2 made a dramatic dawn entry into Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades Monday morning. The 151,000-ton ocean liner was welcomed to its south Florida home base by Gov. Jeb Bush, as well as 24 media-manned helicopters, which buzzed overhead. Thousands of spectators gathered at various points around the port, Port Everglades officials said; welcome banners hung from the balconies of the condos lining the port's channel, and on the sand, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau lay a carpet that said "Fort Lauderdale Welcomes QM2" in big letters. "The only time I've seen this much media attention is at a sporting event," said Micky Arison, the CEO of Cunard Line parent company Carnival Corp. "We've never had this kind of attention for a ship."

THE QM2'S FIRST SET of passengers disembarked with thumbs up signs, reporting that the voyage had been a "once-in-lifetime" experience. As reporters greeted the guests dockside, passengers used words such as "magnificent" and "superb." Some expressed disappointment at inattentive and confused service the first few days, but added it improved towards the end of the voyage. On Jan. 28, the QM2 departs on a two-day cruise-to-nowhere for travel agents and media before departing Jan. 31 on an 11-day Caribbean roundtrip. Fireworks will mark the ship's departure from the port on both occasions.

FESTIVAL CRUISES canceled the Jan. 25 sailing of the European Vision from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and the Jan. 26 sailing of the European Stars from Genoa, Italy, meanwhile, reporting negotiations with several banks are continuing. Authorities halted the voyages of the Vision and Stars, plus a third ship, the Mistral, last week after the ships' builder and a co-financier, Alstom, said Festival failed to meet its financial obligations. Festival said talks were continuing "in order to achieve a resolution of the differences that have arisen with shipbuilder Alstom and bank Credit Agricole in the last few days." In the U.S., Festival markets its cruises under the name First European Cruises.

A SUPERSTAR TO THE RESCUE: As reported earlier, the Norwegian Sky will be refurbished and reflagged as the Pride of Aloha in May -- about four months ahead of schedule -- because Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of America was damaged and sank in its shipyard berth in Bremerhaven, Germany, during a storm. To make up for the itinerary hole in Alaska caused by the Sky's new duties, Star Cruises, NCL's parent, will deploy the Asia-based SuperStar Leo to Alaska to replace the Sky. The 2,000-passenger SuperStar Leo will operate in Alaska with "a fully specified NCL product and offer the Freestyle Cruising program found on all other NCL ships," NCL said. The vessel will begin sailing seven-day cruises from Seattle May 15. NCL will rebook Sky passengers on the SuperStar Leo and give those passengers with Sky reservations a $25 per-person shipboard credit.

OCEANIA CRUISES SET THE LAUNCH DATE, May 7, 2005, for its third ship, the Nautica. The vessel will handle a Greek Isles and eastern Mediterranean itinerary, Oceania CEO Frank Del Rio told TravelWeekly.com. Meanwhile, for 2004, Oceania said it will alter its Greek Isles and Black Sea itineraries to bypass Istanbul and Kusadasi, Turkey, "due to the unfortunate events that occurred in Istanbul this past November." Revised itineraries include new ports of call in Athens, Mykonos and Santorini, Greece; Amalfi, Siracusa and Messina, Italy; and Valletta, Malta.

PERSONNEL UPDATE: Carnival Cruise Lines named Lori Cassidy director of corporate and incentive sales and tour operator business at the Miami-based cruise line.

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