Travel Weekly's Cruise E-letter: May 11, 2004

THE NEWLY-RENAMED, refitted Empress of the Seas kicked off a new era in New Jersey cruising Sunday with a six-day cruise to Bermuda. The Empress last week emerged from a Bahamas drydock where the ship was refitted with several options now found on newer Voyager- and Radiance-class ships (a Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop, a new Boleros Latin-themed club and an expanded spa were added). During an overnight cruise for travel agents Saturday, there was still some work to be done on the pool decks and in the cabins, but Royal Caribbean Cruises execs said the ship was ready for its departure to Bermuda -- minus the new Portofino's restaurant, which will be completed by next week.

"THIS IS A HOME RUN for us," Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain said Saturday about the line's choice to move its New York departures to Bayonne, N.J., and agents praised the new pier, saying it was quick and easy to find. Although the Empress will be in at the new cruise port, named Cape Liberty, this week, the port will be officially opened during a ceremony May 14 with the Voyager of the Seas in port, which will offer five- and nine-day cruises from Bayonne.

THE SOVEREIGN OF THE SEAS is the next Royal Caribbean International vessel to get an "extreme makeover," which includes adding balconies to the ship. Sixty-two suites on deck 10 will get balconies, but the November refurb will touch areas throughout the Sovereign: new bathrooms, updated restaurants and renovated bars. A new restaurant concept, meanwhile, is "still under development." The Sovereign sails three- and four-day Bahamas cruises from Port Canaveral, Fla.

THE LIRICA, MSC Cruises' year-old ship, failed to get a satisfactory score during a sanitation inspection by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Vessel Sanitation Program. The Lirica received a score of 85 out of a possible 100 (satisfactory is 86). "There are a few corrective actions that have to be taken and will be taken," a spokesman for MSC Cruises said Monday. The Lirica received a rating of 98 when it arrived in the U.S. in January, the spokesman added.

OCEANA, a nonprofit environmental group, said it will end a 10-month campaign against Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. after receiving a letter from cruise company CEO Richard Fain that said RCCL plans to install advanced wastewater purification facilities fleetwide. A spokeswoman for RCCL said the company is committed to placing advanced-treatment systems onboard all its ships once the technology "proves environmentally and economically feasible." The company did not cite an installation date or specify what systems it would install. Oceana's campaign, which was levied solely against RCCL, contended the line was dumping untreated sewage into the ocean -- a charge that RCCL has denied -- and called for a boycott of the cruise company until it installed the advanced wastewater facilities.

A BILL IN THE U.S. SENATE contains a provision that would give cruise lines a year-long reprieve from the requirement, instituted in September, that they report tax that is to be collected on "non- shipping" income [such as U.S.-based shore excursions and hotel stays]. Tom Dow, Carnival Corp.'s vice president, public affairs, said the delay would "allow us to put in place necessary procedures for tracking and calculating these specific transactions."

VICTORIA CRUISES changed its point of embarkation and debarkation from Wuhan to Yichang on its Yangtze River cruises through the Three Gorges region of China. The change reduces the upstream trip from six days to five; the downstream trip remains the same at four days. The operator cited several reasons for the shift, including better air connections, fewer problems with closed locks during the flooding season and more time in scenic areas.

DISNEY CRUISE LINE opened the books on its 2005 summer cruises from Los Angeles. As reported in the May 3 Cruise E-Letter, the Disney Magic will offer 12 seven-day cruises to the Mexican Riviera, making it the first time a Disney ship has cruised outside the Caribbean. The line also said that it will offer two 14-day repositioning cruises from the Disney Magic's traditional homeport in Port Canaveral to Los Angeles via the Panama Canal. Disney Cruise Line president Karl Holz said that, with the ship in southern California, "West Coast residents will find that it has never been more convenient to sail with us."

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