Travel Weekly's Cruise E-letter: May 25, 2004

ROYAL CARIBBEAN INT'L this week will resume calls to Labadee, its private beach on the northern coast of Haiti. The line suspended its visits to Labadee in February after civil unrest broke out in Haiti. The Voyager of the Seas made the first call on May 24, during its first nine-day Caribbean cruise from Bayonne, N.J. The Mariner of the Seas will call on May 25 and the Navigator of the Seas will follow on May 27. Craig Milan, the president of Royal Celebrity Tours who also oversees Royal Caribbean's ground operations, said the company hired an independent security firm, Control Risk Group, to do an assessment of the Labadee area and "their primary recommendation was that we could start operations immediately," Milan said, adding, "It's safe for our guests." A spokeswoman for the line added that there will be security patrols at Labadee that will work in tandem with local police.

ROYAL CARIBBEAN ALSO altered its Bermuda offerings by choosing the 3,114-passenger Voyager of the Seas and the 1,950-passenger Grandeur of the Seas to handle the route in 2005. Both ships will alternate five-day Bermuda cruises with nine-day Caribbean voyages between May and November from Bayonne, N.J., and Baltimore, respectively. Royal Caribbean said the reservations books will open on the 2005 Bermuda season at the end of this month. The future deployment of the Empress of the Seas, which handles Royal Caribbean's six- and eight- day Bermuda sailings, has not been disclosed -- but it's likely the vessel will not be back in Bermuda in 2005.

THE COLUMBIA QUEEN is "in the process" of being sold to a new cruise operation headed by former Society Expeditions President Michael Lomax, according to Lomax's new company, American Rivers Cruise Line. The transaction is expected to close in June, and the vessel could return to the rivers in 2005, sailing the Columbia, Snake and Willamette rivers from Portland, Ore., according to a statement from American Rivers. The Columbia Queen, which currently is under U.S. Maritime Administration control, was originally part of the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. family and sailed in the Pacific Northwest before Delta Queen's parent company ceased operations. American West Steamboat Co. briefly sought to acquire the Columbia Queen, but the deal fell through.

THE DIAMOND PRINCESS will skip two calls on its current Alaska itinerary due to minor propeller damage. The ship was in Victoria, British Columbia, May 21 when strong winds forced the ship against a finger pier, a spokeswoman said. Inspection teams found some "superficial scraping" to the hull and some minor scraping of the starboard propeller. The ship was repaired when it arrived at its Seattle homeport May 22, but the ship was delayed leaving port and, as a result, will miss its calls in Victoria and Juneau. Passengers on the cruise were given a $500 per cabin onboard credit. Divers are onboard to do another propeller inspection in Skagway, but the spokeswoman said the ship "is not scheduled to be out of service."

MEANWHILE, the Diamond and the Sapphire Princess will be on the job again in Alaska next summer, Princess said. The two ships, plus the Regal Princess, will sail Alaska's Inside Passage roundtrip from Seattle (the Diamond Princess and the Sapphire Princess) or from San Francisco (the Regal Princess).

FESTIVAL CRUISES could file for bankruptcy in Italy this week, a spokeswoman for the company said. At a shareholders meeting held Monday, she said, shareholders "communicated there was ... no possibility to increase the capital of the company ... and this means that in the forthcoming days the directors will decide whether the company should be brought to court for bankruptcy." In related news, as of last week, an auction date for the Mistral, one of Festival's vessels, was pushed back to June 10 from mid-May, the spokeswoman said; there was no fixed date for the sale of another Festival vessel, the European Stars.

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