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Porthole Cruise News Blog

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Ships - from stem to stern. Diversions - from captain's table to lido. Ports - from Antigua to Zanzibar.


Royal Plays its China Hand


In a move that came as a shock to many, Royal Caribbean announced this week that after an initial season in the New York market the line would send its newest (and presumably greatest) ship, the 4,180-passenger Quantum of the Seas, to China – permanently.

The ship, which debuts in November, has been highly promoted for such first-at-sea features as bumper cars, a simulated sky diving experience and a mechanical arm that takes riders high above the ship for views, plus a whole new dining scheme.

So why send Quantum to China? Simply put, Royal Caribbean sees bigger opportunity there than in the well-established, and some would say increasingly saturated, Caribbean.

Royal does not view China as a slow-developing market, Royal officials made clear in a media briefing this week.


Crystal gets creative with Game of Thrones excursion, new bike tours

We love when the creative minds at cruise lines get going. The latest example: Crystal Cruises' new shore excursions. Passengers can find adventure on Europe cruises on a tour based on the hit HBO show Game of Thrones and on a bunch of new, get-active bike excursions.

First to the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Obviously you can't visit this fictional destination – and who would want to anyway, given the violence in the Game of Thrones' current plotlines? But you can visit a production location outside of Belfast, with opportunity to try your hand at shooting arrows and to pose for photos in Westeros costumes.

The half-day excursion ($289) takes participants to Strangford Lough, in County Down, where medieval buildings and land at the Castle Ward estate – with the aid of special effects – appeared on the show as Winterfell, as the Lannister encampment, and as Robb Stark's campgrounds (where he fell in love with Talisa).

The half-day excursion, priced at $289, is available on the August 24 British Isles cruise on Crystal Symphony and the September 5 trans-Atlantic cruise on Crystal Serenity.


New Cruise Line to Sail Great Lakes, Canada, New England, and Caribbean


The Great Lakes may not immediately spring to mind when you think of cruise destinations, but a rare start-up line called Pearl Seas Cruises is hoping to change that.

Launching in June, the U.S.-flagged, small-ship line will debut 10- to 14-day itineraries that include the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway, bringing cruisers to such destinations as Quebec City, Chicago, Niagara Falls, and Toronto. Bonus: Most shore excursions are included in the cruise fare.

The Connecticut-based cruise line's flagship will be the brand-new, 210-passenger Pearl Mist. The ship will feature oversized staterooms (all with private balconies and many with sliding glass doors), a spacious dining room, and intimate lounges.

But it's the itineraries that really make the product stand out.


Stop and Smell the Flowers and Fromage of France


Sadia Fleurs

Sometimes the best travel experiences are those that are improvised. Four of us off the river ship Viking Forseti proved that on a sunny day in the city of Bordeaux.

With a map in hand, some advice from a local and, okay, a travel writer leading the pack, we four women, ages 40 to 72, headed off in search of adventure – in this case, with French delicacies as the focus.

Because our ship was docked right near the city center, access was easy. Itinerary changes this week meant extra time in Bordeaux, which was not necessarily a bad thing.

 

First stop, Cadiot-Badie, an extraordinary chocolate shop founded in 1826. With Easter approaching, the shop's displays were eye-popping – bunnies, chicks, puppies, giant eggs, chocolate fish filled with eggs. One case even held life-sized high-heels made of chocolate. In the back were samples, so you could compare the Mexican chocolate with the Peruvian, and so forth.


Rollin' on the River in French (Wine) Style


Saint-Emilion
Sipping Bordeaux wine, visiting a historic chateau, viewing the green French countryside with plenty of time to pause to appreciate the good life – this is the experience on the new Chateaux, Rivers and Wine itinerary aboard Viking River Cruises’ 190-passenger Viking Forseti.

 

The one-week cruise through the Bordeaux region doesn't go very far, because there's not very far to go. From the city of Bordeaux we set off to explore two rivers, the Garonne and Dordogne, as well as the estuary, the Gironde. The longest stretch is only about 42 miles.

 

But water is not the reason to come to Bordeaux. The rivers and Viking’s modern Longships are vehicles for access to the region of Medoc, including Pauillac and the prestigious Margaux appellation; the medieval town and surrounding vineyards of Saint-Emilion; and Cadillac in the Sauternes region.

 

Wine lovers are correct to whet their palates. We have indeed been doing plenty of sipping, including of complimentary Bordeaux wines poured with the nicely prepared, French-influenced shipboard meals.


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