Which cruise lines are making headlines this week? Travel journalist Donna Tunney — ShermansTravel’s cruise expert — has all the latest news. Check back every Tuesday for trends, new amenities, and money-saving ideas that help you plan a perfect vacation at sea.
A major, major expansion.
Consider this one of the biggest pieces of cruise news this year, and arguably in cruise history generally. Crystal Cruises, a luxury line that currently has two mid-sized ships, is expanding in a huge way. In addition to building three new "executive class" ocean-going ships -- featuring top-deck Residences with private restaurants -- it's also creating a whole new Crystal Yacht Cruises brand and a Crystal River Cruises unit. The first yacht, the renovated 62-guest Crystal Esprit, is launching later this year, while the river itineraries will launch in 2017. But wait, there's more: Crystal is buying its own Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft and will begin offering 28-day around-the-world tours, also in 2017.
Cruisers are accustomed to paying a cover charge to dine at specialty restaurants onboard, but Norwegian Cruise Line is now the first to switch to an a la carte pricing system for most special venues. The idea, according to the cruise line, is that you can pay for the number of courses you actually want. In October, the program rolls out in four dining venues on the Norwegian Escape , as well as the Ocean Blue restaurant on Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway . By 2016, the program will be expanded to other eateries and launched fleetwide.
Suggested gratuities go up.
More from Norwegian: On August 1, the line will raise its suggested daily gratuity to $15.50 per person per day for suite guests (from $14.95) and to $13.50 per person per day in all other cabin categories (from $12.95). It's the second time this year Norwegian has upped the fee. Cruisers who have already booked or who book by August 1 can prepay at the existing rates.
Good news for solo travelers (and scenery lovers).
Cunard's ocean-liner Queen Mary 2 is heading into drydock for a major refurbishment next spring, which will add 15 solo cabins as well as balconies to 30 double rooms. The 11-year-old ship -- the only one providing seasonal transatlantic service between New York and Southampton, is also adding 10 more kennels to accommodate a dozen dogs and cats at its boarding facility.