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.
Windstar Cruises took the wraps off a discount promotion that has some of the lowest fares that I've ever seen on this luxury line. It's offering savings of around 70 percent on voyages to the Caribbean, Tahiti, and Asia, to cruisers who book their sailing by December 12. This translates to starting fares of $1,449 per person for six nights -- again an almost unheard-of deal for this top cruise line. The cruises in this Best of the Tropics sale also each feature one free cultural excursion, known as “private events” (free). In Bora Bora, for instance, a traditional Tahitian feast complete with fire dancers gives cruisers a taste of local dishes and tradition.
Winter is just around the corner, but it's never too soon to start thinking about your spring cruise vacation. Luxury river cruise line AMA Waterways is already tempting vacationers with a free airfare offer to Paris or Amsterdam, the line's starting points on its March 2015 sailings. Cruise fares start at $2,499 per person, and the sailings -- which must be booked by December 31 -- feature tulip season in Holland and Belgium, Normandy in France, and the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel. This is a great deal for an AMA Waterways vacation, but I'd be remiss if I didn't provide a word of caution; the weather in these regions is unpredictable in March. On a tulip cruise with this line in 2013, I was bundled up with a hat, scarf and gloves, and because spring arrived late that year, I never did see a tulip outside of a greenhouse. Don't let that stop you, though. AMA is a great line with lovely ships, excellent food, and a staff devoted to guest satisfaction.
Choosing shore excursions is one of the biggest decisions that cruisers face, especially since guests pay extra for a more memorable experience. With this is mind, cruise lines are always expanding and upgrading their programs, and the latest addition to catch our eye is one of Princess Cruises'. The brand has teamed up with the Discovery Network to offer Discovery at Sea, a new set of tours inspired by themes on Animal Planet, the Science Channel, and Discovery Channel. Think: Shark Week at Sea, an adventure excursion that lets cruisers touch or swim with sharks on cruises to the Caribbean, Hawaii, Mexico, Tahiti, and Australia. The new excursions will roll out in 2015. Prices haven't yet been revealed.
Love your pub grub? You'll be happy to hear that Norwegian Cruise Line is expanding O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill. The Irish dining venue, originally introduced on the Norwegian Epic when that ship launched in 2010, has been added to Norwegian Gem. As this latter ship sails out of New York year-round, cruisers headed to the Eastern Caribbean will be able to feast on comfort foods such as chicken pot pie and fish and chips. Fun fact: The bar is named for Kevin Sheehan, chairman of Norwegian. The 2,400-passenger Norwegian Gem sails eight- to nine-night cruises with fares starting at $599 this winter.