How is Disney Cruise Line Catering to Budget Travelers?
Onboard the brand new Disney Fantasy right before the ship headed off on its inaugural Caribbean cruise from Port Canaveral (near Orlando) last week, Budget Travel sat down with Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.
Among the topics: How is Disney Cruise Line catering to budget travelers?
"We keep a very close eye on the value equation for our guests and we want to make sure we're always delivering value. That will be what we're focusing on most," Staggs said. "That said, with a great variety of itineraries and cruise lengths and ports, etc., we make ourselves more approachable for people with respect to the demographic curve and economic curve and we like to provide better accessibility."
Disney Fantasy, with new features including a high tech adventure game themed on The Muppets, is commanding premium prices. But that doesn't mean there aren't savings on other vessels in the four-ship fleet.
Take the new sailings launching on the Disney Magic out of New York in June and Galveston in September.
"If you cruise out of New York, there's a group of people who suddenly don't have to worry about air travel. Cruising out of Galveston beginning in September, that means it's accessible for a big chunk of the Texas market," Staggs said.
The New York cruises alternate Canada/New England and Bahamas itineraries. The best deal: 8-night Bahamas, from $4,924 for a family of four, including One-day Park Hopper Tickets (valued at $105 each) for Walt Disney World Resort. In addition to Port Canaveral, the itinerary includes Nassau and Castaway Cay, Disney's highly rated private island.
Weeklong western Caribbean cruises from Galveston are from $3,004 for a family of four, the cruises visiting Grand Cayman and Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico.
On another topic, Staggs said plans are progressing for an Avatar attraction at Walt Disney World Resort.
"Avatar will happen at Animal Kingdom. It will be some time after 2015," Staggs said. "It's actually going well. The development is going well."
He said the company is also on target to begin construction of the new Disney theme park in Shanghai this summer.
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A Sailable Feast: What's New in Cruise Food
Come on, be honest: The all-you-can-eat buffets and huge selection of on-board restaurants and cafes are among the top reasons to head to sea. A survey published last summer revealed a nugget of info that probably comes as no surprise to seasoned travelers: Cruise passengers like to eat. Nearly three-quarters of travel agents said that their clients look for added choices of unusual and special restaurants when selecting a cruise. It seems as if cruisers' appetite for more and more on-board food options is endless. Here are three new developments that they may find tempting: On the "Waterfront" One of the most exciting features on Norwegian's new ship, the Breakaway, is simply called the Waterfront. It's an open-air boardwalk similar to what one might expect at a seaside resort town, lined with shops, restaurants, and bars that are perfect for al fresco dining, as well as just browsing and strolling. The options at the Waterfront will include a steakhouse, cocktail bar, spots for seafood and Italian cuisine, a gelato station, and a Brazilian-style churrascaria. Speaking of which... More Meat, Please! When Norwegian introduced the Epic in 2010, it was the first ship to offer an authentic churrascaria, a Brazilian-style restaurant in which passadors walk from table to table serving generous slices of beef, lamb, pork, chicken and sausage. The Moderno Churrascaria restaurant concept has since been added to a few other Norwegian ships, and last month the cruise line announced that it would be rolled out fleetwide this year. The experience is a "specialty restaurant," and an added cover charge of $20 per person is required. Southern Cruise, Southern Cuisine When revamped steamboats start cruising the Mississippi this spring, they'll take to the river with an appropriately local take on food. The Great American Steamboat Company has tapped Regina Charboneau, a Southern chef and cookbook author who runs Twin Oaks Plantation B&B; in Natchez, Mississippi, to be in charge of the food on board. CruiseCritic reports: As much as possible, the line will be sourcing local ingredients -- like farm-raised poultry, sustainable seafood, pecans and produce -- from the ports on American Queen's route. A jazz brunch, offered once per cruise, will showcase baked goods, salads, roasted meats (Andouille-stuffed pork loin? Yes, please) and savory dishes like grits in a smoked tomato cream sauce, one of the decadent entrees we sampled. You also won't want to miss Charboneau's special captain's dinner. The Mark Twain-themed meal features a menu of delicacies believed to be the Missouri-raised author and food lover's favorites, including a "mock" turtle soup (don't worry, it's beef). MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: River Cruises Return to the Mississippi 6 Best River Cruise Lines 12 Top Tips from the World's Best Cruisers
River Cruises Return to the Mississippi
This year, river cruising returns to the Mississippi River in a big way. Since 2008, river cruises on the Miss have been nearly non-existent. But recently three companies have brought the concept back to life, launching new and refurbished ships on a broad array of Southern and Midwest routes. In April, an American Queen paddleboat will resume service, carrying up to 436 passengers. In more good news, its owner The Great American Steamboat Company, announced this week that construction has started on a 150-passenger paddlewheel ship. One sample deal is a 6-night voyage May roundtrip from New Orleans, plus 1 hotel night, from $1,695 per guest. greatamericansteamboatcompany.com In August, American Cruise Lines' new 150-passenger Queen of the Mississippi will introduce a range of cruises, with a few lasting up to 14 days and sailing up to St. Paul, Minn., or Pittsburgh (via the Ohio River), and typically starting in Memphis. It’s been 15 years since the last new ship came into service on the Mississippi. americancruiselines.com Give credit where credit is due: This trend in Mississippi cruising was kickstarted last year by Blount Small Ship Adventures, which ran three departures on the 96-passenger Grand Caribe. This year, the company is back, offering double the number of cruises over last year. One current offer is for a twelve-day cruise from New Orleans to Nashville, from $3,699 per couple. blountsmallshipadventures.com SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 6 Best River Cruise Lines Secrets to the 10 Most Popular Cruise Ports Ask Trip Coach: River Cruises
Disney Fantasy Cruise Ship Becoming Reality: A First Look
The 4,000–passenger Disney Fantasy cruise ship is under construction at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany. Budget Travel was invited to see the work in progress. The ship debuts in March, cruising from Port Canaveral (near Orlando). CLICK HERE FOR A SNEAK PEEK INSIDE THE NEW CRUISE SHIP The Disney Fantasy is a sister ship to last-year's Disney Dream. And let's face it, it's hard to top a ship (Dream) that received much–deserved fanfare for its first–ever water coaster at sea and such high tech innovations as cabins with Magical Portholes for virtual views and artwork that springs to life with animation. All that good stuff remains—including the Aqua Duck coaster, a 765-foot long twisting ride above the upper decks. But Fantasy also stands alone as the first Disney Cruise Line ship built specifically for week–long itineraries—Dream as well as the earlier 1,754–passenger Disney Magic and Disney Wonder were designed for three- and four-day cruises, which passengers would combine with a theme park stay. The tweaks on Fantasy mostly reflect the ship as its own destination—with more for passengers to do on their shipboard vacation. Here's what's new: FUN FOR KIDS Kids of course will get star treatment on the ship with activities day and night including at the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab (for kids ages 3–11). There are separate clubs for 'tweens and teens, and the ship also has a nursery. Little is changed in these spaces from Dream—but it was fun touring a construction site with giant "Toy Story" characters already in place. On the open decks, new features include AquaLab, a wet play area for families with two–dozen water jets, leaking walls with holes kids can try to plug, a leaky boat and spill buckets. Despite the fact most of the features weren't yet in place on our shipyard tour, it was easy to imagine squeals of delight from kids. Cleverly, there's a parental viewing area above for any adults who don't want to get wet. At the popular Animator's Palette, where the dinner show features animation, including a talking "Crush," we got a preview of a cool new feature that will allow guests to create a cartoon character on their placemats and see it automated as part of the show—your creation will march, dance and wave with Mickey and other animated Disney characters on the restaurant's video screens. This will no doubt awe the kiddies, and many adults too (pre–debut the software has already won a peer award). DISNEY CHARACTERS Of course there will be plenty of opportunity for kids to spot Mickey and Minnie et al around the ship including in the fanciful Art Nouveau–inspired atrium lobby—where a bronze statue of Mademoiselle Minnie in vintage attire will provide the must–do photo opp. Lest you think Disney would miss a marketing opportunity, "The Muppets," including Fozzie and Gonzo, will be shipboard too—as part of an interactive video game that has kids uncovering clues hidden in animated artwork around the ship to solve a mystery. ADULTS-ONLY Across the ship, above the adults–only pool (there are also pools for families and kids) is another new wet spot, a small family wading pool that will entertain with mist and bubbles. New shaded areas nearby will hold loungers for those who want ocean breezes without sun. Above that is a new wet schmoozing spot for adults, a 24–inch deep pool with a waterfall feature and circular bench where you can enjoy a drink from the nearby bar while soaking your legs. It's cleverly located around the ship's real TV satellite. RESTAURANTS / NIGHTCLUBS As on the earlier ships, the Disney Fantasy will feature the line's unique rotation dining system, which has passengers dining in three different themed restaurants, their wait staff moving along with them. A surprise when the Disney Dream debuted last year was how much space was dedicated to adult passengers—the pool area, a fancy spa, two adults–only alternative restaurants (Palo and Remy) and a nightclub area. The nighttime area is expanded even more on Fantasy, where it's Europe–themed and called Europa. Adults will beable to mingle at night in a posh champagne bar called Oooh La La, an Irish pub/sports bar called O'Gills, a Skyline bar boasting virtual skylines of major European cities and a London subway–themed disco, The Tube. You enter the district via the La Piazza lounge with a carousel bar as the centerpiece (nope, the carousel does not move). ENTERTAINMENT Moving to a seven–day cruise focus, Disney is enhancing entertainment offerings on Fantasy to include a new 45–minute Broadway–style musical, "Wishes," about the importance of adults recognizing their inner child, and featuring original music as well as numbers from "Tangled," "Pinocchio," "The Little Mermaid," and other Disney movies and TV shows. Fantasy will also debut shipboard "Disney's Aladdin—A Musical Spectacular," from Disneyland. The shows are in The Walt Disney Theatre, equipped for all sorts of stage wizardry and creative use of animation. Cruise line officials told us on the shipyard tour you'd be hard–pressed to find a more technologically advanced theatre anywhere. Another new feature may not appeal to parents on a budget. At the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and The Pirates League (inspired by similar venues at the Disney parks), kids will be able to get a complete Disney princess or pirate makeover including costume, hair, makeup and accessories–paying for each item you say "yes" to. As on the other ships, "Mickey's Pirates IN the Caribbean" is a highlight deck party with fireworks—costumes optional. ITINERARY/PRICES The Disney Fantasy will sail from Port Canaveral on week–long cruises alternating eastern (St. Maarten and St. Thomas) and western (Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Cozumel, Mexico) Caribbean itineraries. All the cruises stop at Castaway Cay, Disney's private islands in the Bahamas. Fares are from $959 per person for the first two in a cabin, less for 3rd and 4th passengers. 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"Voluncruising" Options to Consider When Booking Your Next Vacation
This week is National Cruise Vacation Week, a time for special offers and big discounts in the cruise industry. This year, it's especially fitting that Make A Difference Day (the fourth Saturday in October) closes out Cruise Week, because, as of late, increased social awareness has sparked a number of opportunities for cruisers to contribute to the communities they visit—and the volunteer options are still wide open for the last few months of 2011. Last January, Crystal Cruises began offering complimentary Crystal Cruises Voluntourism Adventure excursions as part of their "You Care, We Care" program. Projects still available in 2011 include grooming and feeding donkeys in the Donkey Sanctuary at the Antigua & Barbuda Humane Society, picking fruit for Israel's largest food bank to help feed the hungry, and assisting with daily care of turtles at the Turtle Rescue Center in Greece. Availability is extremely limited, so advance booking is highly recommended. Holland America has a similar program called Cruise With Purpose, which promotes environmental responsibility through tours and excursions. For visitors hoping to get their hands dirty (literally), the trip through Brisbane's Koala Sanctuary gives volunteers the chance to plant gum trees and to hand-feed kangaroos. Prices and availability vary, although their site indicates that several Holland ships through the end of the year will dock at Cruise With Purpose sites. Their Mexico excursion, departing from Acapulco, is from $50 for a four-hour tour that includes snacks, a drink, and the release of a baby turtle back into the ocean. A start-up called Hope Floats will make volunteer excursion arrangements for any visitor from any cruise line docking in Tortola, Antigua, St. Thomas, Barbados and St. Lucia. Activities range from cooking to beach clean-up, collaborating with 13 different charities including the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, and the Salvation Army. The administrative fee for many of their excursions is only $25 per group (up to six people), plus transportation. Founder Cathleen Huckaby has said that their website will be revamped before the end of the month, but online booking is still available. For more experienced cruise vacationers, there are plenty of resources to help volunteers design their own excursions. Together For Good has a list of organizations in popular cruise destinations all over the Caribbean—but recommend that visitors contact their chosen organization well in advance when planning their trip. —Chabli Bravo Have inside information on other voluncruising options? Tell us about it below. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL National Cruise Vacation Week Brings Fare Deals News for Solo Cruisers Your Money-Saving Cruise Questions—Answered!