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January 5, 2009

Cruise Trends for a New Year!


Spas & New Classes of Service

Celebrity Cruises Solstice, now offers Aqua-Class. Just what is AquaClass? For those who have entered a spa and never wanted to leave, Celebrity Solstice offers the new AquaClass stateroom. Sharing a deck with the AquaSpa relaxation room, it incorporates select spa elements into the staterooms, allows for specialized access to spa amenities, and features assigned seating at the healthfully delicious Blu. This specialty restaurant is the exclusive dining venue for all AquaClass guests, serving healthy fare in a sophisticated and soothing atmosphere.

Aqua-Class guests have unlimited access to the spa's relaxation room and thermal area, a spa concierge; dinner in the health-conscious eatery Blu is included without fee (typical fee for other guests is $35.00 per guest). Plus, complimentary wellness classes and special healthy appetizers delivered to your stateroom.

Holland America's Eurodam has 56 spa cabins with direct spa access via a spiral staircase. Discover a ship filled with retreats. Relax and recharge with a luxurious spa treatment at the Greenhouse Spa & Salon-or yoga and Pilates in the Fitness Center

Carnival Splendor offers 68 spa cabins connected to the ship's 21,000-square-foot spa, the largest one in its fleet, and come with free access to the spa's relaxation suite.

Sanctuary Areas

The lines are offering exclusive, restful outdoor spaces reserved for adults who pay an extra fee:

Holland America Eurodam has set aside an outdoor haven called the Retreat with private cabanas. The Thermal Suite on the Noordam is one of my favorite spots, the views, thermal lounge chairs, hot tub and private deck alone are fabulous.

Princess Cruises has several ships, including the Ruby, offering a lush outdoor spa area called Sanctuary with treatment cabanas, chaise lounges and light food service.

MSC's Fantasia goes a step further, with a brand new VIP area called MSC Yacht Club featuring 99 suites, a bar, solarium, pool with a sky dome, lounge with a transparent ceiling, and concierge and butler service. Stairs and some floors in the VIP area are made of Swaroski crystal, and Yacht Club passengers use private elevators. (This year it will sail only in Europe.)

Instead of the Ocean, Try a River (Cruise) This Year

Savvy cruisers, accustomed to sailing the high seas, are taking note of a relatively unknown opportunity. Namely, the experience of cruising down a meandering river in a venue even more laid-back than traditional ocean cruises. Drifting through beautiful landscapes, enjoying all the creature comforts of regional food and wine, experiencing chateaus and cathedrals, touring vineyards and sleepy villages left behind by time... this is a European River Cruise.

Cruising a river waterway brings a new experience that is both similar to, and very different from, ocean cruising.

What is the allure of river cruising? Unlike ocean cruises, rivers provide easy access to city centers. Passengers sail directly into the heart of every destination and dock in the middle of town, then walk right off the ship and move easily into whatever city or town you are visiting. You spend less time getting there-and more time being there.

A river cruise allows for a more intimate experience, as well. Because most of these ships accommodate only 30 to 200 guests, it is easier to meet your traveling companions. You can share a drink with the couple you met on the day's tour, or dine with interesting passengers in an open-seating restaurant. Another benefit: you can also forget about waiting in long lines to embark, debark, or have a meal.

In keeping with this trend, has recently added the premier names in river cruising to their website. The site lists information for Amadeus/AMA Waterways, Avalon Waterways and Uniworld. Also included: Viking River, the largest player in the river cruise industry and the recipient of both Conde Nast's Gold & Travel award and the recognition as one of Leisure World's "Best".

As with ocean cruises, the concept of shopping for a river cruise with CruiseCompete is simplicity itself. Cruisers select a ship and sail date, and their request appears instantly in multiple cruise specialists' accounts. These specialized agents process the request, and respond with their best offers. Consumers can compare the quotes received, and contact the agencies directly for more information, or to book. Users remain anonymous until and unless they contact an agent. Another upgrade: live chat has recently been added to give an additional layer of communication to cruisers.

Bottom line - you get the cruise destination and dates you want, with the best available deal from cruise specialists bidding to serve you. While many Americans believe there is no economical way to cruise during these difficult times, there are bargains to be had for river cruisers. Those willing to take a few moments on their computers to type in the cruise parameters of their dreams can reap the benefits. What better way to address the "economic blues" than by taking a respite from these tough times? River excursions are low in cost, but high in unforgettable memories.

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