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New from Aquila: Service Excellence COVID Edition and how to be ready for cruising's resumption

Aquila frontline service training spanned 10 locations across six islands in the BVI. More than 2,500 people were trained over two weeks

'Hospitality still needs to reign supreme, even in this era,' as BVI Tourist Board Director Clive McCoy put it.

2,500 workers trained

McCoy selected the Aquila Center for Cruise Excellence, which delivered training over two weeks in November to more than 2,500 hospitality providers, including taxi drivers, tour guides, airport personnel, hotel and spa staff.

This spanned 10 locations across six islands, spread over 11 workshops. Attendees gathered at a range of venues that allowed for safe distancing. The trainers, who were remote, were projected on big screens.

'Service Excellence: COVID-19 Edition'

Aquila's 'Service Excellence: COVID-19 Edition' is focused on giving people the skills and confidence they need to deliver excellent service while following the necessary protocols and procedures implemented by destinations and cruise lines.

Topics Include communication while wearing masks, fostering connections while distancing, touchless engagement and interactivity, sanitization as great service, encouraging guest compliance and managing difficult situations.

McCoy called Aquila 'a great match. We needed to get something done. They had exactly what we were looking for. Their training was good. It spoke to how to deliver service in this COVID-19 era, which is very important.'

Don't forget to smize

One point that made a lasting impression, he said, was 'smizing.'

That means smiling with the eyes, a term coined by supermodel Tyra Banks in 2009. It has taken on new significance in this masked time.

'As Caribbean people, we love to touch, we love to hug,' McCoy said. While that's not possible now, workers learned other ways to convey friendliness and warmth.

For BVI businesses to reopen, everyone had to be trained. Completion of the workshop, followed by a government inspection of facilities, led to Gold Seal certification, which McCoy said 'All our major properties earned.'

This is Aquila's 10th year of providing service excellence training. True to the team's penchant for fun, they celebrated with a TikTok challenge. And, as a tour operator for more than 35 years, the Saint John, New Brunswick-based company has a 'living lab' of experiences to incorporate into courses.

In 2019, trainers traveled to more than 35 destinations to lead workshops, their busiest year. The pandemic changed everything. No travel for training since Progreso, Mexico, in early March. And, with cruise ships not sailing, Aquila had no shore excursion business this year.

However, Aquila Founder Beth Kelly Hatt said 2020 gave time to pivot and adapt much of the training into online and virtual formats for a much wider scope. Timely new courses were developed, and a new website details all the offerings. There's also a Spanish version of, and courses are available in Spanish, too.

How to be ready for cruising's resumption

Among the new programs, Aquila created 'How to be Ready for the Resumption of Cruise,' a series of five workshops targeted at destinations, ports and tour operators. Topics include how to prepare your community to welcome ships, how to build an operational plan that adapts with change, how to reimagine product development and guest experiences, how to create a culture of service in destinations and organizations and how to deliver 'wow' experiences for cruise lines and guests.

Everyone needs to be acting on these things, Hatt said.

Aquila itself is 'working on our own operational plans and protocols to be ready for a 2021 season, however that may look. We’ve partnered with operators in Europe to learn from their lessons as well as taken every chance to listen to expert panels on the subject.'

Back to training, in 2020 Aquila has delivered 63 workshops and programs online and virtually to 5,696 participants from 27 countries. Besides BVI, Guadeloupe, Grenada and the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (for which Aquila is exclusive training partner) have been among those.

Hatt said the company is also talking about training with Cruise Lines International Association and with Seatrade in 2021.


Seabourn switches to all seven-day Alaska itineraries in 2021

Seabourn Odyssey will sail open-jaw north and southbound between Juneau and Vancouver

The full May to September season on Seabourn Odyssey will now consist of 18 weeklong voyages between Vancouver, BC, and Juneau.

Seabourn shortened the cruises to meet the requirements of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's framework for conditional sailing.

Glacier Bay or other glacier experiences

Seabourn Odyssey will alternate the north and southbound itineraries. A number of the voyages will feature Glacier Bay.

Each cruise will include spectacular glacier experiences in Glacier Bay, Hubbard Glacier or Tracy/Endicott Arm. Voyages also include the 'Ventures by Seabourn' program of expedition-style experiences led by the on-board expedition team.

Open to book now: 'Glaciers & Alaska Inside Passage,' Vancouver to Juneau, sailing May 28, Aug. 6 and Aug. 20, and 'Alaska Fjords & Canadian Inside Passage,' Juneau to Vancouver, on July 30 and Aug. 13.

Opening for sale on Jan. 2 are 'Alaska Fjords & Canadian Inside Passage,' Juneau to Vancouver, on June 4, June 18, July 16, Aug. 27 and Sept. 10; 'Glaciers & Alaska Inside Passage,' Vancouver to Juneau, on June 11, July 9, July 23 and Sept. 3; and 'Glacier Bay & Canadian Inside Passage,' Juneau to Vancouver, Sept. 10.

Two May voyages canceled

As a result of the deployment changes, the season will begin on May 28 so Seabourn canceled two voyages: the Pacific coastal sailing scheduled for May 15 and the Alaska cruise that was set to depart May 21.

Amadea retrofit set to cut NOx by 90%

The solution will reduce Amadea’s nitrogen oxide emissions by 90%

The installation will start in September next year and involves the integration of two MAN PrimeServ SCR systems — one each in both of Amadea’s four-stroke MAN 7L58/64 propulsion-engines — enabling the vessel to meet emission standards in the Norwegian Heritage Fjord market. 

‘We are currently experiencing an increasing number of requests from cruise and ferry companies that want to improve their green credentials and who desire to become sustainable without the need for legislation,’ said Alexander Schäfer, head of turbocharger & exhaust gas treatment, MAN PrimeServ. ‘We want these companies to know that we can support them, regardless of whether they intend to enter the Norwegian Heritage Fjords or not.’

SCR solution

The fully modular SCR solution will be integrated into Amadea’s engine-control system. With its closed-loop system and a weather station that uses environmental data, nitrogen oxide reduction rate is maximised and ammonia slip minimised to 10ppm, comparable to that of a car. 

Clean energy

Amadea runs on high-quality marine diesel-oil and had its turbochargers retrofitted previously by MAN, improving engine efficiency and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. At the same time, MGO instead of HFO injection nozzles were introduced to minimise black-carbon emissions. 

The MAN SCR solution will bring Amadea’s engines from Tier 0 status to Tier III emission level and will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 90%, equivalent to savings of 600 tons per annum. 

It permits slow sailing in the fjords as well as close to port and populated areas.

Das Traumschiff

Amadea is known in Germany as the setting of a popular television series, 'Das Traumschiff.'

Windstar delays to May, drops 2021 Alaska plans, US, Mexico ports

Focus on secluded beaches and water sports

The delay impacts the recently extended and updated 312-passenger Star Breeze, which is now planned to return to cruising May 15 on a newly added itinerary from St. Martin.

Star Breeze had been scheduled to enter service March 27 in the Caribbean before transiting the Panama Canal to sail in the Sea of Cortez and then Alaska on 10-  and 11-day cruises. However, as Windstar President Chris Prelog recently noted, those longer sailings wouldn't comply with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's seven-day limit, so a change had been expected. 

Beach and water sports focus

Three departures of 'Beach Fun & Sun – A Remote Caribbean Getaway,' will be more adventure-focused with an emphasis on secluded beaches and water sports.

Windstar will use its water sports platform and crew to offer exploration by small boats with trips to remote beaches, kayaking, snorkeling, water skiing and stand-up paddle boarding. Stops include Norman Island at the southern tip of the British Virgin Islands and reputed to be the inspiration for Treasure Island; two days at Prickly Pear Beach, a white-sand beach with turquoise waters ideal for snorkeling on Virgin Gorda; and Soper’s Hole on the quiet island of Tortola.

Then, Tahiti

Star Breeze will then remain in the Caribbean sailing a variety of itineraries through Aug. 14, when it will head to Colombia and the Panama Canal before continuing to Tahiti on a trans-Pacific voyage. It will then sail in French Polynesia Sept. 19 through March 2022 on seven, 10- and 11-day cruises.

Winstar said Star Breeze in Tahiti, where Windstar’s 148-passenger Wind Spirit typically only sails, is a unique opportunity to experience the islands on this newly transformed yacht which offers two new dining concepts with serious chef backings, as well as new suites, a spacious spa/fitness center and other 'bigger ship' perks, all for just 312 passengers maximum. 

Holiday sale

Windstar’s Bon Voyage 2020 Sale, which kicks off Dec. 16 for past customers and travel advisors and Dec. 17 for the general public, includes price reductions on select 2021 and 2022 voyages, including many options in Tahiti and the Caribbean. Travelers can also take advantage of a reduced deposit of 5% (normally 15%). This ends Dec. 30. More details are here.

'We are seeing increasing interest for summer and fall of 2021 and also 2022,' Prelog said. 'Our six yachts carry only 148 to 342 guests, and we expect demand for small ship cruising to continue to increase. My advice is to book now and save your desired cruise date before we sell out. You can always cancel up to 48 hours before departure for 2021 cruises.'

Other deployment updates

The newly transformed Star Legend, currently undergoing the same extension/upgrade at Fincantieri's Palermo yard as Star Breeze did, is slated to be the first Windstar yacht to return to service, beginning May 1 from Piraeus on the new 10-day 'Greece, Israel & Egypt: Footsteps of Faith in the Holy Lands' cruise.

Wind Spirit will begin sailing in Tahiti on May 6. Wind Surf will resume guest operations in Civitavecchia (Rome) on May 9, while Wind Star starts on May 22 in Piraeus. The reimagined Star Pride is to debut July 14 in Dover.

MSC resolves to end to single-use plastic by close of 2021

MSC Cruises' Director of Sustainability Linden Coppell said the cruise line is 'honoured to be one of the charter’s first signatories.'

‘The pledge goes beyond the UK Government’s commitment to ban single plastic items which we hope will encourage more organisations to do more to combat what is of real global concern,’ commented Linden Coppell, director of sustainability, MSC Cruises.

‘According to research by the British government, 80% of plastic enters the marine environment from land-based sources, especially via rivers, but clearly all of us in the shipping community must play our part.’

MSC Cruises and the environment

In 2019, MSC Cruises eliminated 97m items of plastic, after identifying nearly 40,000 single-use plastic items in its hotel operations, shops, restaurants and kitchens. In the same year, it replaced almost 20m plastic straws with nine million compostable straws, removed plastic coverings on more than 10,000 sunbeds and swapped 12 tons of plastic packaging for dishwater detergents with eco-friendly alternatives.

Coppell will discuss MSC Cruises sustainability efforts at the UK Chamber of Shipping’s Single-Use Plastic in the Marine Environment webinar, showing December 15. 

Added Coppell, ‘We are honoured to be one of the charter’s first signatories and we applaud the UK Chamber of Shipping in launching its initiative.’ 

The cruise line announced a temporary pause in MSC Grandiosa's operations scheduled this month; the planned restart of MSC Magnifica is January 2021.


Trans-Tasman bubble gets the nod, but not for cruise ships yet

Ann Sherry said all elements of tourism will be discussed

Hunt said increased travel between the two countries would benefit both economies.

Cases negligible

‘We consciously opened up Australia to people coming from New Zealand because their (COVID-19) case numbers were negligible,’ he said. 

‘It is our intention to name a date for the commencement of the trans-Tasman quarantine-free travel in the new year, once remaining details are locked down,’ Ardern said. 

The ban on international travel in Australia is in place until March 17.

Ann Sherry’s Forum

An Australian New Zealand Leadership Forum (ANZLF) headed by Carnival Australia adviser and former chairman Ann Sherry has been working for months, investigating what protocols need to be in place for travel between the two countries to resume.

The ANZLF committee includes health and border force officials from both sides of the Tasman and peak tourism bodies.

Air transport

The trans-Tasman bubble will initially apply to air transport.

However, Sherry told Seatrade Cruise News ‘we will be raising all the elements of tourism as part of this discussion.’

Cook Islands bubble

Over the weekend, New Zealand and the Cook Islands announced a similar travel bubble for people to travel between the two countries without quarantine.

NCL reunites Broadway stars for Dec. 17 'Embark' episode

Alan Mingo will perform 'Land of Lola' from 'Kinky Boots' during NCL's 'Live From Broadway'

Now Norwegian Cruise Line is uniting musical theater veterans Brenda Braxton, Stephanie Pope, Michael Fasano, Alan Mingo and others for 'Live From Broadway,' which streams Dec. 17.

Showcasing top NCL productions for global audience at home

'While we haven’t been able to connect with our guests, cast and crew during this extraordinary time, we wanted to deliver our friends at home an intimate showcase of some of our top productions across our fleet, while also offering this marquee of talent a stage to share their musical gifts with viewers around the world,' said NCL's Richard Ambrose, SVP entertainment and cruise programming.

In addition to stellar performances, the public will get a front row seat to behind-the-scenes conversations with cast members about what it means to them to perform for the first time in many months.

Braxton will sing 'On the Sunny Side of the Street' from 'After Midnight' on Norwegian Escape, while Pope will perform Donna Summer’s 'Last Dance' featured in the Australian musical 'Velvet' on Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Breakaway. Michael Fasano will sing 'Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You' from the Tony Award-winning 'Jersey Boys,' available on Norwegian Bliss.

Alan Mingo aka Lola

And Mingo will perform 'Land of Lola' from the Tony Award-winning 'Kinky Boots,' on Norwegian Encore, NCL's newest ship. Mingo is best known for his award-winning performance as Lola in the Canadian and Broadway productions of 'Kinky Boots.' Other Broadway credits include 'The Little Mermaid' as Sebastian and 'Rent' as Tom Collins.

Mingo recently joined Ambrose for a Zoom chat with media.

'The pandemic has been tragic for the cruise industry but it's catastrophic for the live entertainment industry — Broadway and the West End,' Ambrose explained, so NCL's support for performers is appreciated.

90-day lead time

A 90-day lead time is expected before cruises restart, according to Ambrose, who said NCL is still juggling which ships will enter service first. So the casts are not currently rehearsing but the shows are in pre-production while adhering to new rules to keep everyone safe.

NCL has studios in Tampa where the shows for six to eight ships are normally rehearsing. During the pandemic, those facilities were built out to more than 100,000 square feet. There are eight studios, each the size of the largest stage on the ships, which is actually on Norwegian Pearl, Gem and Jade.

'That is impressive,' Mingo said, to see the 'massive studios with all the other shows in production.'

Each show's cast will live and work in a separate bubble, with regular COVID-19 testing.

Hope to start rehearsals in January

'The goal is to start rehearsing sometime in January for the ships that will go out,' Ambrose said. Since the ships will be empty, casts also will be able to rehearse on board. And that really helps for a show like 'Kinky Boots,' with its many backstage elements including props and costumes.

When Mingo first saw the Norwegian Encore theater, he was 'amazed,' adding that the backstage technicians are each 'doing the job of four people in making some magic happen.'

No hazard pay

Asked if he gets hazard pay for wearing kinky boots with six-inch heels on a moving ship, Mango said no but he maintained motion 'hasn't been an issue. The ship is so big, you rarely feel it move.'

Cruise ship audiences are different, the performer said, adding that he loves talking with people after they see the show. Broadway audiences go to the theater as a premeditated choice, while on cruise ships, 'there are so many choices. You can go anywhere you want. Sometimes people happen into the theater and see the show and they love it,' [raving] "Oh my god! I had no idea." When they see the quality, having that experience for them is quite exciting.'

After the casts go to sea, they'll be tested for COVID weekly with temperature checks twice a day. 'They will have access to the ship but we will keep them safe,' Ambrose said. Backstage crew will be masked and some will have shields, part of what he called a 'very robust system.'

Audience of 350 instead of 1,000

There will be more performances of each show, before smaller audiences — '350 to 400 people in the theater instead of 1,000,' Ambrose said.

As previously reported, even the more intimate acts like The Cavern Club for Beatles tribute shows and Syd Norman's Pour House for live rock 'n' roll will be available, but without intermingling the performers and the audience.

The show must go on

Once NCL resumes sailing, 'Guests will have the full entertainment experience, 100% as before,' Ambrose pledged. 'NCL is so known for entertainment. The show must go on.'

However, it will take four to six weeks to get everything running again because of the sheer logistics.

'I'm excited to get back and perform in front of a live audience,' Mingo said. The last months have been difficult because 'We also train while we perform and the pandemic has shot that down.'

'Live From Broadway' will stream at at 9 p.m. ET, Dec. 17, before being made available on demand. 'The Choir of Man — Live From London' is also available there, on demand.

US lawmakers press CDC for cruise industry COVID-19 response records

House transportation leaders asked for a response from CDC/HHS by Dec. 23

The records were requested more than seven months ago in connection with the Committee's investigation of how Carnival Corp. dealt with the outbreak.

While the request was put to CDC, the lawmakers said they understand it is being handled by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) instead.

Lack of response 'completely unacceptable'

In their letters to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield on Thursday, Committee Chair Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon, and Subcommittee Chair Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat from New York, stated that the lack of response was completely unacceptable.

'Months ago, our staff was told that CDC/HHS had identified an estimated 7,000 documents that were potentially responsive to our May 1, 2020, records request ... To date, the CDC/HHS has provided the Committee with a single records production on July 10, 2020, five months ago, of just 180 pages of records.'

DeFazio and Maloney asked the leaders of HHS and CDC to respond to a series of specific questions about the status of the Committee’s records requests by Dec. 23.

Carnival has handed over more than 10,000 pages of records

'We would note that we have received more than 10,000 pages of records from Carnival, and the US Coast Guard has provided us with seven productions of records in the same time period,' DeFazio and Maloney added.

Expressing concern that Carnival and its nine cruise brands were ignoring the public health threat of the pandemic in their public-facing marketing materials, DeFazio and Maloney initiated their records request in May.

Maloney followed up with the CDC Oct. 13, requesting additional records after media reports alleged the White House intervened in the CDC’s effort to extend the no-sail order for the cruise industry.