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Review: An Alaska Cruise Tour With Princess Cruises

Dec 26, 2022

Adventure Travel  Alaska  Cruise  Tours  

 

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Guests of Princess Cruises’ Alaska Cruise Tour watching the northern lights at Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge
Credit: 2022 Dana Rebmann

“If you’re cold, you’re not working hard enough,“ said Ron Zwahlen, a commercial fishing captain.

He had come onboard Princess Cruises’Royal Princess to talk about fishing and crabbing in some of the most dangerous waters in the world — the Bering Sea. His visit was part of the Discovery at Sea program (a Princess partnership with Discovery and Animal Planet), and his enthusiasm about our stop in Ketchikan was contagious. 

 

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The author, Dana Rebmann, with her snow crab during the Discovery at Sea program
Credit: 2022 Dana Rebmann

Less than 24 hours later, as I confidently grabbed hold of a leggy snow crab while onboard the Aleutian Ballad — a ship made famous by the television series "Deadliest Catch” — I realized just how well his stories had captured the thrill of visiting Alaska.

Royal Princess’ Itinerary and Onboard Highlights

Departing from Vancouver, my week-long cruise included stops in Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, along with scenic sailings in Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve and College Fjord, before disembarking in Whittier. For guests sailing for the first time since the pandemic, consistently masked crew members were a notable change, but otherwise our cruise along Alaska’s Inside Passage was reminiscent of life prior to COVID-19.

Staff speak with more conviction when asking guests entering the Horizon Court buffet area to wash their hands, but buffet service is back to normal. Only very observant clients will likely notice that silverware and napkins, once placed on tables, must now be picked up along the buffet line.

Often sporting a whale-patterned necktie, Rob Raincock, the ship's naturalist, was arguably one of the ship’s most recognizable and appreciated crew members during our sailing. 

 

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The ship's naturalist helped passengers spot wildlife.
Credit: 2022 Dana Rebmann

Positioned at the back of deck 16 almost every night from 6 p.m. to sunset, he helped guests spot and identify everything from humpback and fin whales to orcas, otters, seals and calving glaciers. After dark, he turned his attention to the skies, scanning for the northern lights. During aurora season (late August onward), he maintains a cabin call list to alert guests hoping to catch a glimpse.

MedallionClass Perks and Prizes

The line’s exclusive MedallionClass experience continues to expand and improve the overall Alaska cruising experience onboard Royal Princess. The wearable, quarter-sized device does everything from unlocking stateroom doors to finding friends and family anywhere on the ship.

But now, it also gives adult clients the chance to win prizes — including shipboard credits, wine tastings and even free cruises — every time they enter their stateroom using their Medallion. Princess Prizes is part of the recently launched Princess Premier cruise package option; guests who don’t purchase a package can pay $20 per cabin per day to participate.

Once limited to purchases made onboard the ship, MedallionPay can now also be used at select retail locations in Ketchikan. (More Alaska ports are anticipated next season.) Guests who shop with participating merchants receive a 7% shipboard credit on purchases, which can be used on their current cruise or carried over to future sailings. Push notifications, reminders of upcoming events and an overall faster MedallionClass App experience are a few enhancements still in the works.

The Alaska Cruise Tour Experience 

After seven days filled with glaciers, bear spotting and helicopter tours, when our Alaska sailing ended in Whittier, nearly 300 of the 2,600 guests continued on a Princess Cruise Tour, road tripping through interior Alaska by motorcoach and train.

“Every day is a new opportunity to learn,” said Carlos Gomez, tour director for Princess, as guests settled into their coach seats for the approximately two-hour drive from Whittier to Kenai. “I always try to remember, for the majority of our travelers, this [is] a bucket-list trip."

From suggesting how to dress for daily activities to streaming daily, custom playlists during our time onboard the bus, Gomez took care of every detail as we racked up miles traveling to Kenai, Denali National Park and, finally, Fairbanks.

Princess’ Alaska Lodges

All but one of the five Princess Lodges in Alaska reopened for the 2022 season. (Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge opened briefly, but was forced to close in June due to staffing shortages. It is expected to reopen for the 2023 season.) Princess also operates Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge and Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge.

 

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Seeing bears during the tour portion of an Alaska Cruise Tour with Princess
Credit: 2022 Dana Rebmann

More than 50 guests made their way to the back deck of the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge at 3:30 a.m. after receiving a call that the northern lights were dancing across the sky. The next morning, both staff and guests seemed equally awestruck by the rare, unobstructed view of Denali (formerly known as Mount McKinley). At 20,310 feet, it’s the tallest peak in North America. 

Tundra Wilderness Tours are operating smoothly again in Denali National Park & Preserve, though with a shortened route due to the Pretty Rocks Landslide at Mile 45 of Denali Park Road. (There’s no firm timeframe yet on when the road will be passable again.) Pick-ups take place steps from the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge lobby, allowing guests to practically roll out of bed and go.

Every trip into the park is so unique, so different,” said Scott Richardson, a guide for Tundra Wilderness Tour, as he encouraged us to enjoy our time in the park without expectations. 

It was good advice. But after a handful of grizzly bear sightings — a season record for Richardson — it was clear to us all we had hit the Denali jackpot. 

Everything You Need to Know About Carnival Venezia

Dec 23, 2022

Cruise  

 

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Carnival Venezia will sport signature Carnival favorites with Italian flourishes.
Credit: 2022 Carnival Cruise Line

Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, and Glenn Aprile, the brand’s director of new builds product development, hosted a press conference to share what clients can expect onboard Carnival Venezia when it sets sail year-round from New York beginning in June 2023.

Duffy indicated the new series of vessels — which will also include sister ship Carnival Firenze from Long Beach, Calif., in 2024 — will be dubbed the Venice class. And Aprile added they will feature the same general arrangement as the line’s existing Vista class, but with “unique Italian styling.” Both will be operated by Carnival crew and feature the brand’s signature fun elements.

Accommodations

Staterooms and suites will feel familiar to those in the Vista class, but with Venetian flourishes and glass shower doors in the bathrooms. Local customers will also appreciate U.S.-style electrical outlets and USB charging ports.

Instead of Havana cabins, however, Terrazza staterooms will be Italian-themed with exclusive access to the aft-located Carnevale Lounge for continental breakfast, visits during the day and a special sail-away party with live music at the alfresco Terrazza Carnevale. Unlike on the Vista class, though, there is no pool here — but Carnival will be adding two whirlpools. At night, the space will be open to all passengers.

Activities

The hub of activities onboard will be the triple-decker atrium inspired by Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy. The space and its cocktail bar and stage will host a Captain’s Venetian Toast, as well as live music from Carnival’s Celestial Strings show. Guests will have the opportunity to purchase or bring their own decorative masks for the occasion.

The Gondola Lounge will host other activities and live music in the space where Ocean Plaza is located on Carnival’s other ships. And for families with children, the line’s kids’ clubs will be reprised, as will WaterWorks with water slides and SportSquare and its ropes course.

 

The lido deck will feature a pool.

The lido deck will feature a pool.
Credit: 2022 Carnival Cruise Line

The lido deck is “maybe my favorite spot onboard,” said Duffy, which on Venezia is a two-level, fully themed space with columns, fountains, a pool and eateries under a retractable magrodome cover. Events here will include an Italian sail-away event amid a street party atmosphere that will extend into the evening after dinner. Customers can also anticipate bocce, ping pong, foosball and even gelato- and pasta-eating contests.

Dining

The Italian Riviera-style lido will also serve the first of the ship’s updated dining. At Rococo, for instance, “Baroque Goes Pop” and frozen drinks will be available from a playful setting with art and drinks to match — everything from margaritas and daiquiris to limoncello and bellinis. And opposite the bar will be JavaBlue Cafe, which will have coffee and  gelato this time around.

Poolside, the ship will feature a Guy’s Burger Joint and its menu classics, plus a pepperoni pizza burger and the Big Mozz, topped with mozzarella cheese. But instead of a BlueIguana Cantina, Tomodoro will offer “Mexitalian” fusion. Think the usual tacos and burritos, but also meatballs and Sicilian chicken.

 

The Canal Grande dining room

The Canal Grande dining room
Credit: 2022 Carnival Cruise Line

Elsewhere, La Strada Grill will prepare Italian street food and sandwiches, and Frizzante will pour beverages with bubbles such as prosecco and Italian beer, as well as coffees. Meanwhile, taking the place of an Alchemy Bar will be the equally interactive Amari, serving favorites from Alchemy in addition to cocktails such as the negroni, americano, Amalfi martini and sbagliato.

The  ship’s main dining rooms are Canal Grande and Marco Polo. Canal Grande will don Italian motifs and a full-scale gondola, which will also host The Chef’s Table experience. Both will feature dishes from Carnival’s classic Cucina del Capitano, while a new, yet-to-be-detailed specialty Italian restaurant will be showcased as an extra venue for sea day brunches and dinners. Duffy teased an oven that will specially bake focaccia bread.

Entertainment

Teatro Rosso will feature staged productions including “Color My World” from the line’s latest ship, Carnival Celebration,  complete with a live artist and assistant propelling the narrative. Other Playlist Productions coming to Venezia will include “Broadway Beats,” “Epic Rock” and “Vintage Pop,” as well as the Family Feud Live game show.

All of this is in addition to Carnival favorites that will also appear onboard, such as Heroes Tribute Bar & Lounge, Piano Bar 88, Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse, Bonsai Sushi, Seafood Shack and a Cloud 9 Salon & Spa.

Starting June 15, 2023, Carnival Venezia will sail on a wide variety of itineraries (22 in total) across 10 different durations to 25 ports of call in 14 countries. And then later, on the West Coast in 2024, Carnival Firenze will depart year-round from Long Beach, Calif.

6 Unforgettable Chateau Experiences in the Loire Valley

Dec 08, 2022

Luxury Travel  Romance  Tours  Western Europe  

 

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For a garden experience with a side of chateau, visit Villandry Chateau & Gardens in the Loire Valley.
Credit: 2022 Freesurf/stock.adobe.com

The Loire Valley is known as the “Cradle of the French,” as its vineyards and fairytale scenery are a classic representation of the French countryside. The valley’s green landscape, nurtured by the waters of the Loire River, was as much a draw for the royalty of a former era as it is an attraction for tourists today.

Many kings and queens settled in France’s Val de Loire and commissioned the construction of numerous castles, ultimately making the region the densest collection of chateaux in the country. But while these castles may be prime examples of French architectural magnificence and grandeur, there are so many of them in the region — roughly 300 — that it can get repetitive to tour them. Even the most eager castle enthusiast can get “chateau’d out” after seeing room upon room of 16th-century antiquities and yet another tapestry.

However, if you look away from the classical portraiture and antique furniture, you can get a refreshing new perspective on these centuries-old dwellings. Several of today’s castle-keepers have developed out-of-the-norm experiences so that their royal abodes can stand out as a memory amidst the inevitable post-vacation blur of too many chateaux.

Here are a few that really pop.

Domaine de Chaumont-Sur-Loire

While the chateau of Domaine de Chaumont-Sur-Loire is littered with Louis XII’s porcupine emblem, what truly sets it apart is that many of its rooms have been repurposed for contemporary art installations, juxtaposed to the medieval antiquities.

 

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Domaine de Chaumont-Sur-Loire features a rotating roster of contemporary artists.
Credit: 2022 Erik Trinidad

The art exhibition has a rotating roster of artists, and previous installations have included “Effets de Soir,” the larger-than-life digital projections of artist Quayola, and Chiharu Shiota’s “Direction de Conscience,” an installation in a room filled with a web of black strings. One notable installation was Gerda Steiner and Jörg Lenzlinger’s “Les Pierres et Le Printemps” in the chateau’s chapel, which was the artists embellished with branches and dried plants.

The chateau’s adjacent gardens, hotel and restaurant — Le Grand Chaume — also continue the contemporary theme amidst a countryside stuck in time.

Chateau du Clos Luce

Chateau du Clos Luce in Amboise is not just any old castle from the 16th century; it’s the former residence of polymath Leonardo Da Vinci, where he studied and painted in his later years until his death in 1519. While a tour of the interior reveals antique beds and tables not unlike ones found in many other castles in the region, these come with the clout that Da Vinci slept there.

Beyond his old bedroom and painting studio, the keepers of Clos Luce have double downed on Da Vinci and have converted the chateau grounds into a family-friendly museum of all things about the beloved Renaissance Man. There are many interactive exhibits, including kinetic sculptures inspired by his inventions, and even an arcade with a video game inspired by his ornithopter flying machine.

The local restaurant also keeps with the Renaissance theme: All the servers wear period clothing, and dishes include Hoche Pot, a hearty stew of Da Vinci’s time.

Villandry Chateau & Gardens

If you’re lucky, you might run into the current owner of Villandry Chateau & Gardens — the humble Henri Carvallo, who lives not in the castle itself, but in a smaller house on the other side of the giant domaine. He and his staff maintain the chateau, which is a well-preserved museum with its past on public display. Villandry has the usual 16th-century tapestries, classical art, and antique furniture you’d expect from a French chateau; but what makes it stand out is what’s just outside: the grandiose botanical gardens so spectacular they almost overshadow the castle. With their meticulously crafted landscape design, the gardens make such an impression to behold that the chateau even has a photography gallery of its superstar gardeners.

The botanical gardens have a variety of flowers and many seasonal vegetables (planted in artistic fashion, of course) that supply the adjacent restaurant, La Doulce Terrasse. If there are any extra veggies, you’ll see them on the porch of Carvallo’s house, which he’ll use to make dinner for his daughter.

Chateau de Chenonceau

Chateau de Chenonceau has a long history of women expanding upon its original structure of an old manor house from 1517, built under Katherine Briconnet. Diane de Poitiers built its bridge over the adjacent Cher River in 1547, and then Catherine de Medici — inspired by the palace in Florence — built a similar structure over that bridge in 1559. Today, the imposing fairytale castle over water is a stunning place to visit, with its long hallways over the river and preserved 16th-century rooms. In particular, the impressive kitchen adorned with a plethora of copper cookware will impress any aspiring chef.

 

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Chateau de Chenonceau is called the “ladies’ chateau.”
Credit: 2022 saiko3p/stock.adobe.com

However, for a change of pace, walk away from the castle to the building across the gardens that holds the old wine cellar. It’s still in use and, in fact, offers wine-tasting sessions. You’ll also find the old apothecary, a photogenic room out of a Harry Potter novel. It was here that Catherine de Medici, who was attracted to the dark arts, consumed many concoctions containing elements considered harmful today, including mercury.

Chateau de Chambord

Encompassing nearly 14,000 acres, the grounds of Chateau de Chambord — including its forests and marshland — are about the size of the entirety of Paris. At the center is the chateau itself, once the largest castle in the entire French kingdom, and certainly still the largest in the Loire Valley to this day. While its leviathan size is undoubtedly impressive, the tapestries and antiques within are nothing unlike what you might see elsewhere.

However, what sets this massive residence of Francois I apart from other royal houses is its staircase. It’s a unique double-helix design that links each of the floors — essentially two non-intersecting spiral staircases twisted together. This means one person can go up one stairwell while you go up the other, and you can see each other through the opening in the center. Either way, they lead up to the view on the terrace, overlooking the rest of the domaine.

Chateau of Domaine de La Tortiniere

Why merely visit a chateau when you can stay in one? The chateau on the grounds of Domaine de la Tortiniere in Veigne is actually a functioning hotel, with an interior design that’s out of a Wes Anderson film. It’s a great place for a gourmet dinner, or simply to live out a storybook fantasy by sleeping within its walls.

If you’re there in late summer or early autumn, the small meadow of colorful cyclamen flowers leading up to the castle can make the experience feel even more magical. 

Holland America Line increases Canada/New England departures

By Andrea Zelinski 

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Jan 25, 2023

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Holland America Line's Nieuw Statendam in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Holland America Line's Nieuw Statendam in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Photo Credit: Paul McKinnon/Shutterstock

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Holland America Line will add four more sailings to its Canada/New England itineraries in 2024 by staying later in October to take advantage of the leaf-peeping season.

HAL will do 29 sailings between the Volendam and the Zuiderdam in the region in 2024, up from 25 sailings in 2023.

The longest sailing is a 24-day cruise that circumnavigates Iceland that sails from Boston. The itinerary includes six calls around Iceland along with 10 calls between Greenland, Maine, Nova Scotia, Labrador and Newfoundland. 

The line will also offer "Newfoundland & New England Discovery" sailings between Boston and Montreal. Ports on the 10-day voyage include Quebec City, Baie-Comeau and Havre-Stain-Pierre, Quebec; Corner Brook, St. Anthony and St. John's in Newfoundland; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Portland, Maine. An 11-day sailing calls at Portland, St. John, Corner Brook, Charlottetown and Quebec's Saguenay. 

Other offerings include seven-day cruises on the Volendam between Boston, Montreal and Quebec in both the summer and fall. Those sailings will calls at Bar Harbor, Maine; Quebec City; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; and Sydney and Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The Zuiderdam will also sail seven-day itineraries between Boston and Quebec City with weekend departures and overnight calls at Quebec City. Calls include Bar Harbor, Charlottetown, Sydney and Halifax.

River cruise ships, lines and regions to watch in 2023

By Nicole Edenedo 

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Jan 25, 2023

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Nicole Edenedo

Nicole Edenedo

New ships are on the horizon and ready to arrive on the river cruise market in 2023. Travelers will have more options to cruise the inland waterways of the U.S., while new river vessels will debut in Europe and Africa.

Here are a few of the newest ships, itineraries and updates to look out for during the 2023 river cruise season.

New options along the Nile

Egypt has become one of the hottest destinations in the river cruise market as companies have deepened their investments there with ships, itineraries and even a new river cruise line. Viking has a ship debuting on the Nile this year: The Viking Aton is expected to launch later this year, sailing alongside its sister, Viking Osiris, which launched in 2022. The 41-cabin Viking Aton will sail Viking's 12-day, land-cruise Pharaohs & Pyramids itinerary.

Meanwhile, Historia, whose tagline is "the boutique hotel Nile cruise" is the newest river cruise line to enter the Egyptian travel market.

New river ships in the U.S.

Travelers also will have more options to cruise the inland waterways of the U.S. onboard new purpose-built ships. American Cruise Lines, for example, is launching three ships this year, two of which are hybrid models that will be able to sail on both rivers and coastal waterways.

The company's sixth in its series of Modern river ships, the American Serenade, will debut on the Mississippi River in April. The Serenade will offer weeklong itineraries on both the upper and lower Mississippi River and will offer a 22-day Complete Mississippi river cruise from New Orleans to St. Paul, Minn.

This is also the year for the first two Coastal Cats, American Cruise Lines' hybrid catamaran-inspired vessels. The 109-passenger American Eagle and American Glory will sail itineraries on the East Coast beginning in August and October, respectively.

And new cruise lines in Europe

Europe remains evergreen in its popularity, and yes, there are new ships, itineraries, and even river cruise companies. This year will see the start of Hamburg-based Riverside Luxury Cruises, which has acquired the entire river fleet of the former Crystal Cruises, to use on the Danube, Rhine, Rhone and Saone Rivers in the spring.

European brand Viva Cruises will be launching its Viva Two ship in May, mere months after the company started shaking up the market by offering year-round sailings, in January, February and March. Cold as it may be for some to even think about going on wintertime e-bike excursions through Vienna's Prater Park or walking tours of the Netherland's oldest city of Nijmegen, Viva Cruises says there's a market for winter cruising - and they are going to be the ones to fill it.

Here Are 6 New River Cruise Ships Launching in 2023

Jan 25, 2023

River Cruise  Travel News  Western Europe  

 

Here Are 6 New River Cruise Ships Launching in 2023

American Cruise Lines will debut another of its modern riverboats this year.
Credit: 2023 American Cruise Lines

There are surprisingly few new riverboats launching in 2023. But while no vessels have been announced from many of the industry’s brands, there are still some fresh ships on the horizon that clients can look forward to from American Cruise Lines, Riverside Luxury Cruises (a whole new company), Viking and Viva Cruises.

Read on to learn about the new vessels they can expect to see launching in 2023.

American Cruise Lines’ American Serenade

Domestically, American Cruise Lines (ACL) is the only line scheduled to debut a new riverboat this year. Launching April 20, American Serenade will arrive on the Lower Mississippi River. The 180-guest vessel will be the latest in the company’s series of modern riverboats — a sister to American Harmony, American Jazz, American Melody, American Song and American Symphony.

Serenade’s interior will once again be designed by Florida-based Studio Dado for a contemporary aesthetic onboard, including a four-deck, glass-enclosed atrium and accommodations ranging from 250 to 650 square feet.

Also, recent news from the line for advisors is that ACL is now including port charges and fees in its cruise pricing, thus making them commissionable for advisors.

 

American Serenade will launch April 20.

American Serenade will launch April 20.
Credit: 2023 American Cruise Lines

Riverside Luxury Cruises’ Fleet

Making headlines recently is an entirely new cruise line for 2023. Riverside Luxury Cruises’ claim to fame is its fleet comprised of all five former Crystal River Cruises vessels — Crystal Bach, Crystal Debussy, Crystal Mozart, Crystal Mahler and Crystal Ravel, to be renamed Riverside Bach, Riverside Debussy, Riverside Mozart, Riverside Mahler and Riverside Ravel, respectively.

In April 2023, Debussy will set sail on the Rhine River, Ravel on the Rhone and Saone rivers, and Mozart on the Danube. 

Bach and Mahler itineraries, meanwhile, will be reserved for 2024.

Following Crystal’s lead, Riverside promises unparalleled luxury onboard the resurrected ships, encompassing an exceptional crew-to-guest ratio, butler service, fine dining, wellness and more.

Viking’s Viking Aton

Although Viking usually launches a handful of vessels annually, it has just one ready for 2023. In response to strong demand for cruises in the region, the new Viking Aton will traverse the Nile River in Egypt as an identical sister ship to the 2022-launched Viking Osiris.

Sporting a look and overall amenities resembling the line’s signature Viking Longships, the 82-guest Aton will add a pool overlooking its stern. Private accommodations extend to staterooms and suites sized from 232 to 525 square feet.

Aton will feature in the brand’s 12-day Pharaohs & Pyramids route, roundtrip from Cairo, including a weeklong sailing and pre- and post-cruise land extensions. 

Viva Cruises’ Viva Two

Switzerland-based Scylla AG is mostly known for chartering its vessels to Riviera River Cruises and Tauck, but the shipbuilder and operator also has its own Viva Cruises. And the in-house brand is launching the new Viva Two in 2023, with its christening scheduled for March in its homeport of Dusseldorf, Germany. Its maiden voyage will navigate from Frankfurt to Passau shortly thereafter on April 1.

 

Viva Cruises will launch the Viva Two this spring.

Viva Cruises will launch the Viva Two this spring.
Credit: 2023 Viva Cruises

Known for its “casual-yet-chic lifestyle,” according to the line, the newbuild follows the 2022-inaugurated Viva One and will carry 190 passengers in 95 staterooms, including eight suites. In total, there are three restaurants onboard, including the Riverside main restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner; Viva’s Bistro at the stern; and the specialty Moments restaurant for the finest cuisine paired with live entertainment.

The line’s all-inclusive fares bundle in dining and snacks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, self-service coffee and water, the minibar, beauty products from Rituals, Wi-Fi internet access and gratuities.