Cruise News Update: Passenger Fees, Ports, and Changes

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Cruise Hive brings you all of the top news stories from the cruise industry every day, and as usual, we have this week’s big headlines covered, with articles about Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, the Caribbean island of Grand Turk, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line.

Cruise News Update

It’s been another busy week for cruise news at Cruise Hive, so let’s get going with this week’s news update, where we have coverage on Carnival Cruise Line itineraries that will call at Celebration Key, Princess Cruises detailing the dining venues aboard the new-build Sun Princess, Grand Turk taking steps to boost its cruise visitor experience, Royal Caribbean raising the minimum age for an adult-only area, Norwegian Cruise Line alerting guests to a new tax from Spain, and a Caribbean destination adding a new passenger tax on Royal Caribbean guests.

Itineraries to Celebration Key are Revealed

Carnival Cruise Line’s new private destination on Grand Bahama Island, called Celebration Key, will be a port call for a dozen of its ships sailing from multiple home ports, with the first visits starting in July 2025.

The cruise line has revealed some itineraries that will call at the exclusive destination in 2025 and 2026. They range from 3- to 14-night cruises sailing from eight home ports. All told, some 400 cruises can be booked now, by guests eager to see the new cruise line retreat.

Guests sailing from Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia, and Alabama ports have opportunities to book a cruise that calls at Celebration Key, described as a tropical paradise with authentic Bahamian influences.

Carnival Cruise Line's Celebration Key
Carnival Cruise Line’s Celebration Key

Sample cruises that feature a visit to the destination include 3-night sailings from PortMiami aboard Carnival Conquest in 2025, 5-night cruises from Jacksonville, Florida, on Carnival Elation, also in 2025, and a 14-night Panama Canal voyage from Baltimore, Maryland, aboard Carnival Pride in 2026.

Celebration Key also will be a port call on two transatlantic voyages aboard Mardi Gras in 2025, an eastbound voyage from Port Canaveral to Barcelona on September 13 and the return westbound sailing from the Spanish city back to Florida on October 16.

Carnival Cruise Line will reveal many more Celebration Key itineraries on additional ships in the coming months.

Dining Choices Detailed on Sun Princess

Princess Cruises revealed the many dining options guests aboard the new-build Sun Princess will enjoy when the ship debuts in February 2024.

The ship, first of the line’s Sphere Class and the largest in the Princess Cruises’ fleet, will offer 29 dining and lounge options. New venues include Umai Teppanyaki, serving Japanese cuisine, and the Reserve Collection Restaurant, for suite guests, offering unique services such as table side service from the Prime Rib Carving Trolley.

The ship’s Horizons Dining Room will be a three-deck-high space, with varying levels of formality based on deck level. The venue is the ship’s main dining room and will serve three meals each day.

Sun Princess The Promenade
Sun Princess The Promenade

Several Princess Cruises favorites will be included on the 4,300-guest Sun Princess, such as O’Malley’s Irish Pub, The Catch by Rudy, a seafood venue, the Crown Grill steakhouse, and Sabatini’s, featuring Italian specialties.

Burgers, tacos, pizza, and more will be offered at the Lido Deck, and in the ship’s central Piazza, guests can enjoy cocktails at Good Spirits at Sea and at Bellini’s Cocktail Bar.

Sun Princess will debut in Europe, sailing a series of Western Mediterranean cruises between Rome and Barcelona, and roundtrip from Rome.

Island’s Visitor Experience Rating Falls

Government officials and residents of Grand Turk, the capital island of the Turks and Caicos archipelago, sat down with representatives of Carnival Cruise Line to address a decline in the destination’s visitor experience ratings and revenue decreases at the port’s Grand Turk Cruise Center and at local businesses.

Carnival Cruise Line delivers the lion’s share of cruise arrivals to the island, and estimates it will bring 1.1 million guests to Grand Turk in 2024. In 2023, 10 of the line’s ships will make 45 port calls at Grand Turk.

The decline in visitor experience and port profits, reported by a local media outlet, is largely attributed to a lack of onshore activities and excursions, as well as drug-related incidents and physical altercations.

Cruise Ships in Grand Turk, Caribbean
Photo Credit: R.A. Walker Photography / Shutterstock

Among the talking points were infrastructure improvements, adding local vendors to the island’s Downtown Carnival Center, a recycling program to manage tourism waste, and certain investments by the cruise line.

Security solutions included the prospect of sniffer dogs to help with drug incidents. Carnival Cruise Line executives pledged to work with the local community on improvements.

While Carnival Cruise Line is the top cruise industry player on Grand Turk, other lines visit the island, including sister brands Princess Cruises and Holland America Line. Other non-Carnival Corporation brands that call at Grand Turk include Virgin Voyages and Marella Cruises. In all, the island will receive 68 cruise ship calls this year.

Cruise Line Raises Minimum Age For Retreat Area

Royal Caribbean raised the minimum age requirement at its adult-only Solarium retreat area from 16 to 18. Offered on all of its ships, the Solarium has a pool, hot tubs, and lounge areas, and either a glass or retractable roof.

On ships sailing from China ports, the line has no age restriction for using the Solarium, however, the space is reserved for suite and loyalty status guests. It is unknown whether that policy is changing for China cruises.

In all other destinations, teenagers were allowed into the area at 16 years old. Royal Caribbean said the change is meant to bring the minimum age requirement in line with other adult-only areas aboard its ships. The new policy was revealed in a communication sent to travel agents, and was attributed to guest feedback.

Royal Caribbean Solarium Pool
Royal Caribbean Solarium Pool (Photo Credit: Solarisys / Shutterstock)

The change prompted mixed reactions from cruisers. Some welcomed the higher age requirement, while others predicted it may be a challenge to enforce. In fact, some guests pointed out that enforcement was inconsistent on past cruises.

The Solarium typically has a bar or cafe, which is not always an age-restricted venue, meaning that younger guests are allowed to access the area. Royal Caribbean is changing the age restriction across all ships in its fleet.

Guests Alerted to Spain’s Tax Charges

Norwegian Cruise Line sent a notification to guests and travel agents explaining how value added tax (VAT) affects cruisers sailing in Spain’s territorial waters or calling at a Spanish port.

All retail purchases made onboard incur a 21% VAT, and dining and beverage purchases incur 10% — even if guests had pre-paid for a specialty dining or all-inclusive drinks package.

It means that even those who booked a Free at Sea drinks plan will be charged a 10% tax on any drinks ordered while the ship is in a Spanish port or sailing in Spanish waters. Ditto for food ordered at a specialty restaurant.

Norwegian Epic Cruise Ship in Spain
Norwegian Epic Cruise Ship in Spain (Photo Credit: fivetonine / Shutterstock)

The VAT rules stem from the Spanish government’s attempt to ensure that tourists on cruise ships pay the same tax as those on land-based vacations. Guests who pre-pay for a dining or beverage package will see Spain’s tax charges listed on their onboard accounts before debarkation.

While Barcelona is the largest Spanish cruise port by far, with an estimated 2.3 million cruise guests in 2022, several other ports in the country frequently attract cruise ships, including Malaga, Palma de Mallorca, Cadiz, and Valencia.

USVI Approves a New Per-Passenger Fee

The US Virgin Islands approved a Capital Cost Recovery Charge that is expected to be passed along to cruise guests in the form of a $5 per passenger fee.

The charge is slated to be applied starting January 1, 2024, to cruisers sailing aboard the brands of Royal Caribbean Group. That’s because the investments in port infrastructure improvement and dredging projects are largely aimed at supporting visits by Royal Caribbean’s larger ships.

However, all Royal Caribbean Group brands are subject to the fee, including Celebrity Cruises and Silversea Cruises, plus TUI Cruises and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, both 50% owned by the group, and Pullmantur Cruises, 49% owned by the group.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship in the US Virgin Islands
Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship in the US Virgin Islands (Photo Credit: GagliardiPhotography / Shutterstock)

Ships that dock at the Austin “Babe” Monsanto Marine Terminal in Crown Bay, St. Thomas, and the Ann E. Abramson Marine Facility in Frederiksted, St. Croix, will be subject to the fee. One of the major projects, for example, is dredging the St. Croix harbor to allow Royal Caribbean’s bigger Freedom-class ships to call.

Other cruise lines call at both ports, including Carnival Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, and Norwegian Cruise Line, and it is possible that the recovery fee could be extended to those lines in the future.

More Cruise Headlines

Now that you’re caught up on the top cruise stories from this week, Cruise Hive has even more news that you won’t want to miss, such as Holland America Line completing its shore power refits, Boston welcoming the biggest cruise ship to visit this season, a 155-night world cruise from Azamara, an MSC Cruises’ ship changing ports due to weather concerns, and the Port of Galveston expecting to break cruise records in 2023.

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