Carnival Freedom Signs On As Third Year-Round Ship in Galveston, Texas, Beginning February 2015

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Carnival Cruise Lines will add a third year-round ship in Galveston when Carnival Freedom launches a seven-day cruise schedule in February 2015, marking the first time that a cruise line has deployed three year-round ships in Texas.

Carnival’s repositioning of Carnival Freedom represents a 38 percent capacity increase for the line in Galveston, carrying more than 600,000 guests a year from that port.

Prior to its arrival in Galveston, Carnival Freedom will undergo a previously announced makeover that will add new features that are part of the line’s fleetwide Fun Ship 2.0 product enhancement initiative.

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With the addition of Carnival Freedom, Carnival will offer three ships sailing year-round from Galveston. Carnival Freedom will join Carnival Magic, which offers seven-day Caribbean cruises, and Carnival Triumph sailing four- and five-day departures to Mexico. Together, these three ships will operate nearly 200 four- to seven-day voyages annually from Galveston, providing consumers with an array of cruise lengths, departure days and itineraries for “Fun Ship” cruising from Texas.

Carnival Freedom will kick off its new schedule from Galveston with a special six-day Caribbean voyage to Costa Maya, Mexico; Belize; and Cozumel departing Feb. 15, 2015.

Following the six-day voyage, Carnival Freedom will launch year-round seven-day departures from Galveston Feb. 21, 2015, encompassing three different itinerary choices that visit ports throughout Mexico, the Caribbean, Bahamas and Florida.

Carnival Freedom’s week-long itineraries from Galveston include:

  • Western Caribbean voyages departing Saturdays to Cozumel; Belize; and Mahogany Bay, Roatan
  • Western Caribbean voyages departing Saturdays with stops at Montego Bay, Jamaica; George Town, Grand Cayman; and Cozumel
  • Eastern Caribbean sailings departing Saturdays visiting Key West, Fla.; and Freeport and Nassau, The Bahama

Carnival Freedom will also offer a series of four- and five-day cruises from Oct. 24 through Nov. 21, 2015; and Jan. 16, 2016 through Feb. 13, 2016. Four-day cruises visit Cozumel, while five-day cruises call at Cozumel and Progreso, Mexico.

In preparation for its Galveston arrival, Carnival Freedom will offer a 12-day cruise departing Fort Lauderdale Feb. 2 and arriving in Galveston on Feb. 14, 2015. The one-time voyage will include port calls at five Caribbean island destinations – St. Kitts, St. Lucia; Curacao; Aruba; and Grand Cayman, each of which has white-sand beaches, a variety of water sports opportunities and multiple shopping, dining and sightseeing experiences.

Reservations are currently being accepted for Carnival Freedom’s new Galveston-based program.

Top five luxury all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean

By Mark Rogers

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All-inclusive resorts used to be synonymous with buffet overload, bottom-shelf drinks and boorish behavior. Times have changed, and today’s all-inclusive resorts have continually raised the bar in an effort to attract a well-heeled clientele. Top of the line all-inclusives now offer such deluxe perks as butler service, pillow menus and private plunge pools. Here are some of the finest in the Caribbean.

Sandals is a company that is constantly reinventing itself. This time they’ve come up with an all-inclusive resort that is a real game-changer. One look at the balcony plunge pools at Sandals LaSource Grenada Resort & Spa will tell you this isn’t your grandma’s all-inclusive. Sea-view Skypool Suites also include such perks as butler service, expansive balconies and floors of Turkish travertine. The resort has nine dining venues, including the brand’s first steakhouse.

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When an all-inclusive resort says everything is included, there are usually some caveats, such as spa treatments. The beachfront Zoëtry Agua Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic meets its guests half way on that one, by offering a mini 20-minute spa treatment, obviously in the hope they come back for more. There are four restaurants, including Piragua, serving Creole Fusion cuisine. Rooms feature such luxe touches as Frette linens, Bvlgari amenities and three-times-daily maid service. All the accommodations are suites; up the ante and book one of the freestanding villas. The resort is on Uvero Alto Beach, about an hour’s drive from the airport. This extra bit of travel time also provides an extra measure of seclusion, which contributes to the calming Zen-like ambiance of the resort.

Hard Rock Hotel & Resort Punta Cana has a bit of a Las Vegas thing going. Not because of its casinos – lots of resorts in the Caribbean feature gaming. It’s an overall Sin City vibe supplied by the purple-and-white color scheme in the rooms, the ultra-sleek boutiques and the rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia on display. The Rock Star Suites have three bedrooms and some unexpected touches – like an xBox and four guitars. Given its sexy vibe, you’d be forgiven if you thought the Hard Rock Punta Cana was an adults-only resort. It’s not – in fact, it’s very family-friendly; there’s even a Little Big Club where kids form their own band during their stay and perform on stage for their parents.

While some islands have a colorful Caribbean party atmosphere, Antigua has a hint of British reserve. Curtain Bluff is an all-inclusive one-off and not part of a brand, giving the resort an extra measure of authenticity. Occupying a superb location on the seaside bluff that gave the resort its name, Curtain Bluff epitomizes casual elegance, exemplified by afternoon tea being served on the terrace of the stone Sugar Mill. Included in the room rate are unexpected perks, such as deep-sea fishing, scuba diving and water skiing.

Palm Island Resort can offer an all-inclusive experience that’s hard to match, since it’s on its own private island. It’s a little harder to get to, being part of the Grenadines archipelago, but after a couple of flights and a boat ride, guests will find themselves in their own private world. The numbers game is in Palm Island’s favor: it has 43 rooms and five beaches on 135 acres. The pace is slow and sophisticated, perfect for a romantic getaway. Book one of the three ocean-view island lofts that are perched on above-the-ground stilts — perfect for catching a Caribbean breeze.

Upgrading the Family Cruise

When it’s time for summer fun, multiple generations of the same family increasingly are booking a big-ship cruise. It’s the hottest trend for this summer. In fact, about half of Carnival Cruise Lines’ nearly 2 million reservations last year were for more than one stateroom.

Agents have multigenerational family sales hooks with “value-add promotions” such as onboard credits, stateroom upgrades or kids sail free programs. Plus, most lines have children’s supervised activity programs. But what else can agents do to upgrade the summer family cruise? Here are a few top tips:

Lobby for “Couple’s Time”: A successful family cruise isn’t only about the kids. Each family member should enjoy “me” time, and couples need to have a night or two out for romance. In fact, adults (often siblings) from the same family love to spend group time out “on the ship” having drinks, dinner and dancing the night away. Family members can trade off babysitting each other’s children on certain evenings so another couple or two might explore the ship or a port without kids in tow. Or, the whole adult group can go out together by putting the kids in the line’s group babysitting or supervised evening activity program.

Spread Out: Moving families from smaller inside cabins to larger balcony accommodations may involve some coaxing, especially for budget-minded cruisers.

If families with two or more children desire more privacy, not simply to pull out a living room couch or have the kids use a guest bathroom off the living area, they should book two connecting staterooms.

Book A Private Beach Cabana: Families with kids love casual beach days, as they don’t have to coax the kids along on guided tours or entertain them during long motorcoach rides. To upgrade the beach day,  families can rent a private beach cabana at a line-operated Caribbean or Bahamian island. While some cabanas are only for suite guests, lines often open them up for bookings to other guests if space is not reserved. Or, some beach cabanas can be rented by guests in any accommodation, usually on a first-come, first-served basis.

For example, Royal Caribbean International operates CocoCay in the Bahamasand Labadee on Haiti’s northern coast; both have cabana rentals. Labadee’s Barefoot Beach is exclusively reserved for guests in suite-category accommodations; 20 cabanas there are available for rental, each for a maximum of six guests. Amenities include built-in ceiling fan, lounge chairs, two floating mats, beach towels, a water cooler with six bottles of water and a personal cabana attendant.

How about a one-of-a-kind concert at sea? Carnival Cruise Lines has debuted its new Carnival LIVE Concert Series, with 49 upcoming Carnival LIVE concerts on eight Carnival ships calling at Cozumel, MexicoNassauThe Bahamas; and Catalina Island, CA. Well-known musical artists will join the ship in port, perform in the main show lounge on port evenings and disembark before the ship sails.

It’s a boom for families who love a particular singer or group. The line-up so far includes 38 Special, ChicagoDaughtry, Foreigner, Gavin DeGrawJennifer Hudson, Jewel, KansasLady AntebellumLeAnn RimesMartina McBride,Olivia Newton-John, REO Speedwagon, Styx and Trace Adkins. For the complete list and dates, visit www.carnival.com/CarnivalLive. Tickets are $20-$40 each with a limited number of VIP tickets available at $100-$150 each. The VIP experience includes an artist meet-and-greet, photo opportunity, up-front seating and commemorative laminated concert pass.