Sail away GTW explores special interest, family-friendly and new ‘virtual’ cruise experiences open to group travel organisers ahead of the autumn and winter season

Azamara

Azamara

Cruises are becoming even more luxurious and varied as demand calls for better packages on sophisticated ships sailing to the far-flung corners of the world. Whether your group fancies a week’s wine tasting in Bordeaux or a Disneyinspired break for younger family members, there’s something to suit everyone, with cruise companies using the latest technology to both entertain holidaymakers and tempt them on board. Azamara Club Cruises offers cultural voyages to Asia, South America and the West Indies, as well as Central and North America. New in 2015 is the company’s series of 360-degree virtual reality experiences, known as Azamara 3DI. Azamara Club Cruises is the first company in the cruise industry to bring ‘destination immersion’ to life in 3D, allowing GTOs to experience a cruise virtually without even hitting the water. From touring the onboard offerings of an Azamara ship to zip lining through a Costa Rican rainforest, the 3DI videos allow people to see, hear and feel what it is like to really be there. This sensory journey is set to showcase the Azamara experience at trade shows and industry events from June 2015 and the 3DI experience can also be viewed online at www.azamara3di.com

Azamara

Azamara

“We’re thrilled to be able to use Oculus Rift technology to demonstrate the Azamara experience to prospective guests and we hope that this taster will inspire future holidays with us,” says Richard Twynam, Managing Director (UK & Ireland) at Azamara Club Cruises. “We’re already committed to ‘destination immersion’ by ensuring guests have longer stays in port, more overnights and night touring on all voyages,” adds Larry Pimentel, President and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises. “Equally, we invest in our guests’ experiences both on and off our ships, which begins with their first Azamara touch point. “As travellers and travel partners research our itineraries, we need to arm them with the best tools possible to ensure they have the resources they need to make a well-informed decision. Our new Azamara 3DI experiential series will be a game changer in vacation planning.” The company’s Land Discoveries shore excursion programme includes two new offerings for groups. Insider Access features private tours of ancestral homes, workshops and local places of business and Nights and Cool Places allows guests to discover a destination after dark, from visiting Malaga’s Picasso Museum after hours to an evening gondola serenade in Venice. Added to this is the cruise line’s authentic AzAmazing Evenings, which showcase the unexpected colours and flavours of whichever destination the ship happens to be moored in. Guests can also enjoy complimentary bottled water, soft drinks, tea, coffee and alcoholic drinks on board, an English Butler service if they’re staying in a suite and free shuttle transportation to city centres in ports where available. Find out more by calling 0844 493 4016 or visit www.azamaraclubcruises.co.uk

SPECIAL INTEREST CRUISES – WITH A TWIST

Celebrity Cruises

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Celebrity Cruises has unveiled its new programme of special interest cruises, featuring everything from flamenco dancing in Barcelona to secret classical concerts in St Petersburg. GTOs can browse more than 70 new shore excursions, matching destinations to their group’s particular interests, and new for 2015 are four cruise categories:

Uniquely Celebrity – exclusive adventures in destinations only available with Celebrity Cruises, including a day spent as a Sultan in Istanbul, the opportunity to row across the glaciers in Alaska and a zero to 60 Ferrari adventure in Cannes.

Culture and Locale – an evening experience of classical music, champagne and rare works of art at the world-famous Fabergé Museum in St Petersburg and a live concert event in the 14th century Basilica del Pi in Barcelona.

Lifestyle and Wellness – gives groups a chance to set their own pace and choose to focus on creativity, rejuvenation, lifestyle or wellness to nurture mind, body and soul. Included in the package is a scenic, guided nature walk in Melbourne and an interactive wellness experience in Skagway, Alaska.

Family – is a chance for groups to sightsee and enjoy family-friendly adventures that uncover the history and culture of each destination, from a family flamenco dance-off in Barcelona to a sailing trip in Bermuda, or a castle and treasure hunt adventure in Copenhagen. “Our new shore excursion programme will give groups the chance to fulfill their love of food, art, relaxation, adventure and more in must-see global destinations,” says Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises. “We’ve collaborated with local experts to shape a programme that will enrich guests’ experience and connect them more closely to the exciting places that we sail to.” Special offers are available for a limited time, with GTOs’ able to enjoy savings and additional benefits when they pre-book shore excursion packages in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe on
selected sailings. Find out more at www. celebritycruises.co.uk

Spacious Dining Area and Saloon

Dining Area and Saloon

RAISE A GLASS TO A WINE-LOVER’S BREAK
For holidaymakers who like to take a little water with their wine, French specialist travel operator Belle France has added six new tailor-made canal and river cruises to its collection of ‘Prestige’ holidays. New destinations include the vineyards, cathedrals and châteaux of Bordeaux, Champagne and the Loire Valley and the lesser-known region of Alsace-Lorraine on a fully inclusive six-night cruise break. Its latest holidays include the Bordeaux Canal Cruise along the Canal de Garonne. The ideal tour for wine-lovers, the region has been producing exceptional vintages for more than 2,000 years and the itinerary features a wealth of wine, cheese and Armagnac tastings. Prices start from £2,480 per person. Also available is the Champagne River Cruise, which departs from Paris at night, with views of the floodlit Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, before meandering along the River Marne through the Champagne vineyards. A private tour of a renowned Champagne house – and the chance to sample a glass or two – is a highlight, alongside a visit to Reims Cathedral, where generations of French kings were crowned. Prices start from £3,250 per person. To find out more visit www.bellefrance. com or call 01580 214010. Wine is also on the menu on a Saga cruise, with the company recently unveiling its full range of small-ship cruises for 2016 aboard Saga Sapphire and Saga Pearl II. All cruises from April 2016 offer Saga’s ‘best-ever value for money’ promise, with table wine included at both lunch and dinner. Perks of a Saga cruise also include a chauffeur to Dover or Southampton ports. Find out more at www.travel.saga.co.uk

FEEL THE FORCE
Families holidaying aboard Disney Cruise Line this autumn can enjoy the ship’s new interactive areas; one with a Star Wars theme, another entitled Disney Infinity and the third a sweet shop called the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. The adults-only Deck 13 will include a new water feature – Satellite Falls – a circular splash pool with benches and a gently falling rain curtain. The new and improved Disney Dream sets sail on October 26, 2015 on a fournight voyage from Port Canaveral to the Bahamas and Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. It will then continue to sail three and four-night cruises from Port Canaveral to the Bahamas throughout 2015 and into 2016. Find out more at www. disneycruise.com or call the Disney Cruise Line on 0800 171 2317

MS Loire Princesse-_Bernard Biger

Ms Loire Princesse

RIVER CRUISE SPECIALIST LAUNCHES THREE NEW SHIPS
CroisiEurope has launched three new ships – the MS Camargue that was christened on the Rhône, the MS Loire Princesse that was christened on the Loire and the MS Gil Eanes, which was christened on the Douro. The two-deck MS Camargue can accommodate 104 passengers in 54 cabins and will cruise from April to November annually on six and eight-day trips from Lyon through Macon, Vienne, Arles, Avignon, Viviers and Tournon. Cruise-only prices start from £795 per person. Thanks to its innovative paddle wheel technology, the MS Loire Princesse is the first hotel ship to cruise the shallow waters of the Loire – the longest river in France. The three-deck MS Loire Princesse can accommodate 96 guests in 48 cabins and will cruise from April to November on six and eight-day round trip cruises from Nantes, visiting SaintNazaire, Ancenis, Angers, the Castles of the Loire, Saumur and Bouchemaine. Cruise-only prices start from £1,001 per person. The MS Gil Eanes can accommodate 132 passengers in 66 cabins and joins CroisiEurope’s three ships already sailing on the Douro. It offers eight-day cruises from Porto visiting Regua, Vega de Teron, Ferradosa and Pinhao. Cruise-only prices start from £991 per person. Looking ahead to 2016 and 2017, CroisiEurope will be launching four additional new ships – the MS Elbe Princesse on the Elbe, the RV Princesse Apsara on the Mekong and the hotel barges Daniele and Deborah on the Canal de Briare and the Canal de Garonne. Call 020 8328 1281 to find out more or visit www. croisieurope.co.uk

RIVIERA_Lord Byron

Riveria Travel – Lord Byron

Riviera Travel has been operating escorted tours for 30 years and European river cruises for almost six years. Last year, Riviera Travel was recognised for industry beating quality and exceptional customer service. Which? voted it one of the top three holiday companies and the highest rated river cruise operator in their Cruise Survey, in addition to the UK’s best Group Holiday Company, attaining the maximum score for Description Matching Reality and Value For Money. Riviera Travel aims to focus on the customer experience in terms of quality, accommodation and sightseeing excursions. For 2015, Riviera Travel has increased its escorted tour portfolio with a changed itinerary aboard its Provence tour, which has operated since 1996. More hotels have been added, with visits to some enchanting restaurants in the countryside that offer fine and authentic Provencal cuisine. Groups are guaranteed to enjoy rural France at its finest, combined with some iconic ancient sites.

Copenhagen

Copenhagen

Additionally, Riviera Travel has introduced a scenic five-day tour to Iceland, where groups can explore the wild and rugged Southern shore, with its historic timber built fishing villages and spectacular waterfalls tumbling over great ridges of crumpled lava contorted and cooled. Groups could also opt for a six-day tour of Stockholm and Copenhagen, with pretty palaces and wonderful parks, which are set against a stunning backdrop of picturesque lakes, canals and natural harbours. If your group is looking for something further afield, why not try Riviera Travel’s 22-day New Zealand Tour – Land of the Long White Cloud, complete with mountains, rivers, fjords and breathtaking scenery, with groups floating through the country’s most magnificent parks, charming towns and pristine landscapes. Alternatively, climb aboard one of Riviera Travel’s 12 fascinating river cruises along the Rhine, Danube, Moselle, Main, Elbe, Rhone, Seine or Douro, with vessels including Lord Byron, William Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, which is a new addition for 2015. All boats serve superb cuisine in comfortable surroundings. New to Riviera Travel’s collection in 2016, the Medieval Germany – the Main to the Danube Cruise is an eight-day affair, where groups are invited to witness the undeniable charms of medieval Germany, with its wealth of picturesque towns and villages such as Mainz, Wertheim, Bamberg and Nuremburg. Riviera Travel has also added tour extensions to a selection of its river cruises. Groups could spend three days exploring Lisbon – Portugal’s elegant and eccentric capital city – aboard the Douro, Oporto and Salamanca Cruise with Extension. Or perhaps opt for The Blue Danube Extension, including a three-day escorted tour in Budapest, labelled the “Pearl of the Danube.” Riviera Travel’s generous selection of escorted tours or river cruises are available to book for the remainder of 2015 and 2016. For more information visit www. rivieratravel.co.uk