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Celebrations, anniversary events and commemorations give luxury cruisers both historical perspective and cultural “anchoring.” They can “retrace the footsteps” of an iconic historic figure, dive deeply into regional customs and traditions, or sail along a navigational route taken by a famous explorer or even an emperor. Here are eight such topical opportunities this year or in 2021.
“Aye, Aye,” Captain Magellan
In 2020, the world commemorates the 500th anniversary of European explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s successful transit of an unknown passage between the southern tip of mainland South America and Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, farther south. Without any navigational charts, Magellan’s 350-mile voyage through the uncharted passage was a harrowing experience. Early navigators called it Dragon’s Tail, but it was renamed the Strait (or Straits) of Magellan in the explorer’s honor. Sailing across the Pacific, Magellan was killed the following year during a tribal skirmish in the Philippines. That said, one of his ships, Victoria, successfully returned to Spain — completing the first circumnavigation of the globe.
This year, luxury cruisers can retrace Magellan’s path through the Strait of Magellan but, fortunately, on a modern cruise ship with excellent navigational resources and technology. Seabourn’s 21-day “Ultimate Antarctica & Patagonia Cruise,” on the 458-passenger Seabourn Quest departs San Antonio (Santiago), Chile on November 29. At press time, many top suites still had availability including the 1,189-square-foot Grand Wintergarden Suite, which also has 214 square feet of private balcony space (on two balconies), perfect for viewing the Strait of Magellan’s landscapes and possibly such wildlife as penguins, seals, sea lions, dolphins and humpback whales.
Bravo for Beethoven
Classical music fans will likely love celebrating Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday this year on Rhine or Danube river cruise port calls at either Bonn, Germany, where the composer (1770–1827) was born, or Vienna, Austria, where he lived and worked for more than three decades and also died. Many river vessels also embark / disembark guests in Vienna, leaving even more time to explore Beethoven’s legacy on pre- or post-cruise stays.
Avalon Waterways’ 164-passenger Avalon Expression calls at Bonn on the morning of day four of the line’s eight-day “Active & Discovery on the Rhine (Northbound)” cruise from Frankfurt, Germany to Amsterdam; it departs on four dates: May 12, June 23, August 4 and September 29. At press time, the single supplement was waived for the September 29 departure.
Guests on that sailing will have several hours of free morning time in Bonn. We’d suggest classical music buffs visit Beethoven-Haus Bonn, a memorial site and museum focused on the composer. It boasts the largest Beethoven collection in the world, including authentic documents that detail his life and musical compositions.
For plenty of time to explore independently in Vienna, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection offers a 15-day “Alluring Amsterdam and Vienna” itinerary. We particularly like the northbound version of this itinerary, which departs on multiple dates this summer. Why? Guests will embark the 128-passenger River Princess in Vienna and have two and a half days staying onboard, allowing them to get out and sightsee, dine or shop prior to the ship’s departure.
Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany. Shown here is the composer’s birthplace. // Photo by Getty Images / Sebastian Hamm
We’d recommend river cruisers can tour the Beethoven Museum, one of Beethoven’s former apartments. Today, the museum’s modern exhibition is viewed in 14 different rooms and showcases the home’s history, chapters of the composer’s life, including his move from Bonn to Vienna, his decades-long stay in Vienna, his musical compositions, performances and more. Check out the ear pipes and prompt box on his grand piano; both were designed to amplify sound as Beethoven was losing his hearing; he later became deaf.
The composer died in Vienna and his gravesite in Vienna’s Central Cemetery (or Zentralfriedhof) is a popular pilgrimage site for music fans, who will also discover the graves of Johannes Brahms, Franz Schubert and other notable composers. During this 250th anniversary year, the cemetery’s Funeral Museum offers a special “Beethoven and His Contemporaries” exhibition through fall. Visitors can peruse the death masks of Beethoven, as well as Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Schubert, plus the invitation to Beethoven’s funeral.
Separately, now through July 5, the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna will put on an unusual “Beethoven Moves” exhibition, that is described as building a “visual bridge” between Beethoven’s time and today. Cruisers who visit will see paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, sketchbooks by William Turner, graphic works by Francisco de Goya and Jorinde Voigt, sculptures by Auguste Rodin, Rebecca Horn and John Baldessari, a performative sculpture by Tino Sehgal, a video by Guido van der Werve and more.
Offering two days in Vienna via an overnight call is Scenic. With departures on multiple dates this summer, the 171-passenger Scenic Crystal sails an eight-day 2020 “Gems of the Danube” itinerary between Budapest and Nuremberg. One Scenic Enrich excursion will take guests to the opulent Palais Liechtenstein for a private classical evening concert with the music of Strauss, Mozart and a special dedication to Beethoven for the 250th anniversary. Crystal River Cruises’ 106-passenger Crystal Ravel sails multiple cruises this summer that provide an overnight in Vienna and two days to explore. Among the options is a “Delightful Danube” westbound itinerary between Budapest and Vilshofen, Germany.
Attending a live concert in Vienna is one highlight of a port call or embarkation there. On multiple itineraries, AmaWaterways’ guests can attend an optional classical concert in either Vienna’s famous Hofburg, a former Imperial palace where Beethoven’s 8th Symphony premiered, or the opulent early 18th-century Palais Auersperg. In addition, onboard many of the line’s Rhine and Danube voyages, guests will hear La Strada, a popular local string trio that will play some of Beethoven’s works in his honor this year.
Tauck’s river cruise guests on the 12-day “Musical Magic along the Blue Danube” itinerary from Budapest to Prague (both this year and next) will be treated to an exclusive Grand Private Imperial Evening at a Vienna palace with gala dinner, and, separately, they also can watch an orchestra rehearsal at Palais Auersperg.
Better with the Beatles
For many Baby Boomers, the Beatles album “Hey Jude,” released in 1970, is a part of their coming of age as teens or young adults. In fact, 2020 marks the album’s 50th anniversary release with such hits as “Hey Jude,” the iconic song of the same name first released as a single two years earlier, plus “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “I Should Have Known Better,” “Paperback Writer,” “Lady Madonna,” “Revolution,” and many others.
It’s easy for luxury cruise guests to explore Beatles history and music during port calls at Liverpool, England, where the “Fab Four” grew up and began their careers. For example, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ 500-passenger Europa 2 calls at Liverpool on June 19, while Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ new 750-passenger Seven Seas Splendor calls on August 25, as do other lines.
Luxury Travel Advisor sailed in February on Seven Seas Splendor and found it an enclave of sumptuous luxury with high-end suites, a culinary arts center, multiple specialty restaurants, new menus and cocktails and a repositioned grand staircase (now facing Compass Rose). The top suite is the Regent Suite on Deck 14 with 3,151 square feet of interior space and 1,292 square feet of private terrace space. While that suite is pretty much sold out through early next year and even on many dates beyond, we also liked the Park Avenue feel of the spacious Master Suite category (Decks 8 and 9).
Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ new 750-passenger Seven Seas Splendor will offer 448-square-foot Penthouse Suites that will come with a private balcony and a personal butler. // Photo courtesy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Independently minded cruisers arriving in Liverpool should check out The Beatles Story, the world’s largest permanent exhibition devoted to the band. Another option is to head for Albert Dock and hop onboard the “Magical Mystery Tour” — a two-hour motorcoach tour showcasing the homes where the bands’ members once lived, their schools and favorite hangouts, which ends at The Beatles Story, so travelers can have an immersive Beatles experience.
Many cruise lines also offer a Beatles-themed shore excursion. Oceania Cruises’ 684-passenger Nautica sails a nine-day “Gaelic Inspirations” voyage roundtrip from Dublin, departing July 13, and calls at Liverpool. Its half-day, “In the Steps of the Beatles” excursion will take cruisers via motorcoach to The Beatles Story and show them spots frequented by John, Paul, George and Ringo in the early years. One highlight is Mathew Street, home of the Cavern Club, a hallowed landmark where the band played hundreds of times.
Crystal Cruises also calls at Liverpool during its 25-night “Imperial Palaces and Regal Wonders” voyage on the 848-passenger Crystal Symphony, departing July 14 from Stockholm to Dover (London), U.K. Crystal’s four-hour “Footsteps of the Beatles” shore excursion shows guests Liverpool highlights plus city sites connected with the Beatles. It’s fun to view both “Strawberry Field” and “Penny Lane.”
One line that’s created its first “Beatles and Beyond” voyage on the 2,081-passenger Queen Elizabeth is Cunard Line. What’s special is that guests will dance the night away in the Queens Room to hits by The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, Small Faces, Tom Jones and, of course, The Beatles. At press time, this voyage was still scheduled to sail October 29, 2021, from Hong Kong to Singapore, with no itinerary changes, but check with the line prior to booking for the latest status.
The Mathew Street in Liverpool is home to the Cavern Club, where the Beatles played hundreds of times. // Photo by Getty Images / Vicenfoto
Disney World’s 50th Birthday
On October 1, 1971, Walt Disney World Resort opened in central Florida, so 2021 marks its 50th birthday. If the Walt Disney Company’s past celebratory milestones provide any hint, next year at the resort should entail a heck of a family-friendly party with special events and activities. All four Disney World theme parks will host the 50th birthday festivities under the theming, “The World’s Most Magical Celebration.” Disney Cruise Line has two home ported ships at Port Canaveral during 2021 (and a third home ported in Miami) with options for a “land-and-sea” combination vacation — an ocean cruise coupled with a Walt Disney World Resort stay in a deluxe resort hotel or deluxe resort villa.
Another option is for cruisers on a Port Canaveral port call to head to Walt Disney World Resort on independent arrangements for the day, or take a cruise line trip, if offered. Cunard Line’s 2,061-passenger Queen Victoria sails into Port Canaveral for a call on January 20, 2021 toward the end of a 13-night westbound crossing from Hamburg, Germany to Port Everglades, FL.
Upscale travelers embarking / disembarking at the Port of Tampa, such as on Holland America Line or Celebrity Cruises, also can opt for a pre- or post-cruise stay in Orlando / Kissimmee. But even South Florida ports (with a tremendous number of cruise ship turnarounds) can be within reach of Walt Disney World Resort via a four- to five-hour private car or limousine transfer, arranged through their travel advisor or the line’s shore team or concierge.
Silversea Cruises’ 388-passenger Silver Shadow will sail into Port Everglades on January 18, 2021, concluding a 10-day voyage from San Juan, Puerto Rico. This vessel was recently revitalized. In 2022, for the first time in more than a decade, SeaDream Yacht Club’s 110-passenger SeaDream II, plans to sail to and from the Port of Palm Beach on several voyages, giving guests an opportunity to arrive a few days before their cruise or stay a few days after and head for Orlando.
Silversea Cruises’ 388-passenger Silver Shadow will sail into Port Everglades on January 18, 2021. Shown here is the ship’s Arts Café. // Photo by Susan J. Young
On the horizon? The combination of a South Florida cruise and a visit to Orlando via a train ride from Miami, Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach will be a reality by the end of 2022. Brightline (rebranding as Virgin Trains) is currently building a high-speed rail line from Orlando to its existing network in South Florida. While the new Orlando station is already finished, new tracks are still being laid for service on that expansion route. But when the route debuts, it will cut the transit time from South Florida to Orlando to three hours or fewer. Brightline has approval to build a second Miami station inside PortMiami, too.
In Search of Napoleon
Partnering with the magazine, Point de Vue, Ponant will sail a 15-night cruise on the 264-passenger Le Lyrial from Walvis Bay, Namibia to Praia, Cape Verde, departing April 29, 2021 to commemorate the bicentenary of Napoleon Bonaparte’s death on May 5, 1821. An 18-night option from Cape Town, South Africa to Dakar, Senegal, is also available, departing on April 26, 2021.
The Napoleon-focused cruise will feature lecturers Jean Tulard, a historian and Napoleon specialist; Franck Ferrand, historian and author; and Thierry Lentz, the director of the Fondation Napoleon. Guests on the 15-night sailing will board Le Lyrial in Namibia, then chart a course toward the island of Saint Helena to arrive the day before the bicentenary’s official ceremony on May 5. Site of his last exile, this British territory was the place where Napoleon dictated his memoirs. Travelers can get a sense of his life in exile by touring the Longwood House, where he resided for six years prior to his death.
Le Lyrial also will call at Ascension Island, 600 miles off Saint Helena’s coast. Here the British created a garrison to counter any hope of escape by Napoleon. Today, it’s a sanctuary for birds, marine mammals and green turtles. Plus, the voyage will mimic the maritime route taken in 1815 by the Northumberland, which transported Napoleon to Saint Helena. Guests disembark in Praia, the capital of the Cape Verde Islands. Le Lyrial still had decent availability at press time, including the top Owner’s Suite.
Also, guests sailing on Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ 700-passenger Seven Seas Voyager will go ashore in Saint Helena one day during a 14-night transatlantic itinerary from Cape Town, South Africa to Rio de Janeiro, departing December 22, 2021. We’d suggest Napoleon fans book the line’s “Island Highlights” excursion, as it visits both his former tomb and Longwood House.
Guests who desire to see Napoleon’s first place of exile (prior to Saint Helena) should head for the Mediterranean isle of Elba, Italy. Windstar Cruises’ seven-day “Yachtsman’s Harbors of the Rivieras” voyage on the 342-passenger Wind Surf sails from Barcelona to Rome on September 5 and several dates in 2021. Guests going ashore at Portoferraio, Elba can take Windstar’s shore excursion that visits Napoleon’s summer country home, Villa San Martino, part of the National Museum of Napoleonic Residences; it’s an uphill walk of 900 feet along a smooth surface. At press time, those departures mentioned above were operating normally, but check with the line on any updates for sailings this fall.
Jamestown in Saint Helena Island. The British territory was the site of Napoleon’s last exile. It’s also where he dictated his memoirs. // Photo by Getty Images / Uwe Moser
Another option for cruisers interested in Napoleon? The Emperor’s final resting place is under a church dome within Paris’ Hotel National des Invalides, celebrating its 350th anniversary this year. Cruisers can visit that site during free time on a Seine river cruise, offered by Viking River Cruises with its eight-day “Paris and the heart of Normandy” itinerary, or many other lines.
Dancing in “The Great Land”
As cruise ships arrive in Alaska’s ports during this year’s summer cruise season, travelers going ashore will encounter local color, heritage and culture, not to mention just plain fun. Certainly, one of Alaska’s top cultural / heritage festivals is Celebration 2020 from June 10-13 in Juneau. The streets of the capital city will bustle as thousands of indigenous Alaskans will gather to celebrate their culture and heritage.
Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people of all ages will be seen around town dressed in the often-colorful, signature regalia of clans from throughout Southeast Alaska and beyond. The base for the celebration is the Sealaska Heritage Institute and Store at 105 S. Seward Street in downtown Juneau, with many activities at Centennial Hall Convention Center and elsewhere around town.
Celebration 2020 is expected to draw more than 2,000 dancers and thousands more indigenous people as spectators. Cruisers whose ships call at Juneau and stroll into the city are likely to see people in traditional attire and, depending where they go, hear songs and native languages, see juried art exhibits, dances and arts and crafts. Among ships calling at Juneau during this festival are Viking’s 930-passenger Viking Orion (June 10); Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner (June 12) and Oceania Cruises’ 684-passenger Nautica (June 13), among others.
Marrying Marie Antoinette
It’s the 250th anniversary of Marie-Antoinette’s marriage to King Louis XIV of France. Cruisers can visit Paris during a port call, pre- or post-cruise stay or embarkation / disembarkation. So, why not plan a day trip to the 17th-century Château de Versailles, the royals’ opulent home with exquisite gardens personally commissioned by Louis XIV. For example, on its 12-day “Cruising the Seine, plus Paris and London” itinerary, travelers can take a Tauck Classic Tour, “Visit Versailles,” which heads to the palace and gardens.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection operates many itineraries roundtrip from Paris, including the right-day “Paris and Normandy” cruise on the 128-passenger Joie de Vivre. We’d opt for Uniworld’s two-night Paris land stay that includes two nights at the Hôtel du Louvre (or similar property), breakfast daily and all gratuities, service charges, taxes and porterage, as well as an Opera Garnier Discovery Walk, services of an English-speaking expert and all transfers.
For those overnighting in the city on select July dates, one spectacular way to celebrate the wedding anniversary of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XIV is to witness Groupe F’s pyrotechnical and light show, returning to the Gardens of Chateau de Versailles Orangery at 10 p.m. between July 2 and 10. Check the ticket website for availability; tickets for four mid-week dates were still available at press time. During the show, Marie-Antoinette’s story will unfold in French with English surtitles (lyrics or dialogue projected above a stage or displayed on a screen).
The show uses fireworks, flames, videos, characters in period attire and fire bearers to showcase landmark events in the queen’s life, including the Lisbon earthquake on the eve of her birth and Napoleon’s victories, among other timeline highlights. Background beats and sounds will reflect musical works by Mozart, Gluck and Tchaikovsky, among others.
Ocean cruisers arriving at Honfleur, Rouen or Le Havre can opt for a day trip to Paris, where they can set off independently to visit Versailles. Crystal’s 848-passenger Crystal Symphony spends two days at Honfleur on its 12-night voyage from Lisbon to London (Dover), departing June 7. On the second day in port, Crystal is offering a roundtrip, air-conditioned motorcoach transfer to Paris, designed for guests who wish to explore Paris and environs independently. Seabourn calls at Rouen on its 28-day “British Isles & Northern Gems” cruise on Seabourn Ovation, departing August 29 from Copenhagen to Lisbon.
WWII 75 Years Later
Throughout Europe, many destinations are celebrating the 75th anniversary year of the end of World War II in Europe, better known as “Victory in Europe” (VE) Day on May 8, 1945. In Guernsey in the Channel Islands, this year’s celebration involves 75 specially themed events. Through October 30, the German Occupation Museum will offer a new “Unseen History” exhibition. Visitors will see unusual, never-before-seen photographs, an exclusive color film of Guernsey on Liberation Day in 1945, plus a Liberation tearoom, tableaux, models and exhibits all surrounding the Nazi occupation.
On May 8 of this year, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ 500-passenger Europa 2 will call at St. Peter Port, Guernsey on VE Day itself. In addition, Silversea’s 254-passenger Silver Cloud will call on May 21; Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ 490-passenger Seven Seas Navigator arrives in port July 10; and Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s new 298-passenger Evrima calls at St. Peter Port on July 11 during its voyage from Bordeaux, France to Greenwich, U.K. In addition, Crystal Symphony will call on July 26 during a roundtrip Dover, U.K., sailing, plus two Azamara ships also arrive this summer. Cruisers can also visit Guernsey via Queen Mary 2, Ponant’s L’Austral, Sea Cloud Cruises’ Sea Cloud II and other upscale vessels.
In mainland Europe, destinations and suppliers are also planning commemorations or themed options. Avalon Waterways’ “Paris to Normandy World War II Remembrance and History Cruise” on the 128-passenger Tapestry II departs June 2, roundtrip from Paris. This river cruise combines time in Paris with the Seine River and Normandy, giving WWII buffs an opportunity to visit the Normandy Landing Beaches and Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Colleville-sur-Mer, while in Paris they can opt for the WWII-focused tour.
Many other river cruise lines also transport guests to WWII sites in Europe. During AmaWaterways’ seven-night “Paris and Normandy” itinerary, the 144-passenger AmaLyra calls at Le Havre. We like that this line splits its WWII-focused Normandy tours, depending on whether guests have an American or British / Canadian interest. The American-focused tour visits the Normandy Landing Beaches, including Omaha Beach, the American cemetery, the artillery battery at Longues-sur-Mer and Arromanches with visible remains of the floating harbor used during the landings. The British / Canadian-focused tour covers Gold and Juno beaches, Ranville War Cemetery, Pegasus Bridge, the Canadian cemetery at Beny-sur-Mer, the WWII museum in Courseulle and Arromanches.
The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Colleville-sur-Mer will be visited by cruisers on various lines during their WWII-focused itineraries. // Photo by Getty Images / funky-data
On the ocean side, some lines have in-depth World War II shore excursions. Azamara offers a “War Relics of Kristianstad” excursion during its 12-day “Norway Intensive” voyage on the 702-passenger Azamara Pursuit, roundtrip from Southampton, U.K. Departing August 21, 2020, the ship calls at six Norwegian ports. At Kristianstad, one eye-opening excursion includes a visit to Stiftelsen Arkivet, once Gestapo headquarters with basement torture chambers, and the Kristiansand Cannon Museum, which displays the only surviving German Krupp cannon, one of the largest guns ever built with a range of 34 miles.
During Silversea Cruises’ “London to Lisbon” voyage on September 14, guests go ashore at Honfleur. We like that Silversea has some accessible options — offering both a “Normandy D-Day Beaches and WWII Cemetery” shore excursion (described as “limited mobility-friendly”) and an “Omaha Beach, Overlord Museum and WWII Cemetery” (described as “for limited-mobility guests”).
Wherever cruisers opt to go this year and next, special anniversary, commemorative events or festivities await. Some are upbeat, others more somber. But cruisers have significant choices, whether it’s Beethoven or Napoleon, WWII or the Beatles, Marie-Antoinette or Mickey Mouse, as well as Magellan’s passage and Alaskan indigenous culture.