A Winning Strategy

MSC Orchestra combines international sophisticationand baseball greats in the Caribbean

By: By Marilyn Green

The Details

MSC Cruises

MSC’s Baseball Greats Cruise — the baseball-themed cruise I experienced on my recent sailing — was outstanding; however, many passengers and agents said they had no idea that the players were onboard until the ship sailed.

The veteran baseball greats were organized by Stan Bahnsen, former pitching star for the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and others. Bahnsen brought together Earl Weaver, Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame manager; Rudy May, California Angels and Yankees left-handed star; Randy Hundley, Chicago Cubs All-Star catcher; and Rennie Stennet, Pittsburgh Pirates Silver Bat winner.

Players on this cruise were exceptionally generous, going far beyond signing autographs by posing for pictures, reminiscing about old games and discussing current teams with their fans.

Although all sessions on MSC’s themed cruises are open to passengers without a fee, agents were taking notes and talking about getting fan databases when Bahnsen told them he is open to working with groups on cruises as well. Agents can reach him at srbahnsen45@hotmail.com.

Twice as Nice

Holland America Launches Double GAP Points 
Holland America Line (HAL) has announced 2010 Double GAP Points, a program that doubles the Group Advantage Program points for all 2010 groups. New groups must be booked by Aug. 31, 2009 through Polar Online. The offer is in addition to the current Vacation Stimulus Plan promotions for sailings departing next year with low fares and free or reduced fares for a third or fourth person in a stateroom. Also available are a 25 percent savings on the standard Cancellation Protection Plan, standard deposits reduced by 50 percent, no deposits required for thirds and fourths and 25 percent discounts on most pre- and post-cruise hotel packages.

For more information on creating cruise groups and GAP amenities, HAL offers a free guide, "Developing Group Business." Agents can download or order a printed copy by visiting TravelAgentHeadquarters.com or calling 800-544-0443. Polar Online can be accessed at the site, as well.

The line is also introducing a new 14-day Alaskan Adventurer cruises on the 1,380-passenger Amsterdam, which will sail roundtrip from Seattle and include a call in Anchorage for the first time, as well as Homer and Kodiak, Alaska, two new and less frequented ports. These 10 new 14-day sailings replace the 20 seven-day sailings between Vancouver and Seward and are scheduled May 17 through Sept. 6, 2010. The Amsterdam will cruise the Inside Passage, sailing Tracy Arm fjord with its twin Sawyer Glaciers. The ship also cruises by Hubbard Glacier in Yakutat Bay, the largest glacier in North America. Ports of call include Ketchikan, Skagway, Sitka, Anchorage, Homer, Kodiak, Juneau, Alaska, and Victoria, B.C.

In addition, HAL launched a new online Signature Webinar Series at the end of March, and will offer a webinar each month through November with topics ranging from Holland America Line’s Signature of Excellence programs to group booking strategies and learning how to quickly utilize sales tools such as Travel Agent Headquarters (TAHQ) and POLAR Online; the webinars give travel sellers credit towards the agent training program. Agents must pre-register for each webinar at least 48 hours prior to the presentation. Each webinar session will later be viewable at TAHQ (www.travelagentheadquarters.com) for those who could not make the live broadcast.


Only Online

Scroll down to find out how to participate in Holland America Line's Double GAP Points program

MSC Cruises sailed the elegant 2,550-passenger MSC Orchestra into the Caribbean this year, bringing the Italian lifestyle to passengers from the two U.S. coasts, the Midwest, Canada, Europe and Asia.

The ship’s decor was rich and restrained, with deep colors and light woods. Staterooms ranged from 151-square-foot inside staterooms to 270-square-foot outside suites. Each had sufficient storage space for the many families that have come onboard since word has spread about MSC’s policy of welcoming children ages 17 and younger to sail free when sharing a stateroom with two full-fare paying adults.

The MSC Orchestra will summer in Europe before moving to South America. // (c) MSC Cruises
The MSC Orchestra will summer in Europe before moving to South America.

All rooms have a safe, a minibar and an interactive, flat-screen television, enabling clients to make reservations for alternative restaurants, shore excursions and spa appointments, as well as watch television and movies.

Outside the staterooms, entertainment centered on the lavish Covent Garden Theatre, where acts range from acrobats and dancers to magicians and opera performances, all with gorgeous costuming. The high-tech disco had plasma screens embedded into the floor, and lessons in merengue and cha cha dancing took place on the dance floors into the late evening.

Active passengers also enjoyed minigolf and tennis or headed to the gym for stretch and aerobics classes alongside treadmills and resistance equipment. But those truly interested in the world of sports selected this sailing for its unique baseball theme, called Baseball Greats, one of the many themed cruises that MSC will offer in the fall. Veteran athletes from a number of baseball teams were on hand to socialize with fans, offer pitching and batting clinics, participate in trivia games and more.

A former Major League Baseball player himself, Stan Bahnsen, organized the Baseball Greats sailing with certain criteria in mind.

"You have to have strong relationships with the players and know who will be right for this," said Bahnsen, who has been organizing themed cruises for several years. "They have to be comfortable talking to people they don’t know and be accessible to fans."

Another selling point of the sailing was the Orchestra’s lively casino, which was constantly filled at sea with guests playing the slot machines, roulette and table games; the announcement of $1,000 Bingo stopped all conversation cold one afternoon.

Additionally, the ship’s dining options appealed to the international set. The Lido buffet, for instance, combined egg dishes and bacon cooked to American taste with British preferences: beans, mushrooms and grilled tomatoes.

MSC Orchestra will summer in Europe and move on to South America in 2009/2010, when her sister ship, Poesia, takes over the Caribbean with itineraries that combine the Dutch Caribbean and the Panama Canal.