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February 2012

January 2012

Compagnie du Ponant cruises the Adriatic from Venice

Compagnie du Ponant LE BOREAL

PHOTO: L'Austral is a sister ship of Le Boreal (shown here), a luxury "megayacht" that carries 264 passengers in 132 cabins.

In 2012, a dozen cruise lines are offering roundtrip cruises from Venice--among them, major brands such as MSC, Costa, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity. One of the more intriguing entries, however, is Compagnie du Ponant, a long-established French cruise line that has begun catering to English-speaking travelers in the last few years.

Compagnie du Ponant is currently on on a shipbuilding binge, with three 264-passenger "megayachts" either at sea or under construction. The company's newest vessel, l'Austral, is offering weekly roundtrip Adriatic cruises from Venice between late May and mid-September, 2012. The itinerary includes stops at eight ports in Croatia and Montenegro.

Rates for the seven-night luxury cruise start in the US $2,500 range, depending on departure date. (Tip for cruisers from North America: The company is offering a "La Grande Invitation" savings package for early bookings between now and April 16.)

For more information on Companie du Ponant's Venice-to-Venice cruises, see the Adriatic pages at

Photo: Compagnie du Ponant.


Venice for Rookies cover

ABOVE: The cover of Venice for Rookies, which is available in formats for computers, smartphones, and e-readers such as Kindle, Kobo, and Nook.

Although we publish the Web's leading travel-planning site about Venice, Venice for Visitors, we're also big fans of guidebooks--if only because outrageous data-roaming charges often make it impractical to browse the Web on a phone or other mobile device while you're walking around a foreign city.

Of course, guidebooks have weaknesses of their own: They're often out of date (many guidebooks are updated at two- or three-year intervals), and they can be a nuisance to carry around, especially if you're on a multi-city trip. That's why e-books can be appealing:

  • An e-book lets you store the contents of a guidebook on your laptop, mobile phone, or tablet, and...
  • If the e-book is both written and published by the author, there's a good chance that the guide will be updated more often than a large publisher's printed guidebook (or its electronic edition) might be.

A good example of a self-published e-book from an author who's devoted to her topic is Venice for Rookies, by Bianca Reyes.

Ms. Reyes, a former event coordinator for the International Monetary Fund, decided to write her own electronic guidebook to Venice after moving to the city in 2008. The resulting e-book draws on her twin passions--Venice and budget travel--and contains 170 pages of useful information on everything from restaurants and bars to self-guided walking tours.

As you can see from the following snippet, Bianca Reyes is an engaging writer with a sense of humor:


Ms. Reyes is also an author who believes in delivering value for money, as you can tell by browsing this list of topics in Venice for Rookies:

VENICE FOR ROOKIES - Table of Contents page 1

VENICE FOR ROOKIES Table of Contents - Page 2

Venice for Rookies is available online at, from Amazon, or from iTunes.

The price is US $9.99, or about the same as you'd pay for e-books from mainstream publishers. Formats include PDF and EPUB or MOBI with or without photos.

(A chart on the Web site will help you select the right format for your laptop, tablet, smartphone, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, or other device.)

COSTA CONCORDIA's sinking (and lifeboat drills)


ABOVE: A lifeboat on Costa Magica, which we reviewed at Europe for Cruisers last month.

In the aftermath of Costa Concordia's sinking off the Italian coast on January 13, it's easy--and perhaps unfair--to be a Monday-morning quarterback. Still, it isn't unreasonable to wonder why a modern cruise ship listed and sank like a latter-day Titanic after running aground in the Mediterranean.

In fairness to Costa Crociere, the Concordia was built to the same standards as other recent vessels. (It even shares a "platform" with several other ships of Carnival Corporation's Conquest class.) So, if Costa Concordia's design had any shortcomings, those weaknesses aren't exclusive to the ship or to Costa.

Life preserver on COSTA MAGICAA more immediate issue may be the confusion and panic that reportedly occurred after the ship ran aground and began taking on water.

Most of the passengers hadn't yet taken part in a lifeboat drill, because Costa--like its Italian rival, MSC Crociere--often allows passengers to board or disembark at any one of several ports on the cruise itinerary.

Such flexibility is convenient, since it means that (for example) a French passenger can begin and end a cruise in Marseille instead of flying, driving, or taking the train to a more distant port in Italy. But it also means that, if only one boat drill takes place during a seven-night cruise, some of the passengers won't participate in a lifeboat drill until the cruise is nearly over.

Will cruise lines like Costa and MSC, which cater to multiple nationalities, be able to continue the practice of "multiple embarkation ports, one boat drill" after the Costa Concordia incident? Only time will tell.