AMEX Meeting Card In an effort to take the hassle out of paying and tracking meeting-related expenses, American Express has launched a credit card specifically for meetings and events.

The Corporate Meeting Card, which in November finished a year-long beta period with nearly 200 companies, is intended to help planners on the front end by identifying them as the corporate meeting planner and eliminating the need to complete multiple credit applications, and on the back end by consolidating meeting bills onto one statement. Planners can receive an electronic file to feed into their accounting software, which allows them to designate charges to specific cost centers and to track spending.

American Express is working with the major hotel chains to get the new card accepted for unlimited meeting charges. It currently has more than 80 hotels and resorts in the program, which means that credit applications are not necessary for those properties.

FYICruise News - The former Holland America's Nieuw Amsterdam has become the United States Lines' ms Patriot. The 1,212-passenger liner sails seven-night cruises in the Hawaiian islands. Ship refurbishment included fitting the 1,571-square-foot, 230-seat conference and business center with Internet portals and AV equipment. There are 80 optional tour excursions that showcase the history, culture and natural attractions of Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island. Because the ship is U.S.-flagged and U.S.-crewed, a cruise may be tax deductible for meeting and incentive groups. Go to www.unitedstateslines.com for more information.

- For the first time, the Cruise West line (www.cruisewest.com) is marketing to incentive groups. Cruise West's eight small ships are designed to explore places that the big liners can't go. The new all-suite Spirit of Oceanus will be expanding the choice of itineraries to Asia and the Pacific.

- Want to see streaming video of Radisson, Celebrity, Crown, or Commodore ships? These are the first to be featured at www.cruiseview.com, which takes viewers on video tours of cruise ships.

- Landry & Kling's recently published cruise guide, Sail to Success - A Planner's Guide to Business at Sea, includes information on pricing, sample cruise programs, and the best seasons to visit popular cruise destinations. For a free copy, call (800) 448-9002 or go to the firm's revamped Web site at www.landrykling.com. Landry & Kling updates the Web site regularly: look for the addition of a 360-degree virtual tour of a ship.

- Star Cruises' SuperStar Leo will be re-flagged as part of the Norwegian Cruise Line's fleet (www.ncl.com) and sail year-round, seven-day Hawaii itineraries. Its maiden voyage under the NCL flag will depart Honolulu on December 16. The 1,960-passenger liner is purpose built for NCL's freestyle cruising concept, with eight sit-down restaurants that offer classical, Chinese, Japanese, nouvelle French, and Italian cuisine. There is a full-service business center, a theater that doubles as a meeting facility, an executive boardroom, and six breakout rooms.

- Silversea (www.silver sea.com) is known for its high-end ships, and the twin liners Silver Shadow (launched September 2000) and Silver Whisper (due to launch in June 2001) live up to that luxurious reputation. Each 388-passenger vessel has 192 suites that range from about 287 square feet to 936 square feet; 80 percent have private verandahs. All feature walk-in closets, sitting areas with writing desk, dressing tables, Italian marble bathrooms with double vanities, and satellite televisions and VCRs. The ship's passenger-to-crew ratio is 1.31 to 1. Among the spaces onboard are a wine bar, a cigar bar, a large spa and fitness facility, and a computer center.

Cocktails with David No work of art reflects the splendor of Florence more vividly than Michelangelo's David. The enormous statue resides in the city's Galleria dell'Accademia: It's the crown jewel at the end of a long entrance hallway lined with four other Michelangelo sculptures. "The David is what everyone goes to look at, but they usually have to wait hours in line," says Barry Wolpa, vice president, field promotions and communications, GE Financial Assurance (www.gefinancialassurance.com) in San Rafael, Calif. When he brought his annual Leading Producers incentive program to Florence, Wolpa could think of nothing more special than treating the 236 attendees to a private cocktail reception at the foot of Michelangelo's masterpiece.

Enter Giuseppe Lepri, president of Florence-based destination management company Newtours (www.newtours.it), a member of Global Events Partners. In order to take over the space for a corporate group, Lepri needed permission from the Italian government and the museum's director. He set up an event that "people will talk about forever," he says. Qualifiers and their guests sipped champagne and nibbled on elegant hors d'oeuvres in the long entrance hall, then were welcomed to David's rotunda by a duo of harpists. After ample time to explore the rest of the museum, they sat down at the foot of David for a 20-minute lecture on Michelangelo given by a local university professor. "Everyone was awestruck by the experience of having a private party with the David," says Wolpa. "It was one of the most magical moments of my career."

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