Bob & Nancy on October 21st, 2014

Okay, it’s time to whine about wine again.

As regular consumers, we once lugged 17 bottles back in luggage from Europe and were greeted by customs with “Welcome home” and no questions about wine. That was one of the times that we were lucky enough — and we always tell the truth when asked — to beat the system.

On cruise ships, a couple of times we’ve taken more than our quota on board and, while Vintagessometimes we’ve paid the corkage fee, sometimes we’ve been lucky, too. Consequently, we are owed nothing when it comes to taking more wine than is allowed — free.

So today we celebrate the success of “whining” for other passengers with similar taste.

Royal Caribbean’s rules — and every cruise line is different — were that two bottles could be taken on board, and were subject to a $25 corkage fee if they were consumed in public places. Such as restaurants, bars, by the pool, in the elevator…

That’s changed.

Although the change has not yet been made on Royal Caribbean’s website, the two bottles per stateroom can now be taken to a cruise ship restaurant, for dinner, and there’s no corkage. This “news” was broken by passengers and later confirmed by the cruise line. The same rules apply to champagne (750-ml bottles only, not magnums). And if it’s more than two bottles, they will be confiscated and returned on the last day of the cruise.

It’s not perfect, because perfect in our world would be allowing you to take as much as you want, and charging you corkage in the restaurants. At least then you can drink your own wine.

But this news is worthy of a toast!

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Holland America Zaandam
14 nights
November 24, 2014
Santiago, Puerto Montt, Puerto Chabucu, Chilean Fjords, Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, Cape Horn, Port Stanley, Montevideo, Buenos Aires
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $57
www.hollandamerica.com

 

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Bob & Nancy on October 20th, 2014
Magic

Anybody with a modicum of travel sense and even a passing interest in current events knew this weekend was coming. Anybody with a hint of common sense knows the question was just hanging there: “When will ebola affect cruising?”

This weekend, it did.

There has not, at least so far, been a cruise passenger with ebola. However, there has been a Carnival Magic passenger who had contact with an ebola victim. There have been two port calls missed because the countries (Belize, Mexico) refused to allow the Magic to dock. There has been a change in the security questions you’ll be asked the next time you get on a ship. And there has been an impact on the travel companies that trade on the stock market, including cruise lines.

And now there are questions:

• How many people are canceling cruises because they fear this deadly disease is out there waiting to touch them, as difficult as that is?

• Did the Carnival Magic have to undergo a decontamination before people would step on her decks again, even though there is no evidence of contamination?

• Is there going to be a drop in cruise fares because of cancelations?

• Are cruise officials going to find that it’s an exercise in futility trying to convince clients there is no logical reason to fear cruising when there are still illogical traits associated with ebola?

• What will passengers say if they see their cruise ship is “registered” in West Africa (yes, there are some), even when the ship hasn’t been near West Africa for months or even years?

The major cruise lines — Princess, Royal Caribbean, Carnival — have already announced tougher screening on embarkation, which will add to the annoyance of passengers if they’re already annoyed by the check-in process. The new protocol for all cruise lines is to ask if passengers have been to the ebola hotspots in Africa or have had contact with somebody who either has ebola or who has been in contact with an ebola patient. Beyond that “contact screening” is recommended and cruise lines can “deny boarding” to any guest, which they’ve always had the right to do anyway.

Meanwhile, it had to be Carnival.

The “ebola contact person” could have boarded any cruise ship, but it was one from Carnival, which has just completed rebuilding its brand and image from a series of problems. This one makes Carnival an innocent victim.

Here’s how Carnival, this decent and completely innocent victim, responded:

All passengers on the Magic were given a $200 onboard credit. All passengers will receive a 50 per cent discount on a future Carnival cruise.

Remember when it was norovirus that caused panic?

Today at portsandbows.com: On the rivers of America

Norwegian Spirit
12 nights
November 14, 2014
Venice, Athens, Ephesus, Istanbul, Mykonos, Naples, Rome, Florence, Toulon, Barcelona
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $49
www.ncl.com

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Bob & Nancy on October 17th, 2014

Dallas StadiumIf you’re watching the Cowboys and the Giants from Texas on Sunday, there’s a couple of performers at the “palace in Dallas” (actually, Arlington) that you probably won’t see. Both of them have to do with cruising (actually, Carnival).

One is Rascal Flatts. The award-winning country band is doing a pre-game show. The Carnival connection is that next year Rascal Flatts will be doing shows as part of Carnival Live — dates and places still unknown.

The other is Guy Fieri. He’s also doing a pre-game show — well, sort of — but it’ll be out in the parking lot, where all good hamburger chefs belong when there’s a tail-gate party and they can sell some product. This Carnival connection here, of course, is that Señor Fieri’s burgers are consumed in great numbers on all 24 ships.

Carnival has hitched its wagon (they do a lot of that in Texas) to the Cowboys in the promotional department because that’s one of the synergies, as they say, that seems to work for cruise lines and football teams alike. In one form or another, each sells its product to the other’s customers, not all of whom overlap.

This isn’t entirely new.

Carnival already co-promotes with the New Orleans Saints (at least they and the Cowboys can never meet in the Super Bowl) and has a long association with the Miami Heat. Norwegian is the “official cruise line” of the Miami Dolphins, and has a working relationship with the New York Knicks. Celebrity has been tied to the New York Rangers. And last month, Princess announced it was becoming a proud sponsor of NFL teams in Seattle, Houston and San Francisco.

The difference this time is that Carnival is marketing in a big way with a team in Dallas, which is not a cruise port.

Then again, the Cowboys are “America’s team.”

Today at portsandbows.com: Some of the Oasis changes

Carnival Dream
7 nights
December 14, 2014
New Orleans (return): Key West, Freeport, Nassau
Inside: $329
Cost per day: $47
www.carnival.com

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Bob & Nancy on October 16th, 2014

The fact that Oasis of the Seas has now emerged from its inaugural refurbishing means that it is, indeed, five years since the big ship became known as the biggest. There has been nary a complaint about this ship, and its sister Allure of the Seas, which will get its first makeover next spring.

So, about that encore…

For its encore, Oasis emerged from a shipyard in The Netherlands yesterday with a new Oasis of the SeasBroadway show (CATS), changes to its back end (not the stern!) to prepare it for Dynamic Dining, new specialty restaurants and the fastest Internet anywhere that land can’t be seen…according to Royal Caribbean.

All of which proves that it’s tough to improve on near-perfection.

The new dining concept won’t go into effect until spring, because Royal Caribbean wants to introduce it on new ships Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas and the new show, CATS, is a changing of the cast after Hairspray’s five-year run. If you’ve been reading comments on our blogs, you likely saw that one reader thinks the new concept will be a flop.

Whether it is or not, the first big winner with passengers is going to be high-speed Internet access because, if it’s as good as Royal Caribbean says, that’s a game-changer for an industry known for slow-speed Internet.

The refurbishing of Oasis wasn’t without a little controversy. The Dutch website DutchNews.nl reported that “hundreds of workers were flown into Rotterdam” in order to complete the refurbishing on time and that 48 of them  did not have a “work permit.” As a result, the news agency says, Royal Caribbean is subject to fines totaling 600,000 euros.

That’s probably the last anyone will hear of it.

Today at portsandbows.com: Cruise ships built in China?

Caribbean Princess
5 nights
November 24, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Nassau, Princess Cays
Inside: $209
Cost per day: $41
www.princess.com

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Bob & Nancy on October 15th, 2014

There have long been ad agencies, and PR agencies, and communication agencies. Here’s one that falls — at least for people old enough to remember typewriters and telegrams — under the heading of…

A Sign of the Apocalypse.

The always-progressive cruise line Royal Caribbean has hired an AGENCY to handle “all things social media!”

It’s actually just for the cruise line’s United Kingdom wing but these days new ideas spread at warp-speed, so it’s only a matter of time, isn’t it? Mercedes, McDonald’s and Red Bull have the same agency for the same reason.

Its name is appropriate.

Holler.

Today at portsandbows.com: Dancing With The Stars: At Sea

Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas
7 nights
December 6, 2014
Tampa (return): Roatan, Belize, Cozumel, Costa Maya
Inside: $299
Cost per day: $42
www.royalcaribbean.com

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Bob & Nancy on October 14th, 2014

There was a celebration in Texas on the weekend when a 9-year-old ship entered a 100-year-old waterway to kick off a cruise experience that’s in its infancy.

Houston has a new cruise ship.

This one is called the Jewel, as in Norwegian Jewel, and after what it’s been through lately it is a jewel. It’s the beginning of a relationship between the cruise line and the port that Jewelwill go on for years…three of them, at least. And when it comes to the biggest city, this is not Norwegian’s first, as they say in Texas, rodeo.

This was the first cruise line to put a ship in Houston’s Ship Channel, 17 years ago. Norwegian came back for another look in 2003 and stayed four years. Now, with a new cruise terminal and lucrative contract, Norwegian began cruises to the Western Caribbean this week, following some of the pomp and pageantry that accompanies such launches.

The Jewel was the shining star. Fresh from refurbishing, it boasts many of the assets of its bigger and newer fleetmates. Passengers will have 16 dining options, Nickelodeon activities Houston Bay Terminaland the largest suites at sea, the 5,000-square-foot, three-bedroom Garden Villas. Among the restaurants is a favorite of ours (O’Sheehan’s), the steak-heavy Moderno Churrascaria and Carlo’s Bakery, all of which came along after the Jewel did in 2005.

With the upgrade, the Jewel jumps into the post-Epic era of Norwegian ships as it begins 27 Caribbean cruises from the Bayport Cruise Terminal, tomorrow becoming the first large cruise ship to visit the new port of Banana Coast, in the Bay of Trujillo, Honduras.

Before leaving Houston, the Jewel hosted a party of sorts. The people from the Port Captain HarstromAuthority put a cowboy hat on the captain (Kenneth Harstrom) and then said all the right things about economic development and happy cruisers who were going to enjoy (and bring their tourist dollars) to Houston.

A hundred years ago last month at another celebration, politicians and local authorities also said all the right things at a party christening the Ship Channel. That ceremony had thousands of spectators, a 21-gun salute and, from Washington, the President himself (Woodrow Wilson) remotely fired a cannon to open the channel, officially, following a bond issue approved by the citizens, who voted 16-1 in favor.

Ironically, it opened the same year as the Panama Canal, as a civil engineering feat of lesser stature, yet critical to the economy. Until then, goods shipped to Houston had to be unloaded in Galveston and trucked more than an hour up the road to the big city. A hurricane that leveled Galveston in 1900 and the discovery of oil around the same time gave legs to the idea of a deep-water channel to Houston.

Needless to say, the investment has been repaid many times over. Now, Houston hopes the same will apply to its investment in cruising.

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Holland America Eurodam
7 nights
November 9, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Half Moon Cay, Montego Bay, Grand Cayman, Key West
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $57
www.hollandamerica.com

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Bob & Nancy on October 13th, 2014

In the first year of our marriage, a few decades ago, we paid $1.25 to see the ForeverRay_STAMPincomparable Ray Charles in concert. No, it was not during The Great Depression. It was just the going rate for concert tickets (or some of them) at the time.

When Carnival introduced its Carnival Live concert series this year, the going rate started at $20 to see and hear performers like Lady Antebellum, Chicago, Jennifer Hudson. The concerts have been staged on Carnival ships while they’re in port, and they were so successful that Carnival Live will be back for an encore in 2015.

At a different going rate.

Tickets will start at $35.

The point is that, like almost everything else, prices are dictated by supply and demand. Carnival didn’t know what people who had already bought tickets for their cruise would be prepared to add to the expense for a concert, so the decision was made to start modestly at $20, up to $100 for a meet-and-greet with the artists.

Popularity has driven that price up, too. Depending on who you meet, it’ll cost between $125 and $250, according to our Ports and Bows colleague Phil Reimer.

The only common act from this year, so far, is Styx. Coincidentally, of all the 2014 acts, Styx (below) did the most shows — six. Will Kansas or REO Speedwagon or Lady A return Styxin 2015? Perhaps, since only five shows have been confirmed…Smokey Robinson, Rascal Flatts, Little Big Town and Journey are the others.

That Carnival is charging more demonstrates what a bargain these concerts were in 2014. It also could mean even bigger names will flock to the ports as Carnival Live generates more income for the cruise line.

Supply and demand…remember?

Today at portsandbows.com: Hail Britannia!

Norwegian Jade
10 nights
January 14, 2015
Rome (return): Olympia, Athens, Ephesus, Istanbul, Naples
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $49
www.ncl.com

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Bob & Nancy on October 10th, 2014
Liberty-Aerial

In our family we have three children (six, counting spouses) and, to the best of our knowledge, two tattoos. One is visible. One (or more?) is not. The point is we are anything but experts when it comes to tattooing and, while we’re not anti-tattoo, nor are we advocates.

Yet today, we write about tattoos.

Since life is stranger than fiction, and since cruising is part of life, it is impossible for us to ignore the latest in theme cruises. You got it. Next April, a tattoo cruise on Royal Ink or SwimCaribbean’s Liberty of the Seas (above)…and the cruise is cleverly called Ink or Swim, which beats the alternative.

The organizers may never get the attention of the folks at Guinness, but this goes into the record book as the first tattoo-themed cruise — at least the first that didn’t involve marching bands and the military. In case you’re not old enough, military tattoos march to the beat of a different drum.

The cruise is four days long, sufficient time to ink every body part that can be inked — is there somewhere that can’t? — if that’s what you have in mind. Better yet, you can be tattooed in the comfort of the Caribbean Sea, because Liberty will sail from Fort Lauderdale to Cozumel and back, with no stops in between…turning port time into tattoo time.

At Tattoo Alley, the ship’s body art center, will be some of the most famous artists around. Layout 1People like the “sexy” Tatu Baby (left), the “Wyld Child” Sarah Miller, “surfer/philanthropist” Mark Longenecker (right), the “gothic princess” Amy Nicoletto and Mark Longenecker“bad boy” Chris Torres. No, we didn’t know of them, either. There are more details at the Ink or Swim website, where you can also sign up to get “inked by a master” and to pay $970 (minimum) for the theme-cruise and all its activities, which includes $100-$150 towards your (first) tattoo.

How much do tattoos cost?

A quick Internet check produced this line: “In the world of tattoo, the high price is the indication of the best quality. Tattoo artists can charge you $30-$250.”

So for the big spender, that could be $1,220 for an inside room on a 4-day Caribbean Ink or Swim cruise.

On Royal Caribbean’s website, inside rooms on that cruise start at $549.

But there is no explaining tattoo people, is there?

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Carnival Fascination
5 nights
November 17, 2014
Jacksonville (return): Nassau, Freeport
Inside: $179
Cost per day: $35
www.carnival.com

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Bob & Nancy on October 9th, 2014

It’s a toss-up where the most feared four-letter word in the world these days is “ISIS” or “ebola.” Both strike fear in the hearts of just about everybody, and both have ominous potential to get worse.

While both are having an effect on cruising, it’s not a big one.

Yet.

There are no cruise ships going to Syria or Iraq, but you can be sure the security will become even more intense on all cruise ships, which can be targeted by militants just the way airplanes are.

The “other” threat, ebola, has moved four cruise lines — Holland America, Fred.Olsen, Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas — to change port calls scheduled for Senegal, which borders on the part of West Africa stricken with the disease.

But think about this:

What happens if the spread of ebola reaches (or erupts) in Southampton? Or Venice? Or Miami? Will travelers stay away from cities where ebola is present, or regions where terrorists attempt a strike?

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Celebrity Summit
7 nights
March 28, 2015
San Juan (return): St. Croix, St. Kitts, Roseau, Grenada, St. Thomas
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78
www.celebritycruises.com

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Bob & Nancy on October 8th, 2014

Today, probably by the time you read this, the Queen Mary 2 will arrive in Southampton with a special cargo — one bag with a little bit of Flanders, as in Flanders Field. It’s soil that will be used to create a Flanders Field Memorial Garden in England (Flanders is in Queen MaryBelgium).

The idea is for memorial gardens at The Guards Museum in London to have soil from every battlefield where British soldiers from seven regiments died in World War I. For decades, soil was never allowed to leave the battlefield cemeteries. That changed last year. School children collected 70 sandbags full of soil.

Still with us?

The Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Laurent of Belgium attended a ceremony last November when all the sandbags were gathered, placed on a frigate and taken up the Thames, then moved onto a gun carriage for the trip — with a mounted escort — to Wellington Barracks, home of the Flanders Field Memorial Garden, which will be opened by Queen Elizabeth next month.

Did we miss something?

This is a touching story with a lot of “moving” parts, but if 69 bags of soil were transported to the museum (below) last November, what happened to the 70th? Did somebody leave one behind? The most historic words at Flanders Field are “Lest we forget.”

Flanders Field MuseumHonoring men who gave their lives in the fight for freedom should never be forgotten, but if somebody did forget bag 70, why would it take almost a year?

This is 100 years from the start of the “war to end all wars” and any reason to re-visit it is noble, but when bag 70 did make the trip across the channel was an enormous cruise ship necessary? How big is this bag?

Yes, yes…of course we know the answers. They have something to do with the British pomp and pageantry.

Today at portsandbows.com: Who’s offering what for CLIA Cruise Week

Norwegian Pearl
4 nights
November 4, 2014
Miami (return): Grand Bahamas, Nassau
Inside: $149
Cost per day: $37
www.ncl.com

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