As the PICOT in this family — that's Person In Charge Of Travel, now that you ask — I welcome anything that simplifies the process of flying. So when I spotted an item about Holland America and something called "Flight Ease" I was all over it.
• Schedules (they'll be updated continuously) only for flights that arrive in time for your cruise
• Competitive pricing (cruise line promise) and availability from multiple carriers
• Next-port protection…if your flight is delayed or cancelled en route to the home port and you miss departure, the cruise line will get you to the next port
That umbrella of assurance has two other components. The "Flexible Fares" give you no fees for changing your flights and you pay when making your final cruise payment. Go for "Restricted Fares" and you'll pay less but be responsible for cancellation fees and pay the full amount when booking your cruise.
Passengers who use travel points to fly from their home city to the point of departure need not apply, of course. And passengers who shop around for the best deal are going to match it against the Flight Ease fare. That comparison is likely to determine whether Holland America's flight assistance is better than those of any other cruise line.
It will be interesting to see how many others copy Holland America's idea.
If you owned a restaurant and your food was making your customers sick all the time, would you fire the truck driver who makes the deliveries?
If you owned a football team that couldn't score points, would you dismiss the ticket taker at the stadium?
Carnival, the world's biggest and most beleaguered cruise line, for a year or more has been getting bad press from engine fires and propulsion problems and people (allegedly) jumping overboard. So what does Carnival do?
It fires the ad agency.
There may be a legitimate reason for not inviting its incumbent agency, Havas Media, to apply for a renewal. The invitations made reference to the negative publicity Carnival has been facing, inferring that somehow the ad agency was in some way responsible. Since ad agencies don't usually hire engineers or mechanics or first responders, it's hard to imagine how any one could be fingered for bad press.
For bad advice, perhaps, but Carnival's problems have been products and not advertising. By Carnival's including "negative publicity" in its ad agency search, the expression "not what it is but what it appears to be" just might apply.
A classic case of shooting the messenger.
Who cares? Probably only people working at the ad agency. However, the message Carnival seems to be sending one of deflecting attention from the root of the problem.
Sometimes, those of us with any kind of connection to cruising can be rather one-dimensional. We think the word "cruise" can only mean one thing.
Then we'll hear aboiut the latest Tom Cruise movie…or girlfriend.
Yesterday, we experienced another reality check. We were in the car with two of our grandchildren and one of them had her iPod (or other musical device) playing one of her favorite songs…
The song is a hit for the country group called Florida Georgia Line (right) and, yes, it is great when you have grandchildren who like country music. The name of the song is Cruise and as you can tell by the lyrical excerpt, it has nothing to do with sailing on the ocean with 2,500 of our closest friends.
Some of us just have trouble believing that "cruise" could mean anything else.
In more than three years of writing about cruising in this space — five to seven days a week — one blog stands out because more of you visited cruisingdoneright.com that day than any other, by quite a margin.
So what compelling cruise blog did we write that day?
It was a blog that had only a peripheral connection to cruising. It was about a man, a close friend of ours, who had passed away three weeks earlier. The connection to cruising — and some of you may have considered it a stretch — was that he was an alcoholic who spent the last 23 years of his life sober and helping others, and we had noticed that on every cruise we took there was a "Friends of Bill W" meeting every day.
Alcoholics, whether they've become sober or not, know about Bill W. His name was Bill Wilson and he has one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. We learned about him from our friend, Jean-Guy Pelletier.
And the connection to today's blog is…?
Our friend wrote a book (with our assistance) that was nearly finished when he died 23 months ago. The book was about his recovery at the Betty Ford Center in California, the years that followed when he dedicated his life to helping other alcoholics at the Center and his friendship with the former First Lady. It was to be his legacy, as things unfolded, and he always told us that if telling his story helped one other person, then the book was worth writing.
We who knew him so well are committed to honoring his wishes of trying to help others, and at the risk of compromising our integrity, we are bringing this book to your attention. It is called Addicted to Betty Ford — because that's what he was, on two counts — and it sells for $15 plus shipping. Inquiries can be emailed to email@example.com.
Given that we had a record number of visitors to cruisingdoneright.com on that summer day in 2011, we are left to conclude the reason for so many visitors was AA or Dr. Bill. If that's so, then some of you may be interested in reading Jean-Guy Pelletier's book. And some may, for whatever reason, find it helpful.
If only one does, that makes it worth noting.
Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian's aggressive CEO, isn't always right. But often, he is. We'd like you to weigh in on whether you think this is one of those occasions.
As a rule, cruise ships are not allowed to have casinos open when close to any port. Whether it's because it will cut into that port's gambling business or because there is a law prohibiting the importation of this vicarious form of entertainment, who knows?
Here's what Sheehan told the Royal Gazette in Bermuda:
"People love to spend the day off the ship shopping and then in the evening they come back on. But then the pulse of the ship really drops because we’re not allowed to open our casino. To me, I can’t understand why it’s even a point of view for Bermuda, because it’s only for people on the ship."
From Bermuda's side, the unspoken fear is that cruise passengers will spend money in the casino and not in the evening entertainment on shore. The fact that the island has no casinos means there is no gambling competition.
So, is Sheehan right or not?
Nowadays, most of us don't remember World War II. It's a horror story told to us in books, or movies or if we were fortunate (bold) enough to ask in conversations with fathers or uncles or older friends who saw it first hand.
One of the things they would all say is: "Never forget."
Next June is the 70th anniversary of the Allies' landings on the coast of Normandy, in northern France. To commemorate it and to honor those who fought, whether they came home or not, the D-Day Cruise will take passengers to spend a week on the coast. A couple of years ago, we had part of a day in a rental car in Normandy.
It wasn't nearly enough.
The cruise is on the Silver Cloud. That means there is room for only 296 passengers. One of them will be Tom Brokaw, author of the book The Greatest Generation, which paid tribute to many of our predecessors. There are four other storytellers or historians going on this Silversea cruise, including Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Atkinson.
Five of the seven nights will be in Caen. More specifically, in Caen's harbor, making it the pick-up and drop-off point for daily tours to the beaches of Normandy. There are museums, battlefields, churches, memorials and — on the historic 6th of June — participation in 70th anniversary ceremonies at Omaha Beach.
On our brief visit, we spent hours at one of the museums.
It wasn't nearly enough.
We were in Bermuda. Standing on the dock waiting to catch a ferry from St. George's to Hamilton, we encountered Clarence Smith. He was wearing an orange jacket, which made him hard to miss, and since it said "Visitor Information" on the back and we were visitors…
Clarence is an Ambassador — that's also on the back of his jacket — whose job is toenlighten or assist tourists in Bermuda. We were there after disembarking from Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas and taking a bus from Hamilton to St. George's. He was interesting and informative, and we'd have willingly waited longer for the ferry just to have more time to talk to him.
But this isn't about Clarence. It's about Ambassadors.
It came to our attention after reading about two Canadians, David and Judy Barlow, who had a similar (and lengthier) experience in Jamaica, where they'd gone on a Princess cruise. Apparently, Falmouth also has Ambassadors.
Here is an excerpt of a letter they sent to the Cornwall News in the United Kingdom, although it was addressed to the people of Falmouth:
"Almost as soon as we got off the ship we were met by a group of cheerful volunteer citizens who immediately asked if they could help us find our way to whatever we wanted to see. They directed us to the city whereupon we quickly met another group of your citizens who directed us to the several places in the town we wanted to see. Again, when we had run out of time, some of your people showed us which road took us back to the ship.
"If it had not been for your ambassadors we would probably still be running around Falmouth trying to get back to the ship as it sailed away from the port. Your ambassadors made our all-too-brief stay in Falmouth much more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise. I wish other ports we visited during our cruise had ambassadors [to] direct more lost souls as they wander your streets."
Hopefully, the concept of Ambassadors will multiply.
There's a negotiation process underway between Norwegian Cruise Line and Belize right now and when you read through all the he-said, he-said, what it comes right down to is this:
Democracy at work.
Norwegian wants to help the Belize government built a new port, south of Belize City in a place where no cruise ship of any substance has been, called Crawl Caye. For cruise passengers who have been to Belize more than once — that would include us — this is a welcome change because it means an opportunity to see part of the country that was otherwise off limits.
Crawl Caye is a small island, a mangrove island ringed by the Barrier Reef. It is located approximately 25 miles south of Belize City, between it and Roatan, Honduras, and east of the long strand of land known as Placencia, Belize. It is privately owned and sits inside a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Therein lies the debate about building a cruise port.
Environmentalists are concerned about the impact of cruise ships on the Barrier Reef. Lobbyists are more concerned about the economic impact that comes with cruise ships. These discussions have been going on for a few years, the Belizian Government on one side, Norwegian on the other. Last week, Minister of Labour Godwin Hulse said this:
"Crawl Caye is off the table and we've informed NCL accordingly. That does not mean that we are not continuing to dialogue with the people, we must understand that this is a huge investment. NCL is a reputable company, it's a world-class cruise company and any investment proposal to our country that could enhance jobs, enhance growth and create a better way for people – we can't just simple 'shush' away. So we have informed them of that, they have not completely withdrawn, we are continuing to talk and we will see where we go from there."
In other words, the people of Belize will decide whether the economic benefit outweighs the environmental impact. The politicians will be forced to listen to the people…isn't that what politicians always do?
If they do, that is democracy.
Here's a touch of irony for you…the idea is being called a $100 million tourism project, and Crawl Cayes is for sale, for $5.6 million.
Athletes are athletic, educators are educated and cruise directors are…well, characters. It's part of the job description because within any given two-minute span they have to be entertaining, serious, funny, talented, spontaneous, thorough, athletic and fast on their feet, which are sometimes called upon to do the two-step, kick balloons and get them off a stage before the curtain goes up or down.
Leigh Xuereb is a fit.
He's currently cruise director on Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas. There is no job in the cruise business that is more demanding of a person's energies 24/7, or close to 24/7. And Xuereb took the first steps down that road not long after taking his first steps, period.
"I wanted to be a performer since then," he says. "Ever since the day I walked away from my parents in an open-air shopping center and wound up in a nursery rhyme contest, doing Mary Had A Little Lamb. I went to the final and did Ten Little Indian Boys, but I didn't win."
What he did was get hooked on performing. That was in Australia, his homeland, and he went on to work almost nine years at a theme park called Warner Brothers Movie World. He became known as one of the world's top Austin Powers clones but has played a cast of many characters along the way…Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, Wylie Coyote, The Penguin in Batman, the Cadbury mascot, Dr. Evil in Austin Powers…
Is there a trend here?
"Austin Powers was my 'Ground Hog Day'," he laughs. "When I was 20, I was still a kids' entertainer. I didn't want to be a 40-year-old Austin Powers impersonator. I needed a change."
The change came on his 30th birthday. His girlfriend ended their nine-year relationship. By then, his Australian theme park and Austin Powers roots were deep, so he took the recommendation of friends who worked in the cruise industry, for Disney and Royal Caribbean. He chose Royal Caribbean not to escape the kid thing, but because it was the first cruise line to respond to his resume.
Looking back, he is grateful to the old girlfriend.
"It was the best present she could have given me," he explains. "It changed my life."
His first job was on Voyageur of the Seas. Between contracts, he was in Atlanta for an Austin Powers convention, doing radio spots, appearing on TV, being picked up in limos. Back on the cruise ship, he was teaching scrapbooking and line dancing.
"I thought: 'What have I done?'" Xuereb remembers. "But it was a challenge. I was always hiding behind characters, and never performing as Leigh, and I wanted to see how Leigh worked out."
Understandably, that also took time. And ships — Adventure of the Seas, Splendour of the Seas, Grandeur of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Mariner of the Seas, Majesty of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas. Floating from one ship to another, Leigh worked jobs ranging from assistant cruise director to activities manager to stand-in cruise director, bridging the gap between contracts of two full-time CDs.
Less than three years ago, another girlfriend story. Her name is Olga, she is from Siberia and they met while she was performing in Swan Lake On Ice on one of the ships. During a break between his contracts, Xuereb was home in Australia and wondering about Olga. An email exchange later, he discovered she had left Royal Caribbean and was vacationing…in Australia.
Today, she is back with the cruise line. When she was skating on Explorer of the Seas, he turned down a contract to go to another ship because they wouldn't be together.
"Money…career…it doesn't mean anything if I don't have anyone to share it with," he says. "We've been together for two and a half years, the most time we've spent together is six months, but we'll be back on the same ship [Explorer] in October."
Then, he'll be doing what cruise directors do.
"Performing every day," he says. "Honing skills. Making people laugh. Discovering something new. When you try something new, you never know when it'll work. When it does, there's no drug like it. My humor can be a little edgy. I always make fun of myself, and other people…it's cheap laughs. Just like at the theme park, I'm still playing dress-ups, making a fool of myself and enjoying it. Just like when I started doing Austin Powers, practising in a mirror, you first want to be competent — not just wear a wig and glasses and talk like Austin Powers. You want to be the best you can be. This is no different."
Photo by Beau Hudspeth
Not to be insensitive, but now there is a totally new meaning to the expression: "Good Grief!"
Once meant to express surprise, these days it applies to dealing with "grief" in a "good" way…such as going on a cruise.
But not just any cruise.
The noted grief therapist Edy Nathan is launching theme (if you will) cruises to help people cope with the loss of…a person, a pet or the pain of everything from financial disasters to heath issues. The cruises will be five days' long on the Paradise, which belongs to Carnival, which is known more for partying than pain management.
However, one news release points out that the Paradise is an "intimate and stately 10-year-old ship…ideal for the concept, as it is considered to have a 'low-key' atmosphere and the décor is not flashy as other Carnival ships."
The first such cruise leaves Tampa on November 7 and it's called the Turning Grief into Grace Cruise.