Bob & Nancy on May 22nd, 2015
Epic

The Norwegian Epic is in Barcelona now, the first month of the rest of its life, so it isn’t ever returning to North America. It seems people either love the Epic or hate it and, judging by the awards it has won, there are more lovers than haters. When it goes in for refurbishing in late September, the Epic will be re-designed for its permanent European clientele. Below are photos of some of what remains, and what doesn’t (or won’t)…

O'Sheehan's

O’Sheehan’s, a favorite stop of ours, is expanding in dry dock, surprising only because it was named after CEO Kevin O’Sheehan, and he’s gone.

ncl_Epic_BMG_PVC_Pipes

No more Blue Men on the Epic, replaced by Broadway shows Ballroom Blitz and (come October) Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Waterslides

A cruise line promising to cater to families had to have a water slide and the Epic’s was the first tube-and-bowl type of any cruise ship.

Cagney's

Norwegian’s entree into specialty restaurants has a funereal look to its entrance, but inside are some of the best steaks you’ll find anywhere.

ncl_Epic_Public_OSheehans_Bwling.psd

In two Epic cruises, we've never seen that bowling at sea is espcially busy, but it's busy enough to keep it on the ship beyond September…we think.

Legends

If she looks like Britney Spears, she’s supposed to, as one of the tribute acts in Legends In Concert, another European entertainment casualty.

Bathroom-1

The Epic’s most controversial design was having almost-see-through glass doors on the bathrooms, and it’s expected refurbishing will change that.

Stateroom

One solution to the coziness of balcony rooms is to upgrade to what Norwegian calls The Haven, where the smallest rooms look like this one.

Courtyard

And part of being a resident of The Haven is having access to the Courtyard, where privacy is at a premium and butlers are always nearby.

In the news…

• Celebrity adding overnights on longer Caribbean cruises in 2016 (Travel Weekly)
• Cunard to live-stream Monday's 175th anniversary celebrations from Liverpool

Today at portsandbows.com: Silversea's Silver Select promotion

Norwegian Gem
7 nights
September 26, 2015
New York (return): Saint John, Halifax, Portland, Bar Harbor
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85
www.ncl.com

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Bob & Nancy on May 21st, 2015

Vancouver

Two years ago, the U.S. and Canadian dollars were at par. According to yesterday’s exchange rates, $1.00 U.S. was worth $1.22 Canadian. That kind of gap usually means an exodus of tourists in the direction of better deals, and apparently that’s what is happening in conjunction with Alaska cruises originating in Vancouver.

According to a report by Canada’s national broadcaster, CBC, the falling Canadian dollar is encouraging more Americans to cruise out of Vancouver this summer…perhaps combining a cruise with a Canadian vacation. The report estimates that 70 per cent of passengers boarding ships bound for Alaska in the Port of Vancouver are Americans.

It’s not so much that cruises are better deals — Americans booking cruises from Vancouver pay in U.S. dollars — as it is that everything else around the departure and return is a deal. Hotels, restaurants, tours, taxis…the whole enchilada.

The number of cruise visitors this year is expected to be about 800,000, on par with last year. That’s from 227 visits on 32 cruise ships. However, tourism analysts say Americans are likely to stay longer before or after the cruise, and spend more because of the currency bargains.

This foreign currency concept is foreign to us. Everybody likes a deal but our choices in picking a cruise would be more inclined to focus on whether the cruise is a deal, not whether the hotel before leaving was.

What about you?

In the news…

• Costa Deliziosa to sail from Fort Lauderdale starting in December
• Norwegian Dawn passengers anticipating compensation for delay
• Luxury cruise market expecting 53 per cent jump by 2018
• Azamara launches ‘Cruise Global, Eat Local’ dining program

Today at portsandbows.comA $90-million terminal upgrade for Quebec

Royal Caribbean Adventure of the Seas
7 nights
September 20, 2015
San Juan (return): St. Croix, St. Maarten, Antigua, St. Lucia
Inside: $489
Cost per day: $69
www.royalcaribbean.com

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Bob & Nancy on May 20th, 2015

Yet another child has died on a cruise ship. Yet another child has, allegedly, drowned. Yet another plea is going to be issued for cruise lines to station lifeguards by pools all the time they are open.

And once more there is a chance of misplaced responsibility.

The victim of this family tragedy is a 10-year-old girl. The Norwegian Gem’s medical team responded to a poolside call on Sunday, the day after the Gem left New York for Florida. Despite CPR and emergency efforts, the young girl did not respond.

Everybody loses when this happens.

Especially the parents, who lose their child. The ERT loses a patient. The cruise line — in this case Norwegian — loses public confidence. None of them deserves to lose.

When you become a parent, among your responsibilities is providing safe care for your children until they are able to do so themselves. This is especially true around places to Norwegian poolswim, be they beaches or swimming pools. Whether the pool is in a park or on a beach or at a hotel or on a cruise ship, the primary responsibility for a child rests the parent.

Lifeguards?

They’re a back-up. Would you want your child’s fate to depend solely on a lifeguard? Some beaches have lifeguards, some don’t. Most public pools in parks or buildings do. Hotels usually don’t. Apartment buildings never do. The same goes for cruise lines except for Disney, which carries the most kids.

Ten people a day drown accidentally in the U.S., about two of them younger than 14. It is the fifth-leading cause of unintentional injury death. Those statistics alone should be a wake-up call when their kids go swimming.

Wherever it is.

In the news…

• Latest Princess sale on U.S. departures ends on Memorial Day
• Norwegian Dawn temporarily without power, runs aground near Bermuda
• Norwegian announces second public offering of 20 million shares 

Today at portsandbows.com: Combo cruise from Disney and AmaWaterways

Celebrity Equinox
7 nights
July 18, 2015
Istanbul, Mykonos, Valletta, Catania, Naples, Rome
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $114
www.celebritycruises.com

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Bob & Nancy on May 19th, 2015

Until our daughter-in-law Frances announced she was going to become an accredited Zumba instructor, this was a word that may never have crossed our lips. Zumba, not Zumbainstructor. We may have thought it was the name of a Greek restaurant or the latest battle cry used by kids as they loaded the newest war game on their Xboxes.

Now we know better.

Zumba is everywhere, even on cruise ships. Next year, Royal Caribbean will have its Zumba Cruise on Independence of the Seas. It’s five days of zumba-ing at sea, disembarking in Falmouth, Jamaica, and on “Zumba Island” — formerly known as the cruise line’s private port in Labadee, Haiti.

There will be 300 Zumba-theme classes in five days. There will be 130 celebrity instructors to teach passengers how to squat, mambo, hip-hop, lunge and salsa with the best of them. Independence of the SeasOne of the instructors will be “Beto” Perez, the Colombian creator of Zumba and one of The Three Albertos who founded the craze about 20 years ago (the others are Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion).

If you think those numbers are high, then you should also know there are 15 million people who take Zumba classes in 185 countries at 140,000 gymnasiums, fitness centers or wherever else groups can gather to be guided through the exercise(s).

The ship leaves Fort Lauderdale on January 30, and this is likely just the beginning.

What does “Zumba” mean? Whatever you want it to mean…except a Greek restaurant or a war cry on Xbox.

In the news…

• Million people in Liverpool for Cunard's three Queens on Monday
• Celebrity Eclipse first Solstice Class ship with 'World Class Bar'
• Disney to return to New York for five cruises in October 2016

Today at portsandbows.com: Christening the Viking Star

Carnival Elation
5 nights
August 22, 2015
New Orleans (return): Cozumel, Merida
Inside: $309
Cost per day: $61
www.carnival.com

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Bob & Nancy on May 18th, 2015
Vancouver-BorderXpress

 

Since 9-11, “clearing customs” has run the gamut of being everything from a nightmare to a piece of cake for international travelers…more often a bad dream than a sweet treat.

Among other things, and in the interests of making it easier for the masses to navigate their way in and out of the U.S., the complications have spawned trusted traveler programs and, more recently, automated terminals for airline passengers in many airports.

Port of VancouverVancouver’s cruise terminal has 10 machines. It’s the first time U.S.-bound cruise passengers have been able to utilize automated passport technology.

Translation: quicker embarkation.

It’s called BorderXpress, and if you’re taking an Alaska cruise from Vancouver this year, you should make note of it so that you’re prepared. If you’re new to Automated Passport Control (as it’s called), you simply scan your passport, answer questions on the screen, pick up your receipt and then meet a customs officer.

It’s supposed to allow customs officer to process four times as many passengersm — or the same number of passengers four times faster. In theory, if it has taken you an hour to board a ship in Vancouver, you should now be able to embark in 15 minutes…or so.

In a statement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Director Kurry Pastilong said this:

“The recent evolution of APC for cruise ship passengers is just one more way that the agency is striving to ease the flow of passengers without sacrificing core mission requirements.”

From our experience, it works well in airports. There is every reason to think it will at the Port of Vancouver…and hopefully many other cruise terminals.

In the news…

• Celebrity's Bistro On Five to cost $10, increase of 42%
• Carnival's 'big' news conference set for June 4 in New York 

Today at portsandbows.com: Carnival Corp. may add 10th cruise line

Holland America Maasdam
7 nights
June 20, 2015
Boston, Bar Harbor, Halifax, Sydney, Charlottetown, Quebec City, Montreal
Inside: $699
Cost per day: $99
www.hollandamerica.com

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Bob & Nancy on May 15th, 2015

When you cruise, there are bridges and there are bridges. On some cruise ships you can be lucky enough to visit “the bridge” and see how the captains and crews operate these massive floating hotels in seemingly the smallest of spaces. Failing that, there are bridges your ship sails under — and that’s what “bridges” means to most of us. Here’s a look at some that we’ve photographed in our travels…

Nassau

To get to Paradise Island in Nassau, we thought about walking across this one…okay, one of us did, while the other one got cold feet in anticipation of getting wet feet.

Golden Gate

When you leave San Francisco, in your wake is the picturesque Golden Gate Bridge…picturesque if it’s a sunny day like this one was from the stern of the Norwegian Sun.

Lisbon-25th of April Bridge-1

Not a Golden Gate double-take…but a Lisbon lookalike, the 25th of April Bridge, commemorating the Carnival Revolution, a 1974 blood-less coup that freed Portugal from dictatorship.

Americas

In the heart of the Panama Canal is the Centennial Bridge, built in 2004 to relieve traffic congestion by carrying four times as many cars as the 40-year-old Bridge of the Americas.

Vancouver-LGB

Vancouver’s famous Lions Gate Bridge welcomes ships into Burrard Inlet, providing the tide’s not too high, which it apparently always is for Celebrity’s Solstice Class ships.

New Orleans-1

The Crescent City Connection Bridge in New Orleans is a 2-for-1, the world’s fifth-longest cantilevered bridges and the most heavily traveled in the Lower Mississippi River.

Verrazano

Explorer of the Seas looked like its top would scrape against the bottom of the Verrazano Bridge that connects Brooklyn and Staten Island…unlike some ships, there were 15 feet to spare.

In the news…

• Princess praised for handling 135 cases of norovirus on Star Princess
• Royal Caribbean, Celebrity to bump daily gratuities as of June 1
• Study shows cruise ship amenities driving industry's market growth  

Today at portsandbows.com: Is Viking Star an ocean game changer?

Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas
7 nights
November 29, 2015
Galveston (return): Falmouth, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
Inside: $510
Cost per day: $72
www.royalcaribbean.com

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Bob & Nancy on May 14th, 2015
Puerto Vallarta

 

At the risk of sounding like apologists for Mexico, a country we have visited many times and hopefully will visit many more, our observations on the latest reports of cruising-vs-violence in Puerto Vallarta are based on these facts:

• Attacks from Mexican drug cartels on the government in the state of Jalisco on May 1 included fires set in Puerto Vallarta, with the worst of the violence was in Guadalajara.

• The Celebrity Infinity bypassed a scheduled stop in Puerto Vallarta on May 10.

• Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas did the same thing on May 12.

• Disney’s Wonder skipped the port, too.

• Tourism officials meeting with cruise executives in Florida said yesterday that the events of that Friday morning were isolated, quickly contained and resolved.

• Both parties in Florida agreed to “improve and increase communications to ensure the cruise lines are kept better informed and receive updates in real time.”

So…

It appears that Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Disney were reacting on mis-information from who knows where…probably the Internet? And did it take a week for the cruise lines to find out they shouldn’t stop there nine days later?

It also appears that cruise lines, and passengers, are spooked the moment the “V” word and Mexico are mentioned in the same breath, or Internet page. Because there is a violent event in Gaudalajara it doesn’t mean Puerto Vallarta (pop. 200,000) is unsafe. If there was a violent event in Oakland, would a cruise ship abandon San Francisco — and they are much closer than Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara (almost 200 miles)?

It also appears Mexican tourism officials are going to have to implement unimaginable means to try and keep the cruise business for Puerto Vallarta, by literally tracking the Puerto Vallarta-Stan Shebs

– Stan Shrebs photo

whereabouts of all passengers once they leave the ship. The city “will work with local tour operators, taxi drivers and other tourism service providers to employ new measures that inform the ships of their passengers’ location.”

For visitors to Mexico, this is the new level of fear.

Violent events can happen anywhere, of course…BaltimoreNewtown…Columbine High School and so on.

But when it’s Mexico, there’s an accelerated level of distrust. Based on our visits to many parts of Mexico, we think that’s wrong.

In the news…

• Automated passport machines at Vancouver cruise terminal
• Azamara Quest refurbishment bigger…and later (April 2016)

Today at portsandbows.com: More on Viking's first ocean cruise ship

Norwegian Sky
4 nights
July 13, 2015
Miami (return): Grand Bahama Island, Nassau
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $124
www.ncl.com

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Bob & Nancy on May 13th, 2015

Star Cruises is a small cruise line that opens a piece (28 per cent) of a big cruise line, Norwegian. Its sell line is that Star is the “leading cruise line in Asia-Pacific” so, naturally, it caters to Asians.

On the weekend, South Korea gave Star Cruises permission to operate casinos once the ships are in international waters, which is the cruise norm. It also said local residents will be allowed to use casinos on cruise ships carrying the Korean national flag. At the moment, there are no such ships, but that’s going to change as cruising starts to grow in South Korea.

But locals weren’t going to be allowed in…really?

In other words, foreigners would have been able to play tables and slots but not nationals. Now that would give a new reason for having your ID checked, wouldn’t it?

Apparently, there is some rationale to this. In South Korea, there are presently 17 casinos. The industry is growing rapidly, despite the fact that only one of the 17 casinos allows South Koreans to gamble.

Really?

In the news…

• Viking's first ocean ship to be christened Sunday in Norway
• Popular Celebrity Eclipse emerges from nine-day refurbishing

Today at portsandbows.com: First look at the Viking Star

Celebrity Constellation
7 nights
August 23, 2015
Venice (return): Dubrovnik, Ephesus, Mykonos, Corfu
Inside: $699
Cost per day: $99
www.celebritycruises.com

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Bob & Nancy on May 12th, 2015
Sitges-2

BARCELONA, Spain — Right off the top, there are two observations about visiting this Spanish jewel that has been home to  Antoni Gaudi, the Olympic Games, Pablo Picasso and 5.5 million current residents. 

One, you can never be here often enough to tire of Las Ramblas. This is good news for Costa Cruises, among others with ships stopping here. 

Two, there’s more to Catalonia than Barcelona.

Like Sitges and its coastline (above).

Costa’s new flagship, the Diadema, stops by Barcelona to pick up and drop off 3,710 passengers (or so) once every week. The first stop on shore for Diadema’s passengers was RamblasLas Ramblas, the dated and charming part of the city that is a huge magnet for both tourists and locals. In another city, it might be called “Old Town” but Las Ramblas has a nicer sound, at least in English.

You can’t really tell where it begins and ends, only that it does, somewhere on the periphery of the tapas bars, narrow cobblestone streets, great shops, better restaurant and fascinating historical edifices that seem to stand on most corners. You can spend a day there and come back a couple of times, as we have, and spend another day.

And never regret it.

The Las Ramblas area started as a street called La Rambla (the avenue), which of course is still there somewhere in the maze. Virtually every city tour, including Costa’s, includes it along with the Olympic Stadium, another tourism staple. That status also applies to La BarcelonaSagrada Familia. If you haven’t heard of it, you’ve never been to Barcelona, where it reigns as the monument more than any other when they come to Spain. It’s also the world’s largest unfinished church (or smallest), and has been for generations. Antoni Gaudi designed it and gave up building it after 43 years when he was killed by a train.

That was in 1926. Gaudi was 74 when he died and left his handprints all over Barcelona’s buildings. The church’s unfinished state was further devastated by the Spanish Civil War, when arsonists destroyed Gaudi’s studio but not his dream. Its latest scheduled completion date is the centenary of Gaudi’s death, 2026, but nobody’s betting on it. Of the 18 bell towers he designed, eight have been built.

Barcelona’s former bull ring (the sport is banned in Catalonia) is now a shopping mall. The Olympic Stadium, built in 1929 for the World’s Fair and refurbished for the Olympics of 1992, is on Montjuic Hillside, which overlooks this fascinating city and which is now basically a track and field facility that also hosts live concerts.

And then there’s “outside” Barcelona.

Maria NadinaOur second waterfront resort (we’d been at Le Méridien Ra Beach Hotel & Spa on the same area seven years ago) is a half-hour outside the city, and was chosen by the Costa delegation. It was in Sitges (the “g” is soft), or a short walk from Sitges, a lovely artistic town that is sometimes called the Saint-Tropez of Spain. Our hotel — the impressive four-star Hotel Estela Barcelona — was 20 minutes from Sitges as the pedometer goes so we spent close to an hour of the short time (five or six hours) we had there walking the seawall, having arrived too late to visit the museum recommended by a friend in Barcelona, Maria Nadina (right), who is a tour guide par excellence.

The rest of our time was invested in walking through another tight collection ofarchitecture, returning to the hotel and dining at one of the restaurants on the boardwalk Sitgesnearby, Les Fonts. It’s divided by the boardwalk so there’s constant traffic back and forth,  and the most demonstrative (in a nice way) waitress you’re likely to find.

Barcelona cornersSitges is as laid-back as Barcelona is bustling. The contrast is welcome after a busy day in the big city where, incidentally, street corners (or many of them) are not 90 degrees but cut to 45 degrees. That’s to facilitate traffic flow by making more space at intersections, giving it a Parisian look (or maybe Paris has a Barcelonian look). 

In our two previous visits, this is one of the things we never knew. Like we said, you can never make too many trips to Barcelona.

Or Sitges.

In the news…

• Violence cancels Puerto Vallarta stoips for two cruise lines
• Dead whale dragged ashore by cruise ship in Vancouver
• Oceania lowers fares for West Coast cruises this summer

Today at portsandbows.com: Viking Star off to be christened

Twitter

 

Holland America Eurodam
12 nights
June 13, 2015
Copenhagen (return): Kiel, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm, Berlin
Inside: $899
Cost per day: $74
www.hollandamerica.com

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Bob & Nancy on May 11th, 2015

Most adventures in life require only one thing.

Money.

That’s true of adventurous Americans who want to cruise Cuba so they can visit before commercialization takes over, which is inevitable. Last week, licenses were issued to four ferry companies to allow travel across the 90 miles of the Caribbean Sea that has been a wall of water for half a century.

It is subject to approval by the Cuban government, so nobody knows when this complicated relationship will allow it.

There is a more certain way to go…and that brings up the money. International Expeditions is starting to run Cuba cruises in December, on a ship called the Panorama. The cruise Cuba Voyage-Panoramastarts  at Cienfuegos, which is in Cuba, and 10 days later ends in Havana. Flights to Cienfuegos and from Havana are not included.

The cruise price starts at $4,599.

But is it certain that Americans can go?

At this moment, Americans can’t go to Cuba for a vacation. That could change by the time the cruise starts (December 17), of course, with everybody from President Obama to the Castros to the Pope trying to bridge 56 years of differences and dissidents. If it doesn’t, there’s a series of ways around the restriction, none of which have anything to do with vacations.

However, if you’re involved in “humanitarian projects” or “religious activities” or “professional activities” you’re okay. And here’s one that seems looser than all the others: “any type of support for the Cuban people.”

Considering that the Panorama carries only 48 passengers, it’s probably not insurmountable, if you want to guarantee you’ll see Cuba by year’s end. If being first doesn’t matter and the budget does, it’s probably better to wait until the ferry service is activated. The cost is expected to be about $250, round-trip.

And once the ferries are good to go, major cruise lines won’t be far behind.

In the news…

• Princess announces "exotics cruises" schedule for 2016-17
• Seattle claims it's biggest West Coast homeport with 895,000 passengers
• Jill (Love Boat) Whelan spends (God)Mothers Day as Princess ambassador

Today at portsandbows.com: The Princess to Asia expansion

Carnival Imagination
4 nights
May 31, 2015
Long Beach (return): Catalina, Ensenada
Oceanview: $279
Cost per day: $69
www.carnival.com

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