Bob & Nancy on April 27th, 2015

The question cruise lines must often ask is this:

How do we get people from Generation X, Generation Y and Generation Z on a cruise if they’ve never been on one?

There is, of course, no easy answer. But one word, more than ever, is vital. The word is Internet (okay, WiFi will do).

Why?

Look around. The singular thing about their lives that Generations X-Y-Z (and maybe some Baby Boomers) would worry about when going on that first cruise is losing contact with the outside world. The outside world, of course, is what they do with their devices when they’re just being.

From texting to tweeting, from searching to posting to talking…these are the tools of their Internetexistence. It used to be that you had to be in Starbucks or McDonald's to see more than 50 per cent of the occupants on a phone, tablet or computer.

Now it happens when walking down the sidewalk, sitting by a pool, even attending a sports event or concert where the attraction is supposed to be what’s happening on the field or stage.

First-time cruisers from generations X-Y-Z would be fine with the food. They’d be fine with the activities. They’d be fine with the entertainment…as long as their devices weren’t confiscated at the door.

They wouldn’t be fine with slow connections.

Cruise Line International Association, which does all kinds of research for the industry, maintains only 3% of North Americans went on a cruise last year, and only 20 per cent have ever been on a cruise. So there’s a lot of customers waiting to be lured aboard.

All of them with electronic devices.

Today at portsandbows.com: Last-minute cruises disappearing

Royal Caribbean Rhapsody of the Seas
7 nights
July 12, 2015
Rome (return): Santorini, Ephesus, Bodrum, Crete
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85
www.royalcaribbean.com

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Bob & Nancy on April 24th, 2015
Caribbean

Of all the ports in the Caribbean, and there are hundreds it seems, one that keeps attracting more attention is San Juan, Puerto Rico (translation: “rich port”). Strategically positioned just east of the Dominican Republic, it can be either a port to visit on the way to the Southern Caribbean or a place to embark on a Panama Canal cruise. We have done both and today’s photos reflected our visits to Old San Juan…

Pina Colada

Shouldn’t we all know the who-when-where of the whole pina colada thing?

Fort-1

From inside San Cristobal, and what it must have felt like a few centuries ago.

Fort-2

Also inside the fort, another era’s “weapons of mass destruction” remain.

Seahorse sculpture

The first statue of a seahorse that we’ve seen in the Caribbean (or anywhere).

Starbucks

In Old San Juan, seats in Starbucks are rare, and everybody’s on a device.

Free trolley-1

Free trolley the best way to get around Old San Juan, where you need a day.

Horse-carriage

If bus is too crowded, there’s always the (not free) horse and buggy option.

Arturo Somohano Portela-musician

Conducting an orchestra in perpetuity: Arturo Somohano Portela. Google him.

Today at portsandbows.com: Another 'Port' (Canaveral), one that's getting more options for passengers

Norwegian Dawn
7 nights
October 16, 2015

Boston (return): King’s Wharf 
Inside: $629

Cost per day: $89
www.ncl.com

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bob & Nancy on April 23rd, 2015
Sky

 

Oh, for the days when going on a cruise meant once you paid for your ticket, that was it…everything was included but shopping for souvenirs, and taxes and tips.

Are those happy days starting to make a comeback?

They are in Norwegian’s world. Well, in one corner of Norwegian’s world. Okay, one neighborhood…bar.

Starting in 2016, cruises on the Norwegian Sky, an 11-year-old ship that goes from Miami to the Bahamas and back will be so inclusive that you won’t pay for drinks. From margaritas to wine (even premium) to beer to soft drinks…nada. 

“We’re taking freestyle cruising to the next level,” said Andy Stuart, Norwegian’s President and COO.

“Freestyle cruising” is the umbrella under which Norwegian introduced the non-traditional seating in dining rooms, allowing passengers to pick their times and tables. Following an era in which passengers felt they were being nickled and dimed at every turn, Norwegian announced that the Sky’s passengers will  “enjoy an even more all-inclusive cruise experience with dining, entertainment and now free unlimited beer, wine and premium spirits included.”

However, if you think “dining” includes the Sky’s three specialty restaurants (Il Adagio, Cagney’s Steak House and The Bistro)…guess again. What it includes in dining is what is already included: the dining room.

For anybody too young to drink…free soda. Now that’s a first for an ocean cruise ship.

It’s likely another test. If “free drinks for everybody” fills up its ships, expect that it will be extended beyond the Sky’s horizon.

After that, who knows?

Today at portsandbows.com: Entertained on Anthem of the Seas

Royal Caribbean Legend of the Seas
14 nights
June 11, 2015
Sydney, Brisbane, Airlie Beach, Cairns, Darwin, Benoa, Singapore
Inside: $974
Cost per day: $69
www.royalcaribbean.com

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bob & Nancy on April 22nd, 2015

News item: Royal Caribbean is attempting to refuse having last-minute discounts.

This could be a game-changer for all cruise lines. Lots of people hang around until the “last minute” before making a decision about which cruise to take. When they get a killer deal, they tell the world, including passengers who paid much more for the same type of cabin on the same cruise.

As one member posted on Cruise Critic after hearing the news:

“"You won't feel like an idiot for paying more for a similar cabin that gets discounted after final [payment date].”

This is likely to mean Royal Caribbean will lose some profits by sailing with ships that are less than full. The cruise line’s thought process is all about brand perception. If the Allure of the Seasperception is that you have cheap prices, it can be said you’re a cheap cruise line. If you’re not, the “price integrity” over the long haul will recover financial losses.

Royal Caribbean will now effectively close sales 10, 20 or 30 days before sailing, depending on the length of the cruise. The abolition of last-minute discounts now applies on all cruises longer than four days. The question is…will other cruise lines follow?

“We think that getting our customers out of this used-car salesman kind of mentality will be overall good for the brand, good for their experience,” company CEO Richard Fain said on a conference call.

And what will the last-minute crowd think?

They’ll get over it and accept it, just like we all accept having to pay for soft drinks on ships, having to pay for luggage on airplanes, and other such examples of policies not being the way they were.

When you’re a cruise company with profits of $45.2 in the first quarter, up 70 per cent from 2014’s first quarter, it’s a chance you can afford to take. While it's a lot more complicated than this, is it just coincidence that Royal Caribbean shares on the New York Stock Exchange plunged eight per cent the day after this news became public, the same day its greatest new ship was being launched half the world away?

Today at portsandbows.com: Eating on Anthem of the Seas

Holland America Amsterdam
1 night
May 30, 2015
Vancouver, Seattle
Inside: $69
Cost per day: $69
www.hollandamerica.com

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Bob & Nancy on April 21st, 2015

PUERTO MORELOS, Mexico — It has been a long time since we’d been cruising on land…

Cruising on land?

The closest thing you’ll find to a cruise without the water under the room in which you’re sleeping is at an all-inclusive resort, and there are likely more of them than there are Resort-5cruise ships. We hadn’t been at one for almost 30 years, not for any particular reason, but when Family Reunion Time came along this year the decision-makers settled on an all-inclusive.

That was to become El Cid.

There are six El Cid resorts in Mexico — four in Mazatlan, one in Cozumel and this one, in a sleepy little town called Puerto Morelos, which is halfway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen along the Maya Riviera. The name comes not from a movie now 44 years old, but from the legendary Spanish hero of the 11th century, El Cid, who is still revered today.

JulioIt was founded by the late Julio Berdegue Aznar, who grew up in Madrid and became a political refugee in Mexico during the Spanish Civil War, Highly educated, he developed the business that his two sons operate. At this El Cid, the operations manager is Ricardo Bustamante Altamirano (Ricardo for short), a bundle of energy who is as proud of the company’s heritage as he is of the Puerto Morelos resort.

Ricardo-1“It is one hundred per cent Mexican,” he says. “What distinguishes us is the service, also the quality of food and drinks. We don’t buy the cheapest food and we don’t buy the cheapest liquor. The company always treats employees with a lot of respect. When you do, the Riviera Maya is like a gold mine.”

Ricardo spent a year in the cruise business, as a bar waiter on Royal Caribbean’s old Sovereign of the Seas. His resort reflects a cruise ship in its cleanliness, its service and its “mass-market” food.

One employee we encountered said the reason he worked at El Cid is that it’s booked “90 per cent of the year” while others in this area are more seasonal.

Booked means filling 428 rooms, a number that will grow to 700 in two years, and there will be another main building.

It’s easy to see why.

In a week at El Cid, the two seniors only left twice, walking 30 minutes on country roads to Puerto Morelos. That wasn’t the plan. It was the reality. This all-inclusive — perhaps like others — has a large pool bubbling with activity most of the time, sit-down restaurants, programs for kids who need to be supervised by non-parents, a beach with more water things-to-do and food 24/7. What impressed us was that after a week, we wanted to stay.

There are 12 in our family and we pretty much covered the gamut of things to do. Kayaking (included) was over at the beach. Snorkeling ($20 each, from a Puerto Morelos vendor) meant going out to the world’s second-biggest coral reef. Maya ruins (also not included) was more than an hour’s drive to Coba, and well-worth the trip. The zoo — CrocodileCrococun — was a short cab ride and in-zoo guides are mandatory, if for no other reason than for protection from crocodiles, 33 of them, that are just off the path you’re walking.

This was spring break, so the place was buzzing with families, but it didn’t feel crowded. Not unlike being on a cruise ship like Oasis of the Seas and feeling there was plenty of room for its 6,000 passengers. Just like on cruise ships, somebody is cleaning all the time, and not just in the front rooms, where you could eat off the floors. Ricardo took us on a behind-the-scenes tour that was revealing in the degree to which employees go in the clean department. 

The main pool (there is also an infinity pool) was exceptional. This is not a lap pool, it’s a fun pool. With small children and at least a couple of non-swimming adults in our family, it Infinity Pool 2was perfect. There is plenty of space and, yes, loungers draped with “reserve” towels that nobody ever seems to use.

The rooms are spacious, too, and all easily accessible from the pool. Room service is unbeatable. There are four restaurants to go with the buffet, all of them good but in hindsight we found the Mediterranean one, El Alcazar, the tastiest…perhaps in part because Luis and friendsof a delightful server named Luis. Presentation was exceptional. The buffet is…well, buffet food. When you’re dealing with hundreds of people and perhaps dozens of dietary restraints, there’s only so much you can do with the flavor of buffet servings — the “chefs” El Alcazarin charge of the ready-made hot dishes always seemed to be trying to do the work of two people.

And just like cruise ships, hot toast is a problem on shore, too.

The Riviera Maya El Cid is nine years old. Its opening was delayed by category 4 Hurricane Wilma. There was water in the rooms and the kitchen doors were blown off. Ricardo, a lifer in the hospitality business, spent three months working in Mazatlan until the new El Cid was ready. Another deadly storm — the tsunami that swept through the waters of Asia — was critical in El Cid’s growth.

“Ever since then,” says Ricardo, “all year long people come to the Riviera Maya instead of crossing the Pacific.”

Capacity is about 1,400 people, which happens at Christmas, and 80 per cent of the Resort-7customers are either Canadian or American. While the prices vary like cruises do, they’re generally in the same ballpark, per person.

We’ve been telling people how much this family enjoyed El Cid…and now we’ve just told thousands more.

Today at portsandbows.com: Godmother tunes up Anthem's christening

Diamond Princess
8 nights
June 6, 2015
Kobe (return): OkinawaHualienKaohsiungTaipei
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $99
www.princess.com

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bob & Nancy on April 20th, 2015

Has anybody ever given you $100 just for having gone on a cruise ship? A thank-you for your comments, however critical they may have been? A thank-you even if you didn’t make any comments?

That’s what Royal Caribbean is doing.

Anybody who sailed on Quantum of the Seas, which will be six months old in a couple of weeks, is being given a $100 thank-you for having endured what was Royal Caribbean’s dining mistake when the ship was launched. Thanks is coming in the form of — and here’s the asterisk — $100 to spend on Anthem of the Seas, the ship now on its inaugural voyage in the waters off Southampton.

The reason? Because on Anthem of the Seas, Royal Caribbean has the dining thing right…or at least the cruise line thinks so.

The Dynamic Dining concept on Quantum allowed passengers to go to any of four main dining rooms. The problem (read: complaint) was two-fold. One was that desired reservations and reservation space didn’t always match, or maybe didn’t often match. Two Dining roomwas that traditional diners, the ones who want to sit at the same table with the same people at the same time and be served by the same waiters and probably eat the same food (just kidding), didn’t like it.

So along comes two concepts: Dynamic Dining Classic and Dynamic Dining Choice.

The traditionalists will opt for Classic, which sounds like rotating everything (tablemates, waiters) from restaurant to restaurant. The non-traditionalists will have the Choice of times and tables, as well as restaurants. And both of them, like everybody who has cruised on Quantum of the Seas, will have $100 per person to spend on an Anthem of the Seas cruise (must be booked by May 31).

Royal Caribbean, of course, didn’t have to do anything to appease those who didn’t like the old Dynamic Dining. It was probably a somewhat vocal minority and now the somewhat silent majority can share in the benefits. On paper, the cruise line is ponying up approximately $10 million, based on 100,000 passengers in the ship’s first six months. In reality, it will be much less because in order to collect, those 100,000 passengers would have to book a cruise on Anthem of the Seas in the next five weeks.

Nonetheless, it’s a nice gesture for not getting the dining thing right the first time.

Today at portsandbows.com: Live from the deck of the Anthem

Carnival Ecstasy
4 nights
May 11, 2015
Miami (return): Half Moon Cay, Nassau
Inside: $229
Cost per day: $57
www.carnival.com

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Bob & Nancy on April 17th, 2015

shipEven after the arrival of its stablemate Anthem of the Seas this weekend, Allure of the Seas will remain the biggest cruise ship in the world (a couple of inches longer than Oasis of the Seas). Some passengers think it’s also the best big cruise ship in the world and after seeing our photos from cruising on her, maybe you’ll have a better idea why…

bar that moves

When “The Rising Tide” is good, because it’s a bar that spans three decks.

parade - fiona and shreck

Fiona and Shrek captivate onlookers during the Royal Promenade parade.

johnny rocket's

Almost every ship has a hamburger joint…here that's Johnny Rockets. 

flo rider

If you think FlowRider is a surf simulator solely for kids…well, it’s not.

kids water park

This water park IS solely for kids, the most colorful if not most creative.

central park

This could be a garden spot on land, but in reality it’s Central Park at sea.

cupcakes

A whole shop devoted to cupcakes, now a Royal Caribbean specialty.

directions

The best multi-lingual way we’ve seen to keep walkers and joggers apart.

mini golf

The golfers would count this mini-putt among the most interesting at sea.

park cafe

Ideal breakfast — lots of choices and space…best of all, nice and quiet.

pool deck

When space isn’t at a premium on big ships, it isn’t around the pools either.

wine bar

Unassuming and tasteful, the wine stop on Allure of the Seas.

Today at portsandbows.com: Carnival Live's line-up for 2015

Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam
12 nights
June 9, 2015
Venice (return): Athens, Istanbul, Lesbos, Ephesus, Santorini, Olympia, Argostoli
Inside: $899
Cost per day: $74
www.hollandamerica.com

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bob & Nancy on April 16th, 2015

Once again this week, we became advocates for taking a Panama Canal cruise, as we have been since our inaugural cruise across the Isthmus of Panama in 2010. This time, it was reassuring friends who leave on a Panama Canal cruise today that they would never regret it.

On our trip, construction was underway for the Canal expansion that was going to be completed…on the waterway’s 100th anniversary in 2014…and then in late 2015…and now sometime early in 2016. The delays have been caused by cost over-runs (now there’s a surprise), strikes (another surprise) and a mix-up in the concrete mix for the locks (that is a surprise).

When it does open, the Canal will accommodate ships that are close to 1.5 times larger than today’s limit. These are called “post-Panamax” ships, and several cruise ships fit the Panama Canalcategory, but that doesn’t include — according to post-Panamax measurements — Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, the two biggest cruise ships in the world. Nor does it include Royal Caribbean’s Freedom Class ships (Freedom, Liberty and Independence).

Sticking with Royal Caribbean as the example, its two newest ships — Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas, which is being launched this week — both will fit in the new Panama Canal.

At the moment, half Royal Caribbean’s fleet doesn’t.

But help is on the way. There is now talk of a fourth set of locks across the Isthmus, which will take $17 billion (for now) and 15 years. So by 2030, Oasis and Allure could probably make maiden voyages through the Panama Canal.

If they’re still around, that is.

Today at portsandbows.com: Celebrity's creative shore excursions

Norwegian Getaway
7 nights
May 30, 2015
Miami (return): St. Thomas, Tortola, Nassau 
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78
www.ncl.com

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bob & Nancy on April 15th, 2015
The Band Perry

 

Come Sunday night, a lot of us will be watching the Academy of Country Music Awards because, well, we like them. Also because it always seems to be more about the music than the awards.

Enter Carnival.

The world’s biggest cruise line is writing a huge success story with its Carnival Live series, in which well-known performs board ships in port, then perform one or two concerts for which passengers are happy to pay, given the sizes of the venues.

There are the old standbys — Journey, Styx, Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie — from yesteryear. There is a sprinkling of current performers: Rascall Flatts, Little Big Town, Martina McBride.

And now, the series’ summer/fall line-up includes The Band Perry, for three concerts in Nassau on Carnival ships Sensation, Fascination and Magic.

On Sunday night at the ACMs, these two brothers (Neil, Reid) and older sister (Kimberly) are nominated for “Top Vocal Group” which they won in 2014. That was a year that began by performing at the Super Bowl pre-game show, then touring with Blake Shelton. This year, they won a Grammy and now they’re headliners on tour.

Get the message?

The Band Perry is hot in country music and that makes Carnival a winner. Make that, more of a winner. Older passengers enjoyed seeing the stars of the past. Now they’ll be joined by younger, hipper spectators…because of The Band Perry.

Today at portsandbows.com: Deals from AmaWaterways, Avalon

Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas
7 nights
May 10, 2015
Galveston (return): Cozumel, Belize, Roatan
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71
www.royalcaribbean.com

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bob & Nancy on April 14th, 2015

Diadema-Ajaccio

AJACCIO, Corsica — The Costa Diadema is responsible for educating. A vehicle of learning. This newest ship in the Costa Cruises fleet of 15 regularly drops passengers off for a day in Ajaccio, a pretty town on the island of Corsica.

That’s where the education starts?

Among the things we didn’t know until getting off the Diadema:

• It is the third-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, behind Sardinia and Sicily (although we probably could have discovered that by studying a map).

• Unlike the other two, it belongs to France…not Italy.

•  Everything that isn’t named Napoleon is named Bonaparte, or so it seems, in honor of its  most-famous son and the large house where he was born has become, as expected, a tourist attraction.

• Corsicans still don’t like the sea that surrounds them because they associate it with invaders (including malaria-carrying mosquitoes) even though none of them exist today.

• The man Corsicans regard as their greatest hero is Pasquale Paoli, the highly educated leader who was defeated by Napoleon, who wrote the island’s constitution and who was far ahead of his time in demanding equality for all, at a time when women were regarded as unequal.

• People came from all over the world to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s birth in 1969 and they ran out of beer — by 10:30 that morning!

Ajaccio-2Corsica today is mostly French and Italian, as you might expect, in what has for centuries been an uneasy relationship. It’s also divided between north and south, by mountains, and that relationship is regarded as “competitive” today. It’s only 50 miles from Italy and its second language (Corsican) is more Italian than French.

Ajaccio is in the south, the capital of the south, and it’s clear that — 200 years after his death — Napoleon is still an industry in the town where he was born but spent less than 10 years of his life. The statue of the famous French emperor is an exact replica of the one over his gravesite in Paris and a regular tourist stop for anyone who comes here on a cruise or a plane.

More and more Europeans are flying in to experience Corsica’s pristine and rugged geography. Green with pine forests, it’s called Ile de Beaute (which requires no translation) and its interior is a magnet for adventure tourists. Complementing that are sandy, unpolluted beaches all the way around the island, and going from the sea to the interior can take longer than it takes to fly to Switzerland.

Approximately 100 miles by 50 miles, Corsica is home to 300,000 residents, and many come from elsewhere. Our guide, Rollie Lucarotti, and her husband boarded their boat in England, sailed here 43 years ago and Ajaccio-Rollienever left. The first book written about Corsica was penned by a Scottish spinster, Thomasina Campbell, after she toured the island on a cart pulled by a pony, and her pockets were deep enough to build a church and a mansion on what is now Rue Miss Campbell.

Besides spectacular scenery and its ability to remain in something of a time capsule geographically, Corsica is also known for its perfume. Legend has it that the perfume is so unique that Napoleon could recognize the island with his eyes closed just by inhaling it.

Just one more nugget of information about Corsica, thanks to a 3,600-passenger vehicle of learning.

Ajaccio-6Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Carnival Liberty
7 nights
May 10, 2015
San Juan (return): St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Maarten
Inside: $439
Cost per day: $62
www.carnival.com

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: