Our research department came across a humorous item involving Carnival and Brits. The cruise line was looking for Britain's "funniest" family to sample its ships and on-board experiences, and report back.
It seems that British families have a misconception about the industry's "Fun Ships" as Carnival likes to call its fleet. The cruise line wants to make sure it delivers what that segment of its market is expecting.
The successful family "will love active, fun-filled holidays and be as comfortable relaxing by the pool as they are racing down waterslides” and it will help if the father tells good jokes. Funniest, right?
If you do, they can enter to win a 9-day Mediterranean cruise on the Carnival Sunshine, now that it has been refurbished by 3,500 workers and $155 million…and re-named. After delivering their "funny" file they can do the same thing on the Carnival Breeze when it sails from Miami to the Bahamas. Relax, teachers, the cruise is during school holidays.
It was about this time of writing that the research department checked in with an update. That should be Carnival is looking for Britain's "funnest" family. The "i" was in the research department's "eye."
However, Carnival's going to have a problem. Brits won't understand. In the Oxford Dictionary, to which all educated British people subscribe, there is no such word as "funnest."
Guess what word comes closest?
Every time you checked into a hotel and asked about getting on the Internet, the hotel was happy to provide you with an ethernet cable to connect, for a price?
WiFi was available at airports, at a cost that bordered on the ridiculous?
Today, almost every hotel provides free WiFi, if not in the rooms then in the lobby. Today, the diminishing number of airports that charge to let you go online do so for what seems to be a more reasonable fee.
What about cruise ships?
Often vilified for charging an average around 75 cents a minute — cell phones are more (up to $6 a minute) — and that's almost always for slow and often interrupted connections, cruise lines are surely going to have to get with the program. For too long, they have justified what could be described as gouging their customers by pointing out the exorbitant infrastructure required to connect their moving objects with the satellites.
There's a story making the rounds this month about a service that will result in phone calls from cruise ships for about $1 a minute. It's called Connect At Sea, from MTN, the company that provides most cruise ships with satellite transmission, and AT&T. The partnership is called Wireless Maritime Services.
A lot of tekkie talk is involved in the story. The bottom line is you'll have a better connection on your phone from a cruise ship, and it will cost about the same as roaming does on land. Anybody who uses Vonage (as we do) or some other VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) connection will be familiar with the quality.
Meanwhile, will realistic Internet prices be next?
The appetite for it is ravenous. Last week, our colleague Phil Reimer of Ports and Bows attended a press briefing about the first ocean ship for Viking River Cruises and when company owner Torstein Hagen said there would be no charge for Internet on his Viking Star, the applause was deafening.
It seems to be such a sore point with passengers that cruise lines would be better off to build their Internet profits into the price of a ticket. Unless, of course, their profits are even bigger than what we all imagine.
Tags: Alaska, AT&T, Cruise bargains, Cruise deals, Cruises, Holland America, Holland America Zaandam, Internet, Internet cost on ships, Maritime Wireless Services, MTN, Phil Reimer, Ports and Bows, Satellite connections, Torstein Hagen, Viking River Cruises
Having been on Explorer of the Seas, we have five unsolicited suggestions on what to change — and five on what not to change — when this beautiful, 13-year-old ship gets a facelift.
1. Stairway of the Stars: As artwork on ships goes, this is fascinating for our demographic. It was not just photos and artifacts of "stars" like Bruce Springsteen, the McCartneys and The Rolling Stones, it was also items like a self-portrait by Peter Falk and paintings by Herb Alpert.
2. Promenade: It's not likely to change much because it's a staple on Royal Caribbean ships now and it (almost) always gives you an idea exactly where you are on the ship, and it exposes the heart of the ship from several perches on the floors above.
3. Ice Rink: Having an ice rink on a cruise ship is cool and, besides being a double-entendre, that makes it unique in the industry.
4. Quality of food and servers: We ate in the main "My Time" dining room every night on this 9-day cruise…because that's where we wanted to be. The servers — Tankica Gogova and Vivek Golsalves — became friends and the head waiter (Balachandran Sankaranutty) was exceptional. The food was so good we didn't dare take a chance on missing the new items each night.
5. A changing day-of-the-week inserted in carpet in elevator: Hey, it's a small thing, but doesn't everybody forget what day it is when you're on a cruise?
What to change:
1. Spanish omelette on the breakfast menu in the dining room: This creation is eggs, potatoes and onion…no ham, no peppers, no spices. Even in Spain, they call that a potato omelette. One of the staff said "Don't have it" — too late.
2. Room 9514, and any others like it: This room is directly below the bridge, on the starboard side, which is fine. It has an ocean-view window and if you walk over to take a look at the view, anybody over five feet tall is certain to bump your head on the curved ceiling.
3. Internet: Always an issue on cruise ships, this one only had hot spots and, in this day and age, having it everywhere on the ship is becoming the common practice. As an aside, and this doesn't apply just to Explorer of the Seas, don't you wonder if cruise staff who depend on Internet connections, too, have the same slow speed as passengers who pay 75 cents a minute? Just wondering…
4. Televisions: This is certainly a no-brainer, because almost nobody has what one Explorer staffer said his daughter called "fat TVs" nowadays. The fat shall become flat. However, when the renovators get rid of the old TVs, they should make sure that access to CNN doesn't go with them.
5. Window tables for two: For those of us who enjoy "My Time Dining" and who enjoy each other's company because cruising is not a mission to make new friends, getting stuck under a staircase or against the back wall at every meal is unacceptable when there are many tables for four not being used by the windows.
Tags: Alaska, Crew members, Cruise bargains, Cruise deals, Cruise ship crew, Cruises, Dining on ships, Explorer of the Seas, Main dining room, Quantum of the Seas, Rhapsody of the Seas, Royal Caribbean, Ship refurbishing
When a cruise ship visits Vancouver, the jewel that sits between ocean and mountains in British Columbia, it must sail under the Lions Gate Bridge and into Burrard Inlet. No ship has ever been too big to fit under the Lions Gate…
Not so fast.
Celebrity's Solstice will become the biggest ship to visit the Canadian port in 2014…after it undergoes what is being called "minor surgery" to its mast. The options were to skip Vancouver and sail just from Seattle to Alaska, as the Solstice is this year, or to ruin one good mast by running into the bridge deck.
By next summer, the mast will be hinged.
According to Celebrity's Ross Nacht, the Solstice will be "the premier ship to call in Vancouver" and he's right. Next to Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, Royal Caribbean's industry giants, the Solstice Class ranks with the best ships anywhere, if not in size then in class.
Who could imagine that one of them — the flagship nonetheless — would need to be modified because, as one Vancouver newspaper puts it, "Vancouver is so irresistible that a massive cruise ship plans to go under the knife for a chance to spend a little time" there?
Last week, there were countless reports about a young couple who fell (or jumped) from a cruise ship in waters near Australia. In the days that followed, there were no reports that the two people were found, and they were presumed to have drowned.
Every story mentioned they were in a Carnival ship, which is fine, and that Carnival has been "plagued by a series of issues"…or words to that effect, as if the cruise line was somehow responsible because two people disappeared.
On the weekend, two men on a disabled sailboat were rescued in the Atlantic Ocean miles from Bermuda and taken on board a cruise ship that was 35 miles away from the sailboat. The ship diverted from its course to make the night-time rescue and was taking the survivors to its next port, the Azores.
In one case, two people disappear and a cruise ship is implicated, by innuendo. In the other case, two people are rescued at sea. Now be honest…if we hadn't told you, what are the chances you would have even known about the rescue?
PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten — Go ahead. Call us crazy. Unless you think it's normal to go halfway around the world on planes and boats and taxis to see a jet fly over a beach?
For hundreds of cruise passengers in St. Maarten, that's normal.
The beach is Maho Bay, or near Maho Bay. The locals know it well because the tourists want to go there. The beach is at the end of the runway (yes, the only one) at Princess Juliana International Airport. That's the "front" end of the runway, where planes first land or begin to take off.
The beach is across the street. Literally.
Hundreds of passengers from the Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas gather on the beach or in the bar on the beach to wait for the next arrival. Nobody bothers to check a flight schedule. It's the Caribbean way.
Sure enough, here comes a jet and…whoosh…just like that's flown over your head faster than the shutter speed of your camera, which inevitably misses the mark. No problem. Wait for the next jet. Whoosh again…empty air again.
This is billed as "the closest you'll ever come to a plane in flight without being on the plane" and it is hard to imagine being any closer. Big and small, the planes look like they're going to land on the beach or, worse yet, you. The jets are especially low because by the time they're going to touch down — right there on the other side of the road — they have to be low.
The site of this world-wide moment is about a half hour from Philipsburg, capital of the Dutch half of the island known as St. Maarten in the south and Saint-Martin in the north, which is French. That's half an hour by bus, which costs $2, or one-tenth the price of lunch when you get there.
It's for curiosity-seekers and thrill-seekers alike. The curious are, well, us. The thrill-seekers stand on the beach, which is to say behind the jets, as they take off. One woman allegedly was badly hurt when she gripped the wire fence at the start of the runway — right there, across the street — and was blown away as a jet was taking off.
On this day, the thrill-seekers and their belongings were only blown across the beach and into the water. There was only one injury.
"I'll never do that again," said the middle-aged thrill-seeker. "I just got sand-blasted."
And he probably flew, sailed and drove just to have it happen.
The Norwegian Breakaway arrives in Bermuda today, its first port on its first cruise, and we're hoping Richard Janicki is on the ship.
Who's Richard Janicki?
He is a Norwegian employee, a hotel director, whom we happened to meet when we were last on the Epic. He's an interesting guy and — here's the reason we hope he's on the Breakaway as expected — he has paid his dues.
As a boy in France, he wanted to work in a hotel. He did, and cooked twice for Queen Elizabeth II…the woman, not the ship. His surname sounds as French as Wilson or Smith or Jones and he lives in his "paradise" — Greece. He has worked, as a volunteer, at seven Olympic Games.
Is that interesting enough?
"Usually, the boys, they want to be a firemen, you know," says Janicki, who was scheduled to work on the Breakaway's inaugural cruise this week. "I always wanted to work in the hotel industry when I was a kid…cooking and all that. You are quite fortunate when you are young and you know want you want to do."
"I was a chef there," he says. "I cooked for the Queen of England twice. I make one dish for her…lobster salad. She just came for dinner. She was on a night out with her husband, that's all it was. Not formal. She was out on a date. The second time, the hotel was celebrating its 21st birthday and when you reach 21 years of age in England, it's a big deal. We brought in chefs from around the world during the year and on that week it was Chef Miko Lee from Tokyo and since he spoke more French than English, I was assigned to work with him the entire week, and she came the second time to eat from the menu of Chef Miko Lee."
Working at the Berkeley was one circumstance that would shape Janicki's career. The Olympics was another, beginning in Albertville, with the Winter Games of 1992.
"They were looking for volunteers and I applied," says Janicki, who has worked on cruise ships for 17 years, the last 13 with Norwegian. "My sister and my brother were in Lens, and they volunteered. At the Olympics, I worked for a group that catered to VIPs, in hospitality. You learn a lot of things there. Cooking was my major but I worked in dining rooms and bars, a lot of logistics…accounting, because you need to learn about these things. You never know if you're going to work on a cruise ship one day or if you're going to own your own restaurant, so you need to be a good accountant, too."
After Albertville, there were Summer Games in Barcelona (1992), Atlanta (1996) and Athens (2004), and Winter Games in Lillehammer (1994), Nagano (1998) and Torino (2006). Some of those experiences surface on cruise ships today.
He elaborates this way:
"Sometimes I explain to the crew when things have to happen right now…it's like a 100-meter race. They have billions of people watching on TV, and more in the stadium, and the race is going to happen right now. So the guy with the gun who starts the race, the gun has to work. And the guy with the chrono, the chrono has to work because it takes less than 10 seconds, and you don't have a re-take, like a movie.
"When guests come on the cruise, they save money all their life to buy a cruise for their anniversary or they're honeymooners, and it's their first time cruising. It's irrelevant how good we were the cruise before, or how good we're going to be for the cruise the next week. We have to be good for them right now, because that's their time — right now. And people will judge you on that because it's their cruise right now. You cannot spoil that and say, 'Well, sorry, we'll do better next time.'"
This week, that means the Breakaway's inaugural guests.
Tags: Alaska, Berkeley Hotel, Crew members, Cruise bargains, Cruise deals, Cruise ship crew, Cruises, Holland America, Holland America Zaandam, Norwegian, Norwegian Epic, Olympic Games, Queen Elizabeth, Richard Janicki
A cruise ship slipped out of a port quietly this week, or as quietly as a cruise ship can slip away from anywhere, and the reactions ranged from "Good riddance" to "Sorry you're leaving."
The ship was the Carnival Triumph. That's the much-maligned Carnival Triumph. More than any cruise ship this side of the Costa Concordia, it has turned the word "Carnival" into something of an acronym for cruise trouble.
The litany of Carnival events is well-known.
The Splendor caught fire off the coast of California, stranding passengers for days. The Concordia, a disaster which took more than 30 lives, was lumped into the morass because Costa is owned by Carnival. The Carnival Dream broke down in St. Maarten (mechanical malfunction). The Carnival Fascination flunked a cleanliness test. Just this week, two people went missing from a Carnival ship in Australia.
In the midst of all this was the inappropriately named Triumph.
It spent five days floating in the Gulf of Mexico after being disabled by fire, and was towed to Mobile, Alabama, with more than 3,000 passengers on board. That was in February. A month later, high winds broke the moorings and it drifted across the river. A few weeks ago, there was an explosion on a fuel barge where the Triumph was being repaired, and three people were critically injured.
One traveler told TV station WALA: "I didn't want to get too close to it. Sounds like it is bad luck to me."
A Mobile resident told the station it was about time.
The flip side is that Mobile had a cruise ship again, albeit a disabled one, and for 36 days it provided revenue for the city coffers. The workers spent money just being there, and Carnival will pay an estimated $100,000 for docking fees. The visual impact of a ship in the otherwise vacant cruise terminal has city officials optimistic about the return of cruising to Mobile.
Meanwhile, the Triumph is now (or about to be) in the Bahamas for some cosmetic surgery before it returns to full service in Galveston next month.
The ship can't afford another incident. Nor can Carnival.
Tomorrow, the Norwegian Breakaway embarks on a pre-inaugural cruise. That's a cruise for travel agents and media, to give them a change to preview the new ship.
On Sunday, it's the inaugural cruise. The first time the general public has a chance to sail on the ship. The breaking of the Breakaway's maiden, as it were. An opportunity to say you were on the first cruise out of New York, its permanent home.
Sold out, right?
At the end of the business day yesterday in New York, you could still buy a place on Sunday's inaugural 7-day cruise to Bermuda and back, for $999. Or you can stay in an ocean-view room for $1,029…or a balcony stateroom for $1,449. In fact, there seems to be no shortage of opportunities to book passage on a cruise that leaves in three days. Only suites are sold out.
All of this comes from Norwegian's website, so it raises a few questions.
Did Norwegian price its inaugural sailing on the Breakaway too high?
A 7-night Bermuda cruise on the Celebrity Summit from Cape Liberty, also on Sunday, starts at $549 and for $999 (the starting price on Breakaway) you can book a Concierge Class balcony with a handful of extras.
Is there less of a buzz about the new ship than anticipated?
The Breakaway christening ceremony was in New York yesterday morning. CruiseCritic was there, USA Today was there, Associated Press was there…not to mention The Rockettes, Geoffrey Zakarian, Mayor Bloomberg and even Cardinal Timothy Dolan, to bless the ship.
But in New York?
The only story on the Times' website about the Breakaway is more than three months old. A search of the New York Post website for "Norwegian Breakaway" returned 0 results. At the Daily News…a Breakaway announcement from 2011.
Today's papers/newspaper websites may have mentions of yesterday's christening ceremony. None of that, however, is likely to put heads in beds by Sunday.
Tags: Christening, Cruise bargains, Cruise deals, Cruise ships, Cruises, Holland America, Holland America Ryndam, New cruise ships, Norwegian, Norwegian Breakaway, Ship christening ceremonies, Transatlantic cruises
There's an interesting law being enacted in Alaska (yes, another one) this year that could impact the cruise industry. Specifically, it could impact how much your cruise costs to visit the 49th state.
It has to do with clean (and more expensive) fuel, and it can get a bit complex, so we'll give you the quick and dirty (no pun intended) version:
1. Since last August, cargo carriers and cruise ships must use low-sulphur fuel within 200 miles of U.S. and Canadian shores (the first full cruise season since then has just begun for Alaska).
2. Further emission cuts will kick in over the next seven years.
3. The Cruise Lines International Association says: "the increased costs translate into fewer cruise-ship visitors" who are initially having to pay an average of $88 more per ticket.
4. The Environmental Protection Agency says the CLIA complaints are like "having a houseguest who leaves all of his trash in your yard and then complains when you ask him to pick it up."
5. The state is suing to prevent the restrictions from being enforced.
6. Offsetting the $3.2 billion it will cost to implement the process, the EPA estimates the health benefits could be up to $110 billion by 2020.
Now all of this sounds like a legitimate case of two sides agreeing to disagree on the pros and cons…until you get to the last point.
Health benefits of $110 billion?
How does anybody come up with that?
Tags: Alaska, Alaska cruises, CLIA, Cruise bargains, Cruise deals, Cruises, Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental responsibility, Fuel costs, Mediterranean cruise, Princess cruise, Ruby Princess