Just when you think you've heard of all the possible perks for buying passage on a cruise, along comes a new one.
This is from Princess Cruises and, while the booking date is past, it will be interesting to see if it comes up again. If it does, that means passengers liked it.
For five Caribbean cruises in January, on the Sapphire Princess and Ruby Princess, the cruise line offered typical extras like on-board credits ($25), cabin upgrades and bottles of vino (one per cabin). But here's the eye-catching part:
100 per cent of the fare can be applied to a future cruise.
Talk about a free (except taxes) cruise!
Could it happen again?
The fight to cruise Cuba is on and the battleground, which may or may not surprise you, is Florida.
As the U.S. and the Communist country 90 miles from its southernmost shore inch towards normalizing relations, Florida sees some of its cruise stakes slipping away, like fragments of driftwood floating into the Gulf of Mexico.
While they aren't exactly hot ports of the industry, both have enough of a cruise-ship presence that if it should go away, there would be an impact on each's economy. While places like Miami and Fort Lauderdale are clearly poised to send
-Henryk Kotowski photo
ships full of passengers to Cuba, the concerns of Tampa and Key West have nothing to do with their geographical desirability, which both have with regards to Cuba.
It has to do with ships.
In Tampa, the port is not equipped to handle the biggest cruise ships, and when Cuba is finally on-limits you can anticipate there will be a rush. (As an aside, there has been talk of Tampa being the northern terminus for ferry service from Cuba.) Tampa's ineligibility for cruise ships is tied to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which isn't high enough. If you can believe it, government officials are looking at raising the bridge!
In Key West, a frequent port on many Caribbean cruises, the concern is that it will be replaced by Havana and other Cuban ports less than 100 miles away. So it's "problem" is being "attractive" beyond making channels wider and deeper, although that's part of the equation. Can Key West compete with Cuba…when the time comes?
-Antônio Milena:ABr photo
Meanwhile, to the West, Florida's "enemy" for Cuban business is lurking. Mobile, New Orleans, Galveston and Houston right now are better equipped to serve Cuba with larger ships than either Tampa or Key West.
With friendlier relations between the countries inevitable, the clock is ticking for two Florida ports.
Those of us who have never had to cope with a physical disability can sometimes lose sight of how difficult it can be just to get through life…an oversight that usually lasts only until we see someone struggling. If you've been on a cruise, just stop and think about how you would do everything from a wheelchair.
Getting on the ship, there are ramps. Even before ramps, there could be steps to negotiate if you happen to be in a port without wheelchair accessibility (few that they may be). Even with ramps, there are bumps that the rest of us merely step over. Then there are narrow hallways to negotiate, not to mention narrow doorways, both to the stateroom and the bathroom.
As it happens, we have had both relatives and close friends who have faced these challenges on cruise ships. One of them just returned from back-to-back, one-week Caribbean cruises, and here's what he said: "The scooter I rented from Care Vacations was a godsend." This is not a commercial.
In Europe these days, they're making a big deal of improving accessibility on cruises for disabled people, news that seems to be directed at European cruise lines. Our experience — both from observing and from friends — is that much of what they're promising to do in Europe has already been implemented by cruise lines on this side of the Atlantic.
Nobody keeps score of these things, and nobody should. What matters is that improvements are being made by the cruise industry to benefit disabled people, and every improvement is to be celebrated.
By all of us.
• In Mexico, an 84-year-old male cruise passenger disembarks from a Norwegian ship in Cozumel to go on a shore excursion, gets strapped under parasail and goes airborne from the back of a speedboat before landing on the beach while his 50-something children watch in horror.
• A 62-year-old woman who can't swim and who is afraid of heights gets off the Coral Princess cruise ship and climbs onto a float plane — in the co-pilot's seat yet — and flies to the top of Alaska's Mount McKinley, landing on a glacier where she spends 15 minutes frolicking in the snow.
• In Costa Rica, during a Caribbean cruise a 90-year-old great-grandmother leaves the ship on a shore excursion that takes her into the jungle and onto one of the zip lines for which that country is famous, despite the fact she has led a life which also brought her heart attacks, strokes and pneumonia.
Gone are the days of nodding off in the library while deep into a hardcover, or having high tea on the deck, or playing cards or one of the board games that
This old-acting-young phenomenon should probably be blamed on the Bushes, who get blamed for everything it seems. The former President Bush (41, not 43) celebrated his 85th birthday four years ago by jumping out of a plane and letting gravity take him to 100 miles an hour before landing safely on the ground in Maine.
"Just because you're an old guy, you don't have to sit around drooling in the corner," Bush said. "Get out and do something. Get out and enjoy life."
More cruise passengers than ever feel the same way.
Tags: Alaska, Coral Princess, Costa Rica, Cruise bargains, Cruise deals, Cruise demographics, Cruises, Glaciers, Mediterranean cruise, Mexico, Norwegian, Norwegian Cruises, Norwegian Jade, Parasailing, President George Bush, Shore excursions, Skydiving, US Presidents
Going to China isn't something that's ever made it onto our Bucket List but if it did, could there be a more appealing way to go than on a river cruise?
There are many choices, and one of them caught our eyes this week because it seems somewhat affordable, which river cruises often aren't for the average traveler, from Viking Cruises.
How does this sound?
A 13-day cruisetour called Imperial Jewels of China at the end of February, from Shanghai to Beijing for $3,000 per person. That's about $230 a day and it includes 11 guided tours to many places a first-time tourist would like to see — The Great Wall, Three Gorges Dam, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square — in addition to all the usual accoutrements like a balcony room, just about all meals, two nights in upscale hotels, two Intra-China flights.
The ship is the Viking Emerald and, yes, of course you also have to fly to China. Viking's got a deal on that, too — $797, a 2-for-1 offer that applies on flights from Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle.
Add it all up and you can spend 13 days seeing China for under $3,800 per person. Viking's regular price for all this is $8,595.
Are we going?
Can't make it this time…we have a commitment in Washington DC the day the cruise ends.
But it just might go on the bucket list after all.
Tags: Asia Cruises, China, China cruises, Cruise bargains, Cruise deals, Cruises, Great Wall of China, Holland America, Panama Canal, River cruise itineraries, River cruises, River cruising, Veendam, Viking Emerald, Viking River Cruises
This one's for carnies. Not the people who coax you into trying to toss a ring around the neck of a Coke bottle or deflate a balloon with a dart to win a four-inch stuffed pig for the little one in your family…but the people who make Carnival their cruise line of choice.
The dictionary defines carnies as employees of a Carnival, but what do dictionaries know anyway? Every cruise line has its loyalists, so Carnival's are going to be Carnies, for better or for worse.
This news is for them…
Because Carnies have been asked for their feedback on food, the cruise line is floating a change in concept for dinner. Actually, two concepts. One is calledAmerican Table, the other American Feast. More than anything, it appears to be an attempt at branding Carnival's food offerings, the way many cruise lines do with styles of eateries.
Carnival's doing it with menus in the dining rooms of four ships: Glory now, Liberty in January, Imagination and Inspiration in February. If it's a success — and that's where you Carnies can continue to have a say — the concepts will blanket the entire 23-ship line by the end of 2015.
American Table is being offered on Cruise Casual nights, which is most of them, and will feature an "exceptional American cuisine" like a modern restaurant with menus that the patrons designed. The entrees are being inspired by the ports of call…most of which are in the Caribbean.
American Feast is simply kicking it up a notch. It's scheduled for Cruise Elegant nights, once or twice a voyage. No mention of black ties and long gowns, because such things are rarely in the luggage of Carnival cruisers, but Carnival is promising a "more elegant, more elaborate" style of serving. That will be reflected in the menus (mojito cured ham, broiled Maine lobster, etc.) and it's safe to assume if you did wear a black tie, you would be more than welcome.
In the final analysis, Carnival is saying the decision to take American Table and American Feast fleet-wide will be made by its people.
Yes, the Carnies.
Tags: Azamara, Azamara Quest, Carnival, Carnival Glory, Carnival Inspiration, Carnival Liberty, Cruise bargains, Cruise Casual Nights, Cruise deals, Cruise Elegant Nights, Cruises, Dining on ships, Imagina, Main dining room, Mexican Riviera, Specialty dining
It's true that we've always had a soft spot for Norwegian, the cruise line that brought us back on board many years ago, following an unhappy cruise which chased us away. Having said that, if you twisted our arms and asked us to pick the "leading cruise line" we can't tell you it would be Norwegian.
Nor could we say it wouldn't be Norwegian.
On Saturday, at the World Travel Awards, Norwegian was decorated as the "World's Leading Large Ship Cruise Line" for the second year in a row.
Obviously many travel agents and travelers say so. As you well know, such choices are subjective and the fact Norwegian has been voted "Europe's Leading Cruise Line" for six years running (also by World Travel) and the "Caribbean's Leading Cruise Line" is both consistent and impressive.
The reality is that we've been on most of the major cruise lines, and separating one from the other is tough. So much depends on which ship you're on, when you go, what the weather's like…
Having said that, Norwegian is unique. What appealed to us, and what continues to be one of the basic attractions, is the Freestyle Dining concept. We have been known to have dinner at four o'clock, and also at 10 o'clock. Clearly, our bodies – or at least our stomachs – are not on a tight schedule. Many passengers like the rigidity of dinner at precisely the same time every night. We don't and, judging from Norwegian's widespread appeal, we're not alone.
There's more to like about this cruise line than Freestyle Dining, of course. Ask 100 of the people with World Travel ballots and you might get 100 different answers.
Every year, the experts (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more commonly known as NOAA) make projections for the "hurricane season" — how many are anticipated, how many will graduate (?) from being just tropical storms, and how many of those will have names (that's bad).
And every year, as your guardians of all things that have anything to do with cruising, we relay that information to you at cruisingdoneright.com.
Until this year.
The projections for 2013 were bad. It was going to be the worst year in history, or at least a long time, whichever was shorter. Between 7 and 11 hurricanes, 13 to 20 tropical storms with names. Three or four hurricanes could be Cat 4, which is not a name but a strength. The lower the better.
Guess what happened?
Two storms with a name. Thirteen tropical depressions. Only one made it to land. Great year, the best since '82, or a generation-plus. The U.S. Air Force Reserve flew 435 hurricane re-con missions, the fewest since 1966.
Now we'd like to tell you that in our spare time we spend a lot of time looking into crystal balls and reading palms, and that the reason we didn't write anything about hurricanes in 2013 is that because we knew there wouldn't be any. But that's not true.
If it were, we would be crystal ball gazing and palm reading, not writing about cruise ships and cruise people.
Maybe next year…
Over the years, we've known a couple of couples who have been married twice. To each other. That's the same bride and the same groom…twice. One second wedding lasted, and one didn't.
In cruise vernacular, that analogy could compare to the Oceania Insignia.
At birth, she was called R One, an unimaginative name for one of the Renaissance ships that all went on to bigger and better things with new names and new owners (spouses, if you will). When R One was five, she became the Insignia, a member of Oceania's Regatta Class. By the time she was in her teens, Insignia changed her name to Columbus 2.
And now, still only 15 (much older in ship years), she's soon to be Insignia again.
After Renaissance Cruises ceased to exist, she was a workhorse for more than eight years for Oceania, with R siblings Regatta and Nautica, helping to establish the brand, which the owners like to call "upper premium."
When the cruise line brought in newer, more modern ships called Marina and Riviera, the economics were such that it made sense to farm out the old girl, Insignia. So off she went to Hapag-Lloyd — that's the name of a small cruise line — and she's been toiling there for almost two years as Columbus 2.
Next spring, they'll strip off that painted name and — while giving her a second facelift, which in the ship world is called a refurbishment — they'll decorate her with "Insignia" again (Insignia 2 maybe?). She'll split her first year back between Europe and the Caribbean, as many ships do, and then she'll be sent around the world in 180 days.
The first such cruise leaves Miami in January 2015, the second in July 2015. The first sold out in eight days, the second goes on sale next week. So Insignia's more popular than ever.
This time, it looks like she and Oceania are in it for the long haul, maybe until their Golden Years.
Now we know that Taylor liked them.
He's going back for a reprise, as they say, next August. His appearance — it includes two Taylor concerts — will coincide with the 20th anniversary of the ship's arrival. So Happy Birthday from Sweet Baby James.
"In 2009, we realized a collective dream using that passage to transport and rehearse for our European summer tour: band, crew and family — kit and caboodle," he said in a press release. "It’s such a civilized way to go, and Queen Mary 2 is the last word in first-class travel."
Taylor may have been born at night, but not last night, as they also say. His band was transported to Europe for a summer tour at no cost, thanks to Cunard. His tour schedule for 2014 hasn't been posted yet, except that he's in Massachusetts in July for two concerts…and Massachusetts isn't far from where the Queen Mary 2 will depart, which is New York.
As icons go, Taylor is amazing.
It has been 43 years since Sweet Baby James, which was his second album but the one that skyrocketed him to fame. He has sold 100 million albums even though he hasn't made one in 11 years, and he is in both the Rock and Roll and Songwriters halls of fame. He has been decorated by countries on both sides of the ocean he'll cross next August and he joins a long list of prestigious musical performers Cunard has enlisted to entertain guests.
He's 65 and not ready for retirement, which has never been mandatory for performers, and he clearly has reached the age and sentiment with which many cruise passengers can identify. Asked about sailing across the ocean, he uttered four words that echo the love people have for Transatlantic crossings.
"Hallelejuah…no jet lag!"