Bob & Nancy on December 1st, 2015

Sushi, meet pizza. Saki, meet cappuccino. Geisha, meet Sophia.

That’s the short way of saying Japan is going to get a taste of Italy, courtesy of Costa Cruises. This 67-year-old cruise line is dedicated to being Italian, even when its ships are as far away as northern Asia, and to that end Costa will operate 10 six-night cruises in Japan next year.

The Costa Victoria, by then 20 years old, has been dressed up to look like an energetic kid. An $18-million refurbishing can do that. In fact, when she’s cruising from Maizuru, Kanazawa and Fukuoka next summer, the kids (13 and under) on board will be there free of charge.

The Victoria is known to Japanese cruisers, but only as a visitor, making port stops from China. Now she will have itineraries that focus on short family retreats, because her time in CostaJapan is during summer breaks and holidays — peak travel time. And while the itineraries will be around Japan, but for a quick trip to South Korea (Pusan), the ship will be all Italian.

That’s the Costa way.

The ship, like its 13 Costa siblings, is designed for Italians, or people who wish they were, or want to see what it would be like to be Italian. That means the elegant (some might say) loud colors, the cuisine (oops, a French word), the wine, the gregarious nature and always-smiling faces of the crew, and the…well, the Italian way.

You don’t have to drink Chianti and have spumoni for dessert, but it might help.

More than 60 per cent of the Italian people who cruise do so on Costa ships, so you know everything has to be “the Italian way.” Other Europeans must like it because they make up another 30 per cent of the Costa clientele. North Americans like a little of Italy on the waters, because three Costa ships are now in the Caribbean.

About the only thing that’s not Italian on Costa ships is the language. It’s English. Well, with a little Italian on the side.

In the news…

• It’s official: ‘Margaritaville At Sea’ will have a-la-carte menus
• Def Leppard to headline 4-night cruise from Miami on MSC Divina
• Grand Princess loses power after small engine-room fire near Hawaii

Today at portsandbows.comUn-Cruise Adventures time

Costa Deliziosa
10 nights
January 16, 2016
Fort Lauderdale (return): Freeport, Amber Cove, Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman, Roatan, Cozumel
Inside: $699
Cost per day: $82

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Bob & Nancy on November 30th, 2015

With each day, and each violent activity often linked to terrorism, reasonable people who like to travel get even more reasonable. Or concerned. Or paranoid. Or even scared.

Pick an adverb. The uncertainty of traveling abroad — be it in one direction to Europe or in the other to Asia — understandably may leave North Americans more likely to pick a cruise ship departing and returning to a North American port. Not that there are any guarantees that doing so will keep you from being an unsuspecting victim of terrorism.

But even seasoned travelers are at least having second thoughts. Why fly internationally to get on a cruise if you can fly domestically, or better yet drive or take ground transportation to a port of departure?

This is good (okay, more comforting) news for cruise lines with ships that primarily visit the Caribbean, or assorted other warm-weather spots in the Western Hemisphere. Since a Caribbean cruise still out-ranks all others, that would be most of them, yet many have shifted their investments — and some of their ships — to Asia the last couple of years, which in today’s world could mean counting on a local (Asian) clientele.

For North Americans, there is no shortage of options. A quick count shows that there are 21 cruise homeports in this continent: Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Port Canaveral, Tampa, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Galveston, Houston, Charleston, Baltimore, Norfolk, Bayonne, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Anchorage, Boston, San Diego, Seattle, Montreal.

So if you’re an avid cruiser who’s reluctant to fly afar to get to a ship, pick a port.

You may find many kindred spirits.

In the news…

• Two biggest ships (both Royal Caribbean) in southern hemisphere meeting in Sydney

Today at portsandbows.comChristmas markets with Viking in Europe

Norwegian Getaway
7 nights
December 13, 2015
Miami (return): Great Stirrup Cay, Ocho Rios, George Town, Cozumel
Inside: $649
Cost per day: $92

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Bob & Nancy on November 27th, 2015

You meet lots and lots of nice people who work on cruise ships and often we — like you — take photos of them. Almost all of the captains we’ve met have been warm, interesting individuals and often that’s reflected in their staffs. Today we’re introducing you to some of the nicest crew members we’ve met, no matter their position, and you may notice they are all men. That’s because earlier in our Friday Files we did a spread on the nicest female crew members we’ve encountered. Men, after all, do deserve equal billing…


Saravan Krishnan, who is from Mumbai, was an outstanding sommelier on the Celebrity Millennium and now has a similar position on Qatar Air, a job that keeps him closer to his young family.

2-RC-Dr. Mejia

We’ll always have a soft spot for Dr. Ricardo Mejia from Cartagena, Colombia, as much for his personable nature and caring as for his expertise when one of us was sick on Allure of the Seas.


Eduardo Angulo Solis was planning to leave the Crown Princess as a sommelier to start his own wine tourism business where grapes are a staple, Chile, and calls it Wines and Barrels.

4-RC-Saul Lance

Room stewards are all over the map, and from all over the map, and the engaging Saul Lance came to Royal Caribbean from St. Vincent and he brought the perfect personality with him.


Not our favorite picture (bad camera) but Dollerage Soares — now retired from cruising in Mumbai — is right at the top of our favorite dining-room waiters, and we’ve had many of them.


Okan Bilir is from Turkey and was maitre d’ at Celebrity’s specialty restaurant The Olympic, and he wanted us to visit him in his country, which years later is in the midst of turmoil and terrorism.


We’ve always had an affinity for people of Italian heritage and Maitre d’Hotel Giorgio Pisano, who took us on a Princess kitchen tour, became the latest to join our list of friendly Italians.

In the news…

• Happy Black Friday!

Today at portsandbows.comSports and recreation on Harmony of the Seas

Carnival Ecstasy
4 nights
January 11, 2016
Miami (return): Key West, Cozumel
Inside: $189
Cost per day: $47

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Bob & Nancy on November 26th, 2015

AllureIf you’re wondering what became of Turkey Thursday, well, it was long ago gobbled up by Black Friday. Four or five centuries ago, it was the holiday with a singular purpose: to give thanks, be grateful.

Today is about parades and football games and, most of all, shopping. It is the busiest day of the year in malls and online, so great are the deals. Black Friday even exists in Canada, where Thanksgiving was celebrated six weeks ago, as it always is on the first Monday of October.

Did somebody say deals? Nothing attracts a crowd of cruisers faster than a bargain. Most of them are on ships from the mainstream cruise lines, which have the capacity to make a big deal about big deals, such as…

Carnival will take you on a 6-night Caribbean cruise for less than $50 per day if you book it tomorrow. Wait until Saturday and it jumps to $65 per day.

Princess is calling it the biggest sale of the year, up to $300 off the cruise and $300 off airfare, per person. In fact, it’s such a “big deal” that Princess is just starting it on Black Friday and keeping it alive until December 8.

DivinaMSC, trying to get established in the Caribbean with its newest ship (the Divina), kicks off a Black Friday sale today with 7-night cruises for just over $50 per day.

You won’t get on a Royal Caribbean ship for that price but you will get on Allure of the Seas, for just over $100 a day…and that is a deal.

Norwegian’s offer is complex. Book a cruise 30 days or more in advance and pick one of four offers: 250 minutes of Wi-Fi, a specialty dining package, a beverage package or $50 off shore excursions in every port. A week-long promotion, it ends Monday.

Even in jolly ol’ England, which celebrates this type of thing with a September harvest, Black Friday is taking root — its most famous cruise line, Cunard, has a weekend offer called “The Ultimate Upgrade.”

It used to be that the ultimate upgrade was cranberries on the turkey, and whipped cream the pumpkin pie!

In the news…

• No more overnights in Istanbul for Celebrity Reflection, Equinox
• Five P&O Australia ships in Sydney Harbor to celebrate the latest two
• Celebrity expands culinary enrichment program to include Cuban dishes

Today at portsandbows.comFavourite river port getting crowded

Holland America Eurodam
7 nights
January 3, 2016
Fort Lauderdale (return): Half Moon Cay, Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman, Key West
Inside: $449
Cost per day: $64

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Bob & Nancy on November 25th, 2015

Ho Chi Minh-1

Going on cruises has led us to do things in life that are out of character. One was during an Alaska cruise with Princess…being afraid of heights and then taking a helicopter onto North America’s tallest mountain, Denali.

Ho Chi Minh-2The most recent was after a river cruise with AmaWaterways…taking a scooter rider with two complete strangers on a street corner in Ho Chi Minh City, as Saigon has been called since 1976.

Actually, they were two scooter rides. One on the “back seat” of one Huynh brother scooter; one in the same place behind the other brother.

We’d just walked out of The Independence Palace, formerly the headquarters of the South Vietnamese government before it fell and North Vietnamese tanks rolled onto the palace grounds on April 30, 1975. The Hunyh brothers were waiting for us…or anybody else daring enough to go touring with them.

For whatever reason, we agreed to go. For whatever reason, we (obviously) made it back safe and sound.

There’s always been a tendency in our household to shy away from street vendors who want to take you “somewhere.” Not only did we throw that theory out the window, we didn’t even know where “somewhere” was, only that they were going to show us Saigon, as it’s still known to people of our vintage, both in and out of Vietnam.

These were two of the 9 or 10 million people (it depends who you ask) in Ho Chi Minh City, taking us on two of the 7 million scooters. One of us thought it was safer than trying to cross the street, and that seemed like sound rationale to the other.

Off we went with the brothers Hunyh.

What became a 90-minute trip to see the city through the eyes of locals, the first stop was the post office. That’s right, the post office. Either locals are proud of its French Ho Chi Minh-PO2architecture or they think it’s something tourists want to see, but the post offices in our world are places we go to mail things. Period. Nonetheless, this one was beautiful, and adorned with a huge picture of the country’s patriarch, Ho Chi Minh.

We had a glimpse of the cathedral down the street that was not open, and running commentary (make that riding commentary) about a variety of sights along the way and the life of the two brothers: Both are married, one for the second time and one for 24 years to a woman who “I love forever.”

Next stop was the Viet Cong Museum, also closed, but with enough artifacts on the grounds to take it interesting. One of the Hunyhs insisted we climb onto a Viet Cong tank, Ho Chi Minh-VCan act which we suspect would not have been met with much of an endorsement had the still-Communist government’s officials been around.

The last stop was a famous pagoda — the brothers are Buddhists — that was a particularly busy place this day because it had something to do with fertility, so most of the occupants were women who wanted to make sure the stars were aligned and the gods were Ho Chi Minh-Pagoda-2smiling. We stayed there longer than expected (nothing to do with fertility), watching people light incense and pray while getting an elaborate explanation of everything in and outside the temple, including a 70-year-old turtle in a cage that would have infuriated Ho Chi Minh-4animal rights people in North America.

Since we were paying them by the hour, we could only surmise why the last stop took so long. The price was 300,000 dong per hour (Vietnamese currency), per person, which isn’t nearly as much as it looks. For an hour and a half, that was almost a million dong.

Or $45.

All things considered, it was money well spent. The brothers Huynh were delightful, polite and trustworthy. We’d probably have paid that just for the scooter ride — or to get across the street without being run over!

In the news…

• Four new shuttle buses dedicated to cruiser passengers in Port of Galveston
• Arrival of Anthem of the Seas kicks off cruise season in Puerto Rico
• TUI Cruises to send new Mein Schiff 6 to U.S. and Canada in 2017

Today at
Scenic going deep into Southeast Asia

Norwegian Spirit
14 nights
April 23, 2016
Port Canaveral (return): St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Funchal, Barcelona
Inside: $829
Cost per day: $59

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Bob & Nancy on November 24th, 2015

There was an announcement from Santa Clarita, California yesterday and when cruise announcements come from this pretty city north of Los Angeles, that almost certainly means Princess Cruises has something to say.

What Princess had to say yesterday was that people who want to cruise on its new ship, the Majestic Princess, can now start to make plans. That the cruise line’s first ship in three years, since the Regal Princess, will spend its first (2017) summer in Europe, which is always a nice place to spend your summer. That passengers will be able to choose from 64 itineraries, 153 departures, 27 countries and Mediterranean cruises from five to 28 days. And that bookings can be made next Thursday, December 3.

Good stuff.

But the most interesting part of the announcement, at least in our corner of the cruise Majestic Princessworld, was that Princess ships — or at least this one — will be staying longer in ports. Overnights, even.

This is one of the growing trends for ocean ships, picking up on what river ships have long been doing…and, yes, that is a different game for many reasons. Over the past couple of years, cruise lines have started to schedule more late-night departures and some overnight stays because…surprise, surprise…the passengers like them.

How many times have you been in an interesting city and felt that your visit was being cut short because last call for the ship was four o’clock in the afternoon, which meant you probably had to start heading there at three? How many times have you wished you could have dinner and not lunch at one of the local restaurants, perhaps recommended by a local? How many times have you thought it would be nice to stay for a theatrical performance or a sports event that started after you were back at sea?

Princess is getting more into the game.

The Majestic Princess (or its seaworthy siblings) will, in a program called More Ashore, offer passengers a chance to stay in 15 European countries until 9 p.m. or later…defeating the theory that the only people on cruise ships are old, tired and in bed by dark. It will also be staying overnight in places such as Dublin, Stockholm and St. Petersburg.

So this was not only news from Santa Clarita yesterday…it was good news.

In the news…

• Record year of cruising expected for New South Wales
• Cunard’s ‘The Ultimate Upgrade’ available until November 30
• Ponant’s evacuated Le Boreal being towed to shore after fire

Today at portsandbows.comCrystal Cruises more up in the air

Celebrity Summit
7 nights
Jan 9, 2016
San Juan (return): Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Maarten, St. Thomas
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78

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Bob & Nancy on November 23rd, 2015

Playa Potrero-2

One of the nice things about cruising is that when you stop in a country for the first time, it gives you a sense of whether you might like to go back. A taster, as it were.

Graven&TeaganIt happened to us with Costa Rica.

While cruising on the Norwegian Sun, we first visited Costa Rica when the ship made a port stop at Puntarenas, on the Gulf of Nicola and about 60 miles due west of San Jose (the capital). While our visit was typically short — cruise stops seldom exceed eight hours — we made a mental note that this was a country we’d like to see again.

Last week, we did….but we’d be lying if we didn’t admit a little coaxing from a cute 4-year-old granddaughter had something to do with it, too.

We went to a part of the country (Playa Potrero, whose residents include our two new best friends, Walter and Graven), to a place unlikely to ever see a cruise ship, unless it’s with high-powered binoculars as one passes in the waters of the Pacific. It’s beach country, in the north-west area known as Guanacaste. If you’ve never heard of Playa Tamarindo and Playa Coco and Playa Grande, get ready to…judging by the number of expats who have already discovered it.

While Costa Rica typically has — like most tropical countries — a rainy season, this part of the country does not. Well, okay, it gets Version 2less rain. In the winter (December to May), it gets almost no rain. In fact, the green landscape turns brown and locals call it a desert, and not because of its sandy beaches.

It’s a long drive from San Jose or Puntarenas. Mind you, sometimes it’s a long drive from village to village in this welcoming tourist destination. You get there by flying to Liberia (not that one!) and driving for roughly an hour. A growing number of airlines now include Liberia on flight schedules.

However, with our passion for boating, we needed more than beaches.

That’s where Walter and Graven come into the picture. They were co-captains of our “ship” — probably an 18-foot skiff that took us (our family of five) snorkeling. Since we’d never gone snorkeling from a cruise ship, it was a welcome alternative as experiences go, but not nearly as welcoming as Walter (the pineapple man), Graven (sharing a thumbs-up) and assorted full-time residents who reap the benefits of the tourist industry.

Without the Norwegian Sun, we may never have met.

Version 2

In the news…

• Tiffany’s boutique opens in Central Park on Oasis of the Seas
• Crystal Symphony makes maiden call at Santo Domingo
• TV’s Jeff Corwin on Panama Canal cruise with Windstar

Today at portsandbows.comArles, Avignon get A’s in France

Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas
9 nights
December 10, 2015
Tampa (return): Key West, St. Maarten, San Juan, Labadee
Oceanview: $739
Cost per day: $82

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Bob & Nancy on November 20th, 2015

It would be nice to tell you that after we wondered aloud two weeks ago when Carnival was going to announce its Carnival Live performers for next year that the cruise line promptly reacted and made the announcement this week. It would also be presumptuous, to say the least. Nonetheless, four entertainers have signed up for what’s believed to be a popular addition to Carnival entertainment — concerts on ships in ports. However, this is the third year for Carnival Live and the number of acts has gone from nine to seven to four. So, are these to be the final four of Carnival Live?…

Gladys Knight

Gladys Knight (no Pips): February 1-2-3 on the Carnival Liberty, Valor and Splendor, in St. Thomas.

KC Sunshine Band

KC & The Sunshine Band: March 22-23-24 on the Carnival Paradise, Fantasy and Breeze, in Cozumel


Journey: Encore performances on May 5-6 on the Carnival Pride and Victory, in Nassau

Trace Adkins

Trace Adkins: July 6-7-8 on the Freedom, Dream and Conquest, in Nassau

In the news…

• Costa signs healthy food, less garbage, food sustainability protocol
• Fire on Ponant’s Le Boreal evacuates all passengers in Antarctica

Today at portsandbows.comMore from Viking river cruise in France

Costa Diadema
7 nights
January 16, 2016
Savona (return): Marseille, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Rome, La Spezia
Inside: $495
Cost per day: $70

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Bob & Nancy on November 19th, 2015

The Grinch is going to have ample time to steal Christmas on Carnival ships next month, and guess what? It won’t happen, because it never has.

The Dr. Seuss villain will appear on all Carnival cruises in December. He’ll be trying to keep Christmas from happening, and stealing Christmas items from crew members on all the Grinch Bookships because, well, that’s how The Grinch made his name.

What started out as a moral attack on the commercialization of Christmas in a kids’ book that was written 58 years ago became two movies (1966 and 2000), and one of the most famous of many famous books written by Theodor Geisel, or Dr. Seuss.

In the original story, The Grinch took Christmas-themed items from the people of the fictional Whoville. On the ships, he’ll pop up here and there in Seussville (among other places), wearing his green “Santy Claus” costume and trying to be “cuddly as a cactus” and “charming as an eel.”

He’ll be playfully disruptive, in the words of Carnival’s people, and the kids on board will try to drive him crazy by making Grinch-themed Christmas ornaments and painting Grinch-like faces. In short, they’ll be trying to turn him into a Christmas figure, which is what happened in print in 1958.

In this age of political correctness and destroying traditions that offend the vocal minority, Carnival is turning Christmas on board into what Christmas has always been on shore.

A celebration…and a time to change — as The Grinch did when he became the guest of honor at Christmas dinner in Whoville.

In the news…

• CDC awards ninth straight perfect score for Holland America Eurodam
• Crystal Cruises purchases Boeing 777 to join Dreamliner in Crystal Air
• Not a single ship exceeded emission standard in Victoria during 2015

Today at River cruising in Burgundy

Carnival Sensation
3 nights
January 14, 2016
Port Canaveral (return): Nassau
Inside: $179
Cost per day: $59

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Bob & Nancy on November 18th, 2015
Cat Greenleaf

Maybe we’ve been living under a rock, but we’d never heard of Cat Greenleaf. Or maybe it’s because in the morning our TV station of choice is CNN, not NBC. Or maybe it’s just because we don’t live in New York, or go to the Emmys.

So finding out something about Cat Greenleaf was…interesting.

Our motivation was that Princess Cruises is sharing — with anybody who cares to watch — a series of videos with the host of Talk Stoop, an Emmy Award-winning interview show with more than 12 million viewers, or more than live in New York City, her home. The videos are about the first cruise for her family: husband Mike, two small boys and mother-in-law (aka, babysitter).

There are 20 of them — don’t be intimidated, they’re short — and they’re well-done, because Princess always seems to do things well…or even better. They highlight all the good things about what first-time cruisers (and sometimes long-time cruisers) experience Cat Greenleaf-2in booking, sailing, enjoying and leaving a ship. It’s not clear which Princess ship this television celebrity was on, but it was the Regal Princess, which carries “5,000 people” — 3,500 plus crew.

That Princess came up with the idea is impressive. 

This is a multi-racial, two-parents-who-work family with a career-driven life that’s too busy to escape on a week-long cruise. Or has been. Sound familiar? There are many such families these days, so Princess is tapping into a large segment of what is already a large segment — first-time cruisers. We can assume, because this was a promotion for the cruise line, that this busy family didn’t pay for the cruise and that, in return, Princess got exactly what it wants the rest of us to see.

For people who have cruised a lot, a couple of things were intriguing. Who knew that a ship like this has 300 routers positioned in all corners to accommodate Wi-Fi? Did Cat Greenleaf really hurt her foot, necessitating a trip to the ship’s doctor and an opportunity to talk about the “hospitals” at sea? And how did she manage to wander through the kitchen without wearing one of those antiseptic white coats the rest of us have worn on kitchen visits?

But the concept is clever, to say the least, and Princess did a service not just for its brand but for the entire industry with this first-person, one-person videos to let the rest of the world in on why cruising is the vacation choice of millions. Plus, it’s good for Cat Greenleaf far beyond a happy cruise experience, because now she has more people who know of her and Talk Stoop.

At least two.

In the news…

• Anthem of the Seas makes Martinique port call amid joy, sorrow, silence
• Celebrity Exclipse to return to Southampton for seventh straight summer
• Top-selling romance book authors on Princess Valentine's Day cruise

Today at Carnival and craft beer

Celebrity Equinox
14 nights
April 15, 2016
Fort Lauderdale (return): Ponta Delgada, Lisbon, Seville, Malaga, Alicante, Barcelona
Inside: $899
Cost per day: $64

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