Bob & Nancy Dunn on January 29th, 2016

We’ve often been asked: “What’s your favorite cruise ship?” It’s a question often asked of anybody who cruises a lot by people who cruise a little, or less. Our answer, one we borrowed from the late John Maxtone-Graham, is always the same: “The one we’re on.” That’s pretty much how we feel. When you love cruising, you rarely go on a cruise that you don’t enjoy. At the risk of sounding like Pollyannas, to us cruises are just varying degrees of good. Having said that, over the last six years, these are the six cruise ships we enjoyed the most, for a variety of reasons…

Epic

Norwegian Epic: Critics always trash it, but in two cruises we’ve found the complaints mostly trivial.

Allure

Allure of the Seas: It’s hard to believe anybody who is objective could find fault with this ship-that-has-it-all.

Coral

Coral Princess: In our world, she’s the queen of Alaska, with a feel we call “comfortable in every way.”

Diadema

Costa Diadema: When you like all things Italian, as we do, you like the flagship of Italy’s main cruise line.

Eclipse

Celebrity Eclipse: When you spend six days at sea, you either love or hate a ship — we loved the Eclipse.

Sun

Norwegian Sun: This has everything to do with our longest cruise, 19 days, on a ship that became “home.”

In the news…

• Carrie Underwood joins Carnival Live!  in November to raise funds for vets
• Upcoming SS United States Conservancy announcement to save the ship
• Fog in Tampa once again causes chaos for Carnival Paradise, AidaVita

Today at portsandbows.com: What’s next for Princess Cruises


Carnival Fantasy
4 nights
April 25, 2016
Miami (return): Key West, Cozumel
Inside: $239
Cost per day: $59
www.carnival.com

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Bob & Nancy Dunn on January 28th, 2016

Kim-3

His name is Kim. Just Kim. We are introduced on the banks of the Saigon River in Vietnam. We are on a Viator excursion and he is our guide. He is polite, informative and the antithesis of a rah-rah guide who tries to impress with his clever dialogue so that at the end of the day he’ll get a bigger tip.

For Kim — and his eight customers — the end of the day was nine hours later.

It began with an hour-long ride up (down?) the river, to the Cu Chi Tunnels for a fascinating look at the underground network and weaponry the Viet Cong used in winning the Vietnam War, 40 years ago. Throughout the two hours or so we spent at what is now a huge tourist attraction, Kim’s knowledge and opinions made the tour better than expected.

The day also included a first-ever (and possibly last) visit to a cricket farm, which included a snack that was optional from the farm’s owners, and a lunch (long after we’d digested the little creatures) at an authentic Vietnamese restaurant. Not that you’d expect to find anything but authentic Vietnamese restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, but this was so good we’ve been seeking the North American version ever since returning home.

Our day was nine hours and Kim’s has to be at least two more. When he told us he would become a father in a few months, our tip included a contribution for the daughter-to-be’s Kim Nguyenpiggy bank — he said it would be her first deposit. As we parted, we exchanged email addresses, something we often do when meeting somebody so likeable and personable. We discovered there was more to him than Kim — Kim Nguyen Dinh — and we resolved to stay in touch.

Fast forward…

Our first email went unanswered for almost two weeks. These things happen. Sometimes they’re never answered. When Kim responded, he was apologetic. His father had been suffering from liver cancer for almost a year (long before we met him) and the prognosis was not good. His next email brought the inevitable news. In December, another email announcing the arrival of Cecilia, or Gia Kha Han in Vietnamese.

For his family, it completed the cycle of life.

When you exchange emails with strangers from a land far away, it’s not always like this. But when it is like this, you learn that we’re really not that different, are we?

In the news…

• Launching in May, Harmony of the Seas to feature Dreamworks characters

Today at portsandbows.comFood spectacles for Princess crowd


Holland America Veendam
7 nights
March 13, 2016
Tampa (return): Key West, Banana Coast, Santo Tomas de Castilla, Costa Maya
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71
www.hollandamerica.com

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Bob & Nancy Dunn on January 27th, 2016

Allure

This is a blog about Royal Caribbean, Haiti and reading between the lines. A lot of people are doing that these days following what appeared to be a fairly innocent incident this month: ships skipping Labadee because of a group of protesters on the water offshore.

Little more than that was said…at first. What has been said since may turn into a much bigger snowball by the time it gets to the bottom of the hill, as the analogy goes.

According to people on ships that turned around, Royal Caribbean officials said the protests Haiti-1had to do with upcoming (and postponed) elections in Haiti. After passengers dug deeper, they found the protesters were holding up signs because Royal Caribbean was not living up to its promise to build schools, hospitals and self-esteem in one of the world’s most impoverished countries.

As a result, more people than ever are re-examining the cruise line’s “private resort” known as Labadee. As a result, critics like maritime lawyer Jim Walker are ripping Royal Caribbean in commentaries — logically presented — for making excessive profits at the expense of Haitian people who thought they were going to benefit from the development of Labadee.

As a result, now people are questioning why Royal Caribbean ships have returned to Labadee, as they did this week. More and more the answer appears to be money. Period. Going to another port deprives the cruise line of an enormous revenue stream. The “private resort” is waterfront property the cruise line bought for a song and it’s Labadee-ziplinesurrounded by barbed-wire fencing to protect passengers who spend millions zip-lining and lounging in cabanas or renting equipment to use on the water, and to keep out poor Haitians who want to sell their crafts and try to escape their poverty.

“Royal Caribbean pays no actual rent of any kind…but its passengers pay a $10 to $12 head tax,” writes Walker, who is a well-known thorn in the side of cruise lines but who has probably touched a raw nerve this time.

If the head tax goes to the government as “rent” then fees for the “world’s longest zipline” and most of passengers spend in Labadee is likely pure profit for Royal Caribbean. A conservative estimate is that’s about 10,000 visitors every week.

We’ve only been to Labadee once. One of us was sick. We never ventured far enough from Allure of the Seas even to see the fence around Labadee. We never met any of the locals, as we usually do. All we really know about it is what we’ve learned from Royal Caribbean, including how it’s dedicated to helping poor Haiti.

That’s called PR…for public relations. The return of its ships to Labadee solved one problem, but now Royal Caribbean appears to have another.

A PR problem, and clearly it’s growing.

In the news…

• A $450 million multi-year product innovation and ship renovation for Princess
• Two new ships to push Royal Caribbean capacity to four million passengers a year
• Five Norwegian ships — the most ever — going to Europe for summer 2017

Today at portsandbows.comThe new Princess restaurant SHARE


Emerald Princess
14 nights
April 2, 2016
Fort Lauderdale, Ponta Delgada, Lisbon, Bilbao, Paris, Southampton
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $57
www.princess.com

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Bob & Nancy Dunn on January 26th, 2016

Fantasy

For 20 years, Disney and Kimberly-Clark have been in a relationship. Disney gave Kimberly-Clark — primarily a company of paper products — the right to use Disney characters to sell Kleenex, and Huggies diapers, among other things. Well, maybe “gave” is not the right verb but if you’ve seen Mickey and Minnie on your box of tissue papers or diapers, you get the idea.

After two decades, the relationship is entering a new phase. K-C is going to provide products wherever Disney has customers (like theme parks, cruise ships and probably movie sets). Disney is going to give Kimberly-Clark the right to re-brand its baby care centers — they’ll now be called Huggies Centers — on cruise ships and in theme parks, and to sell its products in the centers…once again, “license” might be the right verb.

K-C is also sponsoring Disney’s Junior Live on Stage performances wherever they’re held.

“It really seemed to make sense, as the relationship has evolved, to take the next step,” said a spokesperson from Kimberly-Clark. “It expanded the licensing agreement into an alliance.”

Doesn’t it sound a bit like being engaged for 20 years (licensing agreement) before getting married (alliance)?

Photo: David Roark/Disney photographer

In the news…

• Norwegian Getaway to cruise summer 2017 from Warnemunde, Germany
• Royal Caribbean, WWF (World Wildlife Fund) partner on ocean conservation
• Holland America’s new Koningsdam successfully completes sea trials

Today at portsandbows.comAmaWaterways ramps up excursions


Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas
4 nights
April 11, 2016
Miami (return): Nassau, CocoCay
Inside: $289
Cost per day: $72
www.royalcaribbean.com

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Bob & Nancy Dunn on January 25th, 2016

On the subject of “you have to spend money to make money” is there an industry where it’s more obvious than cruising.

Norwegian is the latest.

After an aggressive new-ship program that will have enlarged the fleet by six ships in seven years by 2019, it was logical to assume Norwegian might hold off on refurbishing Gemsome of its older ships. After all, the tab for the six new ones that began with the Breakaway in 2013 is likely to be near $5 billion.

If it was logical, forget logic. Norwegian is committing to spending $400 million on freshening up primarily the restaurants on nine ships with a standard of excellence the cruise line is calling The Norwegian Edge. The Epic and Gem have already been done and over the next year they’ll be followed by Pride of America, the Sun, Dawn, Spirit, Sky, Pearl and Jade. The only old ships missing — the Jewel and the Star — were refurbished within the last 18 months.

Here is what will be either added or upgraded to deliver The Norwegian Edge: The Cavern Club, La Cucina, Cagney’s, Le Bistro, Moderno Churrascaria, The Manhattan Room, Garden Café, as well as The Haven Courtyard, Lounge and Restaurant.

Of the seven new-ship years, 2016 was going to provide an investment respite. After the Breakaway’s introduction of a new class in 2013, the Getaway followed in 2014 and the Escape in 2015. Next is the Bliss in 2017 and two unnamed ships in 2018 and 2019.

When the dust settles, Norwegian will have a fleet of 17 ships and be positioned to take a break from making things new.

Maybe.

In the news…

• The ‘Big Storm’ delays port return of Grandeur of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas
• Norwegian, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas cancel 61 port calls in Turkey
• Crystal’s offering short segments as part of World Cruises in 2016 and 2017

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news


Norwegian Sun
14 nights
February 13, 2016
Santiago, Puerto Montt, Puerto Chacabuco, Chilean Fjords, Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas, Beagle Channel, Ushuaia, Cape Horn, Port Stanley, Puerto Madryn, Montevideo, Buenos Aires
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $28
www.ncl.com

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Bob & Nancy Dunn on January 22nd, 2016

In case the resident weather systems haven’t prompted you to look south — or anywhere — for a break from mid-winter, this is a good time to drool over some of the luscious, hot, picturesque, sandy, enticing places you can visit when you take a Caribbean cruise. And if that doesn’t tempt you to book one…well, maybe you’re just content to stay home and shovel!

Before departureIs there a more photographic rock formation than at Cabo San Lucas?

St. MaartenIt seems everybody has a boat in the popular port of St. Maarten

TulumGazing at the Gulf of Mexico from the Maya ruins of Tulum, Mexico

Cayman IslandsA watering hole called Paradise in the Grand Cayman Islands

Mahogany BayPrivacy is available at beautiful Mahogany Bay in Roatan, Honduras

CozumelThis pretty part of Cozumel is worth taking a drive to the north shore

In the news…

• Norwegian Edge: 2-year, $400-million refurbishing program for 9 ships
• Holland America’s new brand campaign called ‘Savour The Journey’
• Sea trials complete for Holland America’s new 2,650-passenger Koningsdam

Today at portsandbows.comRefurbishing the Carnival Inspiration


Holland America Maasdam
7 nights
April 19, 2016
Fort Lauderdale (return): Half Moon Cay, Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78
www.hollandamerica.com

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Bob & Nancy Dunn on January 21st, 2016

 Last week was time for the nine-month dental check-up. The dentist is an engaging guy, lots of times funny and always producing at least one clever observation.

This time, it was about cruising.

“So you’re going on a cruise?” he said. “I went on a cruise once and I wasn’t worried about putting on weight. You know what the experts say?”

With a high-speed drill doing whatever high-speed drills do, response was impossible.

“They say — and ‘they’ are the experts in gaining weight — that’s it’s physiologically impossible to add more than two pounds in one week. It’s also physiologically impossible to lose more than two pounds in one week. Physiologically impossible!”

We’d heard his reasoning before and in the interim nothing had happened to us on a one-week cruise to refute his contention. In other words, weight gain for a week was two pounds, or less.

So as many avid cruisers prepare for an escape this winter, remember what our dentist says and don’t take any guilt into the dining room or buffet.

Who’s going to argue?

With dental fingers and tools in your mouth, who can?

In the news…

• Regent pouring $125 million into refurbishing Mariner, Navigator, Voyager
• Baby boy born three weeks early on board Cunard’s Queen Mary 2
• MSC  latest cruise line to skip ports in Turkey — indefinitely

Today at portsandbows.com: New treats from Holland America


Carnival Ecstasy
4 nights
Feb.1, 2016
Miami (return): Key West, Cozumel
Oceanview: $279
Cost per day: $69
www.carnival.com

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Bob & Nancy Dunn on January 20th, 2016

A good part of being successful in the cruise business, or any business for that matter, is knowing your clientele.

For Cunard that means The Savoy, Jack Daniel’s and Dee Dee Bridgewater.

It may be news to you, as it was to us, that “The Savoy” stands for Savoy Beaufort Bar — last year chosen the Best International Bar and now the inspiration for Age of Discovery. What’s Age of Discovery? A specially created (by the team at The Savoy), barrel-aged, limited edition cocktail.

Clearly, that appeals to Cunard’s clientele.

That’s where Jack comes in. One of Jack’s barrels will be on the Queen Mary 2 and from it Dee Dee Bridgewaterwill be poured the Age of Discovery. This will happen on the ship’s four-month World Voyage, 50 weeks from now, and if you’re thinking that one barrel of Jack Daniel’s won’t last four months, welcome to the club.

The barrel holds 300 litres, and you can only assume Cunard will have a generous supply of Age of Discovery to re-fill it.

Dee Dee Bridgewater?

She’ll be on the Queen Mary 2 as well, but not next January. She’s part of a different Cunard theme, the one that attracts jazz lovers to cruise ships. An industry icon with three Grammys, a Tony and credentials as a United Nationals Goodwill Ambassador as part of her resume, the jazz legend will board the ship in New York for one of its crossings to Southampton.

During the 7-night cruise the last week of October, she’ll play three intimate shows in a week designed to attract the jazz crowd. In a career now more than four decades long, she recorded with Dizzy Gillespie and played Billie Holiday on stage.

Also performing will be the International Jazz Artist of the Year, Gregory Porter. If his name is unfamiliar, it matters little. The jazz aficionados know and that is Cunard’s clientele…at least for the last week of November.

In the news…

• Holland America’s Eurodam passengers first to experience upgrades
• Royal Caribbean scraps some improvements for Majesty of the Seas
• Protests in Haitian waters forces Freedom of the Seas to take a pass

Today at portsandbows.comStar Wars Days on Disney Fantasy

Royal Caribbean Empress of the Seas
3 nights
April 4, 2016
Miami (return): Nassau, CocoCay
Inside: $219
Cost per day: $73
www.royalcaribbean.com

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Bob & Nancy Dunn on January 19th, 2016

We’ve never been on a cruise ship that stopped in Turkey. Now, chances are we never will. Such is the cruise climate in this volatile part of the world, even though Istanbul and Kusadesi aren’t in the same area code as places bordering on Syria, where there are daily fears of terrorist attacks.

On the weekend, Crystal Cruises announced Turkey was persona non grata. The Crystal Symphony was scheduled to call at the two popular Turkish ports in late April and early May, but not now. The itineraries have been revised due to the “safety and peace of mind Espritof our guests” and the Symphony will make two more stops in Greece instead. The same goes for Crystal Esprit, a future ship (above) with itineraries that were going to include Turkey. The same goes for Disney cruises that once included Istanbul.

If there’s any irony in this, it’s that avoiding Turkey isn’t exactly the antidote for safety. It’s true that a suicide bomber killed 10 German tourists in Istanbul this month, an act that was obviously the trigger for Crystal’s decision. It’s also true that tourists have either been murdered or in danger of being murdered in Tunisia, and in Paris.

Tourists feel danger everywhere, because murderous attacks strike fear in the hearts and minds of the free world’s population. But it’s all about playing the odds, isn’t it? And in a country that’s geographically close to the troubled Middle East, the odds of being a victim seem higher.

Such is life in today’s world.

In the news…

• Sea trials completed for Holland America Koningsdam
• More Australians than ever booking cruises on P&O ships

Today at portsandbows.comTwo ships coming for Emerald Waterways


Star Princess
7 nights
May 14, 2016
Vancouver (return): Sitka, Glacier Bay, Juneau, Ketchikan
Inside: $699
Cost per day: $99
www.princess.com

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Bob & Nancy Dunn on January 18th, 2016
Allure

You may have heard of zika but if you haven’t, you should, especially if you’re going on a Caribbean cruise, or even thinking of it. Especially if you’re pregnant, or even thinking about it.

Zika can be deadly, so read on…

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), this virus is transmitted by mosquitoes and can cause a catastrophic birth defect called microcephaly, and travellers should now take extra precautions against mosquito bites. At this time of year, that means the Latin American countries of the Caribbean. At this time of year, that means cruising.

The CDC alert was upgraded late Friday to a “Level 2 travel notice” which presumably requires more attention than a Level 1 and not as much as a Level 3, which is the highest. Without pressing the panic button, pregnant or pregnant-to-be women are being advised to consider avoiding travel to the affected areas.

The nervousness you hear is the cruise industry.

At a time when cruise lines are pulling out all stops to make their demographics younger, along comes zika. At a time when the “babymoon” business (bonding with unborn baby in a relaxed atmosphere) is flourishing, along comes zika.

At the very least, cruises are being cautioned to take precautions by avoiding mosquito-infested areas (can you say jungles?) and loading up on mosquito repellent. Cruise lines, according to the Cruise Lines International Association, are continuing to publishing not just zika, but any issues relating to health and safety, in each ships’ daily bulletin.

While all of that may be re-assuring, in an era when pregnant women have become accustomed to avoiding a wisp of cigarette smoke or a sip of alcoholic beverages in the interests of protecting their babies, it’s hard to believe anything but a significant impact on travel in general and cruising in particular.

In the news…

• ‘Star Wars Day At Sea’ on eight select sailings on Disney Fantasy
• Acapulco comeback — best tourist season in years: 83 per cent hotel occupancy
• Two Turkey ports skipped by Crystal Symphony amid security concerns

Today at portsandbows.com: Ocean ship for Scenic Cruises


Norwegian Getaway
7 nights
November 6, 2016
Miami (return): Roatan, Harvest Caye, Costa Maya, Cozumel
Inside: $569
Cost per day: $81
www.ncl.com

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