Bob & Nancy on November 26th, 2014

On Sunday, we happened to be watching a hockey game on TV, a game that followed a ceremony honoring one of 53 National Hockey League players to play 1,000 games with the same team.

The player was Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks. His twin, Henrik, and Vancouver’s Daniel Sedinclub president Trevor Linden are the three Canucks on that list of 53. As is always the case in such ceremonies, the honoree was showered with gifts.

He received a silver stick, not to use but to hang on the wall in the den, commemorating his achievement of longevity (kind of like the old gold watch). he received a painting of himself that if it wasn’t life-size was at least close.

And then came the big prize — from the team. Bear in mind that as a 14-year veteran on what pro sports has become, Sedin is a multimillionaire, once every year. So he can pretty much do whatever he and his family of five want to do.

What do the Canucks give him?

A Disney cruise.

It says a lot about the esteem in which cruising is held, doesn’t it?

Today at portsandbows.com: Think summer with Holland America

Star Princess
15 nights
February 27, 2015
San Francisco (return): EnsenadaHonoluluHiloLahainaKauai
Inside: $1,189
Cost per day: $79
www.princess.com

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Bob & Nancy on November 25th, 2014

We’re not quite sure when dress etiquette started undergoing what has become a dramatic change, but it seemed to us that it started with Casual Fridays. That would place it in the ‘90s, when the dot-com boom began to consume the way business was done, even at the highest levels.

Dot.com meant California (Silicon Valley) and the “C’ in California has always had a double meaning, “Casual” being the other one. It quickly spread and Casual Fridays were the one day of the week that workers — even managers — could dress down, as opposed to dressing up. It penetrated every business including, eventually, the cruise business.

When you go on a cruise ship today, you’ll likely see passengers wearing pretty much whatever they want. This is light years from when “proper” attire was compulsory in the dining rooms of the cruise world, etiquette that has gradually regressed to “no shorts and Cunard diningtank tops” although we’ve been on cruise ships where that’s not enforced.

This is topical this week because of a survey from Great Britain. It was conducted by Cruise.co.uk and among the discoveries was one that 70 per cent of the passengers/respondents want a return to “formal evenings” on cruise ships.

Now, this is the British, who discovered Casual Fridays some time after North Americans did and who generally consider themselves more “proper” than the rest of us when it comes to things like manners and etiquette. Cunard, the cruise company that the British upper-crust most identifies with (even though it’s owned by Carnival), is the last bastion of formal dress…although  (for men) suits and ties have replaced tuxedos in the compulsory department.

There is a generation, maybe two, of people accustomed to dressing casually for work — not just on Fridays. Returning to “formal evenings” on cruise ships to appease the formally-friendly elderly demographic will risk chasing away the young families that cruise lines crave.

In short, get used to golf shirts for men and capri pants for women, and blue jeans (ripped perhaps) for both when you sit down to enjoy your evening meal on a cruise ship.

That genie is out of the bottle.

Today at portsandbows.com: Getting up to date on cruise news

Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas
7 nights
January 4, 2015
Galveston (return): FalmouthGeorge TownGrand CaymanCozumel
Inside: $335
Cost per day: $47
www.royalcaribbean.com

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Bob & Nancy on November 24th, 2014

Majesty-Matt H. Wade WC

Photo by Matt H. Wade Wikimedia Commons

Every ship has a story. Given that Majesty of the Seas carried close to three million passengers in her Royal Caribbean lifetime, it’s reasonable to assume the ship has a few thousands stories, at least.

But her story is more fascinating.

It’s about her Godmother. Her name is Sonja Haraldsen, although she became known as the Queen of Norway just over a year before the ship that would be hers made its maiden Queen Sonjavoyage. Queen Sonja became the Godmother that year (1992) and the Norwegians must have skipped protocol for the occasion because Majesty of the Seas was made in France.

It turns out that Queen Sonja, like “her” Majesty, was ahead of her time.

So smitten was her beloved, King Harald, that he told his father if he wasn’t allowed to marry this Oslo commoner, he would never marry, thereby ending the family’s rule as Norwegian royalty, since there would be no children to carry on the tradition. Harald and Sonja were allowed to wed and 23 years later she became Norway’s first “queen consort” in 53 years and the first queen to attend the swearing-in ceremony in seven decades.

Since then, she has gone other places where women of the past dared not go. She was the first queen to visit Antarctica and flew there in a Hercules transport aircraft…not exactly limousine service. Having undergone basic training and having participated in exercises, she is a Rear Admiral in the Navy and a Brigadier in the Army. An award in her name is given to schools that excel in promoting “inclusion and equality.” Over the years, promising artists and musicians, and Vietnam vets, have all been touched by her.

Today, Her Majesty is 77 and still going strong, while “her” Majesty is going to leave the Royal Caribbean fleet in the spring to join Pullmantur Cruises in Spain. The Queen has probably shaken the hands of as many people as have been on Majesty of the Seas, which was also ahead of her time.

In 1992, she and her Sovereign Class sisters — Monarch of the Seas and Sovereign of the Seas — were the biggest ships in the world when they were launched. When they’re re-united at Pullmantur, they’ll be the largest ships in the fleet of a little-known cruise line, long surpassed on the oceans by so many bigger ships that they’re now among the smallest.

That, too, is part of Majesty’s story.

Today at portsandbows.com: The rush to mine cruise gold in China

Norwegian Getaway
7 nights
January 3, 2015
Miami (return): St. MaartenSt. ThomasNassau
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71
www.ncl.com

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Bob & Nancy on November 21st, 2014

If there is one lasting introduction to the paradise that exits in the warmth of the Pacific Ocean, at least for those of us who were around in the ‘50s, that image is the movie-musical-TV film called South Pacific.

The story was based on a 1947 book by James Michener, and it spawned a Broadway musical two years later and a big-screen movie nine years after that. Almost seven decades later, the musical still comes and goes on stages around the world.

South PacificWhat never goes away is the image from a poster or an album cover of a world with which we were not familiar at that time.

The South Pacific.

Fast forward to today. Windstar Cruises announced this week it will be making continuous, year-round voyages to the South Pacific. Not content to whet customers’ appetites with its Dreams of Tahiti trips, Windstar will be extending itineraries to include the Tuamotu Islands. Who knows what or where the Tuamotu Islands are, but it doesn’t really matter because they’re in the South Pacific?

Lots of cruises ships criss-cross through that part of the ocean, going to and coming from Australia. Only the Wind Spirit will be there, week after week, starting next May 26. The cruises are from Papeete, return, and the cost starts at $3,000 so it’s not for the faint of wallet. All the cruises stop at Moorea, DCIM101GOPROTahaa, Raiatea, Huahine and Bora Bora — again, it doesn’t matter — and four times a year that’s extended to include the Tuamotus.

Apparently the Wind Spirit, which will have its 73 staterooms renovated before setting sail in May, is the perfect ship for touring around French Polynesia and not just because it was built in France. With six sails, it’s ideal for the warm breezes that power its billowing sails.

In reality, for some of us, the perfect ship is one that sails in the South Pacific. Period. That’s the magnet that draws us to paradise…just like the picture on the album cover.

Today at portsandbows.com: Think summer with Holland America

Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas
7 nights
January 3, 2015
New Orleans (return): FalmouthGrand CaymanCozumel
Oceanview: $464
Cost per day: $66
www.royalcaribbean.com

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Bob & Nancy on November 20th, 2014

The latest norovirus episode on a cruise ship — 172 people ill on the Crown Princess in Los Angeles this weekend — has raised an old story about the U.S. Navy. It’s about how the Navy more or less prevents such outbreaks on its ships.

With more than 3,000 sailors and marines on ships, the Navy adopts the preventive strategy.

Here’s how:

* Sailors are required to report to sick bay if they feel ill

* Supervisors force sick sailors who are reluctant

* If they’re sick, they’re isolated

* The Navy does a “cleaning station” of the ship every morning

* Preventive medicine technicians inspect galleys many times a day

* Sailors swab, inspect, scrub and scour every day

For the most part, it works. Thinking it would work on a cruise ship is a much different theory.

Nobody on the ship can monitor 3,000 passengers to see if anybody’s not feeling well. It’s unlikely cruise lines would designate “preventive medicine technicians” whose sole purpose is to inspect galleys, although regular inspections are common. And having cleaners underfoot all day long throughout the ship would be a negative for people on their vacations, especially when more than 90 per cent of the time there’s no threat.

But here’s the biggest reason comparing naval ships and cruise ships is apples and oranges:

Sailors must follow orders, and there are consequences when they don’t.

Today at portsandbows.com: Holland America's new look

Carnival Inspiration
2 nights
December 18, 2014
Los Angeles (return): Ensenada 
Inside: $101
Cost per day: $50
www.carnival.com

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Bob & Nancy on November 19th, 2014

If ever a cruise line needs to fill up a ship quickly, or a bunch of them, Carnival just did it. The premise is simple: Everybody loves a deal.

So on Tuesday, Carnival announced a “35-hour sale.” It was actually a 35-35 sale…35 hours to buy a cruise for $35 a day (starting prices).

How much did the people like it?

In the first six hours, so anxious were consumers to break the bank that they broke the website.

The demand crashed carnival.com. Within a couple of hours, it was fixed and the sale of select cruises from December through March resumed. It runs through midnight tonight Carnival Freedomand this is not a big deal for one ship, or one port. For example, here’s a few of the per-day, per-passenger prices (some even better) that we found once the website was re-started:

$25Los Angeles (return) to Catalina and Ensenada, four nights (December 1-5) on the Inspiration

$28Fort Lauderdale (return) to Key West, Grand Cayman and Cozumel (December 7-13) on the Freedom

$34Miami (return) to Half Moon Cay, Grand Turk, San Juan and St. Thomas, seven nights (January 10-17) on the Glory

$35Galveston (return) to Progreso and Cozumel, five nights (December 15-20) on the Triumph

$43Miami (return) to Ocho Rios, Grand Turk and Nassau, six nights (February 22-28, on the Breeze

Clearly, Carnival wants to fill empty beds. Chances are the cruise line can still make a profit at these prices, because passengers do spend money once they’re on the ship.

But with this sale, getting there is a bargain.

Today at portsandbows.com: Holland America's new look

Caribbean Princess
4 nights
January 22, 2015
Fort Lauderdale (return): Princess Cays 
Inside: $289
Cost per day: $72
www.princess.com

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Bob & Nancy on November 18th, 2014

For anybody who has ever sailed on her, the “E” in Epic has always stood — unofficially — for “entertainment.”

Cruising is an industry that is all about “firsts” but in the big picture — the Epic picture if you will — time dulls the memories of which cruise line or ship first did this or first did that. Suffice to say, the Epic had its share of firsts, many of them in on-board entertainment.

We were fortunate enough to see the Epic when she was a baby, although it is awkward to call a 4,100-passenger cruise ship a baby. She was barely six months old when we Epicboarded her in November 2010 and after spending a week sailing in the Western Caribbean it was abundantly clear to us that she was “epic” in entertainment, at least.

There was Blue Man Group and Legends In Concert and the Nickelodeon set for little people, who had breakfast with SpongeBob, Dora and Diego. There was a bowling alley, of all things, and a cirque show and dueling pianos. There was an enormous screen on which to watch football, among other things, and a place to play Wii at a time when Wii is at its popularity peak.

That was then.

Now is now. For the Epic, that means a change in entertainment, a change necessitated more by geography than age, a change announced yesterday by Norwegian. Its former flagship is moving to Barcelona next year, permanently, and what entertains in the Caribbean is not necessarily what entertains in the Mediterranean. While there is some crossover in both markets, the majority of the demographic is different.

So here is what’s new on the Epic, or will be in 2015:

Burn The Floor — This high-energy theatrical dance show has already been a big hit on Norwegian’s Breakaway and Getaway, so the gamble here (if there is one) is that Europeans will take to it, too. Considering that the Vienna waltz is one of the ballroom dances that it updates, and that the Epic performance is “specifically designed for Europeans,” there’s a reasonable chance of success.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert — This musical is based on a 20-year-old movie about drag queens and transexuals, and a bus named Priscilla. An Australian comedy-drama, it made Cavern Clubits big-screen debut in Spain and became a cult classic that won an Academy Award. The musical has been playing in several countries since 2006 and lasted a year on Broadway, where it won numerous Tony Awards.

The Cavern Club — In partnership with the famous Liverpool haunt that launched The Beatles, this figures to have wide appeal, just as the Fab Four did…and still do. The club still functions, 43 years after Yeah-Yeah-Yeah and 57 years after it opened. The club that has spawned a lifetime of entertainment (the band playing there Saturday is called The Cavern Club Beatles!) will be replicated on the Epic and feature appropriate music and international musicians.

Suffice to say, this trio figures to have the impact to make the “E” in Epic stand for "Entertainment in Europe.”

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

- Cavern photo by Ronald Saunders (Wikimedia)

Norwegian Jade
10 nights
February 4, 2015
Rome (return): OlympiaAthensEphesusIstanbulNaples
Inside: $659
Cost per day: $65
www.ncl.com

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Bob & Nancy on November 17th, 2014
Black Sea

There’s fighting going on a world away and you never think it will affect you…and then it does. Maybe you’re scheduled to cruise into the Black Sea, for instance. As a long-ago U.S. President would say: “Not gonna happen.”

Cruising into the Black Sea is becoming more rare all the time. The latest cruise lines to cancel are Cunard and P&O. Both have canceled all 13 ports calls for 2015, because of rising security concerns…i.e., fighting. They have been preceded by Azamara, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, Windstar, MSC and Holland America.

The safety rule of thumb these days is to cruise as far as Istanbul, Turkey and take a pass on the Black Sea, which is between Turkey and Ukraine, two countries currently involved in conflicts. 

Where will it end?

The two most popular cruise ports in Turkey are Istanbul and Kusadasi. Both are far from the Syrian border, where security concerns are magnified. Both are on the fringe of the Mediterranean cruise map. Both are relatively safe…for now.

As terrorism re-shapes the world, especially in the Europe-Asia corridor, so too does it re-shape the cruising world.

Fifty years from now…who knows?

Today at portsandbows.com: Scenic Cruises to Bordeaux

Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas
7 nights
December 7, 2014
Port Canaveral (return):  LabadeeFalmouthGeorge TownCozumel
Inside: $329
Cost per day: $47
www.royalcaribbean.com

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Bob & Nancy on November 14th, 2014
Preziosa

This is one of those stories we don’t want to tell, and shouldn’t have to tell, but there is really no choice.

It’s about terrorists.

You know how your life has changed when boarding planes, with security personnel checking everything but the dirt under your fingernails? You know how when you’re walking the streets of a big city, or even a small town, you’re supposed to be aware not just of your surroundings but also the people who inhabit them? You know how in the interests of public safety, you have to be suspicious of virtually everybody?

Well, shipmates, get ready.

According to the Associated Press, would-be jihadists are booking tickets on cruise ships. They’re using ships to get them to Turkey, specifically, so they can join the battles in Syria and Iraq. The news surfaced at an Interpol conference this week in Monaco and the conclusion was for accelerated screening at transportation hubs…”airports and, more and more, cruise lines.”

The intelligentsia say that the terrorists, because they know it’s getting tougher for them to board planes, are taking to the seas. A statement from Cruise Lines International Association, to which almost all cruise lines belong, maintained that cruise-ship security is taken as seriously as airline security, and that passengers manifests are shared with U.S. authorities.

What is left unsaid is the threat that these unwelcome jihadists will use cruise ships for more than transportation…instead, as a final destination.

Either way, that terrorists are known to be boarding ships is dreadful news for the passengers, and for the industry.

Today at portsandbows.com: Closer look at Royal Caribbean's new ship

Holland America Zaandam
14 nights
December 8, 2014
Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Port Stanley, Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, Cape Horn, Sarmiento Canal, Chilean Fjords, Puerto Montt, Santiago
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $42
www.hollandamerica.com

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Bob & Nancy on November 13th, 2014

If there’s a more beautiful arrival port than Vancouver — this side of Venice — we haven’t seen it. The one time we arrived at the Port of Vancouver, on the Coral Princess, it was breathtaking. Considering that we once lived there, that says something.

Breathtaking, until we disembarked. Then, we were out of breath for a different reason. Trying to negotiate our way through the terminal, past the buses, carrying and wheeling four or five pieces of luggage was, in a word, exhausting.

Good news is on the horizon.

Next year, when the Alaska season brings cruise ships to the West Coast, the Port of Vancouver terminal will be only the one at Canada Place (an older one, called Ballantyne VancouverPier, is being retired). What’s more, changes to Canada Place will mean, in the words of Port authorities: “cruise terminal passenger flows to improve efficiency and optimize the passenger experience.”

About time!

The improvements come in the form of two new escalators, plus additional check-in and marshaling space, which hopefully also includes additional check-out space.And there’s more good news…

Royal Caribbean ships were able to use shore power for the first time, joining ships from Disney, Holland America and Princess. That has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 11,000 tonnes. While we are unable to put that into global context, we know this: It’s good.

Vancouver is closing in on a million visitors a year from cruise ships, resulting in near half a million hotel stays in British Columbia and an estimated $2 million in economic activity each time a cruise ships arrives. But the best part for us is still that getting off the ship — hopefully — will be easier.

We’re happy to have our breath taken away once, not twice.

Today at portsandbows.com: On board the new Quantum of the Seas

Carnival Freedom
6 nights
December 21, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Key West, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
Inside: $379
Cost per day: $63
www.carnival.com

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