Focus On Cruising

Exploring the Wonderful World of Cruise Ships

Cruising 101

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Here’s a very good article by Paul Motter, editor of Cruisemates.  He does a good job of categorizing the cruise lines in North America and summarizing their strengths.

Read the article here.

Carnival’s Memorial Day Promotion

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Carnival Cruise Lines has announced a new promotion in honor of Memorial Day and members of the armed services.  Throughout the month of May, members of the armed services, both past and present, may book up to three cabins for themselves, their families and their friends.

You will find more information here.

Voyages to Antiquity

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I’ve been excited about this cruise line since first reading the press release  last August.  Guests on board the Aegean Odyssey will enjoy a focused, immersive experience of one or more of the ancient civilizations that prospered along the shores of the Mediterranean on each cruise.  The itineraries are carefully crafted to avoid port repetition, so return guests will enjoy new experiences with each cruise.

The on board experience will be different from the standard cruise as well.  Gone are the casinos and Broadway revues.  Instead, experts in the region and cultures highlighted by the cruise will give lectures to further enhance the guests’ appreciation of the experience.  The ship, while not new, has been refitted to bring her interiors up to the standards expected by the seasoned travellers the line is hoping to attract.

Unfortunately for me, the three weeks I spent in South America and Antarctica in February preclude me from taking advantage of the exceptional prices Voyages to Antiquity is offering this coming season.  If I were able to finagle my schedule to accommodate it, trust me, my reservation would already be in place.

For those of you for whom this type of cruise resonates, I strongly recommend that you investigate Voyages to Antiquities’ offerings.

There is an excellent description on CruiseMates.  You can read it here.

No Fuel Surcharge For Now

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Micky Arison recently confirmed, in response to a shareholder question, that Carnival Corporation has no plans at present to reinstate the fuel surcharge.  This is welcome news, particularly with the price of oil hovering significantly above the $70 or so threshold that the various Carnival lines have set for themselves.

You can read the full article here.

Alaska Head Tax

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Governor Sean Parnell’s head tax initiative has now passed both houses of the Alaska Legislature.  In 2011 the new rate will go into effect and cruise lines will see a reduction in their per-passenger costs on Alaskan cruises.  Now we’ll have to wait for the cruise lines’ responses.  It is almost certain that deployment in Alaskan waters will increase.  But will the number of cruises return to previous levels?  Not so certain.

Throughout the debate, there appeared to be an odd dis-connect in the Alaskan world view.  There was very little to suggest that Alaskans and their elected representatives recognize that they have a product to sell.  The cruise lines are their customers and, difficult as it may be for the citizenry to believe, there are actually competitors for the cruise lines’ commerce.  One got the impression that there exists a fanciful notion that the cruise lines are in thrall to Destination Alaska.  The fact is that there are other destinations, no less attractive to large numbers of cruisers, that are more profitable for the cruise lines.

The cruise lines, like all profit centered businesses, will shift their assets to more profitable avenues when the opportunity presents itself.  In this case we are, after all, talking about ships.   They are mobile.  The cruise lines have already demonstrated that they can and will redeploy their ships to other destinations.

The governor’s successful proposal is far from universally welcomed.  If Alaska back peddles on this issue, an event not beyond the realm of possibilty, the current reduction in cruises might become permanent.

Now I in no way dispute Alaska’s taxing power or its right to maintain its infrastructure and protect its environment.  I am, however, concerned at the prospect of fewer cruisers having the opportunity to experience the Great Land, as the native Aleuts call it.  Burned into my memory is a day spent in Glacier Bay that can only be characterized as glorious.  It was a true blessing.  I hope that those of you who haven’t experienced Alaska will one day be so blessed.

Single Travellers

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In the past few months we’ve seen signs of an interesting trend emerge.  It appears that the cruise industry has taken notice of the sizable population of single people.  In the most dramatic example of this, Norwegian Epic will have 128 Studio staterooms designed specifically for solo travellers, when she debuts in July.  The Studios will be arrayed on two decks, accessible by key card, and featuring a Studio Lounge for the exclusive use of the Studio occupants.  I think the lounge is a particularly good idea, affording the guests the opportunity, if they so choose, to meet a dinner or drink companion, or even a sightseeing buddy.  The cabins will be 100 square feet in size.  With many of the Studios connecting, they will offer the opportunity for friends to travel together while still having privacy.

Two other lines have also announced overtures to the single community.  Paul Gauguin Cruises has eliminated the single supplement on 7 Spring sailings.  Cabins are, as you might expect, limited and must be booked by April 30, 2010.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises, meanwhile, has reduced their single supplement from 100% to 50% on the following sailings and categories on the Mariner:

Mariner Jun 11 – Cat G               Istanbul to Athens

Mariner Jun 28 – Cat G               Istanbul to Rome

Mariner Jul 10  – Cat G                Rome to Venice

Mariner Aug  7 – Cat G                Rome to Venice

Mariner Aug 19 – Cat G              Venice to Athens

Mariner Aug 26 – Cat F/G          Athens to Istanbul

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, singles in the United States spent  $2.2 trillion in 2008, accounting for 35% of all consumer spending.  This is certainly a huge market, one essentially untapped by the cruise industry.  Whether the price reductions are the beginning of a trend, or simply a response to weak demand, remains to be seen.

I’ve cruised alone.  As with most things in life, it has its pluses and minuses.   It would certainly be more attractive to cruise solo if it were half the price.  How about you?  Have you gone on a cruise as a single?  Would you be tempted if the price were better?

Art Auctions

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There’s an interesting article today on CruiseMates about art auctions on board cruise ships.  A cautionary tale, one you should read if you have ever participated in one of these auctions, or have even considered it.

I’ve never really been tempted.  Much of what I’ve seen on display doesn’t resonate with me.  I suspect the price point is well above anything I would even consider spending, particularly without any real way to verify authenticity or market price.

Anyone have some personal experience with an auction at sea?  I’d love to hear your take on the article.  You can read it here.

Mac Fans Rejoice!

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Here’s an interesting article many of you Mac users might enjoy.  Apple and Celebrity Cruises have joined forces.

Read the article here.

Memorial?

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On April 8, 2012 the MS Balmoral, operated by Fred Olsen Cruise Lines (owned by Harland and Wolff, the builders of Titanic) will sail from Southampton.  The trip is being marketed as the Titanic Memorial Cruise.

The cruise will attempt to duplicate the original crossing in many ways.  Only 1309 passengers will be boarded, identical to Titanic’s passenger complement.  The route will be identical to that of Titanic, departing from the port of Cobh in Ireland, Titanic’s last port of call, on April 11th, 100 years to the day after her departure.

Plans call for Balmoral to arrive on April 14th at 1140PM at the exact spot that Titanic struck an iceberg.  A memorial service will be held several hours later, at 220AM, marking the time Titanic sank with such a tragic loss of life.  From there the ship will travel onward to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Those who choose to do so will have the opportunity here to visit Fairview Lawn Cemetery, where 121 victims are buried.  Ultimately, the ship will arrive in New York, a destination not granted to Titanic and so many of her passengers and crew.

I had originally thought to call this post “Ship of Ghouls”, but decided that the title seemed somewhat  strong.  The concept, however, still strikes me as a bit – well, ghoulish.  This isn’t designed as simply a retracement of Titanic’s route, it‘s a re-enactment.  The menus will be identical to those served on that fateful voyage.  The same is true for the music and entertainment.  The one difference?  These passengers have every reason to believe that they will arrive safely in New York, unlike those 1517 victims who they are “memorializing”.
Of the 21 cabin categories on board Balmoral, 15 are already sold out.  Of the 6 remaining, 2 are listed as having limited availability.  Clearly, there is demand and I certainly recognize that there is widespread  fascination with Titanic.  The story resonates with us.  It’s the method of marking the anniversary of such a tragic event that bothers me.  The idea simply makes me uneasy.

What do you think?  Am I being overly sensitive?  I’d very much like to hear your thoughts.

Where’s The Limit?

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We’ve all seen the headlines.  One Caribbean island after another welcoming record numbers of cruise passengers.  It seems every week some cruise line or port is making breathless announcements of old records broken.  The latest is Royal Caribbean’s announcement that Oasis of the Seas boarded 6007 passengers on the March 13th sailing.

We tend to have a fascination with large numbers and new records.  There’s an underlying assumption, unstated but unquestioned, that bigger is better in these matters – that less, in fact, is not more.

One can certainly understand RCCL’s pride.  This, after all, is the reason Oasis of the Seas was built.  She and her sister, Allure of the Seas, were designed to carry unprecedented numbers of passengers.  At the moment, they have a success on their hands.  Interest runs high, sales are brisk, and the sailings on Oasis are heavily booked.

If these two ships do enjoy long term success, how will RCCL’s competitors respond?  I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this trend.  I don’t imagine Oasis and Allure represent the maximum possible size a cruise ship can attain.  It probably wouldn’t break some law of physics to build a ship even bigger.

But if you build it, will they really come?  At which point does a larger ship become possible, but also impractical?  Like some benign invasion, when does the impact of 20,000 or more cruise passengers from several ships not only strain the infrastructure of an island, but also negatively influence the experience of those very same tourists?  This invasion might, in truth, only be interested in plundering the Lladro and Little Switzerland shops.  At some point, however, you can have too much of even a good thing.