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Exploring the Wonderful World of Cruise Ships

NCL Still Likes Singles

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Studio Cabin on Norwegian Epic


If you have been reading this blog for a while, you will have undoubtedly noticed that I have a particular interest in options for single cruisers.  This is, however, not a wholly altruistic penchant.  I have, on occasion, failed to take advantage of an opportunity to cruise because no one I know is in a position to travel with me.  Single supplements and the lack of camaraderie have deterred me.

I have been particularly excited by the effort Norwegian Cruise Line has made to appeal to single cruisers.  The whole “ship within a ship” environment they have created on the Epic with the studio cabins and the lounge dedicated to occupants of those cabins is very impressive.  There are few passenger ships in service with any single cabins at all, and none that come anywhere near the number that Epic has.

I’ve wondered how this would unfold.  When NCL stopped being coy last week and confirmed their order for two new ships, only slightly smaller than Epic, I anxiously watched for news about single cabins.  Information is still relatively scarce, but CEO Kevin Sheehan, in an interview in Travel Weekly, did re-affirm NCL’s commitment to single cruisers.  He is quoted as saying: “That’s a strategy that makes sense. [Singles are] an under-served group of people, and our brand meets that need. We care about that group of travellers.”

That’s good to hear.  Far too early to know how that sentiment will translate into the new ships’ designs, but encouraging nevertheless.

As an aside, one much-discussed Epic feature unlikely to be replicated on the new vessels is the peculiar scattered bathroom layout.  Excellent decision.

Technorati Tags: Cruise line, cruise ship, NCL, Norwegian Cruise Line, Norwegian Epic, single cabins, single cruisers, single travelers

A Steinbeck Anniversary


National Geographic Sea Bird

Lindblad Expeditions will mark the 70th anniversary of John Steinbeck’s “The Log From The Sea of Cortez” with a special Baja California expedition.  The expedition will both recall Steinbeck’s famous journey with his friend, biologist Ed Ricketts, and explore the marvelous and extensive natural beauty and ecosystem of the sea that so captivated them.

In 1940, both men set out to study invertebrate species in the Gulf of California.  The book that grew from this journey is a fascinating mixture of science, nature and philosophy, which continues to resonate with readers 70 later.

“Among the Great Whales”, an 8 day voyage on National Geographic Sea Bird, will depart La Paz, Mexico on January 22, 2011.  The ship will follow in the path of Steinbeck’s voyage, travelling around the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula from the Sea of Cortez to the Bahian Magdalena, the nursing lagoon for grey whales during their annual migration from the Arctic.  Zodiacs will provide passengers with a rare water-level whale watching opportunity.
Joining the expedition team on the cruise will be two noted scholars.  Susan Shillinglaw is professor of English at San Jose State University, a Scholar-in-Residence at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, and the former director of the San Jose State University Steinbeck Center.

Dr. William Gilly has, for the past several years, been measuring important mid-water oxygen levels in the Sea of Cortez as part of Linblad’s ongoing expedition operations.  In 2004, he led a group, which included Susan Shillinglaw, that retraced the 1940 Sea of Cortez expedition in an effort to document long-term changes.  Dr. Gilly is a National Geographic grantee.

Those of you who have read Steinbeck’s “A Log from the Sea of Cortez” will understand the pull that this cruise elicits in many who were so influenced by the book.  To experience for oneself the astonishing natural beauty of that rugged coast, and witness the abundance of wildlife, all so wonderfully described by Steinbeck, is a goal for many of his readers.

Technorati Tags: Bahian Magdalena, Baja California, Cruise line, cruise ship, grey whales, John Steinbeck, Lindblad Expeditions, National Geographic, Sea Bird, Sea of Cortez

A Veteran’s Day Promotion From Carnival

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Carnival Dream

Carnival Cruise Line has announced a promotion in honor of Veteran’s Day.  This is similar to a promotion the cruise line offered active and retired military personnel last Memorial Day.  You’ll find my post about the last promotion here.   The press release follows:

“In honor of Veteran’s Day, Carnival Cruise Line is offering a promotion throughout November that allows active and retired military personnel to book up to three “Fun Ship” staterooms at discounted rates for themselves and their friends and family members.

Reservations must be made between November 1-30, 2010, to qualify for this special offer, which is available in conjunction with a variety of three- to eight-day “Fun Ship” departures through April 30, 2012, including voyages to the Bahamas, Caribbean, Mexico and Europe.

Rates start at $219 per person for three- and four-day cruises; $279 per person for five-day voyages; $399 per person for six-day departures; $449 per person for seven-day voyages; and $649 per person for eight-day sailings.  Also included are seven-day Europe voyages starting at $789 per person.

Voyages to the Caribbean, Bahamas and Mexico operate from 12 convenient North American homeports along the east and west coasts and Gulf of Mexico.  Europe cruises depart from Barcelona, Spain.

“Carnival has a long history of supporting our U.S. military personnel through special pricing and promotions and we are pleased to offer this program throughout November to demonstrate our appreciation to these most deserving individuals,” said Joni Rein, Carnival’s vice president of worldwide sales.

The promotion is valid for individual bookings only. Military personnel must provide proof of service. Eligible military personnel must sail to take advantage of this offer.  Certain other restrictions apply.”

I liked this idea in May and I like it now.  The men and women who have served or who are currently serving deserve our gratitude.  Well done, Carnival.

Technorati Tags: Carnival Cruise Line, Carnival Dream, Cruise line, cruise ship, Fun Ships, military personnel, sale, Veteran's Day

MSC Cruises Has A Birthday Present For (Some Of) You!

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MSC Poesia

If you just happen to celebrate your birthday between November 14th and December 19th, and you’re in the market for a cruise, MSC Cruises has a present for you.

Only a lucky few can take advantage of this special offer.  If you’re one of them, your present is valid, space permitting, on the following sailings departing from Ft. Lauderdale:

  • Eastern Caribbean cruise, calls in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; and Nassau Bahamas; departs Nov. 14, 28, and Dec. 12, 2010; rates start at $264.50 for traveling companion plus government fees and taxes, for all guests, of $69.62 each;
  • Western Caribbean cruise, calls in Key West, Florida; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Georgetown, Grand Cayman; and Cozumel, Mexico; departs Nov. 21 and Dec. 5, 2010; rates start at $264.50 for traveling companion plus government fees and taxes, for all guests, of $81.35.

Restrictions, of course, apply.  This offer is valid for new bookings made up to December 12, 2010.  At least one person per stateroom must be celebrating his/her birthday during the chosen cruise as it will be requested at the time of booking. Rates are based on double occupancy for U.S. and Canadian residents. Government fees and taxes for all guests are additional; restrictions apply. Suites are excluded from this offer. MSC Cruises reserves the right to pass on any fuel surcharge without notice to all guests.

What a nice little idea.  For just the cost of government fees and taxes, you get to celebrate your birthday on a cruise.  It would be nice to see this idea expand.

Technorati Tags: birthday offer, Caribbean cruise, Cruise line, cruise ship, MSC Cruises, MSC Poesia, sail for free

The Rumors Are True

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Artist Rendering of New Ship

Well, the rumors that I wrote about last month have now been confirmed.  Norwegian Cruise Line has reached an agreement with Meyer Werft to build two new ships for delivery in Spring 2013 and Spring 2014.  Coming in at 143,500 tons, the ships will be the largest built in Germany.

The contract price for the two ships is 1.2 billion euros.  NCL has estimated the passenger capacity for the ships will be 4000 double occupancy, but some industry insiders are suggesting it will be closer to 4050 passengers.  The Norwegian Epic is 9% larger than these newbuilds, but carries only 50 more passengers.  The ships’ design is said to be a bit sleeker and more traditional than the boxy Epic, but there will be less space per passenger than found on Epic.

The contract represents a major expansion for NCL, increasing passenger capacity by 30%.  This is a bit of a departure from the line’s conservative approach of recent years, and is the first new order under CEO Kevin Sheehan, who took over in 2008.

“We have always been focused on a disciplined approach to capacity growth. Our decision to add two new ships reflects the significant progress we have made in improving our operating performance and repositioning the Company over the last several years, as well as the strong market demand we are seeing for Norwegian Epic and our other ships,” said Sheehan. “Building on the incredible success and popularity of Norwegian Epic, we are taking the best of what our newest ship has to offer, as well as drawing on our legacy of innovation in the cruise industry, in creating a new class of Freestyle Cruising vessel that is sure to provide our guests with the unparalleled freedom and flexibility they have come to expect on a Norwegian cruise.”

With the Epic, Norwegian Cruise line positioned itself at the forefront of innovation in the cruise industry.  It will be interesting to watch as these two ships develop.

Technorati Tags: Cruise line, cruise ship, Kevin Sheehan, Meyer Werft, NCL, newbuilds, Norwegian Cruise Line, Norwegian Epic

River Boat Cruising On The Hudson River

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American Cruise Line's Independence

Friday morning was a beautiful day in New York, clear and crisp.  I arrived at the MetroNorth platform at the usual time.  Today, however, we harried commuters had a bit of a treat.  Directly opposite the platform, much closer to the New Jersey coast, was a cruise ship.  At first it didn’t quite register.  My first thought was that it was a very large private vessel, but it really was too large for that.  When I noticed the distinctive red, white and blue funnel, I realized that this was one of the American Cruise Lines’ ships on one of their Fall Foliage cruises up the Hudson to Albany and back.

In years of taking the railroad to work, I have never seen one of these ships on the river.  Our schedules never quite matched up.  Yesterday was a perfect day for my first sighting.  The air was clear, the Palisades were resplendent in their Fall colors of red and orange, and the ship shone in the bright sunshine.  Looking up the itinerary in the office, I learned that the ship had over-nighted in Sleepy Hollow, a charming suburban town made infamous by Washington Irving, just 15 miles upriver from where I stood.  One wonders what Ichabod Crane would have made of the ship.

It occurred to me too late to take a picture with my phone, the thought springing to mind at the same time as the train pulled in to the station.  It also occurred to me, as the doors closed, that it would have been so much nicer to glide down the Hudson to the city on board the ship, an exciting day exploring New York in the offing.  Instead we rumbled inexorably toward Grand Central and our day at work.

Technorati Tags: American Cruise Line, Cruise line, cruise ship, Hudson River, Ichabod Crane, river boat cruises, Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving

Regent Ups The Ante

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Seven Seas Mariner

Once you’ve thrown in airfare, drinks, excursions, gratuities and taxes, what’s a cruise line to do?  How do you entice hesitant cruisers to make a buying decision?  Price cutting is an option high end travel companies are loathe to employ and do so only when all else fails.  Once prices are reduced, suppliers encounter a great deal of resistance from consumers when they attempt to restore prices to previous levels.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises has come up with an added perk to further distinguish themselves from their lofty competition and attract passengers.  Beginning with the January 7, 2011 departure of the Seven Seas Navigator, nearly every cruise will include a one night hotel package at a deluxe hotel prior to the cruise.  Included in the package will be the hotel room, transfers from airport to hotel and hotel to port, and breakfast prior to check out.

“To be the best of the best, we believe that exclusivity means inclusivity,” said line president Mark Conroy in a press statement. “As travel to a destination can often be tiring, we decided to up the luxury ante by including a deluxe hotel stay so our guests can relax and explore a world-class city before beginning their Regent Seven Seas cruise.”

It is, I think, advisable to arrive in your departure port the day prior to the cruise, unless you are within driving distance.  The further you have to travel, the greater the wisdom in this precaution.  How nice to be both prudent in your planning and frugal at the same time.  I think Regent has come up with a great new inclusion to their cruise package.   The offer is good for bookings made up to December 31, 2010.

Technorati Tags: Cruise line, cruise ship, free hotel night, hotel package, Regent Seven Seas Cruises


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Waterfall - Jeju Island

Their saga has been widely reported.  44 Chinese nationals jumped ship on Korea’s Jeju Island on Sunday.  More prosaically, and more accurately, they disembarked Costa Classica for a day’s outing on the resort island with many of their fellow passengers and failed to return.  Had you been present at the time, you would have been able to identify them – they were the people carrying their luggage!

As of this writing, 11 members of the group have been found and deported, turned over to Chinese police authorities.  The other 33, when found, will face a similar fate.

Why did they do it?  Many of the articles maintain that the group planned to make for the Korean mainland and get jobs.  Is this really the case, or has it simply attained the status of fact through repetition?  I haven’t read any article which claims to have had direct contact with the detainees.

One longs for a loftier motivation, one not quite so mundane, a motivation that would help crystalize thought processes.  Perhaps mundane is the best we’re going to get.  In a situation that is, to my mind, incongruous at best, the noblest response is a bit uncertain.

The Republic of Korea (South Korea) is treating the issue as one of illegal immigration.  There’s no indication that the group sought political asylum, so South Korea may well be correct.  Illegal immigration is certainly an issue which has incited a fair amount of heated debate here in the US and is, perhaps, a troublesome issue for Korea as well.  Their response may well be dictated by the need to protect their own citizens’ best interests, or even by law or treaty.

In my mind, however, I keep coming back to one major concern – they are being turned over to Chinese police authorities.  Now my concern might be completely unfounded.  Perhaps China has fully embraced the concepts of human rights and punishment in fair measure as befits the crime.  I’m not convinced, however.  I suspect and fear that their days on Costa Classica were the last good ones these hapless job seekers will experience for a while.

Technorati Tags: chinese tourists, Costa Classica, Costa Cruise Lines, cruise ship, deported, Jeju Island, jump ship, Republic of Korea, South Korea

Plague Ship

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A number of news stories are circulating about the outbreak of a gastrointestinal illness inflicting a small number of passengers on board the Caribbean Princess.  I think it is safe to conjecture that the culprit is the Norovirus, a not so rare guest on cruise ships in recent years.

What struck me as amusing was the reaction, as reported in some of these articles, of the residents of Saint John, New Brunswick, where the ship docked this morning.  Store owners and tour operators were advised to be particularly mindful, with hand sanitizers and disinfected door knobs being the salient safeguards.  One local shopkeeeper professed to hoping for the best.  “I’m going to be a lot more careful with the way I handle their money and stuff”, he is quoted as saying.  One guesses that he soldiered on and took their money when it was offered.

One would almost think that an upset tummy was the early warning sign of something far more dire.  It seemed as if the hapless citizens of Saint John were beset by the imminent arrival of a plague ship, with infected passengers hellbent on forcing their filthy lucre on the populace.  Perhaps making them wear bells would have been an appropriate precaution.

I’m having a bit of fun, of course, primarily at the media which needs to take even minor news items and imbue them with far more importance than they actually have.  I also am not minimizing the discomfort that norovirus inflicts on its victims.  It is important to remember, however, that this virus was first identified over 40 years ago, and has probably been around for a good deal longer.  It is responsible for the overwhelming majority of large-scale outbreaks of what is commonly called stomach flu worldwide, and is by no means restricted to cruise ships.

One measure, I guess, of a virus’s success is its ability to jump from one victim to the next, and norovirus thrives in densely populated environments.  Cruise ships are certainly excellent breeding grounds, but they are far from the only venues that encourage transmission.  The good citizens of Saint John are probably more at risk from little Tommy and Sally bringing home their new norovirus friends that they acquired at school, than they are from passengers off a cruise ship.

Technorati Tags: Cruise line, cruise ship, gastrointestinal illness, New Brunswick, norovirus, Princess Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises, Saint John, stomach flu

Sometimes When It Rains, It Pours

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Costa Classica

I imagine this is a week that can’t end soon enough for the captain and crew of the Costa Classica.  On Sunday, 44 Chinese passengers essentally jumped ship while docked at Korea’s Jeju Island.  Actually, they simply disembarked with everyone else, seemingly intent on enjoying a day on the resort island.  Unlike the other passengers, however, they never returned to the ship.  It was subsequently discovered that they left with their luggage, but without their passports, apparently aiming to make their way to the South Korean mainland.

Eleven of the passengers were found in local hotels and remain in police custody, awaiting deportation.  The hunt is still on for the remaining 33, who will face a similar fate when found.

Meanwhile, Costa Classica, lighter by 44 passengers, departed Jeju Island at 3PM on Sunday, bound for Shanghai.  At around 445AM on Monday, at the mouth of the Yangtze River, Costa Classica collided with 173,000 dwt bulker* Lowlands Longevity.  The Shanghai Maritime Safety Bureau has concluded, at least initially, that a power glitch caused the Classica to lose control.  The result is a 60 foot gash or crease in Classica’s hull above the water line.

Costa Classica’s next cruise has been cancelled while repairs are made.

*A bulker is a cargo vessel that carries unpackaged bulk cargo,  such as grains and coal.   The Lowland Longevity has a capacity of 173,000 metric tons of deadweight (dwt).

Technorati Tags: chinese tourists, Costa Classica, Costa Cruise Lines, Cruise line, cruise ship, Jeju Island, jumped ship, Korea