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Friday File: Favorite Cruise Ships

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…


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


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


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


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


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


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 What’s next for Princess Cruises

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

Royal Caribbean And Haiti…A Problem?


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

Huggies Link For Disney Ships   


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

Scooting Around Ho Chi Minh City

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

Majestic Princess…majestic port stays

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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