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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…

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

Viator Guide A Memorable Man

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

Royal Caribbean And Haiti…A Problem?

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

Huggies Link For Disney Ships   

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

The Norwegian Edge For All Its Ships 

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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