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Friday File: Beaches of Beauty

If you think a beach is a beach is a beach, which people who don’t lie in the sun might feel inclined to do, then you haven’t met our son-in-law. He will structure his family’s vacations around the quality of the beaches. Prompted by his discriminating eye, we’re re-visiting some that we’ve at least seen in our cruise travels…

TulumTULUM: This picture is taken from the ancient ruins of Tulum, and its accompanying beach provides an alternative for cranky teenagers (or adults) more interested in sunshine than sun gods.

GREAT STIRRUP CayGREAT STIRRUP CAY: This is Norwegian’s private island, which means this is Norwegian’s private beach, available only to its cruise-ship passengers. It has everything you might want, especially people.

BarcelonaBARCELONA: You don’t expect to find palm trees, or beaches like this, in Barcelona…at least we didn’t. The lack of beach-goers had more to do with the time of year (May) than the quality of sand. 

Huatulco-2HUATULCO: A nice spot frequented mostly by the locals who live near this pretty place in southern Mexico, and just a short cab ride from the Celebrity Millennium…well worth whatever it cost us.

St. MaartenST. MAARTEN: The bar from which this shot is taken does a booming business all day, thanks mostly to cruise tourists from Philipsburg, 20 minutes away from being this close to landing jets.

Miami
MIAMI: There are places that lay claim to being the most famous of beaches, but is there one better known than Miami Beach (okay, Fort Lauderdale) and its view for passing cruise ships?
ArubaARUBA: White sandy beaches that stretch seven miles along this tiny island, flanked by some of the most expensive hotels you’ll find. The good news is the beaches are all public — it’s the law.
Costa MayaCOSTA MAYA: A popular Mexican port still recovering from Hurricane Dean (2007) doesn’t have a lot to do within walking distance of the ship, but this beach near the pier is a hotspot for passengers.

Today at portsandbows.com: Koningsdam coming to America

Royal Princess
14 nights
April 25, 2015
Fort LauderdalePonta DelgadaCorkRotterdamBrusselsSouthampton
Inside: $696
Cost per day: $49
www.princess.com

 

Cruise Ships A Respite From Cats?

A husband and wife in Dublin had an unusual request for a travel writer this month: How could they take a cat-free holiday? The wife had a “cat phobia” and it didn’t matter where they went in Europe, there were cats…in restaurants, under tables, in hotel lobbies, even on the street!

CatMillions of us who travel on almost any cruise ship had the obvious answer, but it took the travel writer a while to get around to it.

She did her homework, because that’s what travel writers do. At Euromonitor, she discovered a graph of “cat- and dog- owning nations” but we couldn’t find it so we’re not sure if she was looking for the pet population — or nations that are owned by cats and dogs. 

Neither came up.

The travel writer did point out that cruise ships are cat-free, then went on to reveal that Barcelona is a big cruise port (really?) and that there are usually “coach or boat excursions” operated in cruise ports. She even mentioned the names of a few cruise lines…Celebrity, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, MSC.

She did miss the boat on a couple of things. One, Cunard does allow cats on its three ships — they stay in an on-board kennel and their owners are allowed regular visits. And two, she should’ve told them to avoid Oasis of the Seas, the world’s biggest cruise ship.

Because Oasis has CATS!

The musical.

Today at portsandbows.com: Cruise update — women rule!

Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas
7 nights
January 18, 2015
Galveston (return): FalmouthGeorge TownCozumel 
Inside: $387
Cost per day: $55
www.royalcaribbean.com

An Epic Journey Ending In Caribbean

Barnacled and bruised, and beleaguered since birth, the Norwegian Epic is riding off into the sunset next spring. Perhaps the sun will be kinder to the big ship in Barcelona because, on this side of the ocean, the sun appears to have done melanoma-like damage.

EpicAmong the critics, that is.

The Epic arrived in New York in the summer of 2010. Despite her size (4,100 passengers minimum and close to 6,000 maximum), she was never the biggest. She was never the prettiest, sometimes derisively described as the ship with a box-top hat. She was never duplicated and when the idea of a potential sibling was aborted before Norwegian spent any more on the plan it only added to her unpopularity.

Yet we loved the Epic.

We were fortunate enough to cruise on her twice. She was the biggest “freestyle” ship anywhere, and that helped. She introduced Blue Man Group to the seas, and that was better than we anticipated. With a somewhat unorthodox traffic flow, there were pre-launch predictions of line-ups everywhere, but they never materialized. Only on the Epic was serious attention paid to accommodation for singles, and that made her a trend-setter.

Maybe it was because her first master, Trygve Vorren, was as nice a captain as we’ve ever met after being told he wouldn’t be, and because we had a chance to know him a little, not many months before he boarded the big cruise ship in the sky. And that his successor, Slam AllenFrank Juliussen, was just as warm, as honest and as entertaining…two years later. Maybe it was because Slam Allen blew us away with his performances at Fat Cats Jazz & Blues Club on the Epic, even though we’re not huge fans of fat cats, jazz or blues.

The disaster in the cabins — sort-of see-through bathroom doors — was so much a non-starter with passengers that two years ago (when she was a two-year-old) readers of Travel Weekly picked the Epic as the “best overall individual cruise ship” for the third year in a row, and that same year Porthole Magazine named her the “Best Mega Ship.”  She has also been decorated for her entertainment, new restaurants, gambling venue and family appeal.

In what has to be an unusual marketing ploy, Norwegian is promoting her final Caribbean cruises as the Epic’s “Farewell Tour in the Caribbean” when her cruising days there end next April. Judging by the ship’s passenger popularity, it’s probably a certainty to sell out.

Why is the Epic leaving?

Norwegian has launched two ships (Breakaway and Getaway) since the Epic and two more (Escape and Bliss) are coming. The place to start new ships is always in the Caribbean, the world’s cruising hotspot, and there is a limit to a cruise line’s capacity. So it is time for the Epic to move on, perhaps to calmer waters.

It’ll be interesting to see how Europeans take to her. Undoubtedly, the Epic will undergo some changes to cater to Europe’s tastes and culture. They’ll have her for three years, minimum, and probably longer. However, if she’s not welcome, there’s a lot of us who would take her back.

Anytime.

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Carnival Sensation
4 nights
November 16, 2014
Port Canaveral (return): Freeport, Nassau
Inside: $119
Cost per day: $29
www.carnival.com

Oceania Ships Have The Same Look Now

Two years ago in the Mediterranean, we were fortunate to be on the Oceania Riviera for one of its first cruises, with a stop in Barcelona for the christening and official naming ceremony. This is a smallish ship by ocean-going standards — just 1,250 Rivierapassengers — and, by any objective cruiser's estimation, the Riviera is one beautiful ship.

It is a sister to Marina, Oceania's first new-build. Before that, three ships that performed for other lines made up the Oceania fleet.

And this year, it's their turn.

Earlier in the week, the last of the three — the Regatta — came out of dry-dock looking more like her prettier, younger sisters. While beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, and while there's only so much you can do with an old body (we speak from experience), when somebody spends $50 million on ships that are already "nice" you can assume they're going to look more like they belong to the same family.

The Regatta was the first ship for fledgling Oceania Cruises, 11 years ago, along with the Insignia. Both were known as "R ships" from bankrupt Renaissance Cruises. Two years later, along came the Nautica, another former R ship, and that was the fleet until RivieraMarina arrived, squeaky clean and new, in 2011.

This is the second time the Regatta has been refurbished in three years and most of its new look has to do with cosmetics…isn't that always the case? It also features a couple of popular and proven Marina and Riviera additions: Baristas coffee bar and the Terrace Cafe. That's the same treatment the Nautica and Insignia both received before they emerged from dry-dock last month.

When the Riviera arrived in 2012, it was from the same Fincantieri Shipyard that delivered Marina. About the same time, Insignia was being leased to Hapag-Lloyd Cruises for two years, probably for financial reasons. She returned last month and Oceania again became a five-ship fleet, but won't likely stay that way for long.

Plans are in place with Fincantieri for two more new ships.

If the Marina and the Riveria hadn't been so popular, that wouldn't happen.

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: Quantum of the Seas and entertainment

Norwegian Sky
4 nights
September 15, 2014
Miami (return): Grand BahamaNassauGreat Stirrup Cay
Inside: $179
Cost per day: $44
www.ncl.com

Shipless In Barcelona And Everybody Wins

Of all the reasons we've heard for a change in cruise itineraries, one that we read about on the weekend was new. It was also kind of win-win.

The P&O ship Oceana was at its scheduled stop in Barcelona when the cruise line discovered a repair was necessary. Not a safety-concern repair but one that had to Oceana-1be addressed nonetheless. There was a leak in the seal around a propeller and it was going to take frogmen — okay, divers — almost three full days to fix it.

So the ship was stuck, in Barcelona. The passengers were stuck, in Barcelona.

Poor passengers.

Anybody who has been to the Spanish port knows it's easy to spend three days in Barcelona. Also fun.

The delay also means the passengers won't get to three other Spanish ports: Cartagena, Alghero and La Courna. In return, P&O gave passengers a 25 per cent cash refund and a comprehensive entertainment program and shore excursions in Barcelona.

Talk about making a silk purse from a sow's ear!

Today at portsandbows.com: Not exactly the CATS meow!

Carnival Conquest
7 nights
April 27, 2014
Miami (return): NassauSt. ThomasSan JuanGrand Turk
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $57
www.carnival.com

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