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New Panamax Ships and the Canal

We were having lunch with our friend and colleague Phil Reimer, author of Ports and Bows, yesterday. Somewhere between the  breakfast burrito (yes, some people do have breakfast burritos for lunch but she doesn’t want to advertise it) and the Caesar salad, the subject of the Panama Canal came up (better the Canal than the burrito).

Not so much the Canal, but cruise ships sailing through it after the expansion (enlargement) is complete in 2014, exactly 100 years after the completion of the original Canal. Both we and Phil have a special interest in cruising the Canal — for us it was one of our most historic, unforgettable and enjoyable cruises we’ve ever had.

Ironically, our one trip through the Panama Canal was only a couple of days before his one trip. We were on the Celebrity’s Millennium, Phil on Holland America’s Zuiderdam. Both ships were “small” enough to fit…unlike many of today’s cruising monsters…or even mini-monsters.

In yesterday’s blog, we told you about the Carnival Splendor and how it will be sent from California to its new home in New York — via Antarctica. Built in 2008, the Splendor is too large to fit through the Panama Canal, a journey that’s 8,000 miles longer because the Splendor is a “Post Panamax” ship.

So the questions we were mulling over yesterday were about which New Panamax cruise ships would use the Canal in 2014, and which one would be first. The biggest is, of course, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas and there is some question whether the Allure (and the Oasis) could use the Canal even though they match New Panamax dimensions…because they may be too tall to fit under the Bridge of the Americas, even at low tide.

So far, none of the cruise lines is saying anything about pushing big ships through the new Canal, even though announcing their 2014 schedules is a year away.

Carnival Fascination
5 nights
April 28, 2012
Jacksonville (return): Half Moon Cay, Nassau
Inside $399

Absentia Unfair to Costa Captain

One of the allegations surfacing about the captain of the Costa Concordia from its horrific accident is that he may not have been on the bridge, driving the ship.

At the risk of sounding like we’re defending the captain, who is being blamed with much more than absentia, the possibility that he would not be on the bridge should not be a surprise. These behemoths of the sea are a far cry from being captain of a freighter, on which (perhaps) the captains are required to have more of a hands-on approach.

On cruise ships, captains are responsible for much more than making sure the ship is going in the right direction, and maybe unfairly so. That fundamental purpose is delegated to staff captains, among others, who delegate it to the computers that have made driving a cruise ship so automatic.

The first report we saw said that the captain of the Concordia was “at the bar.” This is doubtful. Captains we have met unanimously say they never drink when on board, such is the enormity of their responsibility.

So where was this captain?

Well, he could have been welcoming guests at a cocktail party, as he is expected to do. He could have been hosting a dinner with VIPs or frequent cruisers, as he is expected to do. He could have been posing for photos with passengers who want to go home and drop his name because that, too, is one of his duties. At times he is expected to be entertaining, even funny.

There is no cruise ship captain who’s on the bridge 24/7. This captain may indeed be guilty of doing things wrong in events leading up to this nightmare. But being away from the bridge is not one of them.

Maybe one of the industry changes to emerge from this tragedy will be a recommendation for cruise lines to lessen the social demands on their ship captains.

Celebrity Summit
7 nights
February 18, 2012
San Juan  (return): Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Maarten, St. Thomas
Inside $609

Photo courtesy Phil Reimer, Ports and Bows

New Ships: Oceania Riviera

There will be eight new cruise ships launched this year, two of them refurbished ships that have been given new names. As 2012 gets underway, we’re giving you a snapshot of all of them…

Launch date: April 24

Capacity: 1,258

Sister ships: Marina

Maiden Voyage: Athens

Home Ports: Europe, then Miami

Ships now in Oceania fleet: 5

Interesting: This 15-deck beauty, like the Marina, are touted to be “the first ships designed for lovers of fine dining and travel experiences, offering guests a total of 10 dining venues, of which six are open-seating gourmet restaurants with no surcharge.”

Celebrity Century
15 nights
April 5, 2012
San Diego (return): Honolulu, Lahaina, Kona, Kilauea Volcano (cruising), Hilo, Ensenada
Inside $1,269

New Ships: Celebrity Reflection

There will be eight new cruise ships launched this year, two of them refurbished ships that have been given new names. As 2012 gets underway, we’re giving you a snapshot of all of them…

Launch date: October 12

Capacity: 3,052

Sister ships: Solstice, Equinox, Eclipse, Silhouette

Maiden Voyage: Amsterdam

Home Ports: Barcelona, Venice and Miami

Ships now in Celebrity fleet: 10

Interesting: Fifth and final ship in the Solstice Class, the Reflection will have one more deck and 150 more passengers than the other four, along with the First Aqua Class suites.

Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas
7 nights
February 3, 2012
Sao Paulo, Brazil (return): Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Buzios, Ilhabela
Inside $989

Expansion of 'Cellar Masters'

It was almost nine months ago that we were introduced to Cellar Masters, in a big way, on the Celebrity Eclipse on a cruise across the Atlantic. Still in its embryonic stage, Cellar Masters was a way for passengers to buy wine a glass at a time, and at a time of their choosing…even 3 a.m.

We’d heard about Cellar Masters from a sommelier we’d befriended in April 2010, on the Celebrity Millennium. The point here is that Celebrity pioneered this concept, now being adopted by its larger sibling, Royal Caribbean, for two ships — Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas.

As we approach the day when everyone drinks wine that bubbles (that would be Saturday), Royal Caribbean has revealed this once-novel idea is taking a slightly different shape, so to speak. Called WineStation, it offers glasses from 48 bottles and is the largest of its kind at sea.

Clearly, the Cellar Masters was a test, one that would be expanded by the cruise line’s corporate parent, Royal Caribbean. If it hadn’t been successful for Celebrity, there would be no WineStation on the other two ships…and no blog about it on this page!

Carnival Imagination
4 nights
January 30
Miami (return): Key West, Cozumel
Inside $209

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