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Day One Of Hurricane Season

You can set your calendar by this blog. It’s Hurricane Season. Every June 1, or thereabouts, we provide you with the obligatory outlook for the season that starts today…obligatory because, while hurricanes seldom affect cruise ships that can outrun them, the fact remains ships are on waters that can generate such storms.

So…

NOAA — officially known as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — is the most credible organization for predicting, tracking and keeping records of North American hurricanes. This year, NOAA says “below normal.” Normal is 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes.

Before anybody on North American shores dares to get complacent, these are weather predictions and everybody knows how often the weatherman are wrong — just ask one how many times he (or she) was blamed for mis-predicting weather. In any case, here is what “below normal” means over Atlantic waters:

Named storms — 6 to 11
Hurricanes — 3 to 6
Major hurricanes — 0 to 2

Between today and November 30, NOAA estimates there’s a 70 per cent chance it will be correct in projecting “below normal” with a 20 per cent chance of “near normal” and a 10 per cent chance of “above normal.”

It’s called hedging your bets.

Predictions are all about the temperature of ocean water. The warmer the water, the more chance of a hurricane. Apparently, El Nino is expected to suppress the hurricane season and if you can figure out how, you should head for meteorological university, yet hurricanes in the Pacific are expected to be more plentiful:

OdileNamed storms — 15 to 22
Hurricanes — 7 to 12
Major hurricanes — 5 to 8

Peak season on both coasts is early August.

The first storm (Ana) has already arrived in the Atlantic and the next one will be called Bill. Since they’re all done alphabetically, if Wanda arrives it’s not going to be a “below normal” season. The first storm in the Pacific will be Andres…and Zelda would be No. 24, at the other end of the list.

Last year, NOAA predicted 8 to 13 named storms (there were 8), 3 to 6 hurricanes (there were 6) and 1 or 2 major hurricanes (there were 2). That was in the east. Out west in the Pacific, which always seems to be something of a hurricane afterthought, there were 22 storms, 16 hurricanes, 9 of them major.

Anybody who cruised into Cabo San Lucas last September will never forget Hurricane Odile (above), which reached category 4 with winds of 140 miles per hour.

In the news…

• Quantum of the Seas makes a splash in Dubai on 53-day global trip
• Hong Kong pulls plug on supplying on-shore power for ships…too costly

Today at portsandbows.com: Another look at Carnival Vista, arriving next spring

Celebrity Millennium
7 nights
June 21, 2015
Anchorage, Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, Icy Strait Point, Ketchikan, Vancouver
Oceanview: $549
Cost per day: $78
www.celebritycruises.com

Family Harbor New Option On Vista

In another life, the Carnival Vista would’ve been a perfect ship for our family cruise. When you have a family of five, as we did when the children were children, it’s not always easy to find accommodation on vacation.

Once, we smuggled one of them into a hotel in France, because most hotels in France allow only four to a room, and two rooms was out of the question. On our inaugural (and only) family cruise, which happened to be a Carnival ship, there was no smuggling allowed…so we had two rooms apart. It happened that there was a problematic room between them, but that’s another story.

Oh yes, the Vista.

One of the features on the new Carnival ship — still 11 months away from its inaugural cruise — is the Family Harbor, where the whole family can hunker down for the night in one room. There are options, from inside to suite, and they are priced accordingly. The OceanviewFamily Harbor room in the picture is a deluxe oceanview, probably the one we’d have taken, cosy as it would be for five people (hey, five in a French hotel wasn’t exactly palatial!).

At what cost?

The Vista will spend its first six months in Europe, starting May 1, then cross the ocean to New York at the end of October before settling in Miami. To research prices, we opted for a couple of Caribbean cruises in late 2016 and early 2017, one of five days, the other eight days. The cost was about the same for each cruise when you break it down…between $80 and $85 per person, per day.

Booking two oceanview (non-deluxe) rooms on the same cruises would cost more: $640 for the 5-day cruise and $1,400 for the 8-day cruise. And, there are things not included that come with residing in Family Harbor…like access to a lounge only for Family Harbor passengers, free specialty-restaurant meals for kids under 12 and an exclusive family concierge.

There still are families of five. We see them all the time, and we reminisce. If they’re looking for that family cruise that keeps everybody behind one door and if they have a budget, as we did, the Vista will soon be a new option.

In the news…

• Star Clippers building largest sailing ship to be launched in 2017
• On Regent's Explorer: luxurious spa, infinity pool, state-of-the-art fitness

Today at portsandbows.com: Alex Trebek, finally an adventure cruiser in the Arctic

Celebrity Millennium
7 nights
July 24, 2015
Anchorage, Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, Icy Strait Point, Ketchikan, Vancouver
Oceanview: $649
Cost per day: $92
www.celebritycruises.com

Why Upscale Cruise Deals Are Rare

You may have noticed in our Daily Deals — five days a week, 52 weeks a year — that bargains on "upper premium" cruise lines appear only rarely. There’s a reason for that: The “deals” are often…well, confusing.

An example is one we just received from Oceania.

What caught our eyes was Free 3-night Winelands & Wildlife Safari Land Tour on 6 Voyages promotion. That led us to randomly choose one of the six voyages, a 30-day trip on the Oceania Nautica from Dubai to Cape Town, South Africa, and dig deeper into some of the details:

• 2 for 1 cruise fares — Oceania does a lot of this and the problem is that it’s based on a “brochure fare.” On this one, the promotional fare is $9,999 for an inside stateroom, compared to a brochure fare of $26,398. That’s per person. Really? Somebody would consider paying almost $1,000 a day, per person, on the Nautica?

• Free Airfare* — The asterisk (*) is for the gateway cities where your coach air fare applies, and that transportation to say, Atlanta, is extra. Fair enough. By the way, ground transportation is not included.

• $500 shipboard credit — Okay.

• Free pre-paid gratuities & Internet — That’s pretty straightforward, until you read the fine print, where it says “Free Internet is one per stateroom and applies to Concierge Level Staterooms.”

• Free safari land tour — Also straightforward, except that it is “capacity controlled, limited availability.”

So, here’s the bottom line: Your cruise fare is half the “rack rate” and your air fare is paid from major airports; on the ship you get $500 credit per stateroom, the Internet is free if you book a concierge room ($13,299) or higher, and you get a free African safari for three days as long as it’s not overbooked by people looking for the same freebie.

Confusing?

We thought so, too.

Today at portsandbows.com: Beautiful Budapest at night

Celebrity Millennium
7 nights
June 12, 2015
Anchorage, Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait Point, Ketchikan, Inside Passage, Vancouver
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78
www.celebritycruises.com

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

 

Friday File: Picture These Cruise Ships

For anybody who likes cruising, and we assume you do, ships make great photo ops. Why else do we see passengers standing on the shore taking photos of the ships they’re traveling on, over and over. In fact, we do it ourselves. What follows this week are some of our favorite ship shots, mostly because of how much we liked the picture, or the situation…

Sky-GSKThis is the Norwegian Sky, from the beach at Great Stirrup Cay, the island the cruise line owns. This is our ship-on-the-rocks picture. The Sky is anchored offshore because, at least when we snapped this, the channel wasn’t deep enough and passengers were tendered ashore.

InfinityThe Celebrity Infinity was heading east in the Panama Canal, passing its sister ship, the Millennium. We knew it was coming so our camera was poised to catch this sail-by in one of the narrowest parts of the Canal, and we think it will still be this narrow when the Canal expansion is finished next year…or the year after…

Freedom-2We spotted the Carnival Freedom “almost on the rocks” during the day and liked the photo so much we came back and took it again at night. The reality is we were in Willemstad, Curacao long enough that we disembarked in the afternoon and, after having dinner 20 miles away, it was dark when we returned. 

Coral-KetchikanThe juxtaposition was irresistible. In the background, the Coral Princess. In the foreground, the statue of a carved eagle that welcomes visitors to Ketchikan, Alaska. This is eagle country and while you won’t find one this large, the real thing is often available to visiting photographers. Still, not a bad substitute.

AllureWhen we took this picture, we hadn’t yet been on Allure of the Seas, not surprising since this was the final waves of its initial Transatlantic crossing from Europe to Fort Lauderdale in 2010. The event was impressive…helicopters, streamers, tugboats spraying water and a plane overhead welcoming the ship to Florida.

Sun-Guat
If we needed a photo to sell friends on taking a cruise, not that we do, this shot of the Norwegian Sun in Guatemala might do the trick. Nobody thinks of this Central American country as a scenic place to visit, until you’ve been there. This was not quite halfway of a cruise to South America and was, frankly, a surprise.
Two shipsPhotographers would never pick this one as a great photo of cruise ships for sure. However, its significance to us disembarking in Port Everglades from Allure of the Seas on the left and boarding the Carnival Freedom on the right. While the ships are nose to nose, the walk was a little longer than it looks — about 15 minutes.

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Carnival Liberty
7 nights
June 7, 2015
San Juan (return): St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Maarten 
Inside: $569
Cost per day: $81
www.carnival.com

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