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Cruising…And What IS To Like

As a follow-up to yesterday’s blog — Cruising, What’s Not To Like? — we thought it made sense to point out why we do like cruising. Again, at the risk of stating the obvious, these come from a long list of “likes” that have emerged from years of being on cruise ships… 

The value: When you add up the costs of flying, renting a car and eating, you’re probably getting close to what you’d spend on taking an average cruise with an average cabin on one of the big ocean ships. If you want to spend more — as you would for business class or a bigger car — you can upgrade from inside stateroom to oceanview to balcony to suite, but none of that compares to sitting in a coach-class airplane seat for hours.

Seeing the world: There are usually borders to be observed (Caribbean, Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, etc.) but cruise ships make it easy to go to an area and see many places Venicethat would be more problematic to reach by air or on land. Beyond that, with re-positioning cruises you can really “do” a lot of places if that’s your motivation and while we haven’t been on one we imagine that around-the-world cruises are easier for the same reason.

Food: Another subjective one, but we could count the bad meals (or mediocre meals) we’ve had on cruise ships. Considering the mass number of people that have to be satisfied, with different tastes and allergies, cruise-ship chefs do a remarkable job of keeping everybody happy,.

Unpacking:  Whether it’s an ocean cruise ship or a river cruise ship, being able to unpack your suitcases and leave everything in the same place for a week or more is like staying in Room-Verandaa hotel for that length of time. The difference is that these hotels are on the move and consequently, so are you. Maybe that’s why people call cruise ships floating hotels!

Options: When you’re on a ship, you can do as much or as little as you like. We tend to do much. We’re more likely to be found in a theater for a show or on a shore excursion than sitting in a stateroom or a bar or library. But having all the options is appealing.

People: Everybody’s different, of course, but we’ve made many friends among crew members who work on ships. While we’re not anti-social, we do find people working on ships and living in ports more interesting than fellow passengers. We’ve made a few friends there, too, but the social aspect has never been a motivation for taking a cruise.

Getting there: In this age, flying has become much less fun. We usually still have to fly to get to a port, but imagine how many flights you’d take if you wanted to visit Peru, Chile and Argentina — or France, Italy and Spain — on one trip.

And those are just the high points!

Today at portsandbows.com: Check our our report from Vietnam on the Amadara

Holland America Veendam
7 nights
September 26, 2015
Quebec City, Charlottetown, Sydney, Halifax, Bar Harbor, Boston
Inside: $729
Cost per day: $104

Game Changer For Cruise Pricing?

Celebrity Cruises, which always puts its fleet in the water, is now sticking in its toe.

All-inclusive cruising?

That’s what Celebrity is calling its latest pricing strategy. Actually, it’s calling the promotion Go!Big, Go!Better, Go!Best and, while it’s a mouthful, it is more effective than its predecessor…123Go!

What Celebrity’s doing is disposing of cruise-only pricing for all oceanview rooms, balcony cabins and suites. Instead, everything is bundled, the new industry catch-word, as our colleague Phil Reimer pointed out the other day at Ports and Bows. River-cruise lines have ventured deeper into all-inclusive waters than any of their ocean rivals.

That’s where the toe comes in for Celebrity.

Buy a cruise with Celebrity and you will be either a Go!Big customer, a Go!Better customer or a Go!Best customer. The difference is what you wish to have included: a classic beverage package, free gratuities, unlimited Internet or a $150 per-person spending credit. They’re all pretty good extras, though not exactly all-inclusivity and you get one with Go!Big, two with Go!Bigger…you get the idea.

The pricing will be built into the increased fares, of course, and give cruisers a flashback to way things used to be when “everything” was included. If it works, Celebrity is likely to increase the number of extras until things like shore excursions are also included. If it works, others in ocean cruising will surely follow suit.

And that’s how we’ll know if it worked.

In the news…

• Holland America suspends flightseeing with Alaska company after crash
• Norwegian's parent company opening new office in Australia

• No impact port changes — yet — from Greece economic woes

Today at portsandbows.com: Denali National Park for all

Norwegian Dawn
7 nights
November 28, 2015
Boston (return): Bermuda
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85

Concerts, Cruise Ships Share Philosophy

Last week, we tried to see Neil Diamond in concert (yes, at 74, he’s still performing). A quick check of tickets delivered the news that they weren’t in our budget, unless we wanted to sit where you need binoculars to see the stage. Aha, we thought, there’s sure to Neil Diamond-Eva Rinaldibe a last-minute deal.

There wasn’t.

Standing at the box office five minutes before the show was supposed to start, the $191 tickets were still $191 and, we were politely told, that wasn’t going to change.

Maybe cruise lines are getting tips from ol’ Neil, who at 74 continues to play to nearly sold-out houses. If everybody thinks last-minute deals are the way to go, most people will wait until the last minute and the “gate” will suffer.

Translating that to the current cruise climate, it means last-minute deals are disappearing. Last month, it was Royal Caribbean that decided to rid itself of what CEO Richard Fain called the “used-car salesman kind of mentality.” This month, it’s Carnival. Both consider the strategy a profit-killer and, yes, cruise lines are in the business of turning profits.

- Eva Rinaldi photo

So both would rather have empty cabins on ships more or less full of passengers paying the “going rate” than fill up the ships to have heads in every bed, as they say. This is a major philosophical shift and it’s likely to spread so that there are almost no last-minute deals anywhere.

The same goes for the concert crowd. If a 74-year-old entertainer selling out on his past sets the standard for the non-discounting of tickets, it’s likely to be the case for all entertainers.

If, of course, it isn’t already.

In the news…

• Over a million people welcome Cunard Queens on the Mersey in Liverpool
• Windstar christens Star Legend after $8.5-million refurbishment and name change
• Royal Caribbean to make Aklan, Philippines its hub for Asia region

Today at portsandbows.com: Luxury cruising on the move

Carnival Liberty
7 nights
August 23, 2015
San Juan (return): St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Maarten
Inside: $419
Cost per day: $59

Armageddon For Last-Minute Deals? 

In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain indicated that the party may soon be over when it comes to last-minute cruise deals.

Richard FainFain told Bloomberg the reasons will be:

• More ships moving to Asia, reducing the capacity in the Caribbean, where most last-minute deals surface

• Attempts by cruise lines, notably his, to stabilize pricing that alienates cruisers who book early and wind up paying more

He agreed that cruise lines risk having fewer passengers on ships to, as he put it: “…raise the satisfaction level of our guests and strengthen the perception of our brand superiority.”

Hmm, interesting.

Three thoughts come to mind:

One, cruises are like most businesses, with pricing dictated by supply and demand. If fewer ships in the Caribbean create more of a demand, prices will surely go up and there won’t be as many last-minute deals. That’s just business.

Two, why do the “early bookers” complain? If they don’t like the fact that “late bookers” may get a better deal by waiting, all they have to do is change their tactics and take a chance on booking a cruise at the last minute. Certainty comes with a price.

Three, the whole empty-cabin issue is problematic. There aren’t fewer cabins when a ship departs, and having nobody in them at least looks like lost revenue, since the savings from fewer bed changes, or less cleaning and electricity, or even less food on the ship is minimal.

Will cruise lines be able to resist sailing with more empty cabins?

And if they do, will the segment of the population that “bargain shops” — be it for almost-expired yogurt or last-minute cruises — be alienated by a change in cruise policy?

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Holland America Amsterdam
14 nights
December 8, 2014
San Diego, Puerto Vallarta, Huatulco, Puerto Quetzal, Corinto, Puerto Caldera, Panama Canal, Cartagena, Fort Lauderdale
Inside: $1,199
Cost per day: $85

Panama Canal Delay Not Bad For Everybody

In the midst of a long drive this week, the subject of cruises came up, as it does every…oh, few hours. Specifically, we were thinking about the Panama Canal, because we've only done it once and that was four years ago, which means it's time to see it again.

What we discovered is that prices seem to be generally high and availability generally low for Panama Canal cruises, two things that generally go hand-in-hand.

For example, if you want to go east-west from Florida, the Island Princess is leaving Fort Lauderdale for Los Angeles at the start of the month with the price of an inside stateroom $1,599 (15 days) and an ocean view stateroom for $1,899. Balconies and and suites? Sold out.

If you want to go west-east from San Diego, Royal Caribbean can take you to Fort Lauderdale on the Legend of the Seas on a 15-day journey but you can't get an Canalinside, ocean view or suite because none is available. Only balconies are, at $3,819.

And if you want to make a month of it and cross the ocean at the same time, Cunard has a cruise from San Francisco to Southampton…or had a cruise. At $4,690 for an inside stateroom, the Queen Victoria is completely sold out.

Guess why Panama Canal cruises are more popular than ever?

Because this is the year the Canal was supposed to celebrate its 100th anniversary — next month — by opening the new locks. For one reason or another, or perhaps for many reasons, the renovation to accompany the celebration is delayed. Expansion of the Canal, to accommodate larger ships, is behind schedule.

People who wanted to see the "new" Panama Canal would have booked cruises many months ago. They committed, thinking they would be traversing the bigger, better link between the Atlantic and Pacific.

They're out of luck.

So people will be booking to do the same thing next year, assuming the construction will be completed by then. The prices, presumably, will stay high.

All of which means cruise lines with ships going through the Canal will be getting a chance for two years in a row to charge premium fares if you want to be among the first to see this engineering marvel's new look.

Today at portsandbows.com: Breaking cruise records in Avignon, France

Celebrity Century
7 nights
April 26, 2014
Los Angeles (return): Santa BarbaraSan FranciscoMontereyCatalina IslandEnsenada
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78

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