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Quantum of the Seas — SO Special

QuantumWhen Quantum of the Seas was introduced to the world, at a press conference in New York two and a half years ago, everybody in the room that day quickly realized that “revolutionary” would not be an exaggeration, nor a buzzword to be flaunted by public relations people trying to find a word that bordered on hyperbole.

It was the right word.

We happened to be in New York that day — pinch-hitting for our Ports and Bows colleague Phil Reimer — and we’d never seen a cruise ship that was anything like this ship-to-be. That was understandable, because neither had anybody else. For all the Northstars, RipCords, bumping cars and glitz that came with naming Kristin Chenoweth as the ship’s godmother, it turns we didn’t know the half of what a special ship Quantum of the Seas was.

Again…logical, because neither did anybody else.

Until last week.

That’s when Royal Caribbean was presented with the Maritime Safety Award, as chosen by Royal Institution of Naval Architects. It’s the first cruise ship to be so decorated by the prestigious award…in 155 years!

It goes to “an individual, company or organization which has made a significant technological contribution to improving maritime safety” and Quantum caught RIBA’s North Starattention for “the design and implementation of an integrated Safety Command Centre.” In  layman’s terms — as opposed to seaman’s terms — what it comes down to is this:

While those of us who like cruising were “wowed” by the pod (North Star) that takes passengers out over the sea, the safety people were “wowed” by different types of pods: the incident pod, the evacuation pod, the command pod and the communication pod. The efficiency of all make Quantum of the Seas a safer ship.

The ship has, of course, left North America to operate in Asia. That’s the bad news. The good news is that presumably it is a template for Royal Caribbean ships to follow, including Anthem of the Seas, which made its debut this spring, and the two ships to follow next year: Harmony of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas.

There’s a lot of minutia that explains why RINA was so impressed with Quantum’s safety and its ability to react to an incident. For we who don’t usually react to such things until there is an incident, the fact that it’s the first time a cruise ship has been given the award is, at least, comforting.

In the news…

• Princess promotion free upgrades, specialty dining, gratuities until October 29
• Costa, AIDA donate 200,000 euros for refugee relief In Germany
• More than half a million people celebrate "cruise days" in Hamburg

Today at portsandbows.com: Port of Miami looking at a boom


Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas
7 nights
October 25, 2015
Galveston (return): Cozumel, Belize, Roatan  
Inside: $479
Cost per day: $68
www.royalcaribbean.com

Which Ships Are Best…And To Where?

Because they're so subjective, cruise ship awards and surveys can be construed as somewhat meaningless, not to mention redundant. Whose "best cruise ship carrying more than 3,000 passengers in the Caribbean on the third Saturdays of January" means the most. (Weak attempt at humor.)

So when Cruise Critic reveals its latest Cruisers' Choice Awards, as it did this week, you have to take it with a grain of salt…as our buddy Phil Reimer did at Ports and Bows by pointing out in today's blog there's a "caveat" at play here.

Having said all that, there's one category in the Cruise Critic awards that we hadn't seen before, which doesn't necessarily mean that it wasn't there.

Destination ships.

That's not which ships are destinations, as Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas — and no doubt their followers — are sometimes called. It's which ships are considered the best ones to take going to or from different parts of the cruising universe. Clever. Helpful even, for the first time cruisers who would like something — anything — to help them decide on which ship to sail to the Caribbean.

Rhapsody of the SeasGoing to Alaska?

Cruise Critic readers recommend Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas (right).

Bahamas?

The Disney Dream.

Caribbean?

Disney Fantasy.

Mediterranean?

Celebrity Silhouette.

Sailing from the Northeast?

Try Explorer of the Seas, from Bayonne, New Jersey.

Across the ocean out of England?

Celebrity Eclipse.

From Florida?

Disney's Fantasy, again.

From the West Coast?

Sapphire Princess.

Nobody says why these ships are the best ion category, of course, so if you buy into the thinking it's because so many people picked these ships.

Just remember one thing.

It is subjective.

Sapphire Princess
4 nights
March 19, 2014 
Los Angeles (return): Catalina IslandEnsenada
Inside: $329
Cost per day: $82
www.princess.com

Norwegian a World Travel winner

It's true that we've always had a soft spot for Norwegian, the cruise line that brought us back on board many years ago, following an unhappy cruise which chased us away. Having said that, if you twisted our arms and asked us to pick the "leading cruise line" we can't tell you it would be Norwegian.

Nor could we say it wouldn't be Norwegian.

On Saturday, at the World Travel Awards, Norwegian was decorated as Epicthe "World's Leading Large Ship Cruise Line" for the second year in a row.

Is it?

Obviously many travel agents and travelers say so. As you well know, such choices are subjective and the fact Norwegian has been voted "Europe's Leading Cruise Line" for six years running (also by World Travel) and the "Caribbean's Leading Cruise Line" is both consistent and impressive.

The reality is that we've been on most of the major cruise lines, and separating one from the other is tough. So much depends on which ship you're on, when you go, what the weather's like…

Having said that, Norwegian is unique. What appealed to us, and what continues to be one of the basic attractions, is the Freestyle Dining concept. We have been known to have dinner at four o'clock, and also at 10 o'clock. Clearly, our bodies – or at least our stomachs – are not on a tight schedule. Many passengers like the rigidity of dinner at precisely the same time every night. We don't and, judging from Norwegian's widespread appeal, we're not alone.

There's more to like about this cruise line than Freestyle Dining, of course. Ask 100 of the people with World Travel ballots and you might get 100 different answers.

Norwegian Sky
4 nights
January 6, 2014
Miami (return): Grand BahamaNassauGreat Stirrup Cay
Inside: $149
Cost per day: $39
www.ncl.com

Windstar Moves from Nowhere to No. 2 for Small Ships in Conde Nast Awards

When Conde Nast Traveler announced its 2013 Readers' Choice Awards this month, much of it was the "usual suspects" in the "usual places" because people who go on cruise ships and vote on these things generally don't change their preferences from year to year. But in perusing the list of winners, one cruise line jumped out for its ascension in the standings, if you will. The name is Windstar.

For years, Windstar was better known as a kind of car made by Ford, even though the cruise-ship brand has Windstar's Wind Spiritbeen around for almost 30 years and has been passed around, at times, like a commodity nobody really wanted. That was then.

Now, it is owned (and has been for two years) by Xanterra Parks and Resorts, a company not in Xanadu but in Denver. This is a cruise line purchased by its previous owner, the mighty Anschutz Corporation, in a bankruptcy court for the bargain-basement price of $39 million. It still has the same three ships, but all have undergone extensive re-furnishings, and over the next two years it will double the fleet after purchasing three more from Seabourn.

Oh yes, Conde Nast.

Windstar fits into what the magazine calls the Small-Ship category, one of four in which Conde Nast determines the world's Top 25 cruise lines. In 2012, Windstar wasn't on the list. In 2013, it was second in the Small-Ship category to Seabourn, ironically, by six-tenths of a point…and no, we don't know how the points system works but anything over 90 — be it in rating wines or grading students — is outstanding.

In fact, only five cruise lines of the Top 25 had a better score, Seabourn, Crystal (Mid-Size) and three river cruisers.

As the Windstar people are only too happy to point out, they finished first in three sub-categories: Small-Ship service, itineraries and design.

Windstar cruise ships are more like yachts, and that enables them to go where bigger ships cannot. Says CEO Hans Birkholz: "“The past two years we have been…revising every single itinerary to find the perfect combination of hidden harbors and legendary ports as well as improving our onboard experience with stem-to-stern renovations. We are thrilled to see our guests responding so favorably.”

Because it's an upscale line, Windstar is never going to create as many headlines as the heavyweights that cater to the mass market. The fact that it's creating headlines in its own niche is what's impressive.

Windstar Wind Spirit
7 nights
December 29, 2013
Puerto CalderaDrake BayGolfitoCoiba IslandPanama CanalPuerto QueposColon
Oceanview: $2,899
Cost per day: $414
www.windstarcruises.com

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