Tag-Archive for » Galveston «

The Modern Problem Of Picking A Port

With each day, and each violent activity often linked to terrorism, reasonable people who like to travel get even more reasonable. Or concerned. Or paranoid. Or even scared.

Pick an adverb. The uncertainty of traveling abroad — be it in one direction to Europe or in the other to Asia — understandably may leave North Americans more likely to pick a cruise ship departing and returning to a North American port. Not that there are any guarantees that doing so will keep you from being an unsuspecting victim of terrorism.

But even seasoned travelers are at least having second thoughts. Why fly internationally to get on a cruise if you can fly domestically, or better yet drive or take ground transportation to a port of departure?

This is good (okay, more comforting) news for cruise lines with ships that primarily visit the Caribbean, or assorted other warm-weather spots in the Western Hemisphere. Since a Caribbean cruise still out-ranks all others, that would be most of them, yet many have shifted their investments — and some of their ships — to Asia the last couple of years, which in today’s world could mean counting on a local (Asian) clientele.

For North Americans, there is no shortage of options. A quick count shows that there are 21 cruise homeports in this continent: Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Port Canaveral, Tampa, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Galveston, Houston, Charleston, Baltimore, Norfolk, Bayonne, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Anchorage, Boston, San Diego, Seattle, Montreal.

So if you’re an avid cruiser who’s reluctant to fly afar to get to a ship, pick a port.

You may find many kindred spirits.

In the news…

• Two biggest ships (both Royal Caribbean) in southern hemisphere meeting in Sydney

Today at portsandbows.comChristmas markets with Viking in Europe


Norwegian Getaway
7 nights
December 13, 2015
Miami (return): Great Stirrup Cay, Ocho Rios, George Town, Cozumel
Inside: $649
Cost per day: $92
www.ncl.com

Carnival’s Voices Of Freedom

In quasi-military vernacular, what happened in Galveston on the weekend might be called the “perfect storm.”

Operation Homefront, recognizing the troops. A country singer, because country singers are the most prominent pro-military entertainers. And a ship called “Freedom.”

This was Carnival’s Freedom, of course, and it was in Galveston to begin operations from its new home-port. It was also Carnival’s Martina McBride, the country superstar who has Freedom-Galvestonbeen performing in the cruise line’s wildly popular entertainment series called Carnival Live.

And both of them were there to pay tribute to troops.

A check for $100,000 was cut for Operation Homefront, the nonprofit that supports military families, some of whom were the audience for what was called an exclusive Carnival Live concert by the winner of 14 Grammy Awards. She sang from the upper deck of a ship that last year underwent a $70-million refurbishing that enhanced its family features, such as Seuss At Sea and Camp Ocean, where kids enjoy 200 marine-themed activities.

The consensus was that McBride gave a show-stopping performance. For those of us who have seen her (twice now), this is not a surprise. She was the consummate professional the first time we saw her, in 1996, and again in 2013. All the succeeding years did was make her even better.

“Performing for these military families was an incredible honor,” she said in Galveston. “I’m so glad I was asked to be part of it.”

Carnival now has three ships based in Galveston — the Triumph, the Magic and the Freedom. While it may not be a stretch to make a military connection to the names of all three, nothing speaks to the troops like the Freedom does.

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas
14 nights
May 4, 2015
Tampa, Norfolk, Cork, Cherbourg, Brussels, London
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $57
www.royalcaribbean.com

Covering The Caribbean From One Ship

– map by cartographer Karl Musser

When taking a Caribbean cruise — the most popular cruises anywhere — sometimes the trick can be to find ports less-visited. That's less-visited by you.

As interesting as places like Nassau and Cozumel and Barbados are, how many visits are too many?

Carnival has an interesting twist, set for late next year and early 2016.

You can take a cruise from the "heartland" of American cruising, Galveston, to the heart of the Caribbean, San Juan. It's an 11-day trip with six port stops. And then you can cruise back, with six more ports in 10 days.

That's three weeks on the ship, which will be the Triumph, and 12 ports. And here's the best part: Only one port is a repeat. In other words, you can see 11 places in the Caribbean on the same trip…okay, a two-in-one cruise.

The concept is not all that's new for Carnival. So are many of the ports. Carnival ships have never been to Bonaire and have rarely taken passengers to Antigua, Grenada and Martinique. Also on the port agenda are Aruba, Grand Cayman, St. Maarten (once each way), Grand Turk, St. Thomas, St. Kitts and Half Moon Cay.

Get out your map and take a look. Draw a line through the Caribbean from Miami and around the east end of the world's most famous islands and back via Grand Cayman and you'll see that you'll see a generous part of the entire Caribbean.

There are only two opportunities. The Triumph will leave Galveston in October (2015) and again in January (2016), with the return trips in October and late January, respectively.

You can do one of the two, of course, but that means flying to or from San Juan. Double up, and forget the air fare.

Oh yes, you do need a three-week vacation.

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam
12 nights
May 24, 2014
Venice (return): OlympiaAthensIstanbulLesbosEphesusSantoriniArgostoli
Inside: $929
Cost per day: $77
www.hollandamerica.com

Cruise Lines, Passengers In A Fog In Texas

 

The current four-letter word for cruise-ship passengers in Texas is F-O-G. Ordinarily, it's a three-letter word that nobody on a cruise ship cares much about…

Until your ship can't leave and consequently that Caribbean port you badly wanted to visit is now off the itinerary.

Until your ship can't return when it's scheduled to return, and by then your plane has left, you have to spend a night in a hotel and you're in danger of missing Sunday dinner at Aunt Clara's.

Until it impacts on safety, and in this era that rarely happens but it could happen in Houston's ship channel (above) where cruise and cargo vessels don't have a lot of elbow room — or margins of error.

At various times this January, ships in Houston-Galveston waters have been on fog lockdown, either stuck in port or out in the bay waiting to get back. Visibility at both Houston airports has ranged between 1/16th and 1/8th of a mile. This is not a new problem. Talented travel writers Harry and Joan Shattuck has lived in Houston for 43 years (and we've been friends almost all of that time) and have become so accustomed to foggy Januarys that Harry can't remember one without fog. 

Also some Februarys, Marchs…

The good news this week is, now that the Pacific Northwest cold front that caused all this has left, Texans expect to have clear skies by the weekend.

Almost three years ago, Carnival President Gerry Cahill told Harry that Galveston was an attractive place to cruise from but its port officials "had to get a handle on fog to make things work long-term."

At that time, there were no ships in Houston. Princess started sailing from Houston this winter and, at last count, the Caribbean Princess had cruises delayed four times. Norwegian will be there next year. When you think of the logistical nightmare that fog can cause for the cruise lines, not to mention its passengers, it begs the question:

How long can they afford to continue running mid-winter cruises from Texas?

Photo by Louis Vest

Carnival Valor
7 nights
May 11, 2014
San Juan (return): St. ThomasBarbadosSt. LuciaSt. KittsSt. Maarten
Inside: $449
Cost per day: $65
www.carnival.com

Cuban Cruising Causing Angst in Florida

The fight to cruise Cuba is on and the battleground, which may or may not surprise you, is Florida.

As the U.S. and the Communist country 90 miles from its southernmost shore inch towards normalizing relations, Florida sees some of its cruise stakes slipping away, like fragments of driftwood floating into the Gulf of Mexico.

The two imminent victims are Tampa and Key West.

While they aren't exactly hot ports of the industry, both have enough of a cruise-ship presence that if it should go away, there would be an impact on each's economy. While places like Miami and Fort Lauderdale are clearly poised to send Varadero

-Henryk Kotowski photo

ships full of passengers to Cuba, the concerns of Tampa and Key West have nothing to do with their geographical desirability, which both have with regards to Cuba.

It has to do with ships.

In Tampa, the port is not equipped to handle the biggest cruise ships, and when Cuba is finally on-limits you can anticipate there will be a rush. (As an aside, there has been talk of Tampa being the northern terminus for ferry service from Cuba.) Tampa's ineligibility for cruise ships is tied to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which isn't high enough. If you can believe it, government officials are looking at raising the bridge!

In Key West, a frequent port on many Caribbean cruises, the concern is that it will be replaced by Havana and other Cuban ports less than 100 miles away. So it's "problem" is being "attractive" beyond making channels wider and deeper, although that's part of the equation. Can Key West compete with Cuba…when the time comes?

Meanwhile, to the West, Florida's "enemy" for Cuban business is lurking. Mobile, New Orleans, Galveston and Houston right now are better equipped to serve Cuba with larger ships than either Tampa or Key West.

With friendlier relations between the countries inevitable, the clock is ticking for two Florida ports.

Cunard Queen Elizabeth
11 nights
January 10, 2014
LondonNew YorkFort Lauderdale
Balcony: $1,299
Cost per day: $118
www.cunard.com

  • Categories

  • Archives