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Friday File: The Princess Celebration

Yesterday was the big day for Princess Cruises, which has had many big days over the last 50 years. Yesterday being December 3, it was the actual 50th anniversary of the first Princess cruise — Los Angeles to Mexico on the Princess Patricia. It was also the first day of the cruise to re-create that first itinerary, this time on the Pacific Princess. That was the name of The Love Boat that is credited with bringing cruising to the masses, but this is a more recent iteration, one that joined the fleet in 2002. The original Pacific Princess is long gone but her memories were ever-present yesterday at the 50th Anniversary bash in Southern California…

Princess Cruises celebrates their 50th Anniversary with the original cast of The Love Boat aboard Pacific Princess at the Port of Los Angeles on Thurs., Dec. 3, 2015, in San Pedro, Calif. (Photo by Casey Rodgers/Invision for Princess Cruises/AP Images)

It’s been 29 years since The Love Boat’s nine-year reign ended on prime time television but six members of the cast were on hand yesterday: Bernie Kopell (Doc), Fred Frandy (Gopher), Ted Lange (Isaac), Gavin MacLeod (Captain Stubing), Lauren Tewes (Julie) and Jill Whelan (Vicki Stubing).

Princess Patricia

The ship that started it all, the Princess Patricia, which sailed the Mexican Riviera on the first week of December 1965.

Pacific Princess-1

It was the original Pacific Princess that became The Love Boat and made a TV show, a crew of actors and the cruise industry famous.

Royal Princess-Kate

Two years ago, Kate the Duchess of Cambridge christened the Royal Princess to join the family of Princess Godmothers — which includes Princess Diana.

2015 Princess Rose Parade Float Photo by Rob Comeau for Princess Cruises

The 50th anniversary celebrations kicked off 328 days ago, with a float in the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.

Capt. Ravera

Gavin MacLeod notwithstanding, Captain Stefano Ravera is our favorite Princess captain, from an Alaska cruise on the Star Princess.

Majestic Princess

To validate how far the cruise line has come since 1965, take a peek at the Majestic Princessdue to make its maiden voyage in 2017.

– Love Boat reunion photo by Casey Rodgers/Invision for Princess Cruises/AP Images) & Rose Parade Float photo by Rob Comeau

In the news…

• Carnival Live’s new performer: comedian Kathy Griffin, for two cruises in February
• MSC Armonia and Opera both to have Havana as home port next November

Today at portsandbows.comPrincess does it right for passengers 


Holland America Amsterdam
1 night
May 21, 2016
Vancouver, Seattle
Inside: $99
Cost per day: $99
www.hollandamerica.com

Standing Up Ovation Of The Seas

This is only a big deal if you’re thinking of cruising near Australia, or if you live in New Zealand. But it’s an interesting story even if you’re just interested in cruising.

Not everybody wants Ovation of the Seas.

Now that Anthem of the Seas is on the water, Ovation is Royal Caribbean’s next new ship. It will arrive in about a year and it was scheduled to visit New Zealand the year after that, which means in the summer of 2017.

Not so fast.

The problem is the port at Auckland. Two wharf extensions were planned to accommodate “bigger ships.” One of the extensions has been canceled, presumably for financial reasons Auckland-Simon_sees

-Simon_sees photo

although that’s not clear. Without it, there will be no room in the harbor for the 5,000-passenger Ovation of the Seas.

Without Auckland, speculation is the ship will not visit New Zealand.

The economic impact of that is said to be as much as $40 million for the country, and this was from only four port calls. Having said that, nobody is suggesting Royal Caribbean might send a smaller ship to minimize the loss and keep New Zealand in the loop.

Says one side: “Cruises are not the lifeblood of Auckland. Cargo ships are the lifeblood of Auckland."

Says the other side: “What's good for Auckland in terms of cruise shipping is good for the economy of New Zealand.”

This week, Royal Caribbean will have a delegation in New Zealand. You think all sides might be looking for an alternative?

In the news…

Norwegian Epic officially a European ship, based in Barcelona
• First Princess cruise L.A.-Panama return since 2009 [USA Today]
• Cinco de Mayo deals from Carnival must be booked by today

Today at portsandbows.com: Emerald Sky trapped on the Rhine

Holland America Amsterdam
7 nights
May 31, 2015
Seattle (return): Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Victoria
Oceanview: $599
Cost per day: $85
www.hollandamerica.com

Bye-bye To Last-Minute Deals?

News item: Royal Caribbean is attempting to refuse having last-minute discounts.

This could be a game-changer for all cruise lines. Lots of people hang around until the “last minute” before making a decision about which cruise to take. When they get a killer deal, they tell the world, including passengers who paid much more for the same type of cabin on the same cruise.

As one member posted on Cruise Critic after hearing the news:

“"You won't feel like an idiot for paying more for a similar cabin that gets discounted after final [payment date].”

This is likely to mean Royal Caribbean will lose some profits by sailing with ships that are less than full. The cruise line’s thought process is all about brand perception. If the Allure of the Seasperception is that you have cheap prices, it can be said you’re a cheap cruise line. If you’re not, the “price integrity” over the long haul will recover financial losses.

Royal Caribbean will now effectively close sales 10, 20 or 30 days before sailing, depending on the length of the cruise. The abolition of last-minute discounts now applies on all cruises longer than four days. The question is…will other cruise lines follow?

“We think that getting our customers out of this used-car salesman kind of mentality will be overall good for the brand, good for their experience,” company CEO Richard Fain said on a conference call.

And what will the last-minute crowd think?

They’ll get over it and accept it, just like we all accept having to pay for soft drinks on ships, having to pay for luggage on airplanes, and other such examples of policies not being the way they were.

When you’re a cruise company with profits of $45.2 in the first quarter, up 70 per cent from 2014’s first quarter, it’s a chance you can afford to take. While it's a lot more complicated than this, is it just coincidence that Royal Caribbean shares on the New York Stock Exchange plunged eight per cent the day after this news became public, the same day its greatest new ship was being launched half the world away?

Today at portsandbows.com: Eating on Anthem of the Seas

Holland America Amsterdam
1 night
May 30, 2015
Vancouver, Seattle
Inside: $69
Cost per day: $69
www.hollandamerica.com

The Italy You Might Not Know

Calissano-1

SAVONA, Italy — One of the Costa Diadema’s regular stops as it circles the Mediterranean week after week is this northern Italian port. It may be a part of the country that you wouldn’t choose to visit…until you’ve been.

Then you’d be back.

To be fair, it’s mostly European vacationers who would choose to visit Savona, to lounge on its beaches and bask in its warmth. Cruise visitors are more inclined to go inland from Piedmont-1Liguria (where Savona is) to Piedmont (or Piemonte), especially at this time of year, which is what we do on a Diadema shore excursion.

First stop: La Morra.

This is where the Famiglia Marrone winery is, and it’s still early in the day — “Second breakfast,” says Giorgio Nigra, our guide. This is barolo country and, according to Italians Marrone-1who call it the king of wines and the wine of kings, it’s among the most expensive reds in the world. What makes this “famiglia” unique is that it’s now operated by three women (Denise, Serena and Valentina), great-granddaughters of the winery’s patriarch, Pietro Marrone. And they’re not just administrators…they make the wine, too.

Also unique is that the wines for tasting include some of their best, at no charge, and are accompanied by truffles, one of the  more expensive accoutrements you’ll find in a winery. If it weren’t for the weight of wine in suitcases they’d sell more than they do to these North Marrone-2American tourists. Ninety per cent of Marrone wines are exported throughout the world. A visitor would have to stumble on this outstanding winery in its picturesque setting without the benefit of a cruise shore excursion.

Second stop: Barolo.

While it bears the name of the king of wines, this is but a map dot in Piedmont. Population: 739, on a normal day. It’s a quiet place then, with a corkscrew museum (who knew there were 700 kinds?) and a few shops and patisseries. Abnormal days are usually the weekends, as this pretty village is a retreat from the big cities that are within reach, such as Turin. Bizarre days are when the annual Collisiono Festival comes to town in the summer. The roads are closed. Buses bring concert goers from Alba. Residents of Barolo rent out every space they can find because space is limited.

The Festival is held in a natural amphitheater, colorful hillsides of grapes on all sides. Admission is about 80 euros and sitting is optional…wherever you can find a place. Tickets go on sale a year in advance and sell out in minutes to people near and far. Artists who have performed here include Elton John and this year’s line-up includes Mark Knopfler and Sting.

Nutella-1Last stop: Alba.

This is the home of Nutella, and has been for almost 70 years and those who have tasted the hazelnut chocolate agree: There is Nutella, and there is Nutella. The Italian version is different from the German one, which is different from the American one, which is much sweeter than them all. This is a sad time in Nutellaland, not many days after the man who created the multi-national business that includes Kinder Eggs and Tic Tacs, Michelle Ferrero, died at the age of 89.

We find a great spot to have cappuccino — in Italy aren’t all cappuccino spots great? — Antico Caffe Calissano, while walking through “downtown” Alba. Of the churches that we pass, the 900-year-old Cathedral of San Lorenzo is the most intriguing, with a facade that features carvings of an angel, a lion, a bull and and eagle. You don’t need to be a student of architecture to figure out the significance: Angel, Lion, Bull, Aquila (Italian)…spells ALBA. The entire cathedral isn’t nine centuries old, of course. It was restored most recently just a couple of hundred years ago.

The trip from Savona to Alba takes you from sea level to the sights of the mountains that attracted the Olympics to Turin in 2006, from summer landscapes to snow, fromPiedmont-2flatlands to hillsides that yield different colors every day. And when Costa’s cruise people tell you it’s a “day” trip it is just that, a full day.

And worth every minute.

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Holland America Amsterdam
7 nights
May 31, 2015
Seattle (return): Puget Sound, Tracy Arm, Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Victoria
Inside: $545
Cost per day: $77
www.hollandamerica.com

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
www.hollandamerica.com

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