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Only Azamara Cruisers in Normandy on D-Day

Tomorrow, on the shores of northern France, the free world will remember. It will remember that 70 years ago, armies of four nations (Great Britain, France, Canada and the U.S.) stormed the beaches of Normandy in what turned out to be the beginning of the end of World War II.

D-Day.

The armies left behind a trail of tragedy: thousands of dead soldiers, disabled and sunken vessels and code names that became familiar names of the beaches — Utah, Juno BeachJuno, Omaha, Gold and Sword — that are in the French vocabulary and on maps of France to this day. It is good to remember and, for those who still can, it is also painful.

And this has what to do with cruising?

Cruise ships occasionally land at Cherbourg, a pretty city not far from the beaches. Ironically, on the 70th anniversary of D-Day tomorrow, there will be but one ship in port: Azamara's Journey. Cherbourg isn't exactly a hotspot for cruise ships and only a handful of big ones are still on the schedule for 2014: Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria, Holland America's Prinsendam, Celebrity's Constellation and two from Costa Cruises.

Our visit, four years ago, was during the Celebrity Eclipse's re-positioning cruise to begin its 2010 European season. It gave us a chance to do something we'd often talked about doing: visit the beaches.

They're up to 90 minutes from the port and the only way, really, to visit them is by renting a car. So we did, getting as far as Juno Beach, where we spent so much time Normandythat we barely made it back to the Eclipse before it left to cross the Straits of Dover. Both our fathers had crossed the ocean to fight in World War II and, while neither was in Normandy on D-Day — if they had, maybe we wouldn't be here — our visit made for a moving day in towns and villages occupied by people who never do forget.

Somehow, we don't think our Dads crossed the ocean in anything remotely resembling the palatial vessel that is the Eclipse. They certainly weren't sitting in a breakfast buffet 13 stories above the water wondering what kind of croissant to have with their coffee in the morning, and we can only guess they could likely feel every whitecap hitting the hull that encased their cramped sleeping quarters.

The Eclipse was in port for maybe eight hours. Tomorrow, the Journey will be in Cherbourg for 18 hours, from six in the morning until midnight.

On D-Day, how appropriate is that?

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas
4 nights
July 31, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Cozumel
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $99
www.royalcaribbean.com

Man The Cannons For Two-Ship Standoff

The die is cast. The combatants have been chosen. The dates have been more or less chosen. Mano-a-mano…or shipo-a-shipo.

The Norwegian Breakaway vs the Anthem of the Seas.

The Battle of The Apple.

That would be the big one, as in New York. Now that Royal Caribbean has made it official that Anthem of the Seas — a sister to Quantum of the Seas (below) — will be based year-round in New York (okay, across the Hudson in New Jersey), both are proclaiming to be "New York's [fill in the adjective] ship."

Breakaway was first and Norwegian bills it as "the newest and largest ship embarking from NYC."

Anthem will arrive next April and is currently being touted as "the newest, largest and Quantum of the Seasmost innovative ship ever to homeport in the New York region."

Technically, both are correct enough to maintain the sell lines. Anthem isn't going to sail from NYC, like Breakaway, but from Bayonne, New Jersey. So Breakaway will continue to be the "newest and largest" in NYC while Anthem will be the "newest, largest…" from the New York "region."

A little research followed to compare cruises on the two New York ships. This is often an apples-oranges comparison because ships go to different places, on cruises of different lengths and with different features.

Plunging on, here are some apples and oranges to chew on for price comparison:

Breakaway
• A 7-day Bermuda cruise runs from $64 a night ($449) next month to $165 a night ($1,159) in August.
• A 7-day Bahamas cruise runs  from $86 a night ($599) in November to $164 a night  ($1,149) over the Christmas holidays.

Anthem of the Seas
• Cruises that are generally longer than a week average between $131 to $140 a night.

The difference between the two is that Anthem will be the "newest…most innovative."

In New York, and everywhere else.

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: Carnival's singing "Galveston, oh Galveston…"

Holland America Prinsendam
16 nights
June 7, 2014
Amsterdam (return): AalborgCopenhagenBerlinTallinnSt. PetersburgHelsinkiStockholmVisbyYstadHamburg
Inside: $1,449
Cost per day: $90
www.hollandamerica.com

So Your Teenager Wants to go to Sea?

You have a teenage girl, just 16. She wants to make an education substitute, swapping international travel for textbooks. She wants to go and work on a cruise ship, as a dancer. She has a good head on her shoulders and you trust her…but she is only 16.

"What are we going to do?" Lisa Ball says her parents asked. "Do we say no, or let her go and get it out of her system, and hopefully come back after a year?"

They let her go. Today, more than a couple of decades later, she is a cruise director for Princess Cruises.

"Mom and Dad were incredibly brave," she recalls. "The first five years were scary for them. They didn't understand. They were more comfortable after they were on a cruise ship., with the safety…the comfort. They probably thought it would be more scary. It's such a safe job, and it's not like some run-down hired you over the phone."

She didn't say so, but the fact that Princess Cruises was such an established and respected brand in England, where they live and where she was born, probably gave the Balls a modicum of comfort. Like all parents, they envisioned something…well, different…for their daughter when she became an adult.

Like veterinary medicine, for instance.

"I wanted to be a veterinary surgeon," Lisa laughs, during a pause in the action on the Crown Princess — and for a cruise director there is always a lot of action, no matter the cruise ship. "To get into veterinary school, you need to have high grades or physics and chemistry. I began to realize if I studied for 24 hours a day I was not going to get them!"

A friend persuaded her to attend dance college.

"I was drawn to it and I really enjoyed it, and I was a professional dancer 11 years," she says. "About 10 years ago, I decided I needed to retire from that."

So she turned to the next best on-stage occupation (and maybe the best one): cruise director. It didn't happen overnight, of course. She invested six years in getting the "CD" label on her lapel, the third Princess woman to attain that status, and six more in perfecting her craft.

How long she'll continue is, like everything in life, unknown.

"It's a hard job to give up when you enjoy it so much," she says, "without worrying about where the next contract is coming from…especially the way things are at the moment whereso many people have no idea about the next paycheck. But It's all about enjoying your job. I can't imagine doing this job if you didn't enjoy it. I love the challenge of it. It's definitely a lifestyle choice. You miss family birthdays, that sort of thing, but when I have time at home, it's quality time. I have four best friends and we've been that since we were five. We all make the effort to get together. Now we have quality time and I get to be the favorite aunt."

Lisa Ball is not a cruise director 24/7. She does escape the ship in some ports — Cozumel is a guarantee escape when she's on a Western Caribbean itinerary — and she still enjoys teaching ballroom dancing. And on her 60-day breaks every four months, she does have a life that goes beyond being a favorite aunt.

"I've had a partner for eight years…he's an audio engineer and we had a little chat," chuckles Ball. "If he worked for bands on land, and I carried on with my career, we were not going to see each other for months. We made that decision as a couple. He goes on tour with bands, and I love my job. We're happy with that for now. If that changes, that's another conversation we'll have to have. When he's not on the road, he travels with me. He's comfortable on ships and he loves Princess. We probably see each other four months of the year. When I take a block of time off, I travel with him. It's incredibly quality time."

And as Lisa Ball's parents discovered all those years ago, it works for their daughter.

Holland America Prinsendam
15 nights
November 11, 2013
Rome, Cadiz, Portimao, Lisbon, Funchal, Fort Lauderdale
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $53
www.hollandamerica.com

Ports a World Apart Shaping Up

We've been to San Juan, Puerto Rico twice. We've been to Liverpool, England once. At the risk of sounding like glass-half-full tourists, we enjoyed both places and, despite that, we haven't been in either as often as we'd like.

These days, a lot of our travel involves cruising. Duh! Anything that by whatever means returned us to San Juan or Liverpool would range between fantastico (San Juan) and splendid (Liverpool). Both cruise ports are taking steps to get us — or people like us — to visit them more often.

San Juan's strategy is impressive.

The governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro García Padilla, signed off on an enthusiastic bill that Puerto Ricans hope will multiply tourism dollars over the next four years. Hugely discounted fees ($9) for each cruise passenger. A $1 per-passenger rebate to cruise lines that keep their ships in port longer than eight hours…$2 if they do it 21 times a year with that ship. And 10% discount on goods (supplies) and (maintenance) services that cruise lines purchase while in port.

Here's an example:

Suppose a cruise ship of 3,000 passengers meets the first two criteria. That's between $30,000 and $33,000 of savings per visit for cruise lines. If it's $33,000 per visit, that means the ship has been there 21 times. On our electronic calculator, that's $693,000 for the year. This will attract the cruise lines, who then must sell their customers on going to Puerto Rico. With savings to play with, cruise lines can make that financially attractive. Puerto Rico wins if the visitors come…and spend.

Liverpool's strategy is short-term.

In 2008, the city built a new cruise terminal. There were 13 ships that called in Liverpool that year. Last year, there were 42. Next year there will be 52. They're not all heavyweights, but Cunard's ships occasionally go to their ancestral home, Holland America's Prinsendam was there this week and the Ruby Princess will be next year, when during the British Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club the Celebrity Infinity will be staying overnight to accommodate its golf fans.

So it's growing. The problem is, or has been, that the terminal's temporary check-in facility needs a facelift. It will be replaced in another year and a half, but in the interim Liverpudlians feel it looks too much like…well, a warehouse. This steel-framed tent with gray walls is being re-decorated (make that "decorated") with large photographs and huge sails, hanging from the ceiling. It's all about the image and making the city feel warmer and more fun.

If it works, the terminal will be more like Liverpool's people…warm and fun.

 

Godmother Breakaway from Tradition

Long known for its ability to change the culture of cruising, Norwegian Cruise Line is now leading the change in the culture of cruise ship godmothers, who until now have been largely celebrities, dignitaries and famous women willing to serve as figureheads…or all of the above. Their responsibilities begin with smashing bottles of bubbly against the bows of "their" ships and saying all the right things to all the right people.

Oh yes, and almost without exception, they are singular. One Godmother per ship.

Norwegian is changing that.

The new ship Breakaway, which arrives next spring, has been shaped into being New York's ship. The Godmother of the Breakaway, or Godmothers, are the Rockettes and the culture of the cruise ship Godmother is now part of marketing the business.

At both ends.

This is not a case of just honoring a famous woman by inviting her to be a ship Godmother. It's opening another lane of marketing. Rockettes will sail on the Breakaway with regularity. An 11-foot replica of the ship will sit in Radio City Music Hall, home of the Rockettes. The new Godmothers do meet-and-greets with cruise passengers but do you really think at some point that they won't be performing, too? Meanwhile, back at the Music Hall, customers will have an opportunity to win a Christmas cruise for four.

And so on.

Prior to yesterday's announcement, people interested in these things were guessing who the new Godmother would be for the largest ship ever to home-port in New York. Mariah Carey? Barbra Streisand? Liza Minelli? After all, NYC is the entertainment capital of the world and Norwegian is the cruise line that's synonymous with entertainment…and so it stood to reason that the Godmother would be an entertainer, from New York, of course.

Nobody saw the Rockettes coming.

They're not individually famous — can you name one? — but they're collectively a group of interchangeable stars. And they have longevity. They've been around for 87 years and when one leaves the show, another one takes her place.

In this era of political correctness and gender equality, and now that Augusta has admitted women to golf's most prestigious boys club, how long will it be until there's a male Godmother in cruising?

Or Godfather.


Holland America Prinsendam
29 nights
October 17, 2012
Rome, Stromboli, Dubrovnik, Split, Ravenna, Venice, Gallipoli, Valletta, Sorrento, Rome, Alicanti, Malaga, Cadiz, Lisbon, Horta, Fort Lauderdale
Inside: $1,899
Cost per day: $65
www.hollandamerica.com

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