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Cruises To Fathom For Next Spring

Since Carnival announced its “impact travel” line Fathom was going to be launched in 2016, the picture of what it all means has come more into focus, as well it should with the passage of time.

For one thing, “fathom” abandoned the idea of using its name with a lower-case “f” — lest it be construed as a nautical measurement and not a cruise line. For another, the volunteerism cruises are not only open for booking but are now being detailed. That, too, makes sense. Why would you book a cruise without the details?

In case you hadn’t heard or read, Fathom is going to take cruise passengers to places where they can help by volunteering to work with people in those countries, namely the fathom-Dominican Republic and (for the first time) Cuba. The first cruises on the 704-passenger Adonia depart next spring.

One thing that hasn’t changed with time is the price. The 7-day cruises from Miami are still being advertised for about $1,500 (including taxes), although that’s not exactly clear Fathom Adoniain the website, where pricing seems to be hidden by text boxes until you enter your name and personal details.

The Cuba trips, which begin in late spring — subject to Cuban approval — seem to be at least $300 more, per person, and that doesn’t include taxes and ports expenses. Naturally, they’re more attractive and will be at least until everybody gets accustomed to going to Cuba.

That’s where activities will include things like:

* Visiting the fishing village where Hemingway was inspired to write The Old Man And Fathom-CubaThe Sea, near Havana

* Going to a couple of World Heritage Sites in Cienfuegos

* Working with the people who make Cuban cigars, rum and music in Santiago de Cuba

All of them include being a volunteer. That’s the Cuban criteria for visiting the island. And volunteering means eight hours of programming when on shore.

All of which begs the question: How many people are interested in spending 150 to 200 per cent of what a typical Caribbean cruise would cost for the privilege of being a volunteer in a foreign land. People who do things for organizations like Habit For Humanity do it all the time but in the case of Fathom, that means counting on 704 people every week.

One meaning of the word “fathom” is to “understand after much thought.”

Comprehending this Fathom might take more thinking.

In the news…

• Hurricane Joaquin changing some port calls in the Bahamas
• Royal Caribbean changes name of its 'ChoiceAir' to 'Air2Sea'
• Carnival Corporation expands faster, innovative WiFi to more ships

Today at portsandbows.com: Royal Caribbean — no last-minute deals

Carnival Imagination
4 nights
January 30, 2016
Los Angeles (return): Catalina, Ensenada
Inside: $179
Cost per day: $44

Lessons From Star Princess ‘Master’

My father taught us this: “Be happy with what you achieve, wherever you are. Try to do your best and be honest.” The teaching of life when we grew up was integrity, honesty and be happy with what we have. If you keep chasing something you will never be happy. You have to have a goal in life. It’s good to aspire to something but you don’t have to be selfish.

With every life, there are at least two stories, one personal and one professional. With Captain Stefano Ravera, Master of the Star Princess, both are interesting.

Capt. RaveraThis is the personal, yet it touches on the professional.

He comes from a small town on the east coast of Italy, near La Spezia, which is considered a small town because it’s lightly known, an after-thought by Italy’s Cinque Terre. The father he talks about was also a ship’s master, an occupation that rubbed off on both his sons, Stefano the elder and Paolo the younger. Ironically, today they both command Princess ships (Paolo is on the Sea Princess).

While their father’s skills rubbed off, it was not a given.

“No,” recalls Stefano, “we just like it. My father told us to do what we want. My sister doesn’t sail. She is nine years younger and has a university degree in language.”

There are cruise ship captains…and there are cruise ship captains. In the Ravera family, there’s clearly a code of ethics. Also responsibility.

Here is his:

“If I have a crew member who went to the hospital and I went to see them, or a passenger, they say ‘How come you came to the hospital?’ I say ‘Because you are in the hospital’ and I come to see how you are, if I can. If my mother’s in the hospital, I go. Why not? I try to pass this message to younger officers because we have a responsibility to bring up the younger generation. We cannot say the world is not good because of them. The world may not be good because we don’t create a better place.

“People will spend years to complain but will never spend one second to say thank-you. So it’s very important to spend that second to look after someone. Something that for us may take 10 minutes, but for another person it might last an entire life. We should never avoid doing that. It is very important. I believe in that. It’s my two-penny opinion.

“Every day I learn something. Every day is a learning day. You never stop learning, not even when you retire. I can see my father. He’s 86 years old and every day he learns something and he’s happy to do that. That I think is the way you have to approach life, with a positive attitude. Try to be a mentor for the future generation and pass what little I know to the other people.”

So it’s as much about the type of person he is as the type of captain. This was not a self-serving speech from the bridge…this was from a casual conversation in his office, a post-Capt. Raverascript to an interview about living your life at sea, which he has pretty much done since joining the Italian Merchant Marine as a 16-year-old deck boy 39 years ago.

It is his life. He hopes that will continue for 11 more years.

Nine months of every year, he’s on a ship — “That is my choice’ — and in the other three he spends time with his parents in Italy, his children in Eastern Canada and his partner in South Africa, where she is a doctor.

If he sees his brother, it’s usually like ships passing in the night, although one time they were on the Coral Princess together during a “shift change that lasted for two days in Fort Lauderdale.

“That was very nice, but we keep it low key,” smiles Stefano.

They are, however, a trivia item among cruise ship captains, or masters. One of his ships was the late Pacific Sky and Paolo is a former captain of her sister ship before it became the old and now-retired Dawn Princess.

“We both had the chance, being not extremely old, to command steam-turbine ships and that will never happen to any captain now on a passenger ship,” he explains. “The Sky was the last one afloat.”

The brothers share another quirk.

We’d heard Captain Ravera often refer to the Star Princess as “the white lady” so we asked him why.

“It’s a little tradition between me and my brother that we had in our family, because ships are female and passengers ships, most of the time, are painted white. So we call her the white lady because they are elegant, like a lady.”

Today at portsandbows.com: How to be loyal before being a cruise customer

Crown Princess
10 nights
September 23, 2015
Los Angeles (return): San Diego, Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Loreto, Puerto Vallarta
Inside: $649
Cost per day: $64

Balcony Breakfast Princess Treat

ON BOARD THE STAR PRINCESS — Can there be a better wake-up call than sitting on the Breakfast-1balcony of a cruise ship with a glacier looming on the outside and a young man from Buenos Aires delivering a four-course breakfast from the inside?

If there is, we have yet to experience it.

This is the “deluxe breakfast” treatment you get from Princess Cruises, for $45 per couple. In Alaska on the Star Princess, the menu’s a little different because, well, it’s Alaska. That means instead of the quiche lorraine you might get on some ships, it’s fresh crab accompanied by a little crab quiche.

“Eat it first,” suggested Rodrigo, our Argentine amigo, “so it doesn’t get cold.”

Sitting on cruise-ship balconies in Alaska usually means hot dishes cool off, even when it’s past 9 a.m. We thought the food might stay warmer if we ate later…okay, that’s our story and we’re sticking to it. The crab was so good it barely had time to cool off and, except for coffee, the rest of the breakfast was temperature friendly.

Course two…cold smoked salmon to rest on a toasted lemon brioche dusted with dill cream cheese. Course three…a cantaloupe dish filled with fresh blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, garnished with “clover honey chantilly creme” that enhanced fruits that were already sweet. Course four…oven fresh pastries that stayed fresh if not warm in the cool air.

BreakfastPlus orange juice and 375 ml of prosecco (a champagne and orange juice clone), with coffee that stayed hot in a thermal bottle.

As good as the breakfast was (who needs lunch after that?), the star of “breakfast on the balcony” was most definitely cold.

Pick a glacier…

In the news…

• Virgin Cruises to have three 2,800-passenger ships on the water by 2020
• Carnival Corporation second-quarter earnings nearly triple last year's 
• Refurbishments now complete for all six ships in Windstar's fleet

Today at portsandbows.com: Free air on Emerald cruises until next week

Crown Princess
10 nights
September 23, 2015
Los Angeles (return): San Diego, Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Loreto, Puerto Vallarta
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $79

Mexico’s First Cruise Home Port?

Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas…Puerto Peñasco?

Now, we’ve been to many cruise ports in Mexico but yesterday was the first we’d heard of this one. Our resident expert on all things Mexican, Barbra Bishop of MEXpeditions, tipped us off about a new cruise port that’s under construction. In fact, it’s 50 per cent complete and not a cruise ship is in sight.


The new port-to-be is located at the northern end of the Sea of Cortez, less than an hour’s drive from the Arizona border. By the time it’s finished in the first month of January 2017, Sea of Cortezit will have cost $100 million, which is a lot of pesos for the Mexican government to invest in the hope that cruise lines will find it attractive.

They probably will.

For one thing, passengers can get weary of cruising the Mexican Riviera with its three main stops unless you want to go beyond the conventional 7-day window. For another, it’s pretty much virgin territory for cruise lines…at least the big ones. It would probably mean spending a “sea day” on the Sea of Cortez because it’s a long haul to Puerto Peñasco to the nearest major cruise port in Cabo…or even La Paz.


The idea in building the port is not so much to extend Mexican Riviera cruises as it is to embark on new cruises. That means Puerto Peñasco would be a homeport, precisely what the Mexicans have in mind — and that would be a first in the country. 

The market will come from Phoenix and Tucson, both about three and a half hours away, which would make cruising much more accessible to the people of Arizona. You should note Puerto Penasco-2that the population of the two cities is more than two million people and another five million or so live in the state. This sleepy resort town is already well-known to many of them and has been dubbed “Arizona’s beach.”

Boarding a ship in Puerto Peñasco would be a huge advantage over flying (or driving) to the West Coast, and if you’re wondering what size of ships might be based there (or visit), Puerto Peñasco is preparing — in what is being called its “most important project” ever — for 3,000-passenger ships. 

That’s still the majority of world’s fleet. Will Puerto Peñasco land one, or more?

In 19 months, or sooner, we’ll know.

In the news…

• Chinese cruise passengers had 30 seconds to react to capsizing
• Crystal Serenity first to have ship's casino open in Malta
• New ship orders expected from Virgin Cruises, Crystal Cruises

Today at portsandbows.com: Freighter cruising

Holland America Veendam
7 nights
November 19, 2015
San Diego (return): Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78

Friday file: Cruise Port Entertainers

In many ports, especially in the Caribbean, locals provide entertainment for passengers as they disembark. There’s always a bucket nearby for anybody who wants to make a donation to these buskers by the sea but there is, of course, no obligation — and the reality is they provide a musical preview of their country’s customs. Here are some we’ve encountered and enjoyed…

Dom.RepLa Romana: Decked out in traditional Dominican Republic colors, this quartet was just as bright in talent.

AricaArica, Chile: In an outdoor mall close to the ship, this talented duo was singing…'The Piano Man' with no piano!

AcapulcoAcapulco: Mariachis are always an attraction in Mexico, even when their “fifth” member gets into the act. 

CartagenaCartagena: Colorful Colombian dancers on the deck of what was once a Spanish galleon and now tours the harbor.

FalmouthFalmouth: If ever an entertainer looked the part of the needy busker, it was this Jamaican at Dunn’s River Falls.

Labadee: The only thing wrong with this high-energy act beside Allure of the Seas was the intrusion of a passenger.

Today at portsandbows.com: Norwegian back to South America

Carnival Miracle
6 nights
November 1, 2015
Los Angeles (return): Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta
Inside: $469
Cost per day: $78

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