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Friday file: The 'Rich Port' Of San Juan

Of all the ports in the Caribbean, and there are hundreds it seems, one that keeps attracting more attention is San Juan, Puerto Rico (translation: “rich port”). Strategically positioned just east of the Dominican Republic, it can be either a port to visit on the way to the Southern Caribbean or a place to embark on a Panama Canal cruise. We have done both and today’s photos reflected our visits to Old San Juan…

Pina Colada

Shouldn’t we all know the who-when-where of the whole pina colada thing?


From inside San Cristobal, and what it must have felt like a few centuries ago.


Also inside the fort, another era’s “weapons of mass destruction” remain.

Seahorse sculpture

The first statue of a seahorse that we’ve seen in the Caribbean (or anywhere).


In Old San Juan, seats in Starbucks are rare, and everybody’s on a device.

Free trolley-1

Free trolley the best way to get around Old San Juan, where you need a day.


If bus is too crowded, there’s always the (not free) horse and buggy option.

Arturo Somohano Portela-musician

Conducting an orchestra in perpetuity: Arturo Somohano Portela. Google him.

Today at portsandbows.com: Another 'Port' (Canaveral), one that's getting more options for passengers

Norwegian Dawn
7 nights
October 16, 2015

Boston (return): King’s Wharf 
Inside: $629

Cost per day: $89

Panama Canal A Place To Grow!

Once again this week, we became advocates for taking a Panama Canal cruise, as we have been since our inaugural cruise across the Isthmus of Panama in 2010. This time, it was reassuring friends who leave on a Panama Canal cruise today that they would never regret it.

On our trip, construction was underway for the Canal expansion that was going to be completed…on the waterway’s 100th anniversary in 2014…and then in late 2015…and now sometime early in 2016. The delays have been caused by cost over-runs (now there’s a surprise), strikes (another surprise) and a mix-up in the concrete mix for the locks (that is a surprise).

When it does open, the Canal will accommodate ships that are close to 1.5 times larger than today’s limit. These are called “post-Panamax” ships, and several cruise ships fit the Panama Canalcategory, but that doesn’t include — according to post-Panamax measurements — Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, the two biggest cruise ships in the world. Nor does it include Royal Caribbean’s Freedom Class ships (Freedom, Liberty and Independence).

Sticking with Royal Caribbean as the example, its two newest ships — Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas, which is being launched this week — both will fit in the new Panama Canal.

At the moment, half Royal Caribbean’s fleet doesn’t.

But help is on the way. There is now talk of a fourth set of locks across the Isthmus, which will take $17 billion (for now) and 15 years. So by 2030, Oasis and Allure could probably make maiden voyages through the Panama Canal.

If they’re still around, that is.

Today at portsandbows.com: Celebrity's creative shore excursions

Norwegian Getaway
7 nights
May 30, 2015
Miami (return): St. Thomas, Tortola, Nassau 
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78

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

Names The Game At Royal Caribbean

These are busy times for ship-building and ship-naming, especially if you’re talking about Royal Caribbean.

QuantumQuantum of the Seas is about to become the 22nd ship in the fleet, in  mid-November.

Anthem of the Seas will arrive in 2015.

Ovation of the Seas, the third Quantum Class ship, was given its name last week and will be launched in 2016.

Then there’s Oasis III.

A full sister to Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, this is the ship with no name, which of course if what all ships are at this embryo stage. However, cruise lines have been known to copyright names as they think of them and the scuttlebutt is that there are two left on Royal Caribbean’s list.

Passion of the Seas, and Pulse of the Seas.

And by the way, it’s reasonable to assume there will be an Oasis IV.

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Norwegian Pearl
16 nights
April 16, 2015
Miami, Cartagena, Panama Canal, Puntarenas, Puerto Quetzal, Puerto Chiapis, Huatulco, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, Ensenada, Los Angeles
Inside: $1,319
Cost per day: $82

Cruising's Not All About Luring Youth


Question: How can seniors avoid that terrible curse of the elderly wrinkles?

Answer: Take off their glasses.

Ah, seniors. We are the butt of thousands of Internet jokes. We are disregarded by marketers obsessed with the 25 to 49 crowd. Even cruise ships, once the haven of the nearly elderly, have become playgrounds for the young and rich.

But hold the phone!

We are not forgotten.

Cruise Lines International Association research shows the average age of cruisers has dropped to an all-time low (48 years), because of the aforementioned catering to youth that has made them realize what their elders have known for years: “Cruising is irresistible.” Yet despite the CLIA figures, it’s clear that cruise lines still count on their primary market because all of them have strategies that are essentially only for Golden Agers:

• Longer itineraries are everywhere, and it’s retirees who have the time to book them.

• Exotic cruises are plentiful for a demographic that often focuses on the ol’ Bucket List…like seeing the Panama Canal, cruising the Mediterranean, or crossing an ocean in a ship.

Rock climbing• Upscale lines like Cunard, Crystal, Azamara and Oceania cater to seniors because that’s usually the crowd with the most disposable income and the fewest financial obligations.

• River cruising’s growth in popularity is unquestionably because of seniors, for the same reason, but also because older folks like us are more interested in history, lectures and less-strenuous (i.e. do-able) activities like climbing rock walls…is it because we’re weary of climbing the wall?

• The major cruise line best suited to retirees, they say, is Holland America. The ships are smaller, there are fewer “family-style” adventures and its reputation includes rules about lights out by nine (just kidding).

And there’s always a place on the mainstream, family-oriented cruise lines for seniors…and generally the prices are more reasonable. If you’re among the crowd that would prefer a big ship and a more sedate experience, here’s one small tip:

Go when the kids are in school.

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Carnival Sensation
3 nights
October 30, 2014
Port Canaveral (return): Nassau
Inside: $189
Cost per day: $163

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