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Reflections on Cruising in 2012

Ten stories in 2012 that caught our attention, in no particular order of significance…

1. The 100th anniversary of the best-known (because it sank) cruise ship of all time, the Titanic. At the precise hour the Titanic went down, on April 15 a century earlier, there were at least two cruise ships (Azamara Journey and the Fred.Olsen Balmoral) were on the scene in what originally seemed like a macabre reminder but in the end was touching and emotional.

2. In an unrelated "the way we were" event, American Cruise Lines unveiled a paddle wheeler that on the outside looked much like the kind of river boats that went up and down the Mississippi in the early 20th century. The Queen of the Mississippi, the first paddle wheeler built for the rover in 20 years, is just as luxurious as her ancestors, relatively speaking…among the then-unimaginable improvements was the Internet.

3. Viking made headlines for the river cruisers by adding six new Longships in 2012 and announcing 10 more would arrive in 2013 with plans for 10 more in 2014. While capacity is far less than ocean cruisers (usually less than 10 per cent), one-week cruises cost a lot more. Are we about to find out if Viking has saturated the river cruise market?

4. The face of Godmothers changed. Oceania introduced an openly lesbian godmother (Cat Cora) for the Riviera, Celebrity gave the title(s) to four women who were cancer survivors or cancer survivor advocates on its Reflection, and Norwegian announced its New York-based ship (Breakaway) would have the Rockettes from Radio City Music Hall as godmothers in perpetuity…because there will always be Rockettes. Yet none was more moving than Tracy Mourning, Godmother of the Carnival Breeze and a woman whose charitable efforts continue to impact young women in Florida.

5. After all the analyses and speculation and concern about hurricanes in the Caribbean and their impact on cruise ships, the one that had the greatest effect on ship itineraries was in the waters of the north-eastern seaboard, Hurricane Sandy.

6. New catchphrases for upscale marketing, when Oceania reinforced its "upper premium" status with the arrival of the Riviera and Celebrity introduced "modern luxury" after Michael Bayley replaced Don Hanrahan at the head of the No. 2 line in the Royal Caribbean family.

7. Norwegian, the biggest cruise line that isn't in the Carnival or Royal Caribbean conglomerates, unveiled plans to supplement its 2013 (Breakaway) and 2014 (Getaway) new ships with a "Breakaway-Plus" ship in 2015 and an option on another one for 2017.

8. The Costa Concordia. Long after it capsized and took 32 people to their deaths 13 days into the year, its impact lingered all year, and will continue to linger until long after the ship is raised and destroyed, either in name or in body.

9. An Australian mining billionaire, Clive Palmer, unveiled plans to build a Titanic replica, prompting this from Carnival CEO Micky Arison to quip: "Mr. Palmer is a billionaire with ambitions to become a millionaire!"

10. The George Bushes — as in George and Barbara — crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2 the way they do most things…quietly.


Carnival Imagination
4 nights
February 25, 2013
Miami (return): Key West, Cozumel
Inside: $219
Cost per day: $54
www.carnival.com
 

Legendary Queen of the Mississippi

 

For those of us who didn't grow up on the banks of the Mississippi, our introduction to its boats was Davy Crockett. You remember Davy…and the keelboat races with Mike Fink, and the river pirates, and all the other comic book stories that turned into books and movies and a merchandise business that surpassed 42 billion.

The sometimes fictitious accounts of this legendary American folk hero were an introduction to what is arguably the nation's greatest river, stretching from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Now, fast forward.

On Saturday, another legend arrived on the Mississippi, in the form of a riverboat unlike anything Davy and Mike could have imagined. If the Queen of the Mississippi isn't a legend, she will become one, as the vessel that changed river boating as we know it. She is a 21st-century paddlewheeler with all the modern amenities, taking her passengers back 75 to 100 years, a time warp in luxury.

On one hand, the Queen of the Mississippi passengers currently on the inaugural, 8-day return trip from New Orleans are on a ship that looks, from the outside, that it might have been in Mississippi waters a century ago. On the inside, the flagship of the American Cruise Lines fleet has "hotel-room" staterooms — 300 square feet or more, private balconies with sliding doors, full bathrooms just like the hotels have, and the opportunity to dine in private whenever they want.

On one hand, on-board educational events and themed entertainment will take them back to the way it was, and seeing historical plantations and mansions and landmarks. On the other hand, they can step off the boat and see Baton Rouge, New Orleans and cities of the south the way they are today.

The first paddlewheeler built for the mighty river in two decades, Queen of the Mississippi takes its people on a trip that's a merging of centuries on the Mississippi, the way it was and the way it is. Davy and Mike and their men would be proud…although they might have trouble getting their heads around WiFi.


Carnival Fascination
5 nights
November 5, 2012
Jacksonville (return): Half Moon Cay, Nassau
Inside: $269
Cost per day: $53 $53
www.carnival.com

Mississippi Cruisers Gamblers at Heart?

Last week, American Cruise Lines announced that its new Queen of the Mississippi was going to be even more like an authentic riverboat with the installation of a 23-ton paddlewheel.

Everything that goes around…

Paddlewheelers on the Mississippi were originally designed to transport goods from state to state. That made them trade centers, which attracted people with money, which led to professional gamblers. Hence the terms Mississippi gambler and riverboat gambler. By being on water, it circumvented state laws prohibiting gambling and besides, on land, gamblers were known to be hanged for their vices.

That was about two centuries ago and It’s ironic that with the return to the authentic ways of the past, gambler seems like a four-letter word. American riverboats are growing, albeit not as fast as their European counterparts, and are trying to attract customers with trips to the Kentucky Derby, visits to Graceland, Civil War vacations and retro music ranging from Glenn Miller to Paul Revere and the Raiders.

And now, an authentic paddlewheel!

What about the riverboat gamblers?

While we seldom know what exactly motivates people to go river cruising, we’ll never know if it’s to be a Mississippi Gambler.

You’d almost think they were afraid of the hangman.

DAILY DEAL:
Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas
12 nights
May 28, 2012
Rome (return): Palermo, Chania, Rhodes, Istanbul, Ephesus, Athens, Naples
Inside $899
Cost per day: $75
www.royalcaribbean.com

River Cruising: Time Has Come

Here’s one of the New Year’s resolutions made in our house: By the end of 2012, we hope we will no longer be able to say we’ve never been on a river cruise.

Clearly, river cruising is becoming a significant part of the “cruise community” and it’s time for us — so that we can properly serve you — to get on board, so to speak.

Besides, there are more choices than ever.

On the Danube, Avalon River Cruises has two new ships arriving in May, the Vista and the Visionary, and calling them the latest “Suite Ships.” Avalon will then have 18 ships in its fleet.

On the Rhine, as well as the Danube, Viking plans to have six new ships on the water before the end of 2012. They call them “the longships.” By then, there will be 31 Viking river cruisers.

On the Mississippi, there are three river cruise companies and two new ships — one of them the Queen of the Mississippi — mark the return of paddle wheelers to the river for the first time in two decades. The message is that cruising the Mississippi is making a comeback.

Geographically, that would make the most sense for us. However, there is one caveat. It’s those tales of Mississippi gamblers…

DAILY DEAL:
Royal Caribbean Voyageur of the Seas
7 nights
February 11, 2012
New Orleans (return): Falmouth, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
Inside $469
www.royalcaribbean.com

Mississippi Steamin' Comin' Back

Maybe there’s a generation gap here. Among the news in cruising is that next year there will be two steamboats working the Mississippi River, up one from this year and up two from 2010.

For some of us “steamboats” were what quarterbacks counted before they had to throw a pass in touch football. The “Mighty Mississippi” was just something Johnny Horton sang about in regaling us about the Battle of New Orleans. And riverboats were floating restaurants anchored to the banks of the Mississippi where one could be introduced to tasty dishes like catfish thermidor.

How times have changed. Now there’s a boom on the river!

When the Queen of the Mississippi joins The American Queen (above) on the mighty river next year, it will be either a test on the future of river cruising, or a precursor of what is to come. River cruising is up in most parts of the world, and the Mississippi has been void of steamboats since 2008, when the company that owned The American Queen (and the Mississippi Queen) sank in muddy financial waters. The Mississippi Queen was eventually sold for scrap.

Now her 436-passenger sibling, The American Queen — largest steamer in the world, is getting a $5 million facelift and a permanent port in Memphis. And the 140-passenger Queen of the Mississippi will be making her maiden voyage from New Orleans to Memphis in one year from this month.

Meanwhile, what will quarterbacks count now?

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