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That’s A Million For New Orleans

Photo by Win Henderson

In Texas, the battle cry has for 180 years been “Remember The Alamo.” In New Orleans, for the last decade (10 years in August), it has been “Remember Katrina.”

Remember, indeed.

Close to 2,000 people died. Waves 20 feet high crashed into the Louisiana seaport. The world watched in horror as the largest hurricane ever threatened to wipe the city from the map…some even thought it might not be a bad idea, given that it’s below sea level.

At the time, cruising was thriving in New Orleans. In three years before that, it had grown dramatically and was heading towards a million passengers a year when Katrina ravaged New_Orleanseverything, including the cruise industry. For a city known as The Big Easy, nothing was.

Last year, New Orleans hit the million.

The perception of the city after Katrina was one of apprehension, destruction and fear. Only people who wanted to help wanted to go there, even if helping meant pumping a few dollars into the sagging economy. There can be no doubt today that cruising has contributed to the rebuilding of New Orleans, and is benefitting from it.

“Eighty per cent of all our cruise passengers are from out of state and they spend two-and-a-half nights," Port President and CEO Gary LaGrange told radio station WWL. "The average cruise passenger's direct spending at most other ports around the world is 95 dollars a day…in New Orleans they spend 332 dollars a day."

Today, New Orleans is the sixth-largest cruise port in the U.S. The 10th-largest in the world. Cruise ships generate $323 million in total income for locals. Four ships — Carnival’s Dream and Elation, Norwegian’s Dawn and Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas — call the Port of New Orleans home. Cruise Critic calls it the “Best North American Homeport.” Porthole Magazine readers ranked it the “Friendliest Homeport” for the last two years.

New Orleans has come back, hoping that Katrina (or her descendants) never will.

Today at portsandbows.com: Baking with Mary Berry

Grand Princess
15 nights
February 17, 2015
Los Angeles (return): Hilo, Honolulu, Kauai, Maui, Ensenada 
Inside $1,169
Cost per day: $77
www.princess.com

St. Petersburg: On The Bucket List

’Tis the season to be connecting with friends and family, right? In the course of doing just that, we were chatting with Cousin Cathie, who lives in Houston and who likes to spend time on cruise ships.

She’s a big fan of Royal Caribbean and this year, she spent two weeks on one of the ships “of the Seas” (we think it was Serenade of the Seas), which she boarded in Copenhagen. After a trip up the coast of Norway, the ship stopped at St. Petersburg.

Having done her homework, Cousin Cathie picked this cruise because it was going to be in St. Pete for three days. Most cruises that stop there, she said, only stay for a day and a St. Petersburg-Hermitagehalf…two at the most. Her studies indicated she’d need three days to see what she wanted to see: the Hermitage (above), Catherine The Great’s Palace, Peter’s Harbor, and her agenda even included a river cruise.

Never having seen St. Petersburg, we were fascinated, especially after hearing of its people (she loved them), its sights and even its opulence. St. Petersburg has been called as the most western city in Russia and not just because of its geographical location.

So here is one more example of how another person’s experience in cruising can influence your interests in going somewhere. And when we do get to this Russian port, we’ll toast Cousin Cathie as our Catherine The Great.

Today at portsandbows.com: Enlightening fine print in cruise contracts

Star Princess
15 nights
February 27, 2015
San Francisco (return): EnsenadaHonoluluHiloLahainaNawilili
Inside: $1,299
Cost per day: $86
www.princess.com

Pacific Paradise A Windstar Specialty

If there is one lasting introduction to the paradise that exits in the warmth of the Pacific Ocean, at least for those of us who were around in the ‘50s, that image is the movie-musical-TV film called South Pacific.

The story was based on a 1947 book by James Michener, and it spawned a Broadway musical two years later and a big-screen movie nine years after that. Almost seven decades later, the musical still comes and goes on stages around the world.

South PacificWhat never goes away is the image from a poster or an album cover of a world with which we were not familiar at that time.

The South Pacific.

Fast forward to today. Windstar Cruises announced this week it will be making continuous, year-round voyages to the South Pacific. Not content to whet customers’ appetites with its Dreams of Tahiti trips, Windstar will be extending itineraries to include the Tuamotu Islands. Who knows what or where the Tuamotu Islands are, but it doesn’t really matter because they’re in the South Pacific?

Lots of cruises ships criss-cross through that part of the ocean, going to and coming from Australia. Only the Wind Spirit will be there, week after week, starting next May 26. The cruises are from Papeete, return, and the cost starts at $3,000 so it’s not for the faint of wallet. All the cruises stop at Moorea, DCIM101GOPROTahaa, Raiatea, Huahine and Bora Bora — again, it doesn’t matter — and four times a year that’s extended to include the Tuamotus.

Apparently the Wind Spirit, which will have its 73 staterooms renovated before setting sail in May, is the perfect ship for touring around French Polynesia and not just because it was built in France. With six sails, it’s ideal for the warm breezes that power its billowing sails.

In reality, for some of us, the perfect ship is one that sails in the South Pacific. Period. That’s the magnet that draws us to paradise…just like the picture on the album cover.

Today at portsandbows.com: Think summer with Holland America

Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas
7 nights
January 3, 2015
New Orleans (return): FalmouthGrand CaymanCozumel
Oceanview: $464
Cost per day: $66
www.royalcaribbean.com

Allure Of The Seas: Captain Tore

 

You step onto the "biggest cruise ship in the world" and — to use Royal Caribbean vernacular, you are WOW-ed. That's what the majority of around 6,000 people experience every week, when the Allure of the Seas sail out of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale if they're seeing the big ship for the first time.

How about the captain? How did he feel the first time he boarded Allure of the Seas?

Tore Grimstad is one of two captains of the Allure. For him, that day was August 4, 2013.

"My God," he remembers with the broad smile that is his trademark. "I came from Freedom of the Seas. Really? This was like an apartment building. It's amazing what Capt. Torethey've done. It's mind blowing."

And being on the bridge to sail it?

"Something about this ship made me feel included right away," he says. "It's been really great. I enjoy every day. To be able to navigate narrow ports in shallow waters is fascinating and challenging, and gives me a feeling of pleasure. But the highlight of the job is the crew. I really mean that. I don't want to become some kind of celebrity because I'm not. It's the team."

In the case of the Allure (and Oasis of the Seas), the team is 2,160 strong.

"I focus a lot on the crew, keeping them happy and treating them with respect," he adds. "If the crew is happy, everyone is happy."

Captain Tore (they go by "Captain" and their first names) is an interesting study because, in part, that's what cruise ship captains are. Most of them come from Scandinavia (he's a Norwegian) or Italy, many from a family steeped in the ways of the sea.

Tore Grimstad is a 7th-generation man of the sea and home was, and still is, the islands on the south-west coast of Norway. He comes from the islands of Gurskoy/Hareid-Landet — try finding that on your map — where he grew up reading and hearing "juicy stories from the seven seas." It wasn't a given that he would be a seaman, but it was natural.

"It just happened," he says.

Like so many, being a fisherman came first, followed by a compulsory stint in the service, in his case the Royal Navy. That was followed by working on a cargo tanker, spending some time ashore to find out it wasn't for him, and sending out 40 applications that could lead to a return to the sea.

"They all said no," he recalls.

So he pounded the pavement and, fortunately, walked into an office in Bergen to find an agent from Royal Caribbean. Once Grimstad laid out his experience and his desire, 3-Capt. Torethe agent said:

"Yes, can you be in New York in six days? We need a second officer on the Song of America."

Six days turned out to be eight. With his navy background, Tore was a stickler for instructions, so when his papers told him to take a bus from JFK to a hotel in Times Square, that's what he did. It was, needless to say, his first time in New York and here's what followed:

"I never understood that you could have a hotel in the middle of a building, and I was walking around. that block many times until I realized the Marriott was actually on the 28th floor."

That was 1994 and the beginning of an on-again, off-again relationship with Royal Caribbean. In those days, ships were registered in Norway, and bridge officers were hired and paid in Norway. When the cruise line flagged out its last Norwegian ship, he was automatically unemployed.

Grimstad worked a variety of sea-related jobs, including captain of a Norwegian-Russian-American ship stationed near the equator with the capability of launching rockets ("I was a captain, not a rocket scientist"), plus a relief position with the small European cruise line Fred.Olsen.

For the next two years, he left the door open for a return to Royal Caribbean, as a staff captain. He walked through it a couple of times, filling in as captain of Explorer of the Seas and then Freedom.

One of his best friends, fellow Norwegian Johnny Faevelen, was a Royal Caribbean captain and when Grimstad was close to moving to another cruise line offering more money, Faevelen convinced him to join his team on Serenade of the Seas. Last summer, when Tore arrived to be captain of the Allure, "Captain Johnny" was waiting for him.

"He said: '"So glad to see you…so glad the company chose you'…and he gave me a hug," Captain Tore adds. "There's nobody like him."

Today, Captain Johnny and Captain Tore share more than a friendship. They share the "biggest cruise ship in the world", switching chairs every 10 weeks.

Allure-5Tomorrow: The home life of Captain Tore

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: Venice a study in history

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas
12 nights
September 1, 2014
Fort LauderdaleMalagaBarcelona
Balcony: $869
Cost per day: $72
www.ncl.com
www.royalcaribbean.com

Royal Caribbean and Autism on the Seas

Yesterday's story about the little autistic girl and a man with a heart came along at just the right time. Today's news is that Royal Caribbean is the first cruise line to be certified by Autism on the Seas.

What does that mean?

It means that Royal Caribbean's ships, all 21 of them, are autism friendly.

And what does "autism friendly" mean?

That means when autistic or developmentally challenged people board a Royal Caribbean ship they will find that the ship and its people are ready for them. Autism on SeasThey'll have access to priority boarding, to their dietary needs, to autism-friendly movies and — if they're kids — to toys and stories and activities that are tailored for them.

Royal Caribbean's ships are certified "bronze." Silver certification is expected to happen later this year with gold and diamond on the horizon. All three have to do with increased levels of staff training.

Next week is the first "Cruise With Staff" on Serenade of the Seas, from New Orleans to Key West and the Bahamas. These cruises provide coordinating activities and an enhanced comfort level for individuals with not just autism but also with other cognitive, intellectual and developmental disabilities (like Asperger Syndrome, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy).

Autism on the Seas participates in such cruises with other lines, too — Disney, Celebrity and Carnival — and has been assisting developmentally challenged cruisers with Royal Caribbean for seven years.

On Friday, its 21 ships all won "bronze medals."

Carnival Miracle
7 nights
March 29, 2014
Long Beach (return): Cabo San LucasPuerto Vallarta
Inside: $629
Cost per day: $89
www.carnival.com

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