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New Threats To Cruise Passengers

This is one of those stories we don’t want to tell, and shouldn’t have to tell, but there is really no choice.

It’s about terrorists.

You know how your life has changed when boarding planes, with security personnel checking everything but the dirt under your fingernails? You know how when you’re walking the streets of a big city, or even a small town, you’re supposed to be aware not just of your surroundings but also the people who inhabit them? You know how in the interests of public safety, you have to be suspicious of virtually everybody?

Well, shipmates, get ready.

According to the Associated Press, would-be jihadists are booking tickets on cruise ships. They’re using ships to get them to Turkey, specifically, so they can join the battles in Syria and Iraq. The news surfaced at an Interpol conference this week in Monaco and the conclusion was for accelerated screening at transportation hubs…”airports and, more and more, cruise lines.”

The intelligentsia say that the terrorists, because they know it’s getting tougher for them to board planes, are taking to the seas. A statement from Cruise Lines International Association, to which almost all cruise lines belong, maintained that cruise-ship security is taken as seriously as airline security, and that passengers manifests are shared with U.S. authorities.

What is left unsaid is the threat that these unwelcome jihadists will use cruise ships for more than transportation…instead, as a final destination.

Either way, that terrorists are known to be boarding ships is dreadful news for the passengers, and for the industry.

Today at portsandbows.com: Closer look at Royal Caribbean's new ship

Holland America Zaandam
14 nights
December 8, 2014
Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Port Stanley, Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, Cape Horn, Sarmiento Canal, Chilean Fjords, Puerto Montt, Santiago
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $42

Royal Caribbean And 'The Wine'

Okay, it’s time to whine about wine again.

As regular consumers, we once lugged 17 bottles back in luggage from Europe and were greeted by customs with “Welcome home” and no questions about wine. That was one of the times that we were lucky enough — and we always tell the truth when asked — to beat the system.

On cruise ships, a couple of times we’ve taken more than our quota on board and, while Vintagessometimes we’ve paid the corkage fee, sometimes we’ve been lucky, too. Consequently, we are owed nothing when it comes to taking more wine than is allowed — free.

So today we celebrate the success of “whining” for other passengers with similar taste.

Royal Caribbean’s rules — and every cruise line is different — were that two bottles could be taken on board, and were subject to a $25 corkage fee if they were consumed in public places. Such as restaurants, bars, by the pool, in the elevator…

That’s changed.

Although the change has not yet been made on Royal Caribbean’s website, the two bottles per stateroom can now be taken to a cruise ship restaurant, for dinner, and there’s no corkage. This “news” was broken by passengers and later confirmed by the cruise line. The same rules apply to champagne (750-ml bottles only, not magnums). And if it’s more than two bottles, they will be confiscated and returned on the last day of the cruise.

It’s not perfect, because perfect in our world would be allowing you to take as much as you want, and charging you corkage in the restaurants. At least then you can drink your own wine.

But this news is worthy of a toast!

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Holland America Zaandam
14 nights
November 24, 2014
Santiago, Puerto Montt, Puerto Chabucu, Chilean Fjords, Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, Cape Horn, Port Stanley, Montevideo, Buenos Aires
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $57


What Can Happen With Death At Sea

Not that there’s ever anything funny about death at sea, but here are three situations that are…well, unusual…that we have picked up in our travels (names of individuals and cruise lines not included):

* * *

A family of four is on a cruise from New York to Bermuda. The father has a heart attack and dies on the ship and in as sensitive a way as they can cruise line officials consult with the wife and her teenage children about what to do. One option is to fly the three of them with the body back to New York but they can also remain on board because the cruise is New York return.

Tearfully, the family decides to stay.

For the remainder of the cruise, ship officials keep in touch with the family — when the family can be found. The bereaved wife and children get off the ship in Bermuda, presumably to see the sights and when they get back on, there is much partying.

A day before the ship returns to New York, they visit the morgue…and there are more tears.

* * *

Newlyweds are on a Caribbean cruise, probably their honeymoon. The groom has a heart attack somewhere in the Caribbean Sea and the cruise line’s medical people can only do so much in caring for him. He has to be flown to the nearest major center, Miami.

The bride is told she can accompany her ailing husband but she declines and decides to stay on the ship. So here he is, in hospital in Miami with a serious health issue and his new bride is continuing the week-long Caribbean cruise.

It gets worse.

The wife is seen by mystified cruise people on the dance floor, night after night, and in the bars with a variety of male passengers.

* * *

This one is from a Baltic cruise, Again, it’s the Dad who collapses and dies, leaving this distraught widow and adult daughter alone early in a cruise that was almost two weeks long. Caring ship officials offer to make arrangements, as they always do, for transporting the body back to wherever his wife would like.

The wife opts to leave it in the morgue until the cruise is over.

Again, it gets worse. One of the first ports is in Finland. Off the ship go Mom and Daughter. When the ship leaves, they have not returned. They fly to the next port to get back on and take great delight in telling fellow passengers that they missed the boat because they were drunk. They went ashore at every port but didn’t miss any more departures.

Before the cruise ended in Amsterdam, the woman asked cruise officials if they could make arrangements for her husband’s body to be stored in the Dutch port because she and her daughter wanted to extend their stay in Amsterdam for a few days.

After all, isn’t that what Dad would have wanted?

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Holland America Westerdam
18 nights
October 9, 2014
San DiegoCabo San LucasPuerto ChiapasCorintoPuerto CalderaMantaSalaverryLimaLa SerenaSantiago
Inside: $1,199
Cost per day: $66

New Ship: MSC Preziosa


There will be four new cruise ships launched this year, fewer than usual. This week, we're giving you a snapshot of all four, and the MSC Preziosa is number three…

Launch date: March

Capacity: 3,959

Staterooms: 1,637

Decks: 18

Sister ship: Divina (identical), Splendida, Fantasia

Home Port: Genoa (Italy), Santos (Brazil)

Where it's sailing: Mediterranean (summer), South America (winter)

Ships now in MSC fleet: 13

Interesting: The fourth and final Fantasia-Class ship. It was originally ordered for the Libyan-based General National Maritime Transport and modified to Fantasia specs after MSC picked up the order canceled by the war in Libya.

Photo credit: Bernard BIGER STX France

Caribbean Princess
7 nights
February 23, 2013
Fort Lauderdale (return): Princess Cays, Curacao, Aruba
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85

Catalina Island and Queen Mary


It happens that we have good friends who live in Rancho Palos Verdes, just south of Los Angeles. It also happens that many years ago we had close friends who lived in the same suburb, which is not far from Catalina Island and even closer to the Queen Mary, which you'd think would be an attraction to people who write about ships.

We didn't visit our friends — the recent ones and the long-ago ones — often, but often enough that we should have seen both Catalina and and the Queen Mary, the Cunard ship that's spending her retirement as a working hotel and tourist attraction. (We did once tour the Queen Mary, but in those days we had little interest in cruising.)

What this has to do with cruising is that both are an ideal segue for passengers sailing in or out of San Pedro, aka Long Beach, aka Los Angeles.

The island is said to be a beautiful spot to escape the craziness that southern California can be. There are ferries that will take you there every day, and if you happen to visit on your birthday, it's a free ride on the Catalina Express. Cruise ships, especially Carnival, sometimes make Catalina Island one of the ports, on the way to or from Ensenada (Mexico) or Hawaii.

It sits 22 miles off the coast but looks much closer. It has a city, Avalon, and if you forget for a minute how close you are to North America, they say you could think you're in the Mediterranean. Think Portofino.

The Queen Mary is floating history. Built to be one of Cunard's two super shuttles between Southampton and New York — the Queen Elizabeth was the other — prior to World War II, she wound up transporting soldiers to and from the fields of battle. She went back to being a cruise ship after the war and until jet planes starting ferrying people across the Atlantic in hours instead of days.

It wasn't long after that when Cunard, losing money on all its ships, sold the Queen Mary and she made her 1,000th and last ocean crossing to get to Long Beach. You think there's no romance among ships. Six years ago, the Queen Mary 2 (still sailing profitably for Cunard) was in neighboring waters and saluted her predecessor with two new horns and one on loan from Queen Mary. The old gal — she turns 75 in December — responded with her one working air horn.

Today, Catalina and Queen Mary are both tourist attractions that, were they in Europe, would surely be available to cruise passengers as shore excursions. Yet they so readily accessible to North Americans who don't go out of their way for a visit.

Just ask us.

Celebrity Infinity
15 nights
December 7, 2012
Fort Lauderdale, Cartagena, Colon, Panama Canal, Manta (Ecuador), Lima (Chile), Arica, La Serena, Santiago
Inside: $899
Cost per day: $59

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