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Christmas Trifecta for Princess Cruises

Three reasons for Princess Cruises to feel like Christmas has already arrived this year, which happens to be the cruise line’s 50th anniversary…

One:

The Ruby Princess left Vancouver yesterday. No big deal…the Ruby Princess has been cruising in and out of the Canadian West Coast city all year. But December 15 is the latest Rubydate any Princess ship — maybe any cruise ship — has finished the season in Vancouver. If it were sports, you’d call this making the playoffs.

In a year that started earlier and ended later, Vancouver welcomed 32 ships and 800,000 cruise passengers. In addition to the annual Alaska cruises, there were some to Hawaii or the California coast by Princess ships. What happened yesterday was a winner for both Vancouver and Princess.

Two:

Cruise Fever fans picked Princess for “best Alaska cruise” for the second year in a row. Considering that Cruise Fever has only been polling its readers for three years, this is significant.

Having been on an Alaska cruise this year on the Star Princess, it’s easy to understand why the voters feel the way they do. With seven ships going to Alaska from three ports (Seattle and San Francisco are the others), Princess has developed a reputation for quality of not just cruises but also the cruisetours that feature lodges owned by Princess.

Three:

This one’s a sleeper. Literally.

{01bb855c-e9ba-430a-b5bb-4fc192d6dafb}_se5ms116_luxurybed_hdr_ta_v5Princess ships will have 44,000 new beds for heads to relax in, starting in February on the Coral Princess, Emerald Princess and Ruby Princess. The beds have been developed in conjunction with a certified sleep expert (did YOU know there were certified sleep experts?) and utilize the latest in mattress technology.

It will take about two years to outfit all 44,000, turning staterooms into sleep sanctuaries with a “sleep-friendly sensory experience” with “luxurious linens to soothing ocean sounds and relaxing aromas” — you get the idea.

Now if the Princess Luxury Beds are as comfortable as Westin’s Heavenly Beds

Hmm, a sleep-off?

In the news…

• Norwegian unveils ship deployments for summer of 2017
• Cruises on sale for MSC’s new Seaside, two years before sailing
• Extensive refurbishing for Emerald Princess early in 2016

Today at portsandbows.com: A taste of Ho Chi Minh City, port of the future


Carnival Triumph
7 nights
February 6, 2016
Galveston (return): Montego Bay, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
Inside: $469
Cost per day: $67
www.carnival.com

Family Harbor New Option On Vista

In another life, the Carnival Vista would’ve been a perfect ship for our family cruise. When you have a family of five, as we did when the children were children, it’s not always easy to find accommodation on vacation.

Once, we smuggled one of them into a hotel in France, because most hotels in France allow only four to a room, and two rooms was out of the question. On our inaugural (and only) family cruise, which happened to be a Carnival ship, there was no smuggling allowed…so we had two rooms apart. It happened that there was a problematic room between them, but that’s another story.

Oh yes, the Vista.

One of the features on the new Carnival ship — still 11 months away from its inaugural cruise — is the Family Harbor, where the whole family can hunker down for the night in one room. There are options, from inside to suite, and they are priced accordingly. The OceanviewFamily Harbor room in the picture is a deluxe oceanview, probably the one we’d have taken, cosy as it would be for five people (hey, five in a French hotel wasn’t exactly palatial!).

At what cost?

The Vista will spend its first six months in Europe, starting May 1, then cross the ocean to New York at the end of October before settling in Miami. To research prices, we opted for a couple of Caribbean cruises in late 2016 and early 2017, one of five days, the other eight days. The cost was about the same for each cruise when you break it down…between $80 and $85 per person, per day.

Booking two oceanview (non-deluxe) rooms on the same cruises would cost more: $640 for the 5-day cruise and $1,400 for the 8-day cruise. And, there are things not included that come with residing in Family Harbor…like access to a lounge only for Family Harbor passengers, free specialty-restaurant meals for kids under 12 and an exclusive family concierge.

There still are families of five. We see them all the time, and we reminisce. If they’re looking for that family cruise that keeps everybody behind one door and if they have a budget, as we did, the Vista will soon be a new option.

In the news…

• Star Clippers building largest sailing ship to be launched in 2017
• On Regent's Explorer: luxurious spa, infinity pool, state-of-the-art fitness

Today at portsandbows.com: Alex Trebek, finally an adventure cruiser in the Arctic

Celebrity Millennium
7 nights
July 24, 2015
Anchorage, Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, Icy Strait Point, Ketchikan, Vancouver
Oceanview: $649
Cost per day: $92
www.celebritycruises.com

In Case You're Looking For An Escape…

The pictures below are called a sneak preview. They're also called a way for cruise lines — namely, Norwegian — to get a little attention about new ships that nobody has yet seen.

Except for an artistic rendering of the ship's exterior, Norwegian's Escape is being developed in secret. The following pictures — also renderings, actually — give you a look at what staterooms on the line's first Breakaway Plus ship will look like when it arrives in October 2015.

Studio: There are 82 of these, up from 59 on the Breakaway, not as many as the Epic's 128.

Studio

Inside: 407 of them, with lower beds that convert to a queen (connecting staterooms are available for families).

Inside

Oceanview: The interesting thing here is of the 114 Oceanviews, 48 can accommodate up to five people.

Oceanview

Balconies: All 1,168 include lower beds that convert to a Queen and can accommodate two more passengers.

Balcony

Mini-Suites: The lowers convert to a King, to go with the other king, and a bathtub is among other indulgences.

Mini-Suite

Spa Mini-Suites: Include exclusive access to the spa and fitness center…and a pretty decor, and there are 20.

Spa Suite

The Haven: The variety of 95 suites for the rich and famous, or at least the rich, represent luxury at sea the Norwegian way.

Haven

If you already "cruise like a Norwegian" you'll be anxious to see the Escape in the flesh, so to speak.

Island Princess
7 nights
May 21, 2014 
VancouverKetchikanJuneauSkagwayGlacier Bay, College Fjord, Anchorage
Inside: $648
Cost per day: $92
www.princess.com

The Dreaded Inside Cabin on Ships: Deserving of Negative Reputation or Not?

The inside cabin. It's not as appealing as having inside information on something. Nor as valuable as drawing an inside straight in poker. Nor even as comforting as being inside when Mother Nature is hammering outside with driving rain or, worse yet, snow.

Maybe the inside cabin deserves better.

A friend recently asked us how much better we thought it was to have a balcony cabin, compared to going inside. The fact is, there is a big JEWELInsideStateroom_392x282difference…starting with the price. Balconies have been known to be twice as much (or more) than inside cabins. But if you're willing to sacrifice the ocean's fresh air, there can be some real benefits by taking an inside cabin.

Yes, starting with the financial one.

Two, our friend said he and his wife opted for an inside cabin because she had some seasickness issues, and they thought it would be better. That's one we'd heard before but never experience. When you think of rocking motions in rough seas, it probably makes sense.

Three, there's also no natural light, but if you're the type of sleeper who wakes up at dawn (as one of us is) that can be good. You'll sleep better…or at least longer!

Four, you're inclined to spend less time in your room without a view and enjoy all that ships have to offer — including the views in fresh air. If you have a balcony, you're probably going to be in your room more…have to get your money's worth, right?

Five, you might think you enjoy arriving and leaving ports more from your balcony, yet that's only one view, from one side of the ship. On cruises where we've had a balcony, it's probably been 50-50 where we went to watch arrivals and departures.

So maybe an inside cabin is as good as an inside straight after all.

Celebrity Millennium
17 nights
November 20, 2013
SydneyBrisbaneAirlie BeachCairns, Darwin, Benoa, Singapore
Oceanview: $999
Cost per day: $58
www.celebritycruises.com

Jewels of cruising on a Crown Princess

Ten things we liked about the Crown Princess, the ship that in seven days carried us to three Western Caribbean ports from Galveston, in no particular order:

The Ultimate Ship Tour

Usually, tours of the innards of a ship are a one-time experience because a galley is a galley, a print shop is a print shop and a laundry is a laundry. This one was almost three hours and the time flew, even during the longest stop, the Princess Theater. If there was something we didn't see in the theater (okay, we missed seeing performers changing costumes), we'd be hard-pressed to find it, and we left with a genuine sense of what it's like on the other side of the stage lights. And, of course, it never gets tiring to visit the bridge of a cruise ship.

The Cruise Director

Lisa Ball has been honing her skills for almost six years on Princess ships. Unlike some cruise directors, her style is not "over the top" and she is the epitome of professionalism. And if you'd like to know more about her, check on our blog regularly.

Muster Drill

Are you kidding? How can anybody like a muster drill, the "fasten your seat belts" instruction, to use a flight analogy? This one lasted nine minutes, was taped by the captain, played regularly on state-room televisions and covered everything ("If you do go in the water…"). And guess what? At our muster station, everybody was listening for a change.

Man from Vines

Vines is the wine tasting bar that's part of the piazza, the Princess moniker for an atrium. The wines were fine, as they say, but the real star was the ship's lone sommelier. Eduardo Angulo Solis seems a little un-traditional as sommeliers go, encouraging customers to pair food and wine and decide for themselves what works, with a little coaching from an expert. This young man from Chile takes a leave from Princess to spend a year studying to become only the second master sommelier in his homeland, Chile.

The Elevators

At first it was a game: Which side of the door will the illuminated buttons for each deck be on, because they always seemed to be on the side where you didn't look. Then we realized we weren't the only ones playing the game…most passengers were asking the same question, and most were getting it wrong. Talking about it beat elevator music.

Gatsby's

This is the trade name for Princess casinos, and we didn't like it for the reasons you might think, but for the one night on the cruise when smoking was banned. Not everybody agreed…we did see one woman, playing a slot machine and chewing on an unlit cigarette.

Space in Balcony Rooms

On most cruise ships, it's hard to find room for all your clothes, some of which get tucked into drawers and cabinets made for other things. On the Crown Princess, the closet was about eight feet long and, with shelves on top and an adjacent cabinet, why….we clearly didn't bring enough clothes!

The Piazza

This is going to be a staple on Princess ships, and we can see why. It's a gathering spot, as atriums always are, but the Princess Piazzas are busy and entertaining, and adorned with many things Italian (the pizzas are coming!)

Captain Andrew Proctor

A Scotsman of the sea (how many of those are there), he didn't agree to an interview, but he did tell us the secret to making haggis edible: "Mashed tatties [potatoes], mashed turnip…and 12-year-old gravy!"

The Crown Grill

As spectacular as the filet mignon was at this specialty restaurant ($25), the side plates of potatoes and spinach and cream corn and French fries (and more) were perhaps more impressive. It prompted this comment: "I could make a meal of the sides." Yes, even without the 12-year-old gravy.


Holland America Zuiderdam
7 nights
May 18, 2013
Vancouver (return): Tracy Arm, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, Inside Passage
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85
www.hollandamerica.com

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