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Scooting Around Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh-1

Going on cruises has led us to do things in life that are out of character. One was during an Alaska cruise with Princess…being afraid of heights and then taking a helicopter onto North America’s tallest mountain, Denali.

Ho Chi Minh-2The most recent was after a river cruise with AmaWaterways…taking a scooter rider with two complete strangers on a street corner in Ho Chi Minh City, as Saigon has been called since 1976.

Actually, they were two scooter rides. One on the “back seat” of one Huynh brother scooter; one in the same place behind the other brother.

We’d just walked out of The Independence Palace, formerly the headquarters of the South Vietnamese government before it fell and North Vietnamese tanks rolled onto the palace grounds on April 30, 1975. The Hunyh brothers were waiting for us…or anybody else daring enough to go touring with them.

For whatever reason, we agreed to go. For whatever reason, we (obviously) made it back safe and sound.

There’s always been a tendency in our household to shy away from street vendors who want to take you “somewhere.” Not only did we throw that theory out the window, we didn’t even know where “somewhere” was, only that they were going to show us Saigon, as it’s still known to people of our vintage, both in and out of Vietnam.

These were two of the 9 or 10 million people (it depends who you ask) in Ho Chi Minh City, taking us on two of the 7 million scooters. One of us thought it was safer than trying to cross the street, and that seemed like sound rationale to the other.

Off we went with the brothers Hunyh.

What became a 90-minute trip to see the city through the eyes of locals, the first stop was the post office. That’s right, the post office. Either locals are proud of its French Ho Chi Minh-PO2architecture or they think it’s something tourists want to see, but the post offices in our world are places we go to mail things. Period. Nonetheless, this one was beautiful, and adorned with a huge picture of the country’s patriarch, Ho Chi Minh.

We had a glimpse of the cathedral down the street that was not open, and running commentary (make that riding commentary) about a variety of sights along the way and the life of the two brothers: Both are married, one for the second time and one for 24 years to a woman who “I love forever.”

Next stop was the Viet Cong Museum, also closed, but with enough artifacts on the grounds to take it interesting. One of the Hunyhs insisted we climb onto a Viet Cong tank, Ho Chi Minh-VCan act which we suspect would not have been met with much of an endorsement had the still-Communist government’s officials been around.

The last stop was a famous pagoda — the brothers are Buddhists — that was a particularly busy place this day because it had something to do with fertility, so most of the occupants were women who wanted to make sure the stars were aligned and the gods were Ho Chi Minh-Pagoda-2smiling. We stayed there longer than expected (nothing to do with fertility), watching people light incense and pray while getting an elaborate explanation of everything in and outside the temple, including a 70-year-old turtle in a cage that would have infuriated Ho Chi Minh-4animal rights people in North America.

Since we were paying them by the hour, we could only surmise why the last stop took so long. The price was 300,000 dong per hour (Vietnamese currency), per person, which isn’t nearly as much as it looks. For an hour and a half, that was almost a million dong.

Or $45.

All things considered, it was money well spent. The brothers Huynh were delightful, polite and trustworthy. We’d probably have paid that just for the scooter ride — or to get across the street without being run over!

In the news…

• Four new shuttle buses dedicated to cruiser passengers in Port of Galveston
• Arrival of Anthem of the Seas kicks off cruise season in Puerto Rico
• TUI Cruises to send new Mein Schiff 6 to U.S. and Canada in 2017

Today at 
Scenic going deep into Southeast Asia

Norwegian Spirit
14 nights
April 23, 2016
Port Canaveral (return): St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Funchal, Barcelona
Inside: $829
Cost per day: $59

Picking A Cruise By Shore Savings


Two years ago, the U.S. and Canadian dollars were at par. According to yesterday’s exchange rates, $1.00 U.S. was worth $1.22 Canadian. That kind of gap usually means an exodus of tourists in the direction of better deals, and apparently that’s what is happening in conjunction with Alaska cruises originating in Vancouver.

According to a report by Canada’s national broadcaster, CBC, the falling Canadian dollar is encouraging more Americans to cruise out of Vancouver this summer…perhaps combining a cruise with a Canadian vacation. The report estimates that 70 per cent of passengers boarding ships bound for Alaska in the Port of Vancouver are Americans.

It’s not so much that cruises are better deals — Americans booking cruises from Vancouver pay in U.S. dollars — as it is that everything else around the departure and return is a deal. Hotels, restaurants, tours, taxis…the whole enchilada.

The number of cruise visitors this year is expected to be about 800,000, on par with last year. That’s from 227 visits on 32 cruise ships. However, tourism analysts say Americans are likely to stay longer before or after the cruise, and spend more because of the currency bargains.

This foreign currency concept is foreign to us. Everybody likes a deal but our choices in picking a cruise would be more inclined to focus on whether the cruise is a deal, not whether the hotel before leaving was.

What about you?

In the news…

• Costa Deliziosa to sail from Fort Lauderdale starting in December
• Norwegian Dawn passengers anticipating compensation for delay
• Luxury cruise market expecting 53 per cent jump by 2018
• Azamara launches ‘Cruise Global, Eat Local’ dining program

Today at portsandbows.comA $90-million terminal upgrade for Quebec

Royal Caribbean Adventure of the Seas
7 nights
September 20, 2015
San Juan (return): St. Croix, St. Maarten, Antigua, St. Lucia
Inside: $489
Cost per day: $69

Cruise Lines Catering to 'Youth'

California may have as many "old folks" per capita as any other state, but the perception is that surf, sand, sun and movie stars makes it a destination for the young as well as the young at heart.

Celebrity seems to think so, too.

In a clever attempt to attract young cruisers, Celebrity is taking its act ashore. Not the ships, of course, just a taste of what happens when you go on one of their ships. That's "taste" as in Qsine, Tuscan Grille, Bistro on Five, The Porch and Grand Epernay — the cruise line's for-fee, upscale restaurants at sea. It also includes a taste of AquaSpa in the shape of a complimentary neck and shoulder massage.

The road show that Celebrity hopes will result in a sea show (or at least a booking or two) is in Long Beach through the weekend…at the World Series of Beach Volleyball tournament. After that, corporate and public events in Los Angeles, Palm Springs and Orange County all next month.

Celebrity doesn't say so, but it's clearly designed to attract young cruisers, most of whom have been to a cruise ship only long enough to drop off their parents.

And if it attracts a few "old folks" along the way — as in Palm Springs — so much the better…

* * *

The same might be said of Norwegian, the cruise line that has long attracted young-ish cruisers with its "freestyle" philosophy, but the strategy is a little different.

Again, the cruise line doesn't mention the demographic (why alienate anybody?) except to say that "Freestyle Cruising is a natural fit" for people who ride the Rocky Mountaineer. That's the train service that operates primarily in the Pacific Northwest, from Calgary to Seattle and a myriad of places people on Alaska cruises have been known to visit.

There are five different Rail and Cruise vacation packages for next year, connected to Alaska sailings on the Jewel, the Pearl and the Sun. The cruise line has determined that nearly half its Alaska cruisers also ride the rails before or after being on the ship.

The perception is that Rocky Mountaineer appeals to young adventurers and whether that's true or not, if it attracts a few "old folks" along the way…

Holland America Eurodam
7 nights
December 1, 2013
Fort Lauderdale (return): Grand TurkSan JuanSt. ThomasHalf Moon Cay
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71
Cost per day: $71


Solstice Surgery To Make It All Better


When a cruise ship visits Vancouver, the jewel that sits between ocean and mountains in British Columbia, it must sail under the Lions Gate Bridge and into Burrard Inlet. No ship has ever been too big to fit under the Lions Gate…

Not so fast.

Celebrity's Solstice will become the biggest ship to visit the Canadian port in 2014…after it undergoes what is being called "minor surgery" to its mast. The options were to skip Vancouver and sail just from Seattle to Alaska, as the Solstice is this year, or to ruin one good mast by running into the bridge deck.

By next summer, the mast will be hinged.

According to Celebrity's Ross Nacht, the Solstice will be "the premier ship to call in Vancouver" and he's right. Next to Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, Royal Caribbean's industry giants, the Solstice Class ranks with the best ships anywhere, if not in size then in class.

Who could imagine that one of them — the flagship nonetheless — would need to be modified because, as one Vancouver newspaper puts it, "Vancouver is so irresistible that a massive cruise ship plans to go under the knife for a chance to spend a little time" there?

Celebrity Infinity
11 nights
June 3, 2013
London (return): Paris, St. Peter Port, Cork, Waterford, Dublin, Liverpool, Glasgow
Inside: $1,049
Cost per day: $107

Alaska on Verge of Another Crisis

There's an interesting law being enacted in Alaska (yes, another one) this year that could impact the cruise industry. Specifically, it could impact how much your cruise costs to visit the 49th state.

It has to do with clean (and more expensive) fuel, and it can get a bit complex, so we'll give you the quick and dirty (no pun intended) version:

1. Since last August, cargo carriers and cruise ships must use low-sulphur fuel within 200 miles of U.S. and Canadian shores (the first full cruise season since then has just begun for Alaska).

2. Further emission cuts will kick in over the next seven years.

3. The Cruise Lines International Association says: "the increased costs translate into fewer cruise-ship visitors" who are initially having to pay an average of $88 more per ticket.

4. The Environmental Protection Agency says the CLIA complaints are like "having a houseguest who leaves all of his trash in your yard and then complains when you ask him to pick it up."

5. The state is suing to prevent the restrictions from being enforced.

6. Offsetting the $3.2 billion it will cost to implement the process, the EPA estimates the health benefits could be up to $110 billion by 2020.

Now all of this sounds like a legitimate case of two sides agreeing to disagree on the pros and cons…until you get to the last point.

Health benefits of $110 billion?

How does anybody come up with that?

Ruby Princess
12 nights
August 4, 2013
Venice, Dubrovnik, Corfu, Olympia, Athens, Mykonos, Ephesus, Santorini, Naples, Rome
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $66

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