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Cruise Itinerary Interruptions

There have been three major itinerary changes on cruise ships in three parts of the world lately — two caused by weather and the other by a fire — and the reactions of passengers have been interesting, to say the least.

See what you think…

In the Far East, passengers on Quantum of the Seas were so unhappy when the captain changed ports to avoid Typhoon Goni that when the ship returned to Shanghai, many of them refused to disembark. Some, according to the Shanghai Daily, had to be carried off the ship. More than 300 protested Royal Caribbean’s compensation offer for going to South Korea instead of Japan: free WiFi and lobster for dinner.

In Australia, passengers on the Carnival Spirit have filed a class-action suit against the cruise line because the cruise that was supposed to go north-east from Sydney to New Caledonia instead went south to Hobart and Melbourne. The reason was Cyclone Pam, Spiritchurning through waters to the north-east. They are suing for “misleading or deceptive conduct” because Carnival waited until three hours after leaving port to tell the passengers, who claim they could have cancelled the cruise and received a full refund instead of a $150 credit and future discount.

In the Caribbean, a fire in the engine room of the Carnival Liberty stranded the ship in St. Thomas, its cruise cancelled and its passengers left with two options. One, if the ship is cleared to return under less-than-full power to San Juan (departure port) and make it easier to fly home. Two, they can stay on the disabled ship if it can’t leave and enjoy the Virgin Islands city until the weekend, when Carnival will fly them home. Either way, the passengers will get a full refund, a 50 per cent discount on their next cruise and a $150 on-board credit.

No complaints there, at least not yet.

What do you think?

In the news…

• Costa's new TV deal with Sky Italia satisfies rabid soccer fans in ships
• Fathom plans to begun cruising to Cuba on May 1 at the latest

Today at portsandbows.com: Mobile to be home to a cruise ship again

Caribbean Princess
7 nights
November 15, 2015
Houston (return): Roatan, Belize, Cozumel
Inside: $406
Cost per day: $58



Traffic Chaos Training In Asia

SIEM REAP, Cambodia — A colleague who left this busy little city widely known for Angkor Wat the day before we arrived sent us this message about the traffic:

“I always feel,” said journalist Will McGough, “like I'm a few seconds away from seeing the biggest accident of my life.”

Will is right.

Controlled chaos. This being our first visit to Southeast Asia, to board the AmaDara on the new AmaWaterways ship’s maiden voyage south on the Mekong River, we had no real Streets of Siem Reapreference point. Maybe all Asian cities are like this, with mostly two-wheeled vehicles going every direction, but Siem Reap seems unique.

Or more unique.

There are few cars, for a city of 175,000. There’s a zillion scooters, or so it seems, many of them called tuk-tuks — a scooter or motorbike pulling the carriage in which you ride. Traffic lights are also rare; in fact we don’t remember seeing one, and it’s understandable. Nobody would pay attention to them anyway.

The biggest accident of Will’s life never happened. Not for him. Not for us. In four days here, nary a crash. And then, on to Saigon…

To use a baseball analogy, Siem Reap was like spring training. Perhaps because of the sheer size of the South Vietnam hub that’s also known as Ho Chi Minh City. It has a Saigon-traffic-1population of nine million people…and seven million scooters. No kidding. That was a matter-of-fact statement made by two people we encountered.

If the biggest accident of Will’s life was imminent in Siem Reap, the biggest accident in history was imminent in Saigon. Pictures, even videos, don’t really do it justice. There are more traffic lights in Saigon and people actually stop at them. Sort of. There are even crosswalks for pedestrians, but they’re mostly for decorative purposes.

Saigon-traffic-3And there are always people willing to tell you how to cross the street and live to talk about it:

“Walk at the same pace. Don’t run. Don’t stop, even if you think somebody’s going to hit you. Make eye contact with the driver of any vehicle(s) you think might be of danger. You will get to the other side if you follow these instructions.”

If you watch locals do this, it’s clear that it works. The confident, calm look on their faces tells you they’re not worried. Why should you be?

So we weren’t. One fine day in Saigon, during rush hour (aka, even more chaotic), we walked across a main thoroughfare three times. One of us even felt comfortable doing it, despite the fingernail marks dug into his hand.

And yes, we lived to talk — or write — about it.

In the news…

• Three Celebrity ships drop Istanbul for balance of season over security concerns
• Engine-room fire delays Carnival Liberty's departure from St. Thomas

Today at portsandbows.com: Sunwing connecting Canadian cruisers with Cuba

Carnival Liberty
7 nights
December 13, 2015
San Juan (return): St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Maarten
Inside: $419
Cost per day: $59

Wildlife In Alaska Often Surprising


ALASKA — For a few days, we thought our views of Alaskan wildlife might be the mosquito on the sidewalk in Anchorage, the crazed woman standing on the side of the Parks Highway menacingly cradling a rock in her hand and a moose of uncertain gender and size that we spotted from the seat of a de Havilland Beaver, flying 2,000 feet above the Chulitna River.

Then, along came Mother Moose.

That’s her in the picture, leading her two offspring through the non-wilderness at Denali National Park.


This picture was taken about 50 feet from Mama and her kids, on the doorstep of the park’s Visitor Center. There were probably 300 people who in those minutes were this DSCN8449close to the moose family, and not much further away were 10 or 12 buses. We’d just disembarked from one of them, and this was the first stop of the Princess Cruises’ Natural Wilderness Tour.

It was the last place we expected to see a moose, especially one so close.

There are two types of wilderness you see in Alaska. On land tours like this one, particularly in Denali, you can hope to see not just moose but also bears and cariboo and dall sheep. Also mosquitoes, of which there are 13 species, all of which bite. On cruise ship tours in the Alaska ports, you can hope to see whales…as well as bears and cariboo and dall sheep.

The key word is “hope.”

In Alaska, seeing wildlife can be a challenge. Often it takes you by surprise, as it did when we were hiking a mile to the Mendenhall Glacier during a Star Princess shore excursion IMG_2049called Mendenhall Glacier and Whale Quest, which our bus driver called the best tour in Juneau, and he wouldn’t get an argument from us. One of the unexpected wildlife events was seeing this porcupine not six feet off the path where we walked. This wasn’t our first porcupine, but it was our first in natural habitat, and he/she seemed okay with the clicking camera phones.

The second half of that six-hour tour delivered the whales. Whales were not just a promised, they were guaranteed…or you get your money back. At least at this time of IMG_5802year, when the humpbacks are back from their winter vacations in Hawaii, tour guides are more than comfortable throwing down that gauntlet, and the first whales we spotted were just 15 minutes or so after leaving Juneau.

How many did we see?

Too many to count. A couple of (pods) of between six and 10. We saw them creating bubble nets (as if surrounding a school of fish), and we saw them breaching (below)Whales— apparently you seldom see them do both on the same trip, or at the same time. 

The experts say that whales are smart, so maybe they just know when to put on a show.

Maybe the moose knew, too.

In the news…

• Low water levels in Europe forcing river cruise lines to change itineraries
• American Cruise Lines' Mississippi riverboat named America to debut in 2016
• Holland America 'Explore 4' promotion for booking early rewards for 2016-17

Today at portsandbows.com: The changing world of cruise dining

Carnival Liberty
7 nights
September 27, 2015
San Juan (return): St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Maarten
Inside: $409
Cost per day: $58

Concerts, Cruise Ships Share Philosophy

Last week, we tried to see Neil Diamond in concert (yes, at 74, he’s still performing). A quick check of tickets delivered the news that they weren’t in our budget, unless we wanted to sit where you need binoculars to see the stage. Aha, we thought, there’s sure to Neil Diamond-Eva Rinaldibe a last-minute deal.

There wasn’t.

Standing at the box office five minutes before the show was supposed to start, the $191 tickets were still $191 and, we were politely told, that wasn’t going to change.

Maybe cruise lines are getting tips from ol’ Neil, who at 74 continues to play to nearly sold-out houses. If everybody thinks last-minute deals are the way to go, most people will wait until the last minute and the “gate” will suffer.

Translating that to the current cruise climate, it means last-minute deals are disappearing. Last month, it was Royal Caribbean that decided to rid itself of what CEO Richard Fain called the “used-car salesman kind of mentality.” This month, it’s Carnival. Both consider the strategy a profit-killer and, yes, cruise lines are in the business of turning profits.

– Eva Rinaldi photo

So both would rather have empty cabins on ships more or less full of passengers paying the “going rate” than fill up the ships to have heads in every bed, as they say. This is a major philosophical shift and it’s likely to spread so that there are almost no last-minute deals anywhere.

The same goes for the concert crowd. If a 74-year-old entertainer selling out on his past sets the standard for the non-discounting of tickets, it’s likely to be the case for all entertainers.

If, of course, it isn’t already.

In the news…

• Over a million people welcome Cunard Queens on the Mersey in Liverpool
• Windstar christens Star Legend after $8.5-million refurbishment and name change
• Royal Caribbean to make Aklan, Philippines its hub for Asia region

Today at portsandbows.com: Luxury cruising on the move

Carnival Liberty
7 nights
August 23, 2015
San Juan (return): St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Maarten
Inside: $419
Cost per day: $59

Friday File: Bridges, some with stories

When you cruise, there are bridges and there are bridges. On some cruise ships you can be lucky enough to visit “the bridge” and see how the captains and crews operate these massive floating hotels in seemingly the smallest of spaces. Failing that, there are bridges your ship sails under — and that’s what “bridges” means to most of us. Here’s a look at some that we’ve photographed in our travels…


To get to Paradise Island in Nassau, we thought about walking across this one…okay, one of us did, while the other one got cold feet in anticipation of getting wet feet.

Golden Gate

When you leave San Francisco, in your wake is the picturesque Golden Gate Bridge…picturesque if it’s a sunny day like this one was from the stern of the Norwegian Sun.

Lisbon-25th of April Bridge-1

Not a Golden Gate double-take…but a Lisbon lookalike, the 25th of April Bridge, commemorating the Carnival Revolution, a 1974 blood-less coup that freed Portugal from dictatorship.


In the heart of the Panama Canal is the Centennial Bridge, built in 2004 to relieve traffic congestion by carrying four times as many cars as the 40-year-old Bridge of the Americas.


Vancouver’s famous Lions Gate Bridge welcomes ships into Burrard Inlet, providing the tide’s not too high, which it apparently always is for Celebrity’s Solstice Class ships.

New Orleans-1

The Crescent City Connection Bridge in New Orleans is a 2-for-1, the world’s fifth-longest cantilevered bridges and the most heavily traveled in the Lower Mississippi River.


Explorer of the Seas looked like its top would scrape against the bottom of the Verrazano Bridge that connects Brooklyn and Staten Island…unlike some ships, there were 15 feet to spare.

In the news…

• Princess praised for handling 135 cases of norovirus on Star Princess
• Royal Caribbean, Celebrity to bump daily gratuities as of June 1
• Study shows cruise ship amenities driving industry's market growth  

Today at portsandbows.com: Is Viking Star an ocean game changer?

Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas
7 nights
November 29, 2015
Galveston (return): Falmouth, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
Inside: $510
Cost per day: $72

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