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A Taste Of Italy For Japan’s Cruisers

Sushi, meet pizza. Saki, meet cappuccino. Geisha, meet Sophia.

That’s the short way of saying Japan is going to get a taste of Italy, courtesy of Costa Cruises. This 67-year-old cruise line is dedicated to being Italian, even when its ships are as far away as northern Asia, and to that end Costa will operate 10 six-night cruises in Japan next year.

The Costa Victoria, by then 20 years old, has been dressed up to look like an energetic kid. An $18-million refurbishing can do that. In fact, when she’s cruising from Maizuru, Kanazawa and Fukuoka next summer, the kids (13 and under) on board will be there free of charge.

The Victoria is known to Japanese cruisers, but only as a visitor, making port stops from China. Now she will have itineraries that focus on short family retreats, because her time in CostaJapan is during summer breaks and holidays — peak travel time. And while the itineraries will be around Japan, but for a quick trip to South Korea (Pusan), the ship will be all Italian.

That’s the Costa way.

The ship, like its 13 Costa siblings, is designed for Italians, or people who wish they were, or want to see what it would be like to be Italian. That means the elegant (some might say) loud colors, the cuisine (oops, a French word), the wine, the gregarious nature and always-smiling faces of the crew, and the…well, the Italian way.

You don’t have to drink Chianti and have spumoni for dessert, but it might help.

More than 60 per cent of the Italian people who cruise do so on Costa ships, so you know everything has to be “the Italian way.” Other Europeans must like it because they make up another 30 per cent of the Costa clientele. North Americans like a little of Italy on the waters, because three Costa ships are now in the Caribbean.

About the only thing that’s not Italian on Costa ships is the language. It’s English. Well, with a little Italian on the side.

In the news…

• It’s official: ‘Margaritaville At Sea’ will have a-la-carte menus
• Def Leppard to headline 4-night cruise from Miami on MSC Divina
• Grand Princess loses power after small engine-room fire near Hawaii

Today at portsandbows.comUn-Cruise Adventures time

Costa Deliziosa
10 nights
January 16, 2016
Fort Lauderdale (return): Freeport, Amber Cove, Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman, Roatan, Cozumel
Inside: $699
Cost per day: $82

Norwegian, Food And Andy Stuart

Some of us like hot toast. Hot enough to melt better. It happens at home. It rarely, if ever, happens on a cruise ship. The only time we’ve ever experienced it, or at least the closest it has come to being reality, is on the Norwegian Epic and the reason was simple. We were having breakfast at O’Sheehan’s, a mid-ship eatery with mostly down-home food, and the toaster was right there. We couldn’t touch it, but we could see it and the toast was hot enough.

Norwegian is having food issues right now. Good and bad.

Andy Stuart, a bright guy who is the company’s new president, has been dealing with Andy Stuartseveral. It started with a charge for room service delivery. That was followed by a ban on taking food back to your cabin. Then came removing the $15 cover charge on Asian eateries. And finally, establishing a new sushi menu with a la carte pricing.

You might say Stuart’s plate has been full.

When passengers complained, as they did about the room service charge, he modified it by not charging for continental breakfast and coffee. When they complained about being ordered not to take food to their rooms, he dropped the regulation. He found that passengers loved not paying $15 for Asian dining when the numbers jumped to 250 customers per night in the restaurants. He found that a la carte sushi was not only palatable, but popular.

Stuart is upgrading the room-service menu, to justify the cost and encourage more passengers to use it. He’s in the process of upgrading food in the buffet with better options, on the theory that every passenger visits the buffet at least once, so it’s critical to have them leave with a good taste, so to speak.

It’s reasonable to assume that O’Sheehan’s will have a name change, since the quickly departed Kevin O’Sheehan was Stuart’s predecessor.

But about the toast, Andy…

In the news…

• MERS outbreak triggers Royal Caribbean cancelations in South Korea ports
• Viking plans maiden North American call for New York in October 2016
• Cruises to nowhere no longer allowed from U.S. ports (Cruise Critic)

Today at portsandbows.com: MSC's Seaside Class ship going to Miami

Costa Deliziosa
7 nights
October 18, 2015
Venice (return): Bari, Corfu, Santorini, Athens, Dubrovnik
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

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

Viator Joins Shore Excursion Options

The news that, as of Monday, you'll be able to book shore excursions without visiting the shore excursions desk on your cruise ship or visiting "Juan Valdez" and his agents on the pier could have far-reaching implications.

A company called Viator launched its website yesterday, for bookings starting six days later. It's for any major cruise line, any ship, almost any place (there are 80 ports). It's not the first company to venture into these waters, but it seems to be the most ambitious…or at least the latest.

If Viator (and others like GroupShoreExcursions.com and ShoreTrips.com) are successful, it's going to force cruise lines to be competitive in what many believe is the high cost of shore excursions. That is, if they haven't already done so and if they have, the consumer still wins.

This new company claims to shave as much as 60 per cent off the going, monopolistic rate…with little competition, only Juan and his amigos, cruise lines are quick to warn you that the ship won't wait if you're late getting back from a shore excursion not operated by the cruise line.

While this is true, have you been on a ship where departure was delayed…and where you saw passengers scurrying across the dock to the gangplank? We have, more than once, and since there were only four of five of them, we assumed these were not cruise-line shore excursions.

Cruise people don't want to leave passengers behind, just to make a point, although now that they're in a fight for the shore excursion dollar, tactics may change. Similarly, their competitors on the shore don't want unhappy customers, either. In both cases…bad for business.

We've taken a few trips on shore outside the comfort of the "we could leave without you" promise and (touch wood) never missed the ship. The closest we came was in France, after renting a car and getting lost, and the rental-car rep jumped in and drove us to the pier in, well, French style. And besides, most passengers going "on their own" allow plenty of time to return.

If you feel threatened by missing the boat, Viator promises…no, guarantees…that Viator will get you to the ship at the next port, at Viator's expense. At least one of its competitors (Group Shore Excursions) makes the same promise. Considering the magnitude of these businesses, they'll probably be more than capable of fulfilling the guarantee for the few times it may be necessary.

Unless everybody's scared.

Then, these customer-friendly businesses will simply be dead in the water.

And don't worry too much about Juan and his amigos. They'll probably wind up doing what they do for the new companies.

Costa Deliziosa
11 nights
May 25, 2012
Amsterdam (return) to Norway: Hellesylt, Honningsvag, Tromso, Leknes, Trondheim, Andalsnes, Bergen
Inside: $1,099
Cost per day: $99

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