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Carnival Commits to Mobile

Carnival was first celebrated in Mobile 312 years ago, before there were cruise ships bearing the name. There is a Carnival season in the Alabama seaport, the state’s third-largest city. It starts in November and runs through February or sometimes March, depend on the date of Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

Carnival arrived early this year.

It started yesterday, which on our calendar is still September. It arrived in the form of a cruise ship, or the promise of one, namely the Carnival Fantasy. This, however, is not a fantasy. The ship will be in Mobile next November…yes, about the time the other Carnival season begins. It will stay for a year, at least. It will take cruisers on 4-and-5-day trips to Mexico…to Cozumel, to Costa Maya, to Progreso.

While it’s a one-year commitment by the cruise line, there are two one-year options. All of this is significant because Mobile has been without a cruise ship of any kind since 2011. FantasyThe last one there was the Carnival Triumph, and an ill-fated return from the Mexican Caribbean that made more headlines than this news will.

But that’s another story. Bad news is big news.

Before arriving in Mobile, the Fantasy will undergo a facelift. In nautical terms, they call this a refurbishing, one that will include Carnival’s FunShip 2.0 upgrade. This ship, which has been working out of Charleston, is 25 years old. That’s probably 75 in people years. Facelifts, as people of that vintage in Hollywood can attest, can be expensive.

When she gets to Mobile, she’ll be treated like a new ship. Of the 2,056 passengers she hopes to ferry to Mexico twice every week and a half, there will be some who aren’t Alabamans. In a city of under 200,000 people, drawing from the surrounding area is a prerequisite for being a homeport.

On a list of ocean cruise ports, you’ll find the names of Bar Harbor and Cadiz and Tortola and Oranjestad. But no Mobile.

That’s about to change.

In the news…

• Regal Princess largest cruise ship ever to visit St. John's, Newfoundland
• Marco Polo, formerly the Alexander Pushkin, back in Quebec after 50 years

Today at portsandbows.com: MSC Divina back to Miami to stay


Carnival Ecstasy
4 nights
November 30, 2015
Miami (return): Key West, Cozumel
Inside: $169
Cost per day: $42
www.carnival.com

New Orleans: Big Growth Not Easy

New Orleans-4

Anniversaries are always reason for reflection, good or bad. It's now 10 years since Katrina.

One word. That's often the case with things that are unforgettable — Hiroshima, Elvis, LeBron — because one word is all it takes.

Katrina.

It was the last week of August 2005. The hurricane that destroyed a city. In the New Orleans-1aftermath, they said New Orleans would never be the same. They said the people wouldn't go back…not to live, not to visit, not to cruise.

But they have.

In 2006, Carnival resumed its New Orleans operations with one ship, the Fantasy. Sixteen thousand passengers. It was a start.

Fast forward.

This year, after gradually increasing the size and number of ships plus the frequency of the cruises, Carnival expects to carry 450,000 passengers from New Orleans. One of its biggest ships, the Dream, is based in New Orleans, taking up to 3,646 passengers on New Orleans-2week-long Caribbean cruises all year long. That's complemented by the Elation, running 4-and-5-day cruise to Mexico. Next spring, another increase…the 2,758-passenger Triumph replaces the Elation, shuttling 700 additional passengers off to sea every four or five days.

It's not all Carnival, of course. Norwegian, Azamara and Crystal also cruise from The Big Easy. But Carnival is biggest, a commitment that has led to port improvements.

Next year, Carnival's 3,000,000th passenger will pass through New Orleans since Katrina.

A decade ago, nobody would have predicted that.

In the news…

• Regent Seven Seas trumpets new Explorer as "most luxurious ship ever built"
• Viking River Cruises going back to the Ukraine after two-year absence

Today at portsandbows.com: Green light for Greenwich


Norwegian Jade
7 nights
December 5, 2015
Houston (return): Cozumel, Belize, Roatan
Inside: $479
Cost per day: $68
www.ncl.com

Friday File: Statues Live For Eternity

The thing about statues, which anybody who cruises sees in any number of places, is that they’ll take you as far as you want to go. Just admiring the talent it took to make it can be enough. Go a little deeper and read the inscription, if there is one. Or go whole hog and find out why the person was famous enough to warrant a statue. We’ve done a little of all of that in showing you some people you may have heard of, and some you may not know at all…

1-Van GoghIf ever a famous man appears to have been captured just as he was, that man might be Vincent Van Gogh, whose statue is in the courtyard of the insane asylum where he was imprisoned for 10 months in Saint-Remy, France.

2-New Orleans

New Orleans is a popular departure port for Caribbean cruisers, and New Orleans means the French Quarter, where you’ll find memorialized this trio of jazz or blues legends — Fats Domino, Al Hirt and Pete Fountain.

3-Columbus

In Barcelona, Christopher Columbus stands high above the street pointing to the sea, and what humored us is that because the city's on the east coast of Spain, so is the sea and Columbus is pointing AWAY from America.

4-Lima

She lived in the Casa de Aliaga in Lima, Peru and the city’s oldest mansion is featured on many cruise shore excursions…but we have no idea who she is or why she’s cast like this for eternity — can anybody out there help?

5-San Juan

Arturo Somohano (1910-1977) went from child prodigy to founder of the San Juan Symphony Orchestra after a composition he played for U.S. troops during World War II (“Songs of the Americas”) became a U.S. Army anthem.

6-Michaelangelo-Florence

Italians know Michelangelo wherever his work is found, and his most famous statue (David) is found in Florence, where on the street is this replica of the original marble statue that was started 40 years earlier by another artist!

7-Bermuda

In his time, the late 16th and early 17th centuries, Admiral Sir George Somers was known as a British naval hero from the Anglo-Spanish War but when a hurricane drove his sinking ship ashore, he became the founder of Bermuda.

In the news…

• Norwegian considering two options: a ship to Asia…and a ship for Asia
• Low water levels on European rivers forcing more itinerary changes
• Six millionth cruise ship passenger recognized in Victoria, B.C.

Today at portsandbows.com: The next two mega ships going to Costa

Celebrity Infinity
7 nights
October 29, 2015

Fort Lauderdale (return): CozumelRoatanBelizeCosta Maya
Inside: $609
Cost per day: $65
www.celebritycruises.com

FlyOver Canada At Cruise Terminal

FlyOver Canada-Alexis

To experience FlyOver Canada, as many cruisers are during stopovers in Vancouver, we decided to take an expert. Her name is Alexis, she is our 10-year-old granddaughter and she has done this — to quote her — “a million times.”

If you’ve never heard of FlyOver Canada, you should. When your ship is docked in Vancouver, half the passengers will be able to see it from their balconies. It’s at the north FlyOver Canadaend of Canada Place, Vancouver’s main cruise terminal, and the ticket booth is right where the hop-on, hop-off bus stops…talk about ideal!

You can walk to it easily during a stopover or, if your cruise originates there, complete your check-in and then walk off with plenty of time to return before departure. 

It’s a short trip, as is the “flight.”

Once you’ve watched the pre-flight movie and completed security checks, you’ll be strapped down for an Imax-type experience that will show you as much about this country of 30 million people as you can see in eight minutes. The Ultimate Flying Ride, as it’s FlyOver Canadacalled, is phenomenal. You actually feel like you’re hovering over a herd of horses on the plains…flying through snow-covered mountaintops in the Rockies…watching the spectacular Northern Lights from close range…passing through the jet stream of the famous Snowbirds.

The sensation is that you’re suspended from a helicopter as Canada goes by below. That sensation includes feeling the wind and the mist when applicable, such as over Niagara Falls…but no harsh Canadian winters!

The eight-minute trip is as much about this incredible technology (and the people who master it) as it is about the sights and sounds of Canada, taking you to places you would never go: deep into the forest as the colors are changing, over the CN Tower in Toronto, hovering above remote rivers and streams.

It costs $20 (adults) because that’s what Imax-type experiences go for these days. If we have a criticism, it’s that the flight is too short, not because you don’t get your money’s worth but because you don’t get to see enough of Canada, none of which is identified as you sweep over it. Another minor complaint is that one of the guides was hard to understand, given that her native tongue was not "Canadian," but that’s always a can of worms, isn’t it?

Our 10-year-old Alexis was excited about seeing it again and wearing a huge smile at show time. Even though we couldn’t take pictures (that’s taboo), she was still beaming happily eight minutes later, when she’d finished watching FlyOver Canada for the millionth and first time.

In the news…

• Costa to build two more 5,000-passenger-plus ships by 2020
• Windstar waives or reduces rates for solos on select cruises
Mexico Riviera deals on Princess for West Coast residents

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Star Princess
7 nights
September 12, 2015
Anchorage, Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay, Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, Vancouver
Inside: $569
Cost per day: $81
www.princess.com

Malta’s Day Sign Of Cruise Future

Valletta Grand HarbourPhoto by John Haslem (Wikimedia Commons)

Somewhere we read that 1 in 4 people don’t know where Malta is. That means three-quarters of us do and, while we couldn’t have come up with the co-ordinates on a map, we knew it was in the Mediterranean Sea — well, sort of — and that there must be falcons there because there once was a movie called The Maltese Falcon.

Whether that qualifies us to be 1 of the 3 in 4 or not, one thing we do know is that more people on cruise ships are finding Malta.

Take yesterday.

In Valletta, the capital of Malta, there was a record number of cruise ships — five — and 14,000 tourists were on them. This is a city of 6,444 residents, according to a 2014 census. The equivalent of that is having a million people arrive in Miami on the same day. Can you just imagine what the waterfront was like when the MSC Fantasia, Norwegian Jade, Celebrity Equinox, Costa neoRiviera and the CDF Zenith (?)  were all sending passengers ashore?

This tidbit comes from Cruise Industry News, one of the websites we regularly monitor for information on cruising. To say that CIN is the bible of cruising is probably not inaccurate, and purchasing that “bible” — its annual report — costs $895. 

The bottom line is when Cruise Industry News reports, everybody in the industry reads.

That brings us to another tidbit. In that annual report, and this part is free, it says “the average big-ship new-build” will carry between 4,000 and 5,000 passengers. That means the average ship of the future is going to carry a minimum of 4,000…think Quantum of the Seas, Norwegian Epic…maybe even Oasis of the Seas.

And they’ll probably all be going to Malta, right?

By the way, it’s south of Italy, about where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Adriatic. But you knew that, didn’t you?

In the news…

• Princess partners with TV celebrity chef and best-selling author Curtis Stone
• Bookings open for Holland America's ship Koningsdam, coming in April
• Royal Caribbean loyalty program taking new members before they cruise

Today at portsandbows.com: Royal Caribbean's special-interest shore excursions

Norwegian Epic
7 nights
October 18, 2015
Southampton, Vigo, Lisbon, Grenada, Cartagena, Barcelona
Inside: $449
Cost per day: $64
www.ncl.com

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