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Cruise for a Cause — a $600,000 exercise

They're everywhere. Some of them can be spotted by their license plates. Or maybe because they're wearing a cap that is their identity. Or maybe, sadly, because they're wearing a prosthetic. Sometimes, more than one.

They are veterans.

Vets are thanked, supported and decorated all over the country. Even on cruise ships. And no cruise ships do more for veterans than the ones flying the Princess Cruises flag.

In November, the Caribbean Princess sailed a 5-day cruise from Houston that was dedicated to veterans. Princess called it Cruising for a Cause and on board were guest speakers, a former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman (Admiral Mike Mullen), US Navy-VietnamMoving Wallretired senior officers from all walks of military life and a war correspondent (Joe Galloway) whom Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf called "the finest combat correspondent of our generation" for carrying soldiers to safety in Vietnam.

How's this for support?

The cruise was a fundraiser for Operation Homefront and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. A portion of each passenger's fare was dedicated to the cause. Passengers were invited to show their support in fundraising activities. This week, Princess CEO Alan Buckelew — a Vietnam Vet — delivered a check for $300,000 to Operation Homefront. An identical check was already in the coffers of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

Total: $600,000.

It fell short of the cruise lines expectations of $1 million. Maybe the passengers weren't as generous as expected. Maybe Princess was over-zealous in its ambitions. But it's $600,000 that wounded warriors and veterans' causes like The Wall in Washington (above) and families in need didn't have last month.

Walk by a former soldier who's struggling to get out of a car or into a grocery store. or just get through the day, and Cruising for a Cause — and programs like it — are not just admirable.

They're vital.

Holland America Noordam
14 nights
March 21, 2014
Fort LauderdalePonta DelgadaCadizMalagaCartagenaBarcelona
Oceanview: $699
Cost per day: $49

Noordam Passes on Israel


When it comes to cruising in the Middle East, clearly some things will never change. On Monday, Holland America directed the Noordam past a scheduled stop in Haifa, Israel. On Tuesday, the same thing in Jerusalem.

Cruising to Middle Eastern countries is as predictable as talks between the Palestinians and Israelis…as what Syria might do next…as which country is the newest hotspot for Al Qaeda.

This week, it was Syria.

"As a result of the uncertainties of possible military action against Syria and the potential of resulting Syrian attacks on Israel, we have cancelled the scheduled calls of ms Noordam to Israel."

That was not a statement from a high-ranking diplomat. That was a statement from a Holland America spokesperson.

The cruise line added two stops in Turkey and one in Greece to make up for missing Israel. It also refunded shore excursions and gave passengers a 15 per cent credit for a future cruise. None of that makes up for missing a chance to see the Holy Land.

The Noordam's next visit to Haifa is scheduled for October 25.

But as always, who knows?

Carnival Conquest
8 nights
November 16, 2013
San JuanSt. KittsDominicaSt. MaartenAntiguaGrand TurkMiami
Inside: $359
Cost per day: $44


New Caribbean Port Coming in 2014

The first time we cruised to "Honduras" was about three years ago and the opportunity to do so was intriguing, since it was a country we had never visited…and it's always interesting to go somewhere new.

Then we looked at a map.

The ship — Norwegian's Epic — was visiting Roatan. Now technically, Roatan is part of Honduras. It's an island that sits in the Gulf of Honduras, the largest of three islands that make up one "department" or province of the 18 in this Central American country. Put it another way: the population of Honduras is about 8,000,000…the population of Roatan is just over 70,000.

Roatan has beaches and scuba diving and a tourist economy fueled by cruise ships. It is a long way from the country's capital, Tegucigalpa, ands not just geographically. The mainland has never really been a magnet for travelers, many of whom think it should stay that way. Honduras has been more of a hotspot for terrorism than tourism, with 300 wars or rebellions in its 200 years of independence. In a way, seeing Roatan as representative of its country is not unlike seeing Hawaii as representative of its country.

Anyway, things are changing.

There's a new cruise port on the Honduran mainland. It's called Banana Coast, it cost $30 million and it will be open for business next year. Holland America has committed to 11 port calls over the next two years, and Silversea's Silver Cloud will stop by in December 2014. And the pier is large enough to accommodate two "Oasis size" ships.

The port is called Trujillo, a Colonial city which once had Christopher Columbus as a visitor and which is, as the crow flies, is less than 50 miles across the Caribbean Sea from Roatan.

So it's still a long way from Tegucigalpa…and the "real" Honduras.

It's also a start.

Holland America Noordam
11 nights
August 15, 2013
Athens, Crete, Cairo, Rhodes, Ephesus, Mykonos, Istanbul
Inside: $999
Cost per day: $90

Cruise Bill of Rights for Passengers?

This week, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) proposed a Cruise Ship Passenger Bill of Rights, in part as a response to problems passengers have experienced, most notably on Carnival ships.

Let us say up front that we think a bill of rights is a good idea for cruise passengers.

But…well, before we get to the "buts" take a look at  the criteria for the proposed bill:

1. The right to disembark a docked ship if basic provisions cannot adequately be provided onboard
2. The right to a full refund for a trip that is abruptly canceled due to mechanical failures
3. The right to full-time, on-board professional medical attention in the event of a major health crisis
4. The right to real-time information updates as to any adjustments in the travel plan of the ship in the event of a mechanical failure or emergency
5. The right to a ship crew that is properly trained in emergency and evacuation procedures
6. The right to back-up power in the case of a generator failure

All of these sound, well, sound. But how practical are they?

Sen. Schumer's proposal includes "ships registered in a foreign country." In other words, virtually all cruise ships but Norwegian's Pride of America. Take any one of them, put it in violation of any of the criteria, and assume that being in violation means being fined.


Who's going to collect from an MSC ship if it doesn't provide real-time updates if there's a mechanical failure (MSC is singled out only because it is not only registered in a foreign country but is foreign-owned, with ships that visit the U.S.)?


Who's going to inspect the hundreds of ships in U.S. ports every day?


If a ship is found to be in violation, will it be held in port until the problem is fixed or the fine is paid, and who is going to explain that to the passengers waiting to get on board?


If the bill is modeled on the (passed-into-law) Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, why does there appear to be no reference (we could find) in the bill about "airlines registered in a foreign country?"


If this is a reaction to the Carnival Dream, which did have back-up power that malfunctioned, will ships require back-up to the back-up?

Making it tougher for cruise lines to avoid being what Sen. Schumer calls "the wild west of the travel industry" is a good idea, but only if it's practical.

Maybe this is just what it is…a starting point.

Holland America Noordam
15 nights
April 21, 2013
Rome, Florence, Ajaccio, Naples, Corfu, Dubrovnik, Split, Venice, Argostoli, Katakolon, Santorini, Athens
Inside: $999
Cost per day: $66

Costa Questions: The List Grows

Everybody who has been on a cruise ship, and countless people who haven’t, can’t stop talking about the Costa Concordia, as the death toll continues to rise.

As always, there are more questions than answers. Some that have crossed our minds over the past few days, in trying to look at the big picture and not the accident itself, which is getting wall-to-wall coverage in every media outlet you can name…

Is Carnival’s stock (the Corporation owns Costa) going to continue its slide — yesterday it was down 16%?

In the heart of the annual “wave season” that kick-starts the sale of cruise bookings, will there be a serious downturn?

Will there be bargains?

How will cruise lines handle the inevitable cancellations?

Will your attitude about getting on a cruise ship change?

Will the grim reminder and those sickening pictures be in your mind the next time you board a cruise ship?

Is it a miracle that the death toll isn’t higher than it is, considering that more than 4,000 people were on the ship when it struck the rocks?

Will there be more psychological screening of candidates for captaincy, given the alleged aloofness of the Master of the Concordia?

Is there going to be more advanced training of cruise-ship staff, and with it more cost to the consumer, or smaller profits for the cruise lines?

Will you be more nervous when riding the high seas? More demanding of crew? More attentive of safety instructions?

How many days of no media coverage will it take before our short memories start to kick in, or will it ever happen?

Those of you who cruise often have opinions. Those of us who write about cruising would like to hear what they are…

Holland America Noordam
10 nights
June 27, 2012
Rome (return): Dubrovnik, Corfu, Olympia, Santorini, Ephesus, Athens, Messina
Inside $1,499

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