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The Modern Problem Of Picking A Port

With each day, and each violent activity often linked to terrorism, reasonable people who like to travel get even more reasonable. Or concerned. Or paranoid. Or even scared.

Pick an adverb. The uncertainty of traveling abroad — be it in one direction to Europe or in the other to Asia — understandably may leave North Americans more likely to pick a cruise ship departing and returning to a North American port. Not that there are any guarantees that doing so will keep you from being an unsuspecting victim of terrorism.

But even seasoned travelers are at least having second thoughts. Why fly internationally to get on a cruise if you can fly domestically, or better yet drive or take ground transportation to a port of departure?

This is good (okay, more comforting) news for cruise lines with ships that primarily visit the Caribbean, or assorted other warm-weather spots in the Western Hemisphere. Since a Caribbean cruise still out-ranks all others, that would be most of them, yet many have shifted their investments — and some of their ships — to Asia the last couple of years, which in today’s world could mean counting on a local (Asian) clientele.

For North Americans, there is no shortage of options. A quick count shows that there are 21 cruise homeports in this continent: Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Port Canaveral, Tampa, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Galveston, Houston, Charleston, Baltimore, Norfolk, Bayonne, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Anchorage, Boston, San Diego, Seattle, Montreal.

So if you’re an avid cruiser who’s reluctant to fly afar to get to a ship, pick a port.

You may find many kindred spirits.

In the news…

• Two biggest ships (both Royal Caribbean) in southern hemisphere meeting in Sydney

Today at portsandbows.comChristmas markets with Viking in Europe

Norwegian Getaway
7 nights
December 13, 2015
Miami (return): Great Stirrup Cay, Ocho Rios, George Town, Cozumel
Inside: $649
Cost per day: $92

Princess, Texans Cater To Kids

Before every football game, there’s a coin toss. Before every charitable activity in business, there may also be a “coin toss.” Heads, it’s good for the charity. Tails, it’s good for business.

For Princess Cruises, if there was such a coin toss it was…heads wins, and tails wins.

The football analogy is because last week Princess invited 20 kids from the Boys and Girls Club of Houston onto a ship, the Emerald Princess, in conjunction with the Houston Texans of the National Football League. While the news release didn’t say so, it was probably just Chris Myers and friendsfor the day, long enough to give the kids a look at a cruise ship, fun enough for them to meet the Texans’ All-Pro center, Chris Myers…along with Toro the team mascot.

They watched football on the ship’s big-big screen, they toured the vessel and they made cupcakes for lunch with Myers. Who knew All-Pro centers made cupcakes?

That’s how the kids win. Chances are they never imagined being on a cruise ship. Chances are they never imagined meeting Chris Myers.

Princess by planting the cruise seed in impressionable young minds at what was called Jr. TrainingCamp@Sea, and by having people like us spread the word about their good corporate citizenship.

This time, there was an added bonus for the cruise line.

“It was my first time on a cruise ship as well,” said Myers, “so it was cool to get to experience it together. I always emphasize to kids that they can do anything they want to do in life as long as they work hard and make education a priority.”

Sounds like Princess found another winner, doesn’t it?

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Celebrity Millennium
17 nights
April 26, 2015
Shanghai, Cheju City, Kobe, Tokyo, Petropavlovsk, Vancouver
Inside: $899
Cost per day: $52

Jewel Shining Light in Houston

There was a celebration in Texas on the weekend when a 9-year-old ship entered a 100-year-old waterway to kick off a cruise experience that’s in its infancy.

Houston has a new cruise ship.

This one is called the Jewel, as in Norwegian Jewel, and after what it’s been through lately it is a jewel. It’s the beginning of a relationship between the cruise line and the port that Jewelwill go on for years…three of them, at least. And when it comes to the biggest city, this is not Norwegian’s first, as they say in Texas, rodeo.

This was the first cruise line to put a ship in Houston’s Ship Channel, 17 years ago. Norwegian came back for another look in 2003 and stayed four years. Now, with a new cruise terminal and lucrative contract, Norwegian began cruises to the Western Caribbean this week, following some of the pomp and pageantry that accompanies such launches.

The Jewel was the shining star. Fresh from refurbishing, it boasts many of the assets of its bigger and newer fleetmates. Passengers will have 16 dining options, Nickelodeon activities Houston Bay Terminaland the largest suites at sea, the 5,000-square-foot, three-bedroom Garden Villas. Among the restaurants is a favorite of ours (O’Sheehan’s), the steak-heavy Moderno Churrascaria and Carlo’s Bakery, all of which came along after the Jewel did in 2005.

With the upgrade, the Jewel jumps into the post-Epic era of Norwegian ships as it begins 27 Caribbean cruises from the Bayport Cruise Terminal, tomorrow becoming the first large cruise ship to visit the new port of Banana Coast, in the Bay of Trujillo, Honduras.

Before leaving Houston, the Jewel hosted a party of sorts. The people from the Port Captain HarstromAuthority put a cowboy hat on the captain (Kenneth Harstrom) and then said all the right things about economic development and happy cruisers who were going to enjoy (and bring their tourist dollars) to Houston.

A hundred years ago last month at another celebration, politicians and local authorities also said all the right things at a party christening the Ship Channel. That ceremony had thousands of spectators, a 21-gun salute and, from Washington, the President himself (Woodrow Wilson) remotely fired a cannon to open the channel, officially, following a bond issue approved by the citizens, who voted 16-1 in favor.

Ironically, it opened the same year as the Panama Canal, as a civil engineering feat of lesser stature, yet critical to the economy. Until then, goods shipped to Houston had to be unloaded in Galveston and trucked more than an hour up the road to the big city. A hurricane that leveled Galveston in 1900 and the discovery of oil around the same time gave legs to the idea of a deep-water channel to Houston.

Needless to say, the investment has been repaid many times over. Now, Houston hopes the same will apply to its investment in cruising.

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Holland America Eurodam
7 nights
November 9, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Half Moon Cay, Montego Bay, Grand Cayman, Key West
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $57

Polishing Up A 9-year-old Cruise Ship

Cruise lines are always striving to make ships the same but different. Adding the best of a new ship to an existing ship makes the old gal unique. Okay, the older gal…since ships always go by "she."

That brings up the Norwegian Jewel.

The Jewel is nine years old, probably about halftime in the game of life for cruise ships. This week, she emerged from dry dock, where she spent two weeks getting modernized, retro-fitted and/or refurbished. From the outside, she doesn't really look any different but inside her hull the Jewel has been polished.

That's what they do with Jewels, isn't it?

The result is O'Sheehan's, the eatery named after Norwegian CEO Kevin Sheehan, has O'Sheehan'sbeen added to a ship for the first time. It was built into the Epic in 2010 and both the Breakaway and Getaway since then. As passengers who have twice been on the Epic, we can tell you O'Sheehan's was among our favorite eating spots.

The Jewel also has Moderno Churrascaria. That's  a Brazilian steakhouse and if you're a meat lover, it's a must to experience, although on our one visit we found it a bit over the top, even though we qualify as "carnivores."

And the Jewel features the Sugarcane Mojito Bar, the only other Norwegian ship besides the Getaway that has it. Since it's the only lounge/bar to be copied from the Getaway, it's safe to assume it passed the popularity test.

Who gets to experience the Jewel's second life?

Right now, she is sailing to Alaska from Seattle. Come fall, when the Alaska season ends, she'll be the first Norwegian ship at the new cruise port terminal in Houston and will spend the winter touring the Western Caribbean.

If nothing else, this is a unique jewel.

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: Princess plans for 2015

Norwegian Sun
7 nights
June 23, 2014
VancouverKetchikanJuneauSkagwayGlacier Bay, Hubbard Glacier, Anchorage
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $57

Cruise Lines, Passengers In A Fog In Texas


The current four-letter word for cruise-ship passengers in Texas is F-O-G. Ordinarily, it's a three-letter word that nobody on a cruise ship cares much about…

Until your ship can't leave and consequently that Caribbean port you badly wanted to visit is now off the itinerary.

Until your ship can't return when it's scheduled to return, and by then your plane has left, you have to spend a night in a hotel and you're in danger of missing Sunday dinner at Aunt Clara's.

Until it impacts on safety, and in this era that rarely happens but it could happen in Houston's ship channel (above) where cruise and cargo vessels don't have a lot of elbow room — or margins of error.

At various times this January, ships in Houston-Galveston waters have been on fog lockdown, either stuck in port or out in the bay waiting to get back. Visibility at both Houston airports has ranged between 1/16th and 1/8th of a mile. This is not a new problem. Talented travel writers Harry and Joan Shattuck has lived in Houston for 43 years (and we've been friends almost all of that time) and have become so accustomed to foggy Januarys that Harry can't remember one without fog. 

Also some Februarys, Marchs…

The good news this week is, now that the Pacific Northwest cold front that caused all this has left, Texans expect to have clear skies by the weekend.

Almost three years ago, Carnival President Gerry Cahill told Harry that Galveston was an attractive place to cruise from but its port officials "had to get a handle on fog to make things work long-term."

At that time, there were no ships in Houston. Princess started sailing from Houston this winter and, at last count, the Caribbean Princess had cruises delayed four times. Norwegian will be there next year. When you think of the logistical nightmare that fog can cause for the cruise lines, not to mention its passengers, it begs the question:

How long can they afford to continue running mid-winter cruises from Texas?

Photo by Louis Vest

Carnival Valor
7 nights
May 11, 2014
San Juan (return): St. ThomasBarbadosSt. LuciaSt. KittsSt. Maarten
Inside: $449
Cost per day: $65

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