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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

Norovirus — The Navy’s Solution

The latest norovirus episode on a cruise ship — 172 people ill on the Crown Princess in Los Angeles this weekend — has raised an old story about the U.S. Navy. It’s about how the Navy more or less prevents such outbreaks on its ships.

With more than 3,000 sailors and marines on ships, the Navy adopts the preventive strategy.

Here’s how:

* Sailors are required to report to sick bay if they feel ill

* Supervisors force sick sailors who are reluctant

* If they’re sick, they’re isolated

* The Navy does a “cleaning station” of the ship every morning

* Preventive medicine technicians inspect galleys many times a day

* Sailors swab, inspect, scrub and scour every day

For the most part, it works. Thinking it would work on a cruise ship is a much different theory.

Nobody on the ship can monitor 3,000 passengers to see if anybody’s not feeling well. It’s unlikely cruise lines would designate “preventive medicine technicians” whose sole purpose is to inspect galleys, although regular inspections are common. And having cleaners underfoot all day long throughout the ship would be a negative for people on their vacations, especially when more than 90 per cent of the time there’s no threat.

But here’s the biggest reason comparing naval ships and cruise ships is apples and oranges:

Sailors must follow orders, and there are consequences when they don’t.

Today at portsandbows.com: Holland America's new look

Carnival Inspiration
2 nights
December 18, 2014
Los Angeles (return): Ensenada 
Inside: $101
Cost per day: $50

Cruise Port — San Pedro, Accessible And Unique

This week, we're featuring ports you may find on your cruise itinerary, to give you a snapshot of what it's like, what ships usually go there and what some of the options are once you get off the ship. Today it's San Pedro, California.

If you're driving to San Pedro, parking can be an issue. We've boarded ships there after parking in the adjoining lot ($12 a day) and after leaving our car with friends who live nearby (free, but you'll probably take them for lunch).

This port is about 20 miles south of Los Angeles on Interstate 110 — although sometimes Los Angeles is 20 miles from Los Angeles — so there are plenty ofSan Pedrotransportation options and no shortage of things to do, depending on how much time you have. 

Here's one: Stay at the Westin Los Angeles at LAX and you can park free for a week. If you're flying into L.A., there are several shuttle possibilities, usually for San Pedro-5 copyabout $15 per person.

At your departure point, it's easy to find things to fill your time. If you have a short stay before boarding a ship, there's a free shuttle that runs every day a ship is in port, through downtown San Pedro, which of course has shops and multi-cultural restaurants and tourist points. At this time of year, at least for another couple of weeks, there are whale-watching opportunities with priced at $15-$20 for two to three hours on the water.

It's not far to many museums, beaches and "Old San Pedro" is almost walking distance from the cruise ship…Fisherman's Wharf is not much farther.

Sometimes we've scheduled our arrival at a cruise port to be as close to departure time as possible, but that means missing the boat — so to speak — for an interesting visit to a unique area like San Pedro.

There are several cruise lines using that port but Princess and Norwegian are the two that regularly have ships leaving from San Pedro.

Today at portsandbows.com: Cognac is more than an apertif

Celebrity Reflection
7 nights
April 12, 2014
Miami (return): San JuanSt. ThomasSt. Maarten
Inside: $429
Cost per day: $61

L.A. — More than a Celebrity Stop

They say it's hard to believe that a city the size of greater Los Angeles (12-plus million) doesn't have an NFL team that calls it home.

It's also hard to believe that a cruise line called "Celebrity" has never had a major presencein the City of Angels and movie stars until now. 

As people who spend a lot of time in California, we sometimes thinks Los Angeles gets a bad rap…or at least a bad break.

There's the "self-imposed" smog. There's the Dodgers, the only team baseball fans love to hate almost as much as the Yankees. There's the traffic congestion of freeways stacked like bunk beds. There's the absence of a pro football team for almost two decades, and counting. There's the presence of too many movie stars who make too much money occupying too much time on our TV screens.

And when the cruise business along the Mexican Riviera dried up, so did much of the traffic using the cruise ports in San Pedro (Long Beach, above) and Los Angeles. But even before that, Celebrity never had any of its ships that did more than stop in as they passed by.

That's about to change.

Celebrity  is dispatching the Century to operate seven cruises next year (even though USA Today reports it's eight) with Los Angeles as the home port. There are six round-trip cruises, not one-offs involving ships that are being re-positioned. They will operate north, as opposed to Mexico (south), turning around in San Francisco, and three of them will cater to beer and wine connoisseurs.

The seventh cruise is to Vancouver, as the Century heads for next summer in Alaska and the following winter in Australia.

Admittedly, it's a temporary home, but isn't that what "celebrities" do?

Holland America Eurodam
10 nights
September 22, 2013
Quebec CityCharlottetownSydneyHalifaxBar HarborBostonNewportNew York
Inside: $699
Cost per day: $69

Standing on the Sidewalk, Waiting for…?

We were standing outside the terminal at Los Angeles International, waiting for a bus to take us to a car rental lot. Another passenger from our flight was waiting for the same bus, which was in no hurry to get there. He struck up a conversation.

While we recognized immediately he was from England, we didn't recognize him for who he really was.

That would be "Michael Jackson."

We'd just left a cruise ship, the Norwegian Epic, where we'd seen another "Michael Jackson." Two years before that, on another cruise, we watched yet another "Michael Jackson" in concert.

All of them are "tribute artists" who keep the music of the King of Pop alive, and entertain an audience that misses the deceased super star. But what are the chances that in four days you would meet two of them, without even trying?

On the Epic, the performance we saw was the artistry of J Lucas (left), who does this sort of thing for the world-famous Legends of Concert. We'd seen him the previous night in a brief, impromptu performance alongside Slam Allen, the bluesman who entertains nightly at the Epic's Fat Cats lounge.

About 24 hours later, when J turned into MJ, he was terrific as a tribute act. Later, he told us he studied Michael Jackson tapes intensively for six months before embarking on his new career. That was in 2009.

The MJ at the airport is quite a different story. His name is Navi, he's from the Caribbean, lives in London and does 250 shows a year, all over the world. We'd talked for about 10 minutes (yes, the bus was late) before he told us enough about his travels that we had to ask what he did for a living.

"I'm in the music business," he said. "It's kind of hard to explain, so let me show you."

And here, on the sidewalk outside LAX, we watch a snapshot of his impersonation on his smartphone (as much as you can tell from a 30-second preview, he is spectacular). And if you don't believe a guy standing at an airport waiting for a rental car bus when he tells you he plays Michael Jackson, check out his website: www.kingofpop.co.uk.

And here's the kicker. He used to work for the real Michael, originally as a decoy because there was enough of a facial resemblance that he could, and later as a legitimate impersonator who is articulate, affable and — clearly — approachable.

Sometimes, life can be really surreal, can't it?

Norwegian Epic
7 nights
January 19, 2013
Miami (return): St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Nassau
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

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