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Friday File: Beaches With A Difference

So many places visited by cruise ships have beaches, or beaches nearby, because — let’s face it — everybody’s thinking about finding somewhere warm with the coming months of winter. But beaches are more than just silk sand and warm water, as you will see from a few that we’ve discovered from cruising…

St. Maarten

Perhaps the only beach in the world where you get this close to an airplane in flight, and a regular tourist attraction when cruisers visit Philipsburg, St. Martin​.


This beach is often empty, like this, but 70 years ago on the northern coast of France Juno Beach was populated with thousands of soldiers in World War II.


When Carnival sends its Fantasy to sail out of Mobile next year, one of its three ports of call will be a pretty place called Progeso on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Grand Turk

At Grand Turk, there’s an uncommon shady spot close to the water for cruisers who like going to the beach without being obsessed with getting a suntan..


Cruisers going to Alaska from Vancouver, like the ones this Holland America ship, always pass Ambleside Beach after crossing under the Lions Gate Bridge.

Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen heads the growing popularity of Riviera Maya's beach properties on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, a short ferry ride from Cozumel.

In the news…

• Cunard offering free balcony upgrade on Transatlantic crossings starting October 29
• P&O's first alcholic beverage package on Pacific Pearl may extend to fleet of five ships

Today at portsandbows.com: The return of Carnival to Mobile, Alabama

Caribbean Princess
7 nights
January 17, 2016
Houston (return): Cozumel, Roatan, Belize
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

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

Cuban Cruising Causing Angst in Florida

The fight to cruise Cuba is on and the battleground, which may or may not surprise you, is Florida.

As the U.S. and the Communist country 90 miles from its southernmost shore inch towards normalizing relations, Florida sees some of its cruise stakes slipping away, like fragments of driftwood floating into the Gulf of Mexico.

The two imminent victims are Tampa and Key West.

While they aren't exactly hot ports of the industry, both have enough of a cruise-ship presence that if it should go away, there would be an impact on each's economy. While places like Miami and Fort Lauderdale are clearly poised to send Varadero

-Henryk Kotowski photo

ships full of passengers to Cuba, the concerns of Tampa and Key West have nothing to do with their geographical desirability, which both have with regards to Cuba.

It has to do with ships.

In Tampa, the port is not equipped to handle the biggest cruise ships, and when Cuba is finally on-limits you can anticipate there will be a rush. (As an aside, there has been talk of Tampa being the northern terminus for ferry service from Cuba.) Tampa's ineligibility for cruise ships is tied to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which isn't high enough. If you can believe it, government officials are looking at raising the bridge!

In Key West, a frequent port on many Caribbean cruises, the concern is that it will be replaced by Havana and other Cuban ports less than 100 miles away. So it's "problem" is being "attractive" beyond making channels wider and deeper, although that's part of the equation. Can Key West compete with Cuba…when the time comes?

Meanwhile, to the West, Florida's "enemy" for Cuban business is lurking. Mobile, New Orleans, Galveston and Houston right now are better equipped to serve Cuba with larger ships than either Tampa or Key West.

With friendlier relations between the countries inevitable, the clock is ticking for two Florida ports.

Cunard Queen Elizabeth
11 nights
January 10, 2014
LondonNew YorkFort Lauderdale
Balcony: $1,299
Cost per day: $118

Cruise Schedules Sometimes 'Mobile'

Life is anything but a Carnival for the world's biggest cruise line. In fact, it's getting to be a joke…

On Sunday, a tugboat sinks in the Mississippi River. The waterway is closed for 10 miles, starting at the mouth. Fifteen ships line up, waiting to go up the river. Carnival, which has had lots of practice when it comes to being up the river, turns its Conquest in another direction and heads for Mobile, the nearest cruise-ship port.

Passengers who expected to disembark in New Orleans are now disembarking in Alabama, which is okay if you're a fan of the Crimson Tide but not so much fun if yourcar is parked in New Orleans. The passengers are shuttled back to their cars by bus, about a three-hour ride.

Said one passenger with a sense of humor: ""We planned on having Po Boys and it messed our day up."

Just another anecdote, for people who should know better, to blame on the cruise line.

Back in Mobile, people really were happy.

The Conquest was the first ship at the Alabama Cruise Terminal, where ships once

made regular calls, since the Carnival Triumph showed up in February, on the wrong end of a tugboat. A fire had disabled the Triumph in the Gulf of Mexico, and it was towed to Mobile for extensive repairs.

They're hoping cruise ships in Mobile get to be a habit again, but not like this, although they are getting to be Carnival fans. On the other hand, being a back-up shows the cruise business that Mobile's capable of being a starter again.

One person's pain is another's gain, right?

– Conquest photo by Norman Einstein

Celebrity Millenium
7 nights
September 6, 2013
Anchorage, Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait Point, Ketchikan, Vancouver
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

Triumph (or Tragedy) Ship Returns

A cruise ship slipped out of a port quietly this week, or as quietly as a cruise ship can slip away from anywhere, and the reactions ranged from "Good riddance" to "Sorry you're leaving."

The ship was the Carnival Triumph. That's the much-maligned Carnival Triumph. More than any cruise ship this side of the Costa Concordia, it has turned the word "Carnival" into something of an acronym for cruise trouble.

The litany of Carnival events is well-known.

The Splendor caught fire off the coast of California, stranding passengers for days. The Concordia, a disaster which took more than 30 lives, was lumped into the morass because Costa is owned by Carnival. The Carnival Dream broke down in St. Maarten (mechanical malfunction). The Carnival Fascination flunked a cleanliness test. Just this week, two people went missing from a Carnival ship in Australia.

In the midst of all this was the inappropriately named Triumph.

It spent five days floating in the Gulf of Mexico after being disabled by fire, and was towed to Mobile, Alabama, with more than 3,000 passengers on board. That was in February. A month later, high winds broke the moorings and it drifted across the river. A few weeks ago, there was an explosion on a fuel barge where the Triumph was being repaired, and three people were critically injured.

One traveler told TV station WALA: "I didn't want to get too close to it. Sounds like it is bad luck to me."

A Mobile resident told the station it was about time.

The flip side is that Mobile had a cruise ship again, albeit a disabled one, and for 36 days it provided revenue for the city coffers. The workers spent money just being there, and Carnival will pay an estimated $100,000 for docking fees. The visual impact of a ship in the otherwise vacant cruise terminal has city officials optimistic about the return of cruising to Mobile.

Meanwhile, the Triumph is now (or about to be) in the Bahamas for some cosmetic surgery before it returns to full service in Galveston next month.

The ship can't afford another incident. Nor can Carnival.

Carnival Paradise
4 nights
August 1, 2013
Tampa (return): Cozumel
Inside: $279
Cost per day: $69

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