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Vietnam: Cruising’s Next Hotspot?

Maybe it’s because we were just in Vietnam, cruising down the Mekong River on the AmaDara. Maybe it’s because every time somebody asks us what Vietnam was like, we can’t say enough nice things. Maybe it’s because more cruise ships — new ones from Carnival and Norwegian and Princess, all announced in a 24-hour period — are going to be visiting Vietnam from their Asian homeports.

Maybe it’s the food, which is as tasty as you’ll find anywhere. Maybe it’s because when the DSCN2011preliminary Trans-Pacific Partnership was announced last week, the partners are Australia and the United States and Canada and Singapore and Chile…and Vietnam.

Maybe it’s all of that.

For tourism, Vietnam is the next Cuba.

Yes, it’s a Communist country. Yes, it was war-torn and hated all those years ago. Yes, it comes with uncertainty bred by a lack of knowledge. All of those things crossed our minds before we flew to Cambodia, which is not Communist but also comes with the other psychological baggage…and which is also warm and welcoming.

We loved them both. The people are warm and friendly. The people are happy and prospering, at least by the standards they have known for too long. They want a better life and with at least some access to the World Wide Web, they’re seeing things they’ve never seen. They see that tourism is an enormous asset.

The U.S. has recognized this Vietnam since 1996. With the emigration of many cruise ships to the Asian market, cruise analysts also have recognized the attraction of taking their customers to Vietnam. The river cruisers probably started it, and the AmaWaterways ship that took us to within an hour of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is not a refurbished, aged relic of the past…it is new.

Cuba wants to welcome the world, and it’s hot. Vietnam is going to be.

In the news…

• 15 singles cabins, 30 Britannia Club balcony cabins for Queen Mary 2 
• Viking returning to cruise 'Kiev to the Black Sea' in Ukraine next year
• Official ceremony naming next two P&O ships to be done on Twitter

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Norwegian Jade
7 nights
January 9, 2016
Houston (return): Cozumel, Belize, Roatan
Inside: $479
Cost per day: $68

Mexico’s First Cruise Home Port?

Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas…Puerto Peñasco?

Now, we’ve been to many cruise ports in Mexico but yesterday was the first we’d heard of this one. Our resident expert on all things Mexican, Barbra Bishop of MEXpeditions, tipped us off about a new cruise port that’s under construction. In fact, it’s 50 per cent complete and not a cruise ship is in sight.


The new port-to-be is located at the northern end of the Sea of Cortez, less than an hour’s drive from the Arizona border. By the time it’s finished in the first month of January 2017, Sea of Cortezit will have cost $100 million, which is a lot of pesos for the Mexican government to invest in the hope that cruise lines will find it attractive.

They probably will.

For one thing, passengers can get weary of cruising the Mexican Riviera with its three main stops unless you want to go beyond the conventional 7-day window. For another, it’s pretty much virgin territory for cruise lines…at least the big ones. It would probably mean spending a “sea day” on the Sea of Cortez because it’s a long haul to Puerto Peñasco to the nearest major cruise port in Cabo…or even La Paz.


The idea in building the port is not so much to extend Mexican Riviera cruises as it is to embark on new cruises. That means Puerto Peñasco would be a homeport, precisely what the Mexicans have in mind — and that would be a first in the country. 

The market will come from Phoenix and Tucson, both about three and a half hours away, which would make cruising much more accessible to the people of Arizona. You should note Puerto Penasco-2that the population of the two cities is more than two million people and another five million or so live in the state. This sleepy resort town is already well-known to many of them and has been dubbed “Arizona’s beach.”

Boarding a ship in Puerto Peñasco would be a huge advantage over flying (or driving) to the West Coast, and if you’re wondering what size of ships might be based there (or visit), Puerto Peñasco is preparing — in what is being called its “most important project” ever — for 3,000-passenger ships. 

That’s still the majority of world’s fleet. Will Puerto Peñasco land one, or more?

In 19 months, or sooner, we’ll know.

In the news…

• Chinese cruise passengers had 30 seconds to react to capsizing
• Crystal Serenity first to have ship's casino open in Malta
• New ship orders expected from Virgin Cruises, Crystal Cruises

Today at portsandbows.com: Freighter cruising

Holland America Veendam
7 nights
November 19, 2015
San Diego (return): Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78

Norwegian Playing Its Belize Cards

There's a negotiation process underway between Norwegian Cruise Line and Belize right now and when you read through all the he-said, he-said, what it comes right down to is this:

Democracy at work.

Norwegian wants to help the Belize government built a new port, south of Belize City in a place where no cruise ship of any substance has been, called Crawl Caye. For cruise passengers who have been to Belize more than once — that would include us — this is a welcome change because it means an opportunity to see part of the country that was otherwise off limits.

Crawl Caye is a small island, a mangrove island ringed by the Barrier Reef. It is located approximately 25 miles south of Belize City, between it and Roatan, Honduras, and east of the long strand of land known as Placencia, Belize. It is privately owned and sits inside a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Therein lies the debate about building a cruise port.

Environmentalists are concerned about the impact of cruise ships on the Barrier Reef. Lobbyists are more concerned about the economic impact that comes with cruise ships. These discussions have been going on for a few years, the Belizian Government on one side, Norwegian on the other. Last week, Minister of Labour Godwin Hulse said this:

"Crawl Caye is off the table and we've informed NCL accordingly. That does not mean that we are not continuing to dialogue with the people, we must understand that this is a huge investment. NCL is a reputable company, it's a world-class cruise company and any investment proposal to our country that could enhance jobs, enhance growth and create a better way for people – we can't just simple 'shush' away. So we have informed them of that, they have not completely withdrawn, we are continuing to talk and we will see where we go from there."

In other words, the people of Belize will decide whether the economic benefit outweighs the environmental impact. The politicians will be forced to listen to the people…isn't that what politicians always do?

If they do, that is democracy.

Here's a touch of irony for you…the idea is being called a $100 million tourism project, and Crawl Cayes is for sale, for $5.6 million.

Coral Princess
7 nights
July 17, 2013
Vancouver, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, College Ford, Anchorage
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $114

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

New Ports the Way of Future

If you drew a diagonal line from one corner of North America to another, it couldn't be much longer than the one linking Port Canaveral (Florida) and Nanaimo (British Columbia).

Both are cruise ports with vastly different volumes of traffic, but both have built what might be perceived as cruise ship terminals of the future.

The one in Florida welcomes its first ship on Monday — the Carnival Ecstasy. It's called Terminal 6 and it's part of a $65 million complex, which gives it almost nothing in common with its cross-continent cousin in Nanaimo.

In fact, while both could be considered state-of-the-art, it's for a different reason…as it should be for a port that welcomes a million visitors a year, and a port that welcomes thousands, at best. Terminal 6 could have as many big cruise ships in a weekend as Nanaimo has in a year.

Terminal 6 is major cruise facility No. 4 for Port Canaveral. It will be used mostly but not exclusively for Carnival ships and is designed to make things easier for passengers. It has a new parking garage that will accommodate 750 cars and easy access to buses and taxis. Luggage handling is supposed to be easy, too, and here's the big one: It can handle embarking and disembarking passengers at the same time.

The Port Canaveral facility that will be in service for the first time next week has paid some attention to energy efficiency, but  nothing compared to the newest Canadian counterpart, in Nanaimo (above).

Sustainable materials were used to build it on what was a reclaimed wood storage site, its design honors the area's lifelong industry, and it looks something like a huge hull of an old boat. It's solar-heated by a natural stone floor that warms during the day and radiates heat. Outside the main hall is a native garden and linear water feature.

For the passengers, who are promised speedy disembarkation, the biggest plus of the facility that opened last year is it eliminates tendering and generally makes the Vancouver Island city more attractive to major cruise lines with ships bound for Alaska.

In future, it's likely that new terminals will follow the leads of these ones…making the boarding of ships smoother and being more environmentally responsible.

Photo: Checkwitch Poiron Architects

Royal Caribbean Rhapsody of the Seas
9 nights
January 23, 2013
Sydney (return): Noumea, Lifou, Ile des Pins
Inside: $899
Cost per day: $99

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