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Only Azamara Cruisers in Normandy on D-Day

Tomorrow, on the shores of northern France, the free world will remember. It will remember that 70 years ago, armies of four nations (Great Britain, France, Canada and the U.S.) stormed the beaches of Normandy in what turned out to be the beginning of the end of World War II.


The armies left behind a trail of tragedy: thousands of dead soldiers, disabled and sunken vessels and code names that became familiar names of the beaches — Utah, Juno BeachJuno, Omaha, Gold and Sword — that are in the French vocabulary and on maps of France to this day. It is good to remember and, for those who still can, it is also painful.

And this has what to do with cruising?

Cruise ships occasionally land at Cherbourg, a pretty city not far from the beaches. Ironically, on the 70th anniversary of D-Day tomorrow, there will be but one ship in port: Azamara's Journey. Cherbourg isn't exactly a hotspot for cruise ships and only a handful of big ones are still on the schedule for 2014: Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria, Holland America's Prinsendam, Celebrity's Constellation and two from Costa Cruises.

Our visit, four years ago, was during the Celebrity Eclipse's re-positioning cruise to begin its 2010 European season. It gave us a chance to do something we'd often talked about doing: visit the beaches.

They're up to 90 minutes from the port and the only way, really, to visit them is by renting a car. So we did, getting as far as Juno Beach, where we spent so much time Normandythat we barely made it back to the Eclipse before it left to cross the Straits of Dover. Both our fathers had crossed the ocean to fight in World War II and, while neither was in Normandy on D-Day — if they had, maybe we wouldn't be here — our visit made for a moving day in towns and villages occupied by people who never do forget.

Somehow, we don't think our Dads crossed the ocean in anything remotely resembling the palatial vessel that is the Eclipse. They certainly weren't sitting in a breakfast buffet 13 stories above the water wondering what kind of croissant to have with their coffee in the morning, and we can only guess they could likely feel every whitecap hitting the hull that encased their cramped sleeping quarters.

The Eclipse was in port for maybe eight hours. Tomorrow, the Journey will be in Cherbourg for 18 hours, from six in the morning until midnight.

On D-Day, how appropriate is that?

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas
4 nights
July 31, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Cozumel
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $99

A Quantum Leap From April 2014

It was just one year ago. In New York City, home to Quantum of the Seas, Royal Caribbean unveiled its newest and greatest ship at a press conference. The head honchos from the cruise line, Richard Fain and Adam Goldstein, were there. So was Kristin Chenoweth, the new ship's Godmother-to-be.

There was one word on everyone's lips or, for the writers among us, in everyone's vocabulary.


Fast track 12 months. It's April again. Quantum of the Seas, still several months from leaving the shipyard, is making news again. And there's that word again.


The newest and greatest ship from this mainstream cruise line is going to leave North America almost as soon as she arrives. Okay, Quantum will be in New York from November to May, not even long enough to consummate the relationship. Then she'll be leaving New York a jilted lover, and running off to Shanghai.

Talk about a Shanghai surprise!

To be fair, she'll be sending her almost-twin sister as a stand-in. The Anthem of the Seas will become New York's Royal Caribbean new ship later in 2015, with all the same curves and attributes and flash.

When Quantum arrives in Shanghai, will Kristin Chenoweth be on deck? If she is…


Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Holland America Rotterdam
14 nights
May 24, 2014
Rotterdam (return): CopenhagenBerlinTallinnSt.PetersburgHelsinkiStockholmAarhus
Inside: $999
Cost per day: $71

St. Thomas a Caribbean gem

ST. THOMAS, Virgin Islands — On this day, there is a traffic jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands. What's a traffic jam in the Virgin Islands? Six cruise ships in port at the same time. Thirty thousand visitors on the roads of St. Thomas or the streets of its capital, Charlotte Amalie.

In other words, if normal traffic makes this tropical paradise with its two-lane roads and one-way streets look like rush hour, imagine what happens when it's besieged by cruise-ship passengers and, to a lesser extent, crew members from half a dozen ships. Surprising as it may seem, chaos is not the right word…busy is.

We were on Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas. Sandwiched between it and Disney's Fantasy — on the same dock — was the Emerald Princess. Floating off their starboard sides, in open water, was the Norwegian Gem. A few miles away, at the other docking facility for Charlotte Amalie, were Oasis of the Seas and the Carnival Dream. That's six, the smallest of them carrying 2,300 (check this) passengers.

Of all the Caribbean port stops, this is reputedly the one visited most often by cruise ships. If it is, everybody must come to buy jewelry because, while cruise ports are famous for jewelry representation, St. Thomas might just win the Oscar…or emerald. One street has blocks of almost nothing but places to buy the latest assorted gems, on both sides of its narrow street. We'd always thought Skagway had the most jewelry stores in one square mile…not so much.

The walk to Jewelers' Row from the cruise ship is an easy one…easy, if you can avoid stopping at Louis Vutton or Gucci or Salvatore Ferragamo along the way. It's about a mile if you're on the Fantasy, closer to a mile and a half from the Explorer. Or it's a short cab ride for $4.00 per person, a rate which is set by the government and applicable to all taxis, of which there is no shortage.

For the sun worshippers, there are plenty of beaches, including one that claims to be among the top ten in the world (Mavens Bay), that are easily accessible by taxis, tours or transportation the local way, bus. For exotic drinkers, a trip to Mountain Top for the "world's" best banana daiquiris is on every tour guide's itinerary, but when it comes to exotic drinks, you don't have to walk more than a mile…or so.

Whatever cruising has to throw at St. Thomas, it can handle. While the streets were crowded, there were no restaurant line-ups at high noon. Cars and buses moved slowly, but they moved. People who drive on the "wrong" side of the road with steering wheels on either side of the vehicle learn to adapt. For a day, this was high season for the locals and they were making the most of it.

Hey, maybe they need another dock for cruise ships!

Norwegian Star
9 nights
June 30, 2013
Copenhagen (return): Berlin, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $66


Maritime Lawyer Raises Questions

Like most people who cruise, we tend to accept the occasional accident or fire or incident on a cruise ship. Yet we do so without knowing what "occasional" really is.

Jim Walker thinks he knows. Walker is a well-known "maritime" lawyer, which means he provides a legal voice to anybody in the cruise industry who needs it, specifically passengers. He is probably a thorn in the side of cruise line owners and surely he keeps them on their toes.

Because of his vested interest, you can take Mr. Walker's criticisms with a grain of sea salt. After his latest opinion on the industry's safety record, however, the word that sticks on the screen is transparency.

Are cruise lines really transparent?

Walker thinks not. Attending a state-of-the-industry presentation at the Cruise Shipping Miami convention last week, he listened to cruise line CEOs say that the industry is "highly regulated" and that fires on ships are "very rare" and that cruising is the "safest, safest, safest" way to vacation.

Then he pointed out on his website — click here to read all of his comments — that there have been 90 cruise-ship fires in 23 years and that the U.S. really has no way of regulating ships that fly foreign flags, as 99.9 per cent of all cruise ships do. One contextual note about the fires:  We don't know if this includes fires like a cigarette in a waste basket or if all are of a more serious nature.

His research, vested as it may be, does cause all of us to wonder…

Are cruise-line executives completely honest or are they merely spin doctors? What kind of transparency is reasonable to expect? Is cruising as safe as we like to think it is?

Or have we left our heads in the sand on the beach of some sunny port?

Carnival Legend
12 nights
July 3, 2013
London (return): Copenhagen, Berlin, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Amsterdam
Inside: $749
Cost per day: $62

Breakaway's Breakout in Papenburg


Cruise lines often count down the days until a new ship is launched. When the countdown starts is always subjective.

For the Norwegian Breakaway, it started yesterday.

That's when the people other than shipbuilders in Papenburg, Germany first had a look at the latest of cruise ships, to be the new flagship in a Norwegian fleet that will soon number a dozen. Yesterday was "float-out day."

Final delivery will be made on April 25. Arrival in New York, Breakaway's permanent home, will be May 7. A two-day inaugural cruise is scheduled for May 10. Her crew begins taking up residence next week. Passage in the "inaugural 7-day sailing" to Bermuda starts at $999 for an inside stateroom.

The Breakaway will replace the Epic as the flagship. She's not quite as long, as wide or as heavy as the Epic but she's the biggest cruise ship ever built in Germany (the Epic's roots are French) and will carry 100 or so fewer passengers (4,000). Meyer Werft's Managing Partner Bernard Meyer claims she has "the latest safety standards, meets all environmental regulations" and has "a lot of unique design elements and technical innovations."

So the Countdown to the Breakaway Inaugural is underway…74 days to go.

Holland America Eurodam
11 nights
May 10, 2013
Rome, Cartagena, Malaga, Cadiz, Lisbon, Vigo, Channel Islands, Zeebrugge, Copenhagen
Inside: $999
Cost per day: $90

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