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Signs of the Times…from Cruise Ports

One of the interesting things about visiting foreign countries — and there’s no better way to see many of them than from a cruise ship — is the number of photo ops. Signs quickly became a subject we kept an eye open for, and below are some we found “interesting” for a variety of reasons…

NassauNot sure that this one requires any explanation, other than to say it was on the side of a building in downtown Nassau, close to Norwegian Sky’s 2,000 passengers.

Hell-2That’s where you go in Grand Cayman…at least many first-time visitors do, and locals turn Hell into business opportunities — better than having a business go to Hell.

Alaska-3In Alaska, there are many things of which you cannot be certain — mosquitoes, wildlife, weather…and whether there will be enough water on the waterfall trail.

Guy Fieri'sOn the Carnival ships (this one the Freedom), Guy Fieri’s presence goes beyond his food — serving counters and tables are decorated with interesting signage.

Costa Rica-2Is it possible that Costa Ricans think visitors have to be told of danger lurking in its waters? Or maybe that just says something about the tourists!

Coquimbo-2The people of Coquimbo, Chile have seen enough walls of water to know that this sign means they’re on high enough ground to be safe from tsunamis.

GuatemalaOne Central American country that thrives on its coffee industry is Guatemala, even in remotae plantations where sign makers know their market.

Friday File: Faces Of Ports

Cruise ports always like to put on their best faces when welcoming ships that carry thousands of visitors, and “best faces” can be the welcome that awaits when you disembark. It could be a sign, or dancers, or a scenic harbor or something else created by Mother Nature. Today’s Friday File takes in all of that, from ports we visited for the first time…

Cayman Islands

Once there were pirates on Grand Cayman Island…now there are beaches and wonderful people and a place called Hell, worth the trip from Georgetown. No pirates.


Imagine seeing water as clear as this from the balcony of a cruise ship! This was in Roatan, Honduras and one of the nicest “environmental” welcomes we’ve ever seen.

Grand Bahama

One of the many friendly cruise-ship stops in the Bahamas is Freeport in Grand Bahama Island, where the locals wanted to see if we could proof-read their sign.


There’s a good reason why this port might make you think of the Netherlands…it’s colorful Curacao in what until 2010 was known as the Netherland Antilles.


The unmistakable, natural entrance to Cabo San Lucas is possibly the most photographed rock formation in all of Mexico, which has thousands of them.

Grand Turk

You could say there’s nothing especially warm about this entrance to Grand Turk in the Caribbean, except that entrances to every Caribbean port are warm!


Labadee is likely a place that would never be heard of if not for the fact Royal Caribbean made it a private port for “of the Seas” ships to put it on the map.

In the news…

• Norway-owned Hurtigruten cruise line going inland (the Amazon) for the first time
• Eight coins welded into keel in otherwise traditional ceremony for the Silver Muse

Today at portsandbows.com: Azamara unveils itineraries three years early

Norwegian Sky
3 nights
January 22, 2016
Miami (return): Grand Bahama lsland, Nassau, Great Stirrup Cay
Inside: $269
Cost per day: $89

Royal Caribbean WOW Bands Now $5

Last year, when Royal Caribbean announced that RFID technology would make its cruise-ship debut on Quantum of the Seas, it was kind of cool that passengers would be able to wear Dick Tracy wristwatches, for those of us who remember Dick Tracy, the comic detective who talked into his watch.

The “Radio Frequency Identification” watches — later branded as WOW bands — allowed Quantum’s passengers to open their staterooms, track their luggage while getting on and off the ship, charge drinks and pretty much leave their rooms without a wallet or a key Wow Bandcard. Presumably, passengers are still using them on Quantum of the Seas even though the ship is now living in Singapore.

It was inevitable that all Quantum Class ships, called the most tech-heavy vessels at sea, would have the same technology.

And they do.

For a price.

The cruise line is now charging Anthem of the Seas passengers who want a WOW band $4.99. Either the bands proved to be so successful on Quantum that Royal Caribbean moved it into the revenue department…or the cruise line decided that, like so many things, if something is free it has no value.

While five bucks isn’t going to break anybody on a cruise ship (one special coffee), it will be construed by some passengers as yet another way of nickel-and-diming the people on board. And when they find out the people who can better afford to pay five bucks — the ones in the suites — are getting it for nothing, said passengers are likely to be more irate…or at least annoyed.

If it’s an experiment, and that’s not an official position, our guess is it will be a short one.

And that they’ll either be free once again, or available by making a deposit that guarantees they’ll be returned.

In the news…

• Cruise lines offer passengers options in the wake Paris attacks
• Ocean Endeavour damaged by ice in Antarctica — next cruise canceled
• Four finalists named for Princess Entertainer of the Year showdown in March

Today at portsandbows.com: Viking's sticking with winning new-ship formula

Norwegian Sky
4 nights
February 1, 2016
Miami (return): Grand Bahamas, Nassau, Great Stirrup Cay
Inside: $269
Cost per day: $67

Alaska’s Jewelry Wars Continue

If you’ve ever been to Juneau, then you have some idea how many jewelry stores there are within walking distance of Alaska cruise ships. If you’ve ever gone to a shore-excursion presentation on a ship, you also know how there is almost always one about the jewelry stores.

As passengers who generally avoid both, we’re hardly experts on the subject of “cruise jewelry.” However, we’ve been around long enough to know that the presenters on ships seem to be directing you to specific stores. Not all of them, maybe, but most seem to zero in on a few jewelry shops.

Now we know why.

There’s currently a battle going on between a few Juneau jewellers and the “port lecturers” on cruise ships. According to a story in the Juneau Empire, one jewelry store owner alleges he overheard a port lecturer telling one of his customers — in his store — there would be a “better price” at Diamonds International.

The reason?

Ports lecturers are paid by commissions. No jewelry sales, no income.

The Alaska story is complicated, but interesting, and it’s all available here at the Empire’s website. The store owner has filed a complaint with the state’s “fair trade” laws and an assistant attorney general has been in touch with the company responsible for port lecturers (they don’t work for the cruise lines, they work for independent contractors, just as art dealers do). Both sides have complaints against the other so to some extent it’s another “he said, he said” confrontation.

Similar situations may exist in any number of ports in the Caribbean, but it seems more intense in Alaska, with such a short cruise season. This issue will probably be resolved, one way or another, before the next ship sails to Alaska, in 2016.

Either way, it’s unlikely to have any impact on the number of Juneau jewellers…nor the number of jewelry “lecturers” on ships.

In the news…

• Silversea announces that Silver Cloud will move to expedition fleet next year
• Norwegian Escape leaves Germany shipyard and heads for sea trials in North Sea
• Celebrity Solstice to increase (by two) stops at Vancouver Island port of Nanaimo

Today at portsandbows.com: Hurtigruten leads explorers

Norwegian Sky
4 nights
November 9, 2015
Miami (return): Grand Bahama, Nassau, Great Stirrup Cay
Inside: $199
Cost per day: $49

An Education In Cambodian Village

Koh Chen

KAMPONG CHHNANG, Cambodia — Taking a river cruise down the Mekong River means taking a trip to many places you never expect to see in your lifetime. Like the small village outside Kampong Chhnang, the first stop on the AmaDara’s trek south from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Most people who cruise to foreign countries, be it with AmaWaterways or any cruise line, want to learn about local life…not just from museums and tour buses, but from the people who live there.

Koh ChenYes, real people. Today.

In the little village of Koh Chen, there is a school that’s unlike any school we’ve ever seen. If this was a school room in North America, it would likely be condemned. The kids who attend it do so in shifts. It is free. The kids are poor. If their parents want them to get more education, it’s after-hours and they have to pay. Most parents can’t.

The kids knew we were coming. We knew we were coming. Some of us have a few school supplies from home, as a small gesture of helping, to be distributed by the teacher. We visit a grade five class, about 25 students who are 12 to 14 years old and who look much younger. They are little people with big smiles, and despite the poverty that seems to have them trapped, they are immaculately dressed in uniforms. 

They sing a song they’d been practising just for our group. We have no idea what the words mean but it sounds good and it comes from their hearts. It’s moving.

Outside the school room are more kids, some as young as two. There don’t appear to be many adults watching them. They are eager to be friends. They’re either looking for a handout or a hand to hold. One of them takes my hand and says “Grandpa” — he is either Koh Chenvery astute or he wants me to take him home, or both.

Koh Chen is a village that specializes in silver, and even the kids are trying to sell it to any tourist with a few dollars. When one young man politely approached Nancy as we started walking through the village, she told him “later.” When “later” comes she doesn’t see him, so she buys a bracelet from a little girl for $12. Lo and behold, minutes later he is there, looking for her to fulfill the promise. Eventually, she does. The silver’s probably a good deal but it doesn’t really matter, does it?

People in Koh Chen, like people in many Cambodian villages, were ravaged by the Khmer Rouge 40 years ago. The effects are still being felt a generation later, but not by these school kids. They’re learning, albeit in small steps, and they’re happy.

And so are we, for having a chance to visit with them.

In the news…

• Carnival flying stranded passengers home from St. Thomas
• Norwegian Epic, Gem headed for drydock this month and next
• Regent Seven Seas, Oceania, Silversea skip Greek island over refugee crisis

Today at portsandbows.com: Time for refurbishing at Norwegian

Norwegian Sky
4 nights
November 9, 2015
Miami (return): Grand Bahamas, Nassau, Great Stirrup Cay
Inside: $259
Cost per day: $64

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