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Aye, Cruisemate! Pirate Incidents Down in Somalia

In another century, pirates shaped the world. This was especially true in the waters of the Caribbean, on ships that were still hundreds of years removed from the cruise ships that take tourists on what to many is the ultimate vacation — the Pirates at seaCaribbean cruise. Pirates are extinct there, as they have been pretty well everywhere but in Pittsburgh's baseball stadium, Johnny Depp's movies and Jimmy Buffett's lyrics.

Except Somalia.

While there has never been a serious confrontation between a cruise ship and Somali pirates, the threat of one has caused cruise ships to avoid these waters. The recently released Tom Hanks movie, Captain Phillips, only makes people more apprehensive about being possible target practice for pirates, yet we are now being told that pirate attacks are at a seven-year low.

Pirate Flag,jpgIronically, a couple of weeks ago we met two people who were in a five-boat convoy — not cruise ships — that was approached by a pirate ship last year off the coast of Somalia. On one of the five boats (not theirs) were some Texans, who were armed, as Texans are wont to be. The "incident" was nothing more than a sail-by, as things turned out, and no shots were fired…by either side.

Nevertheless, we're like most people. Listening to this couple tell the story is as close as we'd ever like to come to Somali pirates.

Carnival Elation
4 nights
December 5, 2013
New Orleans (return): Cozumel
Inside: $249
Cost per day: $62
www.carnival.com

Cruising Notes on the Boats

The right price………………………………………………..……$169
January 24, 2011: 4 nights…….Ship: Norwegian Sky……..Departure: Miami return
Bonus: Up to a 4-category upgrade; balconies just $399………Contact: icruise.com

* * *

Had we only known. One of us is celebrating a birthday in a couple of days. Instead of being wined and dined at home by the love of his life, he could’ve been on a Disney cruise ship. Not that there’s anything wrong with being wined and dined at home…

But had he (or we) known this…

On a website called River Cruises in Europe, we found a question from a 16-year-old who was planning to spend her birthday on a Disney ship, and a response from a travel agent with some advice for the teenager. The girl’s question: “I know tһаt іf you go tο tһе [Disney] parks on уοur birthday, уοu get free admission. Mу birthday falls on a day during tһе cruise. Would anything special happen [on a ship]?”

The travel agent’s reply: “Bring your birth certificate and driver’s license with you. I am not going to spoil the surprise for you. But, my best friend has taught me every trick there is about Disney. Disney treats you very special for your birthday. I  flew down to Florida on my birthday and gave my birth certificate at the Disney Cruise Line Pier. They go all the way out and it is a well kept secret. But, I will give you a hint: Everything is free.”

File that one away for your next birthday!

* * *

Aren’t pirates annoying? Long ago, they were recognized by the skull and cross bones hanging from the mast of their ships. Now they guide fishing vessels and sneak up on unsuspecting ships…just like terrorists could now be anybody walking down the street wearing bulky clothes.

The pirates of the seas off Somali continue to strike at any passing ship, including cruise ships. This week, 350 diners on Saga’s Spirit of Adventure were forced below — somewhere between the Coquille St. Jacques and the chocolate mousse — while the captain tried outrunning the pirates, who disappeared after 53 minutes of anxiety. Also this week, Regent Seven Seas re-routed the Voyager to pass Mombasa, Kenya and Zanzibar because it would have been too close to pirates-infested waters.

These are the latest incidents that are forcing cruise lines, in ever-increasing numbers, to skip that part of the world. So who wins here?

* * *

When “Rod Stewart”, “Michael Jackson” and “Britney Spears” leave the Norwegian Epic next week, they’ll be replaced at the Legends In Concert show by “Neil Diamond,” Aretha Franklin” and “Janet Jackson.”

If we’d told you that John Anthony, William Hall and Katie Murdock were being replaced by William Paul, DeNita Asberry and Karen Lawson, you’d have had no idea what we were talking about, would you?

* * *

In November, this ship was on every major TV network, and a lot of minor ones, and it became a flashpoint for safety in cruising. This weekend, it’s slinking along Pacific Coast waters and hardly anybody is giving it a second look.

Such is life for the Carnival Splendor, the ship that caught fire and drifted off the coast from Mexico for three days, without power, until a tug pulled it into San Diego. Now another tug is pulling it to San Francisco, where it will undergo engine repairs after arriving next Friday.

Why San Francisco?

The Splendor has to go into drydock for these repairs and San Francisco is the only West Coast city able to accommodate it. By the time it’s ready to resume cruising, the Splendor will have been out of service for three months. Passengers booked to sail on her during that time were given full refunds (including air transportation) and a 25% discount on another Carnival cruise.

The original re-sail date was tomorrow. Now it’s February 20. But, like many victims of fires, will her life ever be the same?

* * *

That’s it, we’re done.

Nassau's Fascinating Graycliff Hotel

NASSAU, Bahamas — Really, it was just a hotel. So understated from the street that you could walk by it, and we almost did. That would have been our loss.

We walked through the front door of the Graycliff Hotel, just like Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall did, 33 years earlier. Except they had a new baby with them, and fortunately we did not. But they had no entourage, no bodyguards and neither did we. The paparazzi weren’t on their heels. Surprisingly, no paparazzi were following us either.

Mick and Jerry, along with their first-born, stayed the night. We stayed long enough to walk the impressive grounds, visit the cigar factory in the hotel, have lunch in the elegant dining room and tour what was once a dungeon and is now a wine cellar with 275,000 bottles in it.

That is not a typo.

This was the middle of our walking tour, the one provided by Norwegian Sky concierge Ana Maria Telea, and it commanded the most attention. The wine cellar alone would have done that…everything else was an unexpected bonus.

A cigar factory in an exclusive hotel? Really? Yes, really. The owner, Enrico Garzaroli, bought the hotel from a wealthy Canadian family (the Killams) in 1973. The only previous owners were Lord and Lady Dudley from England and, before them, a pirate named John Howard Graysmith, who built it, dungeon and all.

Besides overnight stays (in only 20 rooms) and cigars, Mr. Garzaroli also sells chocolate, coffee and — yes — wine. His wine collection is reputedly the third-largest private collection in the world and it’s estimated to be worth $20 million. The most expensive bottle, shown to us by cellar master Sudhir Varot Kangath, is a German white. Sudhir says the bottle, a 1727 Bremen Ratskeller Rudesheimer Apostelwein, is worth $200,000 and that it was still good when last tasted in 1968.

No kidding? One bottle? In our white wine glasses, not that it would ever be there, a wine has no chance to wait 40 years between tastings.

On one wall there are maybe 100 bottles that he calls the “Million Dollar Rack” because that’s the total value of bottles worth $5,000 to $25,000 each. According to Sudhir, his boss sells “four or five” of them a year. We did spot a 1900 Chateau Lafite, a case or more of 1982 Bordeaux that is in “high demand”, and a couple of Barolos from the ’50s. They all have plastic “necklaces” and they’re all carefully catalogued. And there are cameras everywhere in case any visitors dared.

Visitors?

In the heart of the wine cellar is a long rectangular table, surrounded by chairs and many bottles of wine. It’s for private dining — all it takes is $1,000 a night — and among those who have booked it are Beyonce and Jay Z, Aristotle Onassis, Tom Cruise, Sir Winston Churchill, Nicholas Cage, Michael Jordan, Al Capone, Lebron James, Paul Newman and Tony Keith. That would be in addition to Mr. and Mrs. Jagger.

It was in the wine cellar that we saw the biggest cigar on the premises, fresh from a humidor in the California wine section. It was 18 inches long. Upstairs in the Cigar Factory, Cuban workers make cigars from tobacco from Andorra, Dominican Republic and Ecuador. Each person can make 180 cigars a day and there are shifts of 16 to 18 workers. To test the quality, there’s even a machine that smokes the cigars, although most of the workers seemed to be smoking them, too.

But the most amazing thing about the Graycliff Hotel is that we were able to walk in and see all of this, right off the street without any introduction.

“Why?” we asked the hostess.

“Why not?”

Mick and Jerry did.

With all the new ships on this side of the Atlantic, we covered the debut of the Norwegian Epic for our Canadian colleague Phil Reimer. Starting today, for a week, you can read our reports on the Epic at his blog — click on Ports And Bows.

Pirates of the (Royal) Caribbean

We met a young couple with an intriguing story to tell while on the Celebrity Millennium this year. Husband and wife, they were from California; in fact they probably still are. Both are flight attendants with Southwest, so they’re able to schedule blocks of time off to pursue their passion.

It’s called cruising the world.

Their intriguing story was having a “pirate drill” while cruising with Royal Caribbean. Really, we said, a pirate drill?

This was on a ship going to Dubai. They’d wanted to go through the Suez Canal, because its original designer (Ferdinand de Lesseps of France) also had a hand in the creation of the Panama Canal —  together the two most famous transitional water passages in the world. After clearing the Suez and sailing the Red Sea, the ship’s course took them through the Gulf of Aden. As everyone knows, for the past few years those waters have been infested with pirates who, like something out of a bad movie, have been capturing whole ships and holding them for ransom.

Anyway, the “pirate drill” consisted of what to do if attacked by some of “Blackbeard’s boys” off the shores of Yemen. Something like the lifeboat drill that is mandatory procedure on every cruise ship, except they are more about emergencies from within the ship than without. The pirate drill, according to our friendly flight attendants, was basically to stay in your stateroom if attacked and the crew would board up all windows on the back half of the ship.

Cruise ships can outrace pirate ships, if necessary, and there’s no real threat of a successful attack, given the size of your typical cruise ship. But just the fact that it has to be addressed makes for interesting cocktail conversation…and for an interesting blog.

The whole thing might even be a little humorous if it weren’t for the fact that because of these Somali pirates, the popular tourist port of Mombasa, Kenya, has been severely affected. In the first four months of this year,  only 500 visitors arrived on cruise ships, down from 11,000 in 2009, a drop of 95%.

That’s it, we’re done.

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