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The Modern Problem Of Picking A Port

With each day, and each violent activity often linked to terrorism, reasonable people who like to travel get even more reasonable. Or concerned. Or paranoid. Or even scared.

Pick an adverb. The uncertainty of traveling abroad — be it in one direction to Europe or in the other to Asia — understandably may leave North Americans more likely to pick a cruise ship departing and returning to a North American port. Not that there are any guarantees that doing so will keep you from being an unsuspecting victim of terrorism.

But even seasoned travelers are at least having second thoughts. Why fly internationally to get on a cruise if you can fly domestically, or better yet drive or take ground transportation to a port of departure?

This is good (okay, more comforting) news for cruise lines with ships that primarily visit the Caribbean, or assorted other warm-weather spots in the Western Hemisphere. Since a Caribbean cruise still out-ranks all others, that would be most of them, yet many have shifted their investments — and some of their ships — to Asia the last couple of years, which in today’s world could mean counting on a local (Asian) clientele.

For North Americans, there is no shortage of options. A quick count shows that there are 21 cruise homeports in this continent: Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Port Canaveral, Tampa, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Galveston, Houston, Charleston, Baltimore, Norfolk, Bayonne, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Anchorage, Boston, San Diego, Seattle, Montreal.

So if you’re an avid cruiser who’s reluctant to fly afar to get to a ship, pick a port.

You may find many kindred spirits.

In the news…

• Two biggest ships (both Royal Caribbean) in southern hemisphere meeting in Sydney

Today at portsandbows.comChristmas markets with Viking in Europe

Norwegian Getaway
7 nights
December 13, 2015
Miami (return): Great Stirrup Cay, Ocho Rios, George Town, Cozumel
Inside: $649
Cost per day: $92

More ships, voyages for Windstar

Windstar, the yacht-style cruise line that has grown from bankruptcy four years ago to a fleet of six ships by summer, has unveiled its collection of voyages for 2016…There are 11 new ones and 30 new ports that Windstar ships will visit, all of it made possible by the addition of the Star Breeze and Star Legend this spring, following appropriate Star Priderefurbishment…Until they go into drydock, the ships will continue sailing as the Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Legend…Then they’ll join another former Seabourn ship, now Windstar’s Star Pride (above), which has been flying under the new cruise flag for almost a year…The most intriguing of the new itineraries is a circumnavigation of Iceland on the Star Legend, from Reykjavik to Reykjavik in seven days at the beginning of July (least amount of ice?)…The fare is currently listed at $3,399 per person.

Richard BransonWhen our colleague Phil Reimer was writing about Richard Branson and his Virgin Cruises of the future last week, another layer of the story was unfolding…Colin Veitch, the former Norwegian executive whom Branson recruited to be a founding partner, is suing the magnetic entrepreneur because he claims he could’ve made $315 million before Branson dumped him…The suit is based on Veitch’s contention that it was his financing plan Branson used to start the new venture, which will apparently start with a pair of 4,200-passenger ships designed to attract young travelers…The question about the concept is this: Are there enough “young travelers” with enough vacation time to keep two big ships full year-round.

The folks who live and work around the cruise ship terminal in Fort Lauderdale have been used to seeing the twin towers of cruising, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, coming and going on alternating weeks…Oasis is moving to Port Canaveral next year, following the cruise line’s investment in a new terminal that opened in December…It will be replaced in Fort Lauderdale by Harmony of the Seas, the third Oasis - LabadeeOasis Class ship that will arrive next fall, so maybe the people who live and work around the Port Everglades terminal won’t even notice that Oasis is gone — unless they read the bold type on the side of the ship.

On the theory that there’s strength in numbers, seven Indian Ocean islands are sending representatives to wherever cruise executives gather to generate business for their ports…The seven include the Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius, Maldives and three most of us have never heard of, let alone visited…This month, they were at a tourism trade fair in Germany and managed to convince Costa Cruises to consider having more of a presence in the islands, which its ships visit, and to give residents a chance to board ships for round-the-islands cruises…The islanders are offering pre- and post-cruise shore excursions that include an African safari…Geography is perhaps the biggest problem — the islands are in the same hemisphere as Somalia…Can you say “pirates?”

Today at portsandbows.com: Royal Caribbean's next biggest ship coming

Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas
4 nights
August 24, 2015
Miami (return): Nassau, Coco Cay, Key West
Inside: $219
Cost per day: $54

This Big Three In Serious Port Competition


Mention the "Big 3" in Florida and everybody will think you mean Lebron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade.

These days, it's not that automatic, and not just because James was making headlines with his Decision 2.0 as to where he'll be bouncing and swishing basketballs. In the cruise world, for example, the "Big 3" are Miami (the port not the Heat), Fort Lauderdale and Port Canaveral.

And not necessarily in that order.

Most cruisers think of Fort Lauderdale and Miami as the main ports of departure. Miami is the world's self-proclaimed busiest cruise port, and there often seems to be an armada of cruise ships at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.

Port Canaveral (above) is making up ground, or water.

On any given Sunday, you can find as many as five cruise ships there — two Carnival, two Royal Caribbean and a Disney. The port is home to three ships from Disney (Disney World is just down the interstate in Orlando) and so does Carnival. New agreements are signed with Royal Caribbean and Norwegian.

Dredging is taking place to depend the channel and a new terminal is due to be completed in November, so that the biggest ships in cruising can be accommodate. Hello, Oasis of the Seas?

It's a fierce competition for the Florida cruise dollar…almost as fierce as the competition will be now that Lebron James is breaking up the other "Big 3."

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: Theme cruise with stars of TCM

Caribbean Princess
7 nights
August 2, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Princess CaysSt. ThomasSan JuanGrand Turk
Inside: $649
Cost per day: $92

Family reunion right now for Disney ships


While it was conceived in California, the magical machine that is Disney belongs — essentially — to Florida. First it was the theme park that tilted east, with more people pouring into Disney World than Disneyland, the foundation that old Walt built almost six decades ago.

And for the last 15 years, the extension of the Disney empire has continued to lean to the east. Never is that more evident than right now.

All four Disney ships are currently based in Florida.

The last to return to the family breeding waters was the Wonder. After a summer sailing to Alaska, it stopped off in Galveston for a few months on the way home. There it will stay, in Miami, until heading north to Alaska again in the spring.

Meanwhile, the Magic has moved up the coast from Miami to Port Canaveral for a family reunion of sorts…or a vacation with her sisters Dream and Fantasy, which never leave home. The two newest ships in the fleet spend the entire year on mostly cruises from Port Canaveral to the Caribbean. They always stop at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island, to help the family financial fortunes.

Over the last seven years, the Magic has established a following by operating from her second home in the summers, Barcelona. Except for that and five Caribbean cruises from San Juan, Puerto Rico, that's it.

In fact, from now until April 2015, we could only find 33 Disney cruises that did not embark somewhere in Florida. That's for all four ships and includes two repositioning cruises to bring the Wonder back from Alaska next year and the Magic back from Europe. If you calculate that ships operate 7-day cruises on average, that means 33 of approximately 260 cruises.

Or, 12 per cent.

Florida is Disney, and vice-versa.

Norwegian Getaway
7 nights
February 15, 2014
Miami (return): St. MaartenSt. ThomasNassau
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85

Chef's Special a Special Chef

In our first epistle about the Director of Culinary Enrichment for Oceania Cruises, you discovered how a successful business person could walk away and tackle a lifestyle that's fun. Today you'll learn how and why she spends almost her whole life on cruise ships.

Chef Kathryn Kelly's connection to Oceania is Jacques Pepin, whose signature is on two cruise ships: the two-year-old Marina and the Riviera, which was launched earlier this year.

Having joined the faculty of the Culinary Institute of America, she promised the famous chef that when he presided over Oceania's Bon Appétit Culinary Center on the ships, she would teach in one or the other for two months.

That was more than two years ago. Until then, her connection to cruising was a 21-day trip to South America with her daughter when she graduated from college, and a week in the Mediterranean with her mother, who wanted to see where Princess Grace was buried (Monaco).

Both ships were Oceania.

"A friend said 'You're favorite hotel is the Ritz Carlton, and this is a floating Ritz Carlton," she chuckles.

What turned two months into two years was, simply, Oceania. This is the cruise line that focuses the most on cuisine, and not just in the on-board establishments that serve what cruise executives champion as "gourmet" dishes. Besides the restaurants that bear Pepin's name and menu input, Oceania ships sell space in the Culinary Centers for passengers who want to learn more about cooking.

But there's more to it than that.

"You can say we're going to do Moroccan cooking, and then we go to market in Morocco to buy the ingredients," explains Chef Kelly. "We go to a restaurant in Morocco and then come back and gave a class on the ship. It's a 12-hour tour — market for local produce, favorite place to eat, come back, cooking class. There's no corollary to that."

It's more than a unique shore excursion…it's more like the ultimate cooking experience.

"A brilliant idea," she exclaims, "and guests love it. They're on vacation. A lot of them are experienced travelers and they've been to some of these places four or five times, so for them it's 'show me something new.' They see the world through a culinary lens."

Kelly credits Bob Binder, Vice-Chairman of both Oceania and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, with the concept.

"This is his dream and his vision," she adds. "I remember once we were in a meeting and we agreed that if Cat Cora is the Godmother [of the Riviera] then Bob Binder is the Godfather of the Culinary Center. I asked the [Center’s] architect if anybody else was doing this and he said no, because it's too expensive. He said in the next five years, we'd still be the only ones doing it. Every idea we've had, Oceania has said 'Let's do it.' I've run two publicly traded companies and I know how difficult it can be to get things done. It takes an enormous financial commitment."

Classes at the Culinary Center last an hour. In them, participants prepare (usually) three dishes at 12 cooking stations for two, under Chef Kelly's good-humored but pointed supervision. Because of the time frame, some raw preparation takes place before the class begins.

Every day she's at sea, Kelly teaches two classes.

"In general, people come in frightened, afraid to pick up a knife," says the Center's Executive Chef. "A woman will drop a man off and say 'Teach him to cook something…anything!' Those are the ones that have such a sense of accomplishment that they wind up taking a second and third class. I'm addicted to it and I want to make sure people learn something."

Meanwhile, back at the CIA, they're investigating if she's ever coming back…

"I don't know," she says. "It's my floating home and I'm having a ball!"

Carnival Ecstasy
5 nights
October 8, 2012
Port Canaveral (return): Half Moon Cay, Nassau, Freeport
Inside: $239
Cost per day: $47

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