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The Vancouver Cruise Experience

If there’s a more beautiful arrival port than Vancouver — this side of Venice — we haven’t seen it. The one time we arrived at the Port of Vancouver, on the Coral Princess, it was breathtaking. Considering that we once lived there, that says something.

Breathtaking, until we disembarked. Then, we were out of breath for a different reason. Trying to negotiate our way through the terminal, past the buses, carrying and wheeling four or five pieces of luggage was, in a word, exhausting.

Good news is on the horizon.

Next year, when the Alaska season brings cruise ships to the West Coast, the Port of Vancouver terminal will be only the one at Canada Place (an older one, called Ballantyne VancouverPier, is being retired). What’s more, changes to Canada Place will mean, in the words of Port authorities: “cruise terminal passenger flows to improve efficiency and optimize the passenger experience.”

About time!

The improvements come in the form of two new escalators, plus additional check-in and marshaling space, which hopefully also includes additional check-out space.And there’s more good news…

Royal Caribbean ships were able to use shore power for the first time, joining ships from Disney, Holland America and Princess. That has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 11,000 tonnes. While we are unable to put that into global context, we know this: It’s good.

Vancouver is closing in on a million visitors a year from cruise ships, resulting in near half a million hotel stays in British Columbia and an estimated $2 million in economic activity each time a cruise ships arrives. But the best part for us is still that getting off the ship — hopefully — will be easier.

We’re happy to have our breath taken away once, not twice.

Today at portsandbows.com: On board the new Quantum of the Seas

Carnival Freedom
6 nights
December 21, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Key West, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
Inside: $379
Cost per day: $63

Relief for Customs Lines in Florida?

Twice last month we disembarked from a cruise ship at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. The first time, there was a short delay in clearing customs. The second time, it felt like we were at Disneyland or Disney World, in one of those never-ending lines that keep moving to think you're making progress.

Yesterday…good news.

Port Everglades is one of 16 partners in a program which allows for additional customs officers when required. As in…when a cruise ship arrives.

It's no surprise to port officials that Customs is often short-staffed when cruise passengers are leaving ships but, until now, there was no solution. Especially in Port Port EvergladesEverglades, where two 6,000-passenger ships — Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas — come and go every week.

Now there is a solution, providing the port's customers (the cruise lines) request and pay for additional service.

Yes, it could have the hint of a "new tax" for cruise passengers…doesn't it? Or maybe it'll just be buried in the cost of your cruise.

Phil Reimer today: Seabourn expanding 2015-16 itineraries

Celebrity Summit
7 nights
November 1, 2014
San Juan (return): BarbadosSt. LuciaAntiguaSt. MaartenSt. Thomas
Inside $399
Cost per day: $57

Cruise Port — Cozumel Launch Pad To Yucatan, Too

This week, we're featuring ports you may find on your cruise itinerary, to give you a snapshot of what it's like, what ships usually go there and what some of the options are once you get off the ship. Today it's Cozumel, Mexico.

If there's a cruise ship that goes to the Western Caribbean and DOESN'T stop at Cozumel, the identity if the ship must be a closely guarded secret.

Like rice and beans and tequila, Cozumel is a Mexican staple.

It's also a jumping-off point for same-day sites to see, which is probably why it's on the itineraries of all major cruise ships. Think for a minute about it's cousin around the gulf, Costa Maya. If every ship stopped there, and many do, you'd either run out of things to do or tire of long bus rides, or both.

Not so in Cozumel.

The island itself is at least interesting and worthy of stopping there once or twice (we once made three Cozumel stops in a little over two weeks). For the photography crowd, there are photo-ops everywhere and, being an island, plenty of Cozumel-east beachbeaches. However, getting some local advice on the best beaches is a good idea because the east side of the island didn't look that inviting when we rented a car (call Margarita or Santiago at 987-872-33-67 for a smokin' deal) and circled Isla Cozumel.

Then there's off-Cozumel.

Take the 45-minute ferry to Playa del Carmen, where the beaches do look inviting, even to people to whom beaches are rarely that inviting, like us. On the Mexican mainland, you can also make quick trips to the ruins of Tulum (now that IS Shopping in Cozumelinviting) or longer trips to other attractions on the Yucatan Peninsula, like Cancun or Merida. There is no shortage of things to do in this part of Mexico, and the weather usually cooperates. 

One warning when you're on a cruise ship: Check your watch, and not because you're afraid it will be stolen…because you're afraid you might get confused by Cozumel time and wind up missing your ship.

Otherwise, Cozumel is (as they say) "a trip!"

Today at portsandbows.com: Watch for the acronym MSC — it will be on more ships

Holland America Veendam
7 nights
June 7, 2014
Quebec CityCharlottetownSydneyHalifaxBar HarborBoston
Inside: $449
Cost per day: $64

Cruise Port: NOLA And The Long Road Back

Photo by M. Lamar Griffin, Sr.

This week, we're featuring ports you may find on your cruise itinerary, to give you a snapshot of what it's like, what ships usually go there and what some of the options are once you get off the ship. Today it's New Orleans, Louisiana.

This summer, it will be nine years since Hurricane Katrina. Nine years since a city that sits below sea level, and above the expectations of almost every visitor, was crushed. Its population was devastated, along with its infrastructure, its commerce, its spirit and even — as time would prove — some of its moral character.

Would, everybody asked, New Orleans ever make a comeback?

Our first visit was post-Katrina. We saw remnants of the devastation, yet we also saw some stage of the comeback that in places is now complete. We saw the vibrancy and the food and the entertainment that made it so unique, so famous. And it wasn't even Mardi Gras.

If you're a first-time cruiser going to The Big Easy, there are two things worth noting. One is that it's a great port to drive to because in the midst of all the chaos that is downtown New Orleans, there is parking exclusively for cruise passengers that is both reasonable and safe. The second thing is leave some time to see the city.

James-CarvilleThe French Quarter is a day, if you can walk that long. Food and jazz define this funky atmosphere and funky neighborhood, day and night. Literally.

Even when Mardi Gras is not on (it's in February), there are music festivals and street festivals for all genres. If there isn't basketball or football or golf for the sports fan, there's also minor-league baseball, arena football and minor-league soccer.

There are tours to plantations, museums, neighborhoods and cemeteries — everybody's "buried" above ground. One of our favorites was a ride in the swamps, far more fascinating and educational than it sounds. In the midst of it all, the words of one of the city's favorite sons, political animal James Carville, say it best:

"You don't need a guidebook to see New Orleans — just a good pair of shoes."

Today at portsandbows.com:  The newest river cruise line in Europe is on the water!

Norwegian Spirit
10 nights
November 26, 2014
Barcelona (return): CasablancaMadeiraTenerifeArrecifeMalaga
Inside: $679
Cost per day: $67

Cruise Port — Vancouver, Pretty As The Pictures

This week, we're featuring ports you may find on your cruise itinerary, to give you a snapshot of what it's like, what ships usually go there and what some of the options are once you get off the ship. Today it's Vancouver, British Columbia.

Lions GateIt's unlikely you'll find a prettier port in which to arrive than Vancouver…okay, maybe Venice. It's like a grand entrance under San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge into the waiting harbor, only more compact. 

The bridge is closer (some ships have to wait for low tide to clear the bridge deck), the mountains are closer, the city is closer. In no major city have we arrived on a cruise are you more in the heart of downtown…okay, maybe Venice. You arrive at one of two piers — Canada Place or Ballantyne's (like the whiskey) — and Canada Place is the one with five white sails on top. Also, the pier of preference, simply because it's closer to downtown and that much easier for walking the streets.

Given some time, visitors can stroll massive Stanley Park to see a famous woman in a wetsuit, take a sea bus across Burrard Inlet to the North Shore for a quick trip Stanley Park-PD copyup the mountain (Grouse) or catch a bus for the two-hour ride to Whistler, where much of the 2010 Olympics was held and now a big-time resort, summer or winter.

Or you can just hang around downtown or funky Gastown, which in other cities would be called Oldtown. That's just one of the tourist attractions available at the port, naturally, and for the physically challenged there are wheelchairs and scooters available at Canada Place. We found that exiting the terminal can be a challenge in itself if you just want to go walking, especially with luggage, but once you get street-side it's an easy and inexpensive trip to the airport if that's your next transportation destination.

Vancouver's rapid transit is called Skytrain and, while it stretches far into the suburbs, its Canada Line goes directly from the Waterfront Station to YVR, otherwise known as Vancouver International Airport.

As long as you don't mind leaving that magnificent scenery behind, that is.

VancouverToday at portsandbows.com: A photo trip through Porto, Portugal 

Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas
7 nights
June 1, 2014
Barcelona (return): MarseilleNiceFlorenceRomeNaples
Inside: $839
Cost per day: $119

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