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Carnival Playing the New Orleans Tune


Carnival is going to make its presence stronger in New Orleans and if there's a better fit for that, we don't know what it is.

Carnival…Mardi Gras…get it?

The world's largest cruise line currently has two ships in the Big Easy, as they call it, the Elation and the Conquest. Total passenger count per week: 5,036. In November, it will have the Elation and the refurbished, renamed Sunshine (nee Destiny). Passenger count: 5,058. Yes, that's only 22 passengers more per week, but the big change comes next spring.

That's when the Dream will join the Elation (they must like that ship in New Orleans, where visitors are usually "elated"), jumping the passenger count to 5,698. That's 640 more visitors to New Orleans per week. Or  33,280 per year…assuming that all those staterooms are filled by visitors to the Louisiana port.

The changes are about more than capacity.

In swapping the 11-year-old Conquest for the Sunshine, New Orleans cruisers will board a far more modern ship, with all the bells and whistles. In New Orleans, they also like bells and whistles. Swapping the Sunshine for the Dream kicks it up another notch — or octave — as the Dream is the flagship of Carnival's premium class, which also includes the Magic and the Breeze.

So this isn't all about playing musical ships…although in New Orleans, they'd probably be happy with that anyway.

Island Princess

7 nights

August 12, 2013

Anchorage, Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay National ParkSkagwayJuneauKetchikanVancouver

Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

Holland America: A New Flight Plan

As the PICOT in this family — that's Person In Charge Of Travel, now that you ask — I welcome anything that simplifies the process of flying. So when I spotted an item about Holland America and something called "Flight Ease" I was all over it.

It's the first time I've heard of a cruise line going so far to make it easier for passengers to get to the ship on time. In a nutshell, this is what you get with Flight Ease, starting this fall:

• Schedules (they'll be updated continuously) only for flights that arrive in time for your cruise

• Competitive pricing (cruise line promise) and availability from multiple carriers

• Next-port protection…if your flight is delayed or cancelled en route to the home port and you miss departure, the cruise line will get you to the next port

That umbrella of assurance has two other components. The "Flexible Fares" give you no fees for changing your flights and you pay when making your final cruise payment. Go for "Restricted Fares" and you'll pay less but be responsible for cancellation fees and pay the full amount when booking your cruise.

Passengers who use travel points to fly from their home city to the point of departure need not apply, of course. And passengers who shop around for the best deal are going to match it against the Flight Ease fare. That comparison is likely to determine whether Holland America's flight assistance is better than those of any other cruise line.

It will be interesting to see how many others copy Holland America's idea.

Crown Princess
7 nights
November 23, 2013
Fort Lauderdale (return): Princess CaysSt. MaartenSt. ThomasGrand Turk
Inside: $698
Cost per day: $99

Port Help for Cruise Passengers

We were in Bermuda. Standing on the dock waiting to catch a ferry from St. George's to Hamilton, we encountered Clarence Smith. He was wearing an orange jacket, which made him hard to miss, and since it said "Visitor Information" on the back and we were visitors…

Clarence is an Ambassador — that's also on the back of his jacket — whose job is toenlighten or assist tourists in Bermuda. We were there after disembarking from Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas and taking a bus from Hamilton to St. George's. He was interesting and informative, and we'd have willingly waited longer for the ferry just to have more time to talk to him.

But this isn't about Clarence. It's about Ambassadors.

It came to our attention after reading about two Canadians, David and Judy Barlow, who had a similar (and lengthier) experience in Jamaica, where they'd gone on a Princess cruise. Apparently, Falmouth also has Ambassadors.

Here is an excerpt of a letter they sent to the Cornwall News in the United Kingdom, although it was addressed to the people of Falmouth:

"Almost as soon as we got off the ship we were met by a group of cheerful volunteer citizens who immediately asked if they could help us find our way to whatever we wanted to see. They directed us to the city whereupon we quickly met another group of your citizens who directed us to the several places in the town we wanted to see. Again, when we had run out of time, some of your people showed us which road took us back to the ship.

"If it had not been for your ambassadors we would probably still be running around Falmouth trying to get back to the ship as it sailed away from the port. Your ambassadors made our all-too-brief stay in Falmouth much more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise. I wish other ports we visited during our cruise had ambassadors [to] direct more lost souls as they wander your streets."

Hopefully, the concept of Ambassadors will multiply.

Norwegian Star
9 nights
June 21, 2013
Copenhagen (return): Berlin, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $44

Norwegian Playing Its Belize Cards

There's a negotiation process underway between Norwegian Cruise Line and Belize right now and when you read through all the he-said, he-said, what it comes right down to is this:

Democracy at work.

Norwegian wants to help the Belize government built a new port, south of Belize City in a place where no cruise ship of any substance has been, called Crawl Caye. For cruise passengers who have been to Belize more than once — that would include us — this is a welcome change because it means an opportunity to see part of the country that was otherwise off limits.

Crawl Caye is a small island, a mangrove island ringed by the Barrier Reef. It is located approximately 25 miles south of Belize City, between it and Roatan, Honduras, and east of the long strand of land known as Placencia, Belize. It is privately owned and sits inside a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Therein lies the debate about building a cruise port.

Environmentalists are concerned about the impact of cruise ships on the Barrier Reef. Lobbyists are more concerned about the economic impact that comes with cruise ships. These discussions have been going on for a few years, the Belizian Government on one side, Norwegian on the other. Last week, Minister of Labour Godwin Hulse said this:

"Crawl Caye is off the table and we've informed NCL accordingly. That does not mean that we are not continuing to dialogue with the people, we must understand that this is a huge investment. NCL is a reputable company, it's a world-class cruise company and any investment proposal to our country that could enhance jobs, enhance growth and create a better way for people – we can't just simple 'shush' away. So we have informed them of that, they have not completely withdrawn, we are continuing to talk and we will see where we go from there."

In other words, the people of Belize will decide whether the economic benefit outweighs the environmental impact. The politicians will be forced to listen to the people…isn't that what politicians always do?

If they do, that is democracy.

Here's a touch of irony for you…the idea is being called a $100 million tourism project, and Crawl Cayes is for sale, for $5.6 million.

Coral Princess
7 nights
July 17, 2013
Vancouver, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, College Ford, Anchorage
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $114

Alaska on Verge of Another Crisis

There's an interesting law being enacted in Alaska (yes, another one) this year that could impact the cruise industry. Specifically, it could impact how much your cruise costs to visit the 49th state.

It has to do with clean (and more expensive) fuel, and it can get a bit complex, so we'll give you the quick and dirty (no pun intended) version:

1. Since last August, cargo carriers and cruise ships must use low-sulphur fuel within 200 miles of U.S. and Canadian shores (the first full cruise season since then has just begun for Alaska).

2. Further emission cuts will kick in over the next seven years.

3. The Cruise Lines International Association says: "the increased costs translate into fewer cruise-ship visitors" who are initially having to pay an average of $88 more per ticket.

4. The Environmental Protection Agency says the CLIA complaints are like "having a houseguest who leaves all of his trash in your yard and then complains when you ask him to pick it up."

5. The state is suing to prevent the restrictions from being enforced.

6. Offsetting the $3.2 billion it will cost to implement the process, the EPA estimates the health benefits could be up to $110 billion by 2020.

Now all of this sounds like a legitimate case of two sides agreeing to disagree on the pros and cons…until you get to the last point.

Health benefits of $110 billion?

How does anybody come up with that?

Ruby Princess
12 nights
August 4, 2013
Venice, Dubrovnik, Corfu, Olympia, Athens, Mykonos, Ephesus, Santorini, Naples, Rome
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $66

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