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Ships Becoming Sound Specific

When the Royal Princess makes its grand entrance next month in Southampton, the ship's horn will play the theme song from The Love Boat…and if you don't know the tune you weren't watching TV in the '70s.

Princess calls it "a whimsical decision." Until now, to the best of our knowledge Disney was the only cruise line to play "the horn" with any regularity — you can hear When You Wish Upon A Star whenever a Disney ship is leaving a port. Some Princess ships have played The Love Boat theme after the original "Love Boat" (Pacific Princess) left the fleet.

Could this become a trend?

Think about it…

The Norwegian Breakaway has a wide choice of artists: Art Garfunkel, Kelly Clarkson, Kris Kristofferson, The Beach Boys and Donna Summer all recorded songs called Breakaway.

Celebrity's Reflection happens to belong to a company based in Miami, home of Christina Aguilera. whose song of that title was her first single to chart in the U.S.

From Cunard's three ships, we could be listening to We Three Queens…even when it's not Christmas.

The Carnival Glory could play a few bars from Glory, a rap song which Jay-Z calls his “greatest creation” written after little Blue Ivy Carter made parents of him and Beyonce.

Royal Caribbean's "Rhapsody" of the Seas is a natural for Queen's signature song, even if the passengers aren't Bohemenian.

If Princess tires of hearing its Love Boat music, there's always a Frankie Valli song for the "Dawn" Princess, and a Kenny Rogers favorite for the "Ruby" Princess.

And then there's the Carnival "Ecstasy"…but we really don't want to go there.

(photo credit: Jean-Philippe Boulet)

Norwegian Gem
7 nights
November 25, 2013
New York (return): San Juan, Philipsburg, St. Thomas, Samana
Inside: $679
Cost per day: $97

Walk For A Wish a Good Start


Every time we go on a Royal Caribbean cruise, we make a point of participating in the ship's fund raiser for the Make A Wish Foundation. It just seems like the right thing to do and while clearly we are not alone, you have to wonder why more people don't do it.

Three days before the Explorer of the Seas returned to New York, it was "Walk For A Wish" Day on the top deck. Passengers pay $10, get a quality tee-shirt, follow the captain and senior officers on five tours of the deck and feel like they've made a small contribution to making somebody's life a little better. All monies raised go to the cause.

Now, don't get us wrong. The fact that Royal Caribbean raised over $6,000 on this cruise is admirable. The millions the cruise line must have raised — Royal Caribbean doesn't advertise this, it just quietly goes about fulfilling wishes — since this all started about four years ago has enabled untold numbers of kids suffering from disease to dream, if only for a day or two.

If you estimate 21 company ships each do 50 cruises a year, that's 1,000-plus cruises. At the Explorer's rate, that's $6 million a year. None of this could be confirmed by Royal, and maybe our math's a bit on the high side, but the first time we participated was three and a half years ago. So, we're talking millions.

Passengers line up to register for the walk. On this day, more than 500 passengers participated, either by walking or with their wallets, or both. Explorer of the Seas, when full, carries 3,800 passengers. The ship felt full, so let's say there were 3,700 passengers. 

That's 15%.

This is not a taxing walk. For most people, it's a 20-minute stroll in the sunshine. It's not a "run for a cause." We saw several people who have great difficulty putting one foot in front of the other make it through at least one lap. One man walked five laps with the help of a crutch, with the ship's hotel director, Dean Bailey, anonymously by his side. Another did it in a wheelchair.

Anybody can participate.

You know how quickly you can spend ten bucks on a cruise ship. One semi-exotic drink. Great service from a room steward. Two minutes at a slot machine.

Don't you think 15% is…just a good start?

Diamond Princess
7 nights
May 25, 2013
Vancouver, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, College Fjord, Anchorage  
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85


Cruise Suits, Sickness and Singapore

Headline: Costa settles for $1.31 million

The first reaction to this was something like "Who bought off the Italian judge?"

However, on digging deeper (it's called reading further),  the settlement over the Costa Concordia accident last year is really a fine that means no criminal charges against the cruise line, ending potential liability with the state of Italy. Under Italian law, it's close to the maximum fine allowed.

It does not, however, mean that Costa can't be sued privately by passengers or crew members, nor does it let Captain Schettino off the legal hook.

* * *

Headline: More bad news for Carnival

This is not a headline from last week, or the week before, or the week before that. It seems every time Carnival turns a rudder, it's losing another soldier in the PR battle.

This one is yet another Carnival ship that didn't wash behind the ears properly. The Fascination failed a cleanliness test administered by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, with a score of 84. The ears are only clean if the score is 86.

Carnival reacted with typical damage control: ""In the past five years, no Carnival ship has failed a U.S.P.H. inspection and the fleet's average score during that time period is 97. The average over 20 inspections already conducted in 2013 is 97.2."

Danmage control is a weekly headline, too.

* * *

Headline: Singapore new cruising hotspot

As the world's fourth leading financial center with one of the five busiest ports anywhere, Singapore has always been something of a hotspot for ships.

But not necessarily cruise ships.

With the growth of CIA (Cruising In Asia), both Princess and Royal Caribbean are expanding their stakes in the area. Princess is dispatching the Sapphire Princess (below)for four months and 15 round-trip cruises, with more destinations than any competitor. Royal Caribbean's Legend of the Seas left Singapore last week…and was replaced by Mariner of the Seas, which carries 3,114 passengers, or 50 per cent more than the Legend.

"Princess Cruises will be the first premium cruise line to have ships based in Singapore for an extended period," said President and CEO Alan Buckelew.

You can be sure this isn't the end of CIA stories.

Golden Princess
17 nights
December 4, 2013
Los Angeles, Cabo San Lucas, San Juan del Sur, Puntarenas, Lima, La Serena, Santiago
Inside: $1,399
Cost per day: $82

New Evacuation System on Breakaway

Let's start with a couple of acronyms that will help in this story, most of which will be told by pictures:

MES — Marine Evacuation Systems
SOLAS — Safety Of Life At Sea

LSA — Life Saving Appliance

There is a new MES on the market — called the RFD Marin Ark2 — and it will surface (no pun intended) on the Norwegian Breakaway when it arrives in New York three weeks from now. It is capable of evacuating up to 862 passengers in 30 minutes.

Assume that the average cruise ship now carries 3,000 passengers. That means an entire ship can be evacuated in just under two hours.

For us, the logical question is why not four MES units, which would cut the evacuation time to 30 minutes. That's where SOLAS and LSA come into the picture. We're told that SOLAS regulations strictly state that "for a cruise vessel, MES cannot exceed 25% of the primary LSA requirement; 75% of the primary requirement to be satisfied by lifeboats."

So, if a ship is to have two Marin Ark2s, as the Breakaway does, capable of evacuating 1,600 people in 30 minutes, then it must also have enough lifeboats to evacuate 4,800 more people in 30 minutes. In the Breakaway's case, that should be everybody on board, passengers and crew alike.

Safety is always the No. 1 priority on ships. The Marin Ark2 is the only system capable of evacuating that many people that quickly and it is designed to reduce lifeboats needed, not replace them. Maybe in time that will change.

The photos, courtesy of the Marin Ark2 designer's (Survitec Group), show its exterior. The link between this large floating LSA and the ship is two fully-enclosed "slide paths" that allow for "safe, rapid and controlled" descent without being exposed to the elements.

It goes without saying that nobody ever wants to try it out for real. Whether it would have saved more people on the Costa Concordia last year is always going to be debatable, but improved escapes from a ship in trouble are always a step in the right direction.

Diamond Princess
7 nights
June 1, 2013
Anchorage, Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park, Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, Vancouver
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85

Juan Great Way to See Tulum


TULUM, Mexico — Tulum is not out first rodeo. We'd seen "ruins" before this stop. It is our third rodeo, now that you ask, and all three ruins (Chacchoben and Altun Ha) have been in the Yucatan Peninsula and all have been left behind by the Maya. If nothing else, we're consistent. Friends are starting to wonder if we're going to buy into the end-of-the-world thing…from two months ago.

That's one misconception about the Mayas. They did not predict the world would end on December 21, 2012, only that it marked the end of their calendar (left). Nobody thought to mention that the calendar would start over again, but the marketing of December 21 took over, and everybody has to make a buck, right. 

Even if it is at the expense of the Maya.

Did you notice the "n" is missing? That's another misconception about these people of the past in North and Central America. They are Mayas, not Mayans. Tulum and places like it are Maya Ruins, not Mayan Ruins. It is the Maya language…and so on…and the source of this is Juan Manuel Trejo, who would be Maya except half of him is Spanish, and that makes him Mestizo, which is a nice way of saying a "mixed race."

"There is no 'n' in Maya," he says. "If it says Mayan, it is because of English."

After we left the Crown Princess in Cozumel, Juan was the tour guide in Tulum. In our two previous "rodeos" we never had a tour guide like him. He is absolutely passionate about everything Maya. He wears two necklaces, one bearing the name of his wife (Gloria) and the other of his daughter (Alexandra). Their names are imbedded on the necklaces in Maya.

Of course.

Juan is also a bright guy. He probably does this for other cruise lines, but Princess is lucky to have him doing Maya tours for passengers who get off the Crown Princess in Cozumel. The busload he educates and entertains on this day return to the ship shaking their heads at his knowledge, his turn of phrase and most importantly his passion for his past.

"I am 60 per cent Maya," he says. "I didn't really learn this until I went to school to be a tour guide, but when I learned it I realized that I already knew. I was taught by my father, and my grandmother, about the Maya."

What he knows (as much as anyone can KNOW something that virtually disappeared as a civilization 300 years ago) is that the Mayas were ahead of their time in writing, in astronomy and in developing a calendar…they just didn't have the foresight all those centuries ago to create one going beyond 2012.

"The greatest accomplishment of the Maya civilization is the writing," says Juan. "Of all the native Americans people, they were the only ones who knew how to read and write."

His explanation of the Maya calendar is fascinating. It's too long to explain here but after hearing it visitors can't get into a souvenir stop fast enough to buy something, anything, with the calendar on it (us included). Okay, so maybe Juan's a good salesman, too.

He refers to Tulum as the Notre Dame of the Maya, the San Pedro of the Maya or the Stonehedge of the Maya — all three analogies were invoked at various parts of Juan's tour. He is almost grateful to be doing what he does.

"Tourists go to Cancun," says Juan. "Travellers go to Tulum."

There was only one question Juan Manuel Trejo could not answer. There is no "n" in Maya, yet on the sleeve of his tour-guide shirt promoting what he does were these words:

"Mayan Ruins."

Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas
3 nights
May 31, 2013
Miami (return): Coco Cay, Nassau
Inside: $269
Cost per day: $89

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