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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

Disney Bids Good-bye to San Diego

When it comes to Disney, San Diego has an inferiority complex. It's just down the road from Disneyland, too far to capture any of the residuals that come with tourists, and far enough that Los Angeles remains a better option for cruise ships.

So when the Disney Wonder stopped in what is arguably southern California's prettiest city, it was an appetizer for a meal that's on another menu.

This will have happened four times by October 7, and then not again until who knows when? The Wonder is currently going up and down the coast of California with stops in San Francisco and San Diego on the way to Ensenada, Mexico. Following that will be a two-week Hawaiian vacation, a few trips on the Mexican Riviera (sans San Diego), and then off to Miami.

Next year, no Disney ships will visit San Diego.

No city outside of Mexico has suffered more from the crime fears that continue to haunt the country. In 2008, there were 250 cruise visits to San Diego. This year, there will be 85. Next year, the latest estimate is 75.

The city shouldn't take Disney's aversion to it too personally. Next year, only on its way to and from Alaska will the Wonder stop in Los Angeles.

Two visits, and that's where Disney has the "happiest place on earth."

Celebrity Millennium
7 nights
May 24, 2013
Vancouver, Inside Passage, Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, Skagway, Hubbard Glacier, Anchorage
Inside: $699
Cost per day: $99

Costa Concordia: Something Good

The cruise industry will always remember the Costa Concordia. If it's not a modern-day version of the Titanic, its impact on the industry is of titanic proportions.

That part happened on Thursday, eight months and seven days after the Concordia keeled over in Mediterranean waters off the Italian coast, killing 32 passengers.

Thursday's fallout was this:

At least once every six months, crew members on ocean-going cruise ships must undergo rigorous training with lifeboats, simulating actual emergency conditions. Lifeboats will be filled to capacity with other crew members and lowered into the water, so that crew members know exactly what to do in an emergency. All crew members involved in "operating or loading of lifeboats" must attend the drill.

Training begins immediately.

Who says cruise lines have to comply?

The Cruise Lines International Association and the European Cruise Council will order all its members to implement the new policy, which is called Life Boat Loading for Training Purposes. That pretty much covers all major cruise lines.

The review that led to Thursday's announcement began right after the Concordia wrecked on the rocks and turned onto its starboard side. It still sits in the waters where the accident occurred and it will be sometime next year before it is returned to port.

To all cruise lines, passenger safety is the No. 1 priority because, frankly, it's the one thing that can topple the entire fleet of lines. That's now less likely to happen, thanks to the Concordia.

But that's what everybody thought before the fateful Friday the 13th in January, too.

Holland America Zaandam
14 nights
November 17, 2012
San Diego (return): Hilo, Honolulu, Nawilwili, Lahaina, Ensenada
Inside: $999
Cost per day: $71

A Reason to Celebrate in San Diego

Much is made of the inaugural voyages by cruise ships, anywhere and everywhere in the world. There are parties, and confetti, and dignitaries, and broken champagne bottles, and toasts.

What about cruise ship terminals?

Tomorrow in San Diego is the inaugural arrival for a new terminal that was officially opened on the weekend. It’s called the Port Pavilion, 52,000 square feet of space and modern architecture that will speed up the embarkation and disembarkation process…as long as there is a process to speed up.

Up to 2,600 passengers will disembark in less than 30 minutes, officials say.

When Holland America’s Rotterdam arrives tomorrow, it’s the beginning of what city officials hope will be a resurgence of cruise-ship activity that is going to take time. The new Broadway Pier terminal is a response to cruise lines and passengers who complained about San Diego’s B Street Pier, and it comes amid projections that cruise-ship visitors in 2011 will be half what they were this year.

So it’s for futures.

In the meantime, the $28 million Port Pavilion will be available for special events, such as wedding receptions…and inaugural cruise-ship arrivals.

Smooth Sailing in San Diego

On our most recent cruise, one of the ports new to us was San Diego. Not the city, the port. We’ve spent a lot of time in the city, but coming at it from the water was new, enlightening and a little chaotic.

Last year, we disembarked at the port in New Orleans, to be finger-printed (no choice) and be fast-tracked in slow lines only because we hired a luggage porter. Before that, landing at San Pedro (Los Angeles), it was like Disneyland…huge lines through the ropes before even getting off the ship.

San Diego was easy. We should mention that all three ships we’re talking about here were about the same size: 2,000 or so passengers. We left our stateroom to clear customs at about 7:50. We were back in the room by 8:03. Our assigned time to disembark was 10:30, but everything was going so quickly that they called for all remaining passengers to disembark about 20 minutes before that, and there was minimal delay in locating luggage.

Is it a credit to the cruise line, in this case Celebrity? Is it the customs and immigration people? The port? Who knows? All we know is it was flawless.

And then the fun began.

The Carnival Elation was unloading its 2,000 or so passengers about the same time, so you had 4,000 people trying to get off the pier in a 90-minute window. Lines for taxis were long. Inside the terminal, bus tickets for the airport were $10. Outside the terminal, shuttle tickets to the airport were $5. Unlike San Juan (Puerto Rico), where our cruise began, there was no per-bag handling charge.

From the ship, we could see planes landing at San Diego International. Getting there meant two right turns and a U-turn in congested traffic before turning left, the direction of the airport. With aircraft carriers and the pretty San Diego waterfront for scenery, the trip’s worth more than five bucks and a tip.

That’s it…we’re done.

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