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Grand Princess, Grand Return

The other day, there was a small fire on the Grand Princess as the big ship was circumventing Hawaii. It was caused by a circuit breaker in the ships’ electrical switchboard. There was some smoke. Nobody was hurt. As these things go, it was relatively minor.

The Grand Princess got the worst of it. Because it was a propulsion circuit breaker, the ship lost some power. Not all, just some. The result is the ship is now on its way back to San

Grand Princess at sea on May 6, 2011 Grand Princess - Princess Cruises

Francisco, at a slower speed than normal. Other than being slowed, it’s fine. No safety concerns, no manoeuvreability concerns.

Passengers were marginally inconvenienced. Two ports — one on Kauai, one on Maui — had to be skipped. The power outage meant emergency lights had to be used, briefly. Air conditioning was temporarily limited.

So what does Princess do?

This was a 15-day cruise. Passengers who wanted to leave Hawaii were flown home, at the cruise line’s expense. Passengers who stayed on board  were given credit towards another Princess cruise, plus a full refund.

Kind of makes you wish you were on the Grand Princess, doesn’t it?

In the news…

• Seven months before first ship arrives, Crystal inaugural river cruises hot tickets

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Carnival Pride
13 nights
January 2, 2017
Baltimore, Grand Turk, Amber Cove, Cartagena, Panama Canal, Limon, Mahogany Bay, Cozumel, Tampa
Oceanview: $929
Cost per day: $71

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

Friday File: Cruising And Works Of Art

Wherever your cruise ship takes you, one thing you can be certain of is that you will encounter local artwork. It may be a statue, or a mural, or a sandcastle or something that you’re not quite sure what it is, but it will always be interesting. In years of cruising, we’ve admired (okay, at least looked at) a variety of such works of art…

Puerto RicoOn this street in San Juan, Puerto Rico…a powerful message open to interpretation.

Alaska museum

If you can't find the real thing in Alaska, and often you can't, there's always a museum version.


The pretty town of Arica in northern Chile always has to make its statues earthquake-proof.


In Valencia, Spain, a colorful expression of nations sends travelers looking for their 'home' statue.

Murals-Pier 39

If you've ever departed from or arrived in San Francisco, you know all about this part of Fisherman's Wharf.


Bermuda has no shortage of works like this, which add to the charm of a charming island.

In the news…

• Tampa port recognized by NOAA as "storm ready" for extreme weather
• Huge Princess sale offers $300 savings on cruise plus $300 on airfare
• MSC Lirica last of four ships to be 'stretched' to add 800 cabins

Today at portsandbows.com: Suite news for Holland America fans

Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas
3 nights
December 11, 2015
Miami (return): CocoCay, Nassau
Inside: $169
Cost per day: $56

Friday File: Why Wildlife Is A Winner

Have you ever noticed that the best TV commercials, even the ones on Super Bowl Sunday, often feature animals? For whatever reason, any kind of wildlife captures our imaginations, or at least our camera lens, and that’s why among the thousands of pictures we’ve taken while on cruises, so many of them are of a creature who won’t pose, doesn’t consent to having its photo taken and can’t charge photographers for royalties…

Costa Rica-bird

Help us here, people…if we ever knew what kind of bird this was in Costa Rica, we’ve forgotten.


Cruising Alaska this summer? Watch for an Iditarod dog: They’re noisy, scrawny and friendly.

Hawaii-monk seal

Pride of America passengers may see one of these monk seal, protected on the beach at Lihue, Kauai.


This Coxen Hole cat in Roatan, Honduras, gave us this steely glare throughout lunch, then cleaned our plates.

SF-sea lions

Pier 39 in San Francisco always comes with more sea lions than you can imagine, barking and posing, of course.

Today at portsandbows.com: Norwegian backtracks on food to rooms

Holland America Oosterdam
7 nights
July 19, 2015
Vancouver, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Anchorage
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

San Francisco's New Cruise Terminal

As cruise ports go, San Francisco is…well, awkward. Too far north to be a launching point for cruises to the Mexican Riviera. Too far south to be the point of origin for ships heading for Alaska.

So it’s in between, a port in the heart of a major city, yet given the same type of attention as smaller ports along the West Coast — Astoria and Victoria, Santa Barbara and Catalina.

This month, San Francisco changed.

Not geographically, of course, but esthetically. The city by the bay has a new terminal, replacing the one that was 100 years old, Pier 35. It will be (modestly) busier over the next year, with a 10 per cent increase in port calls, from 73 to 81. That translates into 50,000 more visitors for this beautiful coastal city.

The terminal opened quietly, which is not normally the way things are done in San Francisco, one week and with some fanfare the next week. The Crown Princess was the first ship, the Grand Princess the official-opening ship. Neither is what you’d call a mega ship, by today’s standards.

Even before the change, this was a fascinating port to visit. No amount of time is too much to spend around The Embarcadero, where the cruise ships are…not to mention the barking Sea lionssea lions, the delightful eateries, the busy ferries and all the aromas that come with being on the seashore.

Our best visit was before boarding a ship for South America, a memorable start to a memorable cruise. While that’s not one of the options these days, there is a variety of itineraries.

Princess is by far the best customer, running round-trips to Mexico of either 7 (Ensenada) or 10 (Puerto Vallarta) days, with the occasional short (Vancouver) or long (Hawaii) cruise. Celebrity has the odd return trip to Alaska. Holland America and Norwegian have Panama Canal re-positioning cruises that start there. Cunard has a couple of marathon cruises from San Francisco every year.

Ships will now have access to shore power and amenities that will improve boarding and Embarcaderodisembarking. Passengers will have more interesting and comfortable surroundings in the terminal, which like its predecessor is in the heart of the city, below Telegraph Hill.

San Francisco will never be a Los Angeles for the south nor a Seattle for the north, when it comes to being a place for cruises to call home, but it’s expecting to have ships in port four days a week. The hope is that one day it will be more than a place to visit between arriving and departing.

If nothing else, it’s a fresh start.

Today at portsandbows.com: Holland America ships with new names

Celebrity Silhouette
15 nights
November 1, 2014
Rome, Florence, Toulon, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Tenerife, Fort Lauderdale
Inside: $843
Cost per day: $77

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