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Cruise Lines, Passengers In A Fog In Texas


The current four-letter word for cruise-ship passengers in Texas is F-O-G. Ordinarily, it's a three-letter word that nobody on a cruise ship cares much about…

Until your ship can't leave and consequently that Caribbean port you badly wanted to visit is now off the itinerary.

Until your ship can't return when it's scheduled to return, and by then your plane has left, you have to spend a night in a hotel and you're in danger of missing Sunday dinner at Aunt Clara's.

Until it impacts on safety, and in this era that rarely happens but it could happen in Houston's ship channel (above) where cruise and cargo vessels don't have a lot of elbow room — or margins of error.

At various times this January, ships in Houston-Galveston waters have been on fog lockdown, either stuck in port or out in the bay waiting to get back. Visibility at both Houston airports has ranged between 1/16th and 1/8th of a mile. This is not a new problem. Talented travel writers Harry and Joan Shattuck has lived in Houston for 43 years (and we've been friends almost all of that time) and have become so accustomed to foggy Januarys that Harry can't remember one without fog. 

Also some Februarys, Marchs…

The good news this week is, now that the Pacific Northwest cold front that caused all this has left, Texans expect to have clear skies by the weekend.

Almost three years ago, Carnival President Gerry Cahill told Harry that Galveston was an attractive place to cruise from but its port officials "had to get a handle on fog to make things work long-term."

At that time, there were no ships in Houston. Princess started sailing from Houston this winter and, at last count, the Caribbean Princess had cruises delayed four times. Norwegian will be there next year. When you think of the logistical nightmare that fog can cause for the cruise lines, not to mention its passengers, it begs the question:

How long can they afford to continue running mid-winter cruises from Texas?

Photo by Louis Vest

Carnival Valor
7 nights
May 11, 2014
San Juan (return): St. ThomasBarbadosSt. LuciaSt. KittsSt. Maarten
Inside: $449
Cost per day: $65

The storm clouds that turned into a sunny season

Every year, the experts (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more commonly known as NOAA) make projections for the "hurricane season" — how many are anticipated, how many will graduate (?) from being just tropical storms, and how many of those will have names (that's bad).

And every year, as your guardians of all things that have anything to do with cruising, Hurricaneswe relay that information to you at cruisingdoneright.com.

Until this year.

The projections for 2013 were bad. It was going to be the worst year in history, or at least a long time, whichever was shorter. Between 7 and 11 hurricanes, 13 to 20 tropical storms with names. Three or four hurricanes could be Cat 4, which is not a name but a strength. The lower the better.

Guess what happened?

Two storms with a name. Thirteen tropical depressions. Only one made it to land. Great year, the best since '82, or a generation-plus. The U.S. Air Force Reserve flew 435 hurricane re-con missions, the fewest since 1966. 

Now we'd like to tell you that in our spare time we spend a lot of time looking into crystal balls and reading palms, and that the reason we didn't write anything about hurricanes in 2013 is that because we knew there wouldn't be any. But that's not true.

If it were, we would be crystal ball gazing and palm reading, not writing about cruise ships and cruise people.

Maybe next year…

Carnival Splendor
8 nights
January 28, 2014
New York (return): Port CanaveralNassauFreeport 
Inside: $329
Cost per day: $41

This Time, Cruising Hit by Hurricane

Get ready for the hurricane.

Not Sandy, the "hurricane" of stories that we're going to hear from cruisers who have been stranded while trying to reach their ship, tossed around on ships, left at sea, compensated by airlines/cruise lines, not compensated by airlines/cruise lines, missed ports, missed ships, had their cruise shortened, had their cruise lengthened…

This may go down as the week that the cruise ship industry was most affected by hurricanes. One hurricane.

With at least 20% of the entire U.S. population affected by Hurricane Sandy, here's a rough re-cap of how some cruise ships were impacted (as reported by Cruise.Co, Cruise Critic and a myriad of news sources on the Internet):

• Five ships yesterday were caught in or near 30-foot seas churned by Sandy — Norwegian Jewel, Carnival Miracle, Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas, Aida Luna and the Queen Mary 2 (trying vainly to escape Sandy's path as it headed east for England).

• Holland America's Eurodam had to change its departure from Fort Lauderdale to Jacksonville, bussing all its passengers over 320 miles in windy conditions.

• Disney's Fantasy finally made it to Port Canaveral with a shipload of scared and sick passengers tossed around while the Fantasy sustained damage to restaurants, bars, shops and stateroom furniture.

• One ship, Carnival Pride, was forbidden to depart from Baltimore by the U.S. Coast Guard and the cruise was canceled.

• Passengers on another Carnival ship, the Glory, were issued refunds because the Norfolk (Virginia) cruise terminal is behind a flood gate that closed on the weekend.

• Eight other Carnival ships on the East Coast were forced to delay departures or arrivals and skip or change ports for other stops, or add an extra sea day.

• Three other Norwegian ships were affected…the Gem is sitting out in calmer Atlantic waters until the hurricane passes, which could turn a 9-day cruise into 12, while the Dawn and the Sky also shuffled departures and ports.

• The Emerald Princess escaped rough seas by stopping in Port Saguenay (Quebec) instead of Bar Harbor (Maine), and three other Princess ships changed itineraries.

• Four Royal Caribbean ships — Enchantment, Jewel, Majesty and Monarch of the Seas — also changed schedules or added sea days to escape Sandy's wrath.

Blessed with modern technology, cruise ships are almost always able to escape hurricanes. This one, because of its mushrooming size and force, may turn out to be the exception. And with compensation packages reaching far into the future, not to mention far into the bank accounts of cruise lines, the effects could be felt for a long, long time.

In the days ahead, expect to hear many first-person and harrowing accounts of life on a cruise ship during a hurricane.

Celebrity Silhouette
15 nights
April 14, 2013
Fort Lauderdale, Coco Cay, San Juan, St. Maarten, Madeira, Rome
Inside: $789
Cost per day: $52

Does Cruise Growth Leave You Cold?

As somebody who loves to cruise just about anywhere, I'm always eager to hear about how the industry's growing. If nothing else, it means that others are discovering something we were fortunate enough to discover a long time ago.

So when the European Cruise Council and the Cruise Lines International Association compile data that demonstrates a growth pattern, I'm interested. On the other hand, the latest news is that cruising is growing in the Arctic…

My husband always says I'm umbilically connected to the temperate zone. I always say who does he think he is, Jimmy Buffett? What he means (my husband, not Jimmy) is at the mention of the word "Arctic" I start shuddering. Umbilical connections melt. Think icebergs.

According to these two organizations that compile such statistics, Arctic cruising is up 37 per cent. Norwegian fjords cruising is up 29 per cent. Northern Europe, from the British Isles to the Baltic Sea, is up between six and 16 per cent. I wouldn't say it's cold there, but has anybody been watching the Olympics? Or, most years, the British Open.

I should warn them…they're going to have to do it without me.

Norwegian Pearl
14 nights
September 28, 2012
Los Angeles, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Huatulco, Puerto Chiapas, Puntarenas, Panama Canal, Cartagena, Miami
Inside: $1,129
Cost per day: $80

Rina and Friends, Just as Expected

The specter of Hurricane Rina and the fact that she’s disrupted more than a few cruise-ship schedules this week is a reminder about the approaching end of Hurricane Season.

Excepts…there’s still a month to go.

As Hurricane Seasons go, this one has seemed rather tame. Nobody even showed up until Irene, and that was the third week of August. She was a Category 3, but nobody paid her much attention because she didn’t cause much disruption, nor damage.

The arrival of Rina, which hasn’t reached Cat 3 status, caught everyone’s attention in the cruise business. As she peaked at Cat 2 while for the Yucatan Peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico, a dozen ships changed direction, eight of them Carnival, and popular ports like Belize and Cozumel welcomed fewer visitors.

When the threat of hurricanes all began (June 1), predictions from NOAA (National Hurricane Center) were that there would be six to 10 hurricanes, three to six of them Cat 3 or higher. This was considered an “above-normal” prognosis.

Guess what?

With a month to go, there have been six hurricanes, three of them Cat 3 or higher — Irene, Katia, Ophelia. Maybe it hasn’t been so tame after all.

Norwegian Epic
7 nights
March 3, 2012
Miami return (St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Nassau)
Inside  $719

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