Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spend Your Tax Dollars On Yourself

Have you had visions of Caribbean beaches and cruise ships in your dreams?  I'm sure that I'm not the only one that does...  

Are you are getting a tax refund?  Help the economy grow - spend some of your tax refund on yourself - on a cruise vacation.  If you've not been on a cruise before, now is the best time.

If you are like most Americans, when the economy took a turn for the worse a couple years ago, your vacation plans went out the window.   Consequently cruise prices have remained at pretty constant low prices, but are about to start increasing.   There are still several cruise line offers available for those that want to take advantage of the lower pricing.

How about Europe Instead?

Of course, you don't need to go to the Caribbean, and in fact, the best deals this summer are actually going to be on European cruise vacations.   Why is that you ask?    The cruise lines have record deployments in Europe this summer but the demand hasn't kept pace with the increased capacity.

That's not to imply that people aren't booking European cruises - they are.  However, there are larger ships and more of them, in Europe this summer than any other time before. Obviously, the cruise ships need to sail full for the companies to make a profit, so the consumer wins.

Comparing Cruise to Land-Based

I just did a quick search on my website for a short European cruise vacation the middle of May.  I found a 12-Night Mediterranean on Celebrity Cruise Equinox with prices starting from $999pp for an inside cabin.   For those that aren't quick at math, that's $83pp per day (excluding taxes and fees).

For comparison purposes, I did a hotel search for Venice, the embarkation port, during the same period and prices for a popular hotel started from $300 Per Night.   The hotel didn't include meals or entertainment and was rated as a 4 star accommodation.    Contrasting the hotel stay and the cruise...  On the cruise it's like getting your room at less than 50%, all your meals, and entertainment onboard the ship.

Besides Venice you'll visit Dubrovnik, Croatia; Istanbul, Turkey; Salerno (Amalfi Coast), Italy; Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy; Livorno (Florence & Pisa), Italy; Marseille (Provence), France; and Barcelona, Spain.  The Mediterranean is one of our favorite cruise destinations.

I've not discussed airfare, which is a large expense for a European vacation, especially in prime season.   Since the cost of air would be the same for the cruise and land-based vacation stay, I've excluded that from the equation.    Since this cruise is before the Summer Season this makes the selected cruise even more attractive.

There are many deals to Europe this Summer.   We'll feature some of the sales on our website and Facebook page.   If you are seriously considering a Europe get-away this Summer, my suggestion would be to book now while the supply is larger than the demand so that you can maximize your investment.  

The prices I've seen during my search in preparation for this article are on par with what you'd pay for a Caribbean vacation on the same or similar ships.   For the most part, the ships are the larger, newer vessels in the respective fleets.   Ships like Celebrity Equinox and Solstice, Norwegian Epic, and Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas are just a few of the choices you'll have.

Of course, if you want to stay closer to home in the Caribbean, Bermuda, or Disney World, we can help you sort through all the possible choices and find the best value for you and your family.  

Put Your Tax Dollars to Work for You on a Cruise / Land Vacation to Remember for Years to Come.   Cruise Europe in 2014 !!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Cruise3sixty Celebrates 10th Anniversary

Tenth Anniversary 
CLIA Cruise3sixty

Those of you that follow me on Facebook have, already had a glimpse last week's events  as I posted a few images from CLIA's 10th Annual Cruise3sixty conference which was being held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

It was exciting being here for part of this historic occasion.   I've attended all but last year's conference which was held in Vancouver.

With CLIA CEO Christine Duffy at Cruise3sixty
Cruise Lines International Association, Inc (CLIA) is the world's largest cruise industry trade association with representation in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australasia. CLIA represents the interests of cruise lines and travel agents before regulatory and legislative policy makers. 

CLIA is also engaged in travel agent training, research and marketing communications to promote the value and desirability of cruise holiday vacations with thousands of travel agency and travel agent members.

CLIA North America is comprised of 26 cruise lines and 10,500 travel agencies representing more than 35,000 individual travel agents. In addition, more than 120 of the most innovative suppliers of goods and services to the cruise industry make up CLIA’s Executive Partner Program.

As a Master Cruise Counselor (MCC),  it is necessary for me to complete additional training each year in order to be re-certified.    CLIA's Cruise3sixty conference is a great way to meet those requirements and exceed them by attending seminars from many of the industry's leaders and interacting with agents and suppliers on 1-1 basis throughout the week.

Congratulations Christine Duffy and the entire CLIA staff for hosting yet another fabulous Cruise3sixty conference. I'm looking forward to next year's conference which will be back in Fort Lauderdale.

In my next posts, I'll talk more about some of my week's activities including ship inspections onboard some of the newest ships afloat.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Quantum Leap in Dining

Royal Caribbean Introduces
Dynamic Dining

If you've cruised on Royal Caribbean before, you are familiar with traditional dining and specialty dining options.   Now the cruise line known for their innovations are introducing a new twist on dining, Dynamic Dining, a new world of culinary exploration on Quantum of the SeasSM and Anthem of the SeasSM.

No Set Dining Times
No Required Formal Nights 
18 Dining Options

There are five complimentary, full-service main restaurants, three new restaurants designed by award-winning chefs, and much more.

(click Dining from Drop Down Menu Bar)

Watch this video about the new dynamic dining options on Royal Caribbean Quantum-Class ships.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Texas Oil Spill Impacts Cruise Ships

An aerial photograph of the staging area for oil spill response operations
occurring at the Texas City Dike, March 23, 2013. The efforts are the
result of a collision between the bulk carrier Summer Wind and the Kirby
Barge 27706, which occurred Saturday, in the Houston Ship Channel.
(U.S Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Manda M. Emery)
Port of Galveston 

While the Port of Galveston is open, the U.S. Coast Guard had closed the shipping lane and restricted traffic in the area.

UPDATE: March 24, 2014   4:00 PM (Source:  John Heald Carnival Sr. Cruise Director)

  • Carnival Magic to undergo hull cleaning due to oil spill
  • Moving to another pier to allow Carnival Triumph to disembark / embark passengers
  • Carnival Triumph embarkation 8 PM

UPDATE: March 24, 2014   Noon

Carnival Magic, Carnival Triumph and Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas are all being held at the Galveston port. Magic and Navigator of the Seas were scheduled to depart yesterday, while Triumph was supposed to leave today. Princess' Caribbean Princess has now been stuck in Houston's Bayport terminal since Saturday.

Update 5: Texas City “Y” incident response
Update 3: Texas City "Y" incident response

The Bolivar ferry remains closed to traffic, and a safety zone, established on Saturday to ensure the well-being of response workers and prevent the further spread of oil, has been extended from lighted buoy 40 to lighted buoy 3 on the Houston Ship Channel. This safety zone restricts the transit of vessels not involved in the response from entering the area.

Coast Guard officials did allow two cruise ships to travel through the incident area by late afternoon to minimize inconvenience to the thousands of passengers aboard and limit economic impacts from the spill. However, neither vessel will be allowed to leave the port again until deemed safe to do so.

Persons with questions regarding the cruise ships’ transit plans are urged to contact those individual cruise lines for specific information.

There are several response vessels on site attempting to protect the environment from this spill.
Read More


U.S. Coast Guard

Port of Galveston

Perhaps it is ironic, but this incident occurred just 2 days prior to the 25th Anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Here is a video published by Greenpeace:
The United States of Oil Spills (25th Anniversary of Exxon Valdez)

Largest Ships Fastest Internet at Sea

Meeting the Challenges of Today's Wireless Use at Sea

Like it or not, we live in a connected society today and there is an increasing demand to stay connected everywhere you travel.   On land, you probably are noticing more and more locations providing free WiFi connectivity.   In fact, that has become a competitive advantage for many food chains.

Demand at Sea

Staying connected at sea
Staying Connected via Social Media at Sea
Even before the recent outburst of wireless device use, there has always been a need to stay connected while on a cruise.  Cruise lines introduced internet cafes years ago to meed those needs.  As times changed, they added the ability to stay connected using your own wireless computer from select areas of the ship.  The demand increased and ship-wide internet access was born.

It isn't unusual for a passenger to have several wireless devices with them during their cruise vacation.   They are on Facebook, Twitter, and other Social Media sites instantly sharing their vacation with family and friends back home.   When news breaks, you can be sure you'll find a video, shortly after the event, on YouTube.

Royal Caribbean & O3b Maritime

We first reported on this topic in our article, High Speed Internet at Sea Coming Soon, in June, 2012.  O3b Networks announced a milestone multi-year, multi-million dollar agreement with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. to provide high-speed satellite-delivered broadband service aboard the world’s largest cruise ship. 

The plans are finally coming to fruition thanks to custom-built antennae which were shipped to Florida last month, and installed on Oasis of the Seas. Testing confirmed the ships' ability to match the fastest broadband connections on shore.

According to information provided by Royal Caribbean, the higher internet speeds will make it feasible for a guest to download streaming video or post video clips to Facebook.

By the time the new system becomes available on Royal Caribbean's newest ship, Quantum of the Seas, Royal Caribbean CEO Adam Goldstein said guests can anticipate "several new, show-stopper uses of the bandwidth."

Goldstein continued, "If you're a first-time guest on one of these ships, you won't realize how much work it took to make the wireless so pervasive – or that your cell 'tower' is 4,900 miles over your head. If you are a return guest, you'll be blown away by the improvement. It's that dramatic."

This is exciting news !!!

For those that have used the internet on any ship, not only aboard the Royal Caribbean fleet, you can attest that it takes a lot longer to get a simple task, such as sending an email, done  and it is more expensive consequently.    
Royal Caribbean is developing new pricing plans for added service.     Obviously, someone will be paying for the system's implementation costs, which makes us a little concerned about the pricing.  We hope that this new speed isn't priced such that it isn't utilized.

According to Royal Caribbean, the new high speed internet connections will be available beginning August 2014.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Explore Under the Sea in St. Thomas

St. Thomas U.S.V.I.
Exquisite Above 
or Under the Sea

This image captured by us on one of our past trips to St. Thomas was taken from the world famous Mountain Top.   From there you can see all of the surrounding area and really get the true sense of how blue the waters really are.

St. Thomas is truly a Caribbean paradise which is featured on many Eastern Caribbean cruise itineraries.  On our most recent visit, during our Carnival Conquest cruise, we decided to explore under the sea, without even getting wet.

Coral World
Coral World (click for more pictures)

After a short cab ride from the pier, we arrived at Coral World St. Thomas.  It is the second marine park developed by Coral World International and incorporates the following attractions: Marine Museum, Shark, Stingray and Turtle Pools, Touch Pools, and naturally - The Underwater Observatory.   Now you know how we could explore under the sea without getting wet.

The park has been damaged by several hurricanes in the past.  The Underwater Observatory was undergoing some renovation when we were there this February.  

The cruise lines offer this as one of their excursions or you can take a cab there on your own.  The prices are pretty comparable but the difference is with a group you are set to a schedule while when on your own you can set your own pace and possibly include one of the optional activities, such as the SNUBA® adventure pictured here.

SNUBA® gives you complete freedom of movement and ease of breathing under water as the air tanks are located at the surface being carried on a raft.

After a short orientation a certified SNUBA guide will lead you and a group of no more than 4 people on your adventure to the shores of Coki Point where a beautiful coral reef thrives with a wide variety of sea life.

Planning on Visiting USVI?

If you are flying directly to St. Thomas you won't need a passport if you are a U.S. Citizen. Of course, if you plan to also visit other islands that aren't U.S. Territories, or if you are on a cruise, you will still need your passport.

There are plenty of things to do from dining, shopping, relaxing on a beach, to exploring the wonderful world under the sea as we have discussed here. Visit the U.S. Virgin Islands tourism page to learn more about the islands and what they have to offer.

Click for Mini-Series Articles / Images
Tip: There are several attractions near the ship's pier in St. Thomas.  You can venture off on your own if you prefer.

We'll continue with San Juan  and more about the ship in our next installments.   If you are just joining us, we have several articles in this mini-series already.   You can either page backwards or check our main article (click image).

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Can't Cruise Like a Norwegian in Tunisia

Future Port Calls to Tunisia CANCELLED

Norwegian Cruise Line began contacting their travel partners today to inform them that all future calls to Tunisia have been cancelled.

This action is in response to an incident that occurred this past weekend when Norwegian Jade called in the Tunis’ Port of La Goulette.  About 20 Israeli nationals and one American, who had a stamp in their passport for Israel, were not allowed to disembark the ship when it docked in Tunisia.   According to reports in the foreign press and travel industry news, there was no reason provided by the government for this action.

Travel Pulse reports that Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian Cruise Line’s CEO, condemned the “discriminatory act,” saying, “We are outraged by this act and the fact that we were not notified in advance of this practice. We apologize sincerely to our guests who were affected and want them to know that we have taken the appropriate action in response.”

The impacted passengers met with the Captain, but he was not able to provide them with a solution, so they had to remain on board the ship.  There was no mention of any reimbursement for this change in plans.

At press time, there hasn't been a response from the Tunisian government and the port calls have been replaced by a sea day.   We will provide updates in this developing story as information becomes available.