Saturday, 30 August 2014

Princess Cruises documentary puts off travellers

Princess Cruises documentary puts off travellers

Princess Cruises has defended its decision to allow cameras on board one of its liners after travel agents claimed tourists have been put off by its documentary The Cruise Ship.

Paul Ludlow, Princess Cruises' managing director in the UK and Europe, stated that the company is currently 50 per cent ahead of its sales target and he claimed the series "really picked up momentum" over the course of its run, reports Travel Mole.

He said: "Our weekend web traffic has doubled and enquiries have spiked, particularly from those new to brand. We hope this effect is being felt across the industry and we've received a number of comments from agents that the series led to a sharp increase in new-to-cruise customers.
“Of course we welcome comments from both travel agents and guests, and are in the process of reviewing all the feedback we have received. This will help us determine the success of the show and potential for a second series."

But travel counsellor Helen Wheatley claims tourists have been put off booking a cruise as a result of the four-part documentary, with one would-be cruiser describing it as their "worst nightmare" after seeing the show.

She said: "Why do cruise lines such as Princess allow cameras on board, when they should know that editing will paint them in a light to entertain viewers, not always to their advantage?"

Personal travel advisor Jane Haughey added that she believes it was a "daft move" on the part of Princess Cruises, due to the fact the liner depicted in the programme came across as a "party ship", which may be off-putting for some people considering booking a cruise trip.

She noted: "I did have to persuade a client that it very much depends on where the ship is located and a cruise that is going to the Caribbean will have a large amount of US passengers on it."

In order to make the ITV series, cameras were on board Royal Princess for a five-week period last year, with the voice over provided by comedian, actor huge cruise fan John Thomson.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Crystal to debut excursions for late-risers

Crystal to debut excursions for late-risers

Crystal Cruises has developed an excursion product aimed especially at guests who like to sleep in.

While shore excursions typically launch 30 minutes to an hour after docking or tendering operations begin, these excursions will start at 11 a.m. or noon, depending on the itinerary. They are designed to dovetail with a late-riser's breakfast served from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on both Crystal ships.

"The 'Late-Risers Adventures' allow guests who prefer more sleep in the morning, are perhaps still adjusting to a time change, or simply like to enjoy a long, leisurely breakfast, to keep their preferred schedule ," said Crystal President Edie Rodriguez.

The new, later excursions will be offered beginning with Crystal Serenity's Sept. 19 Boston-Quebec sailing, and on Crystal Symphony's Sept. 27 Hamburg-Lisbon sailing. 

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Global disruption

Global disruption

By Michelle Baran
No matter where the travel industry shifts its focus, climate change is a clear and present danger. From severe weather systems to polar ice melt, from warming waters to rising sea levels, its effects pose serious threats to natural resources and travel destinations the world over.

More immediately, climate change is compromising with greater frequency and urgency than ever before.
Travel Weekly Green TravelTravel and climate experts alike say the industry has a lot to lose if it fails to acknowledge both its contributions to climate change and economic and environmental opportunities: It should embrace more energy-efficient strategies and use travel products to help travelers understand climate change and its impact on destinations.

Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a sweeping report on the causes and effects of global warming, asserting that transportation systems -- planes, trains, cars and ships -- account for about one-fourth of all energy-related carbon emissions worldwide.

"Without aggressive and sustained policy intervention, direct-transport carbon emissions could double by 2050," the report warned.

If the world doesn't reduce carbon emissions, we can expect to see more intense droughts and floods, more and longer heat waves, more wildfires, thawing permafrost, melting ice caps, disappearing glaciers and rising sea levels, according to the report, which was designed to relay the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community.
Polar Bear in Greenland"Everybody who burns fossil fuels has to look at their impact," said Trey Byus, CEO of Lindblad Expeditions, a company with a long-standing tradition of offering conservation-based travel products. "We have to look at how [we can] become a more friendly organization to the places we visit."

As glaciers erode, wildfires engulf forests, rising seas eat away at coastal beaches and the warming of the world's oceans causes coral bleaching, destinations across the globe that travelers visit in large part because of their natural beauty are changing, and in some cases they could soon disappear entirely.

Climate change tourism

The notion that travelers should rush to see certain natural phenomena before they are gone forever has been dubbed "climate change tourism." It's a phenomenon that Greenland has experienced, as word got out that some of its notable northern glaciers are beginning to fade away.

Sarah Woodall, a research consultant for Visit Greenland, remarked that there are some sections of the Greenland ice sheet that are at risk of permanent alteration, as are glaciers, including the Ilulissat Glacier on the west coast, which fills the fjord and Disko Bay with massive icebergs year-round.

Woodall noted that dogsledding, a traditional transportation method for hunters and fishermen and a popular tourist attraction, has declined along with the amount of sea ice. In northwest Greenland, she said, it has been reduced to the point where the activity itself is endangered.

According to Bob Simpson, vice president of product operations and small ships at Abercrombie & Kent, regions he has observed that are currently undergoing rapid and likely permanent alterations due to climate change include the Antarctic Peninsula (though the east side of the Antarctic continent has not yet begun to warm); the Arctic, including the Svalbard Islands, Alaska and the Kamchatka Peninsula of Siberia; central Canada, including the lake and spruce forests of Manitoba and Nunavat, Churchill and Hudson Bay; Greenland; and Iceland.

But whether or not to promote these destinations on the basis of their possible eventual disappearance poses both practical and ethical challenges.
Boats washed ashore on the Louisiana coast after Hurricane Katrina in 2005."The Catch-22 situation here is that when a revered organization such as the national tourist board suggests that tourists visit a particular site or do a particular activity, especially with the buzz phrase 'before it is too late' attached, the effect is a rapid increase in visitation, which can, ironically, contribute to the faster decline of the very site the organization promotes," Woodall said.

However, Bruce Stein, director of climate change adaptation at the National Wildlife Federation, said messaging that might be seen by some as fear-mongering or even shameless self-promotion is in many cases simply a matter of communicating the realities on the ground.

"People are always drawn to vanishing phenomena, whether that's the mass migrations in the Serengeti of wildebeest or the receding glaciers in Alaska," Stein said. "In certain places, it is not fear-mongering; it is simply the reality. Are these things going to be gone next year? No. But over the next couple of decades, there are definitely places that are not going to have these iconic features."

Stein provided several examples of environments experiencing forms of distress that could have a direct impact on tourism: the constricting of beaches on low-lying islands as sea levels rise; coral bleaching caused by warming waters in the Caribbean; shifts in vegetation in the Arctic that could affect wildlife; the melting of permafrost that supports roads in Alaska; reduced snowfall for skiing and mountain sports; and less-than-favorable conditions for the Joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park.

The upside to climate change

While it has created numerous fronts for concern, there is an argument to be made that not all the results of climate change are bad.

"Ringing changes, defining them as good or bad, I would be cautious about that," said Mike Beck, lead marine scientist at the Nature Conservancy, an environmental organization based in Arlington, Va. "Let's just take a look at it from people's point of view. It's certainly true that some places are going to get warmer. [As a result,] people will have longer summers. A lot of people like that over winter."

While Beck had no shortage of examples of the negative effects of climate change on the world's coastlines and ocean resources, his view offered a counterpoint to the doom-and-gloom alarmism that often prevails in climate change discussions. If a glacier melts, will the naked landscape it leaves behind necessarily be less attractive? Perhaps it will, but in an ever-changing world, it also makes sense to embrace, perhaps even see as beneficial, some of the inevitable transformations to come.

"The unofficial mantra in Greenland is 'Adapt and thrive,'" Woodall said of that country's approach to its changing landscapes.

Along those lines, rather than just look at the challenges that lie ahead, Visit Greenland is identifying opportunities within its tourism sector that climate change can facilitate. For example, Woodall said, it is looking at how rising temperatures could help the destination expand its allure beyond its traditional high seasons of spring and summer.

Climate changes, Woodall said, "also bring more universal appeal to visit the Arctic and greater possibilities for cruise ships to sail in Arctic waters during these months."
Svalbard Archipelago excursion during a Lindblad Expeditions trip.Along those lines, several companies have recently added expedition cruises through the Northwest Passage, a sea route that traverses the Arctic Ocean, connecting the Pacific and Atlantic. Formerly a treacherous, verging on impossible route to pass, polar ice melt has literally helped clear the way for cruise ships to sail through.

Crystal Cruises, Lindblad and Abercrombie & Kent are all offering itineraries that traverse the Northwest Passage over the next couple of years.

"That is one of the ironic things with climate change, certainly in the polar regions," said Lindblad's Byus. "Certain areas are opening up more."

The company's former vessel, the Lindblad Explorer, in 1984 became the first passenger cruise ship to sail through the Northwest Passage. Looking back, Byus acknowledged that it had been a risky decision.

"It's only over the last 10 years that the ice has been more reliably decreasing through that passage," he said earlier this month, just days before the 148-passenger National Geographic Explorer was about to head into the Northwest Passage.

Crystal is offering a 32-day cruise on the Crystal Serenity in August 2016 from Anchorage to New York by way of the Northwest Passage. And Abercrombie & Kent is adding a Northwest Passage itinerary next year onboard the 200-passenger Le Boreal, which will sail from Aug. 21 to Sept. 11.

Tackling the crisis

When 13 people were killed in Nepal earlier this year in the deadliest avalanche ever on Mount Everest, it served as one of the more recent wake-up calls about the effects of climate change on the world's most precious resources as well as on the people traveling to experience them.

As the industry looks to future development, it is finding it has little choice but to take climate change into account, in terms of both accountability and activism.

Like Lindblad's Byus, a growing number of travel experts agree that the industry will first have to look inward at its own footprint and determine how to reduce it. The economic benefits of improved fuel and energy efficiency are already enticing companies to take a closer look at greener strategies, an approach that ultimately could become the status quo for companies that want to cut costs.
A coral reef near the Rock Islands of Palau destroyed by massive coral bleaching in 1998 and 1999."Money talks," said the Nature Conservancy's Beck. "And we really do think that working with nature can be particularly cost-effective. Working against nature, that's a mother. In the long run, you're not going to win with that approach."

To that end, groups like the Nature Conservancy are constantly brainstorming ways that profit-making industries, including travel, can help improve their bottom line while helping to combat climate change.

Rather than build costly seawalls or spend millions of dollars replenishing beaches that have been wiped out by severe storms, Beck suggested that destinations build up and restore their reefs.

"Reefs are an incredibly effective first line of coastal defense," Beck said. "You can restore those reefs at a tenth of the cost. We think that that's a place where the tourism industry really could get involved. And you're creating a place where your guests can go, as well."

Hotels, too, should try to reduce their losses by not building too close to the coastlines, he advised.

Whatever the cost benefits, however, climate experts warn that if the public and private sectors don't get proactive about reducing carbon emissions, financial and environmental losses to climate change will continue to mount across the board.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report, for example, pointed to numerous impacts that transportation infrastructure will endure if the issue is not addressed, impacts that could become a burden on the travel industry:
  • Extreme weather patterns and more frequent flooding will take a serious toll on roads.
  • Thawing permafrost has already reduced the winter ice road season in Alaska from 200 days in the 1970s to 100 days in some areas.
  • More storms could increase the number of weather-related air travel delays and cancellations.
  • Airport runways and infrastructure are particularly vulnerable to changing temperatures.
  • Higher temperatures pose a threat to rails because of thermal expansion and buckling.
  • Underground electric rail systems are vulnerable to heat waves and flooding, as was the case during Superstorm Sandy, when eight under-river subway tunnels were flooded in New York and New Jersey.
Where the travel industry has the influence and ability, climate experts say solutions should include looking at ways to reduce emissions, including improving vehicle efficiency; shifting to lower-carbon-per-passenger forms of transportation, such as from private cars to mass transit; and replacing gasoline and diesel with alternatives that emit fewer greenhouse gases.

Educating travelers

In commenting for this report, conservationists and travel companies all agreed that one of the biggest opportunities the travel industry has with respect to climate change is its ability to bring those changes to life for travelers.

"In a comparatively small way, the tourist industry does generate greenhouse gases through its reliance on ships, planes and automobiles," said James McClintock, Antarctic researcher and author of "Lost Antarctica: Adventures in a Disappearing Land" (Macmillan Science, 2012).
A view of the New Jersey coast in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.McClintock lectures on climate ecology aboard Abercrombie & Kent's Antarctica expeditions, explaining, "As a polar marine biologist, I personally feel that the education that the guests gain about the ongoing impacts of global climate change and the international scientific efforts underway to study and mitigate polar climate change balance out the cost. Guests returning from the formative experience of visiting polar regions become citizen ambassadors for the Arctic and Antarctica."

Indeed, climate change is clearly becoming a larger part of the conversation among travelers, especially those heading to affected regions. Tour operators and travel companies say their guests are asking about it more and engaging local guides in more informed and vibrant conversations about the topic and what can be done about it.

"It is certainly a bigger part of the expedition dialogue," said Lindblad's Byus. "We talk about things a lot more. Guests ask a lot more. They go out with a lot more questions, and guests want to come back more informed. They want to be a part of that dialogue."

Woodall, too, expressed the hope that visitors to Greenland will leave with a better understanding of how climate change is manifesting itself there as well as with an understanding that it isn't all bad news for travel.

"What should go hand in hand with the promotion of visiting the Greenland ice sheet, glaciers and icebergs is an education about what the changes to the natural landscape at the ground level realistically look like," she said.

A new visitor center in Ilulissat in connection with the Ilulissat Icefjord in Greenland has been developed as a place where tourists can learn about climate change.

"Then they can take that knowledge into the field ... in order to really understand what it is they're looking at when they see a glacier calving [i.e., breaking apart into icebergs] or see a pigment difference at the side of a glacier valley," Woodall said. "This combination of more or less technical learning with firsthand visual learning would have a great impact on tourists' retention and understanding of the climate change issue in Greenland."

Conservationists argue that similar measures could have the same effect worldwide. 

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Venice to reroute biggest ships but will maintain terminal

Venice to reroute biggest ships but will maintain terminal

By Tom Stieghorst
Changes afloat for Venice cruisesTo reduce the impact of big cruise ships in Venice, Italian ministers have decided to route the largest ships away from the center city, while still allowing them to dock there.

Cruise traffic would enter the Venetian lagoon on the southwest end, transiting the Malamocco channel, which is already used by cargo ships.

As a first step, an environmental study has been commissioned to evaluate the dredging of a cut-off canal leading from the cargo channel to the existing Venice cruise ship terminal.

Activists say that the dredging will harm the Venice lagoon by deepening it and creating more wave action, while at the same time disrupting sediments and water life in the area.

But a committee of Italian ministers said the plan mitigates the effects of increasingly large ships on Venice while preserving their positive contribution to the economy.

"It seems to me to be a balanced solution," Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi said in announcing the decision.

Some parties had pushed for a more radical option, such as relocating the cruise terminal to the industrial port at Marghera, a plan favored by Venetian Mayor Giorgio Orsoni.

Venice hosted more than 1.8 million cruise passengers last year, making it the third-busiest cruise port in Europe, after Barcelona and Civitavecchia, near Rome.

An increasingly vocal group of activists has protested that modern cruise ships have grown out of scale with Venice and are causing damage to the city's foundations, an assertion disputed by the cruise industry.

As part of the new plan, the committee of Italian ministers reinstated a ban on cruise ships of more than 96,000 gross tons from using the current route through the Lido and down the Giudecca Canal.

That route takes cruise ship passengers through the heart of Venice and past Piazza San Marco, its biggest attraction.

Cruise lines, through CLIA Europe, emphasized the importance of Venice and the Venice Passenger Terminal to the entire cruise industry.

"While we believe that the passage of cruises through the Giudecca Canal is safe, we agree that a sustainable solution for Venice requires a new alternative route for ships, and so we are pleased that the Italian government is working very hard to find a sustainable solution," a CLIA statement said.

A study last year found that the cruise industry in Venice created an annual economic impact of 345 million euros (about $462 million).

Individual cruise lines have been planning for Venice's mandated reduction in ship size. Celebrity Cruises, for example, next year will sail a 91,000-gross-ton, Millennium-class ship on Eastern Mediterranean itineraries from Venice, while moving its 122,000-gross-ton, Solstice-class ship to Baltic itineraries.

The Italian government had originally banned cruise ships of more than 96,000 gross tons from the current route effective Jan. 1, but that ban has been stayed by a regional Italian court, pending a decision on an alternative route into the city.

The decision to move forward on the environmental study of the back channel addresses the court's objection.

The plan calls for deepening the Contorta Sant' Angelo, a 4-kilometer channel between Marghera and Venice that was cut in the 1960s for fuel barges, from a depth of 1.5 meters to 9 meters.

Authorities estimate the dredging project will take about two years and cost about 115 million euros (about $154 million).

22 Tips for Finding Peace & Quiet at Sea

22 Tips for Finding Peace & Quiet at Sea

Ah, the cruise life. Imagine a blissful week away from the daily stresses and drudgery, complete with a soak in the hot tub, leisurely dinners full of genteel conversation and some quiet reading -- or snoozing -- in the sun. That is, until a gang of rug rats swamps the hot tub, whines through dinner and comes careening around the sun deck, all high-pitched shrieks and spraying water.

Like it or not, the mainstream cruise lines have gone family-friendly. This is a boon for parents and multi-generational groups looking for trips with something for everyone. It's less appealing for couples and groups of adult friends who aren't won over by wee travellers ... or parents hoping desperately for some time to themselves while the grandparents stay home with the kids. Although cruise lines do their best to occupy the under-18's with kitted-out kids' clubs and dawn-till-dusk activities (not to mention late-night parties and baby-sitting), kids have been known to run free on ships, hanging out in stairwells, incessantly riding the elevators and generally annoying their elder shipmates.

If you don't want to put up with wayward whipper snappers on your cruise, you don't have to. Many cruises sail entirely kid-free or with a minimal number of well-behaved tykes. The key is picking ships and itineraries with reduced family appeal. The following cruise types are tops for sailing without the brat pack on-board -- plus we have a few tips for avoiding children when you don't want to give up your mainstream, peak-season sailing.

Cruising with kids? See our Family Cruises section for the best cruises for babies, kids and teens.

Luxury Ships
The intimate ships of high-end lines like Silversea Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, SeaDream Yacht Club and Regent Seven Seas Cruises (or luxury-lite lines, such as Oceania Cruises,Windstar Cruises and Azamara) are refined, dignified and geared to adults. They're also among the industry's most expensive lines. Those factors combined mean you'll find few kids on-board. While some luxury ships offer the occasional children's program during holiday periods, the vessels won't be overrun with under-18's, and those who do go tend to be well-behaved, well-travelled tykes and teens (possibly accompanied by nannies to keep them in check).

Holland America's PrinsendamSmall Cruise Ships
Some premium lines (Holland America, Princess Cruises) keep a few older vessels around that are smaller and attract a more senior passenger base. That's primarily because kids' facilities are limited on those vessels, and the ships sail longer, more exotic itineraries. Think Holland America's Rotterdam and Prinsendam (pictured), and Princess Cruises'Pacific Princess and Ocean Princess. If you're a devotee of these lines, you'll get to pick up your loyalty points and still sneak in a kid-free cruise every now and then. (Even Holland America's larger ships are mid-sized in an industry of behemoths and tend to appeal to a more mature clientèle, especially on non-holiday dates.)

A schedule of culturally focused walking tours in historic cities and a lack of mega-ship amenities (production shows, youth lounges, etc.) tend to keep river cruises kid-free. (In fact, some middle-aged travellers claim they're not old enough for river cruises either -- but that's another story.) The exceptions are family-focused theme sailings, which usually take place during the summer. But on average, you can take your pick from the rivers of Europe, America, Egypt and Asia, and enjoy local wines and scenic cruising in an appropriately sedate atmosphere.

True Adults-Only Ships
Your safest bet is to cruise on a ship that doesn't allow any children onboard at all. Yes, they do exist, but there aren't too many. P&O Cruises, a British line, keeps three ships -- Arcadia, Adonia andOriana -- as adults-only. You must be 50+ to sail with Grand Circle Small Ship Cruises or the U.K.-based Saga Holidays (though travel companions can be as young as 40). Voyages to Antiquitycruises are deemed "unsuitable for children under the age of 12," and children younger than 16 are dissuaded from cruising. You may also find lifestyle-based, full-ship charters that are kid-free (such as cruises for nudists or gay couples).

bora boraExotic Itineraries
Kids can certainly be world travelers, but generally speaking, the more exotic the itinerary, the fewer families it will attract. Try cruises to the Far East,South Pacific (Bora Bora pictured), South America(excepting roundtrip Brazil immersion cruises),Africa, the Arctic and Antarctica, and you'll typically find more adult-oriented environments. Even lines that ordinarily attract families will have fewer on these sailings.

Seven Seas Voyager
Families tend to take week long or shorter cruises. Choose a longer itinerary, and you're pretty much guaranteed to be sailing with fewer kids. If you're set on the Caribbean, choose a 10-night or longer itinerary, particularly those that include a full or partial Panama Canal transit. For Hawaii, skip the round trip Honolulu itineraries, and opt for the two-week round trips out of Southern California. Lengthy repositioning cruises, grand voyages and world cruise segments have a good shot at being kid-free, as well.

School-Term Sailings
Many parents are loath to take their kids out of school for a vacation. Book your cruise during the school term, and you'll definitely see a dip in the number of youngsters on-board. While a Carnival or Royal Caribbean cruise to the Caribbean will always feature children on-board, non-holiday sailings probably will have fewer and feel less overrun with kids. Or combine a term-time trip with some of the above categories (say, a long sailing to an exotic destination on a more adult-friendly line), and you'll greatly reduce your chances of fighting for control of the elevators and hot tubs with the under-18 set. And if you just have to sail that mega-ship during the summer ...

Upgrade to a Kid-Free Haven
You can employ certain tricks to avoid junior cruisers on a mainstream, peak-season sailing ... but it probably will cost you. Book a suite with a large balcony and maybe even a whirlpool tub to reduce your time spent on public sun decks and in public lounges. Some ship-within-a-ship complexes on lines like Norwegian (pictured) and MSC Cruises even come with exclusive pools, gyms, restaurants and lounges. (Though, beware, some families do frequent these top digs.) Choose the late dinner seating or, better yet, dine in speciality venues (the later the better) to dodge dining with the knee-biters. At the very least, try to book a verandah cabin for some outdoor privacy, and take advantage of room service. And whatever you do, avoid the buffet at rush hour.

6 Cruise Ship Cabins to Avoid

6 Cruise Ship Cabins to Avoid 
Cruise ship cabin hallwayYou might expect loud noises, close quarters and attention-grabbing maneuvers in the dance club onboard your cruise ship -- but not in your cabin. Even if you don't plan to spend much time there, it should be a restful and private place so you can maintain that much-needed vacation stamina. To help you do so, we've compiled a list of cabins you'll want to avoid booking if closet-like dimensions or scraping chair sounds overhead don't sound appealing to you. Heed our advice, and you might be feeling a bit less claustrophobic and a tad more refreshed come disembarkation.

Smaller than Small
Small Interior Cruise Ship CabinSure, price is a major factor when booking your cabin, but give yourself the benefit of the doubt: Would you want your "home away from home" to be smaller than your own bedroom? To give you an example of square footage, the average master bedroom in an American household runs about 200 square feet. Carnival's standard inside cabins begin at a healthy 185 square feet, but beware of the line's Category 1A cabins, which are oddly shaped and feature pull-out or bunk beds. In comparison, Royal Caribbean's inside cabins on Majesty of the Seas run 114 square feet.

"Inside" doesn't mean one size fits all, so carefully read cabin dimensions before selecting. Also, check whether a balcony is included in the total square footage of the room -- the added outdoor space might be nice but not if it's being factored into an already teeny-tiny cabin.
It's important to note that cabins on newer ships seem to be smaller than those found on their older siblings. For example, Haven suites on Norwegian's Breakaway and Getaway are smaller than the suites on its Gem-class ships. Even if you've sailed a line before, don't assume each ship will offer similar cabin sizes.

What a Lovely View?
Obstructed View Cruise Ship CabinIf a view is important to you, make sure know what you're getting a view of. An obstructed-view cabin category might cost less, but the quality of the vista varies from room to room. One view might be only partially obstructed, leaving most of the window occupied by sunsets over waves, while others artfully frame a length of lifeboats.

Passengers on Caribbean Princess vow that even cabins categorized as having a fully obstructed view still provide room for photo ops and oceangazing. It might be helpful to read the reviews of others who have stayed in the same cabin. The Cruise Critic boards offer thousands of reader reviews and feedback from cruisers across every line, making them a great place to start.

Ear Plugs Required
Loud Noises while trying to sleep in cruise ship cabinOne common rookie-cruiser mistake is not checking the deck plans before booking a cabin. It might seem obsessive to a first-timer, but locating loud and late-night venues could be a lifesaver when picking a place to rest your weary head.

 Anything near a dance club, sports venue, lido deck or all-night eatery could mean throbbing bass, bouncing basketballs and the sweet sound of deck chairs scraping at 3 a.m. Even worse is the galley: bumping, rolling, shouting and stomping around the clock. Just because a venue shuts down at a certain hour doesn't mean there won't be commotion as it's being cleaned.

It's widely agreed that the best passenger deck to choose is one sandwiched between other passenger decks -- you might run into noisy neighbors, but it's unlikely they'll have access to pots, pans or an industrial sound system. Additionally, a cruise line will be more equipped to handle a passenger noise complaint rather than a request to move your cabin on what could be a fully booked ship.

If your ship offers family suites (typically located near children's facilities), keep in mind that families are likely nearby (read: the potential for screaming children). If you'd rather avoid the ambient sounds of a large family group, then perhaps it's best to relocate away from that area entirely.

If you can, identify where crew service entrances are located -- stories of slamming doors day and night are enough for us to check twice. And if the sound of footsteps keeps you up at night, don't book a cabin nearby major promenades or staircases. Another potential peeve is the dinging of elevators, if you're close enough to that area to hear them.

And don't forget the cruise ship engine. While humming noises put some to sleep, the loud buzz of machinery might drive you batty. Passengers on the lowest deck are most likely to hear engine or even anchor sounds.

Privacy out the WindowCentral Park Balcony Cabin Oasis of the SeasA view is always preferable to no view, but be wary: Cabins that open onto a promenade deck offer little privacy, even with curtains closed. This was the complaint of one cruiser in an oceanview cabin on the lower promenade deck of Holland America's Volendam.

The line's Lanai cabins boast sliding-glass doors with one-way views offering total concealment, but don't forget to shut them if you're planning a private moment; this isn't your back yard.

Other cabins providing questionable seclusion include the mini-suites beneath the SeaWalk onRoyal Princess and Regal Princess and cabins facing the Boardwalk and Central Park areas on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. A passenger who stayed on the lowest level of the Central Park cabins reported having to keep their curtains closed for the length of the cruise because other passengers strolling through the park could see straight in.

Motion of the OceanStormy SeaRough seas or not, motion sickness can ruin a cruise vacation. If you know you have a history of motion sickness or even if you're not sure, err on the side of booking a more stable cabin. By "stable," we mean midship, closer to the interior and on a lower deck, where rocking motion is less likely to be felt.

 A balcony room might seem enticing for the fresh air, but a location on the outer edges of the ship could make it more susceptible to movement. That said, visual contact with the horizon line is said to aid in reducing nausea as you bob up and down.

Rough waters can be anticipated by itinerary and the time of year you're sailing. Generally, in the winter months, seas are rougher especially in the Atlantic. If you don't have a stomach of steel, consider skipping cabins that could make you queasy. A deluxe suite at the front of the ship might come with all the bells and whistles, but you won't be able to enjoy them with your head in the toilet.

What Kind of Guarantee?Several cabins to choose fromNot saying that guarantee cabins aren't worth the gamble for an upgrade, but if you want assurance that you won't be in a pitching, noisy cabin, these cabins aren't the way to go. A guarantee cabin isn't actually a type of cabin but, rather, a method of booking a cabin. You pick a minimum cabin level you'd be comfortable in, and the cruise line assigns you a cabin close to booking dates based on availability.

The potential for an upgrade is appealing, and if you're cruising on a budget and don't have a particular issue with any of the cabin dilemmas listed above, then it could be worth your while to see what a guarantee might deliver. But your guarantee also could place you squarely above the anchor, next to a crew entrance or below the theater. With guarantee cabins, you lose your ability to complain about what you end up with.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

When Facebook gives way to face time

When Facebook gives way to face time

By Tom Stieghorst
*InsightTeens talk to each other on a cruise. My wife made that observation on a recent cruise we took with our two daughters.

I instantly knew what she meant. It wasn’t just that they were conversing, but that they were doing it without the constant reference to a mobile device, seemingly grafted to their hands.

It is very refreshing to see teens talking to each other unaided by devices. Call it one of the unintended benefits of a cruise vacation.

Internet access on a cruise is expensive. As the father of a teen, I say great. It provides me with an excuse to just say no to connecting online. I told my two girls on the cruise they could have the scrap minutes at the end of the cruise after I had used most of my package for work.

Once, telecommunications were so difficult at sea that disconnecting was a universal experience for cruise passengers. That has gone away as connections got more reliable and prices for service came down.

So adults can no longer hide from the office, take a break from clients or escape from everyday interactions by taking a cruise. That has its upsides, of course, but not a few of us would willingly trade them away.

As parents, however, one of the worries we have with our teens is whether they will squander the chance to see the world and experience new things because they’re glued to their phones 24/7.

Like the time a few years ago when I drove through Rocky Mountain National Park only to find my daughters’ eyes feasting on a 2- by 3-inch screen instead of the 12,000-foot vistas and overlooks.

My kids make friends with other kids from all over the world on a cruise. My older daughter spent the cruise comparing lives with new friends from England. My younger daughter is still in touch (via social media, of course) with a group from California she met last year on a Holland America cruise.

I like to think that one reason for that is that they are out of touch with old friends long enough to make new ones. Of course, the minute we make the dock, they’re eagerly scanning the waterfront for an Internet cafe.

So far cruise lines have focused on improving Internet quality, rather than reducing the price of a profitable service. But Royal Caribbean International is about to up the ante with the imminent debut of O3B on Allure of the Seas, which promises “land-like” connection speeds.

For now, access is expensive enough that I can keep my kids off the grid on a cruise. I hope it stays that way. Call me old-fashioned, but there should be some place where face-to-face communication thrives, and if it is on a ship, so much the better for cruising.

Quantum to use wrist bands instead of key cards

Quantum to use wrist bands instead of key cards

By Tom Stieghorst

Guests on Royal Caribbean International's Quantum of the Seas will be issued wristbands with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips in place of the standard issue key cards, which will be used for cabin access, payment and other traditional key card functions.

The wristbands can also be used to navigate the ship, said Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Chairman Richard Fain, who hosted a live webcast from the ship's construction site in Germany to announce the innovation.
The webcast will include a chat with former New York Times technology columnist David Pogue, who now works for Yahoo! Those interested can ask questions via Twitter under the hashtag #QuantumoftheSeas.

It was one of half a dozen technology upgrades on the Quantum that promise to make cruising simpler, easier and more hassle-free, Fain said.

Another eye-catching technology will be a robotic bartender which will tend a new venue, the Bionic Bar. Guests will place orders via tablets and then watch the mix their cocktails.

Quantum will also use RFID to enable guests to track their baggage in real time after they drop it off before the cruise, and after they deliver it to housekeeping on departing the ship. In addition, guests will be able to generate their boarding documents online and upload a photo ID to get digital boarding credentials that will shorten the check-in process. Fain said the process will go from sidewalk to ship in 10 minutes and eliminate the traditional check-in counter and the associated lines.

Quantum is also scheduled to be the second ship to fully utilize the O3B satellite system for telecommunications access, which is expected to dramatically increase Internet speeds. The extra connectivity will enable the Quantum to offer a live global video gaming suite in its new SeaPlex activities area.

The O3B system has been in testing on the Oasis of the Seas and is expected to be fully deployed first on the Allure of the Seas by October. 

Celebrity to offer high-end cruise tours

Celebrity to offer high-end cruise tours

By Tom Stieghorst
Celebrity Cruises plans to launch regular high-end cruise tours, with the first three set to be offered in 2015.
The product will be known as Celebrity Explorations. Travel agents will earn commission on the land portion at the same rate as their cruise commission, said Dondra Ritzenthaler, Celebrity’s senior vice president of sales and trade support and services.

“We are always trying think of things that our travel partners will like and embrace,” Ritzenthaler said, while at the same time being popular with cruise customers.

A cruise tour that combines a three-night stay and city tour in Sydney with a Celebrity Solstice cruise from Australia will kick off the new venture in January.

In August, Celebrity will begin offering a five-night African safari that will end with a cruise on one of several itineraries from Southampton, England.

Finally, in December, Celebrity will begin offering a river/ocean cruise combination that includes a four-night voyage on the Amazon River and a longer Celebrity Infinity cruise in South America.

Ritzenthaler said there will be other cruise tours developed as time goes by. “The strategy is we’ll continue to give our travel partners and guests Celebrity Explorations on an ongoing basis, so it’s not a one-time deal,” she said.

Celebrity earlier this year promoted a five-night African safari with a Black Sea cruise with departures this fall as part of a pilot program for the new offerings. 

Royal Caribbean claims record check-in times for Quantum ships

Royal Caribbean claims record check-in times for Quantum ships

Royal Caribbean claims record check-in times for Quantum ships
Royal Caribbean has claimed it will boast record check-in times thanks to technology advances due to be released for new ship Quantum of the Seas.
The line is claiming guests will be able to board the ship in 10 minutes by removing check-in counters, form-filling and queues. Instead, guests will have been able to generate boarding documents online, upload their photo ID and receive digital boarding credentials ahead of departure. They will also be able to track their luggage on their smartphones.
The enhanced check-in process is one of a raft of ‘firsts’ claimed by Royal Caribbean for Quantum of the Seas, which launches in October, and future Quantum-class ships.
Other technical innovations include new ‘WOW band wristbands’ to help guests navigate the ship, make onboard purchases and serve as their room key, two new apps to allow guests to plan and book experiences before and during their sailing, and robotic bartenders which will mix cocktails automatically in a new ‘Bionic Bar’.
Ben Bouldin, director of sales UK and Ireland, said: “Royal Caribbean International is renowned for innovation and bold developments that no one else in the holiday industry – let alone cruise sector – can deliver, whether it be real-time luggage tracking, robot bartenders or Roboscreens.
“We are confident that once agents give potential holidaymakers a look at the world’s most technologically advanced ship, bringing in the bookings will be plain sailing with excited consumers eager to take a Quantum leap forward in their holidays.”

Thursday, 21 August 2014

In Turkey, a world away from nearby unrest

In Turkey, a world away from nearby unrest

By Tom Stieghorst
*InsightWhile in port in Kusadasi, Turkey, on a recent cruise we heard the ezan, as the Islamic call to prayer is known in that country. The sound carried to the balcony of our cruise ship from whatever mosque it had issued from.

It was a reminder that we were in a country where the predominant faith is Islam. The rest of the trip was a reminder of how different each country in the Middle East is for cruise visitors.

Although Turkey shares a common border with both Syria and Iraq, the fighting in those countries was the furthest thing from our minds while in Turkey. We toured ancient ruins, had a delicious lunch out in the countryside and haggled at the shops in Kusadasi for scarves and pants.

It wasn’t very evident we were any place where religion plays a special role in daily affairs. More women had their heads covered than was true in our stops in Greece, but many wore colorful wraps, not the dour black garb that can be seen in Afghanistan, to pick another Muslim country often in the news.

Our guide for the day pointed out that Turkey is the only country that sits both in Asia and Europe. Kusadasi is far from the Syrian border and closer to Athens than to Damascus.

It was in touring the Greek and Roman ruins in Ephesus, about 10 miles inland from Kusadasi, where I was most grateful that the Turks have order and peace in the volatile Middle East.

The well-preserved ruins include temples and churches of the Greek, Roman and Christian areas, and are part of a Unesco World Heritage site. They’re the kind of thing endangered by looting and religious intolerance sadly plaguing nearby Syria and Iraq.

For cruise passengers, it is important to make distinctions between countries in the Middle East that are open for tourism and those that are a hazard. The magnificent ancient treasury at Petra, in Jordan, can be reached through a port call at Aqaba, on the Red Sea. It is also a Unesco World Heritage site, and unaffected by the fighting elsewhere in the area.

Turkey, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates — all have lots to offer to the cruise traveler with an interest in history or foreign cultures. Travel agents and their clients should not write off going to these countries because of the unrest in nearby lands.

Europe cruises a holiday bargain

Europe cruises a holiday bargain

By Michelle Baran
InsightWhen I first heard that river cruise lines offered holiday-themed sailings during Christmas and New Year’s, I was bewildered. Not only can it be really cold in Europe during that time of year, but the holiday season seems like a time to be closer to home, surrounded by family, friends or loved ones. Right?

Wrong. Interest in holiday season river cruising is growing, and river cruise lines across the board are boosting capacity for the upcoming season to keep up with demand.

River cruise executives say that holiday cruisers can include everyone from single travelers to those who don’t necessarily have family to visit as well as those who simply prefer to get away for the holidays, for instance.

And in addition to the charming itineraries and activities river cruise lines develop for the holiday season — rich in colorful markets, seasonal food and beverages and festive activities (gingerbread making lessons anyone?) — there is another competitive advantage that could further bolster the river cruise segment during the winter season.

What is traditionally considered high season on land in Europe is still the lower off-season in river cruising, where ever-growing capacity is likely to keep it that way for some time to come. And river cruise lines are increasingly marketing that fact.

For instance, AmaWaterways is promoting several of its New Year’s-inclusive river cruises in Amsterdam and Vienna against the higher-priced land options in those cities for ringing in 2015.

What was once a small slice of business that filled in a bit of the river cruising industry’s low season could start to see greater momentum as some of the advantages and the value pricing of holiday river cruises catch on.

So why not pack a warm coat and get onboard the river cruise party boat?

All the sea's a stage

All the sea's a stage

By Tom Stieghorst
When Micky Arison began working on cruise ships in the 1970s, name-brand entertainment was scarce.

"We had a limbo dancer, a hostess and a singer," the Carnival Corp. chairman recalled in a recent promotional video.

A Holland America Line show produced by RWS Associates.Four decades later, the limbo dancer has been replaced by far more recognizable talent. Olivia Newton-John, Chicago and LeAnn Rimes are among the names appearing on Carnival Cruise Lines ships this summer.

Each week, dozens of musicians, dancers, magicians, comics and other professional entertainers sail on each of Carnival Cruise Lines' 24 ships. The biggest cruise lines operate facilities on land to train performers for shows at sea.

Even some luxury lines are employing cutting-edge video technology and aerialists of the type used in Las Vegas shows, striving to make their vessels as alluring as possible.

"Things have changed quite a bit," Arison said.

Cruise entertainment is being reshaped by a combination of technology, changing consumer tastes, competition, growing ship size and a revolution in the way dining works on ships. (To see more examples of what cruise lines are doing in the entertainment department, click here or on any of the photos for a slideshow of images.)

Those improvements have enabled cruise lines to experiment with moving some entertainment from the cost side of their ledgers to the revenue side, with several on the cusp of charging guests for what was once free.

"For the first time, we're seeing entertainment as driving revenue to the vessels," said Nick Weir, vice president of entertainment for Royal Caribbean International.

Carnival started charging between $20 to $40 this year for seats at its Carnival Live concerts, and Weir hinted that Royal is exploring ways to follow suit on its ships.

Entertainment has changed in part because of the more flexible dining that has evolved on cruise ships over the past 10 years. Andy Stuart, executive vice president of global sales at Norwegian Cruise Line, said a passenger's choice of shows used to be defined by early or late seating.

"It was dinner and a show," Stuart said, when evening meals were limited to the main dining room.

But Norwegian had to rethink entertainment after it ditched the two-shift dining format in favor of its Freestyle Dining.

Now one of the hottest tickets on Norwegian's newer ships is a theater that combines dinner and a show. The Illusionarium on the Norwegian Getaway and Cirque Dreams on the Norwegian Breakaway provide hour-long specialty shows with dinner for $29.99.

Blue Man Group in performance on the Norwegian Epic.Burn the Floor, a 45-minute pop ballroom dance show, is also staged in the middle of one of Norwegian's main dining rooms.

In the main theater, Norwegian offers a licensed version of Broadway's "Legally Blonde," among other shows. It also pioneered the at-sea presentation of Blue Man Group, a Las Vegas mainstay.

"Everyone loves Blue Man Group," said Norwegian CEO Kevin Sheehan. "But it is a little bit different than the traditional cruises with the old-fashioned Broadway shows, where everybody's running around dancing and singing like they've been doing for 40 years on these ships."

Other lines have also retired the flesh-and-feathers shows of yesteryear.

Out with the old

At Holland America Line, one of the big entertainment hits has been Dancing With the Stars at Sea, a program of dance lessons and theme cruises modeled on an audience-driven TV show.

Shows like "Dancing With the Stars" and "American Idol" are changing audience expectations, said Lisa Lehr, executive director of entertainment development at New York-based RWS Associates, which produced six shows last year for Holland America.

"Your large-ensemble, everybody sings/ dances sort of showgirl-esque entertainment has seen its day," Lehr said. "We're definitely moving away from that."

In addition to shows that make audiences the judges, cruise lines are breaking down the walls between entertainers and the audience.

80s Pop To The Max in the main theater on the Carnival Freedom.In a new main theater musical on Carnival, "88 Keys: The Rock N' Roll Piano Show," the piano-bar performer on the ship does a 30-minute warm-up, bringing his fans to the show.

Before another show, "Heart of Soul," the cruise director has winners of a romantic-dedications contest read their entries. Prizes are awarded and flowers are given ahead of the show.

Performers gradually take the stage at the start of the show from seats in the audience.

Carnival is one of many cruise lines to deploy new technologies in entertainment. One game changer has been the adoption of video walls; the large, mobile scenery panels, which use LED screens, have made stage backgrounds far more interesting and versatile.

"That opens a world of storytelling," Lehr said. "We're able to create the Princess Forest. We're able to take you to the Queen of Hearts tea party, and the Mad Hatter tea party, without having to bring on large set pieces that there's nowhere to store on a cruise ship."

On the Carnival Freedom, a performance of "Heart of Soul" starts with an LED-panel depiction of a wooden dock building itself, plank by plank, into a lake. Later in the show, the screens depict fireflies in a forest. Changing skylines seamlessly turn the Golden Gate Bridge into the Brooklyn Bridge. Vegetation grows, Jack-and-the-Beanstalk style, and the stars, moon and mountains form the backdrop for a rendition of "This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)."

LED panels debuted on cruise ships several years ago and are now found on most major cruise lines, as well as in Las Vegas and on touring Broadway shows and at big rock concerts.

And now 3-D

The next big thing in scenery on ships will be the 3-D projection system developed for Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas.

A rendering of the Two70 aft lounge on the Quantum of the Seas.Weir said the Vistarama system of 18 projectors offers a higher-definition image than LED panels. The projectors will throw scenes on the three-story, 270-degree wrap-around windows in the ship's aft lounge as a background for performances in the evening.

On the Quantum's main stage, guests will hear a performance on a theater-sized harp and a wall of drums, as well as see a woman whose costume can be played like a violin.

At 167,800 gross tons, the Quantum is typical of a new generation of ships that can accommodate two or more dynamic performance venues. Bigger ships also mean more crew quarters, so performers don't have to staff the ship's library or kids club in their off hours.

"There was a time when every berth had to work an enormous amount for it to be valid," Weir said. "That's not the case when you've got a city the size of Oasis of the Seas."

Better performers are one result, he said.

With 104 shows being presented on Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises in any given week, the need to recruit and retain performers has increased. Royal has outgrown its training space in Hollywood, Fla., and is building a $20 million rehearsal theater at Florida International University.

The 130,000-square-foot theater is about half built, Weir said, adding that it's expected to open in January. Norwegian Cruise Line opened a 46,000-square-foot studio in Tampa in January. Carnival trains performers in Miami; Princess Cruises rehearses in Los Angeles.

RWS is also hoping to attract more cruise ship work by building a 31,000-square-foot space in Long Island City in New York City. It wants to capitalize on its background and experience producing corporate events, theme park shows and mall entertainment as well as its connections to talent.

Performers in training at Norwegian Creative Studios in Tampa."The beauty of us being in New York City is we're really on the pulse of what's new and exciting happening in entertainment today," Lehr said. "We're really able to hand-pick those creative minds and creative talents to bring cutting-edge and innovative programming."

Although main-stage musicals have always been the foundation of cruise entertainment, today's bigger ships allow for a greater number of small acts in more parts of the ship.

Royal Caribbean, for example, has retooled the atriums on some of its ships as evening performance spaces for aerialists.

At Carnival, the trend is shorter shows with smaller casts, complemented by more musical groups in the atrium, casino, bars and lounges, as well as comedy at the line's Punchliner Club.

Jim Berra, chief marketing officer at Carnival, said guests expressed frustration when they couldn't see both the main stage show and a Punchliner show in one evening.

"They don't want to have to trade off," he said. "So what we're trying to do is distribute more entertainment throughout the ship."

Skip Lyons, cruise director on the Carnival Freedom, said that when he started working on Carnival ships 18 years ago, there was a 10-piece pit band for production shows.

Today only three ships retain the 10-piece band. The other 21 use recorded music in the main theater.

A Carnival Live performance by REO Speedwagon."The band might not be in the show, but while the show is on, we can be entertaining guests elsewhere on the ship because the band is now playing around the ship," Lyons said.

In the 1990s, he recalled, Carnival ships had two production shows during a seven-week cruise that employed a cast of 16 made up of two singers, two acrobatic adage performers and 12 dancers.

Today, on most ships, Carnival does four shows a week with a cast of eight -- four dancers who also sing and four singers who also dance, Lyons said. Show lengths are typically 35 to 40 minutes, down from an hour or more in the past.

Earlier this year, Carnival upgraded its house band as part of the new Carnival Live program, which brings well-known acts onboard for in-port shows in Nassau, Cancun and California's Catalina Island.

The shows are typically staged on weekdays when celebrity performers such as Jennifer Hudson or Trace Adkins are often idle.

Carnival's Berra said the concept has been a success, with many shows sold out.

"It's a great opportunity for [the cruise lines] to increase their earnings," he said.

The initial series of 49 concerts concludes Dec. 15 in Nassau with a show by rock band REO Speedwagon. Berra said details of a second season will be announced this fall.

Thinking bigger in smaller venues

Smaller ships pose a challenge because they don't have as many venues for entertainment. But ships on the larger end of the luxury scale are mounting shows that mimic their bigger brethren.

Crystal Serenity is home to iLuminate.At Crystal Cruises, the 1,070-passenger Crystal Serenity is home to iLuminate, in which performers are costumed in wired suits that show only the outlines of lights in a darkened theater.

The concept, pioneered on the TV show "America's Got Talent," creates some startling effects, such as a robot that appears to juggle several of its own heads. On Broadway, tickets start at $68.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises recently retooled the two-story theater on the Seven Seas Mariner to accommodate LED-panel walls and more aerial performers in a new, Cirque du Soleil-style production.

"In the finale of our shows we may have six of our 12 performers flying in the air at once," said Michael Day, vice president of entertainment at Regent and sister line Oceania Cruises. "That's something you don't see on many ships, even ships much, much larger than our ships."

Regent uses Jean Ann Ryan Productions for its shows, a veteran company that created cruise versions of Broadway shows when Norwegian first introduced that kind of entertainment in the 1980s.

While charging for marquee talent like performers in Carnival Live might be the wave of the future, for now it is an unusual revenue model. Most cruise entertainment remains free ­-- and a bargain, cruise executives say.

Sheehan pointed to Blue Man Group as an example.

"When you think about it, it's an $80 or $90 show in Vegas, and people can watch it for free as part of their cruise fare," he said.

Another example is the upcoming production of the musical "Mamma Mia" on Quantum; it will be the first full-length Broadway musical staged at sea, complete with an intermission.

Weir tells a story of seeing a three-generation family group of 15 in the front row of a production of "Saturday Night Fever" on the Liberty of the Seas. "I remember thinking, '15 people at a Broadway show -- that's a $3,000 night out, and yet at Royal it's on the house.'"

Whether free or paid, top entertainment helps keep cruises competitive with mass-market destinations like Las Vegas and Orlando. But Weir said the goal going forward is to set trends, not merely match them.

"We're on the map now," he said. "We're like an entertainment leader. No single entertainment operation under one roof is doing what we're doing: ice shows, aqua shows, Broadway shows, and now we're going to be doing multimedia shows. And we do it all in-house."

The bottom line, Weir said, is that "we've become valid, and we've become huge."