Better Days Ahead

As we crossed into 2021, one of the people in the Facebook group for our Panama Canal cruise in October 2022 reminded us, “We can now say that our cruise is next year!”

After the year of cancellations, it is nice to have a cruise in the future, even if it is the distant future. 657 days to go!

Carnival Freedom

Cruise Memories

This popped up in my Facebook memories this afternoon and was written before our first Christmas Cruise in 2009. This will be the first year since then that we are not cruising. COVID-19 sucks. I’m waiting to see what other memories come up in the next few weeks, although we didn’t have WiFi all the time, so it may be random years.

Concerned about the cruise

I’ve never been on a cruise but Virgina and I are taking our first one over Christmas. I’m looking forward to it, but I’m a bit concerned about some of my fellow passengers.

How can I be concerned about people I haven’t met yet? I read the “Ask and Answer” section on the NCL website. First of all, read the FAQ before asking. The reason the “F” means “Frequently” is because somebody has asked it before you.

Some of my favorites:

Is there a limit on luggage? So, there will be women on the ship. (Update: Make sure you know the airline limits, if applicable. They are almost always different than the cruise line limits. Also, remember airline liquid rules when trying to bring booze back from the cruise.)

Can I bring wine in my suitcase to drink in my room without paying a fee? This (and variations) comes up over and over. The ship makes much of its money from liquor sales, so the answer is “no.” I don’t mind sailing with a bunch of alcoholics, but cheap alcoholics bother me. If you can’t afford to drink, go sober.(The one that asked about boxed wine really scared me.)

Note that four pages later, someone else asked about Friends of Bill meetings, so somebody can’t afford to drink anymore.

Which airport is closest to the Spirit in New Orleans? Is this a trick question? (My guess would be “New Orleans Airport” but I don’t have an aeronautical chart handy.)

Is there something specific about my specific room number? Are you looking for stalkers or do you not have a travel agent?

Can I watch my specific team play some specific game on-board? If you’ve got that much money riding on a game, can you really afford a cruise?

Are there TVs / Can I bring a Nintendo? Why are you going on a cruise? (On the other hand, they won’t be in lines ahead of me.) (Update: you probably can connect to the TVs in the rooms, but you don’t want to play anything that uses WiFi.)

Are there refrigerators? How much stuff do people pack that needs to be cold? How many left-overs do you plan to have from dinner? (Update: After cruising for over ten years with a diabetic, one answer to why people ask this question is “I have insulin with me.” Also, a better question is do the refrigerators keep things cold or cool. Some room refrigerators aren’t that cold.)

Is there a Walmart in Bermuda? This question just bothered me, and I go to Walmart. (Update: I’ve also been to Bermuda now.) I didn’t know Walmart sold cruise packages. Actually, I’m trying to think what you would need from Walmart in the middle of a cruise that you couldn’t have fit in your “Dukes of Hazzard” suitcase before you left home.

rainbows

CDC Comments Period End Soon

Visit https://beta.regulations.gov/document/CDC-2020-0087-0001 for information on filing your comments on the CDC Cruise Ship Planning request. You have until September 21, 2020.

Reading the questions and reading between the lines, you begin to realize that somebody at the CDC HATES cruise ships. The amount of questions about what cruise ship operators should do, and the amount of money they should spend just shows a prejudice in favor of all other modes of transportation.

The CDC decided this week to remove a number of restrictions on air travel (see here.) There was never a “no-fly” order. So, if airlines can just provide “education” to their passengers, how is it fair that cruise lines are responsible for all COVID-19 cases that came to light on a ship?

The usual comments against cruising is that it’s not necessary. Neither is air travel. Heard of Zoom lately?

Part of my comments were driven by thinking about all of the transportation required for me personally to go on a cruise. I wanted to share that, and let others think about how likely it is that outbreaks spontaneously happen only on cruise ships.

My wife and I live in Dallas. If we sail from PortMiami for a seven-day cruise, we will fly in the day before. So, prior to boarding the ship, we will

  • Take a cab or Uber to DFW or Love Field
  • Be inside an international airport terminal
  • Be inside an airplane for almost two hours (with recirculated air)
  • Be inside another international airport terminal (Miami or Fort Lauderdale)
  • Take a cab or Uber to the hotel
  • Be inside a hotel lobby
  • Be inside a hotel room
  • Visit a restaurant
  • Take a cab or Uber to PortMiami
  • Be inside the port terminal (an international port)
  • Board the ship

So, there are a lot of people I will come into contact with before boarding the ship. Uber says riders and drivers must wear a mask. I know from UberEats that this is not always the case. There are no checks at airports.

Even if the cruise ship checks me immediately before departure, I could have contracted the disease (or any other disease) along the way to the ship. However, the CDC (and therefore, the masses) will blame the ship.

So, cruise travel is the problem?

Unless you hammer all of the travel industry out of existence, singling out cruise travel is patently unfair.

Please comment. Please read the instructions! There are specific questions to answer. Answer the ones you find critical to you. Use the format they request. Just posting, “Cruise now, dammit!” or “Ban cruises forever!” really doesn’t help.

It’s not the ship’s fault.

Cruise Ship Saturday

I’ll admit it. I’m stir-crazy. Perhaps not as bad as one of my friends who is threatening to sail away on a mattress, but it’s close.

We’re all stuck at home. We’re all stuck on land until at least Halloween (for now.)

Let’s fix it. Let’s have a virtual cruise. We’ll just declare the house a cruise ship. Just tell people you’re sailing on the Norwegian Carnival of the Seas.

Since everything I could ever consider (Tacos, Lasagne, Beer, Ice Cream, Left-handed People, Talk Like A Pirate) has a national day, I declare tomorrow and every Saturday, as Cruise Ship Saturday.

Preparation for Sailing

Here’s how to “cruise ship” your house:

  • Place at least two bottles of booze in every other room of the house. These are your bars. (Use your bedroom for one of the bars, so you have 24-hour bar service without leaving bed.) For an extra touch, separate the booze by types, so you have a Margarita bar, an English Pub, a wine bar, and a pool bar.
  • If you have a pool, block off at least two-thirds of it so it is the proper size for a cruise ship pool. If you don’t, make a small puddle in your backyard with the hose.
  • Block off at least one bedroom. This is your suites area. You can’t go in there during the cruise because Not Worthy.
  • Spread out all the food in your refrigerator on your dining room table. This is the 24-Hour Buffet. Organize the food by country or region (Chinese leftovers in one corner, then Mexican leftovers, then cold pizza.)
  • Wrap towels around your dogs. They are now service animals, and ready to sail with you.

A Lovely Cruise

  • Have your partner get up at 5am and go put towels on all the lawn chairs in your yard and patio. The chairs are now yours for the rest of the day. Go back to bed.
  • Have an early breakfast at the buffet. Make sure to always fill your plate. It’s fine if you leave food, you paid for it! Have your partner make you some eggs to order at the Omelet Station. Send them back.
  • While you are finishing breakfast, have your partner go make the bed and replace the towels. Your partner is your room steward. Remember to tip for good service.
  • When you see your partner in the hall, ask why there is no ice in the bedroom.
  • At 9:15am sharp, report to your front porch. Stand around for fifteen minutes for no apparent reason, then wander around your neighborhood, practicing proper social distancing. Use masks as locally required. Point out the other neighbors’ houses to your partner, and identify who lives where. This is the Local Sites to See excursion. You are the tour guide. If you find a garage sale, spend an inordinate amount of time there. When you get back, wait ten minutes before going into the house. Everyone came back at once. Charge your partner $50.
  • After the excursion, cool off by the pool. Take all the towels off all the chairs and dump them in a pile on the lawn. Have your partner come ask you what happened to his or her towel. Have an argument about towels, rights of possession and chair ownership. Buy your partner drinks until he or she calms down.
  • At 3pm sharp, go to the living room and make 37 different drinks by mixing tequila with every other liquid in your house. Garnish each drink with a lime wedge. This is the Margaritas class. Charge your partner $50.
  • At 4pm sharp, if you haven’t passed out, go to the living room and make 37 different drinks by mixing vodka with every other liquid in your house. Serve all drinks in martini glasses. This is the Martini class. Charge your partner $50.
  • Dress up for dinner. This requires polo shirts and at least dress shorts for men, nice dresses for women. (Men, wear sandals and tell your partner you knew it wasn’t really a rule. Women, make your men go put real shoes on.) You have anytime dining, so just go to the kitchen table whenever you want. Wait for ten minutes outside the kitchen table because you didn’t book a specific time to dine. Order one of everything on the menu, because Cruise Ship. Have three desserts.
  • Explain to your partner that he really should have been wearing a jacket and tie because Formal Night.
  • After dinner, go to your room and change out of your dress clothes, because Vacation.
  • Head out to the pool. Play all your old Jimmy Buffett CDs at full volume. Play Margaritaville every five minutes. It’s a Calypso Party. Drink the rest of the tequila.
  • Wander into the living room. Play all your old 60s R&B CDs at full volume. Play Shout every five minutes. It’s a Toga Party. Drink the rest of the vodka.
  • Stop in each of the bars and have a drink. It’s a Pub Crawl. For small houses or enlarged livers, do the circuit twice.
  • Order UberEats or Grubhub at midnight from whatever random restaurant is still open in your area. Complain to your partner that your favorite dish is not available, when they have it in the restaurant during regular hours.
  • Go to the buffet while waiting for delivery because Starving. Discover all the food has been replaced by four Hershey bars and a bag of M&Ms. It’s the Midnight Chocolate Buffet.
  • When the food order arrives, take it to your partner in the bedroom. It’s room service. Charge your partner $12.95. When you finish your snacks, leave your plates in the hall.
  • After your midnight snack, go play Nintendo or your XBox. (Older people, play cards or Monopoly.) Bet your partner you can win. It’s the Casino.
  • After spending all the cash collected from your partner in the casino, call it a night. Drink any of the booze left in your bedroom. It’s the minibar. Charge your partner $7.50 per drink.
  • Make sure you’re all packed up. Disembarkation starts at 7am and you have an early time to disembark.
  • At 7am, find a statement under your door with a bunch of charges you don’t recognize. Wonder how much you actually had to drink. Blame the charges on your partner.
  • Fill in a survey two days after your cruise. Bitch about the pool chair situation and the excess charges.

A Bit Less Hopeful

So, Princess is out until December, Norwegian until after Halloween and we’re waiting for the other shoes to drop.

I’m thinking canceling our Christmas cruise was the right idea. I’m depressed, since that was our last possible vacation this year, but I’m less depressed than if they had canceled it out from under us after final payment. We still have friends with a booking, but they’re wondering what’s going to happen. We had another one cancel because if she got quarantined getting home from the cruise, she’d miss work.

Carnival canceled our Panama Canal cruise in May 2021 but it’s because they’re repositioning all the ships they aren’t selling, and the Carnival Radiance won’t be in Galveston, after all. There’s also no replacement, so the cruise was just canceled.

We just booked a similar cruise on Carnival Dream for October 2022. We sail in 815 days. It’s a 14-day cruise instead of nine so we get a couple of extra ports. We also booked an aft corner balcony.

As I said about next May’s canceled cruise, “it’s gotta be fixed by then.”

It’s ugly.

In spite of that, people seem to still be booking cruises. If you see a deal you like now, take it. (If you need ideas, let me know.)

Cruise lines need income, so if people are making deposits, that helps. It probably doesn’t help as much as making final payments, but it’s a pandemic. I think they’ll take what they can get.

One major (possibly) victory – the CDC is asking for public comment on restarting cruising. Here’s a link to the notice. If you want to ever cruise again, now would be the time to speak up!

Still Hopeful

Carnival announced their 50th anniversary is in 2022, and they had a link to get more information, so I clicked it – I’m a clicker.

Their newest ship, Carnival Mardi Gras has even not sailed yet, but she will have a sister in Fall 2022.

While I was clicking, the site asked for my VIFP Club number, which I never remember, so I added it and after getting info on the second Mardi Gras class ship, the site reminded me I was a member and could log in.

I logged in, and was reminded I’m sailing in 295 days.

Sailing.

Now that Princess has canceled all cruises until December 15th, I am thinking canceling our Christmas cruise was not an unreasonable decision.

Still, I’m hopeful. Carnival Radiance isn’t out of drydock yet, and her first cruises are being canceled because the work was delayed, but still, I’m hopeful.

This is the one cruise I want to do. There are very few places in the world that can only be experienced by cruise ship, and the Panama Canal is one of them.

295 days. Fingers crossed.

Update: Not ten minutes after I typed this, I received the cancelation notice. Sigh.

Update: Screw COVID-19. Booked Panama Canal on the Carnival Dream for Halloween 2022. !4-day instead of 9-day plus extra ports.

Planning Ahead

We were comparing cruise notes with some of our friends yesterday in our weekly virtual happy hour (these are strange times, indeed), and some of us have a cruise coming up in 204 days over Christmas and New Year’s. Our final payment is due in 84 days, in August. This would be our eleventh Christmas cruise, one of the longest, and the most expensive, by far.

I’ve never been this close to a final payment without knowing whether we were actually going to sail. I’ve never been this close to a final payment where my wife and I were both a bit ambivalent on whether we’re going. We’re both in a high-risk group for COVID-19 so it’s a bit stressful. My wife is the “hide under the bed until it’s perfectly safe” type, and I’m the “whatever happens, happens” type, so there will be interesting discussions to come.

I’m sure that if Norwegian cancels the cruise, it will be after final payment, so we’re going to have a lot of money invested before we find out if we’re really going to go.

Our cruise after the Christmas cruise is 348 days from now, from Galveston to the Panama Canal. This is a bucket-list cruise for me, and I’m actually concerned about a go/no-go on that one.

The cruise industry was hammered by COVID-19. I think time is showing that much of the original reaction to the virus was blown out of proportion, but a cruise ship is one of the few places on earth that any disease can spread rapidly.

It’s not the close quarters, although that doesn’t help. It’s the people.

My biggest concern is not the crew or the infrastructure or the updated safety and health procedures. It’s the other passengers.

A system is only as secure as its weakest part – and when you see the behavior of people during quarantine, and the behavior I’ve seen on my past cruises, I really doubt that everyone traveling on any cruise will actually follow the guidelines that are put in place.

As a stockholder, my fear is that some idiot will manage to travel sick, infect others onboard and that will be the end of cruising for good.

As a passenger, my fear is that some idiot will infect me.

If you wanted to start a cruise line today, unlike Sir Richard Branson (who managed to launch a cruise line in probably the worst possible year ever), I would not target millennials. I would target the traditional cruise audience – the ones who gave cruising a bad name – namely, the old farts, like me. They might actually follow the rules.

You can’t just make a cruise experience expensive to attempt to filter out the idiots. Watch any of the Below Deck charter boat “reality shows”. Travel in the Haven on Norwegian. Travel in the MSC Yacht Club. There are rich idiots everywhere, and many of them are very self-centered – which is a major issue.

I would have more liberal cancellation policies or just include basic insurance in the fare. One of the reasons people cruise sick is because they can’t afford to not go. Either they will lose their money (didn’t buy insurance) or they will lose their vacation (their jobs or managers or vacation policy are inflexible.)

I would include everything in the fare. If people start their journey by figuring out how to smuggle things onboard (like liquor), they are not in a mindset to follow rules.

I would go back to smaller ships. (It’s interesting that Norwegian’s next class of ships – Project Leonardo – will hold less passengers than their current Breakaway Plus class.) This would be a cruise line for people who enjoy traveling at sea, not visiting a floating resort. The smaller the crowd, the lower the likelihood that someone is sick.

I would try to avoid the over-commercialized ports (Nassau, Cozumel, St Thomas come to mind.) They have big ships calling there all the time, they’re very commercial, and many who have been on multiple cruises have been there multiple times. Plus, you want to avoid places where everyone else is going.

I would want to sail a series of routes, rather than the same route every week. For scheduling, I’m sure the same port every day of each week is the simplest, but it means that people start traveling for the ship, not the ports. (I’m pretty sure that traveling for the ship is what gave us megaships with slides and pools and go-karts and all the other toys that drive up the prices, take up space and are then not used by many of the passengers.)

I hope to sail again soon. We will see if the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line actually starts sailing in July, and when the river cruises resume. Those are the test cases, since everyone else is looking at August or beyond.

I hope even more people realize that cruising is a wonderful way to spend a vacation. I hope they also realize you’re sharing space with a lot of other people, so we need to consider others and not just our own needs. (This, of course, seems an important lesson for people everywhere these days, not just people on cruises.)

Still Here, Still Stuck At Home

So, this has been a bad year – for everyone, but especially for the travel industry. I broke my foot and ankle in January, so we canceled our February anniversary cruise – our first on Royal Caribbean – and by the time we started considering a replacement, we were on lockdown. I’m still annoyed I wasn’t able to write about my first Royal Caribbean cruise.

The cruise industry has been vilified as the grand source of COVID-19, which is just ridiculous. If the virus originated in China (it did), it’s highly unlikely it traveled the world on a cruise ship. It took an international flight.

I will admit that any communicable disease will spread on a cruise ship. It will also spread in an airport, on a train, in a all-inclusive resort or a theme park. However, you can close an airport. You can close a theme park, even if you wait until after it’s obvious you should close down. A ship can be days away from port when the decision is made to end the cruise. There are still cruise ships who haven’t been able to port.

So, we’re waiting to see when cruises will begin again, especially since the date keeps moving. Carnival moved their restart date to August 1st earlier this week, so I won’t be surprised if the other majors do, as well.

My other concern is the amount of regulation that is forced on the industry by a government which is now power-crazed since it discovered it could make everyone stay home. If you can wipe out half the restaurant industry, why not sink all the cruise ships?

I’m beginning to think we may not make our Christmas cruise this year, which would suck because it’s a great itinerary, it’s Christmas and New Year’s in one cruise and we have a bunch of friends traveling with us. It would also break a twelve-year tradition. However, I’m really not sure anyone will be cruising by then, and I’m not really sure Norwegian will still be operating, at all. (Yes, I’m a pessimist, but there are multiple investor reports saying dump the cruise line stocks.)

Truth be told, I’m actually a bit concerned about our Panama Canal partial transit and that isn’t until May of 2021.

While I was having my personal pity party, I saw someone on social media saying the cruise lines shouldn’t get government assistance – when everyone else, including dead people are – because they “don’t hire Americans.”

That’s when I stopped and thought about the real victims of the “blame cruises” movement – the travel agents, call center people, back office teams, all the onboard staff and pretty much everyone in an Alaska port who just lost their entire 2020 season.

I’m a travel agent. Sure, I haven’t booked anyone but myself (and one was the anniversary cruise that was canceled – I’m glad I sold myself insurance), but I have the credentials. If anyone wants to book a cruise, I’m happy to help. There are certainly some deals out there.

The saddest part of all of this has been the stream of emails from all the cruise lines to their travel agents, which basically say, “Don’t panic!” However, if cruise sales is your primary business, you have to panic – you can’t sell something that doesn’t currently operate. Even with commissions held constant through 2021, you won’t earn anything if you’re not selling. If you’re in the travel industry in Alaska, you have to make enough from May to September to get you through the entire year. So, if you don’t make anything this summer, you’re going to be hurting until Summer of 2021.

So, the next time someone says cruise lines don’t hire Americans, just remember there may not be a high percentage of Americans onboard, but there are a lot onshore.