Author Archives: Kevin John Gilhooly

About Kevin John Gilhooly

A poet, a dreamer, a caffeine addict. President of KNON 89.3FM - The Voice of the People in Dallas and Ft Worth. President of Sparky's Pals, a humane education non-profit. Wedding officiant. Owned by four dogs. Retired IBMer.

Internet

I thought I would start writing down subjects we think are obvious, but new cruisers might not have considered. A FAQ for the sea.

One of our friends messaged us a week or so back and said his son was leaving in a cruise the next day, and didn’t want to take his laptop, were there computers onboard?

My answer would have been “Yes”, but since we’ve been on one of her sister ships, Virginia actually gave directions to where the Internet Cafe is located, probably.

Everyone wants to disconnect on vacation, but few of us can. So, how do you get connected at sea?

Many ways.

  • The “no-hardware” method is to use the computers onboard. This means you’re in line with everyone else that left their laptop at home. You buy an Internet package, and you must login to your account to use the ship’s PCs. Your minutes count down as you work. SIGN OFF WHEN YOU’RE DONE. If you don’t logout, your minutes keep winding down, and anyone else that uses the computer will be using your minutes.
  • The “lightweight” method is bringing a tablet and using the ship’s WiFi. You buy an Internet package and login to your account on the tablet. This is a more secure method and you can check your email in your room or by the pool (if you’re lucky.) You still have to remember to logout!
  • The “cheap” method is using your cell phone in port, assuming you have an International plan (or one is included.) Our Sprint plan has cheap talk minutes in the Caribbean, but data is free (it’s 3G, but it’s free.) Check with your carrier. Make sure your phone is on Airplane mode on the ship! Ships have cell towers and most carriers are happy to have you use them – for a large fee.
  • The “free” method is using a cell phone in Airplane mode or a tablet or laptop and finding a place in each port with free WiFi. The crew probably knows some places, so ask around.

Internet Packages

Ships now have multiple Internet packages, so make sure you check what you get. For example, some lines have a Social Media package that includes most social media sites, but not email. I can’t live without email. If your laptop is for work, you may need a package that supports VPN so you can connect back to your office.

Whatever package you need, it may be cheaper to purchase it ahead of time, before you board.

If you can, disconnect. It’s a great feeling.

Anticipation and the Aftermath

We’ve been on 19 cruises (18 on Norwegian), so even though there are a lot of people who probably consider us still rookies, we’re getting a bit jaded.

While there are always new ships coming out, the experience – the essence of what makes a cruise line unique – is pretty much the same. Whether you’re on the Jewel class or Breakaway+, you know you’re on a Norwegian ship.

As mentioned before, we’re branching out. Actually, we’re branching out twice in the next few months. It’s complicated.

We discovered a while back that MSC Cruises will status-match in their Voyager Club Program, based on your status on other lines. I filled in the form when we first considered MSC – in case they changed their minds, but we never took the plunge. Well, actually, we found a Norwegian cruise instead, and Virginia decided known over unknown was safer, even though it was more expensive.

This year, after looking at the prices for Christmas (a Christmas cruise is a family tradition), we finally booked MSC. (This means Norwegian is really, really expensive.) The agent found our Voyager Club memberships from whenever I did the status match, had them added to the cruise, and we were all set. We started researching the ship (we’ll be on the MSC Divina), and we were set.

Let the anticipation begin.

Then, I looked at my Voyager Club page, and my Black membership (their highest level) was marked as expiring in June.

A loyalty account that expires?

So, we called and reminded them that we were booked at Christmas in the Yacht Club, their highest class of cabin. Apparently, that’s very appreciated, but you still have to sail once every three years.

Thus began the five stages…

  • “Surely, they don’t mean expired.” — Denial
  • “What is wrong with them? Cancel it!” — Anger
  • “They can’t mean us. We’re going at Christmas.” — Bargaining
  • “We’re going to be nobodies on this ship. We’re starting over.” — Depression
  • “Well, we’ll survive. It’s a cruise.” — Acceptance

Luckily, this is the cruise industry, so there is a sixth step – Booking.

“We have to cruise every three years to keep our status? We have to sail by June? Fine. Book us.”

So, our first MSC Cruise on the MSC Divina won’t be our first MSC Cruise, after all. We’re sailing on the MSC Seaside in May.

What kind of crazy person books a cruise to keep a status they never actually earned? That would be us. Cruisaholics.

I would think we’re just insane, but when we mentioned it to some friends, they started looking at their calendars.

So, now, we have anticipation.

Virginia wanted to sail on the Seaside, so she gets her wish. I wanted to try MSC, so I get my wish.

We will maintain our Black status so people who have been on MSC more than us (say, once) will envy us.

It’s time to start planning.

Cruising Ducks

QuackMail

As usual, I’m probably overthinking things, but that’s how I roll.

Since people seem to think one major inhibitor of being notified about their Cruising Ducks or Pirate Ducks being found is the whole “joining the Facebook page” issue, why not invent another way to let people report?

I realize the idea of being notified is another can of worms, but so it goes.

So, while most plastic animals don’t have email, their owners do, so I decided email was the best way to communicate, at least until I figure out how to get a GPS reporting unit inside a plastic duck.

On the other hand, you probably don’t want your personal email address on a bunch of easily lost or discarded tags, so why not have a domain just for plastic ducks? That way, if one address gets compromised, we just throw it away and create another one.

That’s the idea behind QuackMail. I registered quackmail.net and it has 100 free forwarding accounts (I can always get more if this turns out to be popular), so you can now request a quackmail account that forwards to your real email. The only concern I have is making sure people have unique QuackMail names.

It’s probably overkill, but we are talking about people who think leaving plastic ducks with personalized tags in various places on random cruise ships is a reasonable activity.

The webpage points back here for now, but eventually, I will get around to creating a real site to let people register online and replace the form above. Eventually.

I realize this is the first step towards re-inventing geocaching, but that was my first thought when I heard about cruising ducks.

We’ll see what happens.

 

Cruising Ducks Trauma

This should not surprise me, since everything these days turns into an argument, but so it goes.

Cruising Ducks were supposed to be a fun diversion on a cruise. You hide a duck, somebody finds it, they let you know and hopefully, pass it on.

Simple. What could be controversial?

Apparently, some of the group members on Facebook (the source of much of today’s angst) don’t think we’re giving the ducks with the proper attitude.

This started because some people foolishly mentioned that nobody every said they found one of their ducks.

The group overview states you should tag your ducks and tell people to post a photo in the group. It’s a closed group, so you have to ask permission to join, just to post a photo. So, I’m pretty sure that stops a lot of people.

So, even though the group implies you should find out if people find your duck, you probably won’t.

This is not a big deal, but it doesn’t mean people won’t be disappointed.

Apparently, some people don’t think we should be disappointed. There are some in the group who berate those expressing disappointment because they don’t understand giving.

Understand giving?

I’m all for making others happy, but leaving random plastic animals around isn’t really how I usually go about doing it.

So, I mentioned that my ducks have an email address, so those who don’t want to go through the group can still report on the ducks. This is how I know where Sir Francis is currently located.

So, now I’m a bad giver. I can live with that. I just think some people should shut the hell up about what good givers they are, since they’re really just trying to get people to tell them “Bravo!”

Isn’t that more hypocritical than saying, “Hey, I left a gift out in the open for anyone to find. Can you tell me if you found it?”

The Book of Cruises

I just remembered that my wife and I wrote a treatise on cruising for my son and daughter before their first cruise (they ignored it, since they were going with us.) Then, we updated it for my niece and nephew (she actually read it, I think, even though they were going with us).

So, now I’m trying to decide if I should re-update it, try to make it fit a more generic audience, and put it out to the world. Part of this site was supposed to be documenting where we have gone and part of it was supposed to be documenting what we’ve learned – if we break it first, maybe others won’t have to do so. It’s not really long enough to be a book – because we knew nobody in the family would read it if it were. A Cliff’s Notes for cruising, except that’s a trademark, so I’ll have to get another name.

There’s a part of me that thinks most of it might be useful to someone and there’s a part of me that thinks it’s probably three or four weeks worth of posts if I serialize it, and I’m running low on subjects at the moment. (Any suggestions? Leave a comment.)

That’s the next project, I guess. That, and working on building up my travel agent knowledge, since after going on cruises and talking to people about cruises, the next step is selling people cruises. Any takers?

Cruiseaholics

I realized the other day that I might have a problem with cruising when someone called me an “aquaholic.” (In this case, it may have been a case of “pot-kettle.”) This is a great term for someone addicted to cruising, and a domain squatter thinks so, as well, since the Internet domain could be mine for only a hundred and fifty grand.

Luckily, I’ve had cruiseaholics.com registered for years, and it points here, so I’ll just use that term, instead.

I didn’t really take offense at either term, because they’re humorous (and they’re true.)

I was trying to develop a twelve step program to break yourself of cruising, but I realized that nobody afflicted would be interested. So, I decided to just document the warning signs. My wife, Virginia, helped, by suggesting some and living the others.

The first warning sign is that you understand any of this list, so tread carefully.

For Norwegian Cruise Line, your cruise consultant at the cruise line (as opposed to an independent travel agent) is called a Personal Cruise Consultant – your PCC. Passengers of other lines just change PCC in this list to your term of choice.

With that, the warning signs:

  • You’ve actually read the Cruise Contract and Terms & Conditions.
  • You can quote the Cruise Contract and Terms & Conditions.
  • You have quoted the Cruise Contract and Terms & Conditions to some idiot online who is slagging your cruise line of choice.
  • Your PCC is on your cell phone’s Favorites list. (This was an old joke I had about my wife’s phone – Virginia’s speed dial list was all our veterinarians, all her siblings, our PCC and then me. See next item, as this is no longer just a joke.)
  • When you’re staying in Miami the night before a cruise, you decide you want to visit Scarpetta, a lovely restaurant by Scott Conant, a chef you have seen on Food Network. (This seems normal, although you may watch Food Network too much.) Three weeks before the cruise, you decide to invite your PCC to dinner, as well. This is borderline. He accepts. Now we’re getting into dangerous territory. You tell him at the end of a lovely meal to mention to your friends (some of his other Cruiseaholic customers) that the restaurant you took him to was better than the one they took him to. This is a definite sign. For the record, Virginia took out her phone at dinner, and her favorite list is me, her sisters and our PCC. I’m pretty sure she edited the list to lower him before she showed it.
  • You realize you should invite your PCC to dinner because on your previous cruise, you had dinner with him and his parents.
  • You have three cruises booked and you’re still trying to decide where to go “next.”
  • You change cabin preferences based on the ship.
  • You know it’s a “cabin”, not a “room.”
  • You know it’s a “ship”, not a “boat.”
  • You spend an hour with GPS, the navigation channel and weather reports, trying to determine why the seas are rougher than usual. (We’re on the Norwegian Bliss currently – a ship we sailed last August in Alaska. This is a rough trip – not bad, just a bit rough. So, I started making some notes. Our cabin is forward, not aft. We’re on a different deck. We’re on a Caribbean cruise, not Alaskan. We’re not actually in the Caribbean, we’re in the Atlantic. We have a stiff headwind. It’s rainy weather.)
  • You enjoy the “new ship” smell, and can say so without giggling.
  • You know what a Meet & Greet is.
  • You’ve attended a Meet & Greet on more than two ships.
  • You know Norwegian’s Meet & Greets are better than Carnival’s.
  • You’ve organized a Meet & Greet.
  • The Hotel Director recognized you at the Meet & Greet.
  • You’re invited to the Captain’s Private Reception and you don’t go, because you had dinner reservations and because you met him last time, anyway.
  • You know what ships your favorite crew are on.
  • You know what ships your favorite crew are on because you’re friends with them on Facebook.
  • You tell one Cruise Director you know his friend, another Cruise Director, and you can discuss his startup business at home.
  • You’re afraid to visit the Philippines because you’re afraid you’ll be treated as a god.
  • You’ve considered moving to Miami to save on airfare.
  • You laughed at anything on this list.

The Voyages of Sir Francis Duck

So, as the proud parents of a crew of brave and daring Duck Pirates, we now have to watch from afar as they go off on their careers of plunder.

Sir Francis Duck was originally stationed at Cagney’s and left his post, only to be captured at Coco’s some time later by Lady Nicki. He is now in the brig, awaiting transfer to his next vessel, the Carnival Magic. He is to set sail again in May.

  • Norwegian Bliss sailed 2/9/2019 returned 2/16/2019

Pirate Duck

Pirate Ducks invade the Norwegian Bliss

So, after discovering there were not only Cruising Ducks, there were also Pirate Ducks, we set some pirates loose on the Norwegian Bliss last week. (My only complaint is that you have to join the proper Facebook group and wait to be approved just to announce a find, which seems like a lot of work. So, all our ducks have email addresses for those too lazy to join a group.)

We know one has already been found (while we were still onboard), one was donated to our room steward (who seemed delighted), a couple were handed out in the Local (the kids seemed pleased, Mom wanted to know how to join in), and the rest are all running free. For now.

Crew MemberDeploymentStatus
Sir Francis DuckCagney’sCaptured at Coco’s
Michel ConfitStarbucks
Blackbill the PirateArchie (Room Steward)Captured
Bluebill the PirateObservation Lounge Couch Pillow
Redbill the PirateCabin 8726 Safe
Pierre a l’OrangeThe LocalCaptured
Manuel PatoThe LocalCaptured
Sir Henri CassouletCagney’s Statue
Victor CanardObservation Lounge Windowsill
Sir Robert MallardStarbucks LobbyCaptured (per Facebook)
Duckie CupidAtrium Piano
Captain Katie MallardMaltings (in table menu)

Cruising Scared

I don’t like to think on vacation.

We’re just back from the Norwegian Bliss, and this was an anniversary celebration so we chose the Ultimate Beverage Package (UBP) as a perk, since the UBP means free unlimited drinks, maybe. This was the first time we’ve taken the package in quite a while, because it’s never really been worth it for us – I don’t drink that much, although nobody believes that, and Virginia has maybe two or three drinks in a cruise. It’s cheaper to just pay for each drink.

The UBP is not actually free, since you pay a 20% gratuity on the cost of the package. That’s why it’s not worth it to us because “free” is really over $100 each. I can probably come close to that in drinks in a week, but there’s no way Virginia will ever come close, and the package rules say everyone in the room has to take it. (20% of $99 per day times two people for a seven-day cruise is $277. So, you pay $277 for “free” drinks.)

I do like unlimited options because then I don’t have to think about it – anything I want is covered. That’s the only reason I would choose it – not because I drink that much, but because then I don’t have to keep track. I just don’t choose it, because if I take it, Virginia has to take it, and then I’m paying $138 for two or three BBCs or Bailey’s.

The major issue with the UBP is that the rules are somewhat fluid. Just before we sailed, Norwegian changed some of the rules, which is their prerogative, but it managed to stress everyone out – and the one thing a vacation is not supposed to have is stress (at least from the vendor.)

Usually, Norwegian had just changed the price per day for the package – I think it started in the seventies and now it’s $99 per day. I don’t think many people actually pay $99 per day for the package, but people who take it as a “free” perk pay the 20% gratuity, so if the retail price goes up, the gratuity goes up. If nobody really buys the package, it can be priced astronomically, since you’re really just raising the “free” price. $277 for two people to drink whatever they want for a week is not that bad. Paying $1660+ retail price is probably insane.

So, you can raise the price per day at will because nobody pays it, and if they do, it just makes a lot of money.

The other way to raise prices is to reset the base price of drinks covered. You can’t actually have any drink with the UBP, you can have any drinks $15 or under. Otherwise, you pay the difference. So, a $20 drink costs $5 (plus 20%) with the UBP.

If you don’t want to reset the base price and cause a rebellion, you raise prices of specific drinks above the $15 threshold and only offend a percentage of the people. That’s what Norwegian did just before we sailed.

(Of course, the other way you save money is to water down the drinks. It’s interesting how much “rum punch” I’ve consumed on excursions without a buzz. It’s also interesting that Norwegian premixes many of their frozen drinks now.)

Raising individual prices didn’t affect me, because I drink relatively cheap booze. It did affect one of our friends, who drinks Patron.

Norwegian changed the prices of a whole host of brands (including Patron) which pushed them out of the UBP and into “extra fee” territory.

First of all, the UBP is a marketing ploy that assumes everyone that has it didn’t actually pay retail because retail is $99 per day plus 20% gratuity. So, when they raised drink prices above the $15 per drink package price, they were assuming everyone had the UBP, because otherwise people would be paying $19 per shot for some liquor that’s not really worth that. With the UBP, the $19 drink would be $4.

“Wow! I can get a drink for $4!”

Now, Norwegian marketing probably thought that people would think $4 is a good deal, but only if they had forgotten that they already paid for the package or at least the gratuities.

I’m not sure what millennial MBA came up with this, but people do not forget paying almost $300 for “free” drinks.

Worse, we were traveling with someone whose drink of choice (Patron) was suddenly $4 extra per drink.

So, the cruise started with a cloud, and even though the change for many of the brands was rescinded (“it was a glitch”) and Patron went back to the previous price and was covered by the UBP, every time I asked for something more interesting than Captain Morgan and Ginger Ale, I had to wonder if the drink was going to be on the upcharge menu. (I had Grand Marnier one night and expected to pay extra, but the menu was apparently not updated.)

I also had to think about our future cruises, where we won’t take the package, where I could end up paying $20 for a drink just because it was priced so people with the package would pay $4.

I don’t like thinking on vacation.

So, this was a breach of trust of sorts – even though it didn’t affect me, I had to start thinking “what are they going to do to us next?”

That is not what you want your customers thinking, unless you’re a monopoly or the government.

Norwegian needs to stop screwing around with their “freebies” because people understand they’re not really free.

As a stockholder, I’m happy to see positive results on the stock price. As a traveler with 18 Norwegian cruises, we’re sailing on MSC at Christmas.