Category Archives: Journal

Insurance

I wrote an opinion piece on this earlier. This is designed to be factual.

Do you need insurance? Yes.

Do you have to buy trip insurance? It depends. Some people swear their credit card provides trip coverage. (Read the fine print.) Some think nothing could go wrong. Some wait until they get home and threaten to sue the cruise line.

Think of all the things that could happen.

  • Get sick before the trip.
  • Lose your job before the trip.
  • Get sent out of town on business the week of the trip.
  • You miss your flight.
  • Your flight is canceled.
  • Plane to the port is late.
  • Arrive late to the port.
  • Get sick on the trip.
  • Pass away on the cruise.
  • A close family member passes away while you’re cruising.
  • Miss the ship at a port.
  • Miss the flight home.

This is probably not an exhaustive list of what could go wrong. So, the question is – how many of these risks are you willing to take?

Also, consider the insurance source. The least path of resistance is to purchase insurance with your cruise. However, if you’re like us and book your own flights, the cruise line insurance probably won’t cover any problems.

Read the policy. The best policy you could probably get is “cancel for any reason” coverage. If you change your mind, you can get your money back.

Medical insurance will probably cover you out of the country – except Medicare and Medicaid. My corporate Aetna insurance covered all of my (and Virginia’s) misadventures but they considered the ship’s doctor “out of plan”, so the reimbursement was lower.

Yes, I said “reimbursement.” The ship’s medical center charges you cash money to your shipboard account. They’re not going to file with your insurance and bill you the difference. So, be prepared to pay full price onboard. Keep all your receipts! When you get home, file with your health insurance provider, take the receipts and what you reimbursed, and file that with your travel insurance provider. We’ve done this a few times, and have always received 100% of the money back. However, we’ve had medical bills on the ship that were our highest expense by far.

“I can’t afford the insurance.” How did you afford the cruise? More importantly, when the ship sails away in Mexico because your wife spent too much time shopping (or your husband spent too much time drinking), how are going to afford to get home?

Get trip insurance. Visit insuremytrip.com or your favorite broker. Just get it.

For those who are afraid of everything, here are some notes from Virginia’s research for our niece before their first cruise:

There is trip insurance that covers everything, which you can buy directly through an independent insurance company. My research found the most comprehensive plans are offered by Nationwide Insurance.  None of the other plans we have looked at cover as much, especially when it comes to pre-existing conditions and actual situations (both medical and ship related).  

Most plans don’t cover pre-existing conditions.  They have a “Look-back Period”, which varies from 90 or 120 to 180 days.  This means if, for instance, you had to cancel your trip because your Dad had to be hospitalized in an emergency for his COPD, and you decided it was serious enough not to leave, they would look back at HIS medical records for that period of time, and if there was any treatment, change of meds, or anything that indicated this was not an unforeseen outcome, they would not cover your trip cancellation.

Nationwide has a pre-existing condition waiver.  They also cover stuff that surprised me!  If your itinerary gets changed, they actually will compensate you per port.  This is an unusual benefit.

Not many insurance plans cover trip cancellation as well as medical while you are on the trip.  Compared to the coverage we have through the cruise line, they are a little more expensive, but they cover the flights, hotel, etc., rather than only the cruise.  While Virginia was writing this note originally, there was a big discussion about insurance on Cruise Critic, and many people were recommending Nationwide.

This is not a recommendation, since we haven’t used them (yet), but to get a quote and the complete details on the plan, call Nationwide at 877-970-9059.  This is different than their main number.  It is direct to the group that handles travel insurance.

Viking Sky

The Viking Sky is safely in port after a harrowing day at sea.

The ship lost power Saturday in high winds and heavy seas, and drifted dangerously close to shore before regaining enough power to pull away and anchor. After the engines were restarted, she limped (under escort) into port this morning.

A cargo ship in the area diverted to assist, and also lost power. Her crew abandoned ship and were rescued.

While the Sky was trying to regain power, almost half her passengers were airlifted to relative safety on land by helicopter.

Some thoughts:

  • This was a spectacular group effort. The crew managed to stay in position while waiting for help. A ship in the area went to assist. Government services responded quickly. Locals assisted with those plucked off the ship. Norwegians are prepared for bad weather rescues.
  • The Joint Rescue Center and Norwegian emergency services did an amazing job. I’m still doing the math on how five helicopters got over 400 people off a cruise ship in 12 hours or so – plus nine crew from the cargo ship that tried to help.
  • Muster drill is critical. When you see a room full of passengers in life jackets, if you’ve never cruised, you would probably think, “They’re all going to die.” If you’ve cruised enough, you think, “Bet they’re glad they went to muster drill.”
  • There may be a better way to see the Northern Lights than by sea. This was a Northern Lights cruise, which explains why they were sailing as far north as they were this time of year.
  • There’s a reason most cruise lines relocate their ships to Florida for the winter. The weather sucks in the winter, especially in Northern Europe and Scandinavia.
  • Even Hurtigruten (a delivery service as well as a passenger service that sails the Norwegian coast) had held their ships in port. Why did the Viking Sky sail?
  • River cruises and ocean cruises are not the same. For all the older folks onboard who chose the Viking Sky because they had been on a Viking River Cruise, the service may be the same, but the water is different.
  • After years of watching Deadliest Catch, when I heard the crew of the cargo ship was jumping into the water to be rescued, my first thought was, “I hope they have survival suits.” Then I thought, “If your cruise ship goes down in the North Atlantic or the Norwegian Sea, what’s a life jacket going to do for you?”
  • The best news sources for a crisis on a cruise ship are Cruise Critic, Cruise Industry News or social media.
  • It constantly amazes me that in times of crisis, there are still people who think, “I should post a video of this.”
  • The US media didn’t seem very interested in the crisis or ongoing rescue. Part of this was probably the lack of visuals available since TV is a visual medium. However, CNN can talk about Robert Kraft (“rich man caught with hooker”) with only a stock photo, so why not something about a ship with over 900 passengers onboard?
  • The media don’t understand cruises and they don’t care about details. There were not over 1300 passengers onboard, there were 1300 people (passengers and crew.)
  • There is no 24 hour news service in the US anymore, if you need to get news, just go online – and you may want to go offshore, like to the BBC, for example. CNN, Headline News, Fox News all have scheduled programs – not live news. Then, they wonder why their viewers are plummeting.

Muster Drill

Muster Drill is held on every cruise ship at the start of every voyage. It accomplishes a number of goals – it teaches all passengers where their lifeboat gathering place is, it shows passengers how to wear their life jackets, and it follows international standards.

Cruise lines are serious about passengers attending the Muster Drill. The muster location for your cabin is usually on a placard on the back of your cabin door – the specific sub-location is generally on your keycard. (The door map will show you that muster station B is the main dining room, for example, but your keycard will show your specific group – B6. In that example , you would go to the main dining room (muster station B) and look for a crew member holding a B6 sign (group B6).

Look around you at the drill. This is not just people-watching (although it is interesting to see how hammered some passengers are this early in the cruise), the people around you are the people who will be in your lifeboat. That’s what muster is – it’s the preparation to abandon ship.

Not all lines require you to bring your life jacket, so check before the drill or listen to the announcements. Life jackets are usually in the closet in your cabin, but on the larger ships, they are sometimes only kept at the muster stations.

You must attend the drill. Yes, it’s as exciting as the airline safety drill, but it’s still mandatory attendance. Being at the drill proves that you have found your evacuation point once. If you don’t attend, the staff will track you down and make you attend a makeup session. Muster drill could be really short if everyone gets there on time.

The elevators stop during the drill, so if you’re allergic to stairs, go a few minutes early. (There is one available for handicapped passengers.)

Make sure you have your keycard scanned or check in at the muster station! It’s how the staff know you attended.

Listen for the description of the general alarm. On Norwegian, it’s seven short blasts of the horn, followed by a long blast. (Just remember seven dwarves and Snow White.) other lines should be the same or similar.

An interesting historical note – muster drills are part of SOLAS – the International Convention on Safety of Life at Sea. The first version was drafted after the RMS Titanic sank. So, thanks for nothing, iceberg.

Another interesting historical note – muster is done before ships leave port because the Costa Concordia ran aground before the muster drill had been held. Oops.

Virgin Voyages

Sir Richard Branson has decided to enter the cruise business. As with other businesses he’s started, he intends to disrupt the industry.

I can’t comment on the ship, since the Scarlet Lady isn’t sailing yet, but I can comment, based on their marketing materials on the website.

When the brand was announced, I signed up for more information, and I was added to the list for early access.

The major selling point first was “All adults.” You must be 21 or over to cruise. This really means “No kids”, which implies “No families.”

This was almost a selling point for me, until last Christmas, when we sailed with our niece and nephew and their kids. You know what? Traveling with kids does not always suck. The kids introduced us to parts of the ship we had never visited before. I was happy we got to help introduce them to cruising.

The more I read their marketing, the more I realized that “Adults Only” probably means “Millennials.”

I’ve been on 19 cruises, and I like being a passenger.

Virgin doesn’t have “passengers”, they have “sailors.” I don’t want to be a sailor, sailors work on the ship. I would just like to ride along.

Virgin doesn’t have “cruises”, they have “voyages.” Call me negative, but when I hear “Voyage”, my brain finishes it with “of the Damned.” Voyages are long trips.

That’s another negative point – their Voyages are short, 4 or 5 days only. Also, the itineraries are boring to me.

I’m not interested in a five-day cruise. I want a week, minimum.

Virgin Voyages prices by the cabin (or by the person.) This is great for a crowd of unmarried friends who will cram into a cabin to save money. I travel with my wife, and the cabin price is twice the single price. So, no savings.

They have free WiFi (if I wasn’t working, I would like to not be connected onboard), all the restaurants are included, many non-alcoholic drinks are included.

I think even adding the costs of included items onto a traditional cruise price still won’t save me money.

So, I think Virgin Voyages is not designed for me. So, if disrupting an industry is designing a cruise line for people who aren’t cruising today, they’re disruptive.

I would remind Sir Richard this was tried in the river cruise space a few years ago. River cruises without old farts! You can’t cruise with us if you’re over 40! It failed.

I’m waiting to see how many “adults” will pay more for a five-day cruise than a seven-day, just to be a sailor on a voyage with an overpacked room to get the costs down. I don’t know if the Virgin brand is worth the upcharge.

(Another interesting thought – how will Virgin Voyages handle lifeboat capacity? We’ve been told the lifeboats have a fixed number of “souls” they hold, and if there’s a cruise with a lot of families – which means more than double-occupancy – some rooms won’t be sold, because the lifeboats are at capacity.)

I think I’ll just stay a passenger on a cruise.

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.