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MSC Seaside – Embarkation Day

Editor’s Note: I will have to update this as I go.
10am It’s almost time for our next cruise adventure to begin, although the adventure began yesterday, as we always fly in the day before. We flew American to Ft Lauderdale to save a little money, and flying AA always reminds me why we should take Southwest. There was nothing bad, it’s just not particularly pleasant.
The real adventure started last Friday, when Luggage Forward picked up our bags. They will deliver them to the ship today. Luggage Forward was mentioned by MSC in their packing guide. They pick up your luggage at you house, ship it UPS to the port, and deliver it to the ship. Going home, it’s reversed. It’s UPS Ground, I think, because they want a week on either side of the cruise for shipping. So, if you have a little extra cash and you don’t want to schlep your bags around, it’s an alternative.
Of course, this means our carry-ons are overpacked, so we have clothes if the bags don’t arrive.
We’re at the Intercontinental Miami, one of my favorite hotels – and one we haven’t visited in nine years, because service at this level isn’t cheap. It’s worth it, but it’s not an “every time” hotel. We generally just book the best deal we can find that doesn’t have a number or “Quality” in the title, but this is a special cruise.
Since our last stay, they added a service so amazing that every hotel should have it – there is a phone number to text with your requests or issues. Virginia forgot her toothbrush, so we texted that we needed a toothbrush, and a few minutes later, one of the bellmen delivered three kits with a toothbrush, toothpaste and a flosser. I texted this morning to add my Rewards number to the room. We’ll check that later but I got a “No problem” response.
We had dinner in Toro Toro, the Latin steakhouse in the hotel. Fabulous food, fabulous service. Again, not the cheapest meal in Miami, but worth it. I may have found my new “last meal” request.
We’re trying to get organized and then it’s off to the port to board the ship and hopefully see our luggage.
2pm On board and fed. Boarding was amazingly quick. “Black card” shortens all lines. MSC takes high-level loyalty customers seriously. MSC Black Card kicks the crap out of Norwegian Platinum Plus for boarding.
Lunch was in the buffet. It was busy, but we found seats pretty quickly.
I thought the pizza was good, Virginia said it was not the transcendent experience she was lead to believe. I said most of the people writing those reviews think Dominos is good pizza.
In the middle of lunch, I got an email from Luggage Forward that said our bags have been delivered. We’re not sure where, but there are no bags in the hall, so I’m not panicking yet.
Staff has been unbelievably helpful. We have had a bunch of people on the upsell hunt, but if you just smile and say, “No, thanks”, that’s the end of it.
I was going to cave and get the Easy Drinks package for me because I can do $200 worth of drinks in a week – and would rather have it paid off, but you have to get it for everyone in the room. Virginia doesn’t drink that much, so I passed. The staff member looked disappointed, which was sweet.
We did ask one of the specialty restaurant team to help us book the Steakhouse and Teppanyaki and she booked them, told us there was a discount for Teppanyaki if we went tonight, explained that we get a free dinner (from a special menu) as Black Card members, and mentioned you can order anything you want at a discount if you don’t want to order from the limited free menu.
Someone said the Blue Angels were in town and an F-16 (I think – May be an F-18 but it didn’t stay long) just flew over the ship, so that rumor may be true. Fighter jets are loud.
The Cruise Critic Meet & Greet invitation was in the cabin. We met Marc, our room steward, as we were entering. He had robes for us. Our slippers were already in the room.
The MSC Seaside is like the later Norwegian ships – there’s a slot for your keycard by the door which is the master power switch. (I hate these.) It also lights a signal outside so the steward knows you’re in the room – which means I can’t just my hotel key from The Intercontinental or he’ll never know we’re gone. There’s also a switch to light “Make up the Room” and one for “Do Not Disturb.”
The MSC app is great. We booked all our shows sitting in the atrium before we went to lunch. Our daily planner online shows all our dining, our excursions and our shows.
The Behind The Scenes tour is Thursday morning. We’re booked.
There are no chocolate-covered strawberries but there is a fruit basket. That’s a step up.
3:45pm The luggage has arrived!
3:55pm Seven Dwarves and Snow White aka the General Alarm. It actually sounded before the Muster Drill. This may be because it takes five minutes to say “That was the General Alarm” in multiple languages.
5:30pm Dinner at Teppanyaki was fun, and it was not crowded, as predicted this afternoon. Very tasty. I would do it again. This may be the only specialty restaurant we paid full price to visit, and you get a 20% discount on embarkation evening. However, we paid for the Wagyu sirloin with scallops and lobster and I was not blown away. It was good, but it was not the Wagyu beef I have had at other restaurants (at a much higher price.) Good, not life-altering.
9:30pm We found a letter from the Captain that said he had been told we didn’t attend the muster drill. We did. Here’s a few failures I will document for him: we arrived at the muster station before the staff (which happens when you want to use the elevators which are cut off before the drill.) We heard a staff member tell another couple, “This is Station H [our station] – just sit anywhere.” Nothing about checking in, scanning cards or anything. I thought this was strange, but just because Norwegian and Carnival need it doesn’t mean everyone does. The General Alarm sounded five minutes before muster, so my first thought was it was a very unfortunately timed emergency and my second thought was, “Maybe this way, people will be here on time.” Nobody ever said we needed to prove we were there, but I figured they do a cabin scan, so that must be how they know.
Then we got the letter.
So, I called Guest Services and said we were in fact at the Muster Drill. They said just ignore the letter. I asked if we were supposed to sign in somewhere and they said, “Yes.” I said, “Nobody told us.” They said, “Just ignore the letter.”
This freaks me out a little bit. We’ve had a lot of Norwegian cruises and there is a muster station lead whose main job seems to be reminding people to sign in. Why doesn’t MSC do this? There were two people who mimed to the Cruise Director’s life jacket instructions in multiple languages. That was it.
If there is an emergency, I’m pretty sure there are going to be some drownings, because nobody was paying attention but me.
So, everything’s great but safety. Hmm.
9:45pm Timeless – the first night’s show was very interesting. Lots of different acts loosely tied together. Virginia was impressed. I was thinking a drama graduate called all of his classmates, said “Bring whatever script you’re working on, and let’s workshop it.” Entertaining.
10:30pm Slots are tight, and you can charge it to your room. Danger, Will Robinson!
11:30pm Just realized room service goes to a limited menu at 11pm. Sandwiches and pizza, basically. Well, the buffet is open 22 hours a day. We’re off.
Midnight: Buffet is down to cold cuts, salads (pasta, potato, chicken), desserts and pizza. The buffet bar is open. Great for drunks, not as much for diabetics.
Pretty sure the iced tea I just had was being brewed while Sophia Loren was christening the ship.
Random Thoughts: The other passengers are a mix of ages and nationalities. Most are extremely elevator-challenged. Here’s a public service announcement: People. If the door is still open, stop pressing Up. The elevator you didn’t fit into has to leave first.
Here, like other mega ships, if you need to go up and all the elevators are full, go down to go up.
If this is an Italian line based in Switzerland, catering to Europeans, shouldn’t the hamburgers and hot dogs be labeled as Ethnic food?

One Thing To Do On A Cruise

There are a lot of lists of “things to do on a cruise” and most of them suggest taking advantage of everything a modern cruise ship can offer – food, entertainment, activities, and so forth. I wanted to talk about the most important thing I do on every cruise.

I remember I’m on a ship.

It’s easy to forget, with all the food and entertainment and activities, but you are onboard an ocean-going vessel, sailing (well, using diesel-electric) across one or more of the Seven Seas.

According to the Galveston Immigration Database, my maternal grandparents and their children sailed on the Lucie from Europe (the port of Bremen) to a new home in Texas in 1854. It took them seventy days to cross the Atlantic, and then sail across the Gulf of Mexico to Galveston to disembark.

My paternal grandfather sailed from England (after leaving Ireland) to a new home in the US (first New York, later Rhode Island) on the Caronia in 1913, although I’m still trying to confirm this. Who knew Patrick was a popular name in Ireland?

Why does this matter? It matters to me because both of my parents are descended from people who decided it was time to find another place to become whomever they were destined to become, and they had to take a ship to do so.

So, I try to take at least a little time each cruise to sit on the balcony, look at the ocean, and remember that I’m not the first sailor in the family, although I may be the first with a balcony.

Ships are the reason I’m here. A cruise ship is a far cry from the Lucie or the Caronia, but it is still a ship, and we’re crossing the ocean, even if we’re just island-hopping.

So, on your next cruise, take a few minutes to remember you’re on a cruise. Most ships today are floating hotels, but they are moving you from port to port. It’s easy to forget there’s an ocean under you. Take some time. Watch it go by.

Planning Time

It’s almost time for our next cruise – our first on MSC Cruises – and we’re beginning to realize how much we ended up taking for granted by sailing the same line most of the time. (This is cruise #20 for us, with one on Carnival and eighteen on Norwegian.)
It’s almost like starting from scratch, but it’s really not because there are so many preconceived notions. Time to learn how to cruise all over again.
The preconceived notions cause questions which are probably strange to a new cruiser:

  • Why can’t I get my eDocs when they were emailed to my wife?
  • What do you mean you don’t give them a credit card at check-in?
  • Why are the port times weird (see below)?
  • Do you need to bring life jackets to muster?
  • Is there a behind the scenes tour?
  • Are there photos with the Captain?
  • Is there a mini golf course?
  • How do the different experiences work?

Between the MSC Cruises site, Cruise Critic and Facebook, we have some of these answered, but we shall see, since online answers are not always reality.
Packing is different: MSC has a formal night. Actually, there may be two. We’ve never had a formal night. It’s not that we don’t dress up at all on cruises, it’s just it hasn’t been pre-defined.
While I was contending with packing a jacket (no ties!), we discovered MSC doesn’t just do formal nights. They also have theme nights. Let’s see, so far we’ve heard about:

  • Italian night (which may just be in the main dining room)
  • White Party (which may be a late-night party like on Norwegian)
  • 70s Night (party)
  • Pirate Night (unclear – may be a rumor)

It’s like every night has a theme. That’s exhausting to me. I would like to wear a Hawaiian shirt and slacks and call it good.
Now, what’s exhausting to me was a shopping occasion for my beloved wife. I decided since I usually wear a Hawaiian shirt in the evenings, I needed to find an Italian-themed Hawaiian shirt for the Little Italy celebrations because I can wear that any time. I found a pizza Hawaiian shirt. So, that’s a good sign.
We finally got excursions booked for all the ports this week. MSC excursions seem cheaper than Norwegian excursions. We probably could have just wandered on our own, because we’ve been to many of the ports before, but we decided to find a tour to take us where we were planning to go, anyway.
I was updating our TripIt itinerary with our newly-booked excursions when I realized there are no start times for the excursions listed. There is a length of time in the description, but no start time. We get the start time when we get our tickets onboard. For those of us who like planning, this is a bit disconcerting. I know they won’t leave before we get into port, and they’ll be done before the ship leaves, but not knowing the exact time is freaking me out a bit. I’m not sure why, since finding out onboard is plenty of time, but it just does.
The port times are different than most – but I like them, mostly. We leave Miami late (I think), and the first port is San Juan, Puerto Rico (a new port for us). There’s a sea day, and then most of the next day because we get into port at 5pm. We leave at 1am the next morning. I don’t think we’ve ever had an evening in port before. (Update: Norwegian actually arrives in San Juan about the same time. It’s 922 nautical miles in just over two days – about 19 knots average speed.)
It’s a short sail from Puerto Rico to St Thomas, our next call. I would say “overnight”, but we leave at 1am. We get twelve hours in St Thomas, which is an extended day, compared to most port calls. So, we should have time to wander after the excursion.
After St Thomas, we head to St Maarten, but it’s a short day – we arrive at 7am and leave port at 2pm. So, a good day to take a ship’s excursion, so the ship will wait if you’re late.
We then have a sea day and a little more, since we arrive in our final port of Nassau at noon and sail at 7pm.
So, it looks like MSC sails based on minimal time between ports and Norwegian sails for consistent time in port. With Norwegian, I would expect two sea days to Puerto Rico, with an arrival at 7am or so the third day. I think getting in the night before and having an evening in port will be an interesting change.
I have to find the distances between ports and calculate average speeds required, given the time available. I think Norwegian tends to cruise more slowly (less fuel) to arrive in the morning. MSC Cruises is born of one of the world’s largest shipping companies. I assume they make schedules based on time required, not speed. Also, getting in at strange times means other ships may have left already and it may help with port costs.
I will be watching our speed as we go. My GPS app tracks speed as well as location.
This will be interesting. I still think the greatest challenge will be not assuming we know how everything works because not everything is the same from cruise line to cruise line.

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.
[contact-form to=”kjg@cruisexriva.com” subject=”QuackMail Request”][contact-field label=”Your Name” type=”name” required=”1″ /][contact-field label=”Your Email (where QuackMail is forwarded)” type=”email” required=”1″ /][contact-field label=”QuackMail Name (your name@quackmail.net)” type=”text” required=”1″ /][contact-field label=”QuackMail Name (Second Choice) ” type=”text” /][contact-field label=”Comments” type=”text” /][/contact-form]
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.