Category Archives: Onboard Life

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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.

The Captain Theory

A Captain of a cruise ship is actually a senior manager of a line of business. Each ship has a profit and loss statement, many levels of middle managers and hundreds of staff. At the top, is the Captain.

The Captain usually has a Staff Captain (second in command) who runs the engineering (making the ship run) and a Hotel Director who runs the hotel (making the passengers happy.) The Captain is also responsible for the safe navigation of the ship.

That said, I have found there are two types of Captains on cruise ships – there are brand ambassadors who focus on the customers, and those like we had this week who are invisible to the customers and manage the staff and drive the ship.

This week, we finished a cruise on the MSC Divina, where we rarely saw the Captain. Most of the senior staff were invisible. It was not our best cruise. I can’t tell you the Captain’s name without going to look it up.

Also this week, USA Today announced the ten best cruise ships for families. The winner was MSC Seaside. We sailed on the Seaside in May. Captain DiPalma was at all the functions. He seemed to be everywhere. He recognized me at the second function we attended together. He came to the Cruise Critic Meet & Greet to offer a toast. We’re friends on Facebook now.

The ship is a reflection of the Captain. Captain DiPalma runs a happy ship. I believe that is one reason why MSC Seaside beat Disney and why MSC Divina is not anywhere on the list.

Many people always ask who the Cruise Director or Hotel Director on a ship is before they travel. You might also look at the top. The Captain is where the ship begins.

MSC Divina – Day 2

Wow. This breakfast order did not look like this much on the card. Room service breakfast was served on time and everything was correct. It was tasty, as well. The salmon was on toast (not a bagel?) and there weren’t capers, but it was good and I usually don’t like salmon – except on a bagel. The meat tray was ham, turkey, salami and mortadella. The Egg McMuffin knock-off had a real poached egg and Hollandaise. Virginia said it was tasty but it needs to be served hotter than room service. The coffee was good.

The Cruise Critic Meet & Greet was fun but not very informative. We were a couple of minutes late, but people were milling about so I don’t think we missed anything. The free drink choices were Prosecco, non-alcoholic fruit punch or a vodka Martini. Day drinking at its finest.

Our cruise director ran the meeting – unlike the MSC Seaside, the Captain did not attend. Like the Seaside, the host spoke and did not introduce any of the other staff that attended. We then took a group photo, Virginia was asked to cut the cake (MSC always has a cake) and after everyone was served, the staff filed out.

So, no introductions, no little cards with contact info, just booze and cake.

We took most of the afternoon off since it was a sea day but windy enough to cancel a lot of outdoor events.

I did have a shave in the spa and managed to tour much of it trying to find the check-in desk. We will have to spend time there later since it is included with the Yacht Club.

This was the first formal (“elegant”) night so we had photos with the Captain. So, we now know he exists.

Portraits with the Captain were in the bar which is our muster station, so we knew how to get there.

We were early so we sat in the bar to listen to the music (Christmas songs, including “Christmas Time is Here”). The waitress came by with a tray of Prosecco, non-alcoholic fruit punch and Rum Sours. I had never heard of a Rum Sour. It was good. Virginia hated it.

After a minute, I realized everyone was being offered drinks. We were not in the Yacht Club. We were not asked for a card. We were given … free drinks. This was a first on any cruise and this is our 21st.

The formal night menu in Le Muse was disappointing – the entrees were two vegetarian selections and two seafood. The escargot appetizer was decent but I’ve had better (at Le Bistro, for example.) Virginia and I both had filets. I had Crepes Suzette for dessert because it’s not like you see that on a menu many places these days. It was excellent and saved the meal.

We stopped by the room to change and someone had delivered a box of macrons. To diabetics. Things are looking up.

Back to the Top Sail lounge for late night (for us, anyway.) Different singer, same pronunciations. Smooth jazz is not a way to keep people involved and if you have a singer performing with a prerecorded track, it’s watching professional karaoke.

The room service menu is really limited. We finally ordered pizza for a late-night snack. Room service options is one place Carnival kicks other lines’ asses. All you offer is three sandwiches or a couple of salads? Yes, I know we could go to the buffet, but on Seaside, the buffet after about 10pm was sandwiches and pizza.

Having the buffet open 22 hours a day is an MSC selling point. Having decent selections 22 hours a day would be even better.

The concierge handled our pizza order. The concierge this afternoon got my shave appointment. The one this morning told us how to traverse the ship most efficiently. So far, the concierge has been more useful than the butler, which is the same as the Norwegian Haven.

Time to see how the pizza is. My order was wrong but it looks good. It’s pizza, how bad can it be? (It was very tasty.)

We lose an hour tonight. Curse you, time zones!

MSC Divina – Day 1

I am behind on this and I’m not journaling as I was on the MSC Seaside, but this is our first time in the Yacht Club, and I hate long reviews, so I’ll write as we go. Edits as I’m corrected or remember more.

So, weirdness first. I’m writing this in the Top Sail lounge, the exclusive Yacht Club bar, it’s 9:15pm and there are a dozen people in here, at most. This I do not understand.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Embarkation was smooth but we’re in the Yacht Club. That said, Miami cab drivers suck. Our cab driver would not take us to the pre-board tent for the Yacht Club and the cops directing traffic don’t want to admit there are two ways onto the ship. While it’s not directly MSC’s fault, if you tell your highest-paying guests they have a private doorway, you have to tell the ground staff there are two doors.

After I yelled at the cab driver, and Virginia and I both gave a lady cop death looks, we just got out in the middle of the street by the White Tent.

After that, embarkation was easy – although we didn’t have a private line for security, we just cut around most of the line and then went to the VIP room. It’s designed for people to wait, but we got to the port late for us, so there was no real waiting. We were lead onto the ship, showed how to use our door cards for priority elevator access (hit or miss), and lead to the Top Sail lounge.

After greetings, we went to our room. Deluxe Suite 15021 is just down the hall from the lounge, between the lounge and the exit to the elevators.

There are four banks of elevators. This is a much better design than Norweigan’s Breakaway class and MSC Seaside which have two. Why? People need to go up and down. A lot. Advantage, Divina.

The private restaurant is aft and all the cabins are forward. If you don’t mind walking on deck, you can get there on 15. If it looks like the sky is about to open and you’re in thirty knot winds, you have to go down, across and up. We would use deck seven to go across because there are lots of public areas on seven.

There are no room 17s or deck seventeen because 17 is an unlucky number for Italians. I have to find out why. 13 is unlucky because it was the number of people at the Last Supper. Italians probably also count the caterers.

Le Muse, the Yacht Club private restaurant is nice, it’s just on the opposite end of the ship from the cabins. The menu is a bit limited, but the food is tasty and the waiters are attentive. I do see how Americans who have no been beyond the borders might freak out because most of the choices at lunch were Continental. The classic menu has a filet but I could see getting tired of steak every day if you don’t know what any of the other dishes are.

Muster was chaotic but better than MSC Seaside. We managed to get signed in this time but we didn’t have our life jackets – and this is the first cruise since 2010 that they were required. Virginia was having back issues, so instead of going back to the room, we just said we hadn’t been to the room yet.

Muster on MSC is pointless. All is does is make people find their muster station once, which I suppose is useful information but nobody pays attention to anything else, and since it’s in four or five languages, it takes forever. So, we watched people take cell photos of each other in their life jackets, and then everyone left. If MSC ever has an emergency, people are dying.

This bothers me. I’m sure that the drill meets SOLAS requirements and I watch the video and read the info sheets, but they need a better system if they are trying to actually teach people what to do in an emergency.

Most of the afternoon was in the Top Sail lounge, watching the sail away. As it’s forward, it’s a great view. Plus, there weren’t many people there.

Dinner was back in Le Muse, the Yacht Club private restaurant. I had risotto which was amazing. It was “I think I’m going to cry” good. It was the kind of good that would make a Keto sister cheat.

We stopped by the lounge on the way back to the room and listened to the singer for way longer than we planned. All the singers we’ve heard have been good, but I’m pretty sure are English as a Second Language because they are singing syllables and not words, so every once in a while, it’s “What did she say?”

While I’m typing this, I heard “Just the Two of Us.” While I remember “we can make it if we try”, apparently some think it’s “we can Mack it if we try.” Who is Mack?

The first night was a woman with an acoustic who managed to do “Here Comes the Sun”, “Bad Moon Rising” and “Wish You Were Here” (Pink Floyd by request) in one set. That will be hard to beat.

We went to bed when we realized we had to be functional by 10am for the Cruise Critic Meet & Greet. Since it takes us forever to get out of the room in the morning, we need some leeway.

Virginia put out a card for room service breakfast.

As I was falling asleep, I realized I had not been asked for my card for anything since we boarded. We had drinks in the bar, wine with dinner and more drinks and except for opening the cabin door (and powering the lights), nobody had asked to see my card.

We did have photos taken but it’s not an automated system yet, so they don’t take your card or cabin number. The photos are on the wall. The ones that have you in them are yours. I thought Virginia was going to ask how to tell which photos were hers, but she caught herself.

The wind is up and it’s a very bumpy cruise. Otherwise, a good first day.

Side notes: the butlers are not fawning over us. I’m a bit relieved since I don’t like hovering but I’m wondering about some of the reviews we saw.

One of our pillowcases seemed to have a spot on it. No big deal. It looked like blood. Now it’s a big deal. Virginia told the room steward who showed the proper amount of horror and quickly replaced it. Later that night, there was another one. So, either someone is marking pillow cases with nail polish or there’s a hemophiliac in Laundry.

The Sharps container was requested and immediately brought to the room when we arrived so the Seaside Sharps chase was averted. Guest Services called on day two to make we had received it.

The minibar was restocked with sodas I will drink since it’s included with the room.

This us our first cruise trying to limit carbs. That removes virtually every “island” drink. The struggle is real.

How clean is your cruise ship?

Cruise ships are inspected, just like restaurants. (There’s probably more to check on a ship.) So, if you’re one of those people that likes to check the restaurant scores from the local sanitation department before your visit, you would be interested in the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP.) The VSP is administered by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC.)

All scores are public information. You can review the inspection results and any follow-up reports here:

https://wwwn.cdc.gov/InspectionQueryTool/InspectionSearch.aspx

A passing score is an 86 which is a lot stricter than when I was in school. There are a lot of items that are checked, so there are a lot of places to go wrong, but some things are more serious than others.

There is also general information for cruise passengers available here:

https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/public/public.htm

If you just want the poop (ha!) on current disease outbreaks, go here:

https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/surv/gilist.htm#2019

Next time you go on a cruise, see how clean you ship is first!

Take a Child on a Cruise Day

We had special guests on our annual Christmas cruise this year. My nephew and his family came along, although my niece should get credit because she managed the process. They have two sons, who are ten and twelve.

We traveled with my son once, but he was married with a child, so that hardly counts as children. We’ve traveled with my Mom twice, and she wanders off like a child, but if you leave out the Chardonnay, she will find her way back.

So, this was our first cruise with “proper” children, although the 12-year old will be very annoyed to have been referred to as a “child.”

With pre-teens, all of the stuff that seemed like a waste of space before suddenly became critical.

We were on a Western Caribbean cruise, but we only had three ports in a week-long cruise. So, three sea days to explore the ship.

We were on the Norwegian Breakaway, the first time we had sailed on her since the inaugural crossing, so we assumed we knew the ship fairly well.

Not so much.

Kids love buffets – at least, kids who have been taught to be a bit adventurous with food. There is a variety of items to try, and if you don’t like it, try something else. If you do like it, have another plate (or three.)

Kids with a sense of adventure love the slides. If you are slightly paranoid, having seen the YouTube videos of people stuck in cruise ship slides (yes, more than one), you probably avoid them. Our nephews went down all of them, all the time. Their parents went down them. We watched – and it was the first time we’d ever been near the slides (except when I was on the way to a bar.)

Kids with an excessive sense of adventure love the ropes course. Our nephews did it multiple times, and shamed Mom into doing it – and the zip line. We watched.

Kids will play miniature golf. We actually played with them, after they asked, and we said, “There’s a golf course?” It’s fun – although it also was an annoyance point, since unsupervised kids were collecting the (limited) clubs and golf balls, which meant others couldn’t play. We still managed to get a fun round played – although the main hazards were other unsupervised children wandering around.

Kids play shuffleboard. I’ve been meaning to play shuffleboard since our first cruise. They did it. They also played giant chess.

So, now I understand the stuff that is added to the more recent classes of ships, which always seemed silly before.

I think everyone who only travels with a partner should Take a Child on a cruise. You will discover parts of the ship you never knew were there.

Married at Sea

One of the romantic traditions at sea is to be married by the Captain. Someday, I have to research if a ship’s Captain could ever marry someone at sea, although a Notary Public can in Florida, and a Captain certainly outranks a Notary.
I never really thought about being married at sea, but when my wife and I were discussing our wedding almost fifteen years ago, we spent days trying to find a place. Her family is travel-allergic and mine are cranky, so finding a venue was really about us. Most of the cities we both loved had residence restrictions, so they were out, because she had just started a new job and had limited vacation. Plus, I had limited job security, so it wasn’t like I wanted to be away too long.
I finally played my trump card – Hawaii – and she said “Too far.” At that point, I gave up, and told her to tell me where I was supposed to be. The next morning, she suggested Key West. I had never been to Key West, so I agreed.
Then, the research began. In Key West, you get married at sunrise or sunset. We are not morning persons, so sunset it was. Then, you get married on the beach or on a boat. I couldn’t picture being married on a beach with everybody else that had chosen beach and sunset the same day (how big could the beach be?) so it was the boat.
That’s how we got married at sea. On the Dream Catcher, a 60-foot schooner, off Key West. However, the Captain didn’t do the ceremony – the ship suggested Deborah Noeker, a local healing minister (and a Notary Public) who did the ceremony (and did a lovely job).
Later, as our cruising hobby (addiction) began, I thought about the concept of getting married at sea on a slightly larger ship – but Norwegian didn’t do weddings.
Well, now they do.
In fact, they do vow renewals, which is all we need since we’re already shackled. If you choose a vow renewal, you can get the Captain.
So, now, we can get re-married on our fifteenth anniversary, at sea, on a really big ship, by a Captain. (Having the Captain do the ceremony is an extra $200 – for an hour – so, next time you think your plumber is expensive, have him bless your marriage while he’s fixing your leak.)
We’ll see what happens. A vow renewal is much simpler than an actual wedding, but there’s still a lot to cover.
After the event
The Vow Renewal Ceremony was very nice, actually. Everyone got their lines mostly correct, everybody said “Yes”, so we’re still married.
It was worth the money, especially compared to the costs of a wedding ceremony at sea. (I’ve since learned a lot of people get married by the local JP and then have a “wedding” that is really a vow renewal at sea, so the Captain can perform the ceremony and the cost goes way down.)
The Captain performed our ceremony (which doesn’t seem to be an option on the Norwegian website any longer), and it was short and sweet. He was most gracious. We were given sample vows, which I personalized for us, and the Captain led us through the vows. Afterwards, we had cake and champagne, and the photographer led us about the ship for more photos.
After all of the planning and running around beforehand, the ceremony and cake and photos were over in about a half-hour, but it met our needs, and we’re very happy. It was a very small group – just us and my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, so at one point, we were almost outnumbered by the crew.
Word got around on the ship, since we had dinner comp’ed the night of the ceremony, and were presented with an anniversary cake at dessert. We had met the assistant hotel director on an earlier cruise, so after we met him at the Meet & Greet, he had our room decorated, with towel swans, roses, cake and wine. (We had a lot of cake this cruise!)
My only “regret” is that it wasn’t filmed. We do have photos, so that’s better than our first wedding, where we didn’t even have an official photographer – we had friends with a point and shoot.
We saw a very grumpy bride heading back to the ship in Nassau, so at least after our ceremony, everyone was in a good mood. Plus, we didn’t have to walk back to the ship – we were on it.