Category Archives: Random Thoughts

Cruise Ship Saturday

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

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

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

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

Preparation for Sailing

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

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

A Lovely Cruise

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

A Bit Less Hopeful

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

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

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

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

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

It’s ugly.

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

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

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

Still Hopeful

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

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

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

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

Sailing.

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

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

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

295 days. Fingers crossed.

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

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

Still Here, Still Stuck At Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Planning Ahead – Comparing Prices

It’s been a busy few weeks around here, so please excuse the lack of posts (and follow on Facebook for other information), but I finally stopped to take a breath and realized how many cruises we have planned. I think it may be a record for us – four cruises on four cruise lines in the next couple of years (yes, we plan ahead…. a lot.)

Christmas 2019 is our first sailing on the MSC Divina. It was supposed to be our first sailing on MSC, but we had to go earlier to preserve our Black Diamond status. (See our MSC Seaside journey.) We are in the Yacht Club, their ship within a ship, because even though it is expensive, it was pretty much the same as a Norwegian balcony. (Yes, I think Norwegian is a wee bit overpriced lately.) It will be interesting to compare the Yacht Club service to the Haven on Norwegian.

February 2020 is our 20th wedding anniversary and we decided it was time to try Royal Caribbean, so we’re off on the Liberty of the Seas. This is our first Royal Caribbean sailing, and it’s sailing from Galveston, so we can just drive to the port. The itinerary is the “standard” Western Caribbean, so we’re not really going for the ports, we’re going for the ship. We will be in Cozumel for our anniversary, so I will be broke when I return.

Christmas 2020 is back to Norwegian and 14 days on the Norwegian Pearl. This should be a fun cruise, since we’ve done a similar Southern Caribbean itinerary before, and we’re sailing with friends. Plus, who doesn’t like Christmas and New Years on the same ship?

Then, in May 2021 – which may be the furthest out we’ve ever had a cruise booked (we can’t even check in online for over a year) – is a partial transit of the Panama Canal on the Carnival Radiance. This is a bucket list item for me, and our second Carnival Cruise. It will be an “almost new” ship experience, as the Carnival Victory is going into drydock and coming out as the Carnival Radiance in 2020.

I wondered about the differentials in cost between the lines – we could never find a Royal Caribbean cruise where I was willing to pay what seemed a premium – so I thought I would look at the per-day pricing. After all, a cruise ship is a floating hotel, so a cabin is just a room. How much does your room cost?

CruiseEmbarkDestinationLengthCabin Rate Per DayTotal Price Per DayNotesHoliday
MSC DivinaMiamiWestern Caribbean7 days$575$660Yacht ClubChristmas
Liberty of the SeasGalvestonWestern Caribbean7 days$408$378Balcony
Norwegian PearlMiamiSouthern Caribbean14 days$521$619Handicap BalconyChristmas + New Year’s
Carnival RadianceGalvestonPanama Canal9 days$278$394Handicap Spa Balcony

All these numbers are for two people. To try to get close to “apples to apples”, I excluded all the extra charges I could (we usually pre-pay gratuities and accept insurance) and any discounts, and used the base “cabin” fee from the invoice. I should note the Canal cruise has really high port fees. The total column is what we paid for the two of us, divided by the number of nights.

We know that MSC is trying to grow their US market, and their prices have gone up recently, but the Yacht Club over Christmas this year is about the same as Norwegian’s balcony over Christmas next year. (We’re actually in the Yacht Club because the price was not that much more than the price for a Norwegian balcony this year.) Perhaps Norwegian is a bit proud of their product? (This is why we have four cruises on four different cruise lines, instead of four Norwegian cruises.)

It's no longer a hobby

I found some notes I was making one evening, while we were waiting for our Norwegian Cruise Lines Personal Cruise Consulant (PCC) to arrive for dinner (we were in Miami, sailing the next day, so we decided to ask our PCC to dinner, since he’s booked cruises for us for nine years and we had never met him in person.)

I realized while we were waiting for Jorge to arrive that taking a person to dinner specifically because he had helped Virginia spend thousands of dollars might mean we had a slight cruising problem. Then, I realized that was probably not the only sign.

Here’s the list from that night, edited for clarity (never write notes in a bar):

  • Your PCC is on your Christmas Card list
  • You invite your PCC to dinner
  • You invite your PCC to dinner at Scarpetta because you’re trying to outdo your friends who had already taken him to dinner before their cruise
  • Your PCC is in your phone speed dial
  • Your PCC is in your phone speed dial ahead of your spouse
  • You have 3 future cruises booked and you’re looking at itineraries
  • You spend an hour determining why the sea is rough
  • You are friends with multiple crew members on Facebook
  • You are friends with multiple officers on Facebook 
  • You can say “new ship smell” non-ironically
  • Having the Hotel Director recognize you at the Meet & Greet, because he remembers you from another Meet & Greet
  • Having a favorite bartender on multiple ships
  • Knowing when crew members change ships
  • Telling a Cruise Director you know his friend, another Cruise Director, and that he says, “Hello”
  • You keep saying, “Alexa, find me a cruise” just to see what will happen
  • You’re afraid to visit the Philippines because you might be recognized 

Kokomo Cruises

We were on a boat back to the ship from one of our excursions this week, and they were blaring music to keep everyone entertained (I think I have a short video of people doing “Baby Shark” and the adults seemed more into it.)

Then, they played “Kokomo.” It’s a song you really want to hate because it’s such an earworm, but it’s the Beach Boys. In fact, I think it’s their last #1 hit. So, from a songwriting standpoint, it’s wildly successful.

However, from a navigation standpoint, and yes, I am a navigation nerd, every time I hear the chorus with all the ports, I think about how implausible a cruise it would actually be – and I’ve actually been to most of the ports. So, I thought I should map it. Given the amount of posts you can find about the song, I may not be the first one to do so, but I’m the first one on this site.

This was just going to be the map, but as I tried to find the lyrics to make sure I had the islands correct, the story of the song started coming out, and it’s just .. interesting, to say the least. A Beach Boys song without Brian Wilson, written by two other California songwriters of great renown, punched up by Mike Love, and recorded for a Tom Cruise movie that I remember seeing – and I had no recollection the song was in the movie.

The mileage noted in the map is approximate, in nautical miles, from the previous port and onto the next port. I had to substitute a couple of ports since the Sea-Distance site didn’t have all the ports (strange!) but it’s probably because a couple aren’t actually cargo or cruise ports, so I just used something close (Key West is less than 100 miles from Key Largo, I used Falmouth for both calls in Jamaica because it didn’t have Montego Bay.)

I would have just asked Alexa but she tends to return distances “as the crow flies” and you can’t just sail across Florida (easily.)

Here’s our itinerary quoted from Google’ version of the lyrics:

Aruba, Jamaica, oh I want to take you to
Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama
Key Largo, Montego, baby why don’t we go

Songwriters: Michael Edward Love / Terry Melcher / Scott Mckenzie / John Phillips
Lyrics Copyright (c) Walt Disney Company

Those are some heavy hitters in the song writing department. Mike Love is a co-founder of the Beach Boys, Terry Melcher produced all sorts of California bands, Scott McKenzie gave us “San Francisco” (wear some flowers in your hair!) and John Phillips founded (and was principal songwriter for) the Mamas & the Papas. John Phillips wrote the original version with Scott McKenzie, it’s on Apple Music here (I had never heard it.) Mike Love added the chorus, so the map is his fault. I’m pretty sure he did not consult a nautical chart when mapping the chorus – or he did, and he really likes sea days. However, it’s what makes the song stick in your head until you have to play something else to get it out.

Six fairly random ports in the Caribbean and Atlantic, and apparently this is a repositioning cruise, since we won’t return to the original port. We do call on Jamaica twice, though. The one place you can’t go is Kokomo itself, since it’s a fictional place.

This is over nine days of sailing – just the sailing – at eighteen knots. It’s a nice cruise, just wandering around a lot.

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.
 

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?