Tag Archives: hints

Hurricanes and Contracts

I’m writing this because it’s happening again. Hurricane Dorian is in the Atlantic heading towards Florida the Carolinas. PortMiami is on alert. Cruises are being rescheduled. Ports are being changed. So, the torches and pitchforks are coming out on the cruise line discussion groups.
Hurricane Season is June until November each year in the Atlantic. Many cruisers may not know there’s an actual season, and that it happens every year. These are the people who just think cruises seem to be cheaper this time of year.
Hurricanes are the cruise lines’ worst nightmare. One hurricane can disrupt multiple ships and can close ports long after they’re gone (look at the ports damaged by Irma and Maria in 2017, many of which are still rebuilding). While the cruise lines scramble to reroute ships, they get to deal with thousands of outraged passengers.
Why are they outraged? Not only because their cruise was delayed or rerouted. It because they assume they’re getting refunds because their cruise is delayed or rerouted. This is the time of year when people finally read their cruise contracts. Unfortunately, it’s usually after they’ve been told their cruise was changed or canceled.
I already talked about cruise insurance. Just get it. It’s important. It’s really important during hurricane season. However, much like reading a cruise contract, you need to know what your policy covers. Here’s why: cruise lines hate canceling cruises. It’s much easier to reschedule or reroute it, because then it sailed. So, if they reroute you, there’s no claim – unless your policy covers it. If the new route skips the only port you really wanted to visit (why didn’t you just go there?), there’s no claim – unless your policy covers it. If you decide not to go, it’s not covered unless you have a cancel for any reason policy.
So, read your policy.
If you want to know why you need cruise insurance, and understand what it covers, read your cruise contract. Then, when you’re incensed at your cruise line of choice, read another line’s. There’re probably very similar. Here’s an example, with some [embedded comments]:
[Cruise Line] may change the duration and/or itinerary of the cruise at any time. [This isn’t even in the fine print. This one sentence is really all you need to know. However, a lawyer wrote it, so let’s continue.] The Vessel shall be entitled to leave and enter ports with or without pilots or tugs, to tow and assist other vessels in any circumstances, to return to or enter any port at the Master’s discretion and for any purpose, and to deviate in any direction or for any purpose from the direct or usual course, and to omit or change any or all port calls, arrival or departure times, with or without notice, for any reason whatsoever, including but not limited to safety, security, adverse weather, hurricanes, tornadoes, strikes, tides, hostilities, civil unrest, port closings, emergency debarkations of Guests or crew, late air, sea, car or motor coach departures or arrivals, mechanical breakdowns, US or foreign governmental advisories or travel warnings, all such deviations being considered as forming part of and included in the proposed voyage. [In case you didn’t understand the short version, this was the long one. This is still not fine print.] Except as provided in Clause 7(c) with regard to early termination of a voyage, [Cruise Line] shall have no liability for any compensation or other damages in such circumstances for any change in itinerary, ports of call, ports of embarkation and debarkation, and/or or duration of the cruise, other than as provided by [Cruise Line]’s change of itinerary policy at the time Guest or his agent acknowledges receipt and acceptance of the terms and conditions of the cruise ticket contract. [Basically, “no refunds.” You acknowledged receipt when you blindly clicked through on the website. You don’t read software licenses either, do you?] [Cruise Line]’s change of itinerary policy can be found at on [Cruise Line]’s Website or at [Cruise Line]’s FAQ page. [Actually, the link fails, but it really can’t say much to undo everything here.]
That’s only one clause in the contract! (Clause 7C says the only time there’s a refund is if the cruise is completely canceled. Leaving late, coming back early, going to different ports? That’s not canceled.)
However, if you don’t read (and understand) the contract, and your seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruise becomes a six-day Western Caribbean cruise, or your Christmas cruise doesn’t go to any of the originally scheduled ports, you really don’t have much ground to stand on. You signed the contract when you ordered the cruise. Well, you clicked through.
If you don’t agree to the contract, don’t cruise that line. However, again, all the cruise lines have contracts that say pretty much the same thing.
I’m not saying don’t complain. I’m saying two things. First, when you’re bitching about your changed cruise, take a minute to remember our Caribbean friends. You had a vacation trip that wasn’t what you planned. They may have lost their house and their livelihood. Get some perspective.
I’m also saying when you complain on social media about the cruise line that “done you wrong”, don’t be surprised by the amount of people that have no sympathy.
Those are the people that read the cruise contract. Probably after their cruise was rescheduled last year.

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!

Passports

Another never-ending battle for cruisers – do you need a passport to take a cruise? The answer is: it depends.
If you are on a closed-loop cruise, where you depart and return to the same US port (and you are a US citizen), then technically, you can travel with an official copy of your birth certificate (proves citizenship) and a State-issued photo ID (proves identity.) A passport proves both citizenship and identity, so if you have a passport, it’s all you need. (You’ll need your birth certificate to get your passport. After that, put your birth certificate back in the safe deposit box.)
Most Caribbean cruises are closed-loop, and that’s where a lot of people start, so they just assume you don’t need a passport to cruise. You don’t need one, but only in that one specific case. If the cruise is not closed-loop (say, a Transatlantic from Miami to Barcelona or a Panama Canal cruise from Florida to California), you need a passport. If you want to fly to a resort on a Caribbean island or travel elsewhere internationally, you need a passport.
You usually have to show your passport whenever you enter a foreign country, and when you return to the US. However, when you’re on a cruise, the cruise line provides immigration agents in each of the ports with a manifest – a list of all passengers – before the ship arrives in port. The ship checks passengers off (you swipe your ship card) and back on (swiping the card again), and immigration accepts their count. Why? On a ship, unlike a plane, passengers will usually arrive and depart the same day, and the ship tracks them. Also, cruises produce buckets of tourist revenue for countries that depend on tourism, so the system is easier.
That said, we have been asked for our passports before returning to the ship. Once. In nineteen cruises.
Here’s why I think a passport is a good (and necessary) investment:

  • If you leave the country on anything other than a closed-loop cruise, you need a passport.
  • If you have to fly back to the US (say, you missed your ship or have a medical emergency), you really need one because a birth certificate and drivers license don’t work at the airport. Neither does crying. Also, the most expensive way to acquire a passport is in an emergency, in a foreign port.
  • If you’re going to cruise more than once, the cost per trip starts going down – a passport covers ten years of cruise (and other) vacations.

If you never think you’ll do anything than the one three-day cruise to the Bahamas, then maybe a passport isn’t really necessary. Just don’t get sick, don’t get arrested, and don’t miss the ship!
If you’re never going to do more than one three-day cruise to the Bahamas, I would say you might want to get a sense of adventure first – then, get a passport!

The Simplest Travel Insurance

There are two topics that arise over and over on cruise discussion boards – tipping and travel insurance. I will have to discuss tipping later, because I don’t think my blood pressure can take writing about both at the same time.
Travel insurance is very simple – it’s a way to limit your risk from the things that can go wrong on a vacation. In that way, it’s exactly the same as homeowner’s insurance limiting the risk of things that could go wrong with your house or auto insurance limiting the risk of things that could go wrong with your car.
So, why do so many people think that not buying insurance for a cruise implies the cruise line absorbs their risk?
There are an infinite number of “poor couple about to embark on a dream cruise” scenarios, usually driven by the local TV news investigative team lambasting the cruise line for not refunding their cruise fare (which is always an expensive cruise fare) because something happened and prevented the trip. The something is usually easily preventable, had the poor couple done any research or planning ahead of time.
The last one was a couple who were stuck at the airport which was on lockdown, missed their plane and therefore missed the ship. How this became the cruise line’s fault is a bit beyond me. Why isn’t the Channel 5 Action Team yelling at the airline or the TSA?
The risk that travel insurance could have covered is missing the cruise ship. However, there is another very easy way to do this – and not doing so is a common thread in almost all of the “horrible, greedy cruise line” stories.
Don’t fly in the morning of your cruise. Just don’t. 
The first rule of travel which has nothing to do with insurance, but is all about lowering risk is DON’T FLY ANYWHERE THE DAY OF THE EVENT. If you buy airfare from the cruise line, this is the default – make them change it. Actually, if you need domestic flights, just do it yourself, as it will probably be cheaper and you have control over your schedule. (Cruise lines, in our experience, can get good one-way international fares. Anything else, we can beat by booking ourselves.) Find a hotel near the port and start your vacation a day early. Just remember that travel insurance from the cruise line won’t start until you’re on the ship. So, get travel insurance from someone other than the cruise line for these trips, or just know you’re really buying insurance against getting sick on the cruise or getting left in port – which at a certain age, becomes a reasonable risk.
Traveling on the day of anything important happening is insane. I used to travel for business constantly, and I always went in the day before. Always. I don’t know how many meetings got canceled because some idiot would try to fly in the morning of the meeting and the plane got delayed or canceled. There were some instructors that would take the “first plane out” in the morning their class started – and then miss the first half day because the flight was delayed. I never missed a class, because I always flew in early. We had one guy that always scheduled the first day to start at noon, and he usually arrived by 3pm. For business travel, you’re giving up part of your weekend, but you will retain your stomach lining. For leisure travel, the people you were leaving at home on your business trip are coming along with you – just leave a day early.
Here’s something people forget – airlines fly routes that are all interconnected. “But, I’m flying from Dallas to Miami! The weather won’t be a factor.” Yes, but your plane is coming from Chicago, which is having a blizzard. Good-bye, flight.
After scheduling your arrival into the port properly, buy travel insurance. It won’t guarantee you the trip of a lifetime, but it might get you the money you spent refunded. We’ve had medical issues on two or three cruises, and the basic cruise line insurance has always made up the difference after our health insurance paid out their portion. (We are at the dangerous age where our medical bill can exceed our bar tab.)
Just remember travel insurance for health issues (like the ship’s doctor) pays after the fact. The doctor onboard doesn’t file insurance. He charges your ship card. So, have the money available, because you may get it back, but it’s not immediate.
A cruise line sells travel insurance for two reasons – one, to make a bit of additional revenue, and secondly, so when people ask for a refund because they did something stupid, the cruise line can say, “Didn’t you have travel insurance? We offered it to you.”
There’s a part of me that wants to ask, “So, if someone runs into your Escape, and you don’t have auto insurance, are you just going to call Ford and ask for a new car?”

Freighter Travel

It is still possible to travel on a freighter – not the tramp steamers of old, but a massive, scheduled container ship. Companies offer minimal numbers of cabins on freighters in service around the world.
You have a cabin, but the only difference between you and the crew is that your cabin is nicer and you don’t have to work.
Some information I’ve found so far:

This is on my bucket list, because I want to experience the sea – there are few distractions, no excursions, no casino, just a ship across the oceans.
The challenges?

  • My wife has no interest, and with no medical services on board, it’s a gamble for her, anyway.
  • It is quite the time commitment – an Atlantic crossing can take 15 days or more (it can take twice as long as a cruise ship’s crossing.)
  • There are no schedule guarantees – if the ship has to wait for cargo, you just stay in port.
  • You may get a shortened cruise, based on shipping requirements.

The advantages?

  • It is quite the time commitment – the perfect time to finish that novel or write your autobiography.
  • You will share the ship with the crew, and maybe 10-12 other people, max. Hopefully, no idiots on their first cruise.
  • I’m pretty sure you can visit the bridge.
  • You may get a longer cruise, based on shipping requirements.
  • You can pretend to be a sailor more convincingly than on a floating hotel.

I still want to do it! This page is to track information as I find it.

Erie Canal Options

This is a placeholder page for all the links I’m collecting, as I’m still researching cruising the Erie Canal. This includes my currently reading Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation (on the history of the Canal with a lot of interesting parallel histories of canals in general), watching some really bad (and often repetitious) YouTube videos, and lots of searches.
The State of New York has a lot of information on their canal system. (They are also happy to sell you a massive canal cruising handbook which just arrived today with a bunch of maps and pamphlets. It was worth the $20.)
I subscribed to their email list which includes their Notices to Mariners, so I am officially a Mariner now, I suppose.
Here are the most easily found companies that will rent houseboats for cruising the Erie Canal:

The boats all seem similar – they’re English canal boats (which is lucky, since I only speak English.)
I asked houseboating.org for a Captain’s manual, but I don’t think they understood the request. I really would like a guide to cruising from a Captain’s perspective – a driver’s manual. They sent some proposed itineraries, which were useful for generating Google Maps, but they don’t explain how the boat works. I’m still looking for that information.
It seems surprising to me that companies will give you a rather large boat after a couple hours of training and assume they will see you back home and dry in a week. I guess it shouldn’t, since I was once given the controls of a three-quarters of a million dollar Caterpillar tractor and told “Have fun. Dig a hole.”
The two hours of training does seem to be consistent – it’s virtually the same for the Le Boat rentals in Europe.
Le Boat is how this whole journey started, since I would really like to sail the Shannon River some day. The Shannon rises near my ancestral home (if one can refer to a very small farmhouse that my Grandfather fled as an “ancestral home”), so we could see family and then cruise. The Erie Canal requires less flying time and no passports. Plus, I’m pretty sure our cell phones would work the whole time. It would be a good dry run, if anything on the water could be considered a dry run.
 

Travel Lessons

This page is a work in progress.

There was a time when I was traveling a lot. In fact, at one point, I seemed to be in Europe two or three times a year or more. After a while, you find the patterns. The challenge to international travel is that once you stop, you forget. Then, if you ever start up again (say, go to Kuala Lumpur on twenty minutes notice), you have to relearn things.

Painful things.

When I was younger and unattached and working for a company obsessed on treating employees well and not just making next quarter’s numbers, it was pretty easy. If I had my passport and my corporate card, things would work out. If I needed something, I just bought it. If it was work-related, I just expensed it. If not, I just paid it.

That was then. This is now.

I have a wife who really dislikes when I travel. I have dogs that have their schedules disrupted which can cause all sorts of issues. I don’t have unlimited funds anymore, because I have a wife and dogs.

So, travel means planning. Usually, I obsessively plan – for personal trips. For business, I try, but if something comes up last-minute, I just go.

Here’s some things to remember, that came flooding back while I was in Malaysia in March 2014:

Communications

  • Remember time zones! You won’t be able to just call home.
  • Google Voice will let you send and receive texts from your (Sprint) phone or from the web, as long as you have an Internet connection. Texts are better than voice calls (Skype, etc) because you don’t have to both be awake at the same time.
  • There’s always email, for the same reasons – it’s not real-time, so you don’t both have to be awake.
  • Pay for WiFi in the hotel. Don’t just think “I’ll wait until I’m at the office.” If your company won’t reimburse, eat the cost, but ask yourself – why does my company not want me to be productive?

Power

  • Always have a plug adapter in your computer bag. Always. I had left mine in my backpack from years ago, and I’m glad because I really needed it when I got to KL, and I hadn’t thought about it until I arrived.
  • Having a small power strip is also a good idea. Foreign hotels don’t have a lot of outlets. If you have a plug adapter and a power strip, you can plug everything in.
  • Make sure you have USB cables for all your excess personal devices. Worst case, plug them into your laptop, and plug your laptop into the wall. This way, you only need one outlet – but everything takes longer to charge.
  • Along with the plug adapter – make sure you know which electronics you have are dual-voltage. You may need a converter, as well. This is different from a plug adapter. If you plug something in and see smoke, you needed a converter, not just an adapter. Oh, and you need a new device.
  • If you need electronics to sleep (I have a C-PAP), you really need a power strip or you need flexibility. I’ve had to sleep with my head at the bottom of the bed before, because there was no place by the headboard to plug in.

Life

  • Pack light. This is true for all trips. If you don’t need it, don’t take it. I don’t care what your wife says, if you don’t need it, don’t take it.
  • Take a week’s clothing, max. Hotels have laundry service.
  • Don’t expect ice. This is painful for someone who loves ice in drinks.
  • Don’t expect refills or large glasses.
  • Don’t just automatically go find American food, even though it will be around almost anywhere you go. You’ll miss local specialties and it annoys your hosts. Let’s not make people self-defensive about their food, shall we? (My rule is to always let my host choose. If I’m alone after work, eventually, I am going to find an American chain for homesickness. I admit it.
  • Same with drinks – just ask the bartender, “What am I supposed to drink?” In all my years of travel, I’ve never been given American beer, except for one bartender in Linköping, Sweden who was obsessed with Budweiser. (I declined. The local beer was a Pilsner, so the bottle said “Piss” in script, so I decided Piss beat Budweiser.)
  • Take your own entertainment. Pre-load videos on your iPad, eBook readers, something, anything. If you go far enough from home, you will have CNN, maybe Discovery channel and everything else will be local language. TV will not be the crutch it can be at home. Bruce Springsteen once complained about 57 channels and nothin’ on, so he’s obviously never watched TV in Malaysia.

Travel

  • Pay for GPS in the rental car. You will kill your phone batteries if you use the “free” GPS in your phone.
  • If you don’t have to drive, don’t. It’s always exciting to navigate a new city, just not always in a good way.