Tag Archives: Norwegian Cruise Lines

Confusion

Apparently, there is such a thing as too many cruises scheduled. This may not be the first time we’ve had this many cruises scheduled, and we have twenty under our belts, but I know it is the first time with this many cruises on this many lines. I’m getting confused.

When we decided to branch out from Norwegian, we did so with a vengeance. We now have four cruises on four lines in the next two years. After a certain point, keeping all the ports and ships straight is difficult, even with TripIt.

This year’s Christmas cruise is on the MSC Divina, in the Yacht Club. This will be our first non-Norwegian Christmas cruise ever (it’s our 11th Christmas cruise.) This was the year we finally price-compared and discovered Norwegian is very proud of their product. While staying loyal and being Platinum Plus are great, MSC status-matched us to Diamond level in their program and the Yacht Club was not much more expensive than a Norwegian balcony. Consider that for a second. A ship within a ship, with private bar, restaurant, pool, butler and concierge was only slightly more than an aft balcony. So, time to switch.

This cruise would create all sorts of planning because it was supposed to be our first MSC cruise. However, as some of you remember, we went on the MSC Seaside at the beginning of the summer to protect our status-matched Diamond (then Black) status, so now it’s our second MSC cruise and we’re not that panicked about it. (We probably should be.)

This will be our first cruise on the Divina, and our first in the Yacht Club. Even though we are in the Yacht Club, we received an invitation to upgrade. The lowest-priced choice was an Executive suite, which has a panoramic view. I’m pretty sure this means ocean-view or window. I’m not sure balcony people would give up a balcony for a bit more space.

Our second scheduled cruise is our third anniversary cruise (third cruise for one of our anniversaries), and our first cruise on Royal Caribbean. We really didn’t mean to make a tradition of anniversary cruises, but we had a vow renewal by the Captain for our 15th, and went with friends for their anniversary last year, since their anniversary is on Valentine’s Day (very romantic) and ours is on February 11 (it was a Friday), so when our 20th was approaching, we decided to try something new by sailing Royal Caribbean (going to ports we’ve visited many times.)

Never get married in February. It’s so close to Christmas that planning cruises for both tend to get intertwined. If the two cruises were on the same line, I’d be completely lost by now, instead of just confused. It also means your final payment is due just about the time you’re buying Christmas presents. Sorry, family.

We will be sailing on the Liberty of the Seas, departing out of Galveston, which means we can drive to the port. We saw the ship once, when we were taking a dolphin cruise around Galveston. The dolphins like surfing by the large ships. Galveston is the closest port to us, so we can drive pretty easily. The hotels are expensive, but not much worse than Miami, and the driving costs are enough less than flying to cover it. Plus, you don’t have to fly.

The only problem with Galveston is that most of the cruises from there go to the same Western Caribbean destinations: a port in Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. Sometimes, Costa Maya. They are all fun ports, but we’re really going to see what Royal is like.

Christmas 2020 is already planned because we got invited to join some of our friends on their Christmas cruise. (Since we joined them on their Anniversary cruise last year and everyone survived, we thought it would work.) This will be on the Norwegian Pearl, which is thankfully not a megaship, and a ship we have sailed and enjoyed before. (I prefer her sister ship, the Norwegian Jade, but I will take any of the Jewel class over most other Norwegian ships.) It’s also a two-week cruise over Christmas and New Year’s, which is great for vacation, and also means we will see some islands we don’t get to visit often. Here’s hoping the itinerary doesn’t get changed in the meantime.

In May 2021, we’re going to do a partial transit of the Panama Canal on the Carnival Radiance. This is the third time we’ve scheduled a Panama Canal voyage, but I think we may actually make it this time. It’s a partial transit, so we round-trip from Galveston (one plus), and it also means you skip all the ports on the west coast of Mexico (a major plus, since Virginia has no interest and to me, those ports just add days that I don’t want to spend vacation on.)

Here’s why I think we’ll actually go this time:

  • It’s a partial transit. We will traverse the Gatun Locks to get into Gatun Lake, but that’s it. So, we’re not going from sea to shining sea, but we’re doing a 90-foot change in altitude while going through the lock. As a bonus, we’ll sail back through the lock that evening.
  • It’s much cheaper than other Canal trips we’ve booked. Part of this is because it’s a partial transit, but mostly this is because it’s on Carnival. Even with the spa balcony we booked, it’s still much cheaper than the least-expensive Norwegian transit we had ever booked.
  • Carnival Radiance will be almost a new ship. The Carnival Victory is going into dry dock this year and emerging as the Carnival Radiance.
  • We sail from Galveston. For some reason, the eight hours of so of round-trip driving time on I-45 is much less stressful than flying to Florida.

Now, we just have to double-check the excursions, to make sure all our ports are covered.

We're not going where?

There have been a couple of articles lately about a woman incensed at Norwegian Cruise Lines for completely ruining her long-planned birthday celebration by rerouting her cruise. It’s always interesting to me that the press covers them at all, because some of them know it’s a waste of time.

This will become even more of an issue for the entire industry now that all cruise traffic to Cuba has effectively been canceled.

Cruise lines do not always stick to the original published itineraries. Usually, this is weather-related, determined while enroute (Norwegian is famous for skipping its own private island, Great Stirrup Cay, where it tenders) and sometimes determined months beforehand – we rerouted from Harvest Caye twice because it wasn’t ready to open, and Hurricanes Irma and Maria rerouted our entire Christmas cruise in 2017.

The bottom line is that if you are specifically cruising to go to one special port, just go to that port. (If it’s one of the cruise lines’ private islands, you’re out of luck.) However, if your heart is set on going to Jamaica, just go to Jamaica for a week – don’t spend one day of a seven-day cruise in your “real” destination.

Cruise lines are regulated by the laws of the countries where they sail, and the laws of nature. If you always wanted to visit one place, just go there.

Loyalty Is Overrated

We have been on eighteen cruises (so far.) All but one have been on Norwegian Cruise Lines (one was on Carnival, and I didn’t mind it, but my wife detested the food.) We’re Platinum Plus on Norwegian, and might make Ambassador before we die, but it’s a long haul. (That’s another discussion – the levels in a loyalty program and how unevenly spaced they are.)

Loyalty has its perks, but the perks have lessened over the years. It is nice to preboard (sort-of – behind the gamblers, the handicapped, the Haven, the suites.) It’s nice to just get on a tender instead of having to get a tender ticket the night before – assuming the port requires tenders.

Loyalty has kept us sailing Norwegian, even as the fares have crept ever higher and the benefits have stagnated or lowered. However, this year seems to be the year that they finally overdid it – and not just for us, we’ve had other friends mention that the fares are sky-high all of a sudden.

Now, as a stockholder, I don’t mind too much, because I will reap the benefits in stock value (at this point, they don’t pay dividends.) However, as a passenger, it’s now time to look elsewhere.

I don’t really like starting over with any line (there was a slight difference between how we were treated on Carnival as newbies and Norwegian as Platinum Plus), but sometimes, loyalty is just not worth what it costs.

When Frank DelRio took over Norwegian (the parent of Norwegian, Oceana and Regent Seven Seas), he told analysts that he wanted another $40 per day out of each passenger. Apparently, he has changed that to “per hour.”

We’re sailing on the Norwegian Bliss this month, and it is almost as expensive as a Christmas cruise – and it’s not that spectactular a cruise. It’s Eastern Caribbean, but it’s St Thomas (meh), Tortola (haven’t been in eight years or so) and Nassau (bleh.)

The selling point for this cruise I think is that it is a new ship (she just completed her inagural season in Alaska – including our first Alaska cruise), and now is sailing the Caribbean for the winter. So, new ship, high prices.

Here’s the issue (for me) with the megaships – they have a lot of stuff I don’t use. I’m never going to do the ropes course or slide down the slides or have someone in the kids’ club (unless the grandkids travel with us someday.) So, that’s a lot of wasted space that attracts families with … teenagers. I am rapidly becoming one of the “get off of my lawn” old farts. I don’t need that many teenagers.

I prefer smaller ships.

The other issue is that megaships can only dock at so many ports because of their size and because of the number of passengers they hold. I asked about it at a Q&A session on one cruise, and the Captain said the ships could go anywhere, but you don’t want to spend the amount of time it takes to tender 5,000 people off and on the ship, so you go where you can dock, which makes loading and unloading much faster and easier. This means St Thomas, Tortola, Nassau on the East.

The smaller ships go to more interesting ports. Choose accordingly – sail for the ship or sail for the destinations.

So, we’re paying to cruise and see a ship we were already on – but the Alaska itinerary was about the sights. With the Caribbean itinerary, there’s time to actually see the ship and all she has to offer.

However, this is a really expensive way to see a ship. Granted, it’s over Valentine’s Day, but I didn’t expect there to be a premium like a Christmas cruise.

This was the first cruise where the final bill made me say, “Ouch.” Alaska did, but it was a new ship (then) and it’s Alaska where everything is trucked or shipped in and the people have to make enough on a six-month cruise season to last all year. Everything’s expensive in Alaska.

This is a Caribbean cruise with ports that for me are fairly boring.

The charges creep up on you, which is always a warning I give new cruisers. Don’t just look at the base fare. The base fare may be $1900, but by the time you add taxes, port fees, pre-paid gratuities, insurance, gratuities on the “free” perks, and WiFi (I’m working and going to grad school, so I need WiFi), it’s a five thousand dollar cruise.

That’s a lot of money.

Worse than the actual total fare for some of the people traveling with us, the Ultimate Beverage Package (UBP – often billed as “open bar”) had a number of items reclassified from “included” to “extra charge” in the last couple of weeks, and Patron (the only alcohol one of our friends drinks) is now “extra charge.”

That’s a problem.

Now, the cruise lines all have very similar contracts, and they all pretty much say they can change anything at any time, but this is getting ridiculous. Drink prices especially are through the roof and it’s because the prices are all based on the UBP, which means they can charge $19 for a shot of Patron because people with the UBP will only pay $4 (the overage.) Find me a bar that charges $19 for Patron and is still open.

My assumption is that the marketing department thinks people will get the UBP as a “free” perk, pay $200 for gratuities (instead of over two grand for the full-price package), and then when they have to pay $4 to get their brand of choice, they’ll think, “$4 for a drink is cheap.”

They haven’t noticed yet that what actually happens is people begin to think, “I need somebody with less upcharges.”

So, on one hand, I have to admire Frank DelRio. He’s made the stockholders some money, he makes the analysts happy and the bottom line is pretty good. As a loyal passenger, I really don’t like him very much. As a stockholder, that worries me, because if he chases us off, how many of the formerly loyal passengers are fleeing?

We’re sailing on the MSC Divina for Christmas this year. We were able to get a cabin in the Yacht Club for just over what Norwegian wanted for a regular balcony. The Yacht Club is MSC’s version of the “ship within a ship”, with a private restaurant, butler, concierge, private pool and more. MSC’s included stuff is actually included – there were a lot less hidden fees. If you’re in the Yacht Club, all drinks are included. The minibar in the room is included. You get a free spa treatment. (We’ll see how it goes.) That’s when even my wife decided to try someone new. This will be our eleventh Christmas Cruise, and the first that’s not on Norwegian.

I wish I felt more guilty about it.

I don’t.