Tag Archives: travel

More Passengers than Citizens

Alaska has a great resource in the Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska website. It has port schedules for all Alaska ports, every day of the cruise season. This does not excite everyone, but for scheduling nerds, it’s nirvana.

I found the site because I was trying to determine if we were going to be tendering. (We weren’t.) However, the site shows every ship that will be in port by day, so you can find out who your neighbors will be.

Somewhere along the line, I started wondering how many passengers were being dumped on these rather small towns – so I got the double-occupancy numbers for all the ships from Wikipedia. I knew the ships would all be carrying above that number, but double occupancy is what is considered “full.” Since I was on Wikipedia anyway, I got the latest population counts for the ports.

There were a couple of towns where the populace could have boarded the ships, and had extra room.

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Brave New World

I never thought it would happen, but after seventeen cruises, we have finally booked an excursion outside the ship’s excursion offerings. Sure, we’ve had a couple of ports where we just wandered around on our own, but we were never that far from the ship, and it was usually pretty well-planned (and limited) – like going to lunch or meeting people for drinks.

Now, booking through the ship is usually considered a badge of shame on Cruise Critic (which should really be called Cruise Whiners much of the time), because the ship excursions cost more, the selection isn’t as plentiful, and usually because the ones telling everyone not to book through the ship are selling their own excursions.

Me? I like booking through the ship, if there is something interesting available. It goes on the same statement, it’s paid over time with the rest of the cruise fare, and there is some hope the ship will wait if the excursion gets back late.

The last part was never much of a consideration, until Alaska, when excursions were ending just before the ship was going to leave, mainly because the time in port was so short.

So, I never really considered anything else – we either did a ship shore excursion, or we didn’t do anything organized at all. In Cozumel, we would just get a taxi to go to Pancho’s Backyard, which was conveniently in the same building as my wife’s favorite souvenir store, and I would have a margarita or two, and try to pay my bar tab while there was still money in the account.

So, it’s time to shake it up a bit. We’re sailing at Christmas. Again. We’re going to Cozumel. Again. Cozumel is one of the default destinations for all Western Caribbean cruises, and we’re sailing out of New Orleans, so that’s where we’re headed. We’ve done all the interesting excursions, some twice, some that weren’t that interesting, and we’ve just gone to eat and shop.

What’s left?

There are a couple of Cozumel suggestions that always come up –¬†Mr Sancho’s (a beach resort) and the Cozumel Bar Hop. You can’t book either of these through the ship, so it was time to cross over to the self-service excursions.

I always wanted to try the Bar Hop, mainly because it has the word “Bar” in the title, but also because it visits the ocean side of the island (the east side, where no tourists generally go.) We almost decided on it, but then we looked at Mr Sancho’s, and they have an all-inclusive plan – all you can eat, all you can drink.

You can find YouTube videos of people hammered at both places, so that’s a push.

However, when you’re married to a diabetic, as I am, food options are important. There are snacks on the Bar Hop, but it wasn’t clear how much food there is available – or whether someone nameless would actually partake in what was offered. So, all-you-can-eat is a good bonus, especially when the someone nameless approved of the menu. (When you’re married to a diabetic who goes on and on about needing food options, all-you-can-drink is a necessity.)

(It turns out there are a lot of resorts selling day passes in Cozumel. Mr Sancho’s is just the one I heard about first — and most often. Apparently, there is a whole lot to do in Cozumel that is not available through the ship.)

Mr Sancho’s, it is.

So, I booked my first excursion without going through the cruise line. They took a $5 deposit on a $55 all-day fee, so we owe them money when we arrive. We need to have money for the taxi over there and the taxi back. The taxi ride back is the money many people forget about.

Also, we have to remember to get back to the ship on time. This is where all-you-can-drink could be a slight negative.

I will have to see if you tip the waiters enough, if they will pour you into a taxi to get back in time.

They do close at 5pm, so if you’re there at closing time, you’ve missed the ship.

Peoria, IL 26 May 2018

When you’re in a distant town over Memorial Day weekend, the first thought (for me) is “Where is the local baseball team?” They were out of town. The next thought, if you cruise as much as we do and the town has a river, is “What cruises are available?”

“Cruise” in this case is a relative term, since it’s not the ocean, it’s the Illinois River, and it’s not a cruise ship, it’s a paddlewheeler. A paddlewheeler! (So, it’s a boat, not a ship.)

I took three cruises in two weekends – including one with a Kenny Rogers impersonator. (I never saw that on Norwegian or Carnival!) I was on the Spirit of Peoria so much, the Captain recognized me when I boarded the Music Cruise. (The good Yelp review helped.)

I love watching the wake off an aft balcony of a cruise ship, but watching the wake being created is a bit magical. (Shot with a fisheye lens for artistic effect.)

 

The map is elsewhere on the site, but I figured I’d add it here. It’s not the longest cruise I’ve ever taken, but it may be longer than the one around Lake Ray Hubbard on the Harbor Lights outside Dallas. Maybe.

Norwegian Bliss, Ketchikan, Alaska – 13 August 2013

This was our home away from home for a week around Alaska (well, up and down the coast, anyway.) The Norwegian Bliss is one of the newest ships in the Norwegian fleet, with all the bells and whistles, and then some. However, if you’re sailing Alaska for the first time, you tend to not use any of them, because you’re focused on the scenery – especially if you have an aft balcony, as we did. So, other than keeping the teenagers and millennials busy, the extra features just run up the costs for me – they don’t add value. It’s one of the reasons I prefer the smaller ships.

Alaska Recap

Wow. That was fun.

So, we survived our first Alaskan cruise – our first with my wife’s family, first on a Breakaway Plus class ship, first cruise from Seattle, first visit to Canada… and so on.

Seattle to Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Victoria (It’s cold! We must be in Canada!) and back to Seattle.

The good?

  • Alaska. The scenery is amazing, so if you don’t like looking at nature, this is not the cruise for you. We didn’t see a lot of the ship because we spent so much time on our balcony (get a balcony for Alaska), just looking at the world go by.
  • The ship. Norwegian Bliss is a massive ship (for Norwegian), and I was really concerned about that many people in an enclosed space. However, it wasn’t bad. There were a couple of times it felt crowded, but again – if you’re on your balcony a lot, nobody is going to get in your way.
  • The people. Much like the Caribbean, the people you interact with in Alaska make their money from tourism, and they have six months to make enough money to last a year. They tend to be nice.

The bad?

  • The port times. It’s a long way to Alaska from Seattle at twenty knots, so the port times tend to be compressed. There is also one day you visit a glacier (which is amazing) but it really cuts down your time in port. Some of this can be remedied by doing a one-way sailing (or doing a back-to-back), so you don’t have to spend time getting back to Seattle.
  • No sleep. (See port times.) When you’re due at your excursion at 7:30am every morning, it tends to be wearing. Take naps.
  • The prices. When you’re quoted over $300 per night for what is a basic hotel anywhere else, something’s wrong. The Seattle hotel market is vastly overpriced, so don’t plan to stay longer than you have to.

The lucky?

  • The weather was amazing. Even the days it rained, it would stop just as we got off the ship for excursions. I don’t know who paid the extra upgrade for “no rain”, but thank you.
  • The Captain said we got closer to the glacier than any other trip that year. It was a good day.

The random?

  • Don’t expect to just use your cell phone. You need a real camera.
  • Don’t expect to use a point and shoot – you need a fast lens to actually capture whales, eagles and other wildlife. I used my point and shoot for video.
  • Learn to brace – when we were on a whale-watching trip, I got some great video of “it’s the sky, no, the sea, no, the sky, no, the sea” until I learned to brace and move with the boat.
  • Don’t expect to use all the bells and whistles on the ship. I’m not really sure when anyone interested in the Alaska scenery would have time to drive go karts or play laser tag, but they’re available. My note to parents? If you’re spending the prices we spent so you kids can play laser tag, you’re wasting your money on this cruise.

We need to do this again, now that we’ve done it once and learned some lessons. We need a smaller ship, longer port times, and more camera gear.

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.