Tag Archives: travel

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 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.

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!

Virgin Voyages

Sir Richard Branson has decided to enter the cruise business. As with other businesses he’s started, he intends to disrupt the industry.
I can’t comment on the ship, since the Scarlet Lady isn’t sailing yet, but I can comment, based on their marketing materials on the website.
When the brand was announced, I signed up for more information, and I was added to the list for early access.
The major selling point first was “All adults.” You must be 21 or over to cruise. This really means “No kids”, which implies “No families.”
This was almost a selling point for me, until last Christmas, when we sailed with our niece and nephew and their kids. You know what? Traveling with kids does not always suck. The kids introduced us to parts of the ship we had never visited before. I was happy we got to help introduce them to cruising.
The more I read their marketing, the more I realized that “Adults Only” probably means “Millennials.”
I’ve been on 19 cruises, and I like being a passenger.
Virgin doesn’t have “passengers”, they have “sailors.” I don’t want to be a sailor, sailors work on the ship. I would just like to ride along.
Virgin doesn’t have “cruises”, they have “voyages.” Call me negative, but when I hear “Voyage”, my brain finishes it with “of the Damned.” Voyages are long trips.
That’s another negative point – their Voyages are short, 4 or 5 days only. Also, the itineraries are boring to me.
I’m not interested in a five-day cruise. I want a week, minimum.
Virgin Voyages prices by the cabin (or by the person.) This is great for a crowd of unmarried friends who will cram into a cabin to save money. I travel with my wife, and the cabin price is twice the single price. So, no savings.
They have free WiFi (if I wasn’t working, I would like to not be connected onboard), all the restaurants are included, many non-alcoholic drinks are included.
I think even adding the costs of included items onto a traditional cruise price still won’t save me money.
So, I think Virgin Voyages is not designed for me. So, if disrupting an industry is designing a cruise line for people who aren’t cruising today, they’re disruptive.
I would remind Sir Richard this was tried in the river cruise space a few years ago. River cruises without old farts! You can’t cruise with us if you’re over 40! It failed.
I’m waiting to see how many “adults” will pay more for a five-day cruise than a seven-day, just to be a sailor on a voyage with an overpacked room to get the costs down. I don’t know if the Virgin brand is worth the upcharge.
(Another interesting thought – how will Virgin Voyages handle lifeboat capacity? We’ve been told the lifeboats have a fixed number of “souls” they hold, and if there’s a cruise with a lot of families – which means more than double-occupancy – some rooms won’t be sold, because the lifeboats are at capacity.)
I think I’ll just stay a passenger on a cruise.

The Voyages of Sir Francis Duck

So, as the proud parents of a crew of brave and daring Duck Pirates, we now have to watch from afar as they go off on their careers of plunder.
Sir Francis Duck was originally stationed at Cagney’s and left his post, only to be captured at Coco’s some time later by Lady Nicki. He is now in the brig, awaiting transfer to his next vessel, the Carnival Magic. He is to set sail again in May.

  • Norwegian Bliss sailed 2/9/2019 returned 2/16/2019

[googlemaps https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/5/embed?mid=1SYoi7g78vwzeDPzGzUikYOkjXC2dehtc&w=640&h=480]

Unemployed Pirate

As we are currently underway on cruise number eighteen, I can finally admit that am an unemployed pirate. It is an interesting job. Well, it’s not really a job, if I’m unemployed. I suppose I’m an unemployed chef, as well, because I made fish sticks for lunch the other day.

Ye host, the pirate. Arrr.

Jimmy Buffet sang, “Yes, I am a pirate … 200 years too late”, and I know the feeling. I want to be a pirate. Actually, I want to be a movie pirate. For real pirates, the hours aren’t that good, there’s apparently lots of work, and you might get killed or imprisoned.

It seems much simpler (and safer) to just take a cruise, demand drinks and food from the cheerful staff, and say, “Thank ye, matey!” when your order is delivered. I’m pretty sure most pirate ships didn’t have room service.

Still, it seems like putting “Pirate” on a resume (or a business card) would stand out as a desired position, and then you would also have the advantage of writing off all your vacation cruises as job training. Tax piracy is still piracy, right? (This is why www.texaspirate.com now redirects to this site. Planning ahead.)

So, take a GPS on your next cruise. There’s probably one built into your phone. Track your coordinates as you travel from port to port. Now, you’re a navigator. Sure, you probably still need to know how to read paper charts and use a sextant, but that’s just if you forget to charge your phone.

Tell your traveling companion to go get you a drink. If you get a drink, you’re the Captain. If you’re told to get your own damn drink, you’re probably just the First Mate. Just don’t ever both wear T-shirts with your “ranks.” It’s very non-pirate, no matter how cute they are.

Yes, I am a pirate. I’m simply unemployed, and I would like a pirate job with decent hours, a medical plan more extensive than just an eye patch and a hook, room and board, and a good chance of advancement. I’d also like a retirement plan a bit more extravagant than a stud earring. Oh, and little chance for arrest.

I should also thank my doctor for the eye test, since otherwise I never would have found a patch. I’m just annoyed he wouldn’t let me keep it. Arrr.

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.

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 his 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?”

Titanic II

So, the Blue Star Line is in the process of building a duplicate (almost) of the RMS Titanic, and is planning to sail the original route across the Atlantic from Southampton to New York. Hopefully, it will not duplicate the original sailing, so it will make it all the way to New York.

First of all, anyone in Dallas that hears “Blue Star” immediately thinks Jerry Jones is involved (which is why Blue Star Sports changed their name.) If Jerry Jones was involved, the ship would get within twenty yards of the port and stall.
Why would anyone do this?

I know that if you look at Disney Cruise Lines ships, they don’t look like cruise ships. They look like ocean liners, like in the old-time movies. They are much more romantic, because they stir the memories of the sea in people who don’t actually have any memories, other than through movies and television.

So, there’s the romance factor. Plus, lots of people paid to see the movie Titanic, even though everyone knew how it was going to end.

Here’s the official promo video. It’s interesting as a tribute to the original ship, and a quick overview of the proposed new version.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9GJDhd_JPo]

I thought it was an interesting concept until I saw the cabins in the video. Then I remembered that people were smaller back then. Not only that, their idea of luxury was quite different than ours.

I’m sure she was quite elegant in her day, but then again, people used to like Formica and shag carpeting.

I wonder what the fares will be. How much is a 1912 dollar (or pound) worth? (OK, one site said $1 in 1912 would be worth $26.02 today. That’s a lot of money for a small cabin.)

It won’t be an exact duplicate because the ship’s operating equipment is being upgraded – diesel-electric engines instead of steam, radar, GPS, azipods (but no stabilizers), yet the passenger experience is the  same – including bunk beds in the lower classes. I’m pretty sure the equipment upgrades had to be done or she would not be able to sail. Ships today have to meet SOLAS, which ironically was put into place after the RMS Titanic sunk.
I could see doing a night-long cruise to nowhere on a 1912-vintage-ish ship just for the experience, but if I wanted to sail across the Atlantic, I’m not sure I want to spend eight nights in an inside cabin in a bunk bed, with my wife above (or below) me, complaining about the bunk beds.
I suppose some people will want to make the trip to the New World that their ancestors made, in the approximate style in which their ancestors traveled, in a replica of a ship most famous for not completing her maiden voyage. Tastes differ.
My Grandad Gilhooly sailed from Ireland to New York to begin a new life in the New World. (I’m still trying to find an exact date and ship.) I’m pretty sure he wasn’t in first class or even second class. The Irish were not sailing to conquer new worlds, they were fleeing the old one.
I sailed from Southampton to New York in the Haven on the Norwegian Breakaway, because we were given an upgrade opportunity just before we left. We had a butler. Close enough for me.
Why not upgrade the passenger experience since you’re not 100% true to the original? Just think, if you had balconies, you could have that many more people on iceberg watch.
Also, I’m pretty sure the original Titanic did not have a “Made in China” label.
I will be interested to see if she ever sails. The project is apparently now back on track after being delayed past the 100-year anniversary.
I did try to sign up for the mailing list, just to watch progress. The link was broken. I hope their server didn’t hit an iceberg and go down.
It took six years to build RMS Titanic. She was in service five days. Do we really have to try again?

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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