New Jamaica cruise port gets their act together

Jamaica new portLong-delayed new cruise port Falmouth, Jamaica welcomed it’s first Royal Caribbean ship this week as Voyager of the Seas became the first ship to visit. It’s a custom-built port designed to handle mega-ships Oasis and Allure of the Seas. Both have been patiently waiting for months as construction has been dragging on. Early reports from the nearly-complete port indicate full speed ahead on construction and a positive, welcoming mood.

“Today was truly priceless! The people of Jamaica made today an experience I’ll never forget. Their early morning anticipation of the ships arrival was quite impressive. Buildings, rooftops, streets and any open spaces were filled with people awaiting Voyager’s arrival. The first passengers to disembark were well organized for tours and met by various performers. They created nice distractions to avoid noticing the construction around them. The ship did a superb job ensuring expectations by passengers were set at a proper level” said cruise expert Stewart Chiron CEO CruiseGuy.com, one of the first visitors to the nearly-complete port.

In full operation were a variety of new shore excursions as well as variations on some Jamaica favorites.

“I went out to Good Hope Estate and watched the tours happen. What a difference since I was last here in September. Passengers thoroughly enjoyed their various experiences. This was evidenced when we returned as Voyager was departing. The crowds of Jamaicans never dissipated and were cheering Voyager’s departure. What was truly emotional for many, was every open space on every deck of Voyager was lined with passengers and crew cheering and thanking the people of Falmouth for a most memorable day. I would think the comment cards from today will be extraordinarily high! This is a port experience unlike any other” added Chiron

Cruise passengers arriving into Falmouth will be able to choose between the shore excursion options in both Ocho Rios and Montego Bay since the new port is equidistant from both of these Jamaican towns. Additionally there will be an array of options for both tour and non tour guests at Falmouth. Royal Caribbean hopes that passengers arriving at Falmouth will feel like they are in the old world of the Caribbean with numerous shopping and authentic dining opportunities right at the port.

“I look forward to returning for Oasis’ arrival. What a spectacle that will be considering what occurred today. The Royal Caribbean staff that worked so hard on the pier were magnificent. What a team to make this dream come true” Chiron concluded.


Troubled Falmouth, Jamaica cruise port finally welcomes first cruise guests

Falmouith Jamaica cruiseRoyal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas became the first cruise ship to visit the new port of Falmouth, Jamaica which unofficially opened today, months behind schedule.

“We are delighted to see Voyager of the Seas make the first-ever ship call at Historic Falmouth,” said Craig Milan, senior vice president of Land Operations, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. “By partnering with the Port Authority of Jamaica, we are working to deliver our shared vision of Falmouth’s rebirth. Together, we are bringing the town’s historic sites to life and integrating the culture and authenticity of this destination into a superior guest experience.”

The port construction is a joint effort between between mega-ship maker Royal Caribbean International and the government of Jamaica. Originally scheduled to open last May, ongoing construction delays pushed opening the troubled port back, rerouting giant sisters Oasis and Allure of the Seas to Costa Maya, Mexico instead. It looks like the port is on track for an official grand opening in March though when Oasis of the Seas will make her first stop at the new facility.

On the ground today in Jamaica, cruise expert Stewart Chiron CEO, CruiseGuy.com tweeted “Crowds massing on rooftops, churches, roadways as town about to enter new Millennium. Feels like Christopher Columbus’ arrival.”Indeed, the historic area of Falmouth, Jamaica dates back to 1790 at a time when Jamaica was the world’s largest sugar producer. One of the major obstacles in the construction of the new port has been building up an infrastructure that dates back to the late 18Th and early 19Th century when it was a central hub of the slave trade.

That was then, this is now.

“Marching band welcoming @RoyalCaribbean #cruise passengers as 1st to visit historic port of Falmouth” chimed Chiron.

Today, guests from Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas are experiencing a new and diverse variety of shore excursions while at Historic Falmouth, including:

  • Good Hope Great House:located fifteen minutes from Falmouth, guests can choose from the new horse & carriage ride, river-tubing, ATV exploring, among others, on this former 18th century Jamaican plantation
  • Dolphin Cove & Dunn’s River Falls:adventure seekers can climb Dunn’s River Falls; zip-line through the lush rainforest canopy or wind down the mountainside on a Jamaican bobsled at Mystic Mountain; or swim with the dolphins at Dolphin Cove.
  • Appleton Estate: after a scenic drive through the Cockpit Country and Bamboo Avenue, guests can indulge in one of Falmouth’s old-world delicacies by learning to make rum and sampling different aged rums.
  • Rafting on Martha Brae: located five minutes from Falmouth, guests can enjoy a tranquil ride on a 30-foot bamboo raft.

Once complete, the port’s master plan calls for 120,000 square feet of retail shopping and two berths capable of servicing the line’s Oasis-class ships. Located on the islands North side between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, most tours and excursions currently offered at either port will be available from Falmouth.

Some ships previously scheduled to call at Falmough had been redirected to Ocho Rios or Montego Bay where guests aboard Royal Caribbean ships got a discount on the very popular “JamaicaForADay” packages that sounded like just what they need and maybe what super-slow Falmouth construction workers shouldn’t have had.

The all-you-can-drink, all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-play excursion at Sunset Beach Resort pretty much washed away any post-ship diversion blues and brought on the trademark Jamaican party time with no problem mon.

Photos and video @CruiseGuy


Luxury At Sea: Royal Caribbean Suites

Royal Caribbean SuitesThey come in all sizes. They are the top of the line accommodations. Those who book them pay a premium price. Along with them come exclusive amenities and on-board benefits. Let’s take a look at the suites of Royal Caribbean International, their layout, design and what to expect should you book one.

The size and number of suite accommodations vary from one class of ship to another. To get a good idea of a typical suite fleet-wide, today we look at a Grand Suite on Freedom of the Seas, a popular ship that sails from Port Canaveral in Florida. This is not the newest ship and surely not the oldest but pretty typical of what one might find in these exclusive accommodations although sizes and configuration do vary across the Royal Caribbean fleet.

Grand Suites in Freedom of the Seas are 432 square feet in size. That’s considerably larger than a standard balcony cabin on that ship which comes in at about 200 square feet. So right off the bat you have more space, accommodating up to five guests.

But it’s not so much the extra space that matters with a Grand Suite as it is what comes with it.

The first stop on the luxury train is the restricted-access Concierge Lounge, exclusively for Suite guests and top-level members of the line’s Crown and Anchor Society past-guest program. Inside this special area suite guests will find

  • A dedicated Concierge who is available to assist with anything they might require
  • Twenty-four-hour a day use of the Concierge Club Lounge
  • Continental breakfast every morning and open bar & hors d’oeuvres every evening available in the Concierge Club Lounge
  • Assistance with reservations for Portofino Italian restaurant & Chops Grille Steakhouse
  • Assistance with booking shore excursions, Salon or Spa treatments and Priority tickets for the ice skating show
  • Assistance with the arrangement of private parties, pre-ordering dinner wine and more

%Gallery-114635%In addition, suite guests also get priority seating in the main theater, priority tender tickets at ports that require tendering to shore, admission to a VIP area on deck, luxury spa bathrobes, upgraded lotions, shampoos, conditioners and bath gels (because you have a bathtub, not just a shower) and priority departure via the ship’s exclusive suite departure lounge.

One of the best parts (as if all of the above was not enough) is the ability to order breakfast, lunch and dinner to be delivered to your suite. Ordering off the complete in-suite menus, just a phone call to room service brings dining right into your suite.

Those same benefits apply to all suite categories except Junior Suites. Still, those too are spacious staterooms, coming in at 320 square feet on Freedom of the Seas and a great choice for families. They include a minibar, vanity area, hair-dryer, TV, phone, vanity table with an extendable working surface for laptop computers Some have sofa beds and can accommodate 3-4 guests.

Cruise line scams: Shore Excursions

Cruise line shore excursions

Going ashore can be one of the best parts of a cruise and one of the reasons many travelers choose a cruise vacation in the first place. From the comfort of your floating hotel, you can see multiple destinations but only have to unpack once. Cruise lines offer a wide variety of excursions at each port of call and encourage passengers to join. Some are over-priced but carry an implied level of safety that might not be entirely accurate.

The potential scam-like claim here is “Oh, you don’t want to go out on your own on a shore excursion. If they’re late getting you back, the ship will leave without you”

Yes, they could do that. Will they? Probably not. How likely is that to happen? Not likely at all.

Often, the same companies and people that do shore excursions for the cruise lines also do them independently. Still, the cruise lines say they do investigate and follow up on excursion providers to see how they are doing, holding them to high standards.

Alternatives to ship-sponsored excursions. Shoretrips.com, is a third-party service that provides excursions world-wide. Owners Julie and Barry from Milwaukee, Wisconsin travel to each of the destinations and insure that their tours are safe and interesting. Often, Shoretrips.com excursions are less expensive and less crowded too. Booking more than 200,000 people a year, they have yet to leave someone behind.

Let’s talk price. A pretty easy-to-compare excursion in Cozumel, Mexico, Swimming with the Dolphins is $129 for adults or children on Carnival Cruise Lines. Shoretrips.com has that dolphin swim for $79 for adults and $77 for children. That’s about 40% less than the cruise line. Prices vary among lines too. Royal Caribbean has that dolphin swim for $99. Their price is better than Carnival but not as good as Shoretrips.com.

Another option is to go with someone recommended by a trusted friend or a travel blogger you’ve come to know. Reliable independent operators know what they are competing with on the cruise line excursion offerings and almost always offer a better value. That might come in the form of a lower price or a similar price with a better experience.

Get good information. A good source for reliable travel information about specific ports of call is AOL travel guides. Good discussion and very current, personal information can be found at CruiseCritic.com. Your good travel agent/expert should have recommendations also.

I’m really not trying to talk you out of the ship-sponsored shore excursions. They’re good. Nothing wrong with them. But there are alternatives that are just as safe (or not) as third-party vendors.

Cruise lines have their share of problems with excursions.Going with the cruise line does not guarantee your safety. In 2009 18 cruise passengers were robbed at gunpoint in the Bahamas on ship-sponsored shore excursions. The passengers, sailing on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas and Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Wonder, were held up by masked men who demanded money, passports, cell phones, credit cards and personal items.

Just last November, masked gunmen held up guests on St Kitts on a Celebrity Cruises excursion.

Cruise lines were quick to suspend tours and worked hard to increase security and scrutiny of tour operators in those cases. But that was a couple of incidents in thousands of tours, hardly something to keep guests on the ship for safety concerns.

Cruise lines will commonly skip ports of call where there are known problems with crime like in Mexico with drug cartels. In that case, the cruise line does not charge you for the excursion you obviously can’t take. Ships any where close to Tunisia right now would have taken a close look at unrest in the area before even docking. If booking separately from the cruise line, make sure you understand the tour operator’s policy if the ship does not call at a port.

Let’s break it down. Look at it this way; cruise lines contract with local operators who run the excursions. The cruise lines have to add on something to make money. Duh. So basically, its the same people, running the same excursions, but you pay more if you get it through the ship. If that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy then buy through the ship. Most people do. If you want to save 20% to 50%, do some research first. There might be a better value out there.

Like the cruise line Booze and Beverage Packages, whether shore excursions are an evil scam plotted by the cruise lines or a reasonable value depends primarily on how you look at them.

Flickr photo by Ha-Wee

5 tips for people who really don’t want to go on a cruise

don't want to go on a cruiseMaybe hiking, biking, backpacking or pretty much any other minimizing endeavor is more what you have in mind for traveling but someone is dragging you along on a cruise. There’s just no way you’re getting out of it. Is there hope for you? Yes. A little. Not much. But some.

Pace yourself- Food will always be available 24 hours a day on board. You might not be used to that with your triathlon training and all so do some stomach stretching exercises prior to boarding. You will need the extra room. Stop pouting that there are no granola bars or energy drinks. There are. On cruises they are called “shots” and you find them at the bars. You’ll enjoy the walk to get them and recent studies suggest those extra steps will help prevent diabetes.

No barfing- You are concerned about the possibility of becoming sea sick because the little path on your normal mountain hike doesn’t really move around much. Think of it like that and yeah, you probably will be. Prepare for shooting the rapids in Colorado with somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing and you’ll be fine. It could be worse. You could have been invited along for a taping of Paris Hilton’s new reality show.

Know where you are going- Take time before the cruise to check out a travel guide on the places you will visit. Duh. Just because you don’t have any say in where the ship goes doesn’t mean you can’t meet fun and find interesting people. You probably won’t find any of them on the ship but maybe when you go ashore.

Careful with spending- The food is included in the price of your cruise but that’s about it. Beverages, both alcoholic and sodas are not included. Want a sip of water? You’ll pay $23.54 for that. This is why people smuggle booze on the ship. They do have beds so leave your sleeping bag at home with your tent. Bring your flashlight though, cruise passenger are fascinated by shiny things.

Relax. That may seem like a silly tip but you would be surprised how many people try to pack so much into every day that they need a vacation after they get back from their cruise to recuperate. Know this as a fact: There are way too many things to do and you can not possibly do them all. To be more accurate, there are too many things to do that you will think are stupid so bring a telescope and memorize the sky. Maybe you can find a 14th sign of the zodiac.

Flickr photo by Robbie Howell