An International Smartphone Plan For Cruise Travelers, Finally

smart phone
celesteh/Flickr

Many cruise travelers have no problem at all controlling the expense of using their smartphone internationally; they simply turn it off for the duration of the trip. That done, they proceed to communicate with the rest of the world via email on Internet time bought from the cruise line. They don’t dare turn on their smartphone because if they do, the first message they see is one warning of potential overage charges they will incur if they use it – until now.

Recently, AT&T announced three different Cruise Ship Package plans with cruise travelers in mind:

  • AT&T Cruise Ship Calling: Includes 50 minutes for $30 per month
  • AT&T Cruise Ship Calling and Messaging: Offers 50 minutes of talk and 100 text/picture/video messages sent for $60 per month
  • AT&T Cruise Ship Calling, Messaging and Data: Includes 50 minutes, 100 messages sent and 100MB of data for $120 per month

A minimum one-month trial is required, which works well with the idea of “turn it on before you sail, turn it off after you’re done.” The new plan is currently limited to the ships of Royal Caribbean International, Azamara Club Cruises and select Celebrity Cruises ships. See att.com/cruiseships for list of ships and details.On-ship networks operate only while in international waters. Docked at a pier, anyone with a smart phone can turn it on and access any available signal. Right about then would be a good time to have Boingo installed to pick among available signals and log in on one that works with your device at no additional charge.

AT&T Cruise Ship package kicks in when users see “Cellular at Sea” displayed on your device.

Have no clue what usage you might have while traveling via cruise ship? AT&T also has an International Data Calculator that can help.

Smart Phone Becomes 'Smart Wallet'

Big Ship Cruises Not For You? New Cruise Line Has You In Mind

Viking Oceans

Cruise travelers who are turned off by the big ship ocean cruising experience or just want to try something different, increasingly turn to a river cruise. On tiny ships, they ply the waters of European rivers, sailing directly to iconic destinations. Viking River Cruises is a major player in that arena and is quite successful at what they do. With other cruise lines, that success would be a win and they would continue to do what they do best. Vikings, however, look at that sort of thing a bit differently. As in ancient times, the Vikings of today are charged with exploring new worlds. Viking River Cruises intends to do just that, sailing new ships that will be custom built to redefine ocean cruising.

At a gala event at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Viking River Cruises effectively became Viking Cruises and split off into a company with two distinct focuses. Viking Rivers will continue to sail their popular longships with a rapidly expanding fleet. Viking Oceans will build a fleet of ocean-going ships that will begin with a new 928-passenger ocean liner, Viking Star. The new ship will set sail in 2015 visiting ports of call around the perimeter of Europe that river cruise ships can’t get to.

“There is a hole in the market somebody should fill,” said Viking chairman Torstein Hagen at the same Beverly Hills venue used for the Golden Globe awards. “I feel we invented modern river cruising. Now I hope we can revive the destination part of ocean cruising.”

Viking Oceans

To do that, Viking Star will begin with a choice of three summer European itineraries. All sailings will begin and end with overnights in the first and last ports on the itinerary. That’s a significant difference to most other lines that board passengers at the first port then sail away a few hours later. On the backside, the last port on other cruise lines is most often never seen by passengers except on the way to the airport. Viking Star will sail to the last port, stay overnight then disembark passengers the next day. Ports between the beginning and end will have more flexibility too as Viking Star will stay there longer, often allowing passengers to experience nightlife, something other lines never allow to happen.If any of that sounds a bit familiar, there is good reason for it. In ‘Cruise Line Destination Focus Brings Off-Ship Adventures’, Gadling introduced readers to the term ‘destination immersion’, coined by luxury small-ship line, Azamara Cruises that recently added a complementary off-ship event called an Azamazing Evening to each sailing. Ultra Luxe Crystal Cruises has their version too called Overland Adventures that take Crystal guests to unique, immersive events ashore.

Still, the elements of the Viking Oceans experience takes what Viking does on rivers, applies it to the ocean then promises to set a new standard for ocean cruising that is new, fresh and significantly different.

Viking Oceans

Considering only the all-balcony stateroom feature of new Viking Star (starting at a generous 270 square feet) other ocean-going ships of similar size will be put on notice: The Vikings are coming.

But roomy places to sleep are just one feature of Viking Star, the first of two ships on order with a third possible. Viking Oceans will take the lessons learned on their popular river cruise “longships” and apply that same school of thought to ocean cruising, something they have little history with, creating an entirely different and unique choice for cruise travelers.

Unique to Viking’s ocean cruise experience are a number of included features that commonly cost

Viking Oceans

extra on other cruise lines-

  • Shore excursions, a hallmark of the Viking river experience are complementary
  • Free WiFi, all the time for all passengers, in all areas of the ship
  • All staterooms will have not queen, but king-sized beds
  • Bathrooms will feature a generous 12 sq ft shower
  • Beer, wine and soft drinks are included with meals
  • Specialty restaurant options (an Italian grill and Chef’s table), normally an extra charge on other lines, are free

Going head to head with other cruise lines, Viking’s ocean ships will compete favorably, offering options that often exceed what other lines are doing right now-

  • Optional stateroom categories include 338 sq ft Penthouse Verandas, 405 sq ft Penthouse Junior Suites, Explorer Suites that range between 757 and 1,163 sq ft and a 1,448 sq ft Owners Suite
  • Two small cinemas
  • A main pool with retractable roof
  • A sauna crafted with Nordic inspiration that features a ‘snow’ room
  • The main dining room’s floor to ceiling windows will have the ability to slide open, offering an al fresco dining experience

But a Viking Oceans cruise is not for everyone, and that is exactly the way they want it. “I want people like me,” said 70-something Hagen, describing their target passenger as 55+ years old, English-speaking, well educated, affluent, curious and active and interested in history, culture and music.

But take the ’55+’ out of that equation and the Viking Oceans experience could indeed be a good fit for a great many more travelers. What they do could be a totally viable option for travelers who have never cruised, turned off by the idea of a big ship, floating hotel travel experience. Viking Star will have no children’s programming, no cabins that will hold more than two guests, no amusement park-like rides, no casino, no giant fitness center and no bar on every street corner.

What Viking Oceans does have is a continuation of Hagen’s philosophy that what other lines do as a “drinking man’s cruise”, Viking does as a “thinking man’s cruise”, now on not just rivers, but the oceans of the world too.

Beyond The Floating Hotel, Travelers Find Value Ashore

floating hotel

If I say “cruise,” odds are good that the first thought that comes to mind is that of a big floating hotel that ambles from island to island in the Caribbean. That’s not totally wrong either; a lot of cruise ships do just that. But looking at a cruise ship as a mode of transportation, like a commercial airliner that flies from airport A to airport B, should bring different thoughts. Thinking of cruise ports as a gateway to new worlds we may never have experienced before, it’s a whole different ballgame.

So often cruise itineraries focus on what lies at the port itself, and for good reason. Many cruise ships do not stay in port long enough for travelers to go very far and get back before the ship leaves. But some cruise lines are staying longer, often well into the night – if not overnight – allowing more time to explore. That gives the notion of a cruise ship being a “floating hotel” an entirely different, much more positive meaning.

A good example of a port of call that is far more than what one might see just walking off the ship for a few hours is the UK’s Port of Tyne.

Located in Northeast England, the Port of Tyne is home to miles of coastline dotted with castles, cathedrals, stately homes and gardens, plus one of Europe’s most culturally exciting cities. Interspersed along the way are historic regions that spawned the English language, are home to dual UNESCO world heritage sites and that make the Port of Tyne a world-class destination. But it is not the port itself that draws travelers but Newcastle, the city that came back to life in the 1990s after a rebirth of the downtown Quayside area.

An interesting contrast of historic landmark buildings alongside new, modern structures, Newcastle sits on the north bank of the river Tyne. Known today as home of Newcastle Brown Ale (which is actually no longer brewed there) and the Great North Run, the world’s most popular half marathon, Newcastle offers a wide variety of attractions.

Structures dating back to 124 A.D. sit not far from modern engineering marvels like the world’s only tilting bridge.

%Gallery-184993%So which cruise lines sail this sort of an itinerary – one that allows travelers to linger longer in port? Azamara Club Cruises, Seabourn, Crystal Cruises and others with smaller ocean-going ships do. River cruise lines like Viking River Cruises, AMA Waterways and others have a shore-side focus as well.

But larger ships also offer overnights from time to time, although it is not their main focus.

Carnival Cruise Lines, for example, will overnight in Venice, Italy, on a Mediterranean sailing, as will Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International. Still, big ships full of features need people onboard using them – playing in their casinos and shopping in their stores – to make a profit.

Expect to pay more on small ship lines that have a destination focus to make up for you not being on the ship, spending. Still, that premium price might well be worth it if compared to a land travel option that requires airfare, hotel accommodations and meals, any or all of which might be discounted or included with a small ship cruise.

Planning on traveling the world in a cost and time-efficient way? Including travel by ship in your travel toolbox can help.



[Photo credit - Port of Tyne]

Adventure Meets Cruise Ship On Extreme Shore Excursions

adventureIt’s not often that we write about adventure travel and cruises in the same story. It’s more like kayaking and Costa Rica, or cruises and buffets. But some extreme shore excursion offerings by a few cruise lines have raised the bar so high, others may not catch up for a good long while.

Forget the stuffy tour bus and all the challenges of moving 50 or 60 people at a time around an iconic destination; that’s not what these are. We’re talking combat aerobatics, Korean monks and the Holy Grail.

Crystal Cruises
has what they call “experiential cruising” that features far-flung, destination-inspired adventures that are not the fare of a normal shore excursion menu and include hiking, trekking, hot-air ballooning, dog sledding and mountain climbing.

G-Force 4 Combat Aerobatics invites guests to take adrenaline-filled flight in a fighter trainer jet to experience G-Force 4 thrills as an expert pilot teaches combat aerobatics, including a wing over, loop, barrel roll, stall turn and flyby over the ship.

Crew on America’s Cup Winning Yacht- Auckland is home to Team New Zealand, the famed sailing team that won two consecutive America’s Cup challenges. Become a member of the crew for the day, sailing aboard Team New Zealand’s America’s Cup yacht.

Spend the Day as a Korean Monk has guests experiencing a day in the life of a Korean Monk discovering the ancient culture still alive in the country’s many temples. After a tour of a temple’s architecture and history, learn a Korean-style meditation or partake in the tradition of wish writing, all ending with a traditional tea ceremony.

Rescue Endangered Marine Animals in Barcelona
As part of Crystal’s “You Care, We Care” complimentary voluntourism program, visit the Barcelona Rehabilitation Center to participate in a dolphin rescue drill and learn how to manage the floating stretcher, handle the animals and introduce them to the support swimming pool.

Sail an Underground River with Millions of Glow Worms
The Waitomo Caves’ soaring ceilings and low passages have created breathtaking formations and, when one looks up, millions of luminous, blue-green worms decorate the ceiling. Guests float in pitch darkness and absolute silence (so as to not disturb the worms) along an underground river to observe.

VIP at the Monaco Grand Prix- Car lovers experience the fast cars and glamorous events of the Monaco Grand Prix. They can watch the world’s most prestigious automobile race from either the driver/team-prep paddock area, a residence above the famous Casino, or the best seats in the grandstands near the start/finish line.

Rub 100 Buddha Bellies has guests traveling much farther into Asia than the Bangkok port-of-call, including a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang, home to the famed Pak ou Caves. One hundred steps above, voyagers will find hundreds of Buddhas – all illuminated by candles. They say rubbing one Buddha Belly brings good luck, wealth and prosperity. One hundred Buddha’s? All the better.

These over-the-top experiences and other offerings by Crystal Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises and Disney Cruise Line are typical of what is happening right now in cruise vacations. Cruise lines are taking advantage of their mobile nature and addressing a traveler-charged desire to see more than the standard tours at destinations around the world.

Disney Cruise Line, masters in storytelling already, take that same ability to craft off-the-ship experiences that travelers are not apt to forget anytime soon. How about taking your children to a puppet show? … at the Villa Borghese in Rome. In Venice, visit textile and marble workshops where artisans create items for the Vatican and Dolce & Gabbana.

“On shore, we just take our storytelling skills and work with the locals to help tell our guests why we are bringing them to Venice or Croatia or Turkey,” Arnaldo Zanonato, Disney’s shore excursions manager said in a great, in-depth Travel Weekly report. “And when it’s appropriate we try to make it more fun, make it hands-on for the kids, make it a learning experience for everybody.”

At the ruins of St. John’s Basilica, the Apostle John is said to be entombed. Exclusive to Disney guests, an “archaeologist” leads them in a competition to find scattered pieces of a sacred symbol.

Travelers who have been to Rome before want something different and more experiential. Disney delivers with a San Clemente Basilica trip where guests can descend to the bottom of the three-tiered complex, which dates back to the first century.

No discussion about extreme shore excursions would be complete without mentioning Azamara Club Cruises, the tiny two-ship boutique cruise line that specializes in destination immersion like no other.

On board Azamara ships – just the right size to be comfortable ocean-going vessels but small enough to get to places big ships can’t touch – its all about the destinations. Rarely repeating itineraries, Azamara offers once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to experience the world in an up close and personal way that no stock tour bus can deliver.

Example: A 14-night sailing in April 2013 titled The Spice Route Voyage features three overnights in port and six days at sea allowing passengers to see how various cultures and customs merged along trade routes. The experience is entirely customizable too.

If exploring Singapore’s cuisine and shops is not enough, join a night safari at the zoo. Take a rickshaw ride through the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Georgetown or in Sri Lanka, explore Buddhist monasteries, cave temples, rainforest preserves and elephant sanctuaries. In India, check the Kerala backwaters near Kochi, the beaches, colonial architecture and spice plantations of Goa, and the boundless energy of Mumbai. This one even has an optional overland tour to Taj Mahal.

Look for other cruise lines to pay more attention to the quality and depth of their off-the-ship options too … but a wing over, loop, barrel roll, stall turn and flyby over the cruise ship? That’s going to be hard to top.

[Photo Credit- Flickr user Defence Images]

Powerball Winner Travel Options

powerball

The nation’s multi-state Powerball lottery is up to $425 million for Wednesday night’s drawing, the largest jackpot ever. Would-be winners have dreams of financial freedom, never working again for the rest of their lives and more. Odds are, travel may be one of the options the big winner will choose. With a cash value of $278 million, that’s a lot of travel. But just what will $278 million buy?

Aircraft-
At a cost of $206 million, the winner could buy one Boeing 787 Dreamliner and have millions leftover for a flight crew and operating expenses. Don’t want to blow so much on a jet? Choose a 737 for as little as $74.8 million.

Looking for more adventure? How about a F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jet for $150 million.

Cruise of a lifetime-
At an average cost of $1000 per person, per week, if the winner is an avid cruiser, they could sail with a dozen friends on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas for over 70 years.

Bump that up to destination-immersive Azamara Club Cruises on an itinerary that takes the winner and his happy dozen friends around the world, and sail for over 20 years in ultra luxury.

Road trip of a lifetime, with friends-
Fancy a luxury road trip? At about $9 million each, the winner and about 30 friends could drive solid gold Rolls-Royce Phantom’s.

Or leave the friends behind and drive your gold Rolls-Royce to any one of 19 four to seven-story hotels you could build along the way.

Better yet, buy 14,000 of your closest friends a new Toyota Prius for $19,950 eachBuy an Island-
Tikina-I-Ra is a 10,000-acre, private island for sale in the South Pacific for just a bit over $11 million.

“One of the largest freehold estates in the Fiji Islands, this property is in pristine condition,” says Private Islands Online, adding, “With ocean frontage to the North, West, and South, the island enjoys approximately 25 kilometres of coastline.”

Talk about adventure-
Adventure travelers too would do well as winners.

Experiences of a Lifetime from TCS & Starquest Expeditions would take you by private jet to eight countries. Camping under the stars in India’s Great Thar Desert, gorilla trekking in Rwanda and elephant trekking in Thailand runs about $68,000 per person for a 23-day tour. You could bring 200 of your friends and do it for a year.

Feeling like there could be a better use for your half billion in winnings?

Feeding all the hungry people on the planet, your prize would not go far. Worldwide, 852 million people are hungry, up from 842 million a year ago.


[Photo by Flickr user live w mcs]