It was a very unlucky Friday the 13th in 2012 when the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground off the coast of Italy, sending shock waves through the world of cruise travel. After the event, which took 32 lives, cruise lines took a hard look at everything they were doing. Back at the scene of the wreck, environmentalists voiced concerns about long-term damage to the delicate marine environment. It would be a long, difficult process to remove the ship, one that may take a big step forward this month.
Last year Gadling explained the process of removing the wreck. First, the grounded ship was stabilized to keep it from sinking further into the ocean. Next, an underwater support system was installed. Now, the process of standing the ship upright, called parbuckling, should take place later this month. Once that delicate operation is complete, the ship will be floated away.
After the grounding of Costa Concordia, the governing organizations of the cruise industry ordered an operational safety review both in response to the grounding and as part of the industry’s continuous efforts to review and improve safety measures. The Costa Concordia event also contributed to the birth of the so-called Cruise Passenger Bill of Rights, which details rights cruise travelers have when things go wrong.Follow along on the wreck removal progress at The Parbuckling Project website and see a great Reuters slide show, with aerial view of Costa Concordia as it lies on its side next to Giglio Island.
After the grounding of Costa Concordia, the world of cruise travel took a good hard look at everything they were doing in the way of safety. A comprehensive Operational Safety Review of passenger safety measures resulted in new policies that promised to address safety concerns. Those policies were adopted by members of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which covered most of the major cruise lines we know about. Recently, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which oversees those and other cruise lines worldwide, adopted the same rules for all ships sailing, effectively standardizing safety rules for all.
But seasoned cruisers who have sailed a number of times, those who were undeterred by safety-related concerns, don’t seem to care all that much and have continued sailing, as planned, without hesitation.
After a few sailings in the Caribbean, North American cruise travelers can get tired of going to the same islands. Their cruise vacation may be a great value and easy to do but they want more. The problem is that ships can only go so far before having to turn around and get back in a week, the time most travelers have for vacation. The answer: make more islands.
While the cruise industry has not exactly figured out how to make there be land where there was none before, they have become good at building custom cruise ports. New Banana Coast cruise port in Honduras is a great example.
Beginning construction in 2011, the $30 million Banana Coast cruise destination is scheduled to open in November 2014. Billed as “Where the Rainforest Meets the Sea,” the western Caribbean port already has cruise lines adding Banana Coast as a port of call. So far, Silversea Cruises, Holland America Line and, just this week, Oceania Cruises have committed to regular stops with more lines expected as they roll out future itineraries.When the project is complete, Banana Coast will have a 50,000-square-foot shopping facility and transportation hub, which will take visitors to other places on the island. Possible experiences include a VIP airplane trip to the Mayan ruins, snorkeling, kayaking, ATV rides, a culinary tasting tour and more. The diverse climate and topography of Honduras offers waterfalls, rivers, streams, mountains, a tropical rainforest, a nature reserve, coral reefs and crystal clear waters all at the same destination.
This is not the first man-made Caribbean cruise destination either. The Jamaica port of Falmouth, a joint project between Royal Caribbean International and the Port Authority of Jamaica, is another good example. Reminiscent of the historic 1700’s and 1800’s when Falmouth was the big port for sugar exports worldwide, the port is built to handle Royal Caribbean’s huge Oasis-class ships. The location also allows visitors to do shore excursions from both existing ports of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, each about a half-hour away.
In the Dominican Republic, construction continues on the Amber Cove Cruise Center, a giant $65 million facility that will be able to accommodate up to 8,000 cruise passengers and 2,000 crew members daily. This one is expected to host more than 250,000 cruise passengers in its first year of operation. Amber Cove will feature a welcome center with a variety of retail offerings, including a marketplace for locally sourced Dominican crafts and souvenirs, as well as a wide range of themed restaurants and bars, water attractions and a transportation hub allowing visitors easy access by land and sea to the surrounding destinations and attractions.
As the high price of airfare continues to keep North American cruise travelers sailing from home ports scattered around the United States, look for these man-made islands to continue gaining popularity.
Another Caribbean destination, which has become increasingly accessible by sea or air is Curacao. Boasting 35 beaches and an eclectic mix of history and culture, the capital city of Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a good choice to visit as we see in this video:
A new study out this week says the idea of a cruise vacation is not as popular as it once was, targeting multiple factors for the hit. Regardless of the reason, the numbers show a cruise industry that has its job cut out for it.
Over half of all Americans are less likely to take a cruise now than over a year ago, says the new Harris Poll out this week. But those numbers are heavily skewed to those who have never been on a cruise before and were probably apprehensive about it anyway. Everyone is to a certain degree before their first sailing. Those who have sailed before were not having as many second thoughts.
The March Harris Poll asked 2,052 adults aged 18 and over in an online poll, how they felt about cruising. Those surveyed clearly thought less of cruising since events that included the grounding of Costa Concordia and a fire aboard Carnival Triumph. That trend continued in the May Harris poll, indicating that public perception of cruises continues to fall while airlines soar higher.”More than six in 10 Americans (62 percent) agree that air travel is much more reliable than taking a cruise (up from 57 percent in February), and the majority (56 percent) agree that air travel is much safer (up from 50 percent in February),” says a TravelMole report.
But cruise lines have not stood by idly. Nearly all cruise lines have adopted a new, higher, more efficient focus on safety. The new Cruise Passenger Bill of Rights spells out what will happen in many otherwise cloudy areas.
Will they come back? Better than ever?
Apparently cruise lines think so, investing billions in ships, ports and jobs. Just this week, Costa Cruises announced the building of a new ship, their largest ever.
The 132,500-ton Costa Diadema promises a different experience, breaking up areas of the ship into several ocean-facing venues, each with a different theme. Also, Princess Cruises new generation ship Royal Princess arrived in Southampton for a smattering of inaugural events.
“I wouldn’t give much credibility to the latest Harris or TravelMole polls,” says cruise expert Stewart Chiron, CEO CruiseGuy. “Their findings are highly subjective and run contrary to real life actions of cruise passengers, as ships continue to sail full. “
Maybe it’s a little of the “if you build it, they will come” thing or maybe it’s the faith cruise lines have in their unique travel experience that is becoming more diverse all the time.
“Considering less than 15% of the US population has cruised, I’d say 92% of their respondents have probably never cruised, 75% probably still live with their parents and 48% have never travelled more than 1000 miles from home. Based on current trends, their findings aren’t supported,” concluded Chiron.
When we review travel apps that actually do something, they often tap crowd-sourced information that is as rich (or not) as the number of users who have contributed their opinions or reviews. GPS-based travel apps take existing technology and manipulate it in one way or another to bring every thing from finding a friend on the road to creating a virtual journal of our travels, step by step. In the world of cruise travel, the number of apps available is limited compared to other modes of transportation but they are often highly specific, producing information not available elsewhere.
Norwegian Cruise Lines has a newly updated travel app that can be a helpful planning tool in advance of sailing with information about destinations, ships and special offers. Once on board Norwegian’s newest ships, even more helpful features are available.
The free download for iPhone, Android and Windows 7 features photo galleries and videos; ship information including deck plans and on-board amenities; stateroom descriptions, images and floor plans; 360-degree virtual ship tours and more.
On board Norwegian Epic and Norwegian Breakaway, passengers can log on, select an Internet package to buy then text and call others on the ship who are also connected, using time from their pre-paid plan. Free services include the ability to see previews of and book shore excursions, restaurants and other on-board products like spa services and shopping. Users can view their shipboard charge account as well as a list of daily activities at any time, also without using purchased Internet minutes.Sailing some other cruise line? Cruise Ship Mate ($1.99), can be even more helpful in the planning stages of cruise travel as it has the ability to see all itineraries of all major cruise lines. Included among features that do not need an Internet connection to use are deck plans, cruise ship information and a packing list. Connected, users get cruise ship deck cam links and a chat feature that enables passengers on a specific ship and sailing date to communicate in advance of and during sailing.
A unique feature on the Cruise Ship Mate app is a Cruise Ship Tracker. This one allows users to see the exact location of any ship at any time, using technology similar to that of CruiseCal, the long running subscriber-based website that pinpoints where ships are and which ships will be in port at the same time you are.
But maybe you are not really into apps but have some favorite travel websites that you would like to access quickly on your Apple iPhone or iPad?
iPhone 5 users can create quick links to their most-visited websites using the “add to home screen” option, like I did for the Gadling site. On your favorite site, in Safari, just tap the “Share” button at the bottom of the screen, tap the icon labeled “Add to Home Screen,” tap the “Add” button then launch the website from your Home screen by tapping its icon.
Looking for other helpful travel apps? Check this video for apps that tell us everything from what is going on at any given destination to where restrooms are located.