Cruise Ship Back In Baltimore After Fire, Repairs Continue

cruise ship
Chris Owen

When cruise ships come to town, civic leaders rejoice. The floating resorts bring with them jobs and tourism dollars that might be otherwise elusive. In May, Baltimore, Maryland, welcomed Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas to town with gusto, as the state’s governor named May 13 Royal Caribbean Cruise Day. But the hoopla of that new cruise ship in town was short lived when just days later, the ship caught fire and was pulled out of service for repairs. Still, cruise lines are worth courting for cities and those cities are worth standing behind for cruise lines.

Returning to Baltimore this week, there was no brass band or gubernatorial declaration and the reason for the fire is still under investigation. Affecting three aft decks of the ship, some areas are still not ready for passengers, reports Travel Weekly. But local businesses and media are still excited to see the ship return, sailing from the Port of Baltimore on seven-night sailings to Bermuda and the Bahamas.


If any part of this story sounds familiar, there is good reason. Just last month we heard from governor O’Malley, then lobbying on behalf of Carnival Cruise Lines, looking for a waiver from new environmental rules to keep the cruise ships coming to the city. In 2011, Gadling was first to report cruise line crew members accused of smuggling drugs into the Port of Baltimore. Still, cruise travelers flock to Baltimore, often setting new records for passenger travel on a variety of year-round sailings.

Tired Of Caribbean Islands? No Problem: We’ll Make More, Say Cruise Lines

Caribbean
breezy421/Flickr

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.

Back in Honduras, the Mahogany Bay Cruise Center is a Carnival Corporation sponsored destination that has welcomed over one million cruise passengers since opening in 2009. The Roatan, Honduras, location is on 20 acres of waterfront property and is an attractive area to visit for guests of Carnival Cruise Lines. In addition, there are sister-lines Seabourn, Princess Cruises, Holland America, Costa Cruises and non-Carnival Corporation vessels.

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:

Recycled Hong Kong Airport Opens As Cruise Terminal

Hong Kong
Hong Kong Tourism Board

Hong Kong‘s $1 billion Kai Tak cruise terminal is open and processing cruise travelers as anticipated. Located at the site of the former Kai Tak International airport runway, the terminal will eventually source passengers from a pool of 50 million potential middle-class passengers in China. This week though, it’s all about the Americans.

Passengers disembarking Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas this week found a bit of a different experience than that of other cruise ports around the world. Showcasing some of what China has to offer cruise travelers, Mariner of the Seas offered passengers a kung fu demonstration, a lion dance at Mikiki mall in San Po Kong, shopping, dining and more on planned tours.

Adventure cruise travelers with a desire to go it on their own had a bit different experience, finding transportation options limited. “The terminal is fine, the building is fine but there is no good connection to the city,” passenger Fred Lutjens said in a Standard report that notes a queue of 100 people waiting for a taxi.Kai Tak airport, which closed in 1998 after 70 years of service, was replaced by the current Chek Lap Kok International Airport. Using that valuable and available land efficiently, the $1 billion Kai Tak cruise terminal has the ability to handle passenger vessels as large as two of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class cruise ships, the largest in the world.

Unique Themed Cruise Brings Wine, Stars And Seminars

themed cruise wine
payhere/Flickr

Themed cruises are becoming more popular all the time as fans of (insert almost anything here) gather at sea. Music fans dominate the offerings with ships setting sail sold out with fans of Kid Rock, KISS, Blake Shelton and others each hosting their own theme cruise. Then there are fans of movies like the Turner Classic Movies cruise, now in its third year. Another one that caught our attention features music, wine and dining in a way that looks to epitomize what themed cruising is all about.

The Wine, Dine and Music cruise asks a simple question on its website: “Spend a weekend in wine country or a week on a wine cruise – you decide!” Appealing to someone who might go on a weeklong trek through California wine country, this one looks to be a good alternative that brings wine country to you. On your ship. In the Caribbean. With musical guests.Music
Featuring Kenny Loggins, Three Dog Night and others, the Wine, Dine and Music cruise will have nightly entertainment along with Meet ‘n Greet artist sessions and Jam sessions and special music performances on days at sea. For many theme cruise fans, that would be a week’s worth of fun. But there is more.

Wine
Each stateroom gets a free bottle of wine from each of the seven wineries also along for the ride, delivered nightly to their stateroom. Like a tour through wine country, the onboard programming also makes available wine tastings, wine seminars and wine club memberships. Focusing on specialty varietal wines in an experiential sort of way, those on the Wine, Music and Dining cruise are likely to meet and spend time with others sharing similar interests.

A central focus of this well planned themed sailing is to enjoy a gourmet meal paired with excellent wine, with others who appreciate the experience.

Dine
On the food front, the Wine, Dine and Music cruise features menus created by Chef John Ash (Author, From Earth To The Table), also known as the “Father of Wine Country Cuisine,” as well as food tastings by Catherine Venturini (Chef-Owner, Olive & Vine), chef recipes and lectures.

Unique to this theme cruise, and something we have not seen before, is the combination of all three elements, Wine, Music and Dining, all on one sailing. Also included is all the regular onboard programming and features with prices starting at $1029 per person. That price compares favorably to a weeklong land vacation through California wine country, minus the vineyards, making the Wine, Dine and Music cruise a good choice for budget travel too.

Sailing November 9-16, 2013, on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas from Tampa, the seven-night itinerary includes Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico as well as Georgetown, Grand Cayman and three days at sea.

New Study Has Travel By Air Preferred, Thanks To Travel By Sea

cruise ships
Port of San Diego/Flickr

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.

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