Friends Of The Earth Grades Cruise Lines, Some Flunk

friends of the earth


Friends of the Earth
is a global network of activists from 76 different countries that strive for a more healthy and just world. To make that happen, Friends of the Earth believe reforms are needed and are out to prove their point.

Evaluating cruise lines based on three environmental factors – sewage treatment, air pollution reduction and water quality compliance – Friends of the Earth has some interesting results to share in its 2012 Cruise Ship Report Card.

Presented to give travelers one piece of the information they need to decide which cruise ship or cruise line to sail, Friends of the Earth‘s Cruise Ship Report Card highlights environmental and human health impacts.

Scoring high in the areas of sewage Treatment, air pollution reduction and water quality compliance, Disney Cruise Line came away with top honors, an A-.

Sewage Treatment
Cruise lines came under close scrutiny years ago, when caught dumping raw sewage into the ocean. To see how cruise lines are faring these days, Friends of the Earth asks, “Has the cruise line installed on its ships the most advanced sewage and waste water treatment systems available instead of dumping minimally treated sewage directly into the water?”

Friends of the Earth also compared the number of cruise ships in the cruise line that have installed advanced sewage treatment systems against the total number of ships in the cruise line.

Top three for sewage treatment:
Disney Cruise Line
Norwegian Cruise Lines
Celebrity Cruises

Bottom three for sewage treatment:
Carnival Cruise Lines
Silversea Cruises
Costa Cruises

Air Pollution Reduction
When it comes to air pollution reduction, Friends of the Earth is most concerned with if the cruise line has retrofitted its ships with “plug-in” technology giving the ships the ability to use cleaner shore-side power rather than running its diesel-burning engines.

This is such a big issue that in determining the air pollution Reduction grade, only ships that dock at ports with shore-side power hookups and could plug in were graded.

Top three for air pollution reduction:
Princess Cruises
Disney Cruise Line
Holland America Line

Bottom three for air pollution reduction:
Silversea Cruises
Costa Cruises
Crystal Cruises

Water Quality Compliance
Comparing to 2010 water pollution standards designed to protect the Alaskan coast, Friends of the Earth used the notices issued by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for individual cruise ships.

Top three for water quality compliance:
Silversea Cruises
Norwegian Cruise Line
Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Bottom two for water quality compliance:
Carnival Cruise Lines
Holland America Line

Friends of the Earth continues its ongoing mission to compare the footprints of 15 major cruise lines and 148 individual ships. See complete details of the Cruise Ship Report Card here and more on the topic in this video:




[Photo Credit- Flickr user NOAA’s National Ocean Service]

5 Ways To Save Money Booking A Cruise Vacation

cruise vacation

A cruise vacation has a lot of value already built in. Sailing from one popular port of call to another on board your floating hotel, transportation costs are locked in, as are all meals. Still, there are some additional factors to consider, such as fare codes that can add up to real savings at the time of booking or later, when lower prices come along.

Consider Restricted Fares
Give the cruise line what it wants and savings can add up fast. Locking in a cruise with no way to change or cancel without paying stiff penalties can lead to perks for customers as cruise lines give low pricing and generous upgrades. This is a great option for those who have travel plans set in stone. But those with possible changes in the future should avoid this option.

Don’t Care Where You Sleep
Another way to save is by booking a stateroom category that does not get a cabin assignment at the time of booking. For those that do not care where they sleep, booking an unassigned (AKA “guaranteed”) stateroom can bring great pricing benefits.

Special Discounts
Cruise lines offer special discounts for seniors, residents of certain states or geographic areas, active or retired military members and others who fit into specific groups. Buying far in advance, these fares may not be available as they are often added later in the booking cycle to encourage new reservations.Keep Looking After Booking
New promotions coming up down the line, after booking, may be applicable to your existing reservation. Watch for cruise line sales around the holidays. Check your email or mailbox between booking and sailing too, as special offers may apply to you and your already-booked sailing.

Holland America Line, for example, has its Sail & Save sale, an annual promotion period that started December 10 and features special savings on multiple cruises and destinations.

“Our Sail & Save promotions make this the perfect time to start planning a 2013 vacation,” said Richard Meadows, executive vice president, marketing, sales and guest programs in ETurboNews. “These offers make it possible for more travelers to take a family cruise, an extended holiday or that once-in-a-lifetime trip at a good value.”

Use A Travel Agent For Their Intended Purpose
Travelers can easily click-to-book a cruise on most cruise lines. But should they? Travel agents have first-hand, I-work-with-this-everyday knowledge consumers don’t. Cruise lines commonly court travel agencies for their cruise business with special agency-only offers not available online.

Another way to save? Win a free cruise.

Celebrating the arrival of Disney Wonder in Miami on December 23, 100 lucky families won their own five-night Disney cruise vacation, as we see in this video:



[Photo Credit- Flickr user by blmiers2]

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]

Stunning Cruise Line Art, Both In And On Ships

cruise

Cruise lines traditionally devote a great amount of resources collecting art that will adorn the walls of individual staterooms and public spaces. Thoughtful collections help ship designers tie in a central theme that often runs throughout the interior of ships and sometimes on the exterior as well. It’s a high-stakes game of procurement and placement that can transform a ship into a floating display.

Not Your Mother’s Art
Travelers who have done a cruise vacation on any number of mainstream cruise lines know about art auctions on board. That’s not what we’re talking about here.

Art auctions are a profitable revenue stream for cruise lines that entice participants away from the pool deck or casino with free champagne during the event. Called into question on numerous occasions, the value of art bought at sea is difficult to nail down and commonly appraised much lower on land.

Put that thought out of your mind. The cruise line art we’re talking about today is the real deal, featuring creations by top tier artists like Romero Britto, Thomas Kincade and Peter Max.

Bringing Big Names Along For The Ride
Partnering with obscure and well-known artists, works take the form of paintings, lithographs and sculptures ranging from the traditional to over-the-top custom pieces designed specifically for a certain ship.

Royal Caribbean brought Peter Max along for the ride on inaugural sailings of giant Allure of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world, and an on-board Britto store where works from Romero Britto are featured.

Thank cruise line art programs for sparking the idea of branding that has brought partnerships with celebrity chefs, big-name entertainment and normally land-based service providers to sea.

Not Just Inside The Ship Either
Norwegian Cruise Line announced recently that David Le Batard (AKA “LEBO” ) was chosen to create the hull art (pictured above) for the new 4000-passenger Norwegian Getaway to be based in Miami.

“Norwegian Getaway will be Miami’s ship and, therefore, we wanted to ensure that her hull was designed by an artist with strong ties to Miami and the Latin community,” said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian Cruise Line’s chief executive officer in a press release. “Having begun his career in South Florida, Dave is an artist that is entrenched here. His work adorns the city and I’ve learned that he is also a genuinely nice guy. He is a shining star in Miami, as well as the global art community.”

Similar to the close pairing of sister-ship Norwegian Breakaway to New York City, the cruise line is going down the same road with Norwegian Getaway hosting a South Florida theme. On Norwegian Breakaway, it was Peter Max designing hull art that features images of the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline.

On Norwegian Getway, set to debut in February 2014, Batard will add images of a mermaid, sun, swirling waves, palm trees and pelicans to support the ship’s South Florida theme.

Art, The Experience
Also on the exterior of a ship, the imagineers at Disney Cruise Line took the ship’s satellite transmitters, normally an eyesore, and made them into something unique. On the top forward deck of the Disney Fantasy, Satellite Falls is a new Disney Cruise Line feature that adds “a gentle water curtain to one of the ship’s satellite transmitters,” says Inside The Magic of this video. “The surrounding area features a relaxing open deck with views of the front of the ship”




Celebrity Cruises takes art to unique places as well. When last year’s Celebrity Silhouette, sister-ship to Celebrity Reflection debuted, Gadling reported that Celebrity had commissioned Kurt Werner, the inventor of 3-D street art, to create an innovative art installation at the New York Stock Exchange. Stock Exchange employees had fun “relaxing” on the hammock and “grilling” on what was then the industry’s first outdoor, interactive grill restaurant, called The Lawn Club Grill.

Spare No Expense On Art
Setting sail this week for the first time, new Celebrity Reflection features a $4.1 million collection of art that in one way or another supports the “reflection” theme on the ship. Over 6,000 works make up the ship’s collection, part of the Royal Caribbean International company inventory that spans over 40 ships.

What goes into creating an at-sea art collection? Purchasing art works or commissioning specific works by international emerging, mid-career and established artists is key as we see in this video:




Engaging Passengers
Art runs through ships as an element of the cruise experience we don’t hear a lot about. Its there and those who take the time to look are often surprised by the captivating quality of works at sea. Also at sea, some lines engage passengers, teaching and challenging them to try something new, creating art of their own.

Celebrity Cruises has a hands-on program on their Solstice-class ships and others that have been “solsticized” adding popular features to older ships. The Art Studio, a new venue on The Lawn Club has along for the ride two artists-in-residence who offer hands-on classes in many creative arts. Master Artists from The ArtCenter South Florida also host art classes, lectures and demonstrations on topics ranging from jewelry making to sketching and painting.

Passengers on Princess Cruises can choose from about 20 courses per voyage from four core subject areas – Culinary Arts, Visual/Creative Arts, Photography and Computer Technology. Ceramics or pottery are popular with passengers who fire their creations on board to take home later. Digital travel photography and watercolor techniques are also offered.

Just about every major cruise line has an onboard art collection they are proud of and they want passengers to know all about it. Hosting tours, both with an art expert along and self-guided, cruise lines take passengers on a voyage within a voyage. Enabling those who appreciate fine art an additional at-sea experience, the art we find at sea adds an extra dimension worthy of our consideration.

[Photo Credit- Norwegian Cruise Line]

5 Ways To Save On A Cruise Vacation, But Should You?

save on a cruise vacation

People who talk about how to save on a cruise vacation, often compare them to “floating hotels,” a way of thinking that can easily make cruise ships come out ahead financially. Just the all-inclusive nature of a cruise makes sailing popular. We get it. The issue is not which is a better value but how to save on cruises themselves. We understand it’s a good deal, but how do we maximize that value on a cruise vacation?

Buy far in advance- Cruise lines appreciate passengers who book far in advance and say so with lower prices. Passengers gain not only from that attractive pricing but also from a far better selection of cabins when booked a year or more in advance. Some fares are only offered by cruise lines right after releasing a new schedule of sailings or within a certain amount of time before sailing too.

Buy at the last minute- Travelers who are able to just drop everything and go to sea by booking 30 days or less in advance of sailing can find some great bargains too. These passengers need to be flexible not only about when they can sail but about their cabin location as well. By the same coin that makes buying in advance a good idea because of a superior selection of cabins, those who buy at the last minute need to be comfortable in less attractively located real estate.Be loyal- Cruise line packages and benefits for those who have sailed with them previously are considerable and can add up to real savings. Past guests are often the first to be offered special fares or discounts that will be available to the general public later. On board, past guest benefits are considerable, ranging from a welcome-back gift to special parties, wine tastings and other events exclusive to frequent cruisers.

Consider restricted fares but only if you’re sure- Most cruise vacations can be bought far in advance then canceled any time before final payment without penalty. Restricted fares lock in pricing, often at a rate lower than all others but require a non-refundable deposit and no other changes can be made without a hefty fee. This is not the fare for those who might change their minds later but can be the very best value for those with solid plans that are not apt to vary throughout the life of the booking. Traveling with the elderly, those with medical concerns, on a strict budget or even teens who might not think cruising is cool by the time the sailing rolls around, this is a great way to waste travel funds.

Cram as many people as possible into your cabin. It works. Some cruise lines have standard-sized cabins that will accommodate up to five people. Cruise lines base their world on double occupancy (two to a cabin). Solo travelers often pay twice as much but cabins with three, four or five pay far less as cruise lines commonly discount the third or more passengers in a cabin.

That’s good to know if on a really tight budget but begs the question: “Just because we can fit five in a cabin, should we?” In many cases the answer is a resounding “No!” I remember one time as a travel agent when a client called me from their fabulous cruise ship upon boarding then checking out their cabin. This lady was hoppin’ mad at me for allowing them to book four adults in a small, inside cabin, even though I’d warned her about the drawbacks.

Four people in one cabin means four people needing to use the shower and/or restroom at the same time to get ready for dinner. It’s trying to find a place for four people’s luggage, bodies and personal time. Add in that these were four very large people who barely fit in the third and fourth upper bunk bed-like berths and all of the sudden saving that money up front was not nearly as important.

That’s a very common flaw of cruise traveler buying habits too. Up front, there is a lot of concentration on price, much like they might spend on an airline ticket going from point A to point B. The travelers for whom this is a problem just want the rock bottom low price no matter what it means. After they get that price, some of those same people bounce back almost immediately, now concerned about their cabin location, type or even the ship and sailing date.

Those are the lucky ones. They still have time for a reality check to think about what it will be like in that obstructed view balcony cabin that saved them a few bucks. That’s time to consider if the loss of a perfect view for their cruise of a lifetime is worth it. To many, once they think about it, they realize that they would indeed not care for that and change.

Others wait and find out the hard way that their click-to-buy wonder deal was not all that much of a good value. It’s all about taking a realistic view at the price of a cruise, our personal travel budget and how those two can play nice with each other. Getting it right can make for a rich travel experience. Getting it wrong is just a waste of time and travel funds.


[Photo Credit: Chris Owen]