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:

Carnival To Spend Millons On Safety Program

safetyDigging deep into Carnival Corporation pockets to address the safety concerns of cruise travelers worldwide, Carnival Cruise Lines is looking to put the past behind them. Today announcing a multi-million comprehensive safety program, the cruise line that just can’t seem to get ahead of the game is taking a different approach: changing it.

This time last month in the article “Carnival Cruise Line Shake Down Begins, And That’s A Good Thing,” Gadling reported that Carnival was in the process of shaking down their ships, looking for and trying to anticipate anything that can go wrong.

“This review is very comprehensive; it will take us a little bit of time to complete it,” said Carnival President and CEO Gerry Cahill. “But you can rest assured that it is our highest priority throughout the entire organization.”

Today, the fruits of those efforts were revealed, with Cahill noting, “by applying lessons learned through our fleet-wide operational review after the Carnival Triumph fire and by taking advantage of new technologies, we have identified areas for enhancement across our operations.”Called the Operating Reliability and Guest Comfort program, the focus is deep, promising to tackle three major areas of concerns to travelers:

safetyEnhance emergency power capabilities- Each ship will have a new, emergency generator that will provide 100 percent of stateroom and public toilets, fresh water and elevators in the event of a loss of main power.

Improve the level of operating redundancies- All ships already have two separate, redundant engine rooms. But new modifications will include a reconfiguration of certain engine-related electrical components.

safetyIntroduce new fire safety technology- Fleet-wide, Carnival will invest in the newest and most technically advanced fire prevention, detection and suppression systems, upgrading the existing water mist systems.

On the guest comfort front, Carnival will expand the availability of hotel services for the comfort of its guests if a shipboard event involves the loss of main power.

Looking beyond Carnival Cruise Lines, the program will be applied to all 101 ships in the Carnival Corporation Fleet, which also includes Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Cunard Line and Seabourn.

“The overall program of enhancements across the fleet, including Carnival Cruise Lines’ ships, is expected to cost between $600 and $700 million,” said Carnival Corporation spokesperson Lanie Morgenstern in an email.

Included in the announcement was a new video featuring Cahill and Carnival Corporation chairman, Mickey Arison. Accused by the Boston Globe of paying more attention to his Miami Heat than the heat passengers on the Carnival Triumph endured without air-conditioning, Arison goes on the record, describing where safety fits into Carnival’s plans.




[Photo Credit - Carnival Corporation]

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]

Antarctica For Sissies? Hardly, As Luxury Cruise Line Turns New Page

Antarctica

Antarctica draws the dreams of many and the visits of just a few. Located so very far from civilization, travel to Antarctica is the stuff of hearty explorers, burly men of substance and adventure travelers. Luxury cruise ships and their pampered passengers? Not so much. Until now.

Seabourn has a fleet of small ships that travel around the world to amazing locations in opulent luxury, something we rarely talk about here.

After all, does ultra-luxury cruising really qualify as “travel” anyway?

Probably so when it’s a 21-night expedition sailing from Buenos Aires, Argentina, stopping by Montevideo, Uruguay, then the Falkland Islands before spending five days in Antarctica, running Zodiac landings to a variety of ridiculously amazing places.

OK, maybe that’s sort of traveling.

Antarctica
Agreed, but that’s before continuing on to Ushuaia, Argentina, followed by scenic cruising in the Beagle Channel, then on through Glacier Alley and the Cockburn Channel before a stop in Punta Arenas, Chile, which of course you need before passing through the Straight of Magellan followed by scenic cruising in Canal Sarmiento where the ship passes by the Amalia Glacier followed by a day in the Chilean Fjords.

Do I have your attention yet? No? Let’s press on.


Up next is a day in Puerto Chacabuco, Chile, then on to Puerto Montt, Chile, for the day just before a day spent scenic cruising Reloncavi Sound. Finally, those left standing will spend a day at sea before disembarking in Valparaiso (Santiago), Chile.

AntarcticaSound like a bucket-list adventure? Operationally, it’s no big deal for Seabourn. Their small yacht-like ships run itineraries from just a few days to a year-long, around-the-world voyage and have had almost all the luxury cruise travel bases covered.

Now, adding to its destination-focused roster of itineraries, Seabourn is heading south. But make no mistake about it; they are prepared.

Antarctic sailings have traditionally been the exclusive domain of expedition ships for good reason. Fortified ship hulls are extra thick and ice rated, a designation that provides an extra measure of safety in what can be brutal sea conditions. This is not a part of the world where luxury liners float around with passengers lining the decks sipping umbrella drinks to be sure, and that’s not what Seabourn has in store for those they take to the white continent.

AntarcticaTo customize Seabourn Quest for these adventures, they transformed the marina built into the ship, normally used by passengers for complimentary water sports, to house and launch multiple Zodiacs.

Who is going on these voyages? Seabourn past-passengers who have been asking for it along with first-timers who want to knock Antarctica “off their bucket list,” Seabourn’s John Delaney told Gadling, as excited about the new itineraries as a kid on Christmas Eve. “It’s the one continent we did not sail to,” explained Delaney.

Each Seabourn sailing to Antarctica and Patagonia includes five days of zodiac landings and expeditions to selected Antarctic locations. As a bonus, Seabourn Quest‘s small size will enable the ship to get closer to land, offering unprecedented wildlife viewing and the photo opportunities associated with Antarctic expedition cruising … with a twist.

AntarcticaAlso on board, will be an expedition team that makes up a who’s who of naturalists, scientists, and political and historical experts with decades of Antarctic experience, including experts in wildlife and exploration – adventure travelers who have been there and done that.

Each night, they will choose from hundreds of landing areas for the following day, to bring ships up close and ensure that zodiac landings can happen, based on decades of experience.

Award-winning photographers will also be on board to offer digital photography coaching, helping guests capture exciting wildlife images while sharing their knowledge, guidance and passion for Antarctica.

Three 21-day sailings, like the one detailed above, are planned. They are filling up fast and look to be a staple on the Seabourn roster of itineraries in future years as well.

An even longer, 24-day sailing does all of the above plus a stop at South Georgia Island, arguably “as interesting if not more so than Antarctica itself,” added Delaney.

The Seabourn plan promises to be far more than a fancy ship with some extra safety measures slapped on for show too, although they will be running the only all-suite ship in the area. Each passenger will receive an expedition-grade parka (emblazoned with the Seabourn logo) and a backpack. In addition, for those who need the right gear, passengers will have access to an experienced outfitter via the Seabourn website.

So what will it cost to come along?

Prices start at $14,999 per person, a bit over $700 per person, per day.
Yes, you could buy a car for that.
Sissies would buy the car.




[Image credit - Seabourn]

Two Queens Hook Up In California

two queensNot even close to what the headline could be misconstrued as, two queens from Cunard Line, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary met for a historic Cunard Royal Rendezvous. What’s significant is that one is now a hotel while the other is a cruise ship. Thousands of travelers from all over the world were on hand for the event and fireworks ensued.

Fans of Cunard Line (called Cunarders) and maritime history buffs lined the shores of Long Beach Harbor for the event as the Goodyear blimp hovered overhead and the two ships exchanged a traditional whistle salute.

The Players
Queen Mary entered service as a passenger vessel in 1936 as the grandest, fastest ocean liner in the world. Sailing through WWII as a troopship, Mart transported as many as 16,000 soldiers at a blazing 30 knots (cruise ships today do 20-something). Queen Mary went back into passenger service after the war until 1967 when she became a “floating hotel,” parked in California ever since. A new Queen Mary 2 honors the original, designed for transatlantic crossings.

Much younger Queen Elizabeth, launched in 2010, is also the new version of a ship previously holding the same name. While capable of transatlantic crossings, this ship lacks the heavy plating on her hull and the propulsion system of Queen Mary 2. Still, the 90,000+ ton ship will carry over 2,500 passengers.

Mary and Elizabeth are two of the three Cunard Line queens. The other sister is Queen Victoria. Cunard Line is a member of the Worlds Leading Cruise Lines, Carnival Corporation-owned cruise lines that include Costa Cruises, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Seabourn and Carnival Cruise Lines.

The Event
A narrative of the ships’ histories was simulcast on both ships and ashore by Everette Hoard, commodore of Queen Mary who called the two queens, “the most famous ships since Noah’s ark,” in the video below.

This is not the first time Gadling has reported queens hooking up in a historic way. “There Will Be Three Queens In New York Today” told of Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, meeting in New York for the first time in 2011. But that too was not the first meeting of Cunard queens.

“In January 2008, Cunard Line’s first Rendezvous of their three Queens took place. It was quite exciting as it was the first time Cunard had three ships with Queen in the name and all three were together,” said cruise industry expert Stewart Chiron CEO, CruiseGuy.com

Also of historic significance, this is not the first time for a rendezvous between queens named Mary and Elizabeth. The original meeting came during the original Mary’s last transatlantic crossing before being transformed into a hotel.



[Image credit - Cunard Line]