Cruise lines continue to bust into new territory, shaking off their booze cruise, buffet bonanza reputation with a keen focus on the destinations they visit. Off the ship, cruise travelers want more than a packaged shore excursion. They want more time in port with active experiences rather than passive viewing. Cruise lines are beginning to deliver too. Spending some of the clout they earn by bringing millions in tourism revenue to ports around the world, cruise lines are tapping local sources and setting up unique off-ship adventures.
Crystal Cruises has Overland Adventures that take Crystal guests to unique, immersive events ashore. Typical of the intensity level of their Overland Adventures is a three-night Laos Overland Discovery during a March 7, 2013, Southeast Asia cruise, offering an intimate look into the rich history, culture and scenery of the former French colony and UNESCO World Heritage site, Luang Prabang, considered the best-preserved city in Southeast Asia.Those participating will get off their cruise ship, Crystal Symphony, in the port of Laem Chabang, Thailand where they will spend the first night. From there, they fly to Laos for two nights, to see a Laotian Buddhist alms-giving ceremony, visit sacred temples and other attractions then sail across the Mekong River to the Buddha-filled Pak Ou Caves. Travelers then rejoin Crystal Symphony in Ho Chi Minh City.
While in the area, Crystal offers other off-ship adventures with titles like “The Wonders of Angkor Wat,” “Phong Nha Caves & Vietnam Heritage” and “A Portrait of Vietnam: Hue, Hoi An & Hanoi.”
The whole destination immersion focus has become so popular that Azamara Club Cruises is adding a complimentary immersive destination event ashore featured on every voyage.
Azamara guests sailing a Baltic cruise voyage, for example, might enjoy a private ballet performance in St. Petersburg, Russia, while walking the red carpet and sipping champagne. Travelers on a Mediterranean cruise may find themselves sampling Jerez, Spain’s famous sherry wine at Gonzalez Byass and later enjoying a private equestrian ballet at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art.
These are not your typical cruise line “load everybody up in a tour bus and drive around” excursions.
Mainstream cruise lines, still mostly limited to day trips, are testing the waters for immersive off-ship adventures. In Alaska, Princess Cruises continues to explore the land of the midnight sun with experiences like a Back Country Zodiac Expedition, a Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour or a Heli-Hike & Rail Adventure.
For now, we’re finding these experiential off-ship adventures on high-end luxury lines. But look for mainstream cruise lines to offer intense lifetime event experiences in the near future.
Egypt’s tourism business has been suffering since the 2011 uprising that forced President Hosni Mubarak to step down. This week, in response to protests in Egypt, the vital industry received another blow as cruise lines and tour operators began making alternative plans.
“In an abundance of caution, Royal Caribbean International has decided to cancel Mariner of the Seas’ next port call to Egypt,” says a notice sent to travel agents Thursday. “Mariner of the Seas, which departs Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy, on Saturday, September 15, will no longer call on Alexandria, Egypt, on Tuesday, September 18. Instead, the ship will now call to Sicily (Messina), Italy, on, Sunday, September 16, and Valletta, Malta, on Monday, September 17.“
That caution also applies to sister lines Azamara Club Cruises and Celebrity Cruises. It’s the up side to cruise ships, often called “floating resorts.” When trouble presents itself cruise lines simply sail in another direction.
Princess Cruises, the first to return to Egypt after the 2011 uprising, is staying the course, for now. “We haven’t made any changes yet to our upcoming calls to Egypt,” Princess Spokesperson Karen Candy told Gadling. “We’re closely monitoring the situation and will of course make any changes we feel necessary in order to ensure our passengers are safe.”
Security, it seems, is an ongoing problem in Egypt. Last Sunday, about 150 tour guides demonstrated outside of Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, saying the lack of security is complicating attempts to lure tourists back.
“There is no security. This is not a joke,” Dina Yacoub, a 29-year-old guide told the Associated Press in a Washington Post article published just before this week’s anti-American violence in Libya, Yemen and Egypt this week. “We are asking tourists to come back … how would they unless there is security?”
The cruise line positions this week mirror their posturing after the 2011 unrest/chaos when they played it safe by keeping ships and passengers out of harms way.
Cruise lines say a cruise vacation is one of the best travel values around. Commonly included in the price are meals, entertainment, onboard activities and more. Like other ways to travel, incidental expenses, those optional extra charges, can add up fast. Unlike other ways to travel, extra charges during cruises are quite predictable and easy to budget for. Here are some of the big ticket extra charges not included in the price of a cruise that can get out of control quickly if not planned in advance.
Gratuities- Most cruise lines these days automatically add on a pre-determined amount to cover usual and customary gratuities given to crew members in consideration of services rendered. In the olden days of cruising, this was done on the last night of the cruise when passengers would show their appreciation for a job well done, handing appropriate crew members envelopes with cash inside. Today, cruise lines break this down for passengers in advance adding between $10 and $12 or more per person, per day on to their onboard charge account. On a seven-day sailing for a family of four, that’s about $300 more to the total price of the cruise.
Shore Excursions- Most major cruise lines charge extra for organized tours ashore. The cost per person on these can vary widely from $30 per person for a quick bus tour of a port of call in the Caribbean to hundreds for flightseeing in Alaska. The good news is that most cruise line websites have detailed information and pricing on these excursions available in advance, to help budget what can be a big ticket item, not included in the price. High-end cruise ships sometimes include shore excursions in the price but that cruise fare price is much higher.
Spa Treatments- Every cruise line has a spa, usually connected to their exercise center. Onboard treatments can include everything from a haircut to a manicure or a variety of massages, skin treatments and lifestyle classes. All cost extra and often up to twice the price that the same service might be offered for on land. On a recent sailing we saw a manicure and pedicure combination advertised for $95. That was a sale price available only when the ship was in port. On land, we pay between $20 and $40 for the same treatment. Still, there’s something to be said for a massage at sea to get that cruise vacation off on the right track.
Casino Action- On cruise ships with casinos on board, like casinos on land, this is an item that can add up fast too. Savvy cruise travelers budget a certain amount to play with for each day of the sailing. Gaming lessons, available on board most cruise ships, as well as other complementary casino events can help lower this extra expense.
Alcoholic Beverages and Soft Drinks– Many cruise lines charge extra for soft drinks and alcoholic beverages but pricing is available online that can help with budgeting. High-end cruise lines like Azamara Club Cruises, Viking River Cruises and others, include soft drinks and paired wines with meals as part of the deal. Passengers in upper accommodations on some cruise ships get an initial bar setup included. Princess Cruises includes a fully stocked mini-bar setup for past passengers that have sailed enough to reach their Elite level. Carnival Cruise Lines is experimenting with an alcoholic all-you-can-drink package, which can have value for heavy drinkers. Most cruise lines have unlimited soda packages that can be added on in advance of sailing or once onboard.
Travel Insurance- An optional charge on any cruise vacation, travel insurance of some kind is always a good idea. Where we buy it is another matter altogether. Cruise lines all have their versions, which can be added to the cruise fare and paid along with the price of the cruise. Third-party sources like TravelGuard, recommended by experts as the way to go, can be both cost efficient and provide customizable coverage. Comparing cruise line coverage to third-party sources on a cost and coverage basis, older travelers often come out ahead buying via the cruise line while younger travelers get a better value with third-party sources.
Spending Off The Ship– Other than the price of Shore Excursions, cruise travelers often choose to go ashore for shopping, which is often duty-free and can offer some good savings compared to U.S. land-based shopping options. A stop by a sidewalk cafe for coffee, a drink or two or maybe lunch should also be considered.
Optional Dining Venues- Generally included in the price of the cruise is an upscale main dining room experience, a buffet of some kind and 24-hour room service. In addition, some optional dining venues, called “alternative dining,” are available for a nominal charge for those who want something different. Those can run anywhere from $5 per person to $50 or more but, to many cruise travelers, offer one of the best values of all the optional charges. All can be researched in advance and many can be reserved in advance too. Royal Caribbean, for example, has 150 Central Park on their Oasis-class vessels that offers one of the best dining experiences ever on land or sea for $40 per person additional.
Parking- Cruise lines have made it easy to sail, deploying ships at home ports scattered around the United States. In the olden days of cruise travel, most ships sailed from a Florida port, making airfare a serious consideration in the total cost of a cruise vacation. Driving to the port eliminates that cost but parking can add up too. Storing your car in a secured, covered lot at the cruise port can cost between $15 and $20 per day, an extra $100 to $150 on top of the fare paid. Satellite lots at most cruise ports with a shuttle to and from the ship are available at reduced prices.
Pre-Cruise Hotel Stays– Experienced cruise travelers know that coming in to the embarkation port where the sailing begins a day early is a good idea. This is especially true when flying from a northern U.S. location to a southern U.S. embarkation port in the winter, when flight delays due to weather are a real possibility. As airfare prices rise and more cruise travelers look for ways to save, flying stand-by is becoming more popular too, demanding travel a day or two in advance of sailing, just so they don’t “miss the boat.” Most cruise port-oriented hotels have Cruise and Snooze, Fly and Cruise, or Drive and Cruise specials that include transfer to and from the cruise port.
Internet Fees– This one can add up really fast. Internet access on cruise ships can cost up to $.75 per minute. The best value will be on the largest packages available and can cut that cost in half on a per-minute basis. Equally important to consider when budgeting for Internet access at sea is the reliability and speed of the ship’s Internet system. In other words, it is often not how much you pay but what you get out of it that counts. To get the most out of your Internet access dollars, pick a new ship or recently remodeled ship with the latest satellite system installed. Also, stop by the ship’s Internet cafe and ask the crew members working there one simple question: “What do I need to do on this ship to get the most out of your Internet connection?” A frank answer will greatly maximize your online experience.
How important are all these fees? Let’s take a look at a typical 7-day Caribbean cruise.
For a family of four, taking advantage of the best pricing available on a summer sailing in 2013, we’ll use Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Liberty, sailing on June 9, 2013.
Carnival Liberty is an older ship that was recently refurbished, adding most of the latest features that Carnival Cruise Lines has to offer making it one of the line’s best values. We picked June 9 because that’s when the kids will be out of school and sailing towards the beginning of the peak summer season is most often one of the best values as well.
To maximize the value, we selected Carnival Cruise Lines Early Saver Fare, guaranteed to be the lowest by the cruise line. The reduced fare carries some restrictions, much like a restricted airfare, including a non-refundable deposit and a no-change policy that incurs a $50 administrative fee per person, per change for any changes made after booking.
The total cruise fare price for four in the least expensive inside stateroom is $2909.92, including port charges, government fees and taxes.
Typical extra charges this family might incur:
Prepaid gratuities- $322
Travel Insurance from the cruise line- $350
Optional Dining Venues- $0 (Mom and Dad are cheap)
Shore excursions- Tours of two of the four ports of call- $432
Spa Treatment- Mom wants a pedicure- $70
Casino Action- Dad likes to play the slots, a little bit, $20 per day- $140
Alcoholic Beverages- Dad wants the all-you-can-drink liquor package that Carnival Cruise Lines is testing and hopes it is available. If so, both Mom and Dad must take it and it is priced at about $50 per person per day or $350 per person for 7-days, $700 total for both Mom and Dad, typical of what they normally spend on a cruise- $700
Non-alcoholic beverage package for the kids- $4.50 per day +15% gratuity- $72
Spending off the ship- 4 ports @$50 per port for some souvenirs or dining- $200
Total Extras- $2660
Adding those optional extras to the $2990.92 price of the cruise runs up the total vacation cost to $5,650 – almost double the price of the cruise fare. That’s really nothing to be scared of or prevent someone from choosing a cruise vacation as a viable travel option but surely something to consider. In our example, non-drinkers would save $700. Skip the gambling and lose $140 off the total for some. For others, $20 per day to gamble would be a fraction of what they might spend.
Cruise vacations can offer good value but those extra expenses, as we see here, can add up fast. And this is on a Carnival Cruise Lines cruise, arguably one of the best values in cruise vacations.
Cruise line extra charges are nothing to scare would-be cruise travelers away, but surely something to be seriously considered when comparing a cruise vacation to other travel options.
Cruise ship overnight stays in port are becoming more popular all the time. Breaking away from port-intensive itineraries, long-time cruise ship travelers appreciate the extra time at iconic destinations. Those new to cruise vacations like being able to explore strange, new worlds but have the convenience and security of that cruise ship waiting for them at the end of the day.
“We continue to offer more late-night and overnight stays in ports than any cruise operator to offer guests the chance to savor a destination’s nightlife, oftentimes after the other cruise ships have departed,” said Larry Pimentel, president and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises in a Breaking Travel News report.
Azamara is not alone. Overnight stays are fairly common among luxury cruise lines. Dialing back the price a bit, mainstream cruise lines are getting into overnights as well.
Norwegian and Royal Caribbean sail to Bermuda, bringing multiple full days in port to explore the pink sand paradise. Carnival Cruise Lines and others do the same sort of thing in the Bahamas, overnighting in Nassau to allow late-night party time but no drive home.
But other ships, going to areas where they could easily sail to a different port each day and keep moving, are stopping to allow more time in dream destinations.
Disney Cruise Lines will sail Disney Wonder from Los Angeles round trip with an overnight in San Francisco. Costa Cruises has Costa Favolosa with an overnight stay at Dubai.
It’s all part of a focus on delivering what travelers want, a game cruise lines have had nailed for decades. Today, a maturing cruise industry is seeing a different kind of prospective passenger. Travelers now want more time in port, less touristy experiences and more destination immersion.
The story of RMS Titanic, immortalized by the 1997 James Cameron film of the same name, is a lasting one. Bringing the story to theaters in a blockbuster hit, enhanced and re-released this month, gave the story life long after so many had died at sea. Now, footage of recent maritime events, including the grounding of Costa Concordia and fires aboard other ships, brought home a realism no film could match. Still, the fate of Titanic still holds as the worst maritime disaster ever, one that occurred on this day, 100 years ago.
11:40 p.m. on April 15, 1912 was a Sunday and the maiden voyage of RMS Titanic was well underway. Earlier in the day, radio messages received warned of icebergs in the ship’s path but were ignored. That night, a lookout cried “Iceberg, right ahead!” but the ship could not avoid a collision. That iceberg ran down the right side of the ship causing fatal damage to what was believed to be an unsinkable vessel.
Just after Midnight, the ship’s captain ordered lifeboats into the water in what had to be his most difficult decision ever.
Still today, the Captain is referred to as the Master of the Vessel. Still today, he or she has a great many lives to be responsible for. In January, it was Captain Francisco Schettino who gave the abandon ship order for Costa Concordia.
In April of 1912, it was Captain Edward J. Smith as the master of Titanic who was fully aware of the iceberg warnings that had been received via radio days before the tragedy. To insure safety, even back then, Smith charted a new course, slightly south of the original plan, to avoid icebergs.But radio was a new thing then and the focus was on relaying messages sent to and from the ship by passengers or those on land. Earlier in the day of that fateful night in 1912 – 100 years ago today – Titanic had received a message from the steamer Amerika warning of icebergs directly in the path of the ship. Later, another message of iceberg danger was received too. Both went unheeded as radio operators worked to send and receive more important passenger messages.
Today’s cruise ship Captains regularly alter courses too, commonly in response to changing weather conditions. When a crime occurs involving passengers or the crew, the captain, as master of the vessel, is responsible for those people as well and works closely with the US Coast Guard, US Customs and Border Patrol and other agencies to insure a swift and just resolution.
Not long ago, evidence indicated that Captain Francisco Schettino altered the course of Costa Concordia, coming too close to shore and causing the tragedy that followed. The event caused cruise industry leaders to reaffirm their commitment to safety.
Officers and crew members from Royal Caribbean, along with sister-brands Celebrity and Azamara Cruises, now have the advantage of being a part of new simulator training center at Resolve Maritime Academy in Fort Lauderdale. Signaling a renewed focus on safety, staff of the $6.5 million facility cut the grand opening ribbon recently as part of an ongoing safety program but timing surely looked to address current concerns of the cruising public.
Still, while simulations can take into account a variety of factors that can go wrong, staff members at the Resolve training facility quickly note that it is the human element that can often make the difference in avoiding disaster at sea.
Fiction: The Titanic being raised out of the Atlantic.