A Tiny Cruise Line With A Big Impact

cruise lineLike them or hate them, travelers have heard of cruise lines that travel around the world on city-like ships, ply the rivers of Europe or sail from convenient home ports around North America. Some have ships designed to be destinations in and of themselves, while others have purpose-built vessels with a shore-side focus, stopping at world class destinations. Between the brands of Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Corporation alone, millions of travelers take to the sea each year. A comparative handful of cruise travelers choose small, boutique lines that sail just a few ships to many of the same places with their own signature travel experience.

Lüftner Cruises, a family-owned Austrian company, is one of those tiny cruise lines. Lüftner operates Amadeus Cruises, a luxury river cruise line with just six ships that sail along Europe’s Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers in opulent luxury on voyages lasting four to 15 days.

Just launched, 443-foot Amadeus Silver is their largest and most luxurious river ship ever. The 90-cabin vessel is adorned in first-class interior furnishings, luxurious accommodations, authentic Austrian programming and an environmentally-friendly design.

Featured on the Amadeus Silver is Café Vienna, a traditional Austrian coffee shop serving Sachertorte specialties. An open-air lounge named the River Terrace is located in the ship’s bow and has special glazed windows to protect passengers from a windy or rainy day. The ship also has a two-story fitness studio, two restaurants and a sundeck with a golf putting green.

Passenger cabins are a roomy 172 square feet and have innovative French balconies with drop-down windows affording panoramic views. Spacious suites are 258 square feet and have walk-out exterior balconies with seating areas.

On the ship, activities include folklore shows, lectures on the history of the Rhine-Main-Danube canal and Bavarian evenings with live music. Off the ship, city excursions showcase the region’s rich cultural diversity and feature concerts in Vienna, wine tastings in Wuerzburg and castle tours.

Lüftner Cruises also has an uber focus on the environment, earning certification by Green Globe, the global travel and tourism industries’ certification program for sustainable tourism as well as Atmosfair, a climate protection organization with a focus on travel.

“We are well aware that tourism always impacts on the environment despite increasing efforts to offer environmentally-friendly travel arrangements,” said Dr. Wolfgang Lueftner, Founder and Owner of Lueftner Cruises in an Eturbonews report.

On board Lueftner ships, cruise travelers have the opportunity to positively impact the environment. Passengers can, and do, choose to offset their own CO2 consumption with a donation and are given the option to pay a suggested climate protection levy of €2 per day per cabin.

[Photo Credit – Amadeus Cruises]

Cruise Ships Still Choking Brooklyn, Not Plugging In, A Year Later

cruise ships at red hookAlmost a year ago, Brooklyn’s Red Hook cruise ship terminal was to become the first East Coast cruise operation with the capability to let ships “plug in” and access power off the grid. Now, almost a year later, ships have still not plugged in to cleaner, shore-side electric power and continue to spew fumes.

Cruise ships annually bring 1,500 tons of carbon dioxide, 95 tons of nitrous oxide and 6.5 tons of particulate matter when they park and burn their diesel engines.

Last April, Gadling reported that the $15 million project would be funded with $12 million from the Port Authority, nearly $3 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant and Carnival Corporation would spend $4 million to retrofit their Princess Cruises and Cunard Line ships that dock in Brooklyn.

Now, costs have shot up another $4.3 million and the Environmental Protection Agency has not paid the extra money, according to local elected officials.

“It is critical that this project not fall by the wayside,” said Rep. Nydia Velasquez (D-Brooklyn) in an article appearing in the New York Daily News.

Apparently, the cruise ships are ready to go but the system is still not in place for them to plug in, even though West Coast cruise terminals have had the ability for quite some time.

“It seems fairly pathetic that all of these things are in place but the Port Authority are twiddling their thumbs,” Adam Armstrong, 48, a blogger and father of two who lives on Pioneer Street near the terminal, told the Daily News. “I thought it was quibbling over a small amount of money considering the impact of the emissions on people’s health.”

It has been almost three years since Carnival Corporation, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal Port Authority first agreed to enable cruise ships to plug in to green shore-side power.

Last year, community leaders applauded the move to shore-side power. This year, not so much.


Flickr photo by j_bary

Cascading changes likely for cruise travelers

cruise travelersChanges are coming for cruise travelers even though exactly what happened to force Costa Concordia to ground off the coast of Italy has yet to be defined by forensic evidence. Playing out as everything from rumors to accusations and first-hand reports from passengers actually on the ship, media outlets have been working overtime reporting the story. Some accounts seem reasonable, some far-fetched and some totally bizarre. But churning to the top and coming more in focus all the time are changes likely to be seen in the very near future that will affect every cruise traveler.

Thinking of what we know and have seen about the Costa Concordia event, there are some facts that we don’t need an official report to verify. We see a once-mighty cruise ship on its side with our own eyes and ask “How could this have happened?” That’s the big question that concerns cruise industry experts and will force changes in the operation of cruise ships in the very near future.

“This tragedy has called into question our company’s safety and emergency response procedures and practices,” Micky Arison, chairman and CEO of Carnival Corporation said last week, calling for an audit of safety procedures.

Technically, by the numbers, cruise vacations are safe. According to the Cruise Lines International Association, more than 16 million passengers sailed in 2011 and 2012 is projected to exceed that by at least another million. This type of accident is rare. But so was the sinking of the RMS Titanic, 100 years ago in April. That disastrous event served as a wake up call to an overly confident cruise industry at the time much like Concordia has shaken even the hyper-safe cruise industry of today.

“While I have every confidence in the safety of our vessels and the professionalism of our crews, this review will evaluate all practices and procedures to make sure that this kind of accident doesn’t happen again,” said Arison.

To insure future safety at a higher, more effective level, Arison ordered a complete review of safety procedures fleet-wide across all the various cruise line brands that fall under the Carnival Corporation umbrella.

On the safety topic, everyone in the cruise industry seems to agree.

“Any loss of life at sea is tragic, but the Costa Concordia disaster is even more traumatic since it was entirely preventable,” said Captain Bill Doherty, director of maritime affairs for Nexus, a provider of private maritime safety and security solutions.

“Safety is a journey rather than a destination,” said Royal Caribbean President and CEO Adam Goldstein echoing the position of many in the cruise industry. Goldstein notes the need to look for lessons in every minor incident or accident. Looking to the future, Goldstein cautions against complacency. “This is a never ending cycle. As our Chairman Richard Fain says, there is no such thing as perfect safety but there is such a thing as perfect dedication to safety. We strive to be true to that concept.”

A complete review of safety procedures will naturally come in contact with security issues that can create potential safety problems. Right after 9-11, the travel industry was on it’s highest level of security ever. Airlines, cruise lines, hotels, and airports in addition to governmental agencies put into place new protocols to help prevent a disaster such as the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center from happening ever again.

In the process, the cruise industry inquiry will probably run into other areas of safety and security that will force cascading change on areas other than lifeboats, safety drills and the like.

Changes to look for:

  • Safety Drill before the ship leaves the dock on every sailing- This is just a no-brainer after the Costa Concordia event where hundreds who had embarked the vessel the day of the grounding had received little if any safety instruction.
  • The modification or end of Navigational Bridge and behind the scenes tours– They went away right after 9-11 but have crept back in from one cruise line to another as a revenue source that offers an opportunity to cause harm that could affect a ship full of passengers.
  • Increased security presence on ships– Although rare, instances of binge drinking and other associated “I’m at sea so its OK” behavior will come under greater control with an increased security presence on ships industry-wide.
  • Tighter rules on teens– Teen rape, underage drinking and other associated problems with teen travelers are caused by an environment that inadvertently allows these things to happen. While cruise lines have a zero-tolerance for crime and drugs on ships, the very nature of a cruise ship environment allows them to happen. This will be a tough one to address but one that is overdue for action.
  • Passports required– The issue has been kept on hold for years as the travel industry moans that requiring passports for US citizens would prevent many from traveling. One step toward better security and resulting safety would be the increased level of security brought by requiring passports of all passengers embarking any ship, any time.
  • Background checks– Critics of the cruise industry point to a lack of diligence that allows sex and drug offenders and child molesters, required to register on land, to easily board cruise ships. Their presence creates an environment of easy prey as underage passengers are allowed to roam free. Once seen as the call of overly-critical cruise foes, the industry will give the topic serious consideration.
  • Psychological profiles of command officers– Especially if evidence confirms that the captain of Costa Concordia was on a joy ride to show off the ship to the folks on shore, this will be huge. “Captains ultimately answer to no one — on board,” Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic told MSNBC. The reasons are steeped in seafaring history, she said. “But I think that’s something that will change.” More checks and balances are needed, and Brown anticipate changes in the future as a result of the Concordia grounding. “A lot of standardization is probably coming out of this,” she said.

Experts agree, this can’t happen again, but questions are raised.

Done right, this increased focus on safety and security plus all the areas of cruise ship operations that are affected by both will be costly. Expect cruise prices to rise as a result. Still, wouldn’t it be better to pay $50 more for a cruise and greatly reduce the odds of these things happening ever again?

It was not all that long ago that safety concerns over trouble spots like Egypt, Mexico, Japan and others around the globe were driving travelers toward cruise vacations. Does this Costa Concordia tragedy change that attraction?

These are questions that will be answered over time as the cruise industry, still reeling from this latest event, recovers, regroups and moves on.

Flickr photo by Cyr0z


Not everybody wants a cruise ship in their back yard

cruise shipWhen cruise ships come to town it means big business for local merchants. Just ask Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, both on the blacklist of one cruise line or another. Either city would love to have cruise ships calling regularly but concern over the safety of passengers has some lines skipping the ports. Contrast that with Charleston, South Carolina where a group of local residents along with some environmental and historical preservation groups are suing to keep them away.

Opposing forces include National Trust for Historic Preservation who warned Charleston that its growing cruise industry is threatening the city’s historic character, placing it on “watch” status.

“We believe that the past preservation work in Charleston has made this community a national treasure and we are willing to dedicate resources to address questions about the impact of cruise tourism” Stephanie Meeks, the president of the trust told the Associated Press earlier this month.

Also opposing cruise ships is environmental group the Coastal Conservation League, the Preservation Society of Charleston and the Ansonborough and Charlestowne neighborhoods. They have filed a lawsuit against Carnival Corporation, parent to Carnival Cruise Lines who operates the Carnival Fantasy year-round from Charleston.They allege cruises are a public nuisance, violate the South Carolina Pollution Control Act, amount to illegal hotel operations and that Carnival’s signature red, white and blue funnel violates city sign ordinances.

The concern is not new for the Coastal Conservation League who posted this YouTube video over a year ago in March of 2010.

The Coastal Conservation League has a laundry list of “What Charleston Deserves” on it’s website too. The list includes prohibition of waste discharge within 3 miles of port, limits on the numbers and size of ships calling annually, a code that allows only one ship to dock at a time, a per-passenger fee paid to the city and a requirement to use plug-in power when at berth among other requirements.

“The question isn’t whether the cruise ship industry will operate in Charleston; the question is how,” Blan Holman, with the Southern Environmental Law Center told postandcourier.com. “The plaintiffs are members of the community who believe the cruise industry should abide by standards just like every other business does.”

On the other side of the issue, business leaders struggling with a recovering economy disagree. They gathered on the pier at Charleston’s Waterfront Park Monday with the Carnival Fantasy as a backdrop to denounce the lawsuit and show support for Charleston’s proposed new passenger terminal. Calling the lawsuit a “frivolous attack on the free enterprise system, the region’s economy and Charleston’s ports” business leaders sounded off.

“This is just the first shot in the attempt to dismantle the Port of Charleston,” said Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce Chairman Bobby Pearce.

“This is ridiculous,” said Steve Carroll, speaking for the Charleston Restaurant Association. “We’re trying to survive.”

Those in support of the new terminal say it will bring much needed money and that the cruise business already adds an estimated $37 million in the region annually.

While Carnival has been silent on the issue and not responded to the lawsuit, they did release this video in May of last year when Carnival Fantasy came to make Charleston it’s home port indicating the then newly-remodeled ship was well-received by business leaders on board the inaugural visit.

Looking forward to sailing from Charleston, Senior Cruise Director John Heald noted of the newly remodeled Carnival Fantasy “This is a ship reborn and what a great place to let it be reborn: Charleston, South Carolina”

While this issue seems far from resolved, Carnival probably doesn’t have much to worry about. A number of other cities including Brownsville, Texas and Savannah, Georgia would love to have a year-round cruise ship…not to mention a number of ports in Mexico.

Breaking: Carnival gets keys to 100th new ship

Carnival gets keys to 100th ship
Carnival Cruise Line is breaking some records today. In addition to taking delivery on new Carnival Magic that debut’s May 1, that delivery makes it a total of 100 ships built by parent company Carnival Corporation. In celebration, guests currently sailing on all ships under the Carnival umbrella will join in a champagne toast to celebrate.

In the photo illustration above is pictured new Carnival Magic along with the company’s first ship, Carnival Mardi Gras which began service in 1972. At 130,000 gross tons, the Carnival Magic is almost five times the size of the Mardi Gras’ 27,250 tons. The Mardi Gras was 650-foot long and had a passenger capacity of 906. Carnival Magic stretches 1,004 feet in length and has a capacity of 3,690 guests. That’s a big ship.

That’s a big champagne toast too, 27,000 people, believed to be the largest ever.

Photo courtesy Carnival Cruise Lines