Annual bloggers cruise features new ship, old host

John Heald, the popular senior cruise director for Carnival Cruise Lines, is doing it again hosting for the fifth time his John Heald Bloggers Cruise. Fans of the unflappable John Heald’s blog with over 10 million views since it’s launch in 2007, will sail on the new Carnival Magic in March 2012.

The seven-day western Caribbean voyage will sail round-trip from Galveston, Texas, March 4-11, 2012, visiting Montego Bay, Jamaica; George Town, Grand Cayman; and Cozumel, Mexico.

Like other theme cruises, this one gives up-close and personal time with a celebrity.

Unlike other theme cruises, that celebrity is John Heald.

I met Heald almost 10 years ago on the then-almost-new Carnival Victory and have no trouble imagining him as the big draw for a theme cruise. His easy-going demeanor and quick wit are party-pleasers that I can see many enjoying.

The new 3,690-passenger Carnival Magic brings together fans of the senior cruise director for a week full of fun activities, exclusive giveaways and receptions plus a boat load of memories. Sure, Kid Rock, he is not, but expect a whole lot of fun and some surprises along the way too.

Gadling will be on board Carnival Magic for the ships inaugural sailing May 1, less than a week from now. Stay tuned for all the details on what makes Carnival Magic a great new ship as well as some featured posts off the ship when we go ashore.

Flickr photo by jonworth

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Cruise lines branch out, sell other stuff too

Looking to be the best-dressed passenger on your next cruise? No? How about looking like you went on a particular ship but didn’t really make it? No? Hmm, well how about you want a cool gag gift to give your friend who hates even the idea of a cruise? Oh, that might work? Well now there is no need to sail anymore just to get all the cool cruise line swag that makes your friends green with envy (or about to be sick) because cruise lines are branching out and sell most all that stuff in advance, online.

Just this week, Norwegian Cruise Line set up shop online offering everything from ball caps to coffee mugs for sale. At the new Norwegian Cruise Line shop, you can order and have those hard-to-get items that would normally cost the price of a cruise vacation to get delivered to your home. Some real thought went into these items too. I like the Solar Powered Battery Charger as a cool bit of cruise gear. It’s kind of pricey at $43.75 but the 60″ Golf Umbrella for $15.85 is a steal.

Other lines do this too. Check Royal Caribbean’s Gifts and Gear pages where they offer a wide variety of products for at home or on the road. A Royal Caribbean Dual Sports Bottle/Thermos is a good deal at $15.00. Royal Caribbean breaks down their products into categories too like Luxurious Lounge Wear, Adventure Gear and Travel Essentials.

Surely, these are no SkyMall Monday offerings but there is some good stuff here.Royal Caribbean International announced not long ago the new Royal Caribbean Bedding Collection available for sale to anyone. You might never sail on one of their ships but can get these fine linens delivered to your home.

“In line with our Royal Advantage program, the Royal Caribbean Bedding Collection was chosen with care to offer the indulgent sleep experience that they enjoy onboard and longed and requested to bring home,” said Lisa Bauer, senior vice president of Hotel Operations.

Royal Caribbean’s collection offers not just sheets and pillows but full-size ma tresses as well made in Italy by Matermoll and Emmebiesse. The popular Royal Memory Pillows start at $79 (with $26.95 shipping make that $105.95. Kinda pricey. Remember that number, we’ll be coming back to it shortly.

Rival lines Carnival and Holland America also offer bedding for sale. I have a bunch of the Carnival Comfort Collection pillows that have done well over the 4 years we have used them. It makes sense too; this stuff is made both for durability and comfort. To make it to luxury-status in a commercial setting, they have to hit both marks.

The other cruise line products available online tend to be well-made too, especially the logo items. Cruise lines want you wearing that ball cap for years to come. Free advertising is pretty hard to beat.

As cruise lines branch out, we’re hoping for Royal Caribbean to open a Cupcake Cupboard right down the street. That would be…well…sweet!

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Flickr photo by brianholsclaw

Your cruise comments really do matter

At the end of every cruise, on just about every cruise line, passengers are asked to rate the whole experience through guest comment cards. Cruise lines use the information captured through this process for a whole bunch of things. Passenger comments tell them how they are doing in areas from dining to housekeeping to shore excursions and more. Changes in the way cruise lines do business are often the direct result of what passengers have to say about it all. A good example of what is done with this information was released yesterday by Carnival Cruise Lines.

The embarkation team at any cruise port has a big job to do in a very short amount of time. When a ship comes in to a home port, the port that sailings begin and end in, there is a lot to be done. A great deal of the work is behind the scenes stuff that passengers don’t see like re-supplying the ship with food, supplies, fuel and the like.

Getting the old passengers off the ship so the new ones can come on is a lot of work to be done in a very short period of time. That’s what the embarkation team does and it is one of the seemingly trivial parts of Carnival’s guest comment card survey. Filling out that form at the end of a cruise that section is probably a bit of a blur to most guests unless they had a bad experience. But it’s not trivial to the cruise line and Carnival recently recognized the embarkation team at Port Canaveral.

The Carnival Port Canaveral embarkation team once again earned top honors in the company’s annual guest comment card survey, which ranks embarkation personnel from the lines’ 11 year-round home-ports in a variety of service and process-related categories. This marks the sixth time that Carnival’s Port Canaveral team has earned the award in the past 13 years.

“For Port Canaveral to be named Carnival’s ‘Embarkation Port of the Year’ six times in 13 years is a testament to the commitment to superior service of this hard-working group and the spirit of cooperation that exists between our guest logistics team and the port’s operations personnel,” said Milly Martin, senior director of guest logistics for Carnival Cruise Lines.

Under the direction of Guest Logistics Manager Maritza Ferry, the 135-member team was recognized for their outstanding professionalism, enthusiasm, and friendliness while assisting guests embarking on the two Carnival ships that sail from Port Canaveral year-round.

How they do getting guests on and off the ship is important to passengers and the cruise port authority too. Nothing happens until the ship has been cleared by port authorities. That process can be slowed down for a number of reasons including an inspection by the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs or Immigration officials. But once the ship has been cleared, the test of an embarkation team begins in earnest.

“The dedication to service from Carnival’s embarkation team and the port’s operations staff again proves to be a winning combination,” said Stan Payne, CEO, Port Canaveral. “From the time of arrival in our parking lots to their departure post-cruise, passengers benefit from the joint efforts of the team of professionals at Port Canaveral working to provide a quality vacation experience from start to finish.”

So yes, when they tell you on the ship that your comments are important, believe that. The hard work those people do to get thousands of people on and off a ship is worthy of a comment or two.

Captain Kid Rock sails again

He doesn’t get to marry people at sea, drive the ship or make people walk the plank but Captain Kid Rock’s second-annual Chillin’ the Most Cruise is underway once again. Along with 2,700 of his fans, Kid Rock is on the way to Cozumel from New Orleans aboard the Carnival Triumph.

The five day charter sailing goes to Cozumel, just Cozumel, and no place else. That’s probably just what the doctor ordered for the rabidly fun-loving fans on board.

“For this heavy-drinking, heavy-smoking crowd, it’s an itinerary that includes all-hours bars, pole-dancing classes and performances by 16 acts, including Rev. Run, Gretchen Wilson and two up-close-and-personal concerts by Rock himself.” says Brian McCollum, on board, from the Detroit Free Press
Fans arrived in New Orleans early and by all accounts, the party was well underway before the ship left the dock.

“Fans had begun piling into New Orleans a day early, excited to dive in to what many returning cruise-goers described as a Kid Rock family reunion. These are the hardest of the hard-core — the fans whose Kid Rock concert counts run into the dozens and whose arms are vividly emblazoned with tattoos of the Detroit star” McCollum wrote.

But other than a few drunken domestic arguments, the crowd seems to be as somewhat-under-control as it probably could be with Rock in charge of the festivities.

“The party will be everywhere,” Rock boasted to the Free Press just after boarding yesterday adding “Everywhere you go on this boat, you’ll be walking into it.”

I bet there’s a story or two coming out of this before it’s all over. Actually, let me take that back on the “he doesn’t get to make people walk the plank” thing I mentioned earlier. I wouldn’t put anything past the venerable Mr Rock.

Flickr photo by familymwr

Cruise lines give back

Cruise lines are often in the news for a variety of reasons these days, some good, some not so good. The not-so-good stories touch topics like a passenger or crew member lost at sea, attacks on their record as a friend (or foe) of the environment and more. Good news includes a focus on safety in an unsafe travel world, the great value a cruise vacation represents and every once in a while a story or two about cruise lines giving back through charitable efforts.

Just this month, Carnival Cruise Lines launched a “Build a Ship” contest that invites anyone 13 years or older to build a model Carnival ship out of everyday items and submit a photo of it to win a free Carnival cruise. The contest, which benefits St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, is the latest in a series of contests and other activities in anticipation of the May 1, 2011 launch of the line’s newest ship, Carnival Magic. Carnival will donate $1 to St. Jude, up to $10,000, for each entry.

Carnival has an ongoing program that helps this and a variety of charitable and arts-related organizations. The company and its employees support .

In the past five years alone, Carnival and its employees have contributed more than $30 million in financial contributions and in-kind donations to a variety of local and national charities. Following the example set forth by Carnival’s founder, the late Ted Arison, and continued by his son Micky, chairman and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines’ parent company, Carnival Corporation & plc, Carnival and its employees endeavor to make South Florida and its other homeport communities better places to live and work.

Other cruise lines give back as well.

Norwegian Cruise Line is known in the cruise industry as an innovator. Inventing what they call Freestyle Cruising, the line broke new ground offering their “guests” the ability to skip the formal wear and time restrictions for dining as it had been, years before many other lines loosened up the onboard experience. Answering the call from solo cruisers, the line added single accommodations on their new Norwegian Epic.

Norwegian recently announced a $5 million donation to the Camillus House, a shelter in Miami, Florida that has served the homeless for half a century. Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Kevin Sheehan told the Miami Herald of the line’s commitment saying “it’s critically important that as an organization, we have a charitable side to us.”

Camillus House is expanding and the donation from Norwegian Cruise Line could not have come at a better time. Expansion plans are in progress and the Norwegian donation helps the organization meet a goal to raise almost half of the $84 million tab for its new complex from private funds.

Cruise lines set competition aside for the greater good in what seems a natural fit

Camillus House has Bob Dickinson, former CEO of competitor Carnival Cruise Lines before retiring in 2007 as chairman of the board of directors. Norwegian’s Sheehan said the donation had been discussed over a few years between him and Dickinson.

Dr. Paul Ahr, president and CEO of Camillus House draws an accurate parallel between giving and cruise lines:

“On a ship, I am treated with tremendous hospitality, I can set aside my daily struggles or challenges,” he said. “When people come to stay with us at Camillus House, people who have been on the street a long time, they recognize our own sense of hospitality. We are here to serve them.”

Three different companies, one solid goal.

I don’t have numbers on what the cruise lines have given back in total but I bet it is a generous amount in not just money but time and resources as well.

Relief to Haiti is an ongoing effort at Royal Caribbean International. Highlighted by opening one of the first schools to be built after the earthquake in October 2010 and company blogs that helped keep the world informed, relief efforts started just three days after the earthquake.

The efforts continue too as company lets those with Royal Caribbean Visa cards help by donating their points to help in aide programs. Guests aboard sister-lines Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises can donate to Food for the Poor’s Haiti Relief Fund via their onboard charge accounts while sailing.

Cruise lines help raise funds while their guests are on vacation.

One of the biggest and most widespread programs cruise lines offer in giving back is through group cruises. By designating onboard perks and bonus amenities not as onboard credit or a bottle of wine but as a donation for their cause, charitable organizations have been raising funds through group cruises for years. That adds up fast too, even with small groups.

A recent fund-raising cruise hosted by the Temple Shalom in Florida paired over 150 senior ladies for a Temple Shalom Sisterhood Fun-raiser cruise on Royal Caribbean that raised over $6000 for the Villages Hospice and Temple Building Fund.

Norwegian CEO Kevin Sheehan put it well when he told the Miami Herald that although Norwegian Cruise Line is a privately held company, “it’s critically important that as an organization, we have a charitable side to us.”

It seems they all do.

In fact, Norwegian’s Sheehan, recently featured in an episode of CBS’s Undercover Boss television program, took it a step further, looking inside his organization and gave $100,000 to supplement the Crew Enrichment Program to ensure the entire crew across our fleet feels appreciated.

Like they say, “charity starts at home.”

Flickr photo by puuikibeach