Cruise news rodeo roundup

Sometimes there are little nuggets of information floating around out there that are not quite enough for a post but surely worthy of consideration if you are in to cruise vacations. Here are some from this last week, in-your-face rodeo style, just so we keep up to speed.

Norwegian Cruise Line entered into an agreement with Special Needs Group Inc. for them to be the exclusive mobility and oxygen equipment supplier for the line. Norwegian and pretty much all cruise lines do a good job of handling the needs of guests with disabilities. Locking in to one supplier will surely give them the consistency and reliability that one single company can offer. That’s also a score for ship security too. With one supplier delivering equipment to their ships, that could reduce the number of different vendors entering the security cloud that surrounds all ships in port.

Speaking of handicapped people, the battle rages on at (@CruiseCritic) over a passenger who booked a suite thinking “butler service” would be the same as “I brought my nurse with me” and was terribly disappointed when not only uncared for but put off the ship about as fast as the cruise line could.

This week we also brought you a series commemorating the 99th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic which occurred April 15, 1912. Today’s cruise industry exists and operates in many ways as a result of the Titanic tragedy. This week we took a look at the legacy left behind that affects cruise passengers on every sailing of every ship.
Carnival Corporation ships from Princess Cruises and Cunard Line will be plugging in at the Red Hook pier in Brooklyn soon as all parties in the matter came to an agreement on how it would get paid for and have finalized plans. The bulk of the $15 million price tag for cleaner air because plugging in means turning off ships engines in port, will be paid for by a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. One reader commented “Sure, just like the government, if they can’t fix it, throw money at it” but local residents, happy to not wear gas masks around the house, are thrilled.

“It’s deal time at Celebrity Cruises” says Gene Sloan (@CruiseLog) of USA Today’s Cruise Log. During the line’s Mediterranean Fly and Sail Event, running right now which “includes reduced rates on both cruises in the region and the airline flights needed to reach them” adds Sloan.

Over at Celebrity sister-line Royal Caribbean International (@RoyalCaribbean), things are heating up over their new all-you-can-drink program. Apparently, a good number of takers on the deal thought/interpreted/scammed that to meaning all-me-and-my-friends-can-drink. The cruise line was not amused. New rules for the plan call for everyone in the stateroom to pay the $29 per person, per day charge to get it.

The UK’s John Honeywell (@CaptainGreybeard) notes “Surely they must have anticipated only one half of a couple signing up and then attempting to buy drinks for his or her partner?” You would think so. The line has been offering all-you-can-drink packages for group cruises for quite some time but requires “all or nothing” compliance with all members of the group taking the package in order to get it.

Captain Greybeard was also onboard the new Carnival Magic which sets sail on May 1st for a first-hand look at how the ship is coming along. Gadling will be on board for that inaugural sailing bringing you information on the latest, greatest ship from Carnival Cruise Lines. We will also be bringing you port-of-call reports ala Gadling which will no doubt be something entirely different than you might have seen elsewhere. Here’s a preview

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

Cruise lines hit rough waters, navigate well

While the popularity of cruise vacations has never been higher, earnings at major cruise lines are down. First they adjusted operations in a depressed economy. Then they absorbed high oil prices to hold the line on fares. Now, thanks to the effects of worldwide travel turmoil and a natural evolution of the industry, cruise lines hit rough waters and have a full list of decisions to make. While changes are inevitable, count on cruise lines to not stray far from their proven formula for success.

We start with this week’s announcement by industry leader Carnival Corporation that said turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa could cost about $44 million in lost revenue. From changing itineraries for safety purposes to a lack of interest in traveling to troubled areas, 280 voyages had to be issued new sailing orders.

“We pulled out of just all North African stops, in Tunisia and Morocco and Egypt, and we’ve pulled out of — actually, in some cases, we’ve had to pull out of Israel because we got a lot of resistance,” said Howard Frank, Carnival’s vice chairman and chief operating officer.

Other lines reported a similar effect on operations because of worldwide turmoil too and timing could not have been worse. This just after cruise lines have announced/deployed a record number of ships to the European market. Viewed as a smart move at the time, the more lucrative European markets were to bring greater earnings that came along with higher prices cruise lines could get from under-served Europeans.

But not if they don’t sail.

Here now we see the down side of cruise ships as mobile assets.

On one hand, the ability to move your floating resort to safe waters is a huge factor in favor of a cruise as a vacation option. Most itinerary changes are weather-related and happen with some regularity. Cruise ships can make alterations to itineraries and still provide a good vacation experience to consumers. Land-based vacation options hit by weather events don’t have that option or as cruise travel agents are fond of saying “We can move the ship, we can’t move the island” in defense of cruises over all-inclusive land vacations.

On the other hand, cruise lines really wanted to sail to the Middle East and North Africa among other destinations affected by weather or political unrest events. They can quickly modify an itinerary but can’t quickly sail back across the Atlantic to safe, calm, North American waters. In many cases, they are finding not the full ships of Europeans, eager to sail but less than full ships which at the end of the day are not producing the profits they want.

Then there’s the oil problem. Nobody wants to say the “F” word.

Fuel Surcharge. Cruise lines have for the most part held the line on pricing, not adding on the rabidly unpopular Fuel Surcharge. While they are much better prepared to implement a fuel surcharge and oil prices have risen far above the threshold at which they can, they don’t want to because they know what will happen. Booking levels will fall. Those who hold existing bookings recoil at the mention of the term and will be mad about it. Consumers know the price of oil is up but have little tolerance for an additional charge that really adds up fast.

For example, here is Royal Caribbean’s current policy

Royal Caribbean International reserves the right to impose a fuel supplement on all guests if the price of West Texas Intermediate fuel exceeds $65.00 USD per barrel. The fuel supplement for 1st and 2nd guests would be no more than $10 USD per guest per day, to a maximum of $140 USD per cruise; and for additional guests would be no more than $5 USD per person per day, to a maximum of $70 USD per cruise.

For a typical family of four, the market cruise lines have made such a huge push to get on the ships, that’s an extra $210 on a seven-day cruise. That could force those families off ships and on to land vacations and that is exactly what keeps cruise lines awake at night.

Still, Royal Caribbean announced plans this week for growth in Europe for 2012 adding another ship. The interesting part of the line’s 12-ship 2012 European deployment is adding (politically sound and happy) Amsterdam as a cruise port, handy to get to now with KLM service from Miami to Amsterdam.


Smarter yet, passengers can get on and off ships at eight interports, creating 20 choices for embarkation and debarkation when the 12 homeports are included. That’s a lot of flexibility and exactly what they need to shore up confidence in their plan and help navigate what storms may come their way.

The ongoing trick to it all is to keep cruise vacations relatively convenient and affordable compared to other options. Cruise lines learned the hard way that in bad economic times travelers cut back on travel…but only for just so long. They may be looking for a greater value now than they once were. They may not be satisfied with just the lowest price now and will look beyond to see what they get for that price. The click-to-book people are probably clicking a whole lot more than they used to or using a travel agent to help insure value.

To get a look at the future, a glimpse at the past tells the story:

“The convenience and affordability of a cruise vacation continues to gain recognition as consumers discover the unrivaled experience cruising offers,” Carnival Chair and CEO Mickey Arison said. “As a result, long-term fundamentals for our business remain attractive in an environment where consumers increasingly value the importance of taking their holidays.”

Princess Cruises to Galveston: Here we come again

It was 2007 when Princess Cruises last sailed from the Port of Galveston but the Love Boat cruise line returns next year, offering 19 departures from Galveston between December 22, 2012 and April 27, 2013 with one of their most popular ships, Crown Princess.

“We’ve received a great deal of feedback from cruisers interested in sailing from Galveston again,” said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises executive vice president. “So we’re excited to be returning in 2012 to bring our Western Caribbean sailings back to Texas.”This is no shabby ship. Crown Princess is not an old rusty has-been with no place to go, on the way to the cruise ship glue factory. The 3,070-passenger Crown Princess offers greater capacity than Princess ships previously based in Galveston. The 113,000-ton vessel offers the line’s popular signature features, including a piazza-style atrium with International Café and Vines wine bar; the 300-square-foot Movies Under the Stars poolside theater; The Sanctuary, an adults-only “oasis of tranquility”; and a variety of dining, recreation and entertainment options.

“Welcoming back Princess Cruises and hosting Crown Princess is a great addition to the Texas cruise market. We’re excited that the return of Princess Cruises will offer our passengers additional options of cruise vacations sailing from Texas’ premiere cruise port,” said Steven M. Cernak, Galveston port director.

Things are looking up indeed for the Port of Galveston which will also get sister-line Carnival Cruise Lines shiny new Carnival Magic this year. New ships debuting someplace other than Florida are rare and Galveston seems to have what it takes to support the newer, larger ships.

Now if they can just control that pesky fog problem at the port, it should be an exciting season sailing from Texas.

Flickr photo by MoToMo

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Cruise Port Update: Grand Turk gets NASA exhibit

It’s not all sandy beaches, shore excursions and shopping in Grand Turk these days. A unique exhibit commemorating the National Aeronautics & Space Administration’s (NASA) Mercury space program and the historic 1962 splashdown of the Friendship 7 capsule off the coast of Grand Turk is now open at the Grand Turk Cruise Center.

“Splashdown Grand Turk” is a 3,500-square-foot attraction celebrating the unique relationship of the American human spaceflight mission which has special significance to the island’s history.

“We believe that having this great exhibit at the Grand Turk Cruise Center not only pays homage to the remarkable history of the NASA space program, but also shows the historical richness of the island,” said David Candib, director of business development for Carnival Corporation & plc, which operates the Grand Turk Cruise Center built in 2006.

Part of the Grand Turk Cruise Center, the free exhibit features a history of the Mercury space program, including replicas of an Atlas rocket model, astronaut John Glenn in a spacesuit, and the Friendship 7 capsule.

Storyboards at the exhibit depict the accomplishments of the NASA space program and detail the differences in space equipment of yesterday and today while offering an overview of the current space program and future plans.

Grand Turk is part of the Turks and Calicos island chain, located North of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The Grand Turk Cruise Center is a beach front cruise facility where guests can swim in the ocean or in one of the largest swimming pools in the Caribbean.

Photo courtesy Carnival Corporation