Cruise prices on the rise along with popularity

Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line announced this week plans to increase cruise fares by 10% starting April 1st. Not because middle-east unrest might spike oil prices. Not because of cost overruns or shrinking bottom lines. Travelers are buying again.

“We’ve seen exceptional demand spurred by our Wave Season promotion, particularly for the popular summer destinations,” said Norwegian Cruise Line CEO and former Undercover Boss Kevin Sheehan.

Just to make sure there are plenty of great offers to take advantage of before the rise in prices, the line will also extend their current “Upgrades for All” promotion though the end of March.That deal gets up to a four-category upgrade on select sailings and on-board discount coupon books worth up to $400 off on-board products and services

“We wanted to give consumers and travel agents the opportunity to take advantage of these offers before the price increase.” added Sheehan.

Norwegian Cruise Line has 11 Freestyle Cruising ships and plans to build two new 4,000-passenger vessels for delivery in spring 2013 and 2014. The line’s latest ship, Norwegian Epic, debuted last Summer.

Flickr photo by cmerow

Forget shuffleboard , 3D theater next on today’s cruise ships

Royal Caribbean International, parent of giant sister cruise ships Oasis and Allure of the Seas announced it will add stereoscopic 3D digital cinema to on-board programming. Royal Caribbean also plans “Revitalizations” for other ships in 2011 including Oasis, Liberty Freedom, Radiance and Splendour of the Seas.

“While we look forward to a period of slower growth, we do not intend to stagnate,” said Royal Caribbean Chairman and CEO Richard Fain in January just before the line announced a new, secret class of ships to be built in the future. The Royal Revitalizations program looks to use that period of slower growth wisely, adding features made popular on new ships to some others in the fleet

Royal Caribbean’s existing deal with Dreamworks Animation and a new partnership with FUNA International makes it possible.

“We called upon FUNA and their team to come up with creative technical design solutions in a number of areas including physical placement, additional cooling and power and integration with the existing audio system, and the result is a 3D movie experience as good as or better than any land-based theater” said Christopher Vlassopulos, Entertainment Technology and Technical Direction for Royal Caribbean International.

First to get the 3D upgrade will be Allure of the Seas but soon, Oasis of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas will have the 3D capability.

“On testing the finished product, people at the highest level at Barco [projection supplier], DreamWorks and Dolby [sound system supplier] were ‘blown away’ with the result. We wanted to do a good job but to impress them out of the gate was a real bonus and obviously something the guest will really enjoy. It looks and sounds great.” Vlassopulos added.

Flickr photo by Monica R

Cruise sailed from fog to “nightmare” say vocal passengers

Always choosing safety first, cruise lines pay close attention to the weather and modify itineraries when conditions dictate. Such was the case this time last week at the Port of Galveston when ships were late departing due to heavy fog. Passengers were angry at the time and it seems that anger went along with them to sea.

Two Carnival Cruise Line ships were affected. Carnival Ecstasy was a day late both arriving and departing so the four day cruise itinerary was shortened to three. Guests on that sailing were given options that included cancellation and a full refund among others.

Carnival Conquest was also a day late leaving on it’s seven-night itinerary when the port was closed. That one proceeded on a modified itinerary. Since Montego Bay, Jamaica was too far, the cruise line substituted Progresso, Mexico as an alternative port.

While the situation was obviously out of the control of cruise lines, guests less than understanding.

A passenger on Carnival Ecstasy did not care for the options.

“Carnival has not treated us good. The refund is not acceptable. More needs to be done for everyone on that Ecstasy ship,” a passenger told Click2Houston.

On the Carnival Conquest, sailaway was even further delayed when a fuel barge hit the side of the ship, keeping the ship in port even longer. Ivory Stafford, one of the vocal passengers on Carnival Conquest, told of an announcement over the ship’s PA system

“He said we had a bump by a barge and they’re waiting for the Coast Guard to investigate it,” said Stafford.

Now, a group of passengers are demanding better service and are circulating a petition among fellow travelers on the ship. 300 have signed at last count.

“I would say it was a nightmare. We want the corporate office to either refund our money or take us to Jamaica,” said passenger Thuy Kau. “Progreso (Mexico) is not a consolation.”

The ship’s itinerary which would have taken them to Montego Bay, Jamaica, instead took them to Progresso, Mexico making a total of three Mexico stops. Carnival issued a statement about the ship’s modified itinerary and the weather-related delays that affected it.

“Due to the delayed departure from Galveston, the ship operated a modified six-day itinerary that included its normal stops in Grand Cayman and Cozumel with the scheduled visit to Montego Bay replaced by Progreso, Mexico. With the delayed departure, there would not have been enough time for the ship to travel to Jamaica and make it back to Galveston on its scheduled return date of Feb. 27.

Carnival sincerely apologizes for this disruption to our guests’ vacation plans. We hope guests understand that this weather-related itinerary change was beyond our control as the ship was not able to safely navigate the Port of Galveston channel due to severe fog”

On one hand, it’s always a shame when travel plans don’t go just as we anticipated on a cruise vacation. Guest are not paying for off-the-wall adventures of unknown origin. The nature of a cruise vacation is predictable for the most part.

On the other hand, like the all-inclusive nature of a cruise vacation which really does not include everything, cruise vacations are have a predictable nature. Nothing is set in stone where safety of the ship, passengers and crew are concerned.

Carnival made the right move by modifying the existing itinerary to include a total of three ports that they had the time to visit. Had they not substituted Progresso, the same people might very well have moaned that they got shorted a port.

They did have options. They could have taken advantage of Carnival’s unique Vacation Guarantee which states

“If you are not completely satisfied with your cruise vacation experience, all you need to do is notify us before arrival at the first port of call and you must debark at your ship’s first non-U.S. port of call. Carnival will refund the unused portion of your cruise fare and pay your flight back.

It sounds like some of the passengers would have been prime candidates for that plan.

Flickr photo by dkastner

Cruise line adds new cabins, upgrades to older ship

Whenever a cruise line adds new stuff to old ships, it’s a big deal. This time, it will happen during a dry dock maintenance period this coming May. Norwegian Cruise Line will add a total of 58 new cabins to the 2,224-passenger Norwegian Dawn including 28 new suites.

The suites include four 667-square-foot to 732-square-foot owner’s suites and 24 family suites, ranging from 408 square feet to 495 square feet, most of which can sleep six passengers.

Norwegian did a similar addition project adding new cabins on sister-ship Norwegian Star not long ago which worked out well.

“The flow of the ship has improved on the Star with these changes and we think it’s more in line with the way we build ships today,” said Crane Gladding, NCL’s senior vice president of revenue management and passenger services. “We are putting more public spaces together for guest flow to be more smooth around the ship.”

The work will be done at the Grand Bahama Shipyard in Freeport, Bahamas, from May 1 to 27.

More changes are on the way for the ship also, but the cruise line is keeping those a secret to be revealed later.

Flickr photo by Ken from NY

10 ways to save money on a cruise without being a cheapskate

There are good ways to save on a cruise vacation and not-so-good ways to save. Simply clicking after the lowest price may seem like a good idea. On the surface, the variables are limited to ship, sailing date and cabin category. Three variables. That’s probably fewer variables than we consider when clicking to book an airline ticket. That should work. For many, that strategy does work but that’s only part of the story. Great savings can be had both on booking the cruise and what we spend on-board by considering a few guidelines.

None of these 10 ways to save include stiffing the crew to avoid tipping, smuggling booze on to save on the bar bill or otherwise trying to outsmart the system which pretty much makes you a cheapskate.

  1. Be realistic– Often we get all caught up in the price of the cruise, what we pay for the cruise fare, that we don’t pay near enough attention to the other expenses that go along with it. Yes, a cruise vacation does offer a lot for the money. But a cruise vacation is far from all-inclusive as some want to believe. That’s nothing to be scared of, just something to investigate and consider first.
  2. Shop for travel insurance– As unexpected chaos from weather or politically-related sources continues to play a bigger role in travel plans, affecting more than ever before, travel insurance of some sort is becoming more of a smart move than in the past. Look beyond the cruise line for options, starting with your personal life/home/auto insurance agent.
  3. Beverage packages– do the math. Most lines offer soda packages that can be a good value. It all depends on how much you will drink though. The idea of “unlimited” sodas for one set price may be appealing but you may need to drink far more than you might anticipate for it to pay out.
  4. Shore excursions– These too may or may not be a good value. Packages that include the word “beach” in them are often more expensive than grabbing a cab and heading to the beach on your own. Almost anything the cruise line offers you can do on your own. Should you? Maybe if its a simple trip to the beach. If your interests take you far from the ship and are more complex, maybe not, especially if it is a port you have never been to before.
  5. Tipping– It’s not required but most cruise lines make it easy by automatically adding it on to your shipboard account each day. The easy way out is to accept that and be done with it. Greater value can be gained by opting out of the automatic tips and taking care of that, in cash, with each individual personally IF you let them know that at the beginning of your voyage.
  6. Bribe people– Some call this pre-tipping” and it involves slipping your cabin steward and headwaiter or Maitre ‘d $20 on the very first day saying the words “Take good care of us and we will take good care of you”. You’re banking on the fact that most other guests on the ship do not do this so you will stand out from the crowd and get better service. Better service = a better overall experience and that means value.
  7. Watch pricing- Most people consider the day they put down a deposit the day they have locked in to a price. That’s true but other opportunities may come along down the road that will get you the exact same cruise for less money or the same money but you get more with it. Again, “value” rather than “lowest price” is king here.
  8. Budget on-board purchases– Simply making a budget and sticking to it works wonders. Casino freaks often bring along an envelope for each day of the cruise, each with the amount of cash they will have to gamble with each day. Once that is gone, that is that. No more gambling until tomorrow. Winnings are often not considered for the most successful gamblers, placing those elsewhere or having win money applied to their on-board account.
  9. Try to use a Cruise Travel Agent. I say “try” because travel agents are not all created equally. A general travel agent that books everything from land tours to airline tickets is often a waste of time. One that specializes in cruise vacations may save you time, money and make for an overall better experience. This is a must-do for first-timers. Seasoned cruisers either swear by travel agents or swear at travel agents. The difference is if they have a good one or not.
  10. Pick the right line in the first place. I saved this for last because it is one of the very most important ways to save money on a cruise without being cheap. You can have a good time, whatever that may mean to you, on any cruise line. Booking with a cruise line with a standard experience that will let you have your good time without having to spend extra to make that happen is the key. A friend who knows you and has cruised a number of lines can help with that as can a good Cruise Travel Agent.

Along those lines, consider this example. Our first 8 sailings were on Carnival Cruise Lines. We found that our family of four did well with the Carnival product and we had no reason to look elsewhere. Carnival has their fleet of “fun ships” and that is not just a catchy slogan: these people know how to have fun. Better yet, they know how to make it possible for anyone to have fun. When we first started sailing with Carnival our two girls were pre-teens and did well with the on-board programming.

Flickr photo by bradipo