Tired Of Caribbean Islands? No Problem: We’ll Make More, Say Cruise Lines

After a few sailings in the Caribbean, North American cruise travelers can get tired of going to the same islands. Their cruise vacation may be a great value and easy to do but they want more. The problem is that ships can only go so far before having to turn around and get back in a week, the time most travelers have for vacation. The answer: make more islands.

While the cruise industry has not exactly figured out how to make there be land where there was none before, they have become good at building custom cruise ports. New Banana Coast cruise port in Honduras is a great example.

Beginning construction in 2011, the $30 million Banana Coast cruise destination is scheduled to open in November 2014. Billed as “Where the Rainforest Meets the Sea,” the western Caribbean port already has cruise lines adding Banana Coast as a port of call. So far, Silversea Cruises, Holland America Line and, just this week, Oceania Cruises have committed to regular stops with more lines expected as they roll out future itineraries.When the project is complete, Banana Coast will have a 50,000-square-foot shopping facility and transportation hub, which will take visitors to other places on the island. Possible experiences include a VIP airplane trip to the Mayan ruins, snorkeling, kayaking, ATV rides, a culinary tasting tour and more. The diverse climate and topography of Honduras offers waterfalls, rivers, streams, mountains, a tropical rainforest, a nature reserve, coral reefs and crystal clear waters all at the same destination.

This is not the first man-made Caribbean cruise destination either. The Jamaica port of Falmouth, a joint project between Royal Caribbean International and the Port Authority of Jamaica, is another good example. Reminiscent of the historic 1700’s and 1800’s when Falmouth was the big port for sugar exports worldwide, the port is built to handle Royal Caribbean’s huge Oasis-class ships. The location also allows visitors to do shore excursions from both existing ports of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, each about a half-hour away.

Back in Honduras, the Mahogany Bay Cruise Center is a Carnival Corporation sponsored destination that has welcomed over one million cruise passengers since opening in 2009. The Roatan, Honduras, location is on 20 acres of waterfront property and is an attractive area to visit for guests of Carnival Cruise Lines. In addition, there are sister-lines Seabourn, Princess Cruises, Holland America, Costa Cruises and non-Carnival Corporation vessels.

In the Dominican Republic, construction continues on the Amber Cove Cruise Center, a giant $65 million facility that will be able to accommodate up to 8,000 cruise passengers and 2,000 crew members daily. This one is expected to host more than 250,000 cruise passengers in its first year of operation. Amber Cove will feature a welcome center with a variety of retail offerings, including a marketplace for locally sourced Dominican crafts and souvenirs, as well as a wide range of themed restaurants and bars, water attractions and a transportation hub allowing visitors easy access by land and sea to the surrounding destinations and attractions.

As the high price of airfare continues to keep North American cruise travelers sailing from home ports scattered around the United States, look for these man-made islands to continue gaining popularity.

Another Caribbean destination, which has become increasingly accessible by sea or air is Curacao. Boasting 35 beaches and an eclectic mix of history and culture, the capital city of Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a good choice to visit as we see in this video:

5 Ways To Save Money Booking A Cruise Vacation

A cruise vacation has a lot of value already built in. Sailing from one popular port of call to another on board your floating hotel, transportation costs are locked in, as are all meals. Still, there are some additional factors to consider, such as fare codes that can add up to real savings at the time of booking or later, when lower prices come along.

Consider Restricted Fares
Give the cruise line what it wants and savings can add up fast. Locking in a cruise with no way to change or cancel without paying stiff penalties can lead to perks for customers as cruise lines give low pricing and generous upgrades. This is a great option for those who have travel plans set in stone. But those with possible changes in the future should avoid this option.

Don’t Care Where You Sleep
Another way to save is by booking a stateroom category that does not get a cabin assignment at the time of booking. For those that do not care where they sleep, booking an unassigned (AKA “guaranteed”) stateroom can bring great pricing benefits.

Special Discounts
Cruise lines offer special discounts for seniors, residents of certain states or geographic areas, active or retired military members and others who fit into specific groups. Buying far in advance, these fares may not be available as they are often added later in the booking cycle to encourage new reservations.Keep Looking After Booking
New promotions coming up down the line, after booking, may be applicable to your existing reservation. Watch for cruise line sales around the holidays. Check your email or mailbox between booking and sailing too, as special offers may apply to you and your already-booked sailing.

Holland America Line, for example, has its Sail & Save sale, an annual promotion period that started December 10 and features special savings on multiple cruises and destinations.

“Our Sail & Save promotions make this the perfect time to start planning a 2013 vacation,” said Richard Meadows, executive vice president, marketing, sales and guest programs in ETurboNews. “These offers make it possible for more travelers to take a family cruise, an extended holiday or that once-in-a-lifetime trip at a good value.”

Use A Travel Agent For Their Intended Purpose
Travelers can easily click-to-book a cruise on most cruise lines. But should they? Travel agents have first-hand, I-work-with-this-everyday knowledge consumers don’t. Cruise lines commonly court travel agencies for their cruise business with special agency-only offers not available online.

Another way to save? Win a free cruise.

Celebrating the arrival of Disney Wonder in Miami on December 23, 100 lucky families won their own five-night Disney cruise vacation, as we see in this video:

[Photo Credit- Flickr user by blmiers2]

Giant Pumpkin Cruise Ship Not A Scary Thing

Carnival Cruise Lines is sponsoring Boo at the Zoo, a “spooktacular” event at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans which attracts thousands of families who will enjoy trick-or-treat houses, a Ghost Train, haunted houses, fun games with prizes and entertainment, children’s decoration stations, and more. One of the main attractions is a massive 70-foot-long giant pumpkin cruise ship display made up of more than 500 carved jack-o-lanterns.

Many of the pumpkins included within the Boo at the Zoo display feature designs showcasing various elements of Carnival’s new look at cruise vacatons, Fun Ship 2.0, with depictions of the RedFrog Rum Bar, the EA SPORTS Bar, and Guy’s Burger Joint developed in tandem with Food Network personality Guy Fieri, as well as the iconic winged funnel that adorns all Carnival ships.
Carnival’s history with New Orleans goes back to hurricane Katrina, when the line positioned ships off the coast of the state to house emergency rescue workers. Sponsorship of this event reconfirms the line’s commitment to the New Orleans community and the company’s role as the city’s number one cruise operator. Carnival carries 340,000 passengers annually on its two ships based year-round in New Orleans.

Interested in carving your own pumpkins? Click here for some stencils that make it easy.

[Photo Credit: Carnival Cruise Lines]

Old cruise ships get new features

When a new cruise ship comes out, it has all the latest features and what cruise ship designers hope will provide the best, most relevant experience for today’s cruise passenger. Later, after those new features turn out to be of an enduring nature, cruise lines often add them to older ships. Sometimes this process adds value to older ships that would otherwise be lacking in features by comparison. Other times when old cruise ships get new features it only makes a good ship better.
Royal Caribbean’s (@RoyalCaribbean) Freedom of the Seas, one of the most popular ships in the fleet, just completed a series of upgrades at the Grand Bahama Shipyard. This is a ship that was already popular and selling well so new features, many made popular on the newest Oasis-class ships, will be a welcome addition to an already successful operation. Here is what has been added:
  • Royal Babies and Tots Nursery
  • Large 18.5-foot video screen overlooking family pool area
  • LCD wayfinder system
  • Cupcake Cupboard restaurant
  • Vintages lounge will be redone
  • DreamWorks Experience
  • 3D movie screen
  • Imaginocean! puppet show
  • Outdoor LED video walls

It’s not like Royal Caribbean got a special deal on giant TV screens so they needed someplace to put them either. Fueled by passenger response, the line is giving them what they want. Called the Royal Advantage program, the line is investing $70 million to keep older ships current.

“The outdoor video screen installed aboard Liberty of the Seas in January has already been so well received that we have decided to deploy it aboard all the ships scheduled to undergo the Royal Advantage revitalization in 2011.” said Royal Caribbean vice president of hotel operations Lisa Bauer said Royal Caribbean blog. (@theRCLblog)

Sometimes a bit of tweaking is done after that new ship launches but cruise lines know their passengers well and most often they get it right. Still, there are always some people who just don’t like change.

Princess Cruises
(@PrincessCruises) found that out when they invented Movies Under The Stars several years ago when Caribbean Princess debuted. The new feature was wildly popular with most guests but some did not care for the new feature. When the line (logically) announced it would be added to other ships in the fleet, tempers flared and cruise message boards were afire with heated debates.

Occasionally, cruise lines do get it wrong though and have to figure out what to do with/about features that don’t pan out to be everything they dreamed or are what they dreamed but just did not catch on.

In their ongoing efforts to be innovative, Norwegian Cruise Line (@NCLFreestyle) tried adding a mock-ice skating feature to new Norwegian Epic. When CEO Kevin Sheehan looked at shipboard operations from a different angle on the CBS television program Undercover Boss it was clear: this is not a good idea. That idea did not make it and was scrapped but you have to give them credit for trying something different. Still, popular features like Cirque Dreams and Dinner (the best at-sea entertainment I have ever seen), Blue Man Group, Legends in Concert and more get rave reviews on Norwegian Epic. The first-of-their-kind solo studios are the answer to solo traveler’s prayers.

Sometimes cruise lines take spaces already on existing ships that may under-utilized and do something different as multi-use spaces become more popular on new ships.

Carnival Cruise Lines (@CarnivalCruise) recently added Punchliner Comedy Clubs to every ship in the fleet after testing revealed them to be wildly popular with guests. Located in the ship’s aft lounge, each Punchliner Comedy Club offers guests loads of laughs with five 35-minute shows on multiple nights during each voyage, with at least two comedians performing each night. The two early-evening shows offer fun for the whole family while the later performances will feature adult-oriented comedy.

Cruise passengers are finding out that older ships can be some of the very best values too. With new ships demanding the premium “I wanna be on the newest ship” price, older ships which may indeed have some of the newest features, are almost always less expensive.

Flickr photo by Monica R

Air travel issues promote travel by rail and ship

As security concerns, luggage problems, fuel surcharges, crowded airports and high prices for air travel continue, some travelers are choosing other ways to get where they want to go. Rather than stay home or cancel travel plans, many travelers are looking at train or bus transportation or cruise vacations at a port they can drive to rather than flying.

Amtrak reports business is good. February marked 16 consecutive months of ridership growth and was the best February on record with 1,099,010 passengers.

“The ridership increase shows the continued popularity of rail travel and the need for continued investment in passenger rail service” said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman.

Instead of booking a flight, standing in security lines at the airport, running to catch a connecting flight, then getting to the hotel at their destination, a growing number of travelers are choosing a cruise vacation.

The all-inclusive nature of a cruise combined with easy access by car, rail or bus to local home-ports spread around the U.S. is allowing travelers to skip the airport, hotel and/or rental car altogether.”Even as economies around the world are experiencing financial woes, industry statistics indicate just under 11 million people enjoyed a vacation at sea last year. It could be because one price covers just about everything compared to land vacations where travelers are faced with added expenses such as hotel rooms, valet parking, transportation, buying tickets for entertainment and restaurant expenses.” says Rebecca Kelley from Huliq.com.

She has a point. Once paid, the price of a cruise booking represents is an average of between 70 and 85% of the total vacation cost, that price when vacation is over and you are back home paying the bills.

such as cash to spend in the ship’s casino or ashore, on-board services like spa treatments, shore excursions, alcoholic beverages or gift shop purchases make up the difference. But with $0 for airfare, $0 for hotels and $0 for food, those three items alone can add up fast and make a cruise vacation a bargain. If not a bargain, at least you know how much the total price will be before vacation, not after when the credit card bills come tumbling in.

On the ease-of-travel scale, air travel issues have travelers scrambling for flights when increasingly more frequent schedule disruptions occur, while cruise passengers who can drive to the port could care less. Even with the high price of gas, driving is often the most economical way to go. Still, it is hard to drive from New York to London so flying may be inevitable. One way, anyway. Many travelers are flying to or from Europe from the U.S. then sailing back.

Called either TransAtlantic sailings like those done on Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 or Repositioning Cruises that many lines do, a ship sails one-way to or from Europe. Queen Mary 2 does it all the time, others make the crossing seasonally and often include ports of call along the way.

If you have the time to take 6 to 14 days on a ship instead of 6 or 14 hours (with disruptions) in the air, sailing can be a great way to go.

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