The SXSW Of Cruise Travel Starts Monday

Considered by many as the SXSW of cruise travel, Cruise Shipping Miami is an annual mega-convention that starts Monday in Miami, Florida. On hand will be cruise line executives and travel experts participating in panel discussions, workshops and more during the four-day event, on track to draw record attendance this year.

The four-day trade show highlights all the latest and greatest would-be cruise ship features that we might see in the future. Press conferences, including a “State of the Industry” panel, will surely address the ongoing issue of safety at sea as well as new, upcoming trends.

As cruise lines focus on differentiating themselves from one another, seminars on everything from expedition cruising to social media, environmental issues and refurbishing older ships. Gadling will be on hand, looking for answers to questions readers have raised since last year’s show.At the 2011 Cruise Shipping Miami conference, we investigated new things you might see on a cruise ship in the future, some of which made it – others not so much. Last year we saw a focus on new ports, top-deck features and safety issues in the wake of the Costa Concordia grounding. Gadling will be on hand this year as well, reporting back with a roundup of the conference and answers to your questions.

Have something you’re dying to know about cruise travel? Now is the time to ask with a comment below. Follow @CruiseShipping and the hashtag #CSM2013 on Twitter for live updates throughout the event.

Cruise Shipping Miami also features exhibits and demonstrations from destinations around the world. At last year’s show, Japanese Taiko Drumming was one such event as we see in this video.

[Photo credit – Flickr user Trondheim Havn]

New Costa Concordia Video Released As Survivors Gather To Remember

When the cruise ship Costa Concorida went aground off the coast of Italy last year on Friday, the 13th of January, 32 people on board lost their lives. Still under investigation in the tragedy, ten people including the ship’s captain Francesco Schettino and three senior executives from Costa Cruises. New video released by the Italian Coast Guard this weekend shows rescue operations on the night of the grounding, as survivors gather on the Italian island of Giglio to remember the event.

In the aftermath, cruise lines that had already focused on safety as a top priority, re-examined everything they do in reference to passenger, crew and ship safety. The result of that focus as brought a safer travel option and may very well have saved many more lives from being lost in the future.

Court proceedings began in Italy last October, based on evidence from the ship’s black box recordings, navigational details and conversations recorded on the bridge of the ship. Part of the 270 pages of documents before the court is Captain Francesco Schettino’s testimony that his ship was not too close to the island of Giglio. Schettino maintains that he was simply following company policy to “salute” the island.

On board Costa Concordia at the time captain Schettino allegedly went off course on a joy ride/salute with the 121,000-ton ship were 4,229 passengers from 70 countries.

Trekking The Planet, Couple Passes 50,000 Mile Mark

About a year ago, California couple Darren and Sandy Van Soye started trekking the planet on a global tour to raise awareness about world geography and make the subject more accessible to children. To make efficient use of their time and set an eco-friendly travel example, several legs of the journey have been traveled using Princess cruise ships. We caught up with the Van Soye’s recently for a progress report.

“We just passed the 50,000 mile mark on our journey (20,000 miles by cruise ship),” said Darren Van Soye via email this week.

The plan was to visit 50 countries, on six continents, in 424 days, sharing the journey with more than 700 classrooms representing 50,000 students. So far, Darren and Sandy have traveled to 40 countries with another dozen or so to go before returning to the United Sates.
Beating projections, 850 classrooms in 20 countries, representing 55,000 students, are following their journey online.As they have traveled the planet, the 25-year IT industry vets are compiling a library of education modules for teachers along with articles, weekly quizzes and videos, all free to educators.

We can follow along too by visiting the Live Tracker feature on their Trekking The Planet website, which is becoming a rich resource for travelers as well as their intended audience, kids and classrooms.

In addition to 20,000+ miles via cruise ship, the trekking couple has traveled by rail (10,447 miles), road (7,021 miles) and air (17,035 miles).

“Our last cruise will take us from Valparaiso, Chile, to San Pedro, California,” added Van Soye.

Princess Cruises was keen on the idea from the start. The cruise line had just completed their 50 Essential Experiences: The Travel Bucket List, a year-long blog project where 15+ year Princess Cruises employees shared their personal travel stories, hoping to inspire others.

“We frequently hear stories from travelers who cruise to accomplish a goal – from celebrating milestones with family members to crossing something off their bucket list,” said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises executive vice president in a statement. “Sandy and Darren are a great example of how cruise travel can be both relaxing and rewarding. We’re inspired by their story and we’re honored they’ve chosen Princess to help them achieve their trekking goals.”

Catching up with the Trekking the Planet team in December, Darren and Sandy review their time in Africa and the Middle East as we see in this video:

The Van Soyes will complete their global journey in March.

[Photo Credit- Trekking The Planet]

Tips For Saving On Cruises In 2013

Cruise travel in 2013 is a done deal for many seasoned cruisers; they bought 2013’s sailings more than a year in advance. Cruise travelers on the cutting edge of buying cruise vacations are working on 2014 now. Traditional buying strategies for cruise vacations include buying as far in advance for the best cabin location and often, the best price. But depending on your tolerance for price fluctuations, buying far in advance might not be the best idea in 2013 due to changes in the way cruise lines promote fares.

Make no mistake about it: buying a cruise is getting to be more like buying a commodity or volatile stock. Buying far in advance to get a preferred cabin location – like mid-ship for those prone to motion discomfort – is still a good idea. There are only so many cabins on the ship and the good locations sell first.

Still, buying a flexible fare that allows changes later without penalty can often end up with the best value. Here’s how:

Say we buy a seven-night Carnival cruise for two at the lowest possible price, one that has restrictions and charges penalties for changes made after booking. At the time of buying, we’re happy because we got our preferred cabin location and the price seemed quite reasonable, a year or more in advance of sailing.A few years ago, that strategy had a much higher chance of bringing home a win. Odds were that the price paid so far in advance would be the best available and that price stuck.

But that was a few years ago.

On The Cruise Line’s Timetable
Today, cruise lines are much more savvy about filling up ships. They have their own strategies in place, designed to have us jump at the chance to book on the cruise line’s timetable.

Today, those who purchased their vacation during a cruise line promotion, probably closer to sailing, gained over those who bought far in advance.

Probably not the best buy for the consumer, caught up in the hoopla of a winter sale that touts images of warm beaches on hot Caribbean winter days.

Tips For Getting The Best Value On A Cruise Vacation
Still, in spite of ourselves and our click-to-buy ways, some rock solid buying strategies combined with some critical facts can make for a great 2013-14 cruise bargain.

  • Pick A Good Time To Sail– Traditionally, slow season for cruise vacations happens in the fall, after kids go back to school, while hurricane season rages on and expenses of upcoming December holidays force a watchful eye on the family budget. That’s not apt to change. If you must sail in the peak summer sailing season, do so at the very beginning or very end of the season, when prices are apt to be best.
  • Buy A Flexible Fare- Fares with strict rules may sound like quite a bargain, until a change needs to be made and the cruise line charges a fee to do so. Cruise lines are just now beginning to offer restricted fares with fees. Led by Carnival Cruise Lines and their Early Saver Fare, at the time guaranteed to be the lowest fare by the cruise line, look for more cruise lines to follow in 2013 and beyond.
  • Consider Last Minute Buying, The Smart Way- Go ahead and make that booking a year in advance, just be sure that reservation includes two qualities: 1) That you can cancel before the final payment is due and receive a 100% full cash refund and 2) can turn right around and re-book at the lower last-minute rate, if available. That way you have a possibility of having the best of both worlds; excellent cabin location and lowest last-minute price.
  • Keep Shopping- One of the biggest mistakes travelers make when buying a cruise vacation is not to check occasionally for new promotions that may apply to their booking. This happens all the time and includes some of the most missed opportunities consumers have to help themselves on cost. It’s also a good reason to use a travel agent who can research what seems to be a better price. Often, what appears to be a good price is not when all the port charges, taxes and government fees are added in.

It’s that last part, to keep shopping and use a travel agent that may be new to many readers. As cruise fares become more complicated, having a friend in the business is a good idea and a good cruise-focused travel agent can fill that role nicely.

Think working on a cruise ship might be more fun? Check this video about how to do just that:

[Photo Credit: Flickr user spilltojill]

Crystal Cruises Hobbit Experience Brings New Adventure To Sea

Crystal Cruises are always looking for unique experiences to stand out from the crowd and an upcoming New Zealand sailing is no exception. Bringing adventure from the big screen to cruise passengers, Crystal Cruises has a new dinner experience this December, on the “Hobbiton” set used for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and new prequel film.

Just days after “The Hobbit

opens worldwide, Crystal Symphony calls in Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty region of the North Island of New Zealand, home of the “Hobbiton” set used for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and new prequel film. On the December 20 sailing, Crystal Symphony guests can have a private, guided tour from Frodo and Bilbo Baggins’ Hobbit holes to the Brandywine Bridge, featuring local wine and beer and a traditional Kiwi barbeque served by wait staff in Lord of the Rings costume.

“We are always looking for unique, boutique ways for our guests to immerse themselves in a world different from their own,” said Crystal’s Vice-President, Land & Port Operations, John Stoll in a Popular Cruising report.A second “Lord of the Rings“-themed adventure is also offered on both cruises, visiting Edoras’ home, Mt. Potts Station and Lodge, and New Zealand’s Southern Alps from Christchurch.

The 16-day Christmas/New Year’s sailing voyage overnights in Auckland before sailing through Tauranga, Napier, Christchurch, Dunedin, Sydney (double overnight), Melbourne (overnight), and Dusky, Doubtful, and Milford Sounds.

“With ‘The Hobbit’ opening mid-December, this is an extraordinarily timely opportunity for Crystal guests to be transported to a place that many fantasy-fiction genre fans, movie buffs, as well as wine and foodies, and off-the-beaten-path travelers, from around the globe can only dream of visiting,” said Stoll. The Hobbiton dinner and village exploration fee is $265 per person.

[Photo credit: Crystal Cruises]