Costa Concordia, A Year Later

Costa Concordia sailed aground off the coast of Italy one year ago this Sunday. Today, the ship sits off the coast of Italy where it ran aground on Friday, January 13, 2012, taking the lives of 32 passengers in the process. Ongoing work is underway to remove the grounded ship. Also ongoing is a renewed focus on safety that exceeds previous efforts, covers all major cruise lines and aims to convince many travelers that cruise travel is safe.

Those on board the Costa Concordia at the time initially said it was “like being on the Titanic.” The loss of life may not have been as great but parallels drawn between the Titanic and Concordia were undeniable.

Passengers in the wrong place at the wrong time were left without life jackets. Confusion about what to do and where to go reined over already-in-place safety procedures. Over-confident ship owners were forced to take another look at how they go about their business.

In the aftermath came rules requiring mandatory safety drills before ships leave port, including mandates that each ship carry extra life jackets and that crews practice loading lifeboats with people. New rules also call for cruise lines to file a voyage plan showing exactly where ships are going, much like a pilot’s flight plan.


Still, questions remain about the role ship’s Captain Francesco Schettino had in the event. Also of concern: progress on the removal of Costa Concordia from the coast of Italy and enduring environmental risks to marine life.

Costa Cruises, along with its salvage company, has launched a website with detailed information, plans and images relating to the Costa Concordia wreck-removal project. See more on this extensive engineering task via this video:

A ceremony is set for the island of Giglio on Sunday where sirens will go off at 9:42 p.m, marking the one-year anniversary of the Costa Concordia grounding.

[Photo Credit- Flickr User EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection]

Pricing Travel Takes Creative Turn On Airlines, Cruise Lines

When it comes to pricing travel, common complaints from air travelers concern fees charged for checked luggage and changes to tickets after buying. Cruise travelers are often surprised to find out that the advertised price they see is not the total price. Both want more options, flexibility and pricing that fits their needs. Several travel companies are making moves to give them just that.

American Airlines recently rolled out simple three-tier pricing aimed to take the unknown out of the equation, make comparing prices among airlines easier and perhaps adding value.

“This will eliminate the fear about what-ifs,” Rick Elieson, managing director of

Read more here:

said in a Miami Herald report. He said it will encourage customers to compare airlines by quality and reward those, “like American, that invest so much in its product.”

Now, American Airlines lowest and refundable fare brackets are divided into three options:

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Choice fares are the same as how tickets are done now and will be the lowest fare. If someone wants to check a bag, they pay for it. This is the basic fare. This is no doubt the fare to compare with other airlines.

Choice Essential fares add $68 per round trip but include one checked bag, no change fees and early boarding.

Choice Plus fares add $88 per round trip, and include the Choice Essential benefits plus bonus miles for frequent fliers, standby privileges, a free drink and other perks.

Will other airlines follow American? Probably, as disclosure, transparency and a traveler-friendly system of pricing and booking seem to be the direction travel companies are headed.

This year, we saw a new U.S. Transportation Department (DOT) rule that requires airlines to include all taxes and fees in their advertised fares, among other consumer-friendly features. Cruise lines have no such rules and commonly do not include taxes and other fees in advertised pricing.

But in what we believe to be an unprecedented move, Princess Cruises began advertising the total price per person, including port charges, taxes and government fees, in advertising for their Season of Saving sale, running through December 21.

“These cruise fares include government fees and taxes so you can see what each voyage actually costs from the start,” says Princess Cruises on its website. “It makes planning your next vacation easier and saves the surprises for the pleasant ones you’ll discover on your cruise.”

Reaching further, Carnival Cruise Lines added new pricing options this month with what appears to be something for everyone.

Some time ago, Carnival came out with their Early Saver Fare, a restricted fare that was guaranteed to be the lowest price, no matter what. Throughout the life of a booking, if the price went down, the difference went to the buyer in one way or another via the Early Saver Fare’s price protection quality.

Like a discounted airline ticket, the Early Saver Fare came with some restrictions too. Topping the list was that the deposit was non-refundable and any changes incurred a $50 per person, per change administrative fee. It was the best price but not for everyone. A traveler with uncertain travel plans? This was not for them.

So Carnival increased the number of fare codes they offer from four to seven, adding additional fare codes that allow more flexibility, options and the ability to find a better fit for each individual traveler. As booking a cruise is more complicated than booking an airline ticket, more complicated are the Carnival fare codes as well.

Some Carnival fares are available far in advance of sailing. As time grows closer to sailing, other fares with different rules, aimed at those who are entering the booking arena are introduced then fall off as time marches on.

Winning at the new Carnival Cruise Lines fare code system seems to be a lot about timing and determination.

For example, those who need or prefer to book at the last minute might like Carnival’s new Instant Saver Fare, available 30 to 45 days prior to sailing.

Choosing this option, the cruise line requires that full payment is due at the time of booking and is 100% non refundable, among other restrictions. But someone booking further in advance will have a different selection of fare codes to choose from.

Available between five and three months prior to sailing, Carnival’s Super Saver Fare has a non-refundable deposit, no changes can be made for any reason, there is no price protection and the cruise line selects the passengers stateroom on the day of check-in at the pier.

Aimed at travelers who missed out on the Early Saver Fare because they waited too long to book, the Super Saver Fare is offered closer to sailing but with more restrictions.

Significantly new to booking procedures on some fares is that the cruise line (rather than the passenger) selects the cabin at the time of pier check-in. Now we’re into that “determination” comfort level and passengers who need or want to have their stateroom at a certain location on the ship will not like this qualifier. Those prone to suffering from motion discomfort commonly look for a stateroom location closer to the middle of the ship, where the laws of physics say the ride is smoother.

At the end of the day, those booking Carnival Cruise Lines may want to consider travel insurance more seriously in response new restrictions and use the services of a travel agent that works with this system daily to be sure they select the right pricing option.

[Photo Credit- Flickr user Simon_sees]

Breaking: More drugs found on cruise ship

UPDATE: Less than a month ago we told you about the cruise line crew accused of smuggling drugs into the Port of Baltimore. Now we have learned that authorities found more drugs on the same ship.

When U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents boarded Royal Caribbean International’s Enchantment of the Seas Tuesday, they had good reason. Last month agents found 700 grams of heroin and 300 grams of cocaine hidden in the waistband and shoes of the crew member, The drugs had been picked up from a Jamaican man in the Dominican Republic, brought on to the ship, to be sold once they reached the United States.

“If we already encountered an incident where drugs were discovered on the ship, we’re more than likely going to take another look at the vessel further down the road,” Steve Sapp, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection told the Baltimore Sun.

In this discovery, $94,000 worth of cocaine was found wrapped in duct tape by a drug-sniffing dog in a common area of the ship, accessible by any crew member. No arrests have been made.

“It could be just about anybody,” Sapp said. “It would be really difficult for us to bring in everyone for an interview.”

This is not good news for Royal Caribbean or the cruise industry. The ongoing investigation aboard Enchantment of the Seas indicates that Federal authorities are beginning to target cruise ships for drug smuggling operations. Frequently visiting Caribbean islands where drugs are plentiful and easily distributed, the supply side of smuggling has minimal risk. Crew members with access to all areas of ships can find plenty of places to hide the contraband.

Last week’s raid on MSC Cruises Poesia and the would-be high times Jam Fest cruise added a different but similar focus, targeting passengers.

Royal Caribbean, along with other cruise lines, maintains a zero tolerance policy for illegal drugs on their ships. Look for TSA-like security precautions on cruise ships in the near future. This is inevitable. The cruise industry has always been a model for insuring the safety and security of passengers and crew at sea. This recent news, combined with their intense ongoing commitment to safety and security will bring new procedures.

It’s just a matter of which line will be first.

Flickr photo by anythiene


2011 Cruise news headlines: what to expect

We pulled out the crystal ball and came up with a bunch of predictions for the cruise vacations in 2011. Check back in a year to see how close we came on these possible cruise news headlines.

  1. Higher fuel costs mean higher fares for cruises and airfare too. Airfare will get hit first, cruise lines will be more cautious. An additional fuel surcharge for airlines is no big deal. Add on a charge for pat-downs, magazines in flight or something new, that would be a big deal. Cruise lines don’t want a fuel surcharge but if the price of oil hits and holds above $100 a barrel, they will and this time they won’t have to give it back later.
  2. Spring Break sailings will fill up fast and there will be few last-minute deals on them. If you want to go on a Spring Break cruise, pretty much any time in March or April, book it yesterday. Cruise lines have been warning of a price increase but they do that every year at this time when “wave” season hits and demand is high for cruises. They’ll hold that higher pricing longer this year.
  3. 2011: the Year of Ala Carte Pricing with cruise lines and travel agencies offering more optional choices as they move toward customizing each individuals vacation experience. This is way a good thing. Last year we blew the lid off the notion of a cruise being totally “all-inclusive” and bought into the reality of cruises having an “all-inclusive nature”. More than a subtle difference, look for more dining options, pre and post cruise hotel stays and options that before now, were a good idea but not really pushed all that much.
  4. Social Media blossoms in the cruise business with more lines “getting it” and moving forward with plans to engage us in a conversation about cruise vacations before, during and after sailing. In 2011 Facebook and Google ARE the Internet and those stuck elsewhere will fail. Losers: Faceless Internet Cruise Brokers, cruise lines not engaged in social media. Winners:Travel Agents who “get it”
  5. Multi-generational cruises take huge leap in popularity. An aging population will wake up more this year than in the past and want to travel with the kids and grand-kids. We saw a lot of this in Alaska and the Caribbean last year, look for more this year.
  6. European sailings skyrocket as cruise lines have repositioned ships to the Mediterranean, so goes the booking interest as supply of ships sailing from U.S. ports declines and prices go up. Last year saw some unbelievably good values in the Caribbean, that won’t happen as much this year.
  7. Cruise Lines ramp up security checks. It’s just inevitable that this will happen. Look for TSA-like security procedures and plan on taking a longer time to get on the ship, either upon embarkation or when in port.

Flickr photo by RambergMediaImages

Not all bad news as cruise lines look ahead

Recently it seems the news is full of doom and gloom for some of the major cruise lines. One ship catches fire, another gets tossed around by a freak weather event and the topic of cruise safety comes up front and center. But good news is on the horizon as ships sail into 2011 and an evolving cruise industry gives us exactly what we want.

On board, ships like new Norwegian Epic and Royal Caribbeans Oasis-class ships offer top-shelf entertainment options from Broadway musicals to dining experiences like Epic’s Cirque Dreams and Dinner show. Activities go far beyond bingo and shuffleboard to include high-energy surfing on a bunch of Royal Caribbean ships to a tranquil day away from it all in Princess Cruises Sanctuary where “Solitude seekers will be able to escape completely” the line says on its interactive website.

The cruise lines hear the call for transparency and responsibility in what they do too. Princess Cruises and Holland America continue the drive to plug in to shore-side power at an increasing rate. Celebrity Cruises now has solar technology mounted on all Solstice-class ships along with a new hull design that reduces fuel usage.

On pricing, it’s a buyers market with AOL Travel reporting special offers like Norwegian Cruise Line offering free upgrades through March 27Th adding “A swell of other promotions from other lines is likely to be announced in the coming weeks.” Indeed, value-leader Carnival Cruise Lines has fares starting at $70 a day and even luxury lines are offering special incentives like sailing a Seabourn yacht for up to 50% off.

As cruise lines look ahead, Cruise Lines International Association, celebrating their 35 years of cruise vacations, sums it up nicely saying “The cruise industry has evolved to be a leader in innovation and technological advancement. Cruise vacations are fun, safe and offer a wide variety of amenities and recreational activities that appeal to all vacationers”

Flickr photo by Port of San Diego