Venice to cruise ships: Get out please

Venice is proud of its heritage. Home to beautiful architecture, canals, bridges, gondolas, the annual Venice Film Festival, the Basilica and many other churches along with museums like the Guggenheim, its probably no surprise that cruise ships are not on the top of their list of things to add to the mix. In the wake of the Concordia grounding, considering the threat of accidents, air and water pollution, and an additional 2 million more visitors a year into a city already maxed out with tourists, Venice has a plan to keep cruise ships away.

The city does not want cruise ships in their lagoon at all but as a first step to keep them away, wants to reroute ships arriving in Venice so they stay farther from St. Mark’s and other prominent monuments as a possible step toward keeping them out of the lagoon altogether.

“This is one of the hypotheses we’re working on,” Environmental Minister Corrado Clini told the Associated Press. “In the meantime we should take precautionary measures to progressively reduce risk.”

The Venice Port Authority opposes moves against cruise traffic saying the cruise industry employs thousands of Venetians and believes Venice is not a candidate for cruise ships to run aground like the Concordia did last month, not all that far away.

In addition, a team of 25 cruise ship captains work around the clock as pilots of a sort, assigned to board cruise ships outside the lagoon and oversee their passage through Venice, accompanied by a pair of tug boats.

To deal with the air pollution, the port is exploring a system that would let ships plug in to shore side power when docked, similar to how ships plug in to U.S. West coast ports, allowing them to turn off their engines. Like U.S. systems, a green shore side power system will be costly and seems to have stalled for that reason.

Unlike U.S. ports concerned about the impact of cruise ships though, Venice is a United Nations-protected UNESCO site and Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO’s assistant director-general for culture, a Venetian himself, said longer-term solutions are needed.

“The city is a very fragile city. This is a city that comes to us from the Middle Ages,” Bandarin told the AP. “It is not designed for having that kind of traffic. It is designed to have ships, and we will always have ships around Venice, but not these kind of ships.”

Flickr photo by jastrow75

Mexican food in Mexico: surprisingly different

Before sampling Mexican food on a recent trip to Mazatlan, Mexico, we shared some of the misconceptions commonly held by others who have not been there. Don’t drink the water. Mexican food is not healthy. All Mexican food is spicy and all about tacos, burritos and enchiladas. What we found blew away pretty much all of that.

Mazatlan sits on the west coast of Mexico and boasts an abundance of seafood. Running the largest fleet of shrimp boats in the world, shrimp is on nearly every menu, prepared a number of ways. We ranked local eatery Al Agua as tops for shrimp and especially for it’s Coconut Shrimp. There’s really something to be said for sitting at the shoreside restaurant and watching as shrimpers off the coast catch what you are about to eat. It does not get any fresher than that.

Shrimp is a big export here too but not the only game in town. Marlin, Grouper, Octopus and clams are also used extensively on restaurant menus and “fresh” is what its all about. Combined with locally-sourced ingredients, we quickly forgot the “Mexican food is not healthy” misnomer and focused on unique combinations of vegetables, rice, beans and spices.

“The staples of Mexican cuisine do include corn and beans – which are full of fiber – but also vitamin-rich peppers, tomatoes and fruit” says Chef David Suarez, busting myths about Mexico for CNN. “Authentic Mexican food incorporates seasonal produce, fresh cheeses, seafood, herbs and meats, as well as complex carbohydrates.”Locally grown herbs and spices like chiles, cilantro, epazote, cinnamon, and cocoa are expertly used and for those who like it hot, this is the place to get it. Still, fire-hot spicy is not the standard but is available and offered as a preparation option in the kitchen (“make it hot for me”) or through a variety of sauces and additions tableside (“let me make it hot”). Chipotle, a smoke-dried jalapeño chilli, is also common in Mexican cuisine as are garlic and onions but not to overpower the fresh seafood star of the show.


“People tend to think of Mexican food as just tacos, burritos and enchiladas – lots of cheddar cheese, sour cream and jalapeños” Chef Julieta Ballesteros told CNN. “Although some of these dishes do exist in traditional cuisine, that’s definitely not all there is.”

In fact, we had a hard time finding the cheesy, gooey and fat-filled entrees commonly tagged as “Mexican food” in the U.S. They were most commonly found on a children’s menu, blowing away the notion that frozen taquitos, canned refried beans, Taco Bell, Doritos and other processed foods are authentic in any way. Initially, that was kind of disappointing and it took a while to get the hang of associating “healthy” and “Mexican”.

But thinking differently about food in Mexico was typical of other misconceptions that failed to pass the reality test. We also never found anyone even remotely resembling a drug lord or the Frito Bandito. A visit to the all-but-abandoned Port of Mazatlan revealed a safe and desirable place to park a cruise ship.

Even the whole “don’t drink the water” thing that dogged Mexico for decades has been rendered a non-issue. Every Mazatlan restaurant we tried served bottled water and purified ice as standard fare. Not once did we see glasses served with iced tap water as we might commonly see in the U.S.

We did, however, see a whole lot of tequila “influence” in Mexico. And by “influence” I mean they hung shot glasses around our necks and started pouring shots as we got off the plane, much like a flower lei is given to those visiting Hawaii.

For those who associate Mexico with tequila, you will not be disappointed. There are some tequila-infused sauces and menu items but we got the impression that those were silly things designed mainly for tourists.

Mazatlan Mexico’s food is bold, fresh, safe and interesting not to mention tasty, especially alongside a frosty Pacifico beer and a shot or six of a locally distilled tequila.

Photos: Chris Owen

Honduras eager to build the next new cruise port

Residents from local Trujillo, Honduras communities, along with politicians and business leaders joined recently for groundbreaking on a new 50,000-square-foot mainland cruise port, the first in Honduras.

The facility should help answer the call from cruise passengers who love the Caribbean but yearn for new ports to visit. That need leaves Honduras eager to build the next new cruise port.

“This project has a lot of significance for the region,” said Honduras President Porfirio Lobo Sosa. “The cruise port will be crucial for the development of Trujillo and its surrounding neighborhoods.”

The new port, set to open in 2012, is expected to create more than 3000 jobs and promote tourism to the Banana Coast as an alternative to Roatan, Honduras, Belize City, Belize, and Costa Maya and Cozumel both Mexican ports.

“We can only go to Cozumel just so many times” say frequent cruise passengers bored of the same ports over and over again.

As more ships enter the cruise market, 9 more in 2011, cruise passengers are looking for new ports of call to visit and cruise lines want to find (or build) them.

The new Jamaica port of Falmouth, a joint project between Royal Caribbean International and the Port Authority of Jamaica is hoping to help fill that need with an entirely different shoreside experience. To be 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 will allow visitors to do shore excursions from both existing ports of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, each about a half-hour away.

New or reworked ports are not always the answer though. San Diego’s new Port Pavillion at Broadway Pier, funded by Carnival Cruise Lines, will not see much action now that cruise lines have fled the hard-to-sell West coast market for more fertile seas.

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Flickr photo by archer10

Troubled Falmouth, Jamaica cruise port finally welcomes first cruise guests

Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas became the first cruise ship to visit the new port of Falmouth, Jamaica which unofficially opened today, months behind schedule.

“We are delighted to see Voyager of the Seas make the first-ever ship call at Historic Falmouth,” said Craig Milan, senior vice president of Land Operations, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. “By partnering with the Port Authority of Jamaica, we are working to deliver our shared vision of Falmouth’s rebirth. Together, we are bringing the town’s historic sites to life and integrating the culture and authenticity of this destination into a superior guest experience.”

The port construction is a joint effort between between mega-ship maker Royal Caribbean International and the government of Jamaica. Originally scheduled to open last May, ongoing construction delays pushed opening the troubled port back, rerouting giant sisters Oasis and Allure of the Seas to Costa Maya, Mexico instead. It looks like the port is on track for an official grand opening in March though when Oasis of the Seas will make her first stop at the new facility.

On the ground today in Jamaica, cruise expert Stewart Chiron CEO, tweeted “Crowds massing on rooftops, churches, roadways as town about to enter new Millennium. Feels like Christopher Columbus’ arrival.”Indeed, the historic area of Falmouth, Jamaica dates back to 1790 at a time when Jamaica was the world’s largest sugar producer. One of the major obstacles in the construction of the new port has been building up an infrastructure that dates back to the late 18Th and early 19Th century when it was a central hub of the slave trade.

That was then, this is now.

“Marching band welcoming @RoyalCaribbean #cruise passengers as 1st to visit historic port of Falmouth” chimed Chiron.

Today, guests from Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas are experiencing a new and diverse variety of shore excursions while at Historic Falmouth, including:

  • Good Hope Great House:located fifteen minutes from Falmouth, guests can choose from the new horse & carriage ride, river-tubing, ATV exploring, among others, on this former 18th century Jamaican plantation
  • Dolphin Cove & Dunn’s River Falls:adventure seekers can climb Dunn’s River Falls; zip-line through the lush rainforest canopy or wind down the mountainside on a Jamaican bobsled at Mystic Mountain; or swim with the dolphins at Dolphin Cove.
  • Appleton Estate: after a scenic drive through the Cockpit Country and Bamboo Avenue, guests can indulge in one of Falmouth’s old-world delicacies by learning to make rum and sampling different aged rums.
  • Rafting on Martha Brae: located five minutes from Falmouth, guests can enjoy a tranquil ride on a 30-foot bamboo raft.

Once complete, the port’s master plan calls for 120,000 square feet of retail shopping and two berths capable of servicing the line’s Oasis-class ships. Located on the islands North side between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, most tours and excursions currently offered at either port will be available from Falmouth.

Some ships previously scheduled to call at Falmough had been redirected to Ocho Rios or Montego Bay where guests aboard Royal Caribbean ships got a discount on the very popular “JamaicaForADay” packages that sounded like just what they need and maybe what super-slow Falmouth construction workers shouldn’t have had.

The all-you-can-drink, all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-play excursion at Sunset Beach Resort pretty much washed away any post-ship diversion blues and brought on the trademark Jamaican party time with no problem mon.

Photos and video @CruiseGuy