Royal Caribban Europe 2012: more with a twist

Royal Caribbean Europe 2012: more with a twist
Royal Caribbean International this week unveiled its 2012 Europe cruise and cruisetour season, increasing deployment from its 2011 lineup of 11 ships to 12 for 2012, which will again include two Freedom-class ships. The line also detailed itineraries and added a new port with a twist on traditional cruise itineraries that offers passengers a great deal of flexibility.

“Every year Royal Caribbean surpasses its previous Europe offerings to continue to exceed the expectations of vacationers,” said Betsy O’Rourke, senior vice president of Marketing, Royal Caribbean. “In 2012 the line’s ships will add 23 more ports in seven additional countries, giving vacationers the opportunity to tailor-design their cruise experiences on itineraries that are as short as three nights or as long as 16.”


New in 2012 too will be Amsterdam as a homeport, for a total of 12, with ships calling at 101 ports in 34 countries on itineraries ranging from three to 16 nights.

In addition to the 12 homeports from which guests can choose from, Royal Caribbean is also offering eight “interports”, where guests can board itineraries en route, creating 20 options for embarkation and disembarkation

For the third consecutive year, Independence of the Seas will be positioned year-round in Southampton, primarily operating on an alternating series of 14-night sailings but will also offer one three-night sailing, overnighting in Paris (LeHavre) in May along with a four-night cruise spending the night in Cork, Ireland.

Royal Caribbean Europe 2012 will feature Vision of the Seas adding two new six-night Norwegian Fjord cruises from Oslo. The ship will sail Northern European waters from April 29 to September 7, offering 14 different itinerary options ranging from four to 12 nights. A 12-night Arctic Circle sailing on August 9, roundtrip from Copenhagen, will cruise the Arctic Circle.

From May through September, Adventure of the Seas will continue on its pattern of seven-night Western Mediterranean itineraries roundtrip from Malaga, Spain then move to a series of five seven-night Canary Islands sailings, also from Malaga. Sister ship Navigator of the Seas begins its European season with an eight-night itinerary on April 14 from Barcelona to Spain, where, through November 18, it will offer seven-night Mediterranean sailings.

Grandeur of the Seas schedule will include seven-night Western Mediterranean sailings that will operate from June 2 to October 10 roundtrip from Palma de Mallorca. Voyager of the Seas, meanwhile, will spend the bulk of its Europe season sailing out of Venice, but will shift from seven-night itineraries to 10- and 11-night cruises, with itineraries including overnights in Istanbul and Kusadasi.

Splendour of the Seas will return to sailing roundtrip from Venice in 2012 from late April through early November. Jewel of the Seas will continue to operate on its 12-night sailings roundtrip from Harwich, England. It will also feature one new cruise on June 20, a “Fjords & Iceland” itinerary, roundtrip from Harwich.

Royal Caribbean is offering six cruisetours, which enables guests to couple sailings with escorted land tour options to create packages in conjunction with six of the line’s ships. Options include nights in Madrid and Barcelona, Venice, Florence and Rome, Lake Como and Venice,Paris and London, and Turkey’s Istanbul and Cappadocia.

Cruise line scams: Shore Excursions

Cruise line shore excursions

Going ashore can be one of the best parts of a cruise and one of the reasons many travelers choose a cruise vacation in the first place. From the comfort of your floating hotel, you can see multiple destinations but only have to unpack once. Cruise lines offer a wide variety of excursions at each port of call and encourage passengers to join. Some are over-priced but carry an implied level of safety that might not be entirely accurate.

The potential scam-like claim here is “Oh, you don’t want to go out on your own on a shore excursion. If they’re late getting you back, the ship will leave without you”

Yes, they could do that. Will they? Probably not. How likely is that to happen? Not likely at all.

Often, the same companies and people that do shore excursions for the cruise lines also do them independently. Still, the cruise lines say they do investigate and follow up on excursion providers to see how they are doing, holding them to high standards.

Alternatives to ship-sponsored excursions. Shoretrips.com, is a third-party service that provides excursions world-wide. Owners Julie and Barry from Milwaukee, Wisconsin travel to each of the destinations and insure that their tours are safe and interesting. Often, Shoretrips.com excursions are less expensive and less crowded too. Booking more than 200,000 people a year, they have yet to leave someone behind.

Let’s talk price. A pretty easy-to-compare excursion in Cozumel, Mexico, Swimming with the Dolphins is $129 for adults or children on Carnival Cruise Lines. Shoretrips.com has that dolphin swim for $79 for adults and $77 for children. That’s about 40% less than the cruise line. Prices vary among lines too. Royal Caribbean has that dolphin swim for $99. Their price is better than Carnival but not as good as Shoretrips.com.

Another option is to go with someone recommended by a trusted friend or a travel blogger you’ve come to know. Reliable independent operators know what they are competing with on the cruise line excursion offerings and almost always offer a better value. That might come in the form of a lower price or a similar price with a better experience.

Get good information. A good source for reliable travel information about specific ports of call is AOL travel guides. Good discussion and very current, personal information can be found at CruiseCritic.com. Your good travel agent/expert should have recommendations also.

I’m really not trying to talk you out of the ship-sponsored shore excursions. They’re good. Nothing wrong with them. But there are alternatives that are just as safe (or not) as third-party vendors.

Cruise lines have their share of problems with excursions.Going with the cruise line does not guarantee your safety. In 2009 18 cruise passengers were robbed at gunpoint in the Bahamas on ship-sponsored shore excursions. The passengers, sailing on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas and Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Wonder, were held up by masked men who demanded money, passports, cell phones, credit cards and personal items.

Just last November, masked gunmen held up guests on St Kitts on a Celebrity Cruises excursion.

Cruise lines were quick to suspend tours and worked hard to increase security and scrutiny of tour operators in those cases. But that was a couple of incidents in thousands of tours, hardly something to keep guests on the ship for safety concerns.

Cruise lines will commonly skip ports of call where there are known problems with crime like in Mexico with drug cartels. In that case, the cruise line does not charge you for the excursion you obviously can’t take. Ships any where close to Tunisia right now would have taken a close look at unrest in the area before even docking. If booking separately from the cruise line, make sure you understand the tour operator’s policy if the ship does not call at a port.

Let’s break it down. Look at it this way; cruise lines contract with local operators who run the excursions. The cruise lines have to add on something to make money. Duh. So basically, its the same people, running the same excursions, but you pay more if you get it through the ship. If that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy then buy through the ship. Most people do. If you want to save 20% to 50%, do some research first. There might be a better value out there.

Like the cruise line Booze and Beverage Packages, whether shore excursions are an evil scam plotted by the cruise lines or a reasonable value depends primarily on how you look at them.

Flickr photo by Ha-Wee