The Titanic Chronicles: This Week We Remember

Today’s cruise industry exists and operates safely in many ways as a result of the Titanic tragedy. Still, recent maritime events including the grounding of Costa Concordia nearly brought to pass the most feared event in the world of cruise vacations. This week, with Sunday marking the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking, we take a look at the legacy left behind that affects cruise passengers on every sailing of every ship.

If you have seen the movie you know the basic story. Four days into a transatlantic crossing, the ship hit an iceberg just before midnight then sank hours later. In one of the deadliest disasters in maritime history, over 1500 people died in the icy water south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

Going down this road, safety at sea comes up as a primary topic when thinking of the Titanic.

In the travel business, “Titanic” is a word avoided almost as much as “torpedoes” and “pirates.” Common advice given to new cruise travel agents has been: “If you say the word ‘sink’ you better be talking about a place to wash out your coffee cup and if you say the word ‘sunk’ you better be talking about basketball.” When asked what he thought would happen to the cruise business if a cruise ship sank today, a cruise line sales manager told me over lunch one day, “Oh, we don’t even talk about that.” The mood of that luncheon became somber from that point on.

Those keywords are not what we want to think about. It’s not the pretty picture of a serene cruise vacation that marketers want us to buy into. Cruise lines and the travel industry as a whole want those images to be as far from our minds as possible. Ninety-nine years puts a lot of time between today and the sinking of the Titanic when 1517 passengers died.Still, there are people charged to never forget Titanic and make it their job to take lessons learned back then, build upon them and move forward.

It can be as simple as the intensity that today’s cruise ship crew members have during the typical safety drill performed at the beginning of each cruise. This is not a time for joking around and having a frozen cocktail. That came before the safety drill and will resume after. Now passengers follow directions during a safety drill understanding that this is the time to practice what to do if faced with the worst possible event at sea.

It can be as complex as set-in-stone rules regarding documentation needed to board a passenger ship. The requirements are strict and systems on board keep track of every passenger coming on or going off a ship. Behind-the-scenes activities, performed by everyone from travel agents to embarkation staff at the pier, help insure a safe voyage.

It can be as commonplace as a change in the itinerary of a cruise ship due to weather, safety or mechanical concerns. That topic has come up a lot recently as ships from all major cruise lines canceled calls to trouble-spots around the globe. Each year during hurricane season, itineraries are commonly changed to avoid major storms. Not long ago, a major cruise ship lost power and had to be towed back to port.

Cruise liners today are much bigger and better equipped. At 46,328 gross registered tons, Titanic was the largest and most advanced ship of her day. Today’s largest and most advanced ship, Allure of the Seas, is more than four times larger and carries almost twice as many people. Big ships are not nearly as “remarkable” as they were in 1912. Shipyards seem to crank them out as fast as they are ordered. Cruise lines deploy ships all over the planet now without hesitation to move one if an itinerary does not produce the anticipated financial results.

Are today’s cruise lines operating as safely as possible?

Is it possible to ever have another Titanic-like event?

These were ongoing questions asked prior to the grounding of Costa Concordia, the ship that suffered a similar fate off the coast of Italy earlier this year. Today’s shipbuilders stop short of calling ships “unsinkable,” as White Star Line did of Titanic in 1912, but still place a great emphasis on safety. Lessons from Titanic brought plenty of lifeboats on board for everyone and mandatory safety drills so passengers and crew could abandon ships in an orderly manner.

Lessons from Concordia will no doubt leave a similar legacy, not allowing Captains to deviate from planned courses to show off the ship, reaffirming a commitment to safety and looking for new ways to make ships safer.

Flickr photo by paukrus

Luxury cruise line adds rock star experience

Crystal Cruises is an upscale, luxury cruise line that is known for pampering passengers with top-of-the-line amenities and onboard services. Now, the line is extending its highbrow experience to passengers before they even get on the ship.

“Security lines, long hikes, uncomfortable chairs, cumbersome luggage – the modern-day airport experience has lost the ease that flying once provided,” says Vice President of Land & Port Operations John Stoll. As he explained to the Sacramento Bee, “Whether one prefers to travel discreetly, or just minimize inconvenience, this service ushers you into the refined gentility of a Crystal experience from the moment your vacation really begins: when you leave home.”

The personalized, 24/7 luxury service, available for purchase internationally by all Crystal cruisers, utilizes worldwide airport resources to facilitate a hassle-free airport experience for guests traveling to and from their Crystal ship.

Speeding through airports in rock star fashion, Crystal passengers bypass much of the customary stress associated with flying. Door-to-gate porter and escort services, fast-track processes, and access to VIP/Business Class Lounges, where available, are all part of the new Crystal VIP Airport Service, the first of its kind offered by a cruise line.Services include: greeting passengers upon airport arrival on all legs of their flight schedule; handling luggage from home to the ship; assistance with delayed or cancelled flights and related lodging, transportation, and meals.

Packages are available for up to four people in hubs around the globe from New York and LA to Rio and Hong Kong. Prices vary depending on location and the services selected with amenity menu subject to local laws, regulations, and/or airline/airport policies.

For those who must carry their own luggage, there are tips for getting through security checkpoints.

Photo: Crystal Cruises

Mexico’s Sea of Cortes offers unique yachting experience

Baja Mexico’s Sea of Cortes, also known as the Gulf of California, is a secluded and protected UNESCO World Heritage biosphere reserve formed where Baja California broke away from the Mexican mainland about 20 million years ago. One of the most diverse seas and isolated peninsulas in the world it is also a favorite yachting destination.

Mexico’s Sea of Cortés lies adjacent to the more glitzy and better-known ports of Acapulco, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, which comprise the Mexican Riviera — and let’s just say: It’s a whole other world” says

American Safari Cruises has a little 22-guest yacht, the Safari Quest, that sails week-long adventure cruises from La Paz. The ship’s smaller size lets it explore many of the hundreds of islands and islets big cruise ships can’t get to. American Safari’s flexible and unhurried cruising philosophy promises time to seek out wildlife including multiple species of whales, dolphins and sea lions all prevalent in the wildlife-rich waters.”The Sea of Cortés is not as well-known as other destinations, but it’s a gem” said Tim Jacox, executive vice president of sales and marketing.

The inclusive cruise itinerary includes exploration of Isla Partida, Isla San Jose, Isla San Francisco and Isla Espíritu Santo. A visit to Bahia Agua Verde includes a mule ride into the arroyos of the peninsula guided by a local ranchero. At Isla Coyote, guests meet the Cuevas fishing family and tour the village and whale bone yard. Snorkeling with playful sea lions at Los Islotes is often a highlight of the trip.

Anchoring in quiet coves, the crew brings water toys out to play. The yacht transforms into a waterborne adventure platform for kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, sailing, skiff rides, snorkeling, swimming, swinging off the rope swing and tubing. Expert naturalists lead kayaking and hiking excursions to explore the beauty of the sea, the coastline and into the desert landscape to see giant Cardón cacti, red rock cliffs and white sand dunes.

The 22-guest Safari Quest features a hot tub, Tempur-pedic mattresses, heated tile floors in all bathrooms and upper category balconies. An all-American crew has a low guest-crew ratio of 2 to 1. The inclusive cruise includes all from-the-yacht activities and equipment; transfers; exquisite meals; fine wine, premium spirits and microbrews; and all port charges, taxes and feesYachts can be booked as a private charter or by individual stateroom.

Now through September 30, 2011, American Safari Cruises is offering a $200 per person travel credit for new bookings made on 13 select departures.

Flickr photo by Lime Salt Chile

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The Haven By Norwegian a new boutique hotel chain, at sea

Norwegian is known as the cruise line of Freestyle Cruising, a concept that is all about giving passengers the freedom of choice to have their own style of vacation. Last year’s debut of Norwegian Epic brought in a new era in at-sea entertainment, dining and accommodations. Looking forward to 2013 and 2014, Norwegian has two new 4000-passenger ships called Project Breakaway in the works. Recently, the line revealed some details of the new ships and an innovative luxury ship within a ship area full of suites called The Haven by Norwegian.

“Norwegian was the first cruise line to introduce the ship within a ship complex with the introduction of Norwegian Jewel in 2005,” said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian’s chief executive officer in a release. “These private enclaves at the top of the ships are home to our most luxurious, well-appointed and spacious accommodations offering the utmost in service and elegance. With the introduction of the suite complex on our Breakaway ships, we felt it was appropriate to brand this space as The Haven by Norwegian to better identify and describe the unique luxury cruising experience we offer.”

Officially called The Haven by Norwegian, the company announced that the suite complexes on five of its existing ships, Norwegian Epic, Gem, Pearl, Jade and Jewel, will also bear the same name, contributing to a boutique hotel sort of feel.

Guests booked in the luxury accommodations will enjoy an array of amenities, including private 24-hour International Institute of Modern Butlers-trained butlers and concierge service. The Line is also adding a poolside valet in the private Courtyard area who will provide more personalized service poolside. In-suite dining has been enhanced to white tablecloth service too.

Guests booked in The Haven by Norwegian ship-within-a ship will also enjoy priority embarkation and disembarkation, a distinctive platinum keycard, a priority boarding of tenders to shore, in-suite espresso/cappuccino machines, gourmet treats delivered each evening, the Bliss Collection by Norwegian pillow-top mattress, fine linens, feather duvet and pillow menu along with plush bathrobes, slippers, over-sized towels and more.

“When I described the design theme for Breakaway’s staterooms recently I called it ‘modern boutique hotel meets the sea'” added Sheehan. “Now with The Haven by Norwegian, we truly have our own private boutique hotel on Norwegian Epic, Gem, Pearl, Jade, and Jewel, along with our new Project Breakaway ships, offering the ultimate in luxury and service at sea.”

Details of the two Project Breakaway ships will be released in the coming months and Norwegian has set up websites with more details of Project Breakaway and The Haven.

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Un-cruise line heads to Hawaii, in style

Not long ago, we introduced InnerSea Discoveries, an up-close personal adventure experience that just happens to travel on water. The tiny, 2-ship cruise line does what they call an “un-cruise” in Alaska for up to 76 passengers that are about as far away from the big cruise ship experience as you can get and still be floating. Now its time to get to know sister-line American Safari Cruises, also offering a unique adventure experience on water. This time heading to Hawaii. In style.

The darn-near-all-inclusive cruises include all from-the-yacht activities and equipment; transfers; meals; fine wine, premium spirits and microbrews in addition to only the “port charges, taxes and fees” that are included in a big-ship cruise. All American Safari yachts feature a hot tub, Tempur-pedic mattresses, heated tile floors in all bathrooms and upper category balconies. Some also feature saunas, a complimentary massage and Jacuzzi tubs. An all-American crew has a guest-crew ratio of 2 to 1.

“This type of inclusive yacht cruise is a totally new way to vacation in Hawaii” said Tim Jacox, executive vice president of sales and marketing. “We are an exclusive floating resort that cruises between the islands to show you the best of Hawaii. Going ashore with only 36 total guests means cultural experiences are more personal and authentic. And since we provide adventure gear and include activities, it’s 100% fun and relaxation.”

The 36-guest Safari Explorer sails inter-island Hawaiian adventure cruises between Maui and the Big Island (and reverse). From November through April, weeklong Hawaiian Seascapes and 10-night Hawaii’s Traditional Shores itineraries explore Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Molokini and the Big Island.

The 22-guest Safari Quest sails weeklong Aquarium of the World itineraries in Mexico’s Sea of Cortés from November through April. Sailing roundtrip from La Paz, Mexico, the flexible itinerary takes time to seek out the myriad marine life in this World Heritage biosphere reserve and explores Isla Partida, Isla San José, Bahia Agua Verde, Los Islotes, Isla Coyote, Isla San Francisco and Isla Espiritu.

In both warm water destinations, the two yachts feature exciting and novel holiday travel Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day (with a special Hawaii Romance Package), Easter and special Kids in Nature family departures during popular spring break weeks in March.

A relaxed itinerary of cruising from cove-to-cove among islands in Hawaii and the Sea of Cortés maximizes the yachts ability to act as a platform for water based adventures such as kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, swimming from the yacht’s swim step, snorkeling, braving the rope swing, sailing, skiff explorations and tubing. Guided excursions are led by expert on board naturalists.

In both destinations, exclusive cultural explorations ashore are included and led by the yacht’s expedition leaders. Guests in the Sea of Cortés visit Isla Coyote, a small island inhabited by the Cuevas fishing family, where guests will tour the village and visit with the family. On Hawaii’s Molokai, guests meet a local family for guided walks through the valley focusing on history and archaeology, a chance to help restore ancient taro terraces and a traditional Hawaiian paina celebration and feast.

Considering one of these? Better move fast; if American Safari to Hawaii and Mexico fills up as well as InnerSea Discoveries did to Alaska, the season will sell out fast.

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