In an aim for more transparency for travelers, you can now learn all about the crime statistics of major cruise lines, or at least those of the three major lines Royal Caribbean Cruises, Carnival Corporation and Norwegian Cruise Line.
According to the New York Times In Transit Blog, the three lines, which hold almost 80% combined market share, recently released the figures in response to a new Senate bill that would require all cruise lines that land in American ports to report their crime statistics.
Will this new form of transparency help make cruise ships a safer place? Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia who proposed the bill is convinced that it’s only in passing legislation and making cruise ships more accountable that changes will be made.
“It’s notable to see they’re trying, by voluntarily posting some crime data online, but serious gaps still remain in the information they’re making available. I’m convinced the only way we’re going to make a meaningful difference for consumers is by taking legislative action.”
The bill, if passed, would not only require transparency of cruise lines to release such data, but also set up a toll-free hotline for customer complaints.
Norwegian Cruise Lines new Norwegian Breakaway is due to arrive in New York City to be christened in the city by Radio City Music Hall’s Rockettes on May 8. This week, the 146,600-ton ship was previewed by UK travel professionals and members of the press in Southampton on a two-night preview sailing prior to its inaugural transatlantic sailing. Sailing year-round from New York, Norwegian is betting heavy on the success of the ship’s New York City theme with everything from the city skyline painted on the ship’s hull to Sabrett hot dog carts positioned around the ship. But how did the ship play out in real life? Gadling asked travel professionals on the UK sailing for their opinion.
Norwegian promotes the ship as “ground breaking” and “innovative,” something Norwegian Cruise Lines knows a thing or two about. They introduced the concept of Freestyle Cruising that broke away from rigid ship schedules for dining and activities.
Scott Anderson, General Manager of The Luxury Cruise Company told Gadling he thinks Norwegian hit their goal, saying Norwegian Breakaway is a “much needed departure away from the clashing colours and gaudiness of the Jewel class and (Norwegian) Epic. The Norwegian Breakaway cabins and suites are all decorated in soft, natural, muted tones; the ships public rooms, whilst being ‘themed’ are not over the top and the carpets throughout are not migraine inducing.”Top-end staterooms include The Haven by Norwegian, a luxury ship within a ship area full of suites. Guests booked in the luxury accommodations enjoy an array of amenities, including private 24-hour butlers, concierge service, in-suite dining, priority embarkation and disembarkation, a distinctive platinum keycard, priority boarding of tenders to shore, in-suite espresso/cappuccino machines and more.
“What really distinguishes it for me is the Haven area – beautifully decorated, with guests occupying Haven suites given access to their own bar, lounge and restaurant,” said Anderson.
Built to handle 4,500 passengers, Norwegian Breakaway continues the line’s innovative spirit with two signature areas. An oceanfront boardwalk called the Waterfront combines dining and drinking venues with entertainment and gaming. 678 Ocean Place will be a hub of activity spanning three decks that feature seven more dining venues, 12 bars and lounges coupled with shops and other entertainment options.
“A very innovative design and great for a bar crawl!” said Anderson. “Shakers cocktail bar was great, and I would love to sit outside at La Cucina in the evening for a nice Italian meal.”
But whom will this ship appeal to? New Yorkers? Non-New Yorkers wanting a New York experience? Cruise travelers in general? What age group would like Norwegian Breakaway? The ship has plenty of bars, restaurants, entertainment options and top-deck features like an Aqua Park and Sports Complex. It sounds like Norwegian Breakaway has all the bases covered.
“If I was sailing with a multi-generational family group – who all wanted different things out of their vacation, then I would definitely sail on this ship,” concludes Anderson. “The kids clubs facilities are very good, the number of bars and clubs are perfect for 20-somethings and young parents, and there are enough areas for those who like quieter times to sit and relax. Evening entertainment and the choice of restaurants should keep everyone happy.”
Norwegian Breakaway will sail year-round from New York to Bermuda in the summer then do a seven-day Bahamas and Florida itinerary in the winter.
Want to know more about Norwegian Breakaway? Norwegian has a dedicated website for the ship and this video highlights other features:
When we review travel apps that actually do something, they often tap crowd-sourced information that is as rich (or not) as the number of users who have contributed their opinions or reviews. GPS-based travel apps take existing technology and manipulate it in one way or another to bring every thing from finding a friend on the road to creating a virtual journal of our travels, step by step. In the world of cruise travel, the number of apps available is limited compared to other modes of transportation but they are often highly specific, producing information not available elsewhere.
Norwegian Cruise Lines has a newly updated travel app that can be a helpful planning tool in advance of sailing with information about destinations, ships and special offers. Once on board Norwegian’s newest ships, even more helpful features are available.
The free download for iPhone, Android and Windows 7 features photo galleries and videos; ship information including deck plans and on-board amenities; stateroom descriptions, images and floor plans; 360-degree virtual ship tours and more.
On board Norwegian Epic and Norwegian Breakaway, passengers can log on, select an Internet package to buy then text and call others on the ship who are also connected, using time from their pre-paid plan. Free services include the ability to see previews of and book shore excursions, restaurants and other on-board products like spa services and shopping. Users can view their shipboard charge account as well as a list of daily activities at any time, also without using purchased Internet minutes.Sailing some other cruise line? Cruise Ship Mate ($1.99), can be even more helpful in the planning stages of cruise travel as it has the ability to see all itineraries of all major cruise lines. Included among features that do not need an Internet connection to use are deck plans, cruise ship information and a packing list. Connected, users get cruise ship deck cam links and a chat feature that enables passengers on a specific ship and sailing date to communicate in advance of and during sailing.
A unique feature on the Cruise Ship Mate app is a Cruise Ship Tracker. This one allows users to see the exact location of any ship at any time, using technology similar to that of CruiseCal, the long running subscriber-based website that pinpoints where ships are and which ships will be in port at the same time you are.
But maybe you are not really into apps but have some favorite travel websites that you would like to access quickly on your Apple iPhone or iPad?
iPhone 5 users can create quick links to their most-visited websites using the “add to home screen” option, like I did for the Gadling site. On your favorite site, in Safari, just tap the “Share” button at the bottom of the screen, tap the icon labeled “Add to Home Screen,” tap the “Add” button then launch the website from your Home screen by tapping its icon.
Looking for other helpful travel apps? Check this video for apps that tell us everything from what is going on at any given destination to where restrooms are located.
We have debated the notion of using a travel agent in a number of ways here over the years. The general consensus of opinion verifies some of the strategies you may very well use to book airline tickets, rental cars, hotel rooms and more. But a recent move by a major cruise line should drive home the notion that using a travel professional, be it an online source or an actual agent we have come to know personally, can maximize travel savings.
Internet Cruise Brokers, the used car salesmen of travel, are on the way out.
Recently, Norwegian Cruise Line put travel agencies trolling for clients through low-price website CruiseCompete on notice: shape up or ship out.
“Norwegian Cruise Line has severed ties with CruiseCompete, a website where travel agents bid for consumers’ cruise business. The cruise line has also warned its agent partners that participating in CruiseCompete is a breach of contract,” notes travel expert Fran Golden in a recent article on Travel Market Report.
For those unfamiliar with CruiseCompete, it’s a website where consumers can go, enter the ship and sailing date they have in mind, then wait for travel agents to bid for their business, often giving up a portion of their commission in order to offer the lowest bid.
“What’s wrong with that?” one might ask. Plenty.Buying Cruise Travel Is Not Like Buying Air
First, buying cruise travel is not like buying an airline ticket, flying from point A to point B. In that case, as long as the flight gets us there and brings us back, the lowest price is probably the best choice. An online service like Airfarewatchdog can help direct us to the best sources too.
But with cruise travel there are a great many other variables to consider. Take the passengers personal cruise history, for example. Carefully considered by a travel professional that has the passenger’s best interests in mind, that “low price” offered through bidding may not be the best option.
Paying a bit more might take advantage of a past-guest promotion that has an end value far greater than that “low price” bid, giving onboard credit, free drinks, free prepaid gratuities or other valuable benefits.
Down The Road Come The Benefits
A stronger reason for using a travel professional is what happens throughout the life of the booking. This goes for all types of travel, not just cruises. The Internet travel broker is busy bidding as many potential clients as possible to yield a net profit that will pay the bills. They have little, if any, time to consider promotions, deals and offers that come up after the initial booking.
A travel professional does.
In the case of cruises, even booking directly with the cruise line will not yield the potential benefits of booking with a travel professional that we have spent the time to develop a good business relationship with. No cruise line will notify you, “Hey, a new promotion has started that will lower your price by hundreds.” It just does not happen.
An alert travel pro considers the initial sale as just the start of the process, works your booking throughout its life and follows up after sailing. They are investing time in their clients and will gladly work with the cruise line to lower the fare when some new promotion comes up that applies.
And it’s not all about saving money. Do you need/have the right documentation to enter Russia? Which is the best choice for travel insurance? Is it safe to travel in Egypt? These are questions our travel professional will have the specific answers for and have time to be sure we have that information.
Same Song, Different Singer, New Lyrics
But the argument for using a travel agent is basically the same as we have been reporting for years. In 2011’s “Travel Agents: The Dinosaur You Might Just Need,” Gadling sang a similar song, noting, “A travel agent is ‘your friend’ in the travel business. They are your friend who knows what is going on in the travel industry.” That is still true now.
What is different now and builds a stronger case for using a travel agent is how cruise lines are operating. As they continue to differentiate themselves from one another, cruise line pricing has become more sophisticated, offering more fare codes that have more requirements and qualifiers than ever. Keeping up with pricing policies alone can be a full-time job, something click-to-buy options fail miserably at considering and consumers simply don’t have the time to do effectively.
Try It For Yourself
The idea of using a real travel agent as opposed to an Internet cruise broker is going to take an investment of time. Finding a good agent can be as simple as following the recommendation of a trusted friend or relative. But what if we don’t know anyone who uses a travel agent? Where can we find a good one?
A good start for finding a travel agent would be your local Better Business Bureau or even a local sourcing option like Angie’s List. Good search results for a travel agency would be ones with plenty of activity but very few, if any, complaints. Another option would be the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) website, which lists agencies and the agents associated with them along with their credentials. Their Cruise Expert Finder brings a list of local agencies.
To drive home the value of an agent, go to a price comparison website like CruiseCompete, pick a ship and sailing date at random, and begin the bidding process. At the same time, call a local agency, tell them you are trying to decide between using an agency to handle all your travel needs or simply using online booking sources to plan your travel. See what happens.
Odds are very high that the end result will be the beginning of a beneficial relationship yielding great savings over your lifetime and a richer travel experience too. Travel agents have a lot of “been there, done that” experience, helpful destination information and contacts of their own to share.
Not to discount online tools altogether in the travel buying equation – an online service similar to Airfarewatchdog called CruiseFish, which is independent of cruise lines or travel agencies, can help. CruiseFish is a price, stateroom and cruise monitoring system that does all the browsing for you and sends email alerts when prices change. The $.99 per listing fee may very well be worth the peace of mind buyers gain from knowing a third-party source is also looking out for them.
Yes, doing business with a live travel agent can yield the best results.
Yes too, stacking the deck in your favor can also be beneficial.
Coming up this spring, Princess Cruises and Norwegian cruise lines – two of the most popular cruise lines with mainstream cruise travelers – have new cruise ships coming out. Considering that both are under construction right now and both offer sister ships being built for later delivery, choosing one might be difficult for cruise travelers. Before we get too far down the road, let’s take a look at the two new ships, what they have to offer and how construction is coming along.
Norwegian Cruise Line has a whole lot of New Yorkers talking about new Norwegian Breakaway, and for good reason. To be based in New York City year-round, the 4,000-passenger ship has been customized for the New York market with everything from shops, restaurants and bars to Sabrett New York hot dog carts positioned around the ship.
Partnering with the New York City Rockettes (Godmothers of the ship), pop artist Peter Max (custom city skyline hull design) and others, Norwegian is making every attempt to pierce the New York market; it even set up “warming stations” around the city this winter.
That’s all in addition to some over-the-top features on the ship set to blow away other new builds that has everyone talking about this new Norwegian ship that will be sailing to Florida, Bermuda and the Bahamas.
%Gallery-179356%An oceanfront boardwalk called the Waterfront on Norwegian Breakaway will combine dining and drinking venues with entertainment and gaming. 678 Ocean Place will be a hub of activity spanning three decks that features seven more dining venues, 12 bars and lounges coupled with shops and other entertainment options.
Continuing what looks to be a pre-sold success story with Norwegian Breakaway, sister ship Norwegian Getaway will debut in 2014, claiming Miami, Florida, as its hometown. Embedding a South Florida theme in the new ship, Norwegian tapped David Le Batard (AKA the artist known as “LEBO”) to create art for the new ship’s hull. Set to debut in February 2014, we’ll have more on that one later.
First, here’s a gallery of photos featuring first-up Norwegian Breakaway, under construction:
Royal Princess marks the first new build for the cruise line since 2008’s Ruby Princess, the last of Princess Cruises popular grand class ships. They built nine of those and already have a sister ship to Royal Princess in the works too.
Royal Princess will be a careful evolution of the Princess product with a ship laid out in typical Princess patterns. Focusing on their mantra to let passengers “escape completely” Princess Cruises has designed a ship totally around that concept. It’s a success formula that has made Princess popular over the years and keeps travelers coming back for more.
But Princess goes a bit over the top themselves too, adding an over-the-water “SeaWalk” that will extend 28 feet over the side of the ship, offering views of the ocean 128 feet below off the ship’s starboard side. On the port side, a SeaView bar will be positioned to offer cocktails and some great views. Here is what that venue and others should look like when complete:
Top-deck features are a focus of cruise ships industry-wide lately and Royal Princess is no exception. This Princess ship starts with a new adults-only pool surrounded by plush private cabanas that appear to be floating on the water. Two more pools will flank a “tropical island” that will have pool seating by day then become a dance club with a dancing water and light show by night.
Next year’s Regal Princess will be a twin sister to 141,000 ton Royal Princess, complete with a central atrium Piazza area that is 50% larger area than previous versions and casual dining options that include an Italian gelateria, a seafood bar and expanded seating in the passenger-favorite International Cafe.
Under construction right now in Venice, Princess Cruises sent along these photos from the shipyard:
We will be heading to Venice, Italy, at the end of March for a first-hand look at construction of Royal Princess in-progress. Stay tuned for updates.
So which ship to choose? Here are some points to consider:
The value is there for either ship. Both will stack up nicely compared to land vacations to the same places these ships sail, allowing passengers to unpack once but visit multiple destinations.
Norwegian Breakaway adds an additional choice, year-round for cruise travelers departing from the upper East coast, eliminating the need for airfare and sailing to Bermuda, the Bahamas and Florida.
Royal Princess will sail seven-night itineraries from Florida’s Port Everglades to the Eastern Caribbean from November 2013 through April 2014 after a Mediterranean season that begins June 9, 2013.
Traditional cruisers will find their dreams fulfilled on Royal Princess with standard features the line has become famous for – amped up for today’s traveler. Think: turbo Love Boat.
Norwegian Breakaway promises an entertainment experience as good if not better than the bar-raising elements added on their last new build, Norwegian Epic. Think: epic flavor, easy to swallow.