Maroon 5 brings Texas sized cruise ship to town

Maroon 5Performing live to a standing-room only crowd, GRAMMY award-winning band Maroon 5 rocked the Port of Galveston over the weekend with 3,690 passenger Carnival Magic as a backdrop. It was a fitting welcome at the ship’s new year-round homeport that cast a spotlight on just how big cruise travel is in Texas.

“We’ve played every kind of venue imaginable across the world, but we’ve never helped to launch a new cruise ship,” said Adam Levine, Maroon 5 front-man and coach on the hit NBC series “The Voice. “We’re excited to work with Carnival and to be part of the Carnival Magic celebration for fans in Texas.”

Plenty of fans turned out at the dock-side event with Carnival Magic parked directly behind the stage. An estimated 5,000 fans, some of which won highly sought-after tickets in a Facebook contest, rocked to the 11-song, hour-long performance.

Wondering how the arrival of a cruise ship translates to bringing a hot, popular band with over 15 million albums sold to town?

Carnival expects to carry more than 450,000 guests annually and have a positive impact on the Texas economy. In 2010, the cruise industry added $1.1 billion in direct spending, generated 16,457 jobs and $828 million in income for Texas workers according to a report from the Cruise Lines International Association.

That was before Carnival Magic joined Carnival Triumph for year-round sailings from Galveston, making Carnival the largest cruise operator in Texas. The new deployment means a 24% increase in capacity for Carnival alone which should translate into even more income and jobs.

It’s big business and not limited to Carnival Cruise lines. Royal Caribbean brought Mariner of the Seas into town without much fanfare a day earlier, also adding to the port’s capacity. Next year, Carnival sister-line Princess Cruises returns to Galveston with one of their newest ships and Disney Cruise Line comes to town.

Reason enough to bring in Maroon 5? You bet. They’d bring in Elvis if they could.

Photo: Carnival Cruise Lines

Princess Cruises 2012-13 salings to open with a bang

Normally, cruise line ship deployment for upcoming seasons is a mysterious event that unfolds over time. Experienced travelers want to book as far in advance as possible but are often kept waiting this time of the year for next year’s deployment schedule to come out. This year, Princess Cruises, for the first time ever, is releasing all sailings for Summer 2012 through Spring 2013 at one time.

All sailings will be available to book starting March 17, 2011 at 3PM Eastern time. That is of particular interest to undecided travelers, trying to weigh options on where and when they might sail. Before, small pieces of the deployment puzzle would be doled out a little at a time over a period of months. Waiting for all options to consider might have meant losing out on the best stateroom selection or pricing.
Princess has good reason for this mass deployment schedule too. In the 2012-13 season, the line will have it’s biggest deployment ever in Europe with more than 125 voyages to the most popular places.

In addition, Princess will sail seven ships to Alaska with 21 cruisetour options. Normally we have to wait until the current season is almost over before knowing what will be offered for the next season. That’s huge and only Princess is doing it. That is a real testament to their commitment to the Alaska market that buyers should not forget when making a buying decision. No “wait and see what happens” attitude here, they’re ready to go right now. This is consistent with many reasons why Princess is the line to see Alaska with.

Earlier we reported that Crown Princess would be returning to Galveston….yes, Galveston, the home port with the fog problems but a hungry cruise audience. They have not sailed from there in years but join sister-line Carnival Cruise Lines who will debut shiny new Carnival Magic in the U.S. from the Texas port.

“We’ve received a great deal of feedback from cruisers interested in sailing from Galveston again,” said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises executive vice president. “So we’re excited to be returning in 2012 to bring our Western Caribbean sailings back to Texas.”

There must be some good things happening in Galveston for these two cruise titans to put such fabulous hardware in a location that has been considered secondary to traditional Florida homeports, let alone debut ports.

Continuing their “we sail more ships to more places than anyone else” thing, Princess has more voyages than ever to South America, the exotic Amazon, Asia, Canada & New England, the Panama Canal, Tahiti, the South Pacific and even epic cruises around the whole world.

If that’s not enough, Princess also has special Launch Savings of up to $200 per couple for members of their Captains Circle past guest club and the line has sweetened the deal for groups too, offering some of the most generous benefits of all cruise lines.

There is a lot going on at Princess Cruises these days for sure. Your travel agent can sort through all the options and help you find the best values for you. Be it your first cruise or your 100th, Princess has set themselves up for a record year of great values like no other line.

Princess Cruises to Galveston: Here we come again

It was 2007 when Princess Cruises last sailed from the Port of Galveston but the Love Boat cruise line returns next year, offering 19 departures from Galveston between December 22, 2012 and April 27, 2013 with one of their most popular ships, Crown Princess.

“We’ve received a great deal of feedback from cruisers interested in sailing from Galveston again,” said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises executive vice president. “So we’re excited to be returning in 2012 to bring our Western Caribbean sailings back to Texas.”This is no shabby ship. Crown Princess is not an old rusty has-been with no place to go, on the way to the cruise ship glue factory. The 3,070-passenger Crown Princess offers greater capacity than Princess ships previously based in Galveston. The 113,000-ton vessel offers the line’s popular signature features, including a piazza-style atrium with International Café and Vines wine bar; the 300-square-foot Movies Under the Stars poolside theater; The Sanctuary, an adults-only “oasis of tranquility”; and a variety of dining, recreation and entertainment options.

“Welcoming back Princess Cruises and hosting Crown Princess is a great addition to the Texas cruise market. We’re excited that the return of Princess Cruises will offer our passengers additional options of cruise vacations sailing from Texas’ premiere cruise port,” said Steven M. Cernak, Galveston port director.

Things are looking up indeed for the Port of Galveston which will also get sister-line Carnival Cruise Lines shiny new Carnival Magic this year. New ships debuting someplace other than Florida are rare and Galveston seems to have what it takes to support the newer, larger ships.

Now if they can just control that pesky fog problem at the port, it should be an exciting season sailing from Texas.

Flickr photo by MoToMo

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Cruise sailed from fog to “nightmare” say vocal passengers

Cruise sailed from fog to nightmareAlways choosing safety first, cruise lines pay close attention to the weather and modify itineraries when conditions dictate. Such was the case this time last week at the Port of Galveston when ships were late departing due to heavy fog. Passengers were angry at the time and it seems that anger went along with them to sea.

Two Carnival Cruise Line ships were affected. Carnival Ecstasy was a day late both arriving and departing so the four day cruise itinerary was shortened to three. Guests on that sailing were given options that included cancellation and a full refund among others.

Carnival Conquest was also a day late leaving on it’s seven-night itinerary when the port was closed. That one proceeded on a modified itinerary. Since Montego Bay, Jamaica was too far, the cruise line substituted Progresso, Mexico as an alternative port.

While the situation was obviously out of the control of cruise lines, guests less than understanding.

A passenger on Carnival Ecstasy did not care for the options.

“Carnival has not treated us good. The refund is not acceptable. More needs to be done for everyone on that Ecstasy ship,” a passenger told Click2Houston.

On the Carnival Conquest, sailaway was even further delayed when a fuel barge hit the side of the ship, keeping the ship in port even longer. Ivory Stafford, one of the vocal passengers on Carnival Conquest, told KHOU.com of an announcement over the ship’s PA system

“He said we had a bump by a barge and they’re waiting for the Coast Guard to investigate it,” said Stafford.

Now, a group of passengers are demanding better service and are circulating a petition among fellow travelers on the ship. 300 have signed at last count.

“I would say it was a nightmare. We want the corporate office to either refund our money or take us to Jamaica,” said passenger Thuy Kau. “Progreso (Mexico) is not a consolation.”

The ship’s itinerary which would have taken them to Montego Bay, Jamaica, instead took them to Progresso, Mexico making a total of three Mexico stops. Carnival issued a statement about the ship’s modified itinerary and the weather-related delays that affected it.

“Due to the delayed departure from Galveston, the ship operated a modified six-day itinerary that included its normal stops in Grand Cayman and Cozumel with the scheduled visit to Montego Bay replaced by Progreso, Mexico. With the delayed departure, there would not have been enough time for the ship to travel to Jamaica and make it back to Galveston on its scheduled return date of Feb. 27.

Carnival sincerely apologizes for this disruption to our guests’ vacation plans. We hope guests understand that this weather-related itinerary change was beyond our control as the ship was not able to safely navigate the Port of Galveston channel due to severe fog”

On one hand, it’s always a shame when travel plans don’t go just as we anticipated on a cruise vacation. Guest are not paying for off-the-wall adventures of unknown origin. The nature of a cruise vacation is predictable for the most part.

On the other hand, like the all-inclusive nature of a cruise vacation which really does not include everything, cruise vacations are have a predictable nature. Nothing is set in stone where safety of the ship, passengers and crew are concerned.

Carnival made the right move by modifying the existing itinerary to include a total of three ports that they had the time to visit. Had they not substituted Progresso, the same people might very well have moaned that they got shorted a port.

They did have options. They could have taken advantage of Carnival’s unique Vacation Guarantee which states

“If you are not completely satisfied with your cruise vacation experience, all you need to do is notify us before arrival at the first port of call and you must debark at your ship’s first non-U.S. port of call. Carnival will refund the unused portion of your cruise fare and pay your flight back.

It sounds like some of the passengers would have been prime candidates for that plan.

Flickr photo by dkastner

Can Carnival capture the Magic?

Carnival MagicWhen Carnival Cruise Line’s 130,000 ton Carnival Magic debuts later this year the ship will have some pretty cool new features. Will those features live up to the name of the ship? Will they be Magical? Let’s take a look at what’s coming soon to a Galveston near you.


“What? A new ship in Galveston?” you ask.

Traditionally new cruise ships debut in Florida, older ships go to home-ports line Galveston, New Orleans or Charleston. This is a different direction to be sure.

“The commitment of a new ship outside Florida is pretty significant and is pretty rare,” Carnival spokeswoman Jennifer De la Cruz said. “We have built up our presence in Galveston over many years, and we have been able to do that because the Texas and Southwestern market is so strong for us.”

On board Carnival Magic will be some different features in the line’s newest ship. Let’s take a look at a couple of the really different ones.

The Lanai – In Southern-speak that means “covered porch”. But this is way more than that. Probably one of the most unique features on the ship, the Lanai takes the traditional cruise-ship promenade in a different direction. Outside. It’s a half-mile, open-air promenade encircling Deck 5. Described as an area where “guests can stroll while enjoying spectacular ocean vistas, curl up with a good book, soak up some sun in a comfortable deck chair, or relax in one of four cantilevered whirlpools that extend out over the ship’s sides” It sounds pretty cool.

The SportsSquare is Carnival’s stab at a rock-climbing wall/ fitness-oriented activity with a dose of the line’s trademark “Fun” element included. Adding to an industry-wide focus on fitness and health, this makes perfect sense and should be quite popular. The big draw here is SkyCourse where around 20 guests at a time can strap into a safety harness and choose from beginner or intermediate courses, traversing across rope bridges, swinging steps and beams suspended above the top deck, called the Spa and Sports deck. 20 different elements on the ropes course are each named after a notable bridge in the U.S.

Those two unique features alone would be a big change for Carnival. It appears that the line is looking at every department, leaving no existing space or feature “safe” from innovation and change.

RedFrog Pub – described as “offering a laid-back Caribbean vibe with island-inspired snacks and drinks”, including a private-label draft beer, ThirstyFrog Red, brewed especially for Carnival Magic Will be featured along with tastings of top-rated rums of the Caribbean and a collection of the regional beers

Cucina del Capitano (“The Captain’s Kitchen”) – Free by day, cover charge by night this is an Italian eatery we predict will become a signature venue across the fleet. The idea is that the place honors the Italian heritage of the line’s captains and the fact that all the ships were built in Italy. I’d be they learned a lesson or two from sister-line Princess Cruises Sabatinis’s up-charge restaurant and will apply that know-how here.

Huge Family-Friendly Spaces – more than 19,000 square feet of space catering to kids and families, including dedicated spaces for children (Camp Carnival), ‘tweens (Circle “C”) and teens (Club O2), with organized activities and counselors for each group. This is Carnival’s answer to Disney Dream and upcoming Fantasy’s possible world-domination of the kid market at sea. They made more space for their award-winning existing program as opposed to another partnership with an established cartoon brand.

Huge Adult-Friendly Spaces too called “Serenity” – a popular adults area on existing ships, Serenity offers comfortable chaise lounges and chairs, hammocks, colorful umbrellas and two whirlpools, along with full bar service. Look for this on just about any ship that does not have it in the near future. This wildly popular options for adults wanting to escape the kids fills up fast so get there early.

Cloud 9 Spa – All the traditional body stuff is right here. Fitness center, personal training, soothing thalassotherapy pool, thermal suite or just take in the elegant, serene surroundings.

Stateroom Innovations – Some different accommodation types appear on Magic, including two-bathroom (finally) cabins holding up to five guests along with connecting staterooms, cove balcony cabins closer to the water line (ala sister-line Cunard) and spa staterooms providing special access and benefits plus a hefty fine if guests get caught smoking.

Carnival’s Seaside Theatre – This huge LED outdoor movie screen made popular by Princess Cruises Movies Under The Stars. Once a controversial topic (“If I wanted to watch TV I would have stayed home”), now appearing on more ships as they debut or cycle through dry-dock.

Ocean Plaza – Carnival’s answer to Royal Caribbean’s Aqua Theater, this one looks to be a better solution than Norwegian Epic’s answer to Royal Caribbean’s Aqua Theater adding specialty coffees and sweets, milkshakes (I can see the line right now), and full bar service, specializing in martinis and mojitos.

Fun Hub –It’s a social network and comprehensive shipboard intranet portal that provides access to information on the ship’s services, facilities and daily activities. Carnival Magic will also offer bow-to-stern Wi-Fi and cell phone service. The ship also has an interactive micro-site which features a full-screen virtual tour, exclusive images and videos, construction footage and more.

Currently based in Texas, Carnival Conquest is scheduled to move to New Orleans along with Carnival Ecstasy and be replaced by Carnival Magic and the Carnival Triumph.