Royal Caribban 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.

Travel welcomes multi-generational groups with open, engaging arms

Mom, Dad and the kids like to travel. They like theme parks, resorts and cruises. They like to bring along the grandparents too. It’s nice for the kids to have quality time with the grandparents. It’s even better if the grandparents are buying. Multi-generational travel (3G) is hot and sellers of travel are going after it with every engaging tool they can find.

Many couples in the U.S. work more, make less and struggle with mortgages and bills. In a new, more realistic U.S. economic system that doesn’t allow them to live on maxed-out credit cards, something has got to give. Money they don’t have. Time they have but they give it up to answering emails at night. On the weekends they reach out or engage in other activities to help shore up their employment security in uncertain times.

Heather Scott from says “multigenerational travel experiences are becoming more and more common, especially now as many families struggle to take time out of both parents’ work schedules to spend not just with their children, but with grandparents and other family members.”

Grandma and Grandpa, on the other hand, have both time and money. They can go on vacation just about any time and have the money to pay for the whole group. (Remember, this is the greedy generation that caused this mess.) They also are more physically fit, able to do more and will probably live longer than the grandparents of yesteryear.

Multi-generational Travel is increasing and it’s a good match for grand parents that don’t see enough of the grandkids anyway and Mom and Dad who otherwise wouldn’t be going on vacation at all. Parents like that price tag and like having the Grandparents along for built-in babysitters too.

Theme parks, all-inclusive resorts and cruise lines are courting the 3G market like never before. Mommy-bloggers get front row seats to everything Disney and other theme-park operators have to offer. They know Mom’s opinion, as direct caretaker of the kids, weighs heavy on the vacation decision-making regardless of who is paying. They want Mom on their side and promote their brands to her on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets with gusto.

Cruise lines too are going after the 3G bunch with increased interest. The cruise industry evolving and settling in to more detailed individual branding. At first it was “Go on a cruise” as the industry worked to swing vacationers from land-based vacations. Not long ago it was “Go on OUR cruise” Right now it’s “Go on OUR cruise and bring your family” as lines are target families of all shapes and sizes, going after their business in some unique ways.

Starting out 2011 with an engaging bang, Carnival Cruise Lines became official confetti sponsor for New York’s Times Square New Years celebration. In that defining event, the line dropped a ton of confetti on the crowd at midnight and social engagement became a huge part of what they do.

Much of that confetti came from visitors to Times Square who stopped by the line’s “wishing wall”. There, they hand-wrote their hopes and dreams for 2011 on red, white and blue slips of paper included in the drop onto party-goers. It doesn’t get a whole lot more engaging than that.

Not that social efforts are something new to Carnival, John Heald’s Blog written by the lines highly-visible senior cruise director dates back to 2007, draws thousands of fans daily and provides the cruise line with a non-corporate voice to deliver their message.

They are not the only ones either. Princess Cruises thoughtfully entered the social arena with their Twitter #FollowMeAtSea trips where travel bloggers and writers were sponsored for an actual cruise to share with followers on Twitter and Facebook. I was on the last one, a 12-day cruise tour through Alaska last June that travelers still ask about today.

Princess has evolved their efforts now to include their 50 Essential Experiences: The Travel Bucket List blog. The weekly posts that will run for a year are written by their own destination experts about some place that Princess sails to. The deeply personal posts as well as background on their writers are resonating with readers who spread the unique content to like-minded friends via Twitter and Facebook.

Royal Caribbean International too is engaging potential 3D travelers in another unique way.

Called the “Ocean Views” film project, Hollywood’s James Brolin, Jenny McCarthy and a boat load of stars recently wrapped up shooting a series of original short films as Hollywood goes to sea on board Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas.

McCarthy’s film is called “The Allure of Love” and tells the story of two friends and their plan to get two exes back together.

Brolin directs and stars in “Royal Reunion,” a short film about a multi-generational family voyage on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas.

The cruise line hopes the series attracts a variety of audiences, including those who may not have otherwise shown interest in taking a cruise vacation.

“In today’s ever-changing digital landscape, it’s important to recognize that consumers are getting their information from a variety of channels,” said Betsy O’Rourke, SVP Marketing, Royal Caribbean International.

The two films debut today on Allure of the Seas followed by a release to the general public via Royal Caribbean’s website and YouTube channel at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time. Later, the line will host Jenny McCarthy(@jennymccarthy) along with Justin Baldoni (@justinbaldoni), Amy Yasbeck (@amyyasbeck4real) and Scott Elrod (@scott_elrod) to discuss the films and their experiences onboard Allure of the Seas. Join the party by following #OceanViews on Twitter and follow host @RoyalCaribbean.

Flickr photo by JPott

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Allure of the Seas to visit St Kitts

Often thought just too big to visit most ports of call, giant Allure of the Seas will visit the tiny island of St Kitts in December. The unique port will answer a call by fans and critics to add much needed diversity to the ship’s standard itinerary.

That’s good news for fans of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships. Die hard fans worried that a lack new ports would hurt popularity of the giant feature-rich ship after the new-ship hoopla wore off.

“Royal Caribbean International is delighted to bring the world-renowned Allure of the Seas to St. Kitts,” said Michael Ronan, vice president of Government Relations, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. adding “while Allure of the Seas is the world’s largest and most revolutionary cruise ship, the ship’s ports of call are also very important to our guests. We look forward to bringing more of them to beautiful and vibrant St. Kitts.”
That’s even better news for St Kitts who will see a total of 45 port calls in the 2011-2012 season, up from 20 calls in the 2010-2011 season.

“I am proud of the fact that St. Kitts has been making great strides forward in the cruise industry,” said Minister Skerritt, who is also Minister of International Transport.

Allure of the Seas features 16 decks, 2,700 staterooms, seven themed “neighborhoods” and carries 5,400 guests at double occupancy that could potentially disembark at St. Kitts.

Prior to sailing Oasis of the Seas, older sister to Allure of the Seas and the senior largest cruise ship in the world, much was said about all the work it took to ready ports for arrival of the largest cruise ships in the world. They are simply too big for many ports.

Flickr photo by Jemingway

Top ten cruise complaints

Cruise vacations consistently rank high in guest satisfaction. Most cruise lines really have their act together in creating a total package that can make for a fabulous experience. Still, we get comments and complaints from readers in response to articles here at Gadling. Those complaints/hate mails also come from those who have actually been on a cruise and experienced less that a wonderful time.

While most are stories of readers own personal experiences, our top ten cruise complaints include some recurring themes.

  1. “Cruising is not really “traveling”– This comes from backpackers, mountain climbers, campers, world-travelers of all sorts and a lot of people who have never been on a cruise. That last group probably makes up the bulk of those who think this. Once they actually do take a cruise (like someone fooled them into it) they like it. Grappling with a craggy cliff may still be the love of their lives but they give a nod to cruising as at least worthy of consideration. By some. Not them. Someone else.
  2. “I was double-charged on my bill for…” On-board charge account errors have been an ongoing challenge for guests. A good deal of the time guests are confused about how it all works and they really were not charged double. Debit card users know all about “holds” cruise lines put on their account throughout the voyage to be sure there is money there at the end of the cruise to pay them. Your best bet: check your shipboard account and be sure it is accurate before leaving the ship.
  3. “You took away my past-guest benefits” Royal Caribbean is the poster-child for this hit on the list and still gets heat for not letting guests stack discounts anymore. In the olden days, guests could get on-board credit or a discount for being a Royal Caribbean shareholder, booking during a special sale, booking certain category staterooms or asking on a Tuesday afternoon during a thunderstorm. Pretty much anything worked and the cruise lines gave guests whatever they wanted. Now it’s “one deal per booking” all the way and there are still some sore feelings about it. Shining light: Princess Cruises on-board credit for military members stacked on top of anything else. Nice touch.
  4. “Your drink prices are way too high” / “I don’t call it smuggling, you do” (tie) We would like to believe that there is a relationship between the price of drinks on a cruise and booze smuggling. Like lots of people are smuggling booze on the ship, robbing the cruise line of high-profit drink sales. Recently, though, it appears that cruise lines are cracking down on booze smuggling but drink prices don’t seem to be dropping. The cracking down part is fair, not something to advertise but fair. Your vodka in a Evian bottle might be someone elses liquid dynamite and I’d prefer that not be allowed on the ship.
  5. “Solo cruisers should not have to pay double!” Cruise lines base the world on double-occupancy and solo cruisers just don’t fit the mold. Sorry. They don’t. Well they do on Norwegian Cruise Lines with their solo accommodations but that’s about it. Singles: Look on the bright side. You also don’t have to share your photo-booth size bathroom, pay for an extra airline ticket, or listen to anyone other than yourself complain about lines.
  6. Why does my Internet connection suck so bad?” OK, I get it, the ship moves and we have to constantly be looking for a satellite connection to grab. But once we have that signal though shouldn’t we be able to have a good time on the Internet? It’s not like the ship is racing through the ocean at warp speed. There are many who simply turn off their cell phones and never use the Internet on a cruise. They don’t care about this. People who do care use those devices and would like a nice connection
  7. “You have really yucky toilet paper” It’s one of those things that guests don’t talk about around the dinner table in the main dining room but everyone knows: this is not Charmin, White Cloud or any other brand you might find at the grocery store or a truck stop. There actually is a reason for it; regular toilet paper clogs up the airline-style vacuum toilet and plumbing. Bring your own anyway
  8. “Stop “nickel and diming me” This comes from guests who believe a little too much in the “all-inclusive” illusion of a cruise vacation. The major cruise lines never told us it was all-inclusive, we just like to believe that. As the industry has evolved, guests wanted more choices. The industry gave us choices but slipped in an extra charge along the way. The idea is that it should seem fair to pay $20 extra for a meal you might pay $100 for on land. Well sure, give me that deal on land and I will be happy. Drive your cruise ship right into downtown Denver and I’ll brag all over the place about how wonderful you are. Oh. You can’t.
  9. “What’s with the wacky pricing?” Cruise lines never advertise the total price. There are always at least taxes to be paid. If you are/were good at playing Truth or Dare, you will do well finding the “select sailings” that great offer is good for. Surprising frequent comment: “Stop with the “free upgrades” promotion unless that means from an inside to an ocean view or an ocean view to a balcony.” In-category upgrades are meaningless.
  10. “It’s over. Now I have to go back to the real world” By far, the biggest complaint about cruise vacations is that they end too quickly, regardless of how long they are. Those who buy into the whole on-board program are often left either refreshed and looking forward to returning to their real life or sadly disappointed that their real life is a shambles compared to their cruise vacation. Those in the later group, seek professional help immediately. The cruise lines really don’t aim to put you into a depression tailspin.

Flickr photo by Kabacchi

Cruise line scams: 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., 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, 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. 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

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 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