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Friday, July 13, 2018

Endearing and Enduring Cruise Traditions

Formal nights, baked Alaska and towel animals—are they a thing of the past?

Those of us who have been cruising for a while have seen our share of changes. Out with the midnight buffets, tuxedoed waiters and pillow chocolates. In with the bumper cars, zip-lining and skydiving.

But over the years, some endearing cruise traditions have endured. They may not be what lures us onboard but are fun just the same:

Welcome onboard, this is your captain speaking. We may have stopped going a while ago, but for many folks, the captain’s welcome is the “official” start to the cruise. And probably the only time you’ll see the face of the captain. (But you’ll sure hear his voice over the PA often enough.)

The captain's welcome on the Caribbean Princess features a champagne
fountain--and a glass for you too.
Getting formal. Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, formal nights are still part of the cruising experience. You can ignore the whole thing and eat in the buffet, but you can’t beat the treat of seeing everyone else dress up. From toddlers in bow ties, men in kilts and women in stilettos—people-watching is never better.

Photo posing. Even though today so many people have a camera in their back pocket, there are still plenty of cruisers who like to pose for the professionals. With backdrops real and pretend, in their gowns or in port, they’re happy to make the ship photographers feel useful.

What the crew does with those towels. We never tire of the monkey swinging from a hanger, the swan about to glide across our bed or the puppy poised for petting. How do they find the time to do it?

The bed with open arms. While I still pine for the postcards and pillow candy once routine on Celebrity, there’s still nothing like an inviting bed, fresh towels and a clean bathroom to end your day.

Baked Alaska. Having been to Alaska in late May, this seems like a contradiction in terms. No matter, baked Alaska the dessert does still make an appearance. Princess serves it. And Carnival made the news recently when the cruise line pulled it out of storage. The meringue/cake/ice cream dessert may not make you scream for seconds, but it’s so very cruising.

The napkin wave/waiter parade. Just as the captain welcomes you on board, your waiters see you off. One of the last nights of the cruise, the staff makes noise of some sort, prompting guests to wave their napkins in thanks for their satisfied palates.
On this Holland America cruise, the waiters drummed on salad bowls.
Custom cards as blue as your mood. This is one cruise tradition that has recently disappeared. You will no longer see these on your bed as your trip comes to a close. Which is a good thing, because who needs yet another reminder of the lurking trip back to reality?

Photos by Roger James Photography

Friday, June 29, 2018

Broadway is Alive and Well – On a Cruise Ship Near You

An exec from a certain up-and-coming cruise line—which shall remain nameless—recently said something to the effect of “If they want to see a Broadway show, they’ll go Broadway.”

Guess he hasn’t been on a cruise lately.

From the heart-racing, exuberance of “Mamma Mia” to the mysterious, enigmatic “Cats,” we’re getting the best of both worlds—cruising and Broadway. And enjoying every minute.

Consider this: can you get into a show in NYC without paying for it? Get front row seats just by showing up early? Order a cocktail right before the curtain goes up without moving from your seat? 

Thankfully, Broadway is alive and well on a cruise ship near you. Here’s what’s playing at this writing:

After Midnight” (Norwegian Escape) – Features the big-band songs of Duke Ellington and all that jazz. NCL says on its website, “Witness The Cotton Club come to life in a never-before-seen phenomenon at sea. Experience Broadway at its finest…!”

Rock of Ages” (Norwegian Breakaway) – If you like the music of the 1980s, this musical is for you, complete with boy-meets-girl love story.

Royal Caribbean
Hairspray” (Symphony of the Seas) – It debuted on Oasis of the Seas, but now it’s the featured show on RCI’s newest and biggest ship. RCI’s website says, “Mix big hair, big dreams and all the right moves and you’ve got one of the biggest Broadway hits of our time.”

Grease” (Harmony of the Seas) – We all know the movie – heck, we know all the words of all the songs too. Poodle skirts, drive-in movies, malt shops and romance. With a happy ending to boot.

Mamma Mia” (Allure of the Seas) – The movie might have had big stars, but the big voices are on the ship. A joyous celebration of ABBA songs and platform shoes, with a cute little story thrown in. You won’t even miss the Greek scenery.

Cats” (Oasis of the Seas) – It was one of Broadway’s longest-running shows and has some of the coolest costumes. Brings fun, frolic and “Memories.”

We will Rock You” (Anthem of the Seas) – This show played for a record-breaking 12 years in London, according to RCI’s website and features Queen tunes, including the popular title song.

Saturday Night Fever” (Liberty of the Seas) – It’s the ‘70s once more when this show hits the stage. Think polyester. Dance moves. And the Beegees.

Not to be left waiting in the wings, the other lines are beefing up their shows as well. Touted as “Broadway style,” Princess is featuring “The Secret Silk” and “Born to Dance,” produced with Stephen Schwartz, the Oscar®, Grammy® and Tony® award-winning composer of “Wicked.” Check out Princess’ website for trailers.

Can we live without these shows? Sure. There’s plenty to see and do onboard without them. But for me, bring on the bright lights of Broadway on the Sea!

First two photos by RJGreenburg

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Lugging Your Luggage and Other Things You Should Know About Getting Your Stuff Onboard and Off

One of the great things about cruising is that once you unpack, you don’t need to look at your luggage again for the rest of the trip. 

But that doesn’t make getting it on and off any less painful.

There are a few things we’ve discovered along the way, though, that have eased the burden a bit:

Plasticize your cruise tags. Printing the paper cruise luggage tags and stapling them to the handles is a hassle. And it’s way too easy for them to come off. Some folks laminate them. But investing just a few dollars in Amazon will get you plastic cruise tag holders with a secure wire clasp. Beats paper and staples anytime.

Shower your suitcase with color. Regular readers of this blog may remember our recent horror story of how our suitcase was taken by mistake in the cruise terminal and almost ended up 700 miles away from home. Tie a yellow ribbon—or a fuchsia one, for that matter—and whatever else will identify your case as your own. Be sure to add your name and contact info. A lock on it won’t hurt either.

Ensure your bags are ship shape. You don’t want to get to sea and discover you can only get at your clothing with a knife. Or that you need duct tape to keep it all in your suitcase when you leave. We’ve come uncomfortably close to getting in a jam—literally.

Watch your pockets. Be careful what you store in the outside pockets of your suitcase. There was a sad story in a Cruise Critic forum of a couple who put their passports in their suitcase outside pocket. With the chaos at drop-off, their suitcases were swiftly hauled away—before the couple could take out their passports. So their luggage went on the cruise without them.

Tip the bag handler. I don’t know about other ports, but in Port Everglades, if you want to ever see your bags again, be ready to tip the guy who takes them. Seriously.

What to carry on in your carryon. Aside from the usual stuff—medicines, valuables, etc.—bring anything breakable with you. If you ever saw how the bag handlers handled the bags, you’d cringe. If you ever saw the bags piled high on the carts and knew yours was on the bottom, you’d cringe. If you ever saw the way the crew dragged them through the ship hallways, you’d cringe. You get the picture.

Go door to door. If your stuff doesn’t show up by evening, wander the halls. More than once, we’ve found ours in front of someone else’s door.

Give ‘em up or keep ‘em with you? For the first time in 20+ cruises, we decided to do a walk off with our bags when we left. It was an experiment. The upside? We didn’t have to rush to meet that 11 p.m. deadline the night before to get our bags outside the door, sit around the next day for our number to be called and then hope our luggage was still there in the terminal. We could stroll out of the ship—albeit laden with luggage—whenever we felt like it.

There was a downside, though. The walk from room to pavement is a long and crowded one.

Alas, I’m sorry to say, on Disembarkation Day, there’s no easy way!

Friday, June 1, 2018

How to Do But Not Overdo

You’ve got a cruise coming. Do you have visions of daiquiris dancing in your head? Dreams of basking in the Caribbean sun? Fantasies of unlimited burgers and fries?

Your seven-day piece of heaven, though, could turn into a seven-day piece of you-know-where if you let your excitement get the best of you. Here are some tips to help you stay healthy before and during your trip—so you have nothing but great stories to tell when you get home:

Before the trip
Sleep well, stay well, play well. Do whatever you need to do to get enough sleep. People who get less than seven hours of sleep a night are three times more likely to get a cold than those who get eight hours or more.¹

Stuff your suitcase. Even if you don’t think you’ll need it, bring stuff. Motion sickness remedies. Band-aids, aspirin, cold medicine. Nose spray and ear spray. Anti-acid pills. Yeah, the ship may have some or all of these, but you won’t get a choice and it’ll cost you a pretty penny.

Typical choices at inflated prices
Keep your distance. If someone close to you gets sick, follow him/her around with a sanitizer. (Do you think a face mask is going too far?) Use soap and water on any common things he or she may touch—phones, remote controls and door handles.

Ensure you’re insured. Trip insurance is your assurance you can get something back if you do have to cancel because you’re sick.

Once onboard
Sanitize the stateroom. As soon as you settle in, soap down the door handles, TV remote, telephone and light switches.

Pace thyself. Resist temptation—don’t try to eat it all, drink it all, on the first day. Or the second. Because a stomach problem or hangover will put a serious pall on your cruise.

The sun will come out tomorrow. Spend too much time by the pool the first day and on the second day, you’ll surely pay. Take the tanning slowly.

Wash your hands. Or use handi-wipes. A lot. After using the remote control. The elevator button. Soup ladle. Salt shaker. When you grab the banister. Shake hands with a guest. Or the crew.

In the port
Know your right from your left. At many of the ports, they drive on the left. Make sure you know which way to look when you cross the street.

Keep the buggers away. Where there’s foliage, there’s sure to be mosquitos. Dousing yourself with Deet may not be neat, but it will help prevent you from becoming a meal for the native pests.

Careful consumption. If you do eat or drink in port, do so in places that draw crowds. You don’t want to end your port stay with a visit to the ship’s doctor.

If you get sick. Take it easy for a few days. Yeah, it can be a bummer. But it will rescue your trip and you’re sure to appreciate it—once you start feeling better.


Photos by rj greenburg

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Roatan and Costa Maya Revisited

It’s been years since we were at these ports. And we were in for quite a surprise. They’ve changed.

Which goes to show that you can keep coming back to the same ports again and again, and get a new experience.

Roatan began as a mystery. We knew who’d done it—the MSC Armonia whacked the Coxen Hole dock just weeks before. So, we weren’t sure our Allure of the Sea’s maiden voyage to the port was going to happen.

And we had nothing to go on. Royal Caribbean stayed silent. No emails came, no press release issued. Only rumors that the port stop was canceled “for the season.”

Once onboard, though, the crew confirmed we’d stop there. And stop there we did.

A big chunk of the pier lay eerily submerged, but there was enough still standing for the Allure to shimmy up and tie down.

A pier built up. It’s attractive, with native dancers to greet you, a cigar roller to show you how it’s done, local coffee and chocolate vendors to show off their wares, and water so spectacularly clear that you’re tempted to bend down and pet the fish.
Coconut drinks, local coffee, chocolate and cigars are at the pier for the buying
Photographed from the pier, straight down into the sea

There’s also the usual Diamonds International, boutiques, music--and even zip-lining.

All in all, it’s good for an hour or so.

 The town of Coxen Hole is a short walk, but a few things you should know, should you decide to venture out:

* The sidewalks are amazingly narrow—they barely fit two trim people walking side by side.

* The island may not be affluent, but its people are among the most friendly we’ve seen on the Caribbean isles. We were met with many, many smiles.

* There’s a supermarket in town that’s air-conditioned, with a good supply of first aid and health products, and they take U.S. dollars.

Note: Coxen Hole is one of two cruise ports in Roatan. The other is Mahogany Bay, a private beach resort developed by Carnival—and a lovely one at that. To get there, you’ll need to take a Carnival or Princess ship.

Costa Maya, the biggest improvement. This port was only recently expanded and we hardly recognized the place. You can swim the dolphins, swim with fellow cruisers or swim with the boozers (there’s a swim-up bar).

Swim with the dolphins...

...or swim with cruisers and boozers
You can get a massage by the sea. Buy a trinket for $1 or spend hundreds on silver.
Trinkets and clothing and silver abounds; bargaining is encouraged
And while perhaps not quite an authentic Mexican experience, with some cerveza and tequilla, tacos and fajitas, and swimming and shopping, you could happily spend hours here and still want to come back.  
A Mexican village built for cruisers

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Contract You Sign When You Check In Online

We’re so excited when we check in online. We can’t wait to get the must-do done, so we can get on to what’s really fun. Like picking excursions. Deciding on drink packages. Shopping!

So, how closely do we look at that cruise contract we electronically sign?

After mechanically acknowledging I’ve read it for the past 20+ cruises, I finally decided that maybe I should take a look at that fine and tiny print after all.

All 15½ pages of it (when copied and pasted into my computer).

Here’s just a sampling of what I just agreed to on my upcoming Royal Caribbean cruise:

If I go to the onboard doctor, I do so at my own risk. Since RCI is not a medical provider, it can’t supervise the medical personnel.

Hate the haircut I get onboard? I’m on my own. If I change my mind after getting the photo package or am overcome with buyer’s remorse after that art auction purchase or the expensive bracelet I buy on the ship, even though RCI may get a cut from any of it, they assume no responsibility.

Was disappointed with my excursion? Too bad, so sad. Like the onboard shops, medical folks or photographers, argues RCI, the excursions are independent contractors and don’t represent the cruise line.

RCI can change my trip at any time. The cruise line retains the right to alter the itinerary, time of sailing or even the ship for any reason at any time and without prior notice.

Luggage with a view. My baggage is subject to inspection or electronic monitoring without my consent or knowledge.

They own my cruising face. RCI reserves the right to use photos or videos of me taken in connection with the cruise for advertising, sales, publicity and training. Until the end of time.

Indeed, there were some surprises in that lengthy document. Does it dampen in any way my excitement for the cruise ahead? Not one little bit. But what reading it did prove: it’s best to know before you go.

Friday, April 13, 2018

As a Cruiser, Do You Know Your Rights?

If you don’t remember the Carnival Triumph engine fire and power loss in the Gulf of Mexico in February 2013, be glad.

It wasn’t one of the industry’s shining moments.

But it did have one positive outcome: in the wake of the event, the industry was spurred to create the Cruise Industry Passenger Bill of Rights in May of that same year.

With its upcoming five year anniversary, it’s a good time to revisit the proclamation.

So, what is it exactly? 

It’s a set of standards for the cruise lines to ensure we are safe, comfortable and well cared for during our cruise.

It was created by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the trade association for the cruise industry. To continue to be part of CLIA, its more than 50 cruise line members had to pledge to abide by these standards.

In short, you’ll be pleased to know that Carnival, Celebrity, Cunard, Disney, Holland America, Princess, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean are part of CLIA and are thus bound to comply.

They have agreed that you, as a cruiser, have the right:

To get off a docked ship if basic essentials such as food, water, restroom facilities and medical care can’t be provided onboard*

To access full-time, professional emergency medical attention while you’re on the ocean, until you can get it on land

For a ship that’s well trained in emergency and evacuation procedures

These relate to mechanical failure on board:

For a full refund for a trip cancelled, or partial refund for one ending early because of such a failure

For lodging if you have to get off the ship and stay overnight in an unscheduled port if a cruise ends early because of a mechanical failure

To get transportation to the port of disembarkation or your home city if the trip ends early for the same reason

Timely updates on itinerary changes due to mechanical failure

Needless to say, we all hope we don’t need to test out these rights on our cruise, but it’s comforting to know the lines have committed to adhering to them in case something does, indeed, go wrong.

Now, the cruise lines have some expectations of their own from us. Check back in two weeks as we take a look at the cruise contract. 

If you’re not sure what that is, it’s that long document with the tiny print that you electronically sign when you check in online. And if you’ve never read it, you’re not alone.

See you in two weeks!

*Subject to the ship’s concern for safety and port immigration requirements

Friday, March 30, 2018

Cruising: An Industry on Fire

The sheer number of ships on order is staggering.

The millions the lines are spending on destinations is astonishing.

There’s no doubt about it: cruising is an industry on fire.

I got chills, they're multiplying” – Danny Zuko, "Grease," Harmony of the Seas

In 2018, more than 27 million passengers are expected to cruise. That’s up from 17.8 million in 2009.

You know that when Sir Richard Branson wants a piece of the action, cruising is hot. His three upcoming ships are just a drop in the ocean—the cruise lines have 40 on order through 2026. This year alone will see 27 new ships sailing the seas. And more than 35 percent will be Caribbean-bound.

At the same time, the cruise lines are putting money into developing new and better places for us to go. Royal Caribbean will be spending $200 million to renovate CocoCay, and there are new ports being proposed or already under construction in the Bahamas, Honduras and Tortuga (off Haiti).

What’s more, the lines are tripping over themselves to give us the biggest whiz-bang for our buck—from onboard technology to over-the-top shows to celebrity chef cuisine.

What’s behind all the fuss? Those of us who’ve done it once, twice or more know that cruising can't be beat in value and flexibility. You can choose a ship that’s small, medium or large. That meanders the rivers or rides the tides. Soak up the sun on a lounger, zip-line above the ocean or scuba down below. Bring your best buddy or your whole brood.

Yes, cruising’s for everyone. Spread the word. We want to fill all these new ships to be sure the lines keep ‘em coming, and giving us more ways to enjoy our precious vacations.

Sources: Cruise Lines International Association, Cruise Radio, Cruise Fever