The Celebrity Equinox, docked in Istanbul, Turkey.

The Celebrity Equinox, docked in Istanbul, Turkey.

How disappointing would it be to fly overseas to catch your cruise ship, only to be denied entry into the country? Foreign Visa requirements are just one of the many items covered within the first few pages of your Cruise Passenger Ticket/Booklet. And, whether you book yourself, book online or use a travel agent (our recommendation), it’s always a good idea to look through your Cruise Docs. Often, we (especially veteran cruisers who have been to the same location) overlook reviewing the cruise docs, except for the correct spelling of our names and other pertinent “official ID info.”

A great example is our most recent cruise, a one way trip from Istanbul, Turkey to Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy. I booked it myself, and, as a veteran cruiser with family who visited Istanbul a couple of years ago, I did not immediately skim through the Cruise Docs. Thankfully, I viewed them with over a month to go before our flight and discovered that an E-Visa was necessary for entry into Turkey. That stipulation was NOT in effect when my family members visited Istanbul. Celebrity Cruises made it very easy to obtain the E-Visas, with links via their own website.

NCL Jewel

NCL Begins Port Houston Service

Norwegian Cruise Line returned to the Port of Houston for the first time in more than seven years with the arrival of Norwegian Jewel on Saturday, October 11 at the Bayport Cruise Terminal. This inaugural call marked the beginning of the 2014 fall cruise season for Houston. The Norwegian Jewel will sail 27 Western Caribbean cruises through April 11, 2015.

Oasis of the Seas Upgrades

Royal Caribbean International has announced that the Oasis of the Seas, which completed a 14-day drydock October 14th, has a new look, including “reimagined dining,” high-speed internet, new retail offerings, a new Broadway show, and new suites with exclusive suite dining and a lounge. Royal Caribbean’s Dynamic Dining offers guests more choices and flexibility by offering 20 restaurants, said to be as vast and varied as dining in the world’s most cosmopolitan cities.

Crystal ReCRYSTAL-CRUISES-LOGO1ceives Atlantic Alliance Award

The Atlantic Alliance has given Crystal Cruises its “Triple A – Award” for 2015, which it presented to Crystal in Los Angeles last week. Each year the Atlantic Alliance awards cruise companies that have made a particularly significant contribution to the region with its “Triple A – Award”.

Holland America Adds Pros to Dancing with the Stars at Sea

Holland America Line has added the professional dancers Sharna Burgess and Artem Chigvintsev to the remaining two 2014 Dancing with the Stars: At Seatheme cruises. Both currently performing on the ABC hit show Dancing with the Stars, Burgess and Chigvintsev will join the Westerdam departing Nov. 29 and the Champions Cruise that sets sail Dec. 6. Both cruises sail roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean.

C-Equinox_090731-2492_bAll Inclusive Packages Offered by Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Cruises has announced an All-Included Europe Package beginning Monday, Oct. 13. Guests can now fly directly from New York or New Jersey where they can embark on their European vacation. The Celebrity All-Included Europe Package is available for the following prices: $2,999 Oceanview lead rate for seven-night Celebrity Equinox Mediterranean sailings; $3,499 Oceanview lead rate for 12-nights on the Silhouette to the Baltic; and $3,499 Oceanview lead rate for 10- or 11-nights on the Reflection on Mediterranean sailings.

The package is available on seven-to-12-night European cruises ocean view or higher stateroom sailing between April 27 and October 12, 2015 on the three ships with round-trip, non-stop flights from JFK or Newark to Barcelona,  Rome, Amsterdam , Venice, Istanbul, Stockholm and Athens. Onboard amenities include a Classic Beverage Package for two including beer, wine and spirits;  non-alcoholic beverage packages for third and fourth guests; all cruise gratuities;  air and cruise taxes and port fees; and round-trip ground transfers.

Carnival Vista Construction Begins

Carnival Cruise Lines’ celebrated the keel-laying of its newest ship, the 3,954-passenger Carnival Vista, in a ceremony held last week at the Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone. The 133,500-ton vessel – the largest “Fun Ship” ever constructed – is set to debut in spring 2016.

Chinese Ports Brace For Immense Growth

By 2020, if estimates are correct, China’s cruise market will make up 4.5 million passengers and $8 billion in local economic impact. With that potential, government-backed ports are working hard to upgrade their infrastructure in time for new tonnage and more ships.

vikingstarViking Ocean Names Captain of Viking Star

Viking Ocean Cruises has announced that Captain Gulleik Svalastog will be at the helm of its first ocean ship – the 930-passenger Viking Star – which will sail its first cruise in April 2015.

Carnival Corp May Start Entry Level Chinese Cruise Line

Carnival Corporation is making moves in China and may add another brand to its portfolio in a Chinese entry-level/mass market cruise product.

Four Home Ports and Quantum in China for Royal Caribbean

Putting the Quantum of the Seas in China will not only attract new Chinese passengers but also promote pre- and post-China visits from international guests, according to Adam Goldstein, president and COO of Royal Caribbean Cruises. Building up in China, Royal Caribbean International will sail the Mariner from Tianjin in 2015, the Quantum from Shanghai, the Legend from Xiamen and the Voyager from Hong Kong, according to Goldstein, speaking today at the China Cruise Shipping Expo hosted by the China Cruise and Yacht Industry Association.

Ruby Princess Helps Set Port Saint John History

Port Saint John welcomed its 1000th cruise call on Oct. 16, while last year marked the 25th anniversary of cruising to Saint John since 1989.

The Rhapsody in Brazil: 2015-2016

Royal Caribbean International has announced that the Rhapsody of the Seas will be deployed in the Brazilian market, sailing from Santos for 2015/2016 season. The Rhapsody will arrive in Santos December 5, 2015 and will be on the South American coast until April 10, 2016.

Ebola Scare on Carnival’s Magic

Late afternoon on Wednesday, Oct. 15, CCL was made aware, by the U.S. CDC, of a guest sailing this week on board Carnival Magic who is a lab supervisor at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. This person handled specimens from the patient who died at that hospital earlier in the month. At no point in time has the individual exhibited any symptoms or signs of infection and it has been 19 days since she was in the lab with the testing samples. She was deemed by CDC to be very low risk. At the time of this posting, this hospital worker was cleared of the disease, The Magic returned home, and everyone was cleared to disembark.

Mediterranean Cruise-Land Package by MSC for Divina in 2015

MSC Cruises has announced inclusive air/land/sea vacation package deals for guests sailing on MSC Divina, the line’s largest ship specifically dedicated to North American travelers, while the ship is in the Mediterranean from May 16 through Sept. 19, 2015. Starting at $1,899, the 10-night package includes round-trip airfare to Rome or Barcelona, a seven-night cruise, a two-night post-cruise stay in a four-star hotel, and all transfers needed, including from the airport to the ship, from the ship to the hotel and from the hotel back to the airport.

(News compiled from cruise company press releases, Cruise Industry News and Tourism Boards)

fclogotitleembeddedOne of our previous Facebook polls centered around how you arrive to the home port. While many of you live close to major cruise port cities, the majority of our FB fans fly in a day or two early. We found a great web resource which focuses on topics that directly affect your aviation custome experience! It is flightchic.com. Check it out!

Inside the top level of a Tri-Rail, double decker train car!

Inside the top level of a Tri-Rail, double decker train car!

For many airlines, flying into Miami International Airport gives cruisers more options than flying into Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Often, additional options mean cheaper flights.

There is a very economical option for those of you flying into Miami, with a Fort Lauderdale cruise (or stay). It is South Florida’s Tri-Rail system, and you can get to it with a FREE Shuttle from Miami Airport. The bus terminal is located on level one (same as baggage claim), across the street from the terminal, in between the Dolphin and Flamingo Parking Garages.

Once there, you can purchase your ticket before boarding the shuttle, or you may purchase tickets once you arrive at the Tri-Rail Station. Prices are UNDER $5 per person. Take the train to the Fort Lauderdale Airport station, and then it is a very short cab ride into Port Everglades, or a local Fort Lauderdale hotel! For Tri-Rail’s website, click HERE.

IMG_5022This was our final day at sea heading back to New York City.  Again, the beautiful weather continued, and it was warm enough to ride the slides, and for the rest of our group to challenge the rope course and to walk the plank!

The water slides on Breakaway are by far the fastest water slides at sea that I’ve experienced.  In addition, the water is heated, so even on cooler, windier days, passengers can enjoy the pools and the water park.  Just keep your towels close by!  The two free fall slides provide quite the rush, but the others aren’t anything to stick your noses up at either!  They ride fast, and, at some point, you are in total darkness.  The first time is the greatest, since you do not really know when you are going to reach daylight and splash at the bottom.  We spent the rest of the day relaxing at Spice h2O and enjoying cold beverages.

On the Breakaway, passengers may choose their colored luggage tags for disembarking.  A chart is provided with the approximate times that the colors will be called, so that you may plan your morning accordingly.  In addition, you may disembark as soon as the ship is cleared if you can carry all of your luggage off of the ship.  Otherwise, it was requested that your bags be placed outside of your staterooms as close to 11:00pm as possible, on the final night.

The process on the final morning was very civilized; not as chaotic as I had envisioned.  The bags were easy find, but if you do not recall from Embarkation Day, the pier is perpendicular to the street, so it is a long walk out once you have your belongings.  Catching a cab was easy…just across the street on 12th Avenue is a taxi stand, and they are all lined up and waiting.  The ride to La Guardia Airport was a brief 25 minutes, and cost, with toll and tip, $42.  Many people were sharing rides to the airport as well.  Another positive note…we were in the taxi line 21 minutes after our luggage tag color was called…and we left from the 12th Deck!!

CCLvalorWe used to run over-night trips (including cruises) for our community.  The key words in the opening sentence are “used to!”

At one point, we took the term “Group Leader” to another level.  In the traditional sense, a group puts a group cruise together, and typically does the planning, research, arranges the fares and transportation, and typically benefits from the cruise line’s perks when a certain number of berths are reached.  Once on board, the cruisers are on their own.  In our case, we put the cruise together AND acted as chaperone for the cruise, since we were employees/representatives of the (retirement) community.  Little did we know, we were asking for it!

It started small…a dish was not served to one of our resident’s expectations.  Did the resident make the Maitre ‘d, or the server, aware of this?  The person walked to my table, alerted me, and expected me to alert the staff!  This, as it turns out, was just the beginning.

Two days later, I was sitting and eating and I heard an announcement on the ship’s PA, calling for one of our residents to report immediately to the Purser’s Desk. It turns out that her husband had fallen off of the (Cozumel) pier, into the water, dangerously close to the ship and the sea wall.  A crew member saw this happen, jumped in, and pulled the man to safety.  He appeared OK, but the ship’s doctor would take no chances, in the event the man had internal injuries.  He was transported to Cancun, where he would board a medi-plane for a flight back to Miami.  A few hours later at dinner, his wife showed up!  She ate with us and then was danced the night away…while her husband was alone on his way back to Miami!!!

The next day, it was another announcement.  Another announcement which included a name that I recognized.  One of our residents, while walking from one public space into another, tripped over a threshold, fell, and ended up with a broken collar-bone.  She was treated and remained on the cruise.

There was only one other overnight trip that was already planned after this cruise, but my mind was already made up.  We would stick to the (local) day trips and leave the overnight experiences to the community’s clubs/organizations, travel agents and tour companies.  It also taught us to include (in our advertising) that those who are not capable of traveling alone must pay for a companion (or aide) to travel with them.  I must have carried luggage for over a dozen people before and after this cruise!  Lessons learned!

USPPYOU NEVER KNOW!  You never know what may happen to you or a loved one in a foreign land.  It could be something that requires you to immediately fly back to your homeland, and in an emergency situation, the last thing you need is a hassle getting through those customs gates at the airport.

Many cruise lines (especially for U.S. Citizens on cruises that begin and end in the U.S.) offer an additional option (other than a passport) for boarding the ship.  The most common is an original (with raised seal) birth certificate (with your legal photo I.D.).  Cruise lines can do this because they have deals with destinations’ governing port authorities allowing them (to allow cruisers) to use legal photo I.D.’s with the Sail & Sign cruise I.D. cards, for us to exit and enter the port of call entrances. This is a nice option in a pinch, and would keep you from missing your cruise in the first place.  But…

…you’ve sailed on your cruise, you are in a foreign land, and an emergency requires you to fly home immediately, even with several days remaining on your cruise.  This is where it will become extremely difficult to enter back into your home country without your passport.  Be sure to play it safe, and think beyond the cruise, even with the gracious options provided by the cruise lines.

Pilots do it, so why not cruise ship officers?  A safe cruise lends toward a Positive Cruise Experience for You!  This video is brief and explains a bit about what it is supposed to provide.  It’s also a really cool insight into the technology used today as well.  You may also recognize the person narrating…I think he was the first Captain of the Oasis of the Seas (I remember him from a documentary about the Oasis)…Captain Wright.  Click on the link below and enjoy:

 

They'll all store and play mp3's and movie files!

All 3 store and play mp3’s and movie files.

Packing for a cruise can be both fun and a pain in the a$$.   If you live far from the departure port and fly into town, packing for the cruise becomes more difficult.   If you live locally and can drive to the port, this is ideal and packing becomes easier. Driving means no worrying about airline baggage fees, weight restrictions and hidden airline fees.  It’s still not easy to choose what to pack with regards to your clothes, but our personal entertainment options continue to get easier and more compact.

The tiny, and capable, Jawbone Jambox.  Battery lasts 10-12 hours!

The tiny, and capable, Jawbone Jambox. Battery lasts 10-12 hours!

One way to enhance your cruise experience is to bring a digital music collection, a set of headphones and a small bluetooth speaker.  The music collection can be on your smartphone or on a device such as an iPad.  I prefer the iPad because I can also download a couple of books and magazines and have them to read while on the cruise, plane or beach.

I suggest bringing a collection of your favorite music because I can only handle the rotating, piped-in music (through the stateroom TV channels) for one or two rotations before it drives me crazy!!  Love “Hot Hot Hot” and “Jamaica Farewell”, but not for 76 times during a seven day cruise.  This is when loading up the iPad or smartphone with your favorite mp3’s comes in handy!  Pair up your digital bluetooth device with a portable speaker like the Jawbone Jambox and you can have Coffeehouse music playing in your stateroom during breakfast and Barry White singing after that romantic dinner for two.  Catch my drift?   Then you can take your device poolside  or to the gym with your set of headphones.

Almost all smartphones and tablets have bluetooth capability, and there are plenty of bluetooth portable speakers on the market.  For me, the Jambox is small, and packs a punch for its size.  The bass is a little better on the portable Logitech UE speaker line.

Part of Logitech's UE line of headphones.  They come with adapter and carrying case.

Part of Logitech’s UE line of headphones. They come with adapter and carrying case.

Headphones?  I went to Best Buy with the intention of purchasing a pair of Dr. Dre Beats.  However, I purchased a pair of Logitech UE headphones instead.  For the $179 price tag, I could not justify spending the extra $20 for the Dre’s.  The UE’s were right there with the highs, the lows, quality and comfort.  I was never a Logitech fan until their UE line.

OK, off to put “Hot Hot Hot” and “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” onto my iPad for the Breakaway cruise!  And yes, the latter will be played 76 times!!  Cheers!

Contributor, Tore Berger

Contributor, Tore Berger

I am often asked about what goes into the menu choices for a cruise, and what are some of the factors for a ship (or company) in deciding the ship’s menus. The answer is of course divided, but here are some experiences from a hospitality management side:

  • Season on the sites
  • Season of year
  • Logistical challenges on the sites
  • Storage challenges on board
  • Prices
  • And of course the most important factor, Guests’ demands and requests, based on historical data.

While these are some of the factors, the companies (cruise lines) also have their own reasons and systems on the menu making.

Food cost on a cruise ship is essential for the business itself. Big buffets, for instance, may very well support the fine dining (or Gourmet) when it comes to cost. Then these can upgrade their menus, use more expensive basics, and take a cover charge (like the specialty restaurants on ships) for balancing it all.

A la carte, where you choose from a set menu, is always the tricky one. Concept, seasons, prices of season, and guest segment is then the set factor. The buffet can have everything, and it will often use all the kitchen and store room “left-overs.”  The buffets will often vary from day to day.

The menu in the a la carte is essential. Having something for everybody is impossible! And, having something for most of us is difficult, so the menu must be taken seriously. Some of the cruise companies today make new menus everyday. That gives a surprise factor, it reaches more guests, and it is something the guests talk about. Most cruise companies also have a season-based menu, to be changed four times a year, and with ingredients to mirror the season itself. Meat lovers, fish eaters, chicken fans, religions, allergies, vegetarians, vegans, children, nation segments… all of these and more are to be considered. Then it’s the job of the Chef, the suppliers, the restaurant manager, and the logistic manager on board to set it.

Going on a cruise? Not happy with the menu on Your last cruise? Special needs? Special demands? Contact Your cruise company. Also remember to fill in Your wishes and menu tips on Your final evaluation cards on Your next cruise. It is the guests who are the strongest and best consultant!

“A good waiter can save a bad meal, but a good meal can’t save a bad waiter…”

Ship greetings from: Tore Berger. Maitre`d.