GetawayCamera2smallYesterday during a ceremony in Bremerhaven, Norwegian Cruise Line took delivery of the 145,655 gross ton cruise ship, Norwegian Getaway, from Meyer Werft after a building period of only 15 months. This is the second of two Breakaway-class ships, and is being delivered only nine months after the launch of sister ship Norwegian Breakaway. The ship will be christened in Miami on February 7.

Before her arrival into Port of Miami, Norwegian said it had arranged a private charter of the 4,000-passenger ship in New York from January 29 to February 5. Those dates overlap with the 2014 Super Bowl, which is being played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., home of the New York Giants and New York Jets, on February 2. Her first week-long cruise (and inaugural Caribbean cruise from Miami), takes place on February 8 (Saturday to Saturday).

Here are Some Additional Highlights

  • Nestor Torres

    Nestor Torres

    Latin GRAMMY® Award winner Nestor Torres will headline Norwegian Getaway’s GRAMMY® Experience at Sea.  Torres is the first artist to join Norwegian’s newest ship as part of the line’s partnership with The Recording Academy® that named the line “Official Cruise Line Partner of the GRAMMY Awards®

  • Norwegian Getaway will feature a new lunchtime entertainment experience for guests, WINE LOVERS THE MUSICAL
  • Norwegian Getaway will feature several restaurants and bars that evoke the tropical feel of Miami and South Florida. The Tropicana Room, Flamingo Bar & Grill, Sunset Bar and Sugarcane Bar will be new and unique additions to the largest ship to homeport in Miami year-round
  • Master Baker Buddy Valastro, star of the popular TLC television series “Cake Boss” and “Next Great Baker,” will open his second Carlo’s Bake Shop at sea on the new Norwegian Getaway
  • Entrance into the Illusionarium

    Entrance into the Illusionarium

    Seven-time Tony Award nominated musical LEGALLY BLONDE will be featured on Norwegian Getaway, along with an additional Broadway show: the dance sensation BURN THE FLOOR, and an all-new stand-up comedy program in partnership with Levity Entertainment Group, the largest producer of comedians in the world.  The line also introduced all of the varied and exciting entertainment acts and venues that will debut on the ship, including Howl at the Moon at Headliners Comedy Club. These exciting entertainment experiences are in addition to Norwegian Getaway’s Illusionarium and Grammy Experience.

These are just a few of the highlights and innovations on board the Norwegian Getaway. You can experience much more at Norwegian Cruise Line’s website!

Atrium on the Sovereign of the Seas

Atrium on the Sovereign of the Seas

The largest ships in 1992 were the Sovereign-class (Royal Caribbean) and Norwegian Cruise Line’s SS Norway (after its expansion refit), and they were in the mid to upper 70,000-ton range. Today, smaller main-stream cruise ships are said to be in the 115,000-ton range and the largest (right now) is the Allure of the Seas at 225,282. That’s about seven (7) Titanics. It seems the industry is going through what airlines already went through; cram as many people into the structure as possible, and hope the passenger experience will not suffer.

The gradual trend towards mass market mega-ships got me thinking about how much thought went into the service aspect, and whether the decision-makers (of the cruise lines) realize the difference between Customer Experience and Customer Service. The ‘service’ is part of the ‘experience,’ a piece of it. Adding all of these new amenities, like obstacle courses, alternative dining venues, bowling alleys, surfing and skydiving simulations, lookout points, mainstream partnerships (for name brand food and product on board) and more (I know I left out a bunch) are wonderful. They ADD to the experience. With the exception of perhaps Disney, are the cruise companies staying on top of the customer care aspect of the Customer Experience?

I am divided on this question. I still think that cruise ship service is like pizza, meaning that even when it is sub-par, it is still pretty damn good.

A Eurodam Cabana

A Eurodam Cabana

My best personal example was a cruise on Holland America’s Eurodam, when she was new. I expected typical Holland America service, but while the cruise was still a cruise (the pizza!), the service was sub-par for Holland America, and it detracted from the overall experience. Items in the buffet ran out BEFORE they replaced them, and this happened more than once. I am not a complainer, but this was Holland America! We also paid for the private cabana for the week, another new amenity added by Holland America on the Eurodam. It seems management did not train the staff, as we were supposed to have iPods with headphones, chocolate covered strawberries, fruit bowls, bottled water and champagne everyday. We, and parties around us, had to inform the staff what we paid for; they either forgot or did not know, and I tend to believe the latter, since it was consistent.

PRE-PAID GRATUITIES and SERVICE
Pre-paid Gratuities, are you a fan? It sure is convenient, but the first time I became aware of it, as a Customer Experience guy, I said to myself, “Now, they don’t have to work for it.” Couple this with the concept of Anytime Dining (or any variation of a name based on Cruise Line), and you have an equation for (potential) lesser service. Sure, you can request the same waiter, but then it is no longer Anytime Dining, because there may be a wait to get seated with your server of choice! Have you ever tried going to the Purser’s Desk on the last day of the cruise to remove the auto-gratuities? Those lines will make you want to jump overboard! I also realize you do not have to choose Anytime Dining on most cruise lines, but the pre-paid gratuities are still part of the service equation.

Service on cruises is still above average in this author’s opinion. But, it is the personalized service to which I’m referring. Cruises used to be known for personalized service, and while you can still get it today, you will pay significantly more for it. NCL and MSC have specific “ship within a ship” programs in place. You can also pay to cruise on a more upscale line, such as Seabourn, for smaller ships and elite services.

ARE THE LATEST AMENITIES A DISTRACTION FROM CHANGES WITH SERVICE?

Bumper cars will be on Quantum of the Seas.

Bumper cars will be on Quantum of the Seas.

It seems that the current resort-styled cruise ships, loaded with mainstream corporate partnerships, will be the norm for some time to come. Several people have written to me stating that they feel the new concepts are not only adding to the experience, but also serve as a distraction from the lack of personalized service in other areas. The mentality that if passengers have such a great experience in certain areas, they/we will (hopefully) forget about experiences that no longer exist to their former heights. This might be true, and it seems to be working.

Even with all of the negative press lately, people are cruising in record numbers as ships continue to get larger, with all kinds of entertainment options and activities. With all of these “distractions”, we overlook that our staterooms aren’t finished when we return from breakfast; that we have different servers during dinner each night, and our regular “wants” aren’t there before we arrive; that empty bottles and glasses linger around the pool areas and hallways longer; that mints on our pillows have disappeared.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Toyota or Lexus…Carnival or Holland America? What do I mean? In the past most of the mass market lines were all pretty similar with regards to offerings. You can still find cruises that are more service-focused in nature. Today, you pick and choose your ship based on what you are looking for in a cruise. If you want a family-friendly cruise, with lots to do regardless of age, you may choose Royal Caribbean. If it’s all about the kids, perhaps Disney. Want a more subdued cruise experience, sail with Celebrity or Holland America.

This may seem like a rant, but it isn’t meant to be. I do feel that there are certain aspects of the Customer Experience that are overlooked, purposely, because of economics. In mass market cruising it is a reality; many lines have positioned themselves to be more entertainment oriented (sit, watch and enjoy) as well as activity oriented (we are a part of the action: bowling; surfing; zip lining, obstacle courses, etc.). This ALLOWS the cruise lines to be less service oriented (depending on the brand). But, this is not a bad thing. We now have several options. And, cruise vacations, now more than ever, can be as boring or as exciting as you choose for them to be.

So, do the CEOs of cruise lines actually care about the customer? I like to think they do…and if they do, it sure is a different philosophy than what cruising was in the mid 90’s and earlier!

quantum-mammamiaWe hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! During the parade in New York City, Royal Caribbean announced that “Mamma Mia,” the smash hit musical based on the songs of Swedish pop sensation ABBA, will be presented on the Quantum of the Seas, when she debuts in November 2014.  This will be another enticing Cruise Customer Experience to be offered by Royal Caribbean’s ‘Broadway at Sea’ program.

Shows currently presented include “Hairspray” on Oasis of the Seas, “Chicago” on the Allure of the Seas and “Saturday Night Fever” on Liberty of the Seas.  Thus far, all of the shows are included in the cruise fare.

North Star (Sky Tower)

North Star (Sky Tower)

Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum-class cruise ships will feature a unique crane and viewing “gondola,” as previously announced. The North Star will lift guests some 91 meters above sea level to give them panoramic views of the sea and surrounding ports of call.  Royal Caribbean and the crane vendor recently provided additional details about the North Star, and providing an exciting, yet safe, Customer Experience.  Here is the rest of the article.

The MSC Divina

The MSC Divina

Best of Italy…MSC Cruises has announced a series of exclusive partnerships with popular Italian brands for the Divina’s upcoming Caribbean season.

The cruise line has partnered with Segafredo Zanetti, an Italian gourmet coffee brand, and will serving espressos to foamed cappuccinos. Coffee and chocolate menus also include a variety of specialist coffees and chocolate drinks.

Another partnership is with Nutella and its hazelnut spread, with a Nutella Corner aboard the ship by the main pool. All embarking families will receive a special Nutella welcome kit inviting them to come and discover the Nutella corner and a Nutella & Go pack for every child, a snack consisting of Nutella and Italian bread sticks. In the mini and junior clubs will be soft Nutella jar-shaped seats and toy containers.   Read the rest of the story here

 

Guy's  Burger Joint on Carnival.

Guy’s Burger Joint on Carnival.

Guy Fieri sails on Carnival…Guy Fieri and his family take to the sea for fun, adventure  and killer food aboard the Carnival Breeze in a new television special, Guy’s Family Cruise, premiering on Food Network Monday, October 28 at 9 p.m. ET (8 p.m. CT).

Guy’s Family Cruise follows the Fieris during their Caribbean adventure – making stops in Miami, the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos Islands, and Jamaica aboard Carnival Cruise Lines’ largest and newest ship, Carnival Breeze.  Read the rest here

About 22 years ago, we were looking at condos, for my grandmother, in South Florida.  We actually inquired about several assisted-living venues.  Not that she needed it at the time.  She just did not want to cook, clean, iron, bake or drive!  Back THEN, assisted living facilities were ranging between $2,500 to over $5,000 a month, depending on location, size, amenities and more.  Today, these rates have not lowered.

A couple of years ago, I became friendly with a couple (while part of a management team of a large-scale, active adult condo community) who said, “Jeff, when we are ready to leave this place, we are just going to live on a Carnival ship for the rest of our lives.”  I thought she was kidding, and then I was introduced to other people who simply sail on cruise-after-cruise-after-cruise, and so on.  In between sailings, they would stay with family or in a hotel, a week here…a week there.  Then I started thinking…depending on the cruise line (and ship, of course), it certainly can be a cost-effective living solution, when compared to active adult community options.

Regardless of your age, it is quite a concept.  Sure, there are items to consider, such as a primary care physician, a dentist and more, but, (almost) everything is done for you!  And, you get to visit parts of the world while doing so!  Restaurants and food galore, pools, lounges, entertainment, music, games, recreation, fitness center, salon, nightlife, education enrichment lectures, movies…it’s all there; it’s all on-board!

ResidenSea's "The World"

ResidenSea’s “The World”

There already exists a long-term, living at sea option, and it is called “The World”, by ResidenSea.  The major difference here is that she is for the wealthy, and like other condominiums, potential residents must go through a screening process.  In fact, according to TravelTruth.com, owners on “The World” voted “to end their policies of allowing certain travel agencies to book room rentals,” and that “The World will not accept residents who do not meet our $10 million in assets requirements.”  In addition, applications to sail must be approved by a committee consisted of owners!  And I thought the $4,300 per month for my grandmother’s assisted living choice was steep!

So, cruise lines such as Carnival and MSC are offering consistent sailing rates averaging under $600 per week, per person.  It makes me wonder if one was to approach a cruise line, and mention that you wish to sail with them every week for six months, if they would offer even more aggressive rates!  Perhaps, one day, there will be a cruise line that offers affordable, long-term living at sea.

MSC Fantasia

MSC Fantasia

What do you think?  Could you…would you….live on a cruise ship for extended periods of time?  Do you think cruise ships can offer a legitimate option when choosing apartment-style living?

A rendering of the Quantum of the Seas, by Royal Caribbean.

A rendering of the Quantum of the Seas, by Royal Caribbean.

Royal Caribbean International today announced the introduction of the Quantum Experience Advisors program featuring a group of celebrity experts in fields such as design, sports & fitness, entertainment and others who will work hand-in-hand with Royal Caribbean’s internal teams to provide their expertise to help shape interior design, key amenities and activities on the Quantum-class.

Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas are set to debut in November 2014 and April 2015 respectively.

The Quantum Experience Advisors are lending their professional know-how to ensure every aspect of the guest experience has been maximized to the fullest extent.

The rest of the article is HERE.

 

A glass of ThirstyFrog Red, Carnival Cruise Line's new private-label draught beer brewed especially for the new Carnival Magic, is served in the ship's Red Frog Pub. Photo  by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines.

A glass of ThirstyFrog Red, Carnival Cruise Line’s new private-label draught beer brewed especially for the new Carnival Magic, is served in the ship’s Red Frog Pub. Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines.

We go on holiday to get away from it all, right?  Maybe not always, as some families will travel together to go visit other family they have elsewhere in the world. I think we can all agree that this is not always a “vacation!!”  But, stick with the notion of being on a cruise (and being away from home), regardless of who you are traveling with.  Do you like to have the “comforts of home” at your fingertips, or are you seeking to get away from the venues, ideas and concepts that remind you of being at home?

Lately, familiar partnerships are being formed left and right on cruise ships.  Many of the partnerships revolve around food, music, entertainment and shopping…many of them found directly on board certain ships.  I certainly cannot fault the cruise lines for doing this; it’s a proven model that works…just ask Las Vegas.  Some of the classiest hotels sport certain chain burger joints, sub-sandwich shops and traditional shopping mall retail stores.

In my mind, it’s not so much that these venues are present on cruise ships, or can be found at port destinations.  I understand people…many people…enjoy comfortable and familiar surroundings, and may not leave home if some of these items can’t be found at their holiday destinations.  But, some of these things are part of a daily routine, like coffee every morning at a certain chain coffee house, on the way to work!  I’m doing my best to not mention business names, so this is how I will do it:

“I absolutely LOVED the Allure of the Seas, and I would sail with her again.  However, a certain amenity featured in the heart of the ship reminded me of work, and I did not want to be reminded of work while sailing on the Allure!”

We took a Hawaiian cruise several years ago, and it was an awesome trip.  Four days at sea from Ensenada, Mexico followed by Hawaiian Island-hopping.  Couldn’t wait to get to Kauai, since I heard about how untouched it was compared to Maui and Honolulu.  When the Vision of the Seas docked, and I ran up to get photos of the mountains and the landscape, what was the first thing I saw?  It was a very well-known chain superstore.  I won’t say the name, but it rhymes with “Fall Smart.”  I realize people who live there may need, and love, a “Fall Smart,” a “Bold’s Jim” and a “Hoarder’s Books and Music,” but it certainly detracted from the excitement of seeing Kauai for the first time.

I am not a Carnival mark, but at the same time, I wouldn’t turn down a Carnival cruise; love it all.  I truly like what Carnival has done with their sports bar concept, and crafting their own beer.  This is original.  They could have easily partnered with “Ham Adums” and themed their bars Boston-style, but they did not.  On holiday, I like to experience different. I like to experience local. I realize it isn’t easy, and an impossibility in some cases (due to suppliers), but I’d love to see ships offer more cuisine and arts/crafts based on where she’s going.

Okay…off to “Tarmucks.”

CLG0038-606In the past, I’ve written about certain items to pack, gadgets to buy for your cruise, clothing and more.  Most of those were for conveniences and comforts.  This one will save you money!  Purchase and pack an inner tube (deflated, of course!).

If your cruise includes ports of call with a beach, and you plan to visit the beach, water sports rental supplies can run you big bucks…especially if you are traveling as a large family.  An inner tube or an inflatable raft can run between $10-$25…just for a few hours.  This adds up if you are traveling with several people and you do not want to share.  Before your cruise, stop at a local store and buy an adequate amount of inner tubes or rafts for the family.  They pack flat, they are inexpensive, and they are yours for the entire cruise…as well as for future trips!  We purchased four inner tubes before our May Bermuda cruise; the total cost…$16.  It beats beach rental fees and, they are cheap enough that if you decide not to return home with them, it isn’t the end of the world.

It wasn’t that long ago…you’d pack the mp3 player, the digital camera, your video camera, and maybe even a laptop.  Don’t forget all the extra batteries and the chargers.  And, on my most recent cruise, I did exactly that.  The only thing is, I packed one other item…my iPod touch (2012), and it’s about all I used during the entire cruise.  If you want to simplify the packing routine for your cruise, thing about investing in an iPod touch.  It does just about everything you will need during your trip.  Here are several of its uses:

Shot with the iPod Touch (5th gen) using its panorama mode: The NCL Breakaway and Celebrity Summit at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Bermuda.

Shot with the iPod Touch (5th gen) using its panorama mode: The NCL Breakaway and Celebrity Summit at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Bermuda.

  • Camera:  The iPod touch acts as a camera, and handles low light situations better than I expected.  The latest generation even has a panorama feature, which allows for some stunning images that, in the past, required a steady hand and lots of post production on the computer
  • Video Camera:  The video that the iPod captures rivals the quality of a $300-$500 digital camcorder.  Unless you are looking for broadcast quality, the iPod should be plenty sufficient if you are seeking to capture your holiday memories for watching on your hi-def televisions or for uploading onto a site like YouTube.  The video link on this page, which is an evening Fireworks Display from onboard the Norwegian Breakaway, was shot in its entirety with an iPhone 5 (the same tech as the latest iPod Touch)

  • Music and Video Player:  Load up a bunch of your favorite tunes and films onto the iPod and you have instant entertainment, whether on the plane, in your stateroom, in the fitness center or lounging by the pool.  You can even bring a small bluetooth speaker on your cruise, providing an instant sound system in your stateroom.  Just how many times can you listen to the same piped-in music coming from your cabin televisions!!  Just link the iPod with your speaker using the bluetooth feature in your iPod’s settings
  • Documents and Notes:  You can store all of your cruise documents, ship’s maps and more.  Simply save them as a pdf and then transfer onto your iPod
  • Web surfing, email and social media:  Many ships today have WiFi access available for a fee.  Leave the laptop at home and stop waiting for a computer to become available in the ship’s internet cafe…you can do it all with your iPod Touch
  • Games:  Entertain yourself with games, puzzles and other apps of your choice!
iPod Touch (5th gen) comes in different colors.

iPod Touch (5th gen) comes in different colors.

Most everything mentioned above can be accomplished with an iPad and an iPad mini.  I recommend the iPod for a couple of reasons.  The first is the small size; easy to pack and easier to carry.  Secondly, the iPod Touch handles darker situations better than the iPad, with regards to all still and video photography.  If books are important to you, however, you may want to opt for the iPad.

The newest iPod touches are available in 32 gb, 64 gb, and now, a less expensive 16 gb.  You can do all of your research on Apple’s website.  Which ever iPod you choose, it’s two to three extra bags you can now keep at home!