Let’s face it, although we say we go on vacation to get away from it all, this is the world in which we live! Here is the press release from Carnival:

The Carnival Dream!

The Carnival Dream!

MIAMI, Sept. 29, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — Carnival Corporation & plc (NYSE/LSE: CCL; NYSE: CUK), the world’s largest travel and leisure company, today announced that it has expanded its innovative hybrid connectivity system to create the cruise industry’s largest Wi-Fi network — and one of the world’s largest satellite mobility networks.

With over 31 advanced satellite systems, the company’s expanded WiFi@Sea connectivity network features the broadest high-bandwidth internet coverage in the industry currently deployed on 30 of its 100 ships — far more than any other cruise line company — with further deployment planned over the next several months. In addition, several of its cruise line brands have introduced new plans and pricing packages that make staying connected on a cruise more convenient and affordable — and are improving the guest experience and increasing the number of guests using Wi-Fi while cruising.

Expected to be extended to nearly 40 percent of the company’s industry-leading fleet across several of its global brands by the end of 2015, the expanded WiFi@Sea service has led to increased guest satisfaction, higher usage rates and greater number of devices connected during voyages. Carnival Corporation’s brands currently using the new features include AIDA Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America Line. Building on existing broadband Wi-Fi capabilities already available throughout its fleet of 100 ships, Carnival Corporation is continuing the deployment of its technology solution with plans to expand the new system on the majority of its fleet across its 10 global brands through 2016.

The company’s system represents a first in the cruise industry on this scale — providing the broadest high-speed global coverage across dozens of ships coupled with onboard intelligence to enhance the guest experience — a breakthrough technology innovation for overcoming the challenging circumstances of sailing in the middle of the ocean and still providing fast, reliable and affordable wireless internet access for guests.

Expanding the System

The system is a first-of-its kind solution that integrates a combination of advanced satellite systems, onboard software, networking equipment, land-based antennas and Wi-Fi from port connections. The technology is expected to change how millions of travelers stay in touch during their cruise and generate even greater interest in cruise vacations, especially among tech-savvy millennials and people of all ages who want to stay in touch, research destinations or share their vacation experiences via social media.

With the continued rollout of the enhanced connectivity system across the fleet, guests will be able to access the websites, social networks and apps most important to them at speeds up to 10 times faster than those previously available on the company’s ships.

“As we continue to enhance our WiFi@Sea system, we implement technologies, packages and overall approaches that will create the best experience and value for our guests wherever their cruise vacation takes them,” said Reza Rasoulian, vice president of global connectivity and shipboard technology operations at Carnival Corporation. “We optimize all of our service layers continuously to ensure a great connectivity experience. With this approach, we are giving our guests faster internet speeds without constraining the time they can be online through our packages, which has led to more people than ever using their devices to connect while on our ships and a steady improvement in guest satisfaction ratings as the new plans and pricing are rolled out.”

New Packages and Pricing Structure

With the new pricing models, Wi-Fi packages are based on the types of services guests will be using throughout their trip versus the previous system of charging for the amount of time they will be online. For example, guests who are only interested in using Wi-Fi to post to their social networks can purchase a basic package for a lower fee.

This change gives guests the freedom they prefer for unlimited use of the specific internet services and applications they are interested in without the worry of time constraints — an important offering for a good number of guests who are looking to stay connected, especially as the industry works to increase interest in and demand for cruising across all demographics, especially among younger guests.

Specific package offerings and pricing structures vary by brand, but in all cases the company is working to create more value and a better overall connectivity experience.

System Enhancements Focus on the Guest Experience

Carnival Cruise Line, the company’s largest brand with 24 ships and its 25(th) ship, Carnival Vista, coming in spring of 2016, announced in August it has enhanced internet access including new social media packages. The packages are now available on 19 of its 24 ships with plans for fleet-wide implementation by the first quarter of 2016. In June, the company’s AIDA Cruises brand announced new flat-rate social media and internet packages, along with bandwidth upgrades that have been installed on seven ships, and will be fully deployed on each of the brand’s 10 ships by November 2015.

Added Rasoulian: “We know that each of our guests is looking for something different when they cruise, whether that is being completely or partially unplugged from the internet or staying plugged in. For those who want to stay connected with their life back home or research the next destination on their trip, we are offering faster, more reliable and more affordable options to give our guests what they are looking for.”

The improved onboard connectivity experience will also help crew members across Carnival Corporation’s 10 brands keep in touch with their family and friends at home during the extended amounts of time they spend at sea. This is an important component of each crew member’s quality of life and has a positive impact on helping them maintain their passion for consistently providing exceptional service for guests during the voyage.

About Carnival Corporation & plc

Carnival Corporation & plc is the largest cruise company in the world, with a portfolio of 10 cruise brands in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia, comprised of Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Seabourn, AIDA Cruises, Costa Cruises, Cunard, P&O Cruises (Australia), P&O Cruises (UK) and Fathom.

Together, these brands will operate 100 ships in 2015 totaling 219,000 lower berths with 17 new ships scheduled to be delivered between 2016 and 2022. Carnival Corporation & plc also operates Holland America Princess Alaska Tours, the leading tour companies in Alaska and the Canadian Yukon. Traded on both the New York and London Stock Exchanges, Carnival Corporation & plc is the only group in the world to be included in both the S&P 500 and the FTSE 100 indices.

Additional information can be found on www.carnival.com, www.hollandamerica.com, www.princess.com, www.seabourn.com, www.aida.de, www.costacruise.com, www.cunard.com, www.pocruises.com.au, www.pocruises.com and www.fathom.org.

Photo: Port Everglades

Photo: Port Everglades

The highly anticipated 2015 Port Everglades Cruise Guide, and a new Cruise Planning App (currently for iOS devices), are now both available! The following is from the Official Port Everglades website:

Port Everglades is making it easier and more convenient for cruise guests to plan their next ocean-bound vacation with an online version of the Cruise Guide and a new, user-friendly cruise app for mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads.

The much anticipated 2015 Port Everglades Cruise Guide is now online at PortEverglades.net. This year’s Guide features 120 pages of detailed descriptions and photographs for each of the 41 ships sailing from the South Florida cruise port. Along with the sailing schedule, the Cruise Guide provides valuable travel tips such as transportation information, embarkation and disembarkation procedures, security regulations, maps and directions, and pre- and post-cruise vacation ideas in Greater Fort Lauderdale. The print version of the 2015 Port Everglades Cruise Guide will be available in November at the Broward County Governmental Center, select Broward County Library locations, chambers of commerce in Dania Beach, Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale, as well as area hotels and the Port Everglades Administration building located at 1850 Eller Drive, Fort Lauderdale.

Just tap the free CruiseSchedule Port Everglades App and you are on your way to your next cruise adventure. Developed for mobile devices using Apple Inc.’s iOS operating system, the CruiseSchedule Port Everglades App provides detailed information on all cruise lines and their ships sailing from the South Florida powerhouse cruise port. Features include:

  • Fully searchable cruise schedules
  • Arrival/departure times with associated cruise terminal
  • Complete sailing itineraries listing each ship’s ports of call
  • Scroll and zoom itinerary route maps for each cruise ship
  • Deck plans and ship specifications for all cruise ships
  • Contact information for cruise lines, customs and parking
  • Port map includes cruise terminals and parking areas
  • Turn-by-turn GPS navigation to all terminals and parking facilities

To download the free app, just visit the iTunes Store. An application for mobile devices supported by other operating platforms, such as Android and Windows, may become available at a later date based on demand.

costa2shipsAh, if only every cruise line would do this…

Costa Cruises has announced the launch of “MyCosta Mobile”, a new application for smartphones and tablets that is designed to allow Costa guests to call and text onboard at no cost.

“MyCosta Mobile” is free of charge and user friendly.

Before the start of your cruise, simply download the free application from the App Store or Google Play Store. Once on board, all you need to do is connect to the ship’s WiFi network, register and launch the app, at no cost whatsoever. Once you have registered, “MyCosta Mobile” is ready for use, again free of charge: you can socialize with other cruise guests and get in touch by phoning or texting whenever you like, and you can also use the App to contact a cabin or any of the numerous shipboard amenities such as the restaurants, Spa, tour office and much more besides.

Read the rest here.

Most cruise ship staterooms will provide basic toiletries such as soap and shampoo. But, you may want to make room in your luggage for your favorite brands (I’m not a big fan of the mystery soaps on wall dispensers). The same can be said for hair dryers. Most staterooms come with weak dryers so if you’re picky, pack your own. Be mindful, however, of your ship’s power limitations, per cabin (not really an issue on newer ships).

This travel-sized power strip even has two USB inputs!

This travel-sized power strip even has two USB inputs!

The majority of cruise ship staterooms do not contain alarm clocks. If you do not want to use a telephone wake up call, bring your own. If you choose to use a cell phone, be sure to disable cellular service so you do not incur any roaming charges. Other items you might want to pack because they’re not provided (or costly to purchase aboard) include:extra hangers, O-T-C meds, batteries, camera memory cards, sunscreen, ear plugs, plastic bags (transporting liquids or wet things, or keeping water out of your gear on water-based tours) and power strips to charge all your electronics.

Do you have any other must-have, or easily overlooked, items? Share with your fellow cruisers here!

The round objects near the smoke stack are part of a ship's satellite communications infrastructure.

The round objects near the smoke stack are part of a ship’s satellite communications infrastructure.

Our smart phones are great tools at home and on the go.  I don’t know about you all, but it cut down our household, desktop computer usage…which is a good thing!  When we purchase a phone, the sales rep will (hopefully) ask if you have any questions about set-up and usage.  When many of us answer this question, we typically want to know about day-to-day operations, and making sure our data and contacts transfer from the old device into the new one.  Rarely do we ask about the choices within the phone’s settings…and not knowing how to change some of these settings can get you into unwanted situations.

My sister-in-law cruised with us on our last trip,  on the NCL Breakaway last May.  When we last spoke, she had me view her last cellphone bill, and asked me to figure out why it was almost $130 higher than normal.  It turned out that she did not deactivate the phone’s 3g/4g/LTE /data services until several days into the cruise.  And, with today’s smart phones, which do so much more than making phone calls, it doesn’t matter that she did not use the phone, answer calls, and check incoming text messages and emails.

The key word in the previous paragraph is “incoming.” Many of us have our smart phones set up in a way that has it automatically retrieving our emails and text messages.  In many other cases, voice mails may download to the phone.  Stock tickers, sports scores, location services, weather apps and other updates which appear on our home pages…yup…they are also culprits!  All of these background activities are receiving data, and the data is coming from the ship’s satellite communication systems.

One fool proof way to keep your phone from using the ship’s satellite system (for cell data) is to keep the phone “off” for the duration of the cruise.  And be careful if you choose to use the phone in port (even off of the ship, yet close-by), as you may not be far enough away from the ship to tie into the port of call’s cell-tower infrastructure!

What if you do not want to turn the phone off on board?  Perhaps you will use it as your camera, or as a communication tool via an on-board network, such as with Norwegian Cruise Line’s “I-Concierge” app (available on iPhone and Android phones).  This is where it comes in handy to know how to go into your phone’s settings and disable the data services.  This way, you won’t receive any data through cell services, and you can still keep the WIFI function active.  Remember, placing the phone in “AIRPLANE MODE” will also keep you from receiving data services, but you WILL NOT be able to connect to the ship’s WIFI.

If you absolutely need to speak with people via telephone while cruising, you can try your FaceTime, Skype or other apps of the sort.  Beware, however, ship board internet rates are still hefty, and speed is not anywhere close to the “high-speed” you are familiar with at home.

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!

IMG_1392No official word on NCL’s website, but after my iPhone 5’s last update, instructions on using the app onboard Breakaway appeared at the bottom of the “My Cruises” screen.  See the Screen Shot to the left, towards the bottom!

The iConcierge app, now on Epic, allows cruisers to see their folios, make reservations, communicate with others on board who have the app, check schedules of events and activities and more!  It will work for FREE using the ship’s wifi.  Since I use an iPhone, I canot confirm the same for Android based smartphones.

  • IMG_4719None of us will ever be around long enough to find out if the archival DVDs really last 100 years.  So, back up movies in multiple places, and in multiple formats!
  • Get a waterproof/water resistant/anti-shake camera (like a Hero).
  • Print your photographs that mean something to you.  Yes, I said print!!  A paper photo won’t “digitally disappear” due to a hard drive crash or network infiltration!  I’ve heard it too many times…people losing their collections of photos because of a hard drive failure, or even accidental deleting.
  • Bring extra media (SD cards) and batteries on your trip.
  • A device that works well in low-light situations (especially for capturing effective, in-ship video/photos)
  • A good time to get shots of the interior of the ship is before the masses have returned from a day ashore.
  • Remember your smartphones!  You can disable cell service and still use it as a still or video camera.
  • If you plan to purchase photos from the ship, find out ahead of time if there are special packages.  If you wait until check out, you may be unpleasantly surprised, causing a negative memory of your trip.
  • Research the ship and the destinations ahead of time; plan for your shots so you don’t miss anything!
  • Find out about policies in ships’ venues when an event is taking place.  If they say “no flash photography”, it doesn’t always mean that you cannot take a photo.  They may just not want the flash to be a distraction, especially with regards to safety of the performer(s).

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!