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Archive for July, 2000

Question:

Dear Anita,

Help! My husband and I planned a wonderful 10-day cruise in January on Renaissance Cruise Lines. I can hear your “oh no” from here. The conditions of the booking required us to make payment in full by June, which we did…by check. (Did I hear you say “oh no” again?) This was to be the trip of a lifetime for us, and even worse, another couple opted to go with us and also paid in full.

It gets even better: Our daughter is a travel agent, and being the doting parents we are, we threw the business her way. Is there anything we can do to get our money back? We have no experience with this, and even our daughter is at a loss as to what to do next. We honestly aren’t stupid people (at least we didn’t think so), but this has us rethinking future travel plans. We aren’t afraid to fly; we’re willing to go on a trip. We just don’t know how to deal with this.

Sincerely,

Kim H.
Milwaukie, OR

Answer:

Dear Kim,

Like you, many veteran cruisers and travel agents did not expect a cruise line with such a high-quality product and reputation as Renaissance Cruises to go out of business so abruptly. Therefore, many paid in cash for their upcoming Renaissance cruises.

Because Renaissance did not sail from any U.S. ports, it did not need a Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) certified bond in place that would cover its clients in case of default. Instead, what you need to do is file a claim at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida. There is a February 12, 2002, deadline for filing proof of claims related to Renaissance Cruises, which filed for Chapter 11 protection September 25. The court established a special post office box to receive claims. The address is:

United States Bankruptcy Court
Renaissance Claims
P.O. Box 019169
Miami, FL 33130

If you have questions on how and where to file proof of claims you can contact:

First Union Financial Bank
Claim Track Service Group
210 North Ridgecrest Lane, Suite 100
Jacksonville, FL 32259

You can also e-mail First Union Financial Bank at renaissancecruise@mail.com.

Bankruptcy proceedings are a lengthy process, and there is no guarantee that you will receive any money back. All you can do at this point is file a claim and keep your fingers-crossed.

If there is a lesson to be learned from this, it is to pay by credit card. Most credit cards offer consumer protection. To err on the side of caution, especially if you pay with cash, purchase third party insurance to protect against supplier default (a.k.a. bankruptcy). Recently, several major insurance companies have dropped supplier default from their policies, but there are still several that offer it.

I hope I’ve been helpful. Happy travels!

Anita Dunham-Potter

Filled Under Ombudsman

Repositioning cruises offer unique values

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On July - 31 - 2000

With the change in seasons come changes in cruise destinations—especially in the spring and fall. When cruise lines move their ships from one destination to another, it’s called a repositioning, and the voyage is called a repositioning cruise. “Repositioning itineraries offer cruising experiences that are available only once or twice a year,” says Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

Where the Repositionings Are

Common repositioning routes include the Caribbean to Europe or Alaska, and back again. An Alaska repositioning cruise may include highlights from eastern, western, and southern Caribbean sailings, as well as from the Panama Canal and the Mexican Riviera. Repositioning cruises from the Caribbean to Europe across the Atlantic can include stops in the Canary Islands, Portugal, and exotic Morocco.

By no means are repositionings just between the aforementioned locations. For example, Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) offers a repositioning cruise in the fall from Boston to Charleston, South Carolina and the Caribbean, and vice versa in the spring. Repositioning cruises are generally longer than normal cruises (because there is more water to cover), and they can offer unique ports of call. As an example, the Seabourn Pride crosses the North Atlantic via Reykjavik, Iceland.

Great Value

In addition to providing unique itineraries, repositioning cruises offer great value. For the most part, repositioning cruises cost significantly less per day than other sailings of the same ship. Much of the value stems from the time of year; repositioning cruises operate on the shoulder seasons and rarely operate during peak travel times in the summer and winter months.

Lucy Hirleman, President of Berkshire Travel in Newfoundland, NJ, says, “Cruise lines offer very attractive packages on ‘repo cruises’ to ensure that their ships sail as full as possible. Pricing is sometimes 50 percent of the normal per diem on a regular itinerary. Depending upon the cruise line, pricing can be anywhere from $50 to $400 per day, per person.”

Furthermore, cruise lines will at times include bigger savings on these sailings by offering free airfare, and/or two-for-one pricing. All cruise lines feature repositioning cruises in their brochures; you can check with a travel agent to find out about these offers.

Unlike on conventional cruise itineraries, passengers might not visit as many ports during a repositioning voyage—meaning more days at sea. Nonetheless, passengers still enjoy the same accommodations and services that travelers on more popular cruise itineraries receive.

Relaxing Sea Days or “Tai-Chi At Sea”

Basically, repositioning cruising is an authentic cruise experience. It has a certain romantic aura about it. Devotees of trans-Atlantic crossings aboard Cunard Lines’ Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE 2) will attest to their preference of slowly navigating the time zones in luxury rather than being subjected to the jetlag of air travel.

Many travelers just love the atmosphere of being at sea, and they prefer ship activities instead of the stress associated with non-stop ports of call. “In our hectic-paced world, a ‘repo cruise’ will definitely soothe the savage beast,” says Hirleman. “It’s like Tai Chi at sea,” she adds. An abundance of sea days leaves plenty of time for enhanced onboard entertainment and activities. Often cruise lines schedule theme events such as cooking classes, wine tastings, guest lectures, and entertainment.

It’s also a time to enjoy more hedonistic pleasures such as breakfast in bed, spa treatments, and hunkering down to read a good book. “A repositioning cruise offers long, restful days at sea,” says Linda Coffman of CruiseDiva.com. She adds, “If you see yourself sitting lazing in a deck chair sipping morning coffee while gazing at the endless horizon, a repositioning cruise may just be your ticket.”

Filled Under Advice

The joy and value of cruising

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On July - 31 - 2000

Last year, approximately five million people enjoyed cruise vacations. According to ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents), cruises have a higher percentage of satisfied customers than any other vacation experience.

Once you have experienced the true pleasure and value of cruising, you’ll be hooked like I am. I’ve sailed 15 times over the years and each voyage just keeps getting better. This past year, I took two cruises: one on the Carnival Destiny and the other on the Disney Magic. Both were wonderful.

Cruising is the ultimate vacation in value and convenience. Today’s new cruise ships are floating resorts with all the choices fine resorts have to offer, only better: they also take you to different places, so you’ll never be bored.

There are a variety of cruises that can accommodate any individual’s taste and budget. The price of your ticket includes your cabin and all of your meals, snacks, and all onboard activities and entertainment. The only extra expenses are drinks, sodas, spa treatments, and shore excursions.

What will I pay?

Cruises can range from $300 per person for a three-day cruise to well over $100,000 per person for an around-the-world cruise. Cruise package prices can be quoted either with or without airfare added on. When airfare is included, cruise lines generally price their packages with greatly reduced or even free airfare.

You may often see enticing ads in the newspaper boasting a 7-day cruise from $599 per person. These ads usually tout the lowest inside cabin categories without airfare, and the majority do not tell you about other expenses, such as port charges, taxes, and tipping. Port charges vary depending on your destination. An average 7-day cruise with five ports of calls averages out to cost about $100 extra per person.

What are my cabin options?

The cabin you choose will largely determine the price you pay. The price of a cabin is based primarily on size and location. Cabins can range from expensive penthouse suites to small inside cabins with no portholes. Newer ships tend to have larger staterooms; however, some older ships have cabins that are very small. Regardless, be advised that cabins aboard all ships are small compared to hotel rooms. Nevertheless, they do not lack for amenities, and they are very comfortable.

Unlike ships in the days of the Titanic, today’s cruise ships are “one-class”. All passengers onboard can use all of the ship’s facilities. Whether you are in the lowest category inside cabin or owner’s suite, you will enjoy the same service, menus, activities, and entertainment as everyone else onboard.

Do I need to tip?

A few cruise lines include tipping in the price. Most, however, do not. Tipping is an additional expense and a matter of individual preference. As a general rule of thumb, plan on tipping $3.00 to $4.00 per person per day for your room steward and dining room waiter/waitress, and about half that amount for your busboy/busgirl. Additional personnel can be tipped at your discretion. Most bar drinks have tips automatically included in the bill.

It is important to understand that tipping is how the majority of the cruise service staff earns their living. Good service should be rewarded. If you find the service lacking, however, be sure to speak up and say so.

Types Of Cruises

There are very few places on earth that cruises don’t go to. Itineraries include Antarctica, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Africa, India, Asia, North Sea, Oceania, the Mississippi, even the Amazon, just to name a few.

The dates you will be traveling influence the types of cruises available to you. Alaskan cruises, for example, sail from May to September, while European and Caribbean cruises sail year-round. The duration of a cruise ranges from three-days to several months. The most popular cruises are seven days. However, three-day cruises to the Bahamas and the Mexican Rivera are growing in popularity.

Specialty cruises are also a growing trend. Many cruise lines now cater to specific age groups, singles, couples, and families. In particular, themed cruises for enthusiasts of music, art, wine, sports and so on have become hip.

When it comes to atmosphere, cruise lines can vary widely. Cruise lines like Crystal, Silversea, Radisson, and Cunard offer a more formal and sophisticated experience, while Costa, Disney , Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean, and Carnival are more mainstream and offer more a relaxed, party type atmosphere.

Cruise ships also vary a great deal in size. Cruise ships range from the small, 60-passenger explorer type ships to the huge, 12-story mega ships that can accommodate over 3,500 passengers and crew.

Dining Onboard

All the great things you’ve heard about dining on a cruise ship are true. Cruises are feasts for the eyes and stomach. You will wine and dine on gourmet meals. Even children have their own menus.

The best part is that there is virtually no limit on what or on how much you can order. If you have the late night munchies, check out the midnight buffet, or order room service. Most cruise ships offer 24-hour room service, which is included in the price.

Contrary to popular belief, not all cruise food is high in fat. You can certainly manage to stick to a healthy diet and still enjoy all the good stuff. Most cruise lines offer low-calorie and spa type cuisine.

Entertainment

Cruise lines such as Carnival specialize in glitzy Las Vegas-style entertainment. Some offer shows that are more subdued. Often the best entertainment onboard is from passenger participation. For example, last year onboard the Carnival Fascination, I had a great time watching passengers participate in a newlywed type game with the cruise director as the show host. On Costa, you can experience “Toga Night” where passengers don togas.

You can dance the night away in the disco or you can mellow out in one of the many lounges on board, which feature jazz or classical music. If you are an active soul, you can exercise to your heart’s content. You can jog, participate in an aerobics class, work out in the gym, swim, golf, play tennis or basketball, go skeet shooting, shuffleboard and much more. Want to be pampered? Try a message or facial in the ship’s spa.

Kids from 2-18 have their own play areas and supervised entertainment. Carnival, Disney, and Princess offer the best and most expansive children’s programs at sea.

Get Professional Advice

After you’ve developed a general idea of what type of cruise you’d like to take, talk with a professional travel agent. Unlike airlines, most cruise companies deal exclusively with agents rather than with individual consumers.

A good agent who specializes in cruises will advise you on what cruise is right for you. You can find an agent near you by checking out the CLIA (Cruise Line International Association) website or ASTA’s website. When discussing your plans with a travel agent, let them know your preferences and budget and you’ll be on your way to smooth sailing!

Filled Under Advice