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Archive for September, 2006

As fuel costs rise, cruise lines scramble

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On September - 25 - 2006

We all know what the soaring cost of fuel has done to the airline industry. Now the problem is hitting the cruise industry, especially the giant cruise lines, like Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean Cruises International, who together comprise approximately 75 percent of the worldwide cruise-ship fleet. Carnival saw its fuel costs increase 33 percent last year; Royal Caribbean’s bills rose 25 percent — not surprising when you learn that their ships carry in the neighborhood of 3,000 metric tons of fuel.

Smaller cruise lines like Oceania and Silversea are less susceptible to fuel cost increases because they operate smaller ships and offer longer port times, so they spend less time cruising and burning fuel. But they are all feeling the pinch. Some cruise lines are balancing the books by adding fuel surcharges to their passengers’ bills; all are working harder at fuel conservation.

Just what does this mean for the cruise traveler? It all depends upon which cruise line you sail on.

Fuel surcharges

Four cruise lines — American West Steamboat Company, Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Costa Cruises (European sailings only) — have imposed fuel surcharges for the 2006 season. These surcharges range between $2 and $12 per person per day. As for the 2007 season, there are mixed reports.
* Crystal Cruises has stated that the surcharge will remain in effect indefinitely.

* Costa Cruises says its surcharges will remain in effect through November 2006 and further surcharges have not yet been decided.

* American West Steamboat Company, which was recently merged with Delta Queen Steamboat Company to form Majestic America Line, says no decision has been made for the 2007 season.

* Regent Seven Seas spokesman Andrew Poulton says he does not expect fuel surcharges to be levied for the 2007 cruise season as Regent has already factored the elevated fuel costs into next year’s fares. But, he adds, “If there is a dramatic increase in the cost of fuel, we would have to reconsider.”

Fuel conservation

With fuel prices on the rise, most cruise lines are looking at fuel conservation measures. Some lines are changing their routes and schedules. For example, Carnival has cut the far-flung southern Caribbean islands of Aruba, Barbados and Martinique from its Carnival Destiny and Carnival Legend itineraries for the 2007 season. Instead, the ships will visit St. Kitts, St. Lucia and St. Maarten, islands whose closer proximity requires less sailing time and therefore less fuel. Carnival says the changes offer significant fuel savings. Other cruise lines have adopted earlier departure times that allow the ships to cruise more slowly and burn less fuel. The downside to this change for the consumer is less time in port.

During the Pride of Hawaii inaugural sailing in May, I asked Norwegian Cruise Line’s President and CEO Colin Veitch a few questions about fuel conservation. Veitch said the line relies heavily on navigation software to plan out voyages that maximize fuel efficiency. This includes not only navigational plotting but engine speeds as well. He said the cruise line is also working on automated climate control in passenger cabins using a sensor technology that can adjust temperatures according to whether the cabin is occupied or unoccupied.

On the newest ships on all cruise lines, passengers will notice more targeted climate-control operations in the cabin, many of which are now zoned to heat or cool a specific area. And all new-built and recently refurbished ships are equipped with flat-screen televisions, which save a lot of energy.

At Celebrity Cruises, President Dan Hanrahan says the company is looking at all conservation ideas, right down to replacing many standard lights with LED lights. So far, he says, the company has not found an LED light that can fit all its needs.

Princess Cruises and Holland America Line are exploring an entirely different tactic that will not only save fuel but also curb engine air emissions: tapping into local shore power. While docked in a partner port, retrofitted ships are “plugged in” to the electricity provided by the host city’s hydroelectric plant. The approximate cost for shore power is $5,000 each time a ship plugs in — much less than it would cost to generate electricity burning fuel in the ship’s engines. Both Princess and Holland America are currently tapping power in Seattle, and Princess is also tapping power in Juneau.

Then there are simple things cruise lines do to save fuel, including using fewer lights, tinting windows and painting the ship’s hull with a special paint that prevents sea organisms from adhering to the ship and slowing it down.

So what does all this mean for you, the cruise consumer?

If fuel prices continue to skyrocket and eat away at profits, cruise lines may have no choice but to impose fuel surcharges or raise cruise fares. It goes without saying: Any conservation on the cruise industry’s part can keep cruise fares more affordable for all.

Filled Under Advice

Is cruising right for you?

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On September - 18 - 2006

I get a lot of e-mails from people asking if a cruise vacation is right for them. It’s a fair question. After all, once the ship leaves the dock, you’re pretty much stuck until the ship turns around and comes home. Here are answers to the most common questions I’ve received from cruise newbies in the past six months:

1. What should be my first cruise?

There are two ways to go here. Most first-time cruisers choose a short cruise with lots of port calls; they do this because they’re afraid they’ll go crazy if they’re stuck aboard ship. While this is a good strategy if you just want to get your feet wet, I recommend looking for a longer itinerary with some “sea days.” That way you can relax and enjoy the ship’s facilities. It’s really the only way to find out what “cruising” is all about. So, look for a cruise with some balance between sea days and port days. My recent cruise aboard the Crown Princess from New York City had a great balance: four sea days and five port days.

2. What about seasickness?

It may have all the amenities of a shoreside resort, but a cruise ship does travel on open water. Your body will register that motion no matter how big the ship is or how well it is stabilized. Therefore, if you experience severe motion sickness on land or on airplanes then cruising may not be for you.

Ordinary motion sickness can be relieved by remedies like Dramamine and acupressure bands. (If you forget to pack them, don’t worry; they are always available in the ship’s store.) If you’re susceptible to motion sickness, book a cabin on a lower deck in the middle of the ship where motion is minimized. Even better is a balcony cabin in the middle of the ship; fresh air really does help with motion sickness. If the going gets rough, you can get a motion sickness shot in the ship’s medical center, but understand you’ll be charged a fee ($75 on up).

3. Do I have to get dressed up every night?

If you love dressing up, then by all means do so. But cruising has become less formal in recent years, so fancy dress is optional. In fact, many new ships offer several informal dining venues (e.g., sushi bars, pizzerias, buffets and snack bars) where you needn’t dress up at all. Still, most ships continue to offer two formal nights in the main dining rooms: the Captain’s Welcome and the Farewell Dinner. Formal-night attire ranges from tuxedos to dark suits for men; for women, formal dress ranges from long gowns to dressy pantsuits. More casual dress is appropriate in the dining rooms on other occasions, but most ships do not allow jeans, shorts or sleeveless men’s tops in any dining room.

4. Do I have to sit with strangers at dinner?

One of the best parts of cruising is getting to meet people from all walks of life. But if you are uncomfortable sitting with people you don’t know, you can arrange a table change with the maître d’ – but you must do so as soon as you get on board. If you wait too long, the staff may not be able to accommodate you. Understand that tables for two are scarce aboard ship except on luxury cruise lines like Silversea.

5. What about tipping?

Except on a few luxury cruise ships that have “no tipping required” policies, passengers are expected to tip their cabin steward, dining room waiter and assistant waiter. Many lines recommend that each passenger tip about $10 per day, as follows: cabin steward, $3.50; dining room waiter and assistant waiter, $5.50 (shared); and bistro service waiter and cooks, $1. Bar bills are automatically charged a 15 percent gratuity for the bartender. Special service personnel such as the maitre d’, deck stewards and bellmen should be tipped as service is rendered.

Some cruise lines offer to add the suggested gratuities to your shipboard account; the accounting office then distributes the tips at the end of the cruise. On other ships, you leave cash in an envelope on the last evening of your cruise. Understand that ships’ crews work very hard to make your cruise top-notch. Unless the service has actually been poor, tip the recommended amount. For outstanding service, add a little more. To get an idea of how much to tip, visit Cruise Tip Calculator, a nifty Web site that lists tipping amounts for each crew member on most cruise lines.

Here’s a tip from me to you: Get your cash tips in order before your cruise and have them organized in separate envelopes for each crew member. Believe me, there’s nothing worse than waiting in a long line at the cruise desk on the last night of the cruise to get all your cash tips in order.

6. Will I gain weight?

Cruising is the ultimate “see food” diet — you see food, you eat it. Yes, most passengers end up with more to love after a cruise. But you don’t have to become a sloth in a deck chair; there are plenty of active pursuits to enjoy aboard ship. Most ships have exercise rooms, pools, jogging tracks and fitness classes covering everything from aerobics to yoga. Newer cruise ships like Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas offer boxing, rock climbing and surfing classes, while traditional ships like the Queen Mary 2 offer walk-a-mile deck-lapping sessions and aerobics.

7. Can I do my laundry on board?

Most ships have self-service laundry rooms with ironing boards. On most mainstream and premium cruise lines, you’ll have to pay to use the washers and dryers. On luxury lines like Crystal, Regent, Seabourn, Silversea and Regent, the self-serve laundry is complimentary. Don’t want to waste valuable vacation time doing laundry? Then send your clothes to the ship’s laundry or dry cleaner; there will be a per-item charge. During the cruise, many ships offer a “laundry bag special”: For a set fee (usually $10-$20), laundry crew will wash everything you can cram into the laundry bag.

Cruising is a vacation like no other. It offers vast open seas, and the scenery changes every day. The food and service are better than in a resort hotel, all food and entertainment is included in the price, and you have to unpack only once. Believe me, once you try cruising, you will be hooked for life.

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Quickie cruises

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On September - 4 - 2006

Recent polls indicate that Americans are taking less vacation time than in the past, and some are taking no vacation at all. Why do people give back their vacation days? It’s hard to fathom, but millions of people are doing it. What’s more, the Travel Industry Association, the industry’s largest trade group, has found that the average American expects to spend no more than six nights away from home at a time.

Cruise lines have taken note of this clock-watching trend, and they now offer short cruises that range from one to five nights. These short cruises are ideal for people who want a quick, relatively inexpensive getaway.

Here are some highlights from the major cruise lines.

Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival offers year-round three-day cruises from Miami to the Bahamas aboard the Fascination and the Sensation. Four-day Bahamas cruises depart year-round from Port Canaveral and Jacksonville, Fla., aboard the Celebration, Elation and Fantasy. There are four- and five-day cruises to the Western Caribbean from Miami aboard the Fascination; from Tampa aboard the Inspiration; from Mobile, Ala., aboard the Holiday; from Galveston, Texas; aboard both the Elation and the Ecstasy; and, starting in October, from New Orleans aboard the Sensation. On the West Coast, Carnival offers year-round four-day Baja Mexico cruises aboard the Paradise from Long Beach, Calif.

Celebrity Cruises

In September and October, Celebrity Cruises offers three- and four-night cruises from Seattle to ports in British Columbia aboard the Mercury. In November and December, four- and five-night cruises aboard the just-refurbished Century will be offered from Miami to the Western Caribbean.

Costa Cruises

Europe’s largest cruise line, Costa Cruises, offers a wide-ranging selection of four- and five-night Mediterranean cruises and one short Caribbean sailing from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. European itineraries offer ports in Italy, Tunisia, Malta, Greece and Croatia. In September, four- or five-night cruises are available aboard two ships, the Costa Marina and the Costa Magica. In spring 2007, many more four- and five-night sailings open up, including itineraries in Europe and the Western Caribbean, aboard seven of Costa’s 11 ships.

Cunard Line

In October, Cunard Line‘s Queen Elizabeth 2 has a two-day “Autumn Getaway” round-trip cruise from Southampton, England, to Belgium. On July 2, 2007, the Queen Mary 2 has an “Independence Day” four-day round-trip sailing from New York to Eleuthera Island, in the Bahamas. On July 24 and August 21, 2007, Queen Mary 2 has two four-day “Summer Getaway” sailings from Southampton to Hamburg, Germany.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line‘s Disney Wonder sails year-round on three- and four-night cruises out of Port Canaveral calling at Nassau and Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island.

Holland America Line

In September and October, Holland America Line features sailings of one to four days to ports from California to Vancouver. These shorter itineraries, which are segments of longer repositioning cruises, enable travelers to sample premium cruising. They depart from Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver aboard the Veendam, Westerdam, Volendam, Statendam and Zuiderdam. The itineraries repeat in April and May 2007.

Norwegian Cruise Line

This fall, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) offers several one-night dinner cruises out of Vancouver and New York; in December the one-night cruises move south to Miami, on inaugural sailings of the Norwegian Pearl. (Real new-ship enthusiasts can try out the Norwegian Pearl on five-night Western Caribbean itineraries from Miami beginning in January and running through April 2007.) In late September 2006, NCL offers two cruises between Los Angeles and Vancouver, one each way: a three-day sailing south aboard the Norwegian Star and a four-day sailing north aboard the Norwegian Sun. A five-day Western Caribbean itinerary departs from New Orleans in January 2007 aboard the Norwegian Sun.

Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises‘ Island Princess sails on a three-day Vancouver-to-Los Angeles itinerary in September 2006 and 2007. The Dawn Princess offers a one-day sailing between Seattle and Vancouver on September 23 and a three-day San Francisco-to-Vancouver cruise on September 24. In May 2007, the Golden Princess offers a two-day sailing from San Francisco to Vancouver and a one-day sailing from Seattle to Vancouver, and the Sapphire Princess has a four-day sailing from Los Angeles to Vancouver.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Regent Seven Seas Cruises‘ Seven Seas Voyager departs November 30 on a four-night itinerary round-trip from Fort Lauderdale with calls at Nassau and Key West.

Royal Caribbean International

Royal Caribbean International offers many quickie cruises all year round, including three-, four- and five-night cruises to the Bahamas or the Western Caribbean from four East Coast ports: Miami, Port Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale and Galveston. On the West Coast, Royal Caribbean offers three- and four-night sailings year-round from Los Angeles to Baja Mexico; two- and five-night sailings on this same route are added in December and January. The quickie cruises are available on eight ships, representing four of Royal Caribbean’s six ship categories; four of the ships – the Majesty of the Seas, Sovereign of the Seas, Enchantment of the Seas and Monarch of the Seas – offer quickie cruises year-round.

Silversea Cruises

Silversea Cruises offers a “Personalized Voyages” program that allows travelers to customize their sailings. The minimum number of days required is five, and the program is available on all Silversea itineraries.

Don’t lose your valuable vacation time. Sign up for a quick cruise getaway, and tell your boss you’ll be back soon.

Filled Under Advice