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Archive for May, 2007


Going on a cruise? You bet!

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On May - 28 - 2007

What’s with all this cruise bashing? It seems you can hardly get through a cruise story these days without being interrupted with some sensationalist tale of shipboard gloom and doom.

I experienced it myself two weeks ago when I agreed to appear as a guest on CNBC’s “On the Money” to discuss the grounding of a Majestic America paddle-wheeler, the Empress of the North, near Juneau, Alaska. I had barely spoken a word about the incident before the interview was hijacked by the host, who began slinging stories about sinkings, fires, shipboard rapes, drunken rampages and disappearing passengers. I thought I’d wandered onto the set of Jerry Springer’s show.

Don’t believe me? Just have a look at the episode.

A week later, my own site, Tripso published a column titled “Going on a cruise? Not me!”. This hodgepodge attack on the cruise industry was penned by a writer who specializes in loyalty programs for airlines and hotels and who, by his own admission, has never set foot on a cruise ship. The article rounded up a somewhat different cast of villains (among them, stomach viruses, unscrupulous rug dealers, travel agents and pirates for heaven’s sake) to launch a wholesale attack on the industry.

You’d never know that more than 12 million people cruise every year entirely without incident, or that the cruise industry has a 95 percent satisfaction rate — higher than for any other type of vacation.

Yes, people sometimes get sick on cruise ships. Or get in a fight. Or get swindled in a foreign port. And, yes, passengers sometimes even go overboard. It is also true that cruise ships produce waste and pollutants and sometimes run aground.

But let’s get a little perspective here. Let’s check those numbers and put the figures in context.

The truth about norovirus. Norovirus, also known as the Norwalk virus, is that nasty gastrointestinal illness that gets a lot of headlines. In 2006, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Vessel Sanitation Program reported that there were 53 confirmed outbreaks of norovirus on 20 cruise ships that affected 6,698 passengers and crew members. Given that there were about 12.2 million cruise passengers worldwide that year, we see that just 0.05 percent of all cruise passengers were afflicted by the virus — or roughly 1 out of every 1,800 cruise passengers.

* More to consider. There are more than 23 million cases of norovirus reported in the United States each year. That averages out to 0.77 percent of the American population affected, or about 1 out of every 130 people per year. Clearly, cruise ships are not the big problem. In fact, the cruise line industry is the only travel sector that works closely with the CDC — not just on ship inspections, but also in the design and layout of the ships’ food preparation areas and water supplies. In contrast, hotels, resorts and airlines do not routinely report to the CDC at all.

Environmental pollution. Gone are the days when the ship’s crew would take the day’s garbage and just dump it over the rail. In the past decade, the cruise line industry has taken a proactive approach to minimizing pollution at sea. Cruise ships are required to follow strict environmental regulations that ensure that treated sewage and wastewater from showers, sinks and kitchen galleys are discharged properly at designated offshore perimeters. In fact, cruise line waste management is so highly regarded that cruise lines are often consulted by state governments on pollution abatement and sewage control. Ships are also starting to use more shore power when they are in port, which reduces engine emissions, and the industry is working on new hull designs and taking other measures to reduce fuel consumption.

* More to consider. Greenpeace notes that 80 percent of marine debris comes from land-based sources. The other 20 percent comes from ocean-based sources, including commercial fishing, recreational boating, military and merchant vessels, research vessels, and oil and gas drilling platforms. Cruise ships don’t even get a mention.

The lowdown on passengers overboard. According to a story earlier this year in the Los Angeles Times, 17 people are known to have gone overboard from cruise ships in 2006. That’s 0.00014 percent of all cruise passengers or roughly 1.4 people overboard per one million cruise passengers. According to news reports, most of those passengers are known to have been suicides or to have been drinking heavily before they went overboard.

* More to consider. On average, two people a month jump off San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, and 15 people a year commit suicide in a Las Vegas hotel or casino. As for alcohol-related deaths, in 2005, 16,885 people in the United States died in alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes.

The real statistics on shipboard sexual assaults. According to the International Council of Cruise Lines, from 2003 to 2005 the industry carried 31 million passengers and had 178 reports of passengers being sexually assaulted. This averages out to roughly 6 assaults per one million cruise passengers.

* More to consider. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, one in five female college students in the United States will experience a rape.

“While virtually no place — on land or sea — is totally free of risk, the number of reported incidents of serious crime from cruise lines is extremely low, no matter what benchmark or standard is used,” says Dr. James Fox, a nationally renowned criminologist, who was retained by the cruise industry as it prepared its statistics for congressional review last year.

Are shipboard assaults and other crimes underreported? Maybe. Foreign-flagged vessels do not
fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. government, and while cruise lines do voluntarily report crimes to the FBI, there is currently no way to know how much goes on under the radar.

It is certainly true that outrages and tragedies can occur aboard ship, but my sense — and my experience as a longtime cruiser — is that cruise ships are generally safe environments. With a little common sense and vigilance, anyone should be able to have a safe cruise vacation. The statistics speak for themselves.

Going on a cruise? You bet!

Filled Under Advice

The new lady Liberty

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On May - 21 - 2007

It was a poignant moment: the old lady and the new lady, face to face. With three long blasts of the horn, Liberty of the Seas saluted the Statue of Liberty and announced its arrival in America. Like the statue, Liberty of the Seas and its older sister, Freedom of the Seas, have come to symbolize a break from the past — and the embrace of a new and bigger world of opportunities and innovation.

Last year, I could sense the tension among crew and management as Royal Caribbean Cruise Line launched Freedom of the Seas into service, wondering if the cruising public would embrace its massive size and unique offerings. Capable of carrying more than 4,000 passengers, the ship really is a behemoth. Fortunately, the public loved the new ship and that deer-in-the-headlights expression was soon replaced with an air of confidence.

“It’s always amazing when you work on a project like this and watch it become a reality,” says Richard Fain, CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises International. Of course, with the second ship, you have the benefit of learning from the first one, and it is clear that Royal Caribbean has learned a lot in its freshman year running the world’s largest cruise ship. While the layout and much of the design is the same as on Freedom of the Seas, Liberty rolls out some new programming, puts a new emphasis on artwork, and offers better food in the main dining venues.

New programs

Many of the new onboard programs are directed to guests looking for more choices for a health-conscious vacation; other new programs are directed to families and newlyweds. The health programming includes the Vitality wellness program, which promotes a healthier lifestyle with new fitness and spa offerings, new shore excursions and new culinary choices. The new Explorer Weddings program lets couples tie the knot in “extreme” style while climbing a rock wall, surfing on the FlowRider, standing on a glacier or romancing in a castle.

New family programming includes the new Adventure Theater, “Scratch DJ 101” classes, Chefs on Deck, and the Crown & Anchor Society Youth Program, in which kids get what adults get: frequent-cruiser credits. Royal Caribbean has also fine-tuned its stateroom accommodations for families, and there are more group programs and shore excursions geared toward multigenerational family travel. And, in an industry first, the cruise line has created a teen advisory board to help develop programs to enhance the young-adult vacation experience.

The new artwork is an especially nice change. Liberty of the Seas has an art theme with modern bronze-and-glass sculptures, traditional and art-deco paintings, and a montage of photographs that’s called “Illusion or Reality?” It’s up to the passengers to decide based on their own tastes. Whatever the name, it certainly works; it’s quirky, fun and beautiful all at the same time.

Entertainment

“There are so many different things to do with such variety,” Fain says of the activities aboard the Liberty.

That’s an understatement. In fact, the ship has more facilities than a small town. There’s an ice rink, a nine-hole miniature golf course, a 43-foot-high rock-climbing wall and a full-size boxing ring. There are three pools, a full-size water park, the wave-generating FlowRider for surfing, and two cantilevered whirlpools that are suspended 112 feet above the ocean. Passengers can also visit the Royal Promenade, a 445-foot boulevard for shopping, dining and entertainment that looks like an atrium mall and hosts nightly street parades with performers, music and a laser light show. And for fitness buffs, Liberty’s very large fitness-and-spa center offers many options for rejuvenation and refreshment.

Those who like to take their entertainment sitting down can visit the enormous casino or listen to the live bands that can be found in various venues around the ship. There is also a theater with excellent professional entertainment. I was greatly entertained by Liberty’s “Somewhere in Time” revue — one of the best shows I’ve experienced on any ship. Not to be missed is the ship’s nightly ice show with professional figure skaters from Russia, Canada and the United States, who manage to do amazing jumps and choreography on an ice rink the size of a postage stamp.

Dining decadence

As befits a ship this size, there are many dining options. There is a Johnny Rockets hamburger joint near the pool deck, and the Royal Promenade hosts a Seattle’s Best Coffee house, a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop, the Hoof and Claw pub, and Sorrento’s pizzeria. What’s really improved since my Freedom cruise is the food in the main dining venues, which now offer more choices and better-prepared entrees. The ship offers the usual two nightly seatings, with assigned tables and tablemates, in its three-deck-high main restaurant; each level is named for a famous artist (Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Rembrandt). For those wishing to dine on buffet fare, there is Windjammer Café, the ship’s buffet venue. It is arranged like a food court, which really helps to keep the passenger traffic flowing. There are three additional dining venues within Windjammer Café: Jade, serving Asian-fusion cuisine; Chops Grille, serving steaks and seafood; and Portofino, serving Italian fare (Chops and Portofino require reservations and have a $20 cover charge.)

A peek at “Project Genesis”

Not so long ago, no one believed a ship as big as Liberty would float with the public. Too big, folks would say, too impersonal. How times have changed. “Now we know better because people realize all the things they can do on board,” Fain says. “We’ve created a big appeal and we can sell this product for a premium.”

As if Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, and next year’s Independence of the Seas aren’t big enough, the cruise line has set its sights on something really big. Royal Caribbean has ordered two 220,000-gross-ton ships, each capable of carrying 5,400 passengers — and each costing about $1.4 billion. The first of these “Project Genesis” ships is slated for delivery in the fall of 2009, the second in August 2010.

When asked about the new innovations aboard the Genesis ships, Fain kept mum. One thing is for certain: At 220,000 tons, Genesis ships should have some really big entertainment innovations. Stay tuned.

If you go

Liberty departs from Miami each Saturday on seven-night cruises that alternate between Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries.

Filled Under Reviews

The Godmothers

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On May - 7 - 2007

Ship christenings have come a long way since the Viking era, when ships were launched with human sacrifices to appease the gods and protect the new ship and its crew. While good fortune no longer requires human sacrifice, it does seem to require the human touch of the celebrity sort.

Ceremonial evolution

Traditionally, important ships were “christened” by royalty or by the ship’s owners as they were launched from their building blocks into the sea. To mark these occasions, bottles of champagne or sparkling wine were broken against the ship’s hull. Over time, the ritual duties were passed from high-ranking men to high-ranking women. In either case, the ceremony was meant to bring good luck to the ship and those who sailed on it.

Today’s “godmothers,” as the modern launchers are called, may no longer hobnob with the queen, but they are certainly high-profile standouts who attract lots of prized media attention for the cruise line. Recent ship godmothers include Rosie O’Donnell, Sophia Loren, Kathy Ireland and Martha Stewart. These women join an illustrious group of earlier godmothers that includes Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Sonja of Norway, Audrey Hepburn, Dame Julie Andrews, Shirley Temple Black, Lauren Bacall and the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

Smashing publicity

Cruise lines will often ramp up the celebrity hype by christening the ship with a theme. For example, next week Princess Cruises will celebrate Mother’s Day by christening its newest ship, Emerald Princess, with a pair of television’s favorite moms: Florence Henderson, best known as Carol Brady on “The Brady Bunch,” and Marion Ross, who played Marion Cunningham on “Happy Days.”

But when it comes to ship-launching publicity, no one can touch Royal Caribbean International, who last year partnered with NBC’s “Today” show to ask the public to pick the godmother for Freedom of the Seas, the world’s largest passenger ship. Viewers voted for Katherine Louise Calder, a Portland, Oregon, woman who is foster mother to more than 400 children. Not only did the public vote, they also watched the christening live as the entire show was broadcast aboard ship. A similar contest was held this year for Liberty of the Seas, although without the “Today” show, when Royal Caribbean named Canadian travel agent Donnalea Madaley to do the honors. Madaley was selected from among nearly 2,500 nominations of female travel agents who have demonstrated dedication to philanthropy and service in their communities. She will christen the ship on May 18.

Sometimes a cruise line will take a more unconventional approach. In 1997, Princess Cruises chose the original “Love Boat” cast to christen Dawn Princess. In 2002, Holland America Line bestowed the honor of representing the Prinsendam on all of its more than 10,000 employees worldwide. And, in 1999, Disney Cruise Line did what only Disney can do: It had Tinker Bell serve as fairy godmother for the Disney Wonder (she magically appeared via laser projection and fluttered down the length of the ship, sprinkling her fairy-dust blessings).

“Bad-girl” godmothers

Not all godmother choices are as popular as Tinker Bell. When domestic doyenne and convicted felon Martha Stewart was named godmother to Princess Cruises’ Crown Princess, there were a lot of groans. And when Rosie O’Donnell was named godmother to Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Pearl, many wondered why the controversial talk queen was chosen.

Alan Wilson, editor and publisher of Cruise News Daily, says the choices all come down to a competition for media attention. He calls the more controversial choices “bad-girl godmothers,” whose tarnished reputations are part of the draw. He says the controversy usually is a win-win situation for the players: the cruise line gets more publicity and the bad girl gains back some respectability.

Lady Luck

Fortunately, ship christenings have evolved from stuffy affairs into fun festivals with some entertaining moments.

In 2002, NCL chose “Sex in the City” star Kim Cattrall to be the godmother for Norwegian Dawn. Cattrall touted the ship’s large comfortable beds and then purred to the audience that the Dawn was ‘”by far the biggest ship in New York … and don’t let anyone ever tell you that size doesn’t matter!'” It took English actress Dame Judi Dench three attempts to smash a bottle of champagne against the hull of Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Legend in 2002. In her last attempt, she soaked herself, earning the nickname Dame Judi “Drench.”

And what do the godmothers get besides the honor of christening the ship? They are usually presented with fabulous jewelry and, best of all, are able to enjoy a free cruise a year for life on their “godship.”

Sadly, once the ceremony is over, most godmothers abandon their ships. The exception is Dame Judi, who Carnival says she is the only godmother to stay in contact with her godship, Carnival Legend. Indeed, Dame Judi sends the ship a Christmas card every year. Now, that’s the perfect godmother.

Filled Under Advice