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Archive for June, 2007

Botox … no more laugh lines at sea?

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On June - 25 - 2007

In 2006, passengers on the big three cruise lines — Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line — spent $4.4 billion for onboard extras like premium wines, gourmet dining, enrichment classes and spa treatments. That’s approximately $43 per passenger a day. Clearly, onboard spending has become a big profit center for cruise lines, and it got a lot of attention from the industry insiders who met to discuss the future of cruising at the annual Seatrade Cruise Shipping Convention in Miami in March.

Here are some highlights from the discussions.

“Less-inclusive” cruising

People still think of cruising as an “all-inclusive” vacation. Certainly, that is no longer true. Sure, meals, accommodations and entertainment are included in the cruise fare, but you’ll have to pay extra for things like soft drinks, bottled water and alcoholic beverages — not to mention “special-venue dining,” spa and salon treatments, shore excursions and tips.

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, vice president of onboard revenue and entertainment for Celebrity Cruises, recognizes the misconception and tried to set people straight. “We are not all-inclusive unless we specifically say we are,” she told the audience. “We do include a lot and cruising is a tremendous value. But when people go on vacation, they want to spend money.”

Well, I don’t know about that last statement, but Lutoff-Perlo is right when she says that shipboard offerings must continue to evolve to stay competitive with options available at shoreside hotels and resorts. In her view, this means that cruise ships will soon be offering more “lifestyle-oriented” activities like educational food-and-wine seminars — which, not coincidentally, would encourage wine sales at dinner. She also sees shipboard offerings becoming more differentiated by cruise-line brand, as we are already seeing with cruise lines hiring celebrity chefs on exclusive contract to come up with unique gastronomic events.

Mining passenger data

With the advent of larger and larger ships carrying more and more passengers, cruise lines are looking for ways to maximize shipboard sales efficiently. Tony Heuer, president of Fidelio Cruise Software, reported that his company now offers a data-mining program that can scan a ship’s inventory databases by key revenue sectors (e.g., shore excursions, spa services and retail shops) to detect unsold items, and then send promotions to passengers via the ship’s stateroom televisions. For example, the software could detect a passenger who often orders cognac in the ship’s bars but hasn’t bought a bottle of cognac in the duty-free shop; that passenger could then be targeted with a promotion.

Smart cards and Botox

Discussing the future of onboard gambling, independent cruise industry consultant David Stanley foresaw more cashless slots using smart cards for both play and winnings. He also predicted that new technologies would benefit older revenue centers like photography by enabling after-cruise Web sales. As for spa services — a big moneymaker for cruise lines in the last few years, when many cruise lines added tooth bleaching and acupuncture to their list of spa services — Stanley had some other predictions. Think “dermabrasion,” he said. And “Botox.”

Botox? That raised some eyebrows (or maybe not). Is Botox-at-sea a good idea?

I spoke with Pittsburgh plastic surgeon and anti-aging expert Dr. James J. Barber, the author of “The Forever Factor”. Barber, who has worked with Botox since it was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration, acknowledged that there has been a lot of abuse of the product by unscrupulous doctors who dilute the drug with more saline than is recommended. Nevertheless, Barber feels that Botox can be safely offered on cruise ships so long as it is administered by an experienced, board-certified plastic surgeon or dermatologist, in a sterile environment and at recommended doses.

In fact, Barber thinks cruise lines could be very successful with “Botox cruises” if they were organized specifically for individuals looking for products, services and advice on living a healthy lifestyle. Such cruises could attract top-notch doctors with whom the passengers would feel comfortable, and they could create an effective learning environment. “Teaching and evaluating individuals before getting Botox on how to make healthy lifestyle changes that really matter — that’s what’s most important,” Barber said.

It’s clear the face of cruising is about to change. Keep your eyes open.

Filled Under Advice

Our big fat Greek tour

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

Again, it’s blistering hot in Rhodes, Greece – 108 degrees! Sunscreen and hats are a must. The Freedom is docked right next to the town’s scenic fortress wall and white houses are mixed with older red tiled ones – very Greek.

We’re off to tour Lindros with its citadel and acropolis. The town of Lindros is very quaint and full of fun shopping opportunities. But, that’s not what we were here for. We are here to hike up to the top of the acropolis and this is no easy feat on a hot day. As we hike along less fit people are dropping out like flies. It’s simply too hot and too steep for a lot of very overweight passengers. I don’t think they realized the tour had this strenuous climb. A lot were mad and angry at Carnival and were whining that they hadn’t been told. I told one woman it’s right there in the brochure it has the symbols for strenuous activity. She wasn’t buying it. Apparently, those Krispy Kremes clogged her brain as well. I simply cannot stand people that blame everyone else for their own shortcomings – no sympathy here.

The view from the acropolis is amazing – the turquoise water against the pale sandstone rocks make for dramatic scenery. The climbing took its toll on my ten year old – she didn’t drink enough water. A bottle later and she was back to herself. It’s so important to keep hydrated and it’s easy to get heat exhaustion quite quickly.

I also can’t stand ignorant (sorry mostly fat people) that push past children standing in line to get on an air conditioned bus. I also can’t stand ignorant people who decide to take your seats that you rode in on the way to the destination on the beginning part of the tour and where my bag was stowed – aka “Texas woman.” This put the girls and me all over the place on the bus. I guess the heat is getting to my temper. I gave “Texas woman” a mean look and she didn’t like it. She asked what my problem was and I told her you took our seats now my family can’t sit near each other. She didn’t budge. Jerk!

I need a drink!

Filled Under Tripblog

Day at sea and a day off!

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On June - 20 - 2007

Wow, we slept until 11 AM! I must admit this sea day could not have come at a better time. Five days of heavy touring has taken its toll on us. I am just dragging today. If I didn’t awake before them the girls would have slept all day.

We went to the buffet for breakfast – it wasn’t crowded at all. The sun worshipers came to breakfast early and that made the buffet a joy to eat at. Normally, I hate buffets – they are crowded, noisy, and no fun. My theory is I am on vacation why serve myself, so I usually head to the dining room.

The girls went to the pool and slide while I indulged in a blissful hot stone massage. Then it was off to meet the famous John Heald. He’s the best cruise director on the high seas.

Filled Under Tripblog

Pompeii, Sorrento ,Positano and a medical emergency at sea

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On June - 19 - 2007

It was 95 degrees when we toured Pompeii – record highs for this time of year all around the Mediterranean. I am told our entire cruise will more than likely be bathed in a heat wave temperatures. The locals are complaining it feels like August. I have to say Pompeii is much prettier than when I toured eight years ago in the month of November. The flowers are blooming and the grass is green – even Vesuvius is emerald-esque.

There were 16 of us on a small tour bus and we had a terrific guide named Elizabetta who works for Aloschi Brothers Tour Company. We did an abbreviated two hour tour – my last tour was four hours which allowed for viewing the Villa – the best preserved section of Pompeii. While I was disappointed I did see the new sections and the auditoriums – very interesting. When we visited the “brothels” I had some ‘splaining to do. There nothing like having a 10-year-old say why are those people in the painting playing leapfrog naked?

I wish we could have spent more time in Sorrento – it was full of ‘touristas.’ But the smell of lemons is entoxicating. Who cares about tourists you feel lemony fresh here. A Sorrento lemon is a must-see they are the size of grapefruits – stop by and have some granache from the street vendor for 1.50 euros.

Postitano is everything you hear about. This charming town is a place you just want to sit down and slowly sip an espresso – except its too damn hot! It’s limoncello for me; lemon granache for the kids.

Paul Allen’s yacht “Octopus” is moored off the coast. He sure knows how to live it up. I wish I had my Steelers hat on along with Terrible Towel – rub in the Super Bowl victory from two years ago. Then again, it’s too hot to wear that stuff.

When we returned to the ship things seemed normal until we did a big U-turn at dinner time. Unfortunately, we had to divert to the Salerno to take off an ill German man. He had a heart attack onboard. An Italian Coast Guard cutter came to the side of the ship where the passenger would be transferred. I hope he’s okay.

Filled Under Tripblog

Code Red: Norovirus aboard ship

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On June - 18 - 2007

New Jersey resident Larry Harris was enjoying his second cruise aboard Royal Caribbean International’s brand-new ship, Liberty of the Seas, when things started to go awry. His first cruise, the ship’s inaugural sailing, had been relaxing and uneventful, but on the second night of this second sailing, passengers started receiving correspondence from the ship’s captain — not at all a usual occurrence. The problem? The ship’s doctor had reported several passengers with symptoms of infection with a norovirus.

Noroviruses, once called the “Norwalk virus,” are a family of highly contagious viruses that cause a number of gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and cramping, along with headache, fever, muscle aches and chills. In the confined quarters of a ship, a norovirus can spread quickly. It can definitely ruin your cruise.

By the time Liberty of the Seas ended its cruise in Miami on June 2, 200 passengers and 12 crew members had reported symptoms of norovirus infection. The wonder is that there weren’t more people afflicted. Noroviruses can produce very high infection rates. For example, during an outbreak in April at an assisted-living facility near Washington, D.C., 61 percent of the residents fell ill. The incidence aboard Liberty was just 4 percent. So, how did Royal Caribbean keep the other 3,646 passengers and 1,413 crew members from getting sick?

The Outbreak Prevention Plan

Five years ago, Royal Caribbean was the first cruise line to develop a comprehensive program to help prevent the spread of norovirus infections. Vince Warger, director of medical services for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise lines, worked directly with the Vessel Sanitation Program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to come up with the Outbreak Prevention Plan, OPP for short — a comprehensive disinfection program that helps keep passengers from spreading the virus aboard ship. The program has since been adopted by all cruise lines that report to the CDC.

The plan was put into play early on the second day of the Liberty cruise. Michael Sheehan, Royal Caribbean’s associate vice president of corporate communications, says that several passengers reported to the infirmary with norovirus-like symptoms just hours after the ship set sail from Miami. Noroviruses have a one-to-two-day incubation period, so it appears that the passengers had been infected before boarding; unfortunately, they had already spread the virus among the passengers and crew. Seeing the potential for an outbreak, the captain set the OPP in motion.

What exactly does the OPP program entail?

“It’s a three-step process that is color-coded,” says Sheehan. “Code Green is our standard operating procedures — cleaning of cabins twice a day, wiping down handrails, etc. Code Yellow requires more enhanced cleaning of all high-touch areas such as elevator buttons, handles, railings, restrooms, phones, computer keyboards and so on. We may stop passengers from using tongs at the buffet and have only kitchen staff serve guests. Handshaking is also discouraged as this is the most common way the virus is transmitted. Code Red means even more cleaning, more frequent curtailments.”

Larry Harris saw the protocol unfold firsthand. In a series of dispatches from the ship, he noted a proliferation of hand sanitizers and bleach crews all over the ship. He reported that the touch-screen monitors in the common areas were disabled, as were the self-serve ice cream machines, and that the children’s video arcade was closed. Food-service areas got special attention. The Sorrento’s pizzeria and the Johnny Rockets restaurant were closed, and food from the Windjammer Buffet was prohibited on deck. Salt and pepper shakers were replaced by single-serve packets in the buffet area, and as soon as diners finished their meals, staff descended on the tables with bleach in hand.

“The crew is working extremely hard and working overtime,” Harris reported. “They are doing everything they can to keep the ship clean.” Royal Caribbean also brought aboard three additional doctors and one additional nurse. It was a full-scale assault.

Passengers handled with care

Meanwhile, passengers who had contracted the virus were asked to remain in their cabins in order to prevent any further spread of the illness to other passengers and crew.

“We ask guests to have compassion towards their fellow passengers and not spread the illness,” Sheehan says, stressing that the approach is one of voluntary isolation: Guests can either stay in their cabin or leave the ship. If they leave the ship, the cruise line will assist them with travel expenses. In fact, most passengers who became ill in this outbreak chose to stay in their cabins and ride it out.

“We do as much as possible to make them comfortable,” Sheehan says of the cruise line’s policy for cabin isolation. “We call to check on them and whatever they want — be it special room service items or free movies — we try to keep them comfortable.” Guests also receive daily compensation in the form of cruise credits for each day they are isolated and the cruise line takes care of all infirmary expenses associated with treatment for the norovirus infection.

Stopping noroviruses

Both Sheehan and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that frequent hand washing with soap and water is the best and most important preventative against a norovirus infection. “Hand-sanitizing gels are not a substitute,” Sheehan stresses. Many people are surprised to learn that hand sanitizers don’t do as thorough a job as hand washing, but they are just the “icing on the cake,” says Sheehan, not the main line of defense.

If you suspect you have picked up a norovirus before getting on the ship, for heaven’s sake don’t board. Let the cruise line staff know and they will assist you in trying to get better and in making different arrangements for your cruise.

According to Sheehan, Royal Caribbean delayed the departure of Liberty’s next sailing by five hours to provide additional time for cleaning and sanitizing the ship. Those new passengers were given an onboard credit of $25 per person to cover any expenses they incurred while waiting to board. Furthermore, any passengers uneasy about sailing on the ship because of the earlier outbreak were able to cancel without penalty.

As for Larry Harris, he escaped the nasty virus, and he thinks the crew of Liberty of the Seas handled the situation with utmost professionalism. Moreover, the norovirus outbreak didn’t deter him from sailing with Royal Caribbean again. In fact, he has already booked a cruise for next year on its new ship, Independence of the Seas.

Filled Under Ombudsman

Touring the Vatican with our Cruise Critic friends

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On June - 17 - 2007

After months of e-mailing back and forth I finally met my Cruise Critic friends. Vanessa Aquino and her family from Los Angeles; and Nancy Trandel and her family from Chicago. There were 10 of us and Nancy and Vanessa had both posted on the Cruise Critic “Roll Call” board to look for anyone looking to hire a guide and van service to Civitavecchia. I said “Count us in.”

These folks are wonderful and it was a pleasure touring with them on a very hot day in Rome. It was nice to have our own private guide, it was wall-to-wall tourists. Almost oppressive. Our guide Daniela had a masters degree in symbology – in other words she’s the female Robert Langdon from the Da Vinci Code. She pointed out lots of little things along our tour of the Vatican that we would not have known otherwise. It was a little too “cerebral” for the kids, but they nonetheless enjoyed seeing the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica.

Our ride to Civitavecchia was easy. And, we were the first cruise to experience Carnival’s new terminal in Civitavecchia – boarding was flawless.

Our balcony stateroom is terrific and it’s off to tour Freedom! This is our home for the next thirteen days.

Filled Under Blog