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Archive for September, 2007

Cruise line snuffs out smoking

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

MSC Cruises introduced a new smoking policy that the company said is aimed at allowing both smokers and non-smokers to enjoy their voyage.On each ship, smoking is allowed only in the cigar room, the casino and in one dedicated lounge.

Passengers can also smoke outside, on one side of the sun deck, but smoking is prohibited in staterooms and on stateroom balconies.

Smoking has been eliminated in areas where non-smokers and smokers would have shared the same spaces, according to gm Emilio La Scala. ‘We assigned a few rooms where smokers are welcome, but the majority of indoor spaces are now non-smoking,’ he said.

MSC’s move follows similar policies recently announced by Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line.

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Congratulations “Mr. Carnival”!

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

Carnival Freedom’s cruise director, the great John Heald. John Heald – Carnival Freedom’s senior cruise director whose blog has become a cruise industry sensation, with nearly 700,000 visitors since its debut in March – has been named “Sea Going Employee of the Year” by Seatrade Insider, a leading on-line source for cruise industry news and information.

The award, which was presented earlier today at the Seatrade Europe opening party held at the Schmidt’s Tivoli Theatre in Hamburg, recognizes the shipboard employee who has made a significant contribution to the cruise industry over the past year. The award was based on a survey of Seatrade Insider readers, with Heald receiving more votes among the six candidates vying for the honor.

Caricature of John Heald with dream “Godmother” Angelina Jolie “Thanks to everyone who voted for me – I am truly honoured (spelt correctly),” Heald said. “I would also like to thank my fellow nominees for their contributions to our industry, as well as all of my readers and the incredibly supportive Carnival staff both onboard and ashore. Most of all, I would like to thank my wife Heidi. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for her and there is noting she wouldn’t do for me. That’s what makes us such a great team – we do nothing for each other,” he added.

Originally part of a micro-site created for the launch of the Carnival Freedom in March, Heald’s blog has taken on a life of its own and has become the most popular cruise-related blog on the Internet. The blog serves as a forum for Heald to share interesting and colorful tales of daily life aboard the Carnival Freedom during its inaugural European cruise season. The blog has even spawned its own cruise, the John Heald Bloggers Cruise, a seven-day Caribbean voyage from Miami on the Carnival Freedom in January 2008. ExpertCruiser will be onboard for the blog play-by-play.

For more about John read our “Journeys with John” feature.

For more about the Carnival Freedom click here.

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Carnival Valor rescues Cuban refugees on Sept. 24, 2007

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

You have to love the Internet. A mere 24-hours after Cuban refugees are rescued by the crew of the Carnival Valor passengers post video on the Web.

Filled Under Cruise Videos

Silversea goes expedition

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

World Discoverer Silversea Cruises announced today that it has purchased the expedition ship World Discoverer. The company took delivery of the vessel in Singapore on September 17. The ship will undergo a multi-million dollar refurbishment before it begins service in spring 2008.

ExpertCruiser first reported on August 27 that Silversea had been looking to acquire an expedition vessel.

With the addition of World Discoverer, Silversea’s fleet increases to five ships and to six in 2009, with the line’s new build vessel.  Additionally, the line will be one of the few cruise lines offering voyages to all seven continents. Silversea will be unveiling more details about World Discoverer, including the new name, in the coming weeks. The line’s executives did say that the vessel’s refurbishment will extend to virtually every area of the ship to bring World Discoverer in line with Silversea’s ultra-luxury standards.

After the planned refurbishment, World Discoverer will accommodate around 140 guests (reduced from current 175) in ocean-view staterooms, including Owner’s Suites, Grand Suites, and 12 yet-unnamed suites that will be similar to the line’s popular Silver Suites — offering an intimate club-like ambiance that will deliver an expedition cruise experience consistent with the line’s reputation for intimate yet spacious ships. Additionally the vessel’s crew complement of 106 will continue to ensure the highest level of service with a crew-to-guest ratio that will equal or exceed that of Silver Cloud and Silver Wind , thus being among the highest in this niche market.

World Discoverer will be equipped with state-of-the-art satellite communication systems, providing bow-to-stern wireless Internet access, enabling guests with Wi-Fi-enabled laptops and PDAs to surf the Internet and check e-mails from the comfort of their suites as well as public areas. Cellular phone service will also allow guests to stay in touch using their own cell phones even when the ship is miles away from land. The vessel will also feature flat screen TVs in all suites and staterooms. In the ship’s lounges, the latest audio-visual equipment, complete with high-definition video screens, will display live lectures hosted by visiting destination experts.

The 6,072-ton vessel also boasts a strengthened hull with the highest Lloyd’s Register ice-class notation (1A), appropriate for navigating waters, without an escort, in some of the world’s most remote regions, including Antarctica.

Prior to being acquired by Silversea, World Discoverer was operated by Seattle-based Society Expeditions until the company went bankrupt in June 2004.

Click here to read more about Silversea Cruises.

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Hey, kids! No birth certificate, no cruise

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On September - 24 - 2007

The Mueller family, of Phoenix, was looking forward to a May cruise in Alaska aboard the Norwegian Star. Sue Mueller made a great booking for her family through Hotwire — or so she thought.

Before the cruise, Mueller checked with Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) to make sure she had all the travel documents her family would need for the trip. She knew that passport rules were changing, but like many Americans, she was unsure exactly what paperwork she would need to cruise from Seattle to Alaska.

“I contacted NCL customer service the day before the cruise to verify that we had acceptable documents,” recalls Mueller. She says the agent verified that the family’s documents — birth certificates and photo IDs — were sufficient for the cruise; the agent went on to explain that new passport requirements, which have sent U.S. travelers scrambling over the past year, would not affect cruise passengers until 2008.

Cruiseless in Seattle

But the next day, when the Muellers tried to board the ship in Seattle, they got a terrible shock. Sue and her husband had their birth certificates, as required, but their 16- and 17-year-old sons did not, and the cruise line would not let them board. A staff member said that the cruise line required proof of citizenship for all U.S. citizens; justifying the application of that rule to minors, the agent said that without the birth certificates, “you could be kidnapping them.”

Stunned by the development, the Muellers pleaded with the NCL staff and presented their sons’ high school photo IDs, explaining that the boys had needed their birth certificates to get them. No go.

The Muellers were escorted to a waiting area, where they found 20 other passengers with similar documentation issues, including some who had also booked their cruise through Hotwire. The Muellers called home and tried to have a neighbor fax the birth certificates to the pier, but the neighbor could not find them. The Muellers’ cruise was dead in the water.

The family was now stranded in Seattle, Mueller says, and no one from NCL offered assistance. “We were crushed,” she says. “This was to be our last family vacation before the boys went off to college, and it was especially meaningful because my husband’s health is not good.”

Instead of vacationing in Alaska, the Muellers spent the week at home. Mueller contacted NCL several times, but the cruise line refused to offer the family a refund or a credit to use toward another cruise. After getting nowhere, Mueller contacted Tripso for help.

A documented mess

I contacted NCL to see what the cruise line could do. AnneMarie Mathews, director of public relations for NCL, said she was sorry to hear about the family’s trouble, but pointed out that the Muellers did receive information from the cruise line specifying what documentation they needed to bring.

“The cruise documents that the Muellers received from us had a link to our “Welcome Aboard” booklet that includes a paragraph on necessary documentation,” Matthews says. “The requirements state that valid birth certificates are required for all U.S. citizens traveling on Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda, Alaska, Mexican Riviera, and Canada & New England cruises. We also suggest that travelers visit the U.S. State Department Web site for the latest requirements and overseas information before they sail.”

NCL declined to give the Muellers any compensation, arguing that proper documentation is the passenger’s responsibility. (All cruise lines take this position.) Furthermore, NCL says, if travelers show up at the pier without proper documentation, they are not entitled to a refund. Hotwire includes the same documentation information on its Web site.

Mueller did buy travel insurance through Travel Guard and she made a claim, but it was denied. None of the three big travel insurance companies (Travel Guard, Access America and CSA Travel) covers such claims. NCL’s own travel insurance contains a cancel-for-any-reason clause, which would have resulted in a credit of 75 percent to 90 percent of the Muellers’ cruise fare, but the Muellers did not purchase that NCL policy.

Don’t miss the boat

Problems like the Muellers’ will soon disappear — not because cruise lines will become more tenderhearted, but because the days of anyone cruising with a U.S. birth certificate are numbered. Passports are already required for all U.S. citizens entering the country by air. Entry by land or by cruise ship is still exempted from the passport requirement, but the cutoff date for the exemption is January 1, 2009. According to the State Department, phase-in dates for the passport requirement have not yet been determined, but passports could be required for cruise travelers as early as the summer of 2008. So for the next year, documentation requirements will be in flux.

I’ve received many letters and phone calls from cruise travelers with documentation problems like the Muellers’. Every one of these cases came from travelers who had booked their own cruises. While doing it yourself can sometimes save you money, you can also lose all your vacation money if you do not have the right information about documentation.

My advice for travelers booking cruises over the next year is to work with a travel agent who can advise you on up-to-date documentation requirements. Yes, you will pay for the service, but it’s money wisely invested.

As for Sue Mueller, she’s learned her lesson. “Hindsight!” she sighs. “Now I wish I had done more. I hope no one else ever has a similar situation.”

Filled Under Ombudsman

Dancing Queen

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On September - 24 - 2007

Queen Victoria Queen’s Room dance floor. The dance floor in the highly anticipated Queen’s Room of Cunard Cruises latest cruise ship Queen Victoria is almost complete, the cruise line has announced.

This news should please those looking forward to enjoying luxury cruises onboard Queen Victoria, where they will be able to dance to a live orchestra in the Queen’s Room.

Glamorous cocktail parties and white-gloved afternoon English tea services will also take place in the elegant venue.

“The dramatic double-height Queens Room, a loggia-style venue, is reminiscent of a grand ballroom in a large country house, with cantilevered balconies overlooking the ballroom paying homage to the line’s iconic and much-loved Queen Elizabeth 2,” Cunard Cruises reveals.

Queen Victoria looks set to be as popular among those seeking formal cruises as her predecessors Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth 2.

It was recently announced that Her Royal Highness Camilla Duchess of Cornwall is to officially name Queen Victoria in a ceremony that is to take place on December 10th, just before the cruise liner sets off on her inaugural voyage.

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