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Archive for August, 2008

Fay throws some cruises off course

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On August - 17 - 2008

Tropical Storm Fay is causing some changes to several Western Caribbean cruises so far. Carnival changed ports for two of its vessels –Carnival Valor, which sails Sunday from Miami, and Carnival Inspiration, which sails Monday from Tampa.

However, lines are monitoring the storm which is expected to pass over the western portion of Cuba tonight and near the Florida Keys on Monday night. As of Sunday afternoon no other cruise lines announced changes in their Western Caribbean itineraries.
Forecasters expect Fay to strength to a hurricane over the next 24 hours. Fay is expected to skirt the Gulf Coast of Florida and could make landfall near Tampa on Tuesday.

Filled Under Blog

Is the cruise ship building party over?

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On August - 17 - 2008

For the past decade cruise lines have been ordering dozens of new vessels with many lines taking deliveries of multiple ships within a single year. Unfortunately, high gasoline prices and a slumping economy have put a damper on leisure travel and the timing couldn’t be worse for the cruise lines. With 35 vessels on order over the next four years at a total cost of 22 billion some cruise lines are cutting back their fleets, laying off employees, and holding off from ordering new ships.

Expensive ships

With all the economic uncertainty most cruise lines are cutting the biggest expense of all — new ships. All of the new ships coming on line within the next few years were ordered several years ago when the dollar had a favorable exchange rate.

Carnival Corporation chairman Micky Arison says soaring fuel and steel costs combined with a weak dollar have made it virtually impossible to put together a new ship building project past 2012 for any of Carnival Corporation’s North American brands: Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess, and Holland America Line.

“We have not put one together for over a year,” Arison said during last month’s press conference for the launch of Carnival’s newest ship, Carnival Splendor.

Cruise lines price the cost of building their ships by the number of berths (or beds) onboard. For example, Carnival Splendor cost Carnival Corp. $640 million or $212,000 for the 3006 berths. Arison says Carnival looked at the current cost per berth for ships and concluded that if they ordered now, they would not meet their return requirement. He noted that with better conditions the company’s next orders would undoubtedly have been in place by now.

On the other hand, Carnival’s biggest competitor, Royal Caribbean International, has remained more bullish when it comes to new ship orders. The company, which encompasses Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara, has placed orders for the largest and most innovative ships ever to be constructed. Not surprisingly, they are the most expensive.

When the first Genesis-class ship, Oasis of the Seas, launches next year it will have cost the company $1.65 billion and will top the scales at 220,000 tons and will carry 5,400 passengers. Oasis will dwarf the line’s Freedom-class vessels that are currently the world’s largest. Royal Caribbean estimated the cost per berth of the Genesis-class ships to be $260,000. Contrast this with the upcoming 122,000-ton, 2850-passenger Celebrity Solstice at $320,000 per berth and the expense is huge. It’s so big that Carnival’s Arison noted in an interview with British cruise publication Lloyd’s List that those high per-berth figures imply that the projected return is likely to be below the cost of debt.

Indeed, Royal Caribbean’s lavish spending habits in the wake of high oil prices and continued weak cruise pricing have made the company rethink its business plan to focus more on controlling costs. Two weeks ago, the company laid off 400 workers that included many high level executives a number whom had decades of service with the company.

Norwegian Cruise Line is the only cruise line to be in the red. The company lost $257 million in 2007 and has reduced its fleet size along with laying off hundreds employees. But the company received a billion dollar infusion when Apollo Management invested in a 50 percent stake of the company.

Tweaking the product

The cruise lines’ tightening of the cruise coffers won’t affect the consumer too much in the short term; it just means getting used to seeing less new ships launched after 2012. Still, most cruise lines are trying to keep their current fleet fresh and full of new on-board offerings. Arison said that instead of the line investing in over-ambitious newbuilds it’s opted to invest $250 million in refurbishing its eight Fantasy-class ships.

What cruise executives are betting big on is their core belief that cruises offer more bang for the traveler’s buck. “Current fuel prices and the economy are actually attracting new travelers that never seriously considered a cruise vacation because of the overall value and total costs of alternative vacations,” says Stewart Chiron, a cruise industry expert who is nationally recognized as The Cruise Guy.

On top of that more cruise lines are offering more home ports in North America. By doing this the ships are taken nearer to the passengers, eliminating the need to fly – a big cost savings for cruisers.

Filled Under Advice, What's New?

Can’t cruise without luggage. What to do?

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On August - 17 - 2008

(Article originally published on August 6, 2007)

Nancy and Larry Trammel last saw their luggage after checking in at New York’s JFK airport, shortly before they boarded their flight to Rome on Alitalia Airlines. The couple waited and waited in Rome for their bags, but they never arrived. Left with only the clothes on their backs, and with their 10-day Holland America cruise about to depart, the Trammels did the only thing they could do: They filed a claim with Alitalia and went out to buy new clothes.

Naked at sea

Lost airline luggage — it’s a problem many cruise lines are dealing with more often these days, especially on European cruises. On my recent Mediterranean cruise aboard the Carnival Freedom, 80 passenger suitcases that had been checked on flights into Rome failed to make it to the ship by embarkation day. Some of the bags turned up later and were sent on to our various ports of call, but not all of them made it. Like the Trammels, their owners just had to make do.

“It’s a growing problem, particularly on flights connecting within Europe,” says John Heald, Carnival Freedom’s cruise director. Heald has dealt with many lost-bag problems — he has even joked about it in his popular blog — and he has come up with some creative solutions.

“Many people don’t realize it, but most cruise ships have a small supply of clothing on board that guests can borrow, and there is even formal attire for men and women to rent,” he says. These reserves can usually tide people over, but sometimes passengers become desperate because their bags are truly lost and they can’t find replacement clothes in the ship’s supply or even in port. On those occasions, Heald puts in a “shout out” request for clothes during his live “Morning Show” on the shipboard TV. He once put out a call for a pair of extra-large women’s underwear, and got back seven pairs from sympathetic passengers. “Cruising can really bring the best out in people,” Heald says.

The Trammels got help from their cruise line, too. Holland America loaned them clothes and arranged communications with Alitalia. Even so, the couple racked up a substantial credit card bill buying new clothes.

“I shop at Lane Bryant and trying to find plus-sized clothing in Europe was almost impossible,” Nancy says. And when they did find clothes that fit, the Trammels found the prices to be ridiculous. “We paid more than 200 euros for just two pairs of pants,” Larry says. The Trammels kept their receipts and filed a claim with Alitalia for the cost of their replacement clothing, which came to almost $1,200.

Two weeks after the Trammels returned from their cruise, Alitalia located their luggage and shipped it back to their home, near New York City. Happy ending, but the Trammels found the whole process frustrating and say that communication with Alitalia was difficult.

“I wanted to get to the bottom of things so I kept calling,” Larry says. “It was annoying, you know, because each time it was the same thing: They didn’t have updated information on the bags or their system was down. Sometimes there were language issues — I just couldn’t understand them and they couldn’t understand me.”

Bags of shame

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, your luggage has a pretty good chance of taking a different trip than you do. The department’s latest Air Travel Consumer Report shows 325,545 reports of “mishandled” bags in May this year, up from 259,923 in May 2006. Every month so far this year, the report has shown an increase in mishandled bags over the year before.
Airlines do their best to find your luggage before declaring it lost. On average, it takes more than a week; in difficult cases, it can take as long as a month. According to the Air Travel Consumer Report, about 2 percent of all missing bags remain lost. So, what do you do when an airline loses your luggage on your cruise vacation? Here are some tips.

* If your luggage is lost, report it to the airline immediately. The Department of Transportation strongly suggests you fill out a form with the airline the day your baggage turns up missing. If you flew on more than one carrier, the airline you last flew is usually the one responsible for processing your claim — even if the another carrier lost the bag.

* If your baggage is declared lost, make an itemized list of everything in your suitcase. Assign a value to each item, including the suitcase itself, using the price you paid, but understand that airlines won’t pay full replacement value; they will pay a depreciated value. The maximum claim the airlines are required to pay is $2,800 for baggage lost on a domestic flight and approximately $1,500 for baggage lost on an international flight. The maximum award for international flights changes daily based on that day’s value of “Special Drawing Rights” (SDR) per passenger. The daily value of SDR can be found at the International Monetary Fund’s exchange rate Web site. Additional information on SDR can be found in every airline’s contract of carriage.

* A similar claims process is involved when luggage is damaged. Open your suitcase right away to check for damaged contents or stolen items. Any damage or lost or stolen items should be reported immediately to the airlines. The same limits apply for damaged luggage as to lost luggage.

* Tell the cruise line staff that your airline lost your luggage. They can help you keep in touch with the airline regarding the status of your luggage and they can help you get clothing and personal care items.

The Department of Transportation estimates that it takes an airline anywhere from six weeks to three months to pay you for your lost luggage. As for the Trammels, Alitalia has told them a check will be in the mail soon.

Filled Under Ombudsman

Carnival changes stateroom categories

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On August - 15 - 2008

Carnival Cruise Lines anncouned it will change stateroom categories fleetwide. The Carnival Valor is set to be the first ship to feature the new accommodation categories effective Monday. Carnival’s staterooms will be categorized based on a variety of location factors such as midship, aft and forward, as well as proximity to key public areas and specific deck.

“These changes will clearly define our available stateroom categories based on location and features and will enable guests to easily identify the category that best suits their specific needs and preferences,” said Lynn Torrent, Carnival’s senior vice president of sales and guest services.

The entire fleet will reflect the changes by the end of 2008.

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MSC Cruises orders two more ships

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On August - 14 - 2008

Apparently the ship building party isn’t over — at least at MSC Cruises. The line has signed a contract for two Musica-class ships. The 90,000-ton vessels will be built at Aker Yards, Saint-Nazaire in France and delivered in February 2011 and February 2012.

MSC currently has three ships under construction at St Nazaire — MSC Fantasia, which will be delivered in December and the MSC Splendida set to be delivered in March 2009, and the MSC Magnifica in the spring 2010.

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