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Archive for December, 2008

Norwegian and shipbuilder STX settle dispute

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On December - 20 - 2008

Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) and STX France Cruise SA, STX Europe’s French shipyard, announced Friday that they have reached an agreement and are moving forward with the construction of the F3 cruise ship project; however, only one rather than two ships will be built.

“NCL and STX Europe have agreed to revise the original F3 order. STX France Cruise is now building one F3 ship at 150,000-tons with a total of 4,200 passenger berths, representing the largest ship in NCL’s fleet. This will mean finishing of the original hull, which is currently in the early phases of construction, with delivery set for late May 2010, as originally scheduled, ” STX said in a statement.

The planned second vessel, currently only in the preparatory stages, will not be constructed. Additional terms of the agreement were not disclosed. “With this agreement, we can all focus on completing the new vessel successfully,” said Kevin Sheehan, NCL’s president and CEO. “We are looking forward to the arrival of our much anticipated F3 ship as it represents a major step forward for NCL in terms of ship size, design and innovation.”

“We are pleased that the ongoing construction of the ship for NCL will continue. We, along with our subcontractors, will now make the necessary adjustments to our plans for this project,” said Jacques Hardelay, president of STX France Cruise SA.

The F3 will offer “New Wave” staterooms with their curving walls, domed ceilings and bathrooms broken down into individual components. The ship will also launch five night life hot spots with crazy themes and never-before-seen at sea venues, including the first ice bar. Inspired by Scandinavia’s ice bars and ice hotels, NCL’s Ice Bar will be an ice chamber with changing hues to simulate the Northern Lights. Patrons will be given fur coats, gloves and hats to stay warm in a room where the temperature will not rise above 17 degrees Farenheit. NCL plans to unveil the full F3 story in the near future.

Filled Under Blog

Merry Christmouse: Disney’s Magical family holiday cruise

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On December - 19 - 2008

“It’s Mickey!” screams one little boy. Immediately throngs of children swarm Disney Magic’s atrium area. A three-year-old girl dressed as Cinderella clings to her daddy’s hand and two tuxedo-clad boys in Santa hats roll around on the floor. Where else at sea could you get a photo, signature, and a hug from Mickey Mouse? This is why so many families flock to Disney Cruise Line. And with good reason.

Merry Christ-M-O-U-S-E!

The experience starts at Disney’s cruise terminal at Port Canaveral, Florida, where Disney characters dressed in their season’s best greet passengers as they check in. On board, the Disney Magic is decked stem-to-stern with Christmas trees and boughs of holly that highlight the ship’s classic retro interior.

Holiday sailings on Disney feature a vast range of celebration-themed entertainment and activities. In the main atrium, a tree-lighting ceremony features faux snow falling on the crowd along with plenty of Disney characters. Elsewhere, guests can participate in the “Winter-Sunnyland” conga line around the pool, and families can gather to design and decorate crafts.

At Thanksgiving, Mickey, Minnie and friends dress in traditional Thanksgiving attire and NFL football games are broadcast live on the jumbo pool screen. On Christmas day, multiple faith and inter-denominational holiday services are held, and “Santa Goofy” pays a visit and distributes gifts to all the children onboard. Of course it wouldn’t feel like the holidays without traditional feasts. On both holidays customary fare is held in the ship’s three dining rooms. In fact, during my Thanksgiving sailing some 1100 turkeys were cooked!

Every detail from the characters in holiday attire to snowflakes on the ship and on the line’s Bahamian island, in typical Disney fashion nothing is overlooked.

Disney Magic

It had been eight years since my family and I sailed on the Disney Magic. On this third voyage over the Thanksgiving holiday, I quickly discovered, like a fine wine, the 10-year-old, 2,700 passenger ship has become better with age.

Both classic and modern, Disney Magic was designed to evoke the aura of grand transatlantic liners of yesteryear, but with a twist. The ship boasts a number of innovative features, including extra-large staterooms for families, several restaurants through which passengers rotate throughout the cruise, fantastic Disney-inspired entertainment, separate adult pool, restaurant, and lounges, and the biggest kids’ facilities at sea.

In September, Magic underwent an extensive dry dock, which added a series of upgrades that included: new flat-panel LCD televisions in all staterooms, renovated Vista Spa and Salon with luxurious indoor/outdoor “spa villas” and an expanded fitness center, more dedicated space for youth activities on deck 2, a new jumbo LED screen, and a toddler-only splash area adjacent to the Mickey Pool.

By cruise standards, Disney staterooms are large and are still the best-designed of any large ship. All feature two half-bathrooms—a great component for families. Standard inside and outside staterooms are a generous 173 square feet, while those with verandas measure 253 square feet. One popular stateroom that comfortably sleeps four or five people in 291 square feet, sells out quickly. Suites of 591 square feet feature a separate bedroom, while deluxe suites have two bedrooms, can sleep up to six, and come with private concierge service.

Onboard dining is always a treat, but Disney adds a fantasy approach to its restaurants. The Magic offers scheduled rotation dining, where guests and their waiters move from one themed dining room—Lumieres, Parrot Cay, and Animator’s Palate—to another. Of course, the biggest thrill for kids is breakfast with the characters. For those seeking an alternative to the rotation, there’s the Topsider Buffet and quickie food outlets: Pinocchio’s Pizzeria, Pluto’s Dog House, and Scoops ice cream and fruit bar, and an extensive room service menu. Palo’s – the adult only pay-as-you-go dining area is the best $15 you’ll spend at sea. In the evening, the venue with panoramic ocean views serves up amazing Northern Italian cuisine and for an additional charge a large selection of wines. On sea days, Palo’s has a Champagne Brunch (also $15) and a High Tea for $5.

What would a Disney experience be without grand entertainment? The Magic offers original musical and other productions in its three-deck-high, 955-seat Walt Disney Theatre. Highlights during my sailing included the premier of the new Disney movie “Bolt” shown in “Disney Digital 3-D”, and the amazing “‘Til We Meet Again,” show with all the characters and ship’s crew. Not to be missed is the “Pirates of the Caribbean” deck party where everyone gets in touch with their inner Captain Jack Sparrow, even Mickey Mouse, who zip-lines between the ship’s funnels then repels down to save the day from the bad pirates. And if that’s not enough, the event is capped off with a spectacular five minute fireworks display – Disney is the only cruise line in the world to do this.

For the kids

“This ship is all about the kids,” says Magic’s Cruise Director Christiaan Abbott. Indeed, and it not only extends to the hardware, but the personnel onboard. The crew is trained to focus on children’s needs foremost from addressing them first for dinner selection, to keeping them endlessly entertained. No cruise line comes close to what Disney offers kids – there are two pools and five dedicated venues encompassing over 13,000-square-feet staffed with 55 youth counselors.

The Mickey Pool is sheer pandemonium with excited children splashing around and sliding down the two-story slide. Babies and toddlers not yet toilet trained have the new “Mickey’s Splash Zone” that features interactive fountains, a soft play surface and splash zones. The mid-ship Goofy Pool allows kids to swim, participate in organized games or watch movies on the jumbo screen.

For babies and toddlers under three-years of age there is Flounder’s Reef Nursery, where for a small hourly-fee, the littlest ones are coddled Disney style. Three-to-7 year olds have the Oceaneer Club that offers a Neverland-themed play space, and for 8 to 12 year olds, there is Oceaneer Lab, a whacky and interactive laboratory space. During drydock three conference rooms on deck 2 were transformed into a brand new hang-out for kids ages 10 to 14 called Ocean Quest. With a nautical feel the area provides the perfect location for kids to chill-out and play computer or video games, participate in arts and crafts, or watch a movie on one of the multiple plasma screen televisions. For teens, there is The Stack, which is packed with music, movies, video games, big-screen plasma TVs, a lounge area, dance floor, Internet café and teen-only activities into the wee hours. There’s also a deck for sports such as basketball and soccer.

While kids participate in the clubs, parents of young children are given pagers and coming soon will be a unique way for kids to check-in to the youth activity areas. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology will be embedded on wristbands, allowing children to simply tap a sensor to check in and out of the clubs.

For adults

There were 1,100 children on my cruise and Disney does a good job keeping adult areas serene. Quiet Cove, is adult pool area with hot tubs, cascading waterfalls, and plush teak lounge chairs. Adjacent is the Cove Café, the ship’s gourmet coffee lounge.

As a spa-junkie I found nirvana in the Vista Spa’s “spa villas”. You won’t find these on any other cruise ship. These three villas come complete with an indoor spa treatment suite which is connected to a private outdoor veranda with personal hot tub, open air shower and luxurious chaise lounge. I indulged in a two-hour “Quiet Time” package that incorporated a long dip in the Jacuzzi, a 55-minute massage, and a relaxing post-treatment tea time all while watching the sunset – complete bliss!

In the evening, adults have their own entertainment that includes comedy shows, dancing and live music. The one adult thing Disney does not have is a casino. However, no one seemed to miss losing money at sea.

Castaway Cay

All Disney voyages make a stop at their spectacular 1,000-acre private Bahamian island, Castaway Cay. And when cruises during the holiday period put in at the island, the celebration continues with snow flurries, decked-out Christmas trees, and holiday carolers. Of course, there’s the usual Caribbean music and a beachside barbecue that set the backdrop for a fun day. Adults have their own beach, Serenity Bay, where they can indulge in a massage in a private cabana located right on the beach. Teens even have an exclusive beach and, of course, there is the main family beach.

There are a number of shore excursions to partake in and families have lots of choices from bike riding around the island, to a faux “whale dig” to a stingray tour. These aren’t your average stingrays, these rays have been ‘Disney-fied’ where their stinger barbs are clipped (every two months) and they only eat their meals from a black Mickey Mouse shaped plate!

Happy crew — happier guests

One thing that stood out for me was the cheerfulness of the crew. I asked James Willoughby, Magic’s Food and Beverage Manager, the reasons for their upbeat attitude. He says much of the crew are veterans and take a lot of pride in their work. “Our crew takes ownership of the product and the service reflects that,” said Willoughby. Disney is able to retain these quality folks by offering better working contracts than other lines. Disney prefers its crew members to work on the ship six months at a time. Six months is a long time; however, the industry standard is ten months. I’ve been on enough ships to see the difference immediately. In my opinion, ten months is too long to be onboard ship and service does suffer. Crews are human after all.

Cruising on Disney isn’t for everyone and should be avoided by those who want gambling, and don’t like being around large numbers of children. Surprisingly I discovered a number of childless couples onboard who really enjoy the family atmosphere. One elderly couple I met had planted themselves in chairs above the atrium each night to watch the pitter patter of little feet below. Their smiles say it all.

If you go:

Cruise rates can be steep, but the magical entertainment, cheerful service, great food, fireworks, and a private island is worth the price. Disney Cruise Line offers three-, four- and seven-night itineraries to the Bahamas and the Caribbean. The Disney Magic will embark on new itinerary in The Baltics for the 2009 summer season. The Disney Wonder is running a special where kids aged 12 and under sail free when accompanied by two full-fare paying guests in the same stateroom. To learn more about Disney Cruise Line visit their Web site.

MSC elminates fuel surcharge for 2009 sailings and beyond

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On December - 16 - 2008

MSC Cruises has eliminated the fuel surcharge for all new bookings for 2009 voyages beginning today.

Last month, MSC took the lead and eliminated the fuel charge on all cruises departing on or after April 1, 2009. At that time, MSC Cruises’ management indicated that they were also considering eliminating the charge on all 2009 cruises should fuel prices remain stable or continue to drop into the new year.

“In light of the current downward trend in oil prices, I am proud to announce that MSC Cruises is eliminating the fuel surcharge for all 2009 sailings and beyond,” says Richard E. Sasso, president and CEO of MSC Cruises (USA), Inc. “When we implemented the fuel surcharge on our cruise fares a year ago, we did that with the belief that, when fuel charges stabilized at a level that allowed us to eliminate the supplement, we would. That was not just words or a hollow promise; that was a commitment that we are living up to.”

All guests already booked on a 2009 voyage with a fuel supplement will receive a shipboard credit identical to that amount.

Although MSC Cruises can not rule out the possibility that a future substantial increase in fuel costs might require re-implementing the fuel surcharge at a later date, the company reiterated its commitment that all reservations booked with a deposit prior to such a decision would be protected from any additional charge.

“That price protection policy makes this the ideal time for anyone planning a Caribbean or European vacation to book a cruise with MSC Cruises,” Sasso said. “They can take advantage of our best current promotions and know that the price they’re quoted is the price they will pay, no matter what happens with the cost of fuel in the months ahead.”

Filled Under Blog

Cruise CEO will work for free…(sort of)

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On December - 16 - 2008

Joe Ueberroth, chairman and CEO of Ambassadors International the parent company of Windstar Cruises and the now defunct steamboat operator Majestic America Line, has voluntarily given up his compensation but will receive 250,000 unrestricted shares which will vest in one year.

According to the company, Ueberroth was set to receive approximately $3 million in cash with an option up to $6 million in certain circumstances in September 2009. He also gave up his 2008 long-term compensation valued at $750,000 that was due in stock.

Ambassadors International stated that Ueberroth’s compensation package was offered in 2006 when the company’s situation, and the economy, was in a lot better condition.

On February 23, 2007 Ambassadors’ stock reached an all-time high of $47.01 — yesterday shares closed at a record low 79 cents. Ouch!

Filled Under Blog

When your home is alone

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

(Originally published Nov. 20, 2006)

Several years ago, after returning home from a two-week cruise, I was awakened at 3 a.m. by the frantic ringing of my doorbell. At first, I thought something was very wrong — perhaps a fire, or someone in distress. Then I thought it might be some teenagers playing a joke. It wasn’t a joke. After turning the lights on, I discovered someone had tried to break into my house.

Scared, I immediately called the police. The officers discovered fresh tracks in the grass around the house’s perimeter, particularly around the basement windows. There was evidence someone had tried to force one of the windows open. After I told the officers I had just returned home from a cruise, they surmised that someone had been casing my house while I was away. This was the night they decided to break in. To make sure no one was home, they rang the doorbell first. When the lights went on, they ran.

I was baffled.

“Why would anyone break into a house with monitored security?” I asked.

“Smash and grab,” one officer said, explaining that thieves can take off with thousands of dollars worth of items in just seconds. He pointed to the laptop computer on the kitchen table and the dining room silver on display. Both were in full view from the windows.

This got me thinking about home security while I’m away on a trip. When I’m busy packing for a cruise, I don’t give much thought to protecting the house. Sure, I arrange for things to be taken care of while I am away. I put timers on lamps, and I have trusted neighbors feed the cat, bring in the newspapers and mail, water plants and cut the grass. But is that enough?

Not by a long shot.

Crime-stopper tactics

The FBI reports that a burglary occurs every eight seconds in the United States. According to the Insurance Information Institute, nine out of 10 of those burglaries are preventable. The institute offers the following tips for when you leave for vacation:

* Leave blinds open in their usual position.

* Have mail and packages picked up, forwarded or held by the post office.

* Lower the volume of your telephone ringer and answering machine so they can’t be heard outside, and never leave an outgoing message saying you’re away.

* Arrange to have your lawn mowed or your walk shoveled.

* Stop newspaper deliveries, and ask a friend or neighbor to pick up “throwaway” newspapers and circulars.

* Use automatic timers to turn lights on and off in your living room and bedrooms at appropriate times. Also consider connecting a radio to a timer.

And here are some other tips I’ve picked up over the years.

* Ask neighbors to park their cars in your driveway and to check your doorstep for unexpected deliveries.

* Be sure someone puts out your trash on the appointed day.

* Clear any incoming messages from your answering machine so you don’t run out of storage space.

* And for heaven sake, double-check every door and window before you leave the house (It’s easy to leave in a rush).

One other thing to consider: Whenever you park your car in a parking lot, be sure to remove the garage door opener from plain view. Many burglaries have resulted from people stealing garage door openers and using them to get into the house.

It’s also a good idea to tell police and dependable neighbors when you plan to be away, and to join with your neighbors to keep a close watch on what’s happening in your area. Working closely with them is a good way to prevent crime whether you are home or away.

Damage control

Theft isn’t the only worry when your home is alone. In fact, accidents can be worse. Most people worry about fire, and they take all the necessary precautions. But water can do just as much damage. In fact, the Insurance Information Institute reports billions of dollars in insured losses last winter due to burst pipes, frozen gutters, leaking toilets and other water disasters.

I can believe it. I recently had a leaky valve in an upstairs toilet that required the attention of an insurance adjustor. The adjuster told me that I was lucky to have been home for the leak. He went on to tell me the horrifying tale of a family that went on vacation for three weeks, only to come home to a flooded house. A seal in an upstairs toilet had broken, causing water to pour into the house for several weeks. The damage was substantial — well over a quarter of a million dollars.

Could the accident have been prevented? Yes. Just turn off the water coming into the home before you leave on any extended trip. If turning off the water to your entire house isn’t possible, shut off the water to the toilets and washing machine — the two biggest culprits for inside flood damage.

Another thing to consider: If you live where it’s cold, keep the heat on so the pipes don’t freeze. If they do, they’re liable to crack or burst. The recommended temperature setting is at least 65 degrees because temperatures inside walls (where the pipes are located) are substantially lower than inside the house, especially if the pipes are located in an outside wall.

So be careful when you leave your home alone. Think ahead. Take precautions. Treat it well. That way when you return from a long, wonderful trip, you won’t be met by two cops and a plumber.

Filled Under Advice, Ombudsman

So long fuel surcharges, hello zip-lining: a 2009 cruise preview

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On December - 12 - 2008

At this time of year, just about everyone devotes a column to predictions for the year ahead. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I can tell you the shape of things to come on the high seas in 2009: no fuel supplements (for now), massive tonnage, new luxury, greener ships, ship makeovers and — would you believe? — zip-lining and a carousel.

Ship class of 2009
Eight new ships will be ready for their close-ups next year, with one being the largest cruise ship ever launched. Here’s a summary for the Class of 2009, in order of the month they debut.

May – Costa Cruises 92,700-ton Costa Luminosa will carry 2,828 guests and will homeport in Amsterdam for the summer of 2009 with sailings to the Baltics. The ship will transition back the Mediterranean for the winter.

June – Costa Cruises is yet again receiving another vessel. The 114,500-ton Costa Pacifica, 3,780-passenger will sail seven-night sailings year-round from Rome (Civitavecchia) in the Mediterranean.

June – Seabourn is launching its first new yacht in eleven years. The ultra-luxury 32,000-ton Seabourn Odyssey will accommodate 450 lucky guests. The yacht’s itineraries will begin with sailings through the Black Sea, the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean before it embarks on its 108-day world cruise where it will visit 42 ports in five countries.

June – MSC Cruises’ 133,500-ton, 3,300-passenger MSC Splendida is the second ‘Fantasia-class’ vessel to enter the fleet. The ship will sail year-round in the Mediterranean.

August – Celebrity Cruises’ 122,000-ton Celebrity Equinox is the line’s second ‘Solstice-class’ ship to be launched. The 2,850-passenger vessel will sail ten-, 11-, and 13-day sailings in the Mediterranean before crossing over in early November to sail 10- and 11-night Caribbean sailings from Fort Lauderdale.

October – The 130,000-ton, 3,652-passenger Carnival Dream is Carnival Cruise Lines biggest “Fun Ship” to date. Carnival Dream will set sail with a few 2009 Mediterranean itineraries and will then cross the Atlantic Ocean to New York, finally making its way to its homeport of Port Canaveral, Florida to sail 8-day Western and Southern Caribbean itineraries.

November – Spanning 16 decks and weighing 220,000 tons, the Oasis of the Seas will be the world’s largest ship to-date. The ship will carry a whopping 5,400 guests at double occupancy and 6,300 maximum capacity when all upper and lower berths are occupied. Oasis of the Seas will sail year-round from Fort Lauderdale offering 7-day alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries.

December – Ultra-luxury Silversea Cruises will launch its first newbuild ship in eight years. The 36,000-ton, 540-passenger Silver Spirit will transport guests in the style of 1930s art deco period. The vessel will sail in South America in early 2010 and will return to the Mediterranean for the spring and summer.

Old ships get facelifts
It’s not easy being an older ship in a sea of newbuilds. Many cruise lines are finding they must modernize older vessels to keep pace with the newer ships vast offerings and expanded on-board activities.

Holland America is sending the Rotterdam and Veendam to dry dock to receive a series of the line’s “Signature of Excellence” enhancements to cabins, pool decks and entertainment options. Carnival’s “Evolutions of Fun” makeover of the line’s Fantasy-class ships continues. The Carnival Paradise, Carnival Sensation, Carnival Elation, Carnival Ecstasy and Carnival Fascination will get major pool deck upgrades along with stateroom enhancements. Princess Cruises’ is upgrading Caribbean Princess with a Crown Grill steak and seafood venue, adults-only Sanctuary, and adding seven suites. Additionally the Atrium will be transformed into the now-signature Piazza. Sea Princess will receive the new adults-only Sanctuary area.

Silversea Cruises’ Silver Wind and Silver Cloud will receive major upgrades where all suites receive new bathrooms and the vessels will gain a new lounge, enhanced spa, and eight additional suites. Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Mariner will get an updated look with new casual dining options near the pool. In addition, every area of the ships will be refurbished with new furniture, fabrics and colors, carpeting, wallpaper, upholstery, light fixtures, and drapes.

New at-sea thrills
Oasis of the Seas will have seven distinct neighborhoods including Central Park, the Boardwalk, and the Royal Promenade. The ship will also feature two at-sea firsts: A zip-line and authentic carousel. The MSC Splendida and Costa Luminosa will offer 4-D cinemas with sound, lighting, images and special effects that combine to create a multi-sensory experience unlike anything ever found on a ship.

Greener machines
The cruise industry is making great strides in lessening its carbon footprint around the world. Celebrity Solstice is the first cruise ship to use solar power and sister ship Celebrity Equinox will follow in August 2009. There are 216 solar panels throughout the ship and energy collected becomes part of the ship’s power grid — enough to operate 7,000 of the vessel’s 25,000 energy efficient LED lights. Additionally, Solstice and Equinox’s hull design and coating make the ship more fluid dynamic, which means less fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

MSC Fantasia and MSC Splendida will feature and Advanced Water Treatment system for the treatment of grey and black waters. This system filters all the water on board and ensures that any that is released into the sea is clean and has an almost zero pollution level.

Burning diesel fuel to generate electricity when a ship is in port generates unnecessary pollution, so a number of ships are converting to an Alternative Maritime Power (AMP) system that allows vessels to plug directly into shore power while at port. Seattle, Juneau and Los Angeles offer this to cruise ships and Civitavecchia, Italy is set to become the first Mediterranean port to provide shore power to cruise ships using electricity generated from renewable resources like photovoltaic and wind power.

Fuel supplement limbo
Cruise lines began adding fuel surcharges a year ago when oil prices first spiked to $100 a barrel. Needless to say the practice stirred up a lot of controversy among passengers and the travel agent community. It also caught the eye of the law when the Florida attorney general’s office opened an investigation into possible cruise line collusion when the lines set the extra charges and another into the legality of assessing the fees retroactively. Carnival ended up refunding about $40 million in retroactive fuel supplements to passengers, and Royal Caribbean refunded $21 million.

Fortunately tanking fuel prices have been a bright spot for cruise lines whereby the majority recently suspended their fuel supplements. Still cruise lines cautioned that they reserve the right to reinstate fuel surcharges should the price of oil again rise above $65 per barrel.

Up the river without a paddleboat
The saddest cruise story this year was Majestic America Line going out of business. The line’s seven paddlewheel boats are now in extended drydock across the country awaiting their fate. Some parts of the fleet might be sold off piecemeal and could sadly end up overseas. They are truly a piece of Americana and a product of a by-gone era. I hope a dynamic investor can swoop in to save these boats.

2009 sure looks to be an interesting and fun year in cruising.

Filled Under Advice, Tripblog, What's New?