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Archive for April, 2011

Carnival Magic arrives in Venice for its maiden voyage

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On April - 30 - 2011

Carnival Cruise Lines’ newest ship, the 130,000-ton Carnival Magic, arrived in Venice, Italy, in anticipation of its inaugural nine-day voyage departing tomorrow, May 1.

www.expertcruiser.com is onboard to report on all the festivities along with blogging about the Carnival Magic’s new features that include a huge water park, two-story adults-only Serenity area, and an expansive sports deck with a ropes course and outdoor weightlifting. Additionally there are two new dining options: RedFrog Pub, which serves its own private-label draught beer. There’s also Cucina del Capitano, a trattoria that brings the heritage of Carnival’s Italian captains to the table.

Prior to departure, the ship will be officially named in ceremonies presided over by Lindsey Wilkerson, a former patient at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital who now serves as an employee and an ambassador of the organization. The selection of Wilkerson as godmother is a tribute to Carnival’s ongoing partnership with St. Jude, one of the world’s premier centers for the research and treatment of pediatric cancer and other catastrophic diseases.

Tomorrow’s nine-day cruise from Venice ends in Barcelona May 10, positioning the vessel for a summer schedule of seven- to 12-day Mediterranean voyages through October 16. Carnival Magic will then sail on a 16-day transatlantic crossing then launch seven-day Caribbean service from Galveston, Texas, becoming the port’s largest year-round ship.

Stay tuned to www.expertcruiser.com for all the latest Carnival Magic news!

By Anita Dunham-Potter (editor@www.expertcruiser.com)

© www.expertcruiser.comYour online consumer guide for cruise travel and information.

Titanic-sized medical bill surprises cruising couple

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On April - 18 - 2011

Susan and Larry Smith were looking forward to their first-ever Cunard cruise across the Atlantic onboard the fabulous Queen Mary 2. But the fun stopped for the New York City couple the moment Larry had chest pains along with gastrointestinal malaise.

The Smiths immediately sought treatment at the ship’s infirmary, where the ship’s doctor ran an EKG and some tests. Fortunately Larry’s heart checked out okay, but he was dehydrated and was given intravenous fluids and was kept in the infirmary for an hour of observation. Larry’s tests ruled out any infection, but the doctor couldn’t figure out why Larry had become so dehydrated. Therefore, no definitive diagnosis was reached. The next morning Larry felt much better and the cruise continued. A few days after the visit to the infirmary, the Smiths got another unpleasant surprise: a bill for medical services totaling $1,200. The amount was immediately charged to their shipboard account.

The Smiths were shocked. “It didn’t seem like a lot of treatment for $1,200. It was as much as my cruise fare,” said Susan Smith. Even worse the couple foolishly believed that their health insurance would be accepted onboard the ship. It wasn’t. Fortunately they did have travel insurance (purchased through the cruise line) that covered medical issues.

Insurance doesn’t travel well
What many people don’t realize is that all cruise ships of foreign registry are considered to be entities operating outside the United States. And, as the Smiths discovered, domestic medical insurance coverage doesn’t travel the same way aboard ship as it does within the United States. Sometimes, coverage doesn’t extend to foreign travel at all; other times it just works differently. For example, co-payments may be higher than usual or your reimbursement may be limited.

Even with complete medical coverage, you can’t just hand the cruise line your insurance card. You will usually have to pay your treatment costs up front and file for reimbursement after you return home. That’s what the Smiths did. Their insurer accepted the claim but explained it could take up to three months to receive reimbursement. The Smiths were relieved to be covered at all.

Could the Smiths have avoided the $1,200 out-of-pocket expense? Maybe. If they had purchased third-party travel insurance, they could have received upfront financial assistance and they might have gotten their money back more quickly.

Third-party insurers usually provide primary coverage, i.e., the insurance company pays the traveler directly for any medical claim. Most cruise lines also sell insurance policies, but these usually provide secondary coverage, which means that you must file your claims through your regular medical insurance carrier, then seek reimbursement from the cruise line’s insurance company.

Cover the gaps
Medicare beneficiaries should always purchase travel insurance when they cruise, because they do not have Medicare coverage outside the country. Another very big gap is medical evacuation and transportation services, which are seldom covered by medical insurance policies. According to Medjet Assist, an Alabama-based evacuation operation, domestic air medical evacuation services average $10,000 to $20,000, while international transports can exceed $75,000. If you travel more than once a year, consider buying an annual policy; both MedjetAssist and Travel Guard offer this kind of policy, which can be purchased for as little as $185 a year.

Cruising is exciting, but it can turn into more of an adventure than you planned if you discover that you aren’t covered for the unexpected. So check your insurance policies and fill in the gaps with supplemental coverage.

By Anita Dunham-Potter (editor@www.expertcruiser.com)

© www.expertcruiser.comYour online consumer guide for cruise travel and information.

Spoiled on Silver Spirit

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On April - 12 - 2011

In these days of ever-expanding megaships, with thousands of passengers pouring off at each port, there’s something to be said about the more personal and intimate aspects of small-ship cruising. The 540-passenger, all-suite Silver Spirit is just a year old and is the first new ship for ultra-luxury line Silversea Cruises since 2001. While Spirit is the biggest ship in the Silversea fleet it still offers the familiar layout of the line’s other vessels and maintains the line’s hallmark of high customer satisfaction.

Luxury lure

Anticipating a cruise onboard Silver Spirit is a bit like going back to see an old friend. The last time I spent significant time on the Spirit was to report on the vessel’s sea trials in late 2009 while it was still under construction in Italy. I know the Spirit inside and out, but I was curious to see how it functioned with passengers. I’ve always believed you don’t really know a cruise ship until you experience it with a full load of passengers.

Fast forward to December, 2010 and I am in Barbados sipping a flute of champagne while being escorted to my suite by tuxedoed staff. My butler Karthik asks if I would like my luggage unpacked and if I need anything else. I decline and decide to savor the champagne from my deck and admire the azure blue Caribbean sea. Talk about being spoiled!

SilverSpiritCaribGalleryCruise lines can build great ships, but if they don’t have a great crew everything suffers. On Silversea the devil is in the details and even the smallest details are remembered by crew. For example, my nightly drink preferences at Connoisseur’s Corner were always remembered by the bar’s attendant, Ricardo. Ricardo is the epitome of the type of crewmember you will find at Silversea – seasoned and highly polished in the art of service etiquette. Prior to working for Silversea he plied the waters as a crewmember for Sitmar Cruises and Royal Viking. He says Silversea is one of the few lines left that truly values highly personalize service. “That’s what luxury cruising should be,” he says. Indeed this sybaritic ship is all about surrounding oneself in luxury, fine dining, and like-minded travelers on a quest for new horizons.

Loyal Silversea customers, who on any given voyage can total more than 40 percent of the passengers, are very discriminating. Known as Venetian Society members this group knows and demands luxury. One crew member told me when the Spirit first came out it took some ‘Venetians’ time to get used to the bigger ship. Some Silversea aficionados are split on the preference between the line’s smaller ships and the Spirit. A business titan from the Midwest, who was marking his 300th day cruising on Silversea, told me he likes the Silver Spirit best because it has amazing new features, but his wife prefers the Silver Cloud for its ‘coziness’. Another couple I met was on their first Silversea cruise and immediately fell in love with Silversea and the Silver Spirit. The couple, who are long time Regent Seven Sea Cruises customers, quickly realized Silversea offered them more of what they were looking for and now insisted that nothing but Silversea would suffice.

European roots

SilverSpiritCaribluggageOne way Silversea has decided to keep posh factor high is to stick to its European roots in ambiance, dining, and amenities. The ship’s 270 suites range in size from 312 to 1,668 square feet (95 percent with balconies) and passengers lack for nothing in these suites. There is a menu of eight pillows to choose from, a selection of room scents from Laura Tonatto, a choice of Bvlgari or Ferragamo toiletries, and never ending bottles of Pommery Champagne and boxes of Pierre Marcolini chocolates. And, every suite comes with a butler who will not only unpack your suitcase but clean and freshen it as well.

The Art Deco décor is understated and evokes a comfortable atmosphere. Vintage nautical photos decorate the walls and plush chairs and sitting areas are everywhere inviting guests to linger. Indeed they do — passengers gather at all hours to drink Bellinis or cappuccinos or just to relax to soothing musical entertainment. Deck space onboard is expansive with numerous comfortable lounge areas affording shade or sun allowing guests to choose their al fresco preferences.

The Spa at Silversea takes things to another level offering a medi-spa and Oriental Medicine Program with onboard physician. At 8,300 square feet it is the largest in the fleet and features a beauty salon, fitness center, nine spa treatment rooms, two sauna rooms and two steam rooms. The spa also debuts a Thermal Suite, an exclusive spa area furnished with heated lounge chairs along with a private Hammam Chamber (Turkish bath), where guests can customize their scrub treatments. In addition, The Spa offers an outdoor relaxation area with expansive aft sea views and comes equipped with plush loungers and large whirlpool allowing spa lovers a place to relax pre- and post-treatment.

Epicurean delight

Perhaps the highlight onboard Silver Spirit is the culinary delights in the six restaurants. The line has a partnership with Relais & Châteaux; the only cruise line afforded the honor. The line’s staple restaurants are here including The Restaurant, which offers 21 menus from International classics to inventions made on the ship. La Terrazza is the heritage of Silversea and offers freshly made pasta with ingredients flown in from Italy. The Pool Grille offers spa and quick fare and in the evening is transformed into the fun Hot Rock Grill. This al fresco dining experience is the most relaxed on the ship. This is a cook-it-yourself affair, where you grill your own meat or seafood on hot volcanic stones. I ordered the Filet Mignon, accompanied by lobster, grilling both myself. To make the job easy, the meats are seared before being delivered, still sizzling, to the table.

Le Champagne is highlight of the line’s association with Relais & Châteaux where for $30 guests can indulge in a six-course menu and for an additional $200 sample the wine pairing offerings. Seishin carries a $40 cover charge for the 11-course degustation menu that includes such specialties as Beluga caviar sorbet, sushi, sashimi, carpaccio of king scallops and more. Seishin’s main feature is the rounded and centered food prep station known as la table du chef where guests can watch the chef at work sculpting fresh sushi and sashimi. Adding premium Sakes to the degustation menu is an additional $40 per person, while the wine pairing menu goes for $200 per person each.

Stars Supper Club is a truly special place and was packed every night during the cruise. The venue is modeled after the Rainbow Room and is more than dining, it’s food-entertainment. The ambiance is jazzy and offers a bite size tasting menu encompassing flavors from around the world. Indeed you could make a meal here if you order all 20 tastings. The live jazz singer who works the room makes this venue an unforgettable experience.

The art of doing whatever you want

SilverSpiritArrival2Cruising is as much about the journey as about the destination. My favorite part of the voyage was staying on the ship and savoring the art of doing nothing. I’ve been to every island in the Caribbean and I didn’t feel guilty about not going ashore. The Spirit is big enough where every day I was stumbling on undiscovered nooks and crannies to relax in. Truth be told, I spent much of my time in my suite, a place so wonderful and comfortable I didn’t want to leave. I passed entire afternoons on the veranda, lolling on the wicker lounges and watching the Caribbean slide by. Of course I took occasional breaks to check on e-mail, work out in the fitness center, or to order room service that offered everything on the daily restaurant menus.

Ultimately, the real luxury of Spirit, though, is its focus on keeping the traditional cruise experience alive and highly refined. As we pull out of Grenada I hear a couple laughing at the pool bar. The woman points over to the gigantic cruise ship docked next to Silver Spirit. “We will never go back to that again.” Indeed you don’t really know a cruise ship until its being enjoyed by passengers and Silver Spirit is certainly living up to all its passenger’s expectations.

If you go:

Silver Spirit plies the waters of the Mediterranean in the spring and summer months, and the Caribbean and South America in late fall and winter. Prices for 7-day voyages begin at $3,518. Visit Silversea Cruises Website for more details.

Further reading:
Silver Spirit takes on the seas
It’s early September as I arrive at the Fincantieri Monfalcone shipyard in Trieste, Italy. Dawn is breaking and the winds are howling down from the mountains. Hundreds of yard workers, vendor specialists, technicians, and Silversea Cruises employees are gathered on the pier to board the Silver Spirit. There’s excitement in the air as the ship is going out for sea trials.

By Anita Dunham-Potter (editor@www.expertcruiser.com)

© www.expertcruiser.comYour online consumer guide for cruise travel and information.

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