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Archive for the ‘Advice’ Category

Norovirus – it’s not the ship, it’s you!

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On January - 18 - 2014

When most people take a cruise they focus on the fun, the sun and the food. But here’s another thing to think about: sanitation. Poor sanitation can ruin your cruise — ask anyone who’s been felled by a norovirus. And the biggest culprit? Fellow passengers who don’t wash their hands. Yes, you read that right: Passengers can make a ship sick.

Sailor’s enemy

There’s nothing worse than getting sick on your cruise vacation. Seasoned travelers know all too well the importance of watching what they eat and washing their hands: It keeps the bugs at bay. Still, some of our fellow travelers aren’t so vigilant about hand washing, and they put us all at risk.

Poor personal hygiene habits can spread one of travelers’ worst enemies: noroviruses, also known as Norwalk virus and NLV, a group of viruses that can cause severe diarrhea, nausea and vomiting over a 48- to 60-hour period. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), noroviruses are highly contagious and can be passed directly from person to person as well as through tainted food and water. While the majority of patients recover with no lasting effects, the illness can be a more serious problem for infants, elderly people and people with weakened immune systems.

The risk of contracting a contagious disease like norovirus illness is particularly high on a cruise ship because passengers mingle in a relatively confined space. For this reason, all cruise ships that dock in the United States and travel to foreign ports undergo regular inspections by the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP). U.S.-based ships that do not make foreign port stops, such as Norwegian Cruise Line’s America fleet, which cruises around the Hawaiian Islands, are given similar inspections under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Interstate Travel Program.

All this inspecting is both reassuring and alarming, and wise travelers take their own precautions against picking up nasty germs at sea.

Sick at sea

This week passengers onboard Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas became sick with a stomach illness, according to a company officials. Royal Caribbean stated that 66 of the more than 2,500 passengers aboard experienced gastrointestinal issues, such as vomiting and diarrhea. What starts all this – to put it bluntly from a CDC official I interviewed several years ago – lack of hand washing.

America’s dirty little secret

The American Society of Microbiologists commissioned a 
survey on the nation’s hand-washing habits
. Observers sent into public restrooms to observe 6,336 adults found that only 82 percent actually washed their hands after using the facilities. Women were more diligent than men: 90 percent of the ladies washed their hands, compared with only 75 percent of the men.

Itinerary can affect the incidence of shipboard illness; for example, in past instances the CDC has noted special problems with cruises beginning in Mexico. Of particular concern are passengers who have arrived in the country a few days before boarding the ship; the suggestion is that these travelers pick up the virus on land, then bring it onto the ship when they board.

In a nutshell, people board their cruise with the virus. On a cruise ship, people are out and about in very public areas, and so opportunities abound with infected passengers depositing of the virus on various surfaces that then would be easily picked up by others.

If passengers think they are ill they need to avoid contact with other passengers and to report to the ship’s medical facility immediately. Of course, most passengers don’t want to be quarantined in their cabins so the virus keeps spreading around the ship, creating a sometimes chronic problem.

Inspectors aboard

The cruise lines’ defense against viral and bacterial illnesses is constant vigilance, strict sanitation control and regular disinfection. To keep them on their toes, the CDC conducts unannounced inspections of each ship twice a year. This cooperative effort is the chief reason there aren’t bigger outbreaks of illnesses at sea.

The CDC’s inspections are rigorous. Each inspection takes six to eight hours, depending on the size of the ship and the number of inspectors. The inspectors use a checklist to help evaluate such things as the ship’s water supply, food storage practices and food-preparation areas. Every ship starts with 100 points, then loses points for each infraction.

It doesn’t take much to lose points — anything from cracked tiles to refrigerators that aren’t quite cold enough. Inspection scores from the mid-80s to mid-90s are the most common. Ships scoring 86 points or higher are considered satisfactory; those scoring 85 and below are reinspected within 30 days.

Ounce of prevention

The CDC believes that noroviruses are becoming more virulent. And while noroviruses worry ship doctors a lot, they are a bigger problem on land than at sea. The statistical reality is that a miniscule percentage of all cruise passengers worldwide have become infected with a norovirus. Still, you don’t want to find yourself in the sick bay, so how can you protect yourself?

Remember what your mother told you: Wash your hands. For best results, the CDC recommends using warm water to moisten your hands before applying soap. Rub your hands together vigorously for at least 20 seconds. It is the soap combined with the scrubbing action that loosens and removes the germs from your hands.

That’s all there is to it: Twenty seconds of insurance that can literally save your health and your cruise.

Do you know how clean your cruise ship is? Travelers can view inspection summaries by visiting the CDC’s Web site, which publishes extensive reviews and vessel sanitation scores.

Reported by © www.expertcruiser.com – Your online consumer guide for cruise travel and information.

Filled Under Advice

Cool! Silversea offers complimentary streamed movies for guests mobile devices

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On June - 25 - 2013

In a cruise industry first, ultra-luxury Silversea Cruises has launched a complimentary service that provides streaming movies and live television news broadcasts to guests’ mobile devices aboard Silver Cloud.

The service can be accessed on any Wi-Fi-enabled laptop, smartphone, tablet, or even e-book reader — anything with a browser. It includes access to an extensive library of classic and recent Academy Award-winning feature films, with more than 80 per cent of the movies offered in five languages: English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish.

“We’re delighted to be able to offer this innovative service to enhance our guests’ onboard experience,” said Fabio Agostini, Silversea’s chief information officer. “Smartphones and tablets are a necessity for today’s travelers, who rely on instant access to information. Jason Cohn, our director of infrastructure, and his valuable team worked closely with RedCell Technologies, HMS, and On-Board Movies to develop a streaming media service that would fit seamlessly with our guests’ increasingly technology-driven lifestyle.”

A limited supply of iPad minis is also available (on a first-come, first-served basis) to Silver Cloud guests wishing to borrow a tablet to view the streamed movies and television during the voyage.

By the end of 2013, the service will be rolled out to four additional ships: Silver Shadow, Silver Whisper, Silver Wind and Silver Galapagos. In the coming months, the company is also planning to add an expansive selection of international newspapers to its menu of streamed media offerings, an option currently in the testing phase.

Reported by © www.expertcruiser.com – Your online consumer guide for cruise travel and information.

5 things you absolutely must consider before cruising

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On August - 31 - 2012

It’s a blissful thought: sailing off into the sunset on a cruise vacation. Cruising can be an exciting and affordable vacation option. Of course, it’s important to find the right cruise at the right price for your getaway. After all, there are more than 160 ships in the fleets of the 24 major cruise lines and thousands of itineraries worldwide.

Here’s what to consider when selecting your cruise.

Style of ship and cruise line

Cruise lines have their own distinct personalities and ships that reflect them. The size of a ship really does matter. Large ship cruise lines Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International provide a party atmosphere with glitz and high energy. Small ship operators like Silversea Cruises and Seabourn focus on quiet luxury and a more refined experience.

To make sure a line’s usual clientele and ship size is a good match for you, check over the line’s brochures and site. It also doesn’t hurt to visit the bustling online message boards at Cruise Critic and Cruisemates – member postings can offer valuable insight regarding a particular ship and cruise line.

Where to go

Cruise ships can take you almost anywhere on the planet, from the Caribbean or Europe to Asia or Antarctica, so explore a range of possibilities before settling on a preferred route. When you’ve found a trip you love, go over the schedule carefully. If traveling internationally make sure you have valid passports, visas, and any required immunizations.

If you need to fly to your cruise port make sure you allow enough time to get to the ship. Ideally you should try to get to the port at least a day in advance; this added buffer allows you to start off your hard-earned cruise vacation with less stress.

When to go

The holidays, spring break and summer are high season and that usually means higher prices. The shoulder seasons of mid-fall and early spring offer great cruise deals, and may be even more appealing than high season. An Alaska, European or Caribbean cruise in May or September, when the kids are in school, translates into fewer people in port.

Just before and after shoulder season, cruise lines move their ships from one home port to another in a strategic fleet movement that’s called “repositioning.” Of course, those ships don’t move around empty; instead, what you get is a “repositioning cruise” (or “repo cruise”) — a unique, one-way itinerary that is available only once a year. Repositioning cruises are often highly discounted meaning they are a great value.

Lastly, some of the cheapest cruises come during the Caribbean’s hurricane season, particularly in September and October. The price can come at a cost though — your itinerary may be changed and your cruise could be shortened or prolonged.

Pick a stateroom

Consider your itinerary when reserving a stateroom. If you can afford to splurge, a balcony stateroom provides you a private space to relax and get away from the crowded decks. Still, not all cruises are ideal for balconies. A trans-Atlantic crossing doesn’t make a lot of sense for a balcony since the ship is at sea for days and the weather is often cold or too windy to enjoy the space. On the other hand, the appeal of a balcony on an Alaska, Caribbean, European or South American cruise offers amazing scenery that should not be missed. Smaller inside staterooms are adequate for budget-minded cruisers who seem more likely to spend most of their time utilizing the ship’s public spaces.

A great cabin can make or break your cruise. If you’re on a romantic getaway don’t assume you’ll get a bed for two. Check with the cruise line to make sure you reserve a stateroom that offers a queen or king bed option, not fixed twins or pull-down pullman beds.

Lastly, study the ship’s deck plan. Passengers with disabilities might want to book near elevators. Watch out for staterooms with obstructed views – usually the lifeboat deck and those with close proximity to noisy areas like lounges, discos, theaters, pool areas, room service and steward service areas. Staterooms midship on lower decks are best for those prone to seasickness.

Getting the best price

Cruise lines offer travelers a host of discounts, so consider every source when looking for a deal. Check out your credit card as many offer discounts or points towards cruises. Look at all the clubs you belong to, from AAA, airline frequent flier programs and college alumni associations, to union memberships — see if they offer any deals or special rates for members. Also, if you’ve previously cruised with a cruise line you may be in for a repeat cruiser discount.

The majority of cruises are booked by travel agents. Big online agencies like Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz along with large cruise-only agencies offer competitive prices on a number of cruises. Still, many cruisers prefer to use a local travel agent, but make sure you shop around. Visit Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) at Cruising.org and search by ZIP code. When you talk to an agent, ask about last minute specials and if they are holding any group space on various cruises. But keep in mind for popular itineraries the best prices are often booked months in advance.

Lastly, watch your spending once onboard. Cruise lines do not make the bulk of their profits from the actual cruise fare – they make it from onboard spending options like bar tabs, spa services, shore excursions, and boutique purchases.

Don’t be vexed when choosing a cruise vacation. If you do a little research on options and pricing you can board the ship without a care in the world. And that’s the only way to cruise.

Reported by © www.expertcruiser.com – Your online consumer guide for cruise travel and information.

Bon voyage!

Cruise couple is bagless in Barcelona

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On June - 11 - 2012

Erin and Sean Spital last saw their luggage after checking in at New York’s JFK airport, shortly before they boarded their flight to Barcelona on Iberia Airlines. The couple waited until the last bags made their rounds on the luggage carousel, their bags never arrived. Left with only the clothes on their backs, and with their 7-day Norwegian Cruise Line cruise about to depart, the Spitals did the only thing they could do: They filed a claim with Iberia and went out to buy new clothes.

Naked truth

Lost airline luggage — it’s a problem all cruise lines are dealing with more often these days, especially on European cruises. I’ve been on a number of Mediterranean cruises where dozens of passenger’s bags never made it to the ships for embarkation. Most bags turn up during various ports of call, but not all of them make it. Like the Spitals, their owners just had to make do.

“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,” says John Heald, Carnival Cruise Lines senior cruise director. 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 Spitals received help from their cruise line, too. As Heald duly noted sometimes the best in people does come out. For Sean Spital, who is well over six feet tall, finding clothes was difficult. Thankfully a sympathetic Norwegian crew member of the same height was kind enough to loan some pants during the sailing. The cruise line also helped Erin Spital with clothing and arranged for the couple to keep in constant contact with Iberia. Despite all the help, the Spitals racked up a substantial credit card bill at various ports buying new clothes.

Sadly, the Spitals bags never showed up during their week-long cruise. “We paid more than 400 euros for basics like underwear, shoes, tops, and since it was December some sweaters,” Erin says. The Spitals kept their receipts and filed a claim with Iberia for the cost of their replacement clothing, which came to almost $1,500.

After returning from their cruise, Sean Spital kept calling Iberia daily to find out where their luggage was. Unfortunately, communication was difficult due to language barriers and changing stories. “They didn’t have updated information on the bags or their system was down. Sometimes I just couldn’t understand them and they couldn’t understand me.”

They were told due to the heavy snow storms in Europe and the U.S. in December many bags became displaced. Three weeks after they returned home the Spitals received one bag, which had been pilfered of many items including an expensive shaver, Gucci loafers, and cashmere sweaters. The airline has yet to find the other bag.

Bags of shame

Unfortunately for the Spitals Iberia is ranked the worst airline in Europe for lost luggage. A report in the London Telegraph stated the Spanish carrier lost 19.2 bags for every 1,000 people who boarded its planes during the winter months. Additionally, the carrier was ranked the worst performer in a survey carried out by the Association of European Airlines.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, your luggage has a fairly good chance of taking a different trip than you do. The department’s latest Air Travel Consumer Report shows 155,224 reports of “mishandled” bags in February this year, up from 136,066 in February 2009. While the numbers are still high the airlines have improved their baggage handling within the past two years as the number of mishandled baggage claims has declined.

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 other 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 Spitals, after three months they finally received a check from Iberia for $900, far from their original claim. They are glad it’s over and have vowed to never fly Iberia again.

Reported by Anita Dunham-Potter (editor@www.expertcruiser.com)
Please note this article first appeared on June 2, 2009.

Filled Under Advice, gallery, Ombudsman

Cruise industry introduces new safety measures

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On February - 12 - 2012

Cruise lines are now required to conduct passenger safety drills before leaving port effective immediately. The new rule was announced by several cruise industry associations: Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the largest cruise industry organization in North America, European Cruise Council, and UK-based Passenger Shipping Association. The new policy is in response to the Costa Concordia disaster where 16 people died and 16 are still missing following the ship’s collision with rocks close to the shore of the Italian island of Giglio on January 13 .

Holding muster drills before leaving port goes beyond the existing legal requirement that passengers participate in the safety drills within 24 hours of embarking. Passengers who arrive after drills are held will receive prompt individual or group safety briefings. About 600 of more than 3,000 Corcordia passengers had not participated in the muster drill because they got on the ship within hours of the accident. “There are various means of delivering passenger safety instructions and abandon ship instructions, but we believe the existing international requirement that we provide this instruction within 24 hours can be bettered by doing it immediately upon (passenger) boarding,” said Michael Crye, executive vice president of CLIA. The organizations will consider the findings of the official Concordia investigation when they are released and make further recommendations based on those details, Crye said.

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

© www.expertcruiser.com – Your online consumer guide for cruise travel and information.

Love Boat Sale! Princess offers 2-for-1 Savings and onboard credits

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On February - 10 - 2012

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Princess Cruises will be offering special fares on cruises to Europe – with The Love Boat® Sale from February 13-20. Passengers can book during the event for up to 2-for-1 savings, plus receive an onboard credit of up to $100. Up to 30 Europe cruise itineraries are included in the sale, including cruises to the romantic cities and islands of the Mediterranean and Greek Isles, as well as “bucket list” destinations such as the Holy Land or British Isles.

In addition to the sale fares, passengers booking interior or oceanview staterooms can receive an onboard credit of $25 (cruises up to 9 days) to $50 (cruises 10 days or longer), and in balcony staterooms or above can get credits of $50 (cruises up to 9 days) or $100 (for sailings 10 days or longer). All onboard credits are offered per stateroom.
Examples of sale fares include:

• 12-day Grand Mediterranean cruises from $1,145

• 12-day Greek Isles cruises from $1,145

• 12-day Holy Land cruises from $1,595

• 12-day British Isles cruises from $1,790

All cruise prices are per person. The Love Boat® Sale runs from February 13 at 12:01 am through February 20 at 11:59 pm, and is available to residents of the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico.

Additional information about Princess Cruises is available through a professional travel agent, by calling 1-800-PRINCESS (1-800-774-6237), or by visiting the company’s website at www.princess.com.

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

© www.expertcruiser.com – Your online consumer guide for cruise travel and information.