Norwegian Cruise Line Resumes Service to Roatan Following Crew Murder

NCL Dawn Roatan Hondruas

Norwegian Cruise Line is resuming calls this week in Roatan, Honduras after canceling last week’s stops following the murder of one of its crew members in port earlier this month.

NCL noted on their facebook page last week that stops were canceled out of “an abundance of caution for our guests and crew, we have cancelled calls to Roatan this week for Norwegian Dawn and Norwegian Jewel.”

The suggestion that Roatan is safer this week than it was last week when the cruises skipped the port, or the previous week when the crew member was murdered during a robbery, is foolish. When NCL pulled it’s ships it wasn’t out of an abundance of caution, it was to send Roatan a message. As an economy dependent on tourism, losing thousands of cruise passengers eager to spend money on excursions and souvenirs is a big blow to the small island of about 50,000 people.

While the tactic may be effective in eventually reducing crime-rates, nothing is fixed in a week’s time (though they have arrested a suspect), and we wish the cruise lines were more honest about their methods and educate guests on the potential dangers that still exist. Sure, murders happen in cities around the US, and one incident shouldn’t dissuade you from traveling the world. However, here are some of the homicide/murder rates of popular cruise destinations compared to home port countries and some ‘dangerous’ US cities:

Homicide Rates (per 100,000 people):

Honduras: 90.4
Detroit: 54.6
New Orleans: 53.2
Belize: 44.7
Jamaica: 39.3
St. Louis: 35.5
Mexico: 21.5
United States: 4.7
Canada: 1.6
United Kingdom: 1

Several other major cruise lines continue to sail to Roatan including Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Regent Seven Seas – despite travel warnings from the US State Department than warn of high levels of violent crime (murders, robberies, and kidnappings) and crooked authorities.

New Cruise Ships in 2013, 2014 and Beyond

Norwegian Breakway New Cruise Ship 2013

During the last several years of economic recovery, a few cruise lines were betting on the future with the planning, designing, and construction of new Cruise. The entire process can last between 2 and 4 years, and thinking back 2 or 4 years ago, these ships were gambles – and they should payoff as we slowly climb out of the global recession.
We noted on last-year’s list that mega-ships were noticeably absent.

The outlook over the next few years also indicates ships that carry over 6,000 passengers may have been a phase – and one that wasn’t overly profitable – since neither Royal Caribbean or Norwegian Cruise Line, two lines with mega-ship experience, have any plans of expanding their mega-fleet size.

Below is a list with some details the new cruise ships in 2013, 2014, and Beyond. Continue reading New Cruise Ships in 2013, 2014 and Beyond

Bringing Alcohol on Cruise Ships – A Rum Runner Flask Review

Update 2015: Genuine Rum Runner’sare still sailing through security. Several personal experiences and countless 3rd party success stories.

When you bring up the idea of bringing alcohol onto a cruise ship, that is, above the amount allowed by cruise line policy, you’re sure to run into two types of people.

There are those who say the practice is despicable – that cruise lines enact rules and guidelines for a reason and they should be followed. Any talk of circumventing these rules will often lead to questions pertaining to the offender’s moral character (an informal survey on CruiseCritic found 4% of travelers are hard-line rule followers, and another 15% say the rules are fair).

Then there are those who believe that the cruise line’s rules are well-intentioned, but choose to bring illicit alcohol on board for a number of reasons. These may include on-board alcohol prices, convenience, or even selection of alcohol offered on-board (the same survey found that 80% of travelers said the policies on alcohol were annoying or needed to change).

In fact – the only subject that brings more controversy when talking about cruise ship guest rights are the smoking policies, but that is a discussion for another day.

So for the moment, we’ll assume that if you’ve never even considered bootlegging booze onto a ship, you might be curious as to the techniques and their success rates.

By far the most popular and talked-about method of taking alcohol onto a cruise ship as of late is the use of small, strong, plastic bladders or bags. One brand in particular, Rum Runner Flasks, is the most widely-known brand for such products – and they even make a Rum Runner Cruise Kit and a Spring Break Cruise Kit. Both kits cost around $25 and shipping is reasonable.

For research purposes, we purchased the Cruise Kit, which comes with three large and three small flasks.

We filled the flasks with various types of liquor and distributed them throughout our checked bags that would be screened by security and then placed outside our staterooms.

One large flask was placed in with other large toiletry liquids, the other large flask was packed completely out in the open around some clothes. The smaller flasks were placed in several places around a garment bag.

The wait for our bags seemed endless – and every time we heard the rustle of the bags being delivered we’d open the door hoping ours would be there. Eventually our bags arrived (truthfully no later than anyone else’s, it just seemed that way) and the results were in.

All of the flasks had made it through without being confiscated. However, it wouldn’t be fair to say they weren’t detected.

Some fellow guests had also brought alcohol in their checked luggage – and made no attempt to hide it – other than putting the large (original) bottle of Knob Creek in some bubble-wrap and a kids-size life preserver, but that was mainly to protect the glass from breaking.

What we’ve found is that the season, time of year, and overall cruise clientele/age have more to predicting whether or not your alcohol makes it passed security rather than the vessel containing it.

You’ll notice that no cruise line’s alcohol policy mentions profitability of the cruise, even though alcohol sales can play a large role in profitability. Lines typically say their policies exist for purposes of controlling over-consumption which can lead to individuals being disruptive to other guests. Our research has shown that it looks like they’re telling the truth.

We’ve found the enforcement of the alcohol policies gets stricter during peak seasons for college spring breaks and even summer cruises. Enforcement will also be stepped up for theme cruises, such as a popular music act that may attract a rowdier-than-usual crowd.

So, if you’re going to try to bring alcohol onto a ship, using something like the Rum Runner Flasks hidden with similar-sized liquid toiletries is probably your best bet – but it’s not a guarantee – especially during ‘high enforcement’ cruises. Typically the worst thing that happens is it gets confiscated and you never see your booze or your flasks again, which depending on what you bring, could be a sizable gamble.

For more info, reviews, and price info – check out the Rum Runner Cruise Kit and the Spring Break Cruise Kit on Amazon.

Other Methods

These are some of the other methods we’ve heard of people using – some crazier than others.

Poor-man’s Rum Runner Can’t afford a rum-runner and want a couple liters of wine? Grab a box of wine and remove the box – Bingo! A bag-o-wine that’s designed to take a beating.

Fill a Listerine bottle with clear alcohol, add food coloring. This will get your booze on board, but no matter how much you wash it, the bottle will still impart the taste of mouthwash to your liquor. There are only so many drinks you can make with mint vodka.

Wine-bottle switcheroo Most cruise lines allow you to bring some wine in your carry-on bags. Not a wine drinker? Find an empty wine bottle, fill it with your favorite liquor, re-cork it (you can cut off the top if you can’t get it all the way), then buy some heat-shrink-foil tops to reseal the top and give it the appearance it hasn’t been opened. People brew their own wine, so these can be found online or in some liquor stores (Google shopping search: wine heat shrink capsules). This is probably the most guaranteed way as it gives the appearance of something the cruise lines condone, but may also require the most preparation and forethought.

Water-bottle switcheroo This used to be a decent method, but lately cruise lines have been known to shake the water bottles to see if they bubble or not. This approach is more often attempted (and failed) when getting back on the ship after a day in port.

Iced-Tea Sitcheroo This is one step up from the water-bottle switcherro – since ice tea bubbles when shaken, and dark liquors often give the appearance of tea, the line would have to conduct a smell-test, which we’ve never seen. Getting the plastic bottles to appear like they’ve never been opened is much trickier on these bottles.

Old-school flask/Traveler Bottle They’ve made plastic flasks for a long time, and traveler liquor bottles are made from plastic to be lighter weight. You can carry either on your person through security as metal detectors won’t uncover them. This method has long been perfected in the concert and sports arena world, and methods include sticking them in cargo shorts to actually taping them to your person. This method is actually where the term ‘bootlegging’ originated during prohibition.

If we missed one – let us know in the comments section!

We’ve included the newest alcohol policies (as of 2012) from some of the major cruise lines after the jump Continue reading Bringing Alcohol on Cruise Ships – A Rum Runner Flask Review

Alaska Cruise Dollars Decline after Tax Hike

While politicians are debating tax hikes in Washington D.C., the state of Alaska is learning firsthand what increased taxes can do to your local economy and the businesses that operate there. Preliminary results from the Alaska Department of Revenue show a 20% decline in cruise tourism in May from a year ago following tax increases that caused several cruise lines to drop itineraries to “The Last Frontier.”

The cruise industry typically sets itineraries two years in advance, so it took a little time for Alaska to see the decline after the $46 tax for each visiting cruise passenger was put into place a few years ago. Last year, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Princess all announced plans to pull ships from Alaska once they saw their profit margin sinking under the new taxes.

Carnival’s CEO made a statement last year explaining that cruise lines operate primarily as a business, and if business is better somewhere else (e.g. a ship can make more money in Europe than Alaska) the line won’t hesitate to move a ship.

Earlier this year Alaska changed the law and lowered the tax rate (after much lobbying from local tourist associations and the cruise line industry) – but the effects won’t be seen until at least 2012 since ships have already been scheduled and booked for other itineraries around the world.

Unfortunately for businesses dependent on cruise tourism in Alaska, this could be too little too late. It will take years to recover the business cruise ships were bringing to the region and may force some local businesses to close.

Cruise lines have the luxury of taking their business elsewhere relatively easily by pointing their ships in another direction – land-based companies do not.

Poll after poll will tell you jobs and the economy are the number one concern in America – which is why it’s puzzling to me why a state would impose a policy that encourages business to leave the region – and in most cases the entire country. Lower tourism means fewer businesses and higher unemployment.

Alaska figured it out too late for it to benefit anyone in the next two years – I hope Washington D.C. doesn’t make the same mistakes.

VIA: USA Today – Cruise Log

How Cruise Lines Can Help St. Thomas Reduce Crime

StThomasToday we’re learning about the death of a 14-year old cruise ship passenger on St. Thomas, an Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She was allegedly caught between two gangs in the midst of a shootout while on a tourist bus en route to Coki Point Beach – one of the island’s most popular destinations. Many cruisers are worried about upcoming trips to the island, but should they be? Should this incident cause concern?

The teenager was traveling with her family on board the Carnival Victory which has seven day cruises out of San Juan. The tour bus they were traveling on was not a Carnival-sponsored excursion, though Carnival said it was canceling trips to that beach area. Princess cruises has followed suit, but according to CruiseCritic.com, Norwegian Cruise Line (Epic is set to dock tomorrow), and Royal Caribbean have yet to determine any cancelations at this time

The cancelations of trips to certain beaches is a good start for the cruise lines, but in order to make real change, we suggest suspending travel to the island for a period of time until they can get their act together and reduce their crime rate.

For the last few years running, St. Thomas has recorded a violent crime rate between 5 and 7 times that similar-sized cities in the United States. Although St. Thomas is a territory of the United States, it is self-governing and has an independent police force – a group that many locals feel a sense of distrust for.

Tensions between local police and U.S. Federal officials have been strained in the last few years, after an ATF agent shot and killed a resident in 2008 while intervening in a domestic dispute. The local police cried foul, and the United States pulled out all ATF agents about 6 months later. The FBI and DEA still have offices on the island, though some believe they’re hands are tied for political reasons.

If local police are the problem, then it is up to the people to stand up for a change – and while the crime rates may seem like enough motivation to us, nothing has changed on the island for the better.

Cruise lines should suspend all travel to the island for one month – and only return pending an independent assessment of the changes made to help protect citizens and travelers.

St. Thomas is an economy based on tourism – it wouldn’t take long for every business owner (undoubtedly the ones with the most political power, too) on the island to be calling for a change. Until they need a reason to change, they will continue to sit on the sidelines as long as their business isn’t affected – and it hasn’t been.

The tragedy this week is terribly unfortunate, but maybe it will be the wakeup call to the cruise lines that supply the island with its cash crop – tourists – that it is time for more action if any real change is desired.

Will Norwegian Epic Entertainment Model Go Industry Wide?

BlueManGroupNCLEpicNorwegian Cruise Line describes their newest entertainment lineup as “revolutionary,” a surprisingly true statement. We’re surprised that it’s taken anyone in the industry this long to ask themselves “could our entertainment stack up against acts in New York City and Vegas?” NCL asked that question, and booked headlining act Blue Man Group not just for one or two theme cruises or the inaugural run, but for their headlining entertainment this season aboard their newest ship, Epic.

If anyone has come close to doing something similar, it would be Royal Caribbean. RCL’s Oasis of the Seas has a running production of Hairspray that casted in London, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City. While I can appreciate a good musical, if I was cruising with my entire family and the two venues were put to a vote, it would likely come to a 5-1 majority favoring Blue Man Group on Epic.

RCL’s Allure of the Seas debuting later this year, inked a deal with DreamWorks to bring characters like Shrek on board, and even though you can make the case that the movies and characters can have appeal to an older audience, there are lots of folks who may prefer to have breakfast without the possibility of being approached by an 8 foot tall green ogre.

Some cruise lines like Carnival are still running musical revue shows with OK dancers with one or two featured performers. Sure it beats sitting in your room, but acts like this would never stand on their own if they were on land and in a city with hundreds of other options.

Acts like Blue Man Group do come at a higher cost to the cruise lines, though. Carnival would probably contend that for an extra few hundred bucks per passenger, they could book expensive entertainment as well – but providing an affordable experience for families is a higher priority.

As more mega-ships roll out, expect to see more recognizable names and acts on board for more than just a few inaugural sailings. Booking based on the on-board entertainment as it relates to your party, rather than just how big/new/shiny the ship is, will help guarantee everyone a good time.

Electric Guitar Rentals on Cruise Ships: Good or Bad?

Norwegian Epic Cruise Ship

Norwegian Cruise Line will soon debut its newest, and largest, vessel aptly named “Epic.” NCL is promising that the 153,000-ton, 4,200-passenger ship will take cruise entertainment to the next level. However, some of the new programs, like electric guitar rentals, may scare off more customers than they attract.

The Norwegian Epic has some entertainment options we’re excited about such as Vegas acts like Blue Man Group. Legends in Concert may not be something I’d pay to see in Vegas, but I’d still definitely attend an inclusive evening show on the ship.

Electric guitar rentals on-board are another story. At 27, I’m not sure I fit the demographic that cruise lines consider their bread-and-butter clients, but even at my age, when I’m resting in my cabin after a long day of activities or even an afternoon catnap, the last thing I want to hear is my cabin-neighbor learning how to play the electric guitar. NCL is providing headphones to go along with the package that also includes the guitar and amplifier, though I can’t imagine they would stay plugged in for long. “Hey mom, listen to what I just learned how to play,” followed by the worst version of Smoke on the Water you’ve ever heard.

For me, cruising isn’t a time for single-person activities to perform in your cabin, it’s about the social experience and having fun. So, I have a better idea for those itching for a little musical release without bothering the neighbors: A Guitar Hero Tournament.

Many ships already have video games like this set up in the kids programs, but why not make it adult friendly? Hold a tournament with the finals to be played in the auditorium on the big screen backed by the theater’s sound system and invite other passengers. This would be far more entertaining for more people (kids AND adults) and be far less of an annoyance for everyone else on board who may not have the patience to deal with a Jimmy Hendrix wannabe next door.

Norwegian Cruise Line is on the right track, they just need to adjust their strategy so that their programs don’t make some passengers think twice about booking.