Report: Cruise Passengers Spending Less on Board, Hurting Profits

Royal Caribbean International Logo SmallRoyal Caribbean, the second-largest cruise company in the world, released its quarterly profit results to Wall Street and they were down by two-thirds. The company indicated that the line was dealing with several mishaps during the quarter, and shortened or interrupted cruises (mass illness, weather) cause cruise passengers spend less on-board. Royal Caribbean International said lower on-board spending combined with increased operating costs are to blame for the large decline.

The cruise industry as a whole was taking a beating in the news with several high profile cases of illness on board, and that included the largest cruise operator in the world, Carnival. They too recently cut the forecast for this year due to a rough first quarter as company profits were down and spending on advertising was up.

The future is looking good for Royal Caribbean and the cruise industry though, with bookings up nearly 20%. The cruise line also indicated that demand for cruises remains high in China and Europe, and the company hopes to take advantage in those markets.

Source: Reuters/CNBC

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”

Top 4 Last Minute Cruise Deals to Alaska

Alaska has long been a destination we’d love to visit – and with all the news lately, we decided to compile a few last minute deals from the major lines. We are not a travel agency nor affiliated with one – and all links on this post go directly to the cruise line’s website.

Below are four of the best deals that we found (at least as of today). These fares are per-person, based on double occupancy, and do not include taxes or government fees – and it’s possible you may qualify for deeper discounts based on location, age, or other factors.

Princess Cruises: 7-Day Alaska Inside Passage Cruise

Ship: Golden Princess
Departs: Seattle, Washington
Departure Date: July 31, 2010
Ports of call: Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan while sailing in Glacier Bay or Tracy Arm Fjord, depending on your itinerary.
Length: 7 Days

Inside Cabin $799
Oceanview Cabin $949
Balcony $1,499*
Suite $1,679

*Note: Take a look at the August 14th sailing – it’s $200 less per person for a balcony, but the same or higher in every other class.

Visit Princess Cruises for more information. (limited time link!)

Holland America Line: 7-Day Alaskan Explorer Cruise

Ship: ms Zaandam
Departs: Seattle, Washington
Departure Date: September 3, 2010
Ports of call: Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Victoria BC while sailing in Glacier Bay
Length: 7 Days

Inside Cabin $699
Oceanview Cabin $699
Balcony $1,099
Suite $2,649

Visit Holland American Line for more information.

Carnival Cruise Line: 7-Day Glacier Bay Cruise

Ship: Spirit
Departs: Seattle, Washington
Departure Date: September 13, 2010
Ports of call: Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Vancouver BC while sailing in Glacier Bay.
Length: 7 Days

Inside Cabin $569
Oceanview Cabin $779
Balcony $1,009
Suite $1,679

Visit Carnival for more information.

Royal Caribbean 7-Day Sawyer Glacier Cruise

Ship: Rhapsody of the Seas
Departs: Seattle, Washington
Departure Date: August 27, 2010
Ports of call: Juneau, Skagway, and Victoria BC while sailing in the Alaska Inside Passage and Tracy Arm Fjord.
Length: 7 Days

Inside Cabin $644
Oceanview Cabin $949
Balcony $1,999
Suite $2,149

Visit Royal Caribbean for more information.

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, 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.

Frommer Says Travel Bloggers Are Industry Shills

While doing research for another post, I came across an article called “Are travel writers shills for the cruise lines?” – an article published on just a few days ago. As a blogger covering cruise news I decided to check it out and found a gross mischaracterization from some unlikely places.

The author of the article, Dennis Schaal, does a pretty good job of staying neutral and not taking sides, though does take bulk of his article from a maritime attorney Jim Walker’s blog who specializes in lawsuits against cruise lines.

Walker contends that no blogger covered the recent passing of the Cruise Line Safety Act just before the 4th of July weekend, and that there are far too many “shills for the cruise industry” in the travel blogosphere.

PaulineFrommerBoth Walker and Schaal mention Pauline Frommer (daughter of Arthur Frommer, travel-guide-book-king) in their articles as one of the only exceptions to the rule – her father being the other. Walker went so far to say that it is “refreshing” to see a travel writer with “integrity and ethics,” after Frommer covered the passing of the law.

This understandably set off a wave of comments from both sides – and Pauline Frommer even weighed in on the discussion saying that it is a “valid point” that both made in their articles. In prose dripping with arrogance, she talked about what a “real travel journalist” does and how “novice writers” may not get the full picture.

“As a member of the “old guard” I’d say that an issue like this one shows that there’s still a place for edited pieces, written by paid writers who don’t have to worry about angering the company they’re writing about,” Frommer commented.

Surprising to me was that Frommer, a self-proclaimed “real journalist” wouldn’t have known the difference between the House of Representatives and the Senate – the latter of whom passed the law a week or so ago, though Frommer praised the former (which is almost as hard to type as it is to say) in her article which received much acclaim.

The House of Representatives did indeed pass this law – but it was last October.

I wrote about it. Here.

It may seem like I’m splitting hairs over journalism 101 fact-checking with Ms. Frommer, and I am – but saying “real journalism” only comes from expensive office buildings with a full staff to manage advertising with the very same companies that travel blogging sites do (and thus are biased) is offensive.

Bloggers are legally held to a higher standard – bound by the FTC to disclose gifts, travel, etc along with their coverage – something newspapers, TV Shows, and Guide Books are not bound to do.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I’m not afraid to cover stories that cruise lines wish I didn’t (e.g. commentary on Carnival Elation’s murder cabin) – but I also cover things they do right (e.g. their new round-trip sailings from LA to Hawaii).

I hope that Walker, Schaal, and Ms. Frommer all understand that if a story only gets coverage from a select few, it’s probably not all that interesting. There are enough travel sites that competition for readers outweighs ruffling a few feathers in the industry – especially when none of the cruise lines responsible for many press trips and perks are even named in this particular story.

The story wasn’t widespread because travel editors and bloggers didn’t think it made the cut – not because they care more about cruise line relationships than passenger safety as these three would like you to believe.

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.

Carnival Sending Newest, Largest of Ships to Texas Port

Hurricanes have wreaked havoc on cruise ship ports in the last few years. Hurricane Ike demolished Galveston, TX to the tune of 3 Billion dollars in 2008, and New Orleans is still recovering from Katrina in 2005. However, Carnival Cruise Lines is sending the message that these two ports are back on the map, most notably by announcing Galveston as the new home for the Carnival Magic.

The Carnival Magic is part of the cruise line’s Dream Class of ships and is set to debut in Barcelona next May for a few seven to 12-day Mediterranean cruises before making the 16-day trans-Atlantic voyage to its home port of Galveston, Texas in October.
Carnival Magic will have seven-day itineraries to the western Caribbean (Montego Bay, Grand Cayman, Cozumel) and eastern Caribbean (Nassau, Freeport, and Key west).

For shorter voyages, CCL will move the Carnival Triumph to the port of Galveston as well, making it the largest ship to operate a year-round short cruise program from that port.

The two ships currently calling Galveston home, the Carnival Conquest and Carnival Ecstasy, will reposition to New Orleans – bringing Carnivals pre-Katrina cruise levels back to the embattled city.

This news is exciting for those of us outside of Florida, who are far more likely to take a cruise if the port is just a few hours away driving distance – and to have the ships include one of the newest and largest ships from Carnival – that’s not so bad either!

Cruiser’s Attempt to Capitalize on BP Gulf Oil Spill Blocked

BrianDiamondCruiseShipOilSpillBrian Diamond of Omaha Nebraska was very upset when oil started gushing from out of the gulf. He had planned an “elaborate tour” of the gulf as his “once-in-a-lifetime” vacation, and said “everything changed” after the BP oil disaster. But had it really?

Diamond purchased trip insurance for $90 when he put down a $500 deposit on his November (read: discount hurricane season) Caribbean cruise with Carnival, and was upset to find out that his trip insurance didn’t include oil spills and that his cash wouldn’t be refunded. Except here’s the kicker: no cruise line or cruise ship in the gulf has deviated or changed any itinerary because of the oil spill. Also, the trip is so far out it’s impossible to know what the Gulf’s condition will be.

Carnival Cruise Lines told MSNBC that at most, cruise ships are making “slight course alterations as necessary to avoid the most heavily impacted spill areas,” and that crew members are doing periodic inspections of the ship’s hull for signs of oil residue. Carnival says they are “not anticipating any interruptions to our normal cruise schedules.”

Since the deposit and trip insurance fees were paid to a private travel agency in Omaha, Carnival isn’t in a place to provide any refunds either. Diamond tried anyway, unsuccessfully.

Diamond and his wife clearly had a change of heart regarding their travel plans and tried to use the gulf oil spill as their excuse to get their money back. Trip insurance is for unforeseen events that actually impact your trip, not as a backup if you decide change your travel plans.

Kudos to eTravelOmaha and Carnival for not giving in to this wishy-washy couple.


Mechanical Problems Cause Carnival Cruise Headaches

CarnovalLegendSlowMechanical difficulties are causing grief for thousands of Carnival Legend passengers, after the problems caused the 2,124 passenger vessel to arrive late and therefore depart late on this week’s voyage. The Carnival Legend is the same ship that collided with a Royal Caribbean ship a few months ago, but the problems are unrelated.

According to Carnival, the Legend arrived several hours late on Sunday due to a problem with the propulsion system. Many passengers had confirmed flights just hours after they were due back in the Tampa port, causing a lot of headaches as they tried to reschedule missed flights.

The passengers aboard this week’s Legend cruise are also feeling the effects of the delay, as a schedule stop in Grand Cayman was skipped for a short stay in Cozumel Mexico.

News of mechanical problems aboard Carnival’s Legend comes just a month after CCL experienced similar problems with the slightly larger Destiny, which had to be dry-docked for a week to fix the problem. The problems aboard the Carnival Destiny prompted the line to cancel two voyages and modify three others.

Normally the weather is the main factor that cruisers worry about when it comes to disruptions in their trip – whether it be plane delays getting to the port or modified itineraries once on board. Carnival will need to make good with the cruisers that have planned port stops and cruises many months in advance, or they’ll end up in the same PR battle as Toyota is in right now.

New Orleans Welcomes Largest Cruise Ship Since Katrina

The Carnival Triumph is in New Orleans this week, but isn’t just stopping by. The Triumph will now call the Crescent City its home port, making it the largest ship to be based in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Carnival is replacing the Fantasy, which will be moving to a new home port of Mobile, AL. With Hurricane Ida bearing down on the gulf coast, Fantasy’s crew probably isn’t thrilled about the move!

The Triumph carries 2758 passengers, which is over a third larger than the Fantasy.

Four, five, and seven day itineraries will be available on the Carnival Triumph, and ports will include common western Caribbean destinations like Cozumel, but it will also take longer journeys to Eastern Caribbean ports like Key West, Freeport and Nassau in the Bahamas.

Some cruises will even go to Belize, Roatan in Honduras.

Carnival’s Triumph joins the Norwegian Spirit, the only other cruise ship to call New Orleans its home port.