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.

Carnival Announces New Cruise Ship Name: Carnival Vista

Carnival Cruise LogoCarnival Cruise Line announced the first details today about it’s next ship on order – the Carnival Vista.

The Vista will debut in 2016 and have a passenger capacity of 4000.

“We’re starting to use the ship names as a touchstone for how we think about the design,” said Carnival Chief Marketing Officer Jim Berra, pointing to the fact the Vista will have several lookouts around the ship.

Company officials were largely mum on the details, only adding that there would be many similarities to the Carnival Breeze, but that it would also be a unique ship and look different than the Breeze.

Carnival’s Faster to the Fun Program Causes Loyalty Uproar

Before Carnival announced its Faster to the Fun program last week, the only way to get priority boarding and tendering was earning your way to the top tier of Carnival’s loyalty program or booking one of the limited number suites on board. With the new program in place on some ships, anyone can now get this particular service for a fee of $49.95 per cabin. Many long-time Carnival customers that have reached the very top tiers of the loyalty program are upset, and marketing experts aren’t surprised.

CarnivalVIFPClub“The outrage of the elite cruisers is to be expected,” says Roger Dooley, author of Brainfluence
and the blog Neuromarketing. “One key motivator for humans is social status. Being a “diamond” member signals prestige to other cruisers, and this status was attained by spending tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of dollars on cruises. When any joker in a John Deere t-shirt and cargo shorts can board at the same time by paying fifty bucks, the elite members will feel a lot less elite.”

Some passengers, mostly those who have not reached high levels of loyalty status, welcome the program. Having faster access to your luggage after a red-eye flight, or lessening the time spent wrangling multiple children can be extraordinarily valuable to a select group of passengers. Likely a value higher than $49. They also say the program is similar to the airline experience of first-class. Some like to pay for it, and some are bumped because they are frequent flyers. Dooley says that cruise-lines shouldn’t necessarily model their loyalty programs on airlines.

“It’s no surprise that airlines tend to be unpopular brands, as they have evolved from a seamless travel experience into one where everything has a price tag attached to it,” says Dooley. “The one airline that IS a well-liked brand is Southwest. JetBlue also scores with women. It’s no surprise that these airlines have many fewer random charges and tend to treat their passengers more equally.”

The new policy suggests that Carnival is focused more on providing options to the masses of new or relatively inexperienced cruisers rather than their most fiercely loyal customers. It isn’t uncommon for a business to focus on the majority of its customers – but it would be wise for the Carnival brand to create programs that cater to both segments as each have significant value.

Loyal cruisers are brand advocates – that is – not just someone who will tell you what a great cruise they experienced when asked, but those who will go out of their way to share experiences and stories with friends (friends likely able to afford such luxuries), promote their experiences on online forums and message boards, comment on blogs, and even defend the brand against unfavorable comments in any of the above situations. Advocates are extremely valuable, but policies like this can leave them feeling hurt or unappreciated.

If Carnival decides to keep the policy or expand it to other ships, they should strongly consider adding a perk of significant value for its loyalty members, above and beyond extending the Faster to the Fun benefits at no charge. Currently, when one reaches the Diamond level of Carnival’s VIFP Loyalty Program (meaning they’ve sailed over 200 days with Carnival), cruisers get a one-time complimentary meal for two at a specialty restaurant. Instead of one-time, perhaps Carnival could reward its most loyal customers with this perk on every cruise, or every other cruise. Or maybe even an exclusive group-dinner with the captain at a specialty restaurant that is only available for the highest tiers. It’s a small investment to the company(around $50) that may help cushion the perceived dilution of perks to brand advocates.

Carnival’s Your Time Dining: A Review

Carnival Cruise Your Time Dining - Monet Dining Room

On all of our past sailings with Carnival, we’ve always opted for dining in the late seating to ensure everyone in our group would be able to dine together – regardless of shore excursions, on-board activities, etc. that may run into the late afternoon making it difficult to herd everyone together for the early seating. Since the summer of 2010, Carnival has offered “Your Time Dining” on its entire fleet, and we decided to try it on our last cruise.

When booking, one has the option of early seating (6pm), late seating (8:15pm), or your time dining. Carnival’s literature indicates that your time dining is available from 5:45pm to 9:30pm, though from experience, the preferred time is between 6 and 9. On the first day, when our cabin stewardess introduced herself and reminded us about our dining choice, she indicated the best time was between 6 and 9 because of how the kitchen works. We’re not sure if she has friends in the kitchen that just prefer this, but this advice would likely serve you well in any land-restaurant, too. If you go in 10 minutes before close and spend two hours having dinner with five appetizers and two entrees (you know who you are), the staff may have some choice words for you – but they’ll still serve you with a smile.

Carnival’s dining options guide also says you may have to wait up to 20 minutes for a table. It was our experience, eating anywhere between 6:45 and 7:45 with a party of 7, we never had to wait longer than 5 minutes, and most night the longest wait was just getting everyone’s cabin number entered into their system (you can’t just walk in and say you’d like a table for 7, each guest must provide their cabin number before being seated).

The hostesses (assistant maître ‘ds?) can even take special requests – such as where you’d like to sit and if you prefer a specific waiter or waitress. We enjoyed sitting in the atrium area of the dining room, but we also requested a specific waiter a few times that we had on our first night who knew us by name. Even with special requests, the wait-time was minimal or non-existent.
We were very happy with the implementation and flexibility of Carnival’s your time dining. We rarely had any kind of wait, special requests were always accommodated with speed, and the flexibility was priceless – especially when traveling with a larger party.

Taking a Cruise During Hurricane Season: A First-Hand Look

Carnival Conquest and Carnival Liberty
Carnival Conquest and Liberty make an unexpected stop in Cozumel Mexico after Hurricane Irene changes 24 itineraries
The cruise industry calls it “Wave Season” and the rest of us call it “Hurricane Season.” It’s the time of year in late summer and early fall when cruises in the Caribbean are available at bargain prices due to the higher probability of your vacation being interrupted by Mother Nature. Depending on how you look at it, I was either fortunate enough or unfortunate enough to have a cruise planned for the Bahamas and Key West at the exact time Hurricane Irene was delivering between category 2 and 3 winds on those islands.

On-Ship Announcement

I was on the Carnival Conquest which set sail from Galveston, TX on the 21st for a seven day itinerary to the Bahamas and Key West – an Eastern Caribbean itinerary I had not experienced. The vast majority of sailings from Galveston, which is the closest port to our home in Austin, TX, are only to islands we refer to as the Holy Trinity of Western Caribbean cruises: Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel.
Upon boarding, we were told by the captain that they were keeping a keen eye on the weather in our scheduled ports, but that no changes had been made. Since every forecast model had Irene blasting through the Bahamas in just a few days, we suspect the determination had been made to not proceed to the Bahamas and that representatives in the home office were scrambling to find ports that were both available and out-of-dodge from Irene.

It was no doubt a busy time for Carnival, as we were only one of eleven ships that required an itinerary change. In all, over 24 ships from Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity, and Holland America had itinerary changes.

About mid-day through our first day at sea, the captain announced that we would not be sailing to any of our original ports of call, and that we would instead be visiting three ports in Mexico: Costa Maya, Cozumel, and Progreso.


We were on deck near the shops when the announcement was made, and there was a huge array of emotions among the other passengers. Several were excited about the new ports, and some were disgusted. “I’ve already been there!” “Progreso is a dump – don’t get off the ship!”

Admittedly, we were a little bummed that we would not be sailing on our original itinerary – but those are the chances you take when taking a cruise during hurricane season. And considering, at that point, Jamaica and Grand Cayman could potentially be affected, staying on the other side of the Gulf was the only reasonable decision both for the safety of everyone on board – and being able to enjoy ports of call that weren’t experiencing 115 sustained wind speeds.

Benefits of Booking a Cruise during Hurricane Season (Wave Season)

The biggest benefit to booking a cruise during hurricane season is the price discount – the same itineraries in peak months can run several times higher than those in late summer and early fall. The price is lower, but the guarantee of sticking to your original itinerary diminishes significantly.

Not far behind is the oft forgot benefit of mobility. If you had planned a normal vacation to the Bahamas (flight, rental car/taxi, several nights at Atlantis), you most likely would have had to cancel your trip and received minimal money-back unless you had purchased some form of travel insurance. Even if you got all your money back, timing a vacation between two jobs and kids’ school can be anything but easy – so rebooking something else in the last minute can be daunting at best.

Cruises have the benefit of just turning and going somewhere else – your itinerary may have changed, but you don’t have to re-pack, look for available last-minute lodging and travel arrangements, etc.

Cruise Excursions

Booking excursions through the ship is always a safe bet – but as with any safe option – the price is always a little higher. We’re fans of booking outside the cruise lines to save a little money, but you may want to re-think during hurricane season.

For those who booked excursions through Carnival on the original itinerary, cancelations were immediate and credits to the ship account followed. For those booking outside – many were left paying high on-ship telephone or internet rates to make cancelations for trips they had booked themselves. The deposit/refund policy is different for every private vendor – but undoubtedly some folks lost a few bucks by going on their own.

We had one excursion planned (Horseback riding in Freeport), though they only take cash on the day you leave – so no money had exchanged hands. Once we returned home, we had an email from the vendor letting us know horseback riding wouldn’t be available during the hurricane.

I normally spend quite a bit of time searching and reading about excursions prior to booking outside of Carnival, but when the itinerary changes mid-cruise, you are nearly entirely at the will of the cruise’s excursion desk. In Carnival’s case, excursions can be viewed and booked from the TV in the stateroom – and we found that clicking through this was a quicker way to spend $600 than even the Casino. The only problem was availability – since so many choose to book on their own, and with everyone on-board forced to go through Carnival for excursions, many were quickly sold out and lots of people who waited to sign up were left with nothing to do.

Overall Experience

We would have loved to go on our original itinerary to the Bahamas and Key West – but we gambled when booking during hurricane season and lost. In the end we weren’t surprised, but pleased that even though our plans were changed we could still relax on warm sandy beaches, enjoy quality excursions in each port we went to, and enjoy the on-board activities and dining with our family – which was ultimately our main goal.

Cruise Ships and Ports: What Charleston can Learn from Mobile

Charleston South Carolina DowntownLocal officials in Mobile, Alabama were “shocked” when Carnival Cruise Lines announced it was pulling the Elation from the port and moving it to New Orleans. Carnival at this point hasn’t made any plans to pull the Fantasy out of Charleston, but local groups are putting strain on the line and they may reconsider.

The Carnival Fantasy started docking in Charleston in May of 2010 – the only year-round cruise ship for the port.

Since then, there have been several sources of resistance:

National Trust for Historic Preservation
We know it’s important to preserve important sites in the U.S. that may otherwise not be if it weren’t for this group. However, the NTHP put Charleston on it’s “watch list” at the same time it released its 2011 most endangered sites, and blamed the cruise industry for the rating on the city.

The NTHP says:

In the case of Charleston, expanding cruise ship tourism could jeopardize the historic character of the city, historic downtown Charleston and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Since the cruise ships can’t park in downtown Charleston or “its surrounding neighborhoods,” it’s safe to say the NTHP is worried about an influx of people, and what that would mean for the city.

Other motivations appear to be at play (environmental? anti-cruise industry?) since the cruise industry currently only accounts for under 4% of the city’s 4.4 million annual visitors.

If the NTHP is truly concerned about the number of visitors to the city, perhaps they should be looking at all industries – but regulating 4% of visitors brought in by a single industry is the obvious work of special interests.

Southern Environmental Law Center

With anti-cruise industry mentality growing from the NTHP, the Southern Environmental Law Center decided to strike while the iron is hot by filing a lawsuit saying that the cruise lines aren’t operating within local zoning ordinances, causing traffic problems, and violating state environmental laws.

“Charleston relies on a careful balance between tourism and preservation that cruise ship interests shouldn’t overwhelm,” says Blan Holman, an attorney from the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Local Government
The mayor of Charleston says the lawsuit against Carnival is “bogus” and “rogue,” and cites the fact that cruise traffic is minimal compared to the cities annual tourism figures.

The chairman of the South Carolina Sate port Authority is calling the lawsuit “irresponsible.”

“Their goal is to cripple our port system to satisfy their anti-growth agenda. First it’s cruise ships, then cargo ships. Next it will be trucks and rails. They don’t seem to care that their agenda would irreparably damage economic development and kill jobs all across South Carolina.”

Mobile and Charleston

The local officials get it in Charleston, but it may not matter what they think in the end. Any port operator will tell you that vying to be a home port for a cruise ship is extremely competitive – especially with newer markets opening up and the ability for cruise lines to pack-up and move operations with relative ease.

When special interest groups force cruise ships into lawsuits that even the mayor thinks are bogus, they can increase a cruise line’s cost of operating in that port by millions of dollars.

One of the big reasons Carnival pulled out of Mobile, Alabama was they couldn’t raise profit enough to offset local environmental laws that are set to be in place by 2012, and calculated the ship would be more profitable in nearby New Orleans.

If Carnival decides its not worth the added cost and headache to do business in Charleston, we hope the local officials aren’t “shocked” – because the writing is on the wall today.

Carnival Magic: Three Reasons it’s Unlike any other Carnival Cruise

The Carnival Magic is just getting its sea-legs and wrapping up its first few voyages. USA Today’s cruise log says it looks like Carnival Magic is a hit – and we take a look at three reasons why cruising on Magic is different from any other Carnival cruise.

1) RedFrog Pub: Carnival is billing this as the first pub in its fleet and claiming it’s the brainchild of CEO Gerry Cahill (Whether it be Caribbean Pub or Irish Pub – what took so long??). Initial reports are that the new venue is always packed and even ran out of it’s signature beer, ThirstyFrog, on the maiden voyage. Perhaps some of the blame can be assigned to the fact one can order a 101oz tube of the brew for around $25. Appetizers and deserts are also available for a few bucks. Check out the full RedFrog Pub Menu.

2) Cucina del Capitano: The “Captain’s Kitchen” is an relatively informal Italian eatery that serves family style meals. In the evening, the venue has a surcharge of $10 for adults and $5 for kids – not bad considering the Signature Steakhouse option on some Carnival ships is double that. More and more we’re seeing a move away from traditional dining room settings to more niche venues – both more formal (steakhouse) and less formal (Cucina) – depending on what suits you. It’s worth noting that during the day, Cucina del Capitano offers pasta options for no additional fee. Check out the full Cucina del Capitano Menu.

3) Carnival Sports Square Ropes Course: A first for a cruise ship. While it may not be a ‘high ropes’ course, it’s located on one of the highest points of the ship and about 150 feet above sea level. It may not be looking down that gives you a dizzy feeling on this one – it’s looking OUT! Adrenaline junkies need look elsewhere, though – Carnival has designed it to be family friendly and kid friendly which suggests you’ll have to get your fix elsewhere. That said, it should get your heart pounding a lot more than shuffleboard or mini-golf.

Carnival Cruises Adopt Plug-In Electric Plan for Ships Docking in Brooklyn

You’ve heard about plug-in electric cars like the Chevy Volt, but what about a plug-in cruise ship? Carnival Cruise Line is going to retrofit two of its ships to run on electric power next year….kind of.

Two ships, the Queen Mary 2 and the Caribbean Princess, currently dock at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal about 40 times every year, and while in dock, they run off power generated by the ship’s enormous diesel engines. By next year, Carnival will outfit them at a cost of $4 Million to run off “shore power” via what is basically a giant electrical outlet that will be built into the port.

The move comes after lobbying from local citizens that were concerned about the environmental and health risks of having ships idling in their community.

It isn’t the first time Carnival or Cruise Ship terminals have used the technology – power is available in Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles, and Carnival began using the technology 10 years ago in Juneau, Alaska.

Photo: NY Times

$26 Million Still Owed on Mobile Alabama Cruise Terminal

Carnival in Mobile, ALLocal officials in Mobile, Alabama were “shocked” when Carnival Cruise Lines announced it would be pulling the Elation from that port and moving it to New Orleans. Carnival explained that the port hadn’t been as profitable as expected, while locals say the ship was constantly filled. Dealing with a blow to your city’s ego is one thing, but the city still owes $26 million on the terminal that will be empty come October.

Mobile County Commissioner, Connie Hudson, told a local news station that during negotations, Carnival said it would stay as long as business was good – and in her eyes, business was good. The contract gives Carnival the option to break the contract with the city with a 90 day notice, and Carnival is giving much more than that. However, city leaders say that still isn’t enough time to fill the vacancy as cruise itineraries are scheduled years in advance.

Carnival’s Side

One needs to remember that Carnival Cruise Lines is a publicly traded company — one that is responsible to its shareholders and thousands of employees that depend on it to feed their families. As such, it needs to act in the best interest of those parties — not necessarily those of a port city.

There were several reasons Carnival is moving the Elation to New Orleans according to president and CEO Gerry Cahill.

“Although we have consistently filled the ship, it has been at lower relative pricing to the rest of our fleet,” Cahill said. “We have made every effort to drive higher demand and pricing through our sales and marketing initiatives and the deployment of a newer class of ship in 2009. However, we have not been successful in achieving a sustainable level of acceptable pricing.”

Translated into plainer terms – the cruise line may have been at near 100% capacity every time it left port, but if it was only possible to book that level at $100 less per person than it could make in another port – it doesn’t financial sense to stay there.

Relative to other home ports, fuel costs in Mobile were much higher – and scheduled to become even more unfavorable when new, local environmental regulations begin in 2012.

Cruise Ship Forum’s Take

While we feel for the city of Mobile, the decision for Carnival to reposition its ship to a more profitable port is a sound business decision. It is normal for any community that loses a business to feel disappointment, though when money and jobs are at stake, one needs to take emotion out of the equation and look at the facts.

Since the Carnival Cruise Line started operating full time out of Mobile in 2004, the global economy has changed. If in 2004, you would have told someone that giant banks, insurance agencies, and two of the largest car manufacturers in the world would be on the brink of bankruptcy – they would have given you a strange look and continued to pour money into the stock market – because things were great – and no one knew what the future would hold.

The fact Carnival stayed in Mobile as long as they did is impressive. Perhaps the local regulations that are going to increase fuel prices next year were the straw that broke the camel’s back in this case – if that is the case – Alabamians needn’t point the finger at anyone but themselves.

Photo: Press-Register file/Bill Starling

Cruise Ship Safety 101: Don’t Sail through Fog

Cruise Ship FogSome strange weather patterns have been circulating around Texas the last few weeks, and its caused some disruption among those traveling by air, land and sea. Fog in the Port of Galveston has forced several Carnival and Royal Caribbean sailings to be delayed – both departing and arriving. Passengers need to realize that when piloting a floating city, safety is going to come first and convenience second.

Carnival was forced to change it’s 7 day itinerary to accommodate the delay, canceling a stop in Jamaica and substituting a closer option: Progreso, Mexico. Carnival gave cruisers the option to cancel with a full refund, or receive 25% off this cruise AND a future similar sailing.

Some on board thought they should get to go on the adjusted itinerary AND get their money back.

“I would say it was a nightmare. We want the corporate office to either refund our money or take us to Jamaica,” said passenger Thuy Kau. “Progreso (Mexico) is not a consolation.” editorialized the situation best:

Nothing is set in stone where safety of the ship, passengers and crew are concerned.

Carnival made the right move by modifying the existing itinerary to include a total of three ports that they had the time to visit. Had they not substituted Progresso, the same people might very well have moaned that they got shorted a port.

They did have options. They could have taken advantage of Carnival’s unique Vacation Guarantee

To further highlight the dangers of the foggy port – the very same ship was hit by a barge – further delaying it since the Coast Guard was called to inspect the ship. Please – don’t be too unreasonable when it comes to the safety of thousands. We’ve cruised on the Conquest before (happily), and are considering another sailing this year. Carnival should be commended for the way they handled this situation.