September 22, 2020

Caribbean Cruise runs into Covid-19 Port Closures

The 30,000 ton Sirena is s smaller ship carrying 688 passengers.

By Steve Blake

The cruise industry is reeling as a result of cancelations and port closures due to Covid-19 (coronavirus) issues. We had several cruises planned for the winter season and first ran into problems when our ship, the MS Westerdam, was denied entry to ports. That story has been told in my previous post. We arrived home from that cruise for a three-week interval before flying to Miami for a Caribbean cruise onboard Oceania’s MS Sirena. We did not expect problems because we left March 7, 2020, before the worldwide concern set in.

We arrived in Miami one day before our cruise was set to depart. Life appeared pretty normal in Miami. We shopped for food and wine and stayed overnight in a boutique hotel. Our Uber driver took us to the port the next morning to find our ship, the MS Sirena. Seven large cruise ships were in port and traffic was heavy. We could see lineups of happy passengers waiting to check-in for their cruises. We finally found our ship by itself at a different berth.

Check-in was easy but we could see stepped-up health checks. Our temperature was taken prior to being allowed to go upstairs to enter the registration hall. We were given an additional health questionnaire specifically dealing with the Covid-19. After completing the two forms, we went to a security post where we handed in the forms and were allowed into the registration hall. The rest of check-in was similar to other cruises.

After boarding the ship, we were aware of more thorough cleaning and disinfecting of the ship. However, it was not until a couple days into the cruise that the Captain told us that the ship was going to increase further the health and disinfecting protocols for the safety of passengers and crew. Things that were immediately noticed were increased vigilance on hand sanitizing. You could not enter a public room without a crewmember there reminding you to sanitize. Constant reminders to wash your hands were made throughout the day.

The dining room was not preset with dishes. Once you were seated, your table was set. You no longer had bread, butter, salt or pepper at your table. These would be brought to you as needed. All items in the buffet were served to you rather than helping yourself.

Plastic covers were placed over the elevator buttons to protect the internal wiring from the strong disinfectants being used. More staff were assigned to cleaning and disinfecting and would be seen constantly wiping down handrails and arms of seats. If you got up from your chair in the buffet to get food, your chair arms would be disinfected before you returned to your seat. With the closed environment of a cruise ship and how easy it is for colds and other viruses to spread, this should be the new normal.

We had two sea days before arriving at our first port in St. Barts. The seas were rough, sometimes as much as an 18-foot swell, and we had a strong headwind. The Captain informed us that we could not make St. Barts in time and that, unfortunately, we would be missing the island, spending another day at sea, and making our first port in Martinique.

Oceania’s Sirena at Martinique.

We arrived in Martinique and the following port of St. Lucia with no problems. The shore excursions went ahead and everyone enjoyed the charm of the islands. When we were in Martinique, we saw the first signs of trouble brewing. A Costa cruise ship was anchored offshore and we could not see any tender boats going to and from the ship. We were told there were a couple passengers with Covid-19 and the ship was waiting for a solution as it was being denied entry to the port.

After St. Lucia, the Captain came on the PA to tell us that as of March 13, 2020, Oceania had “voluntarily and temporarily paused cruise operations” due to Covid-19 issues. Ports had started to close to cruise ships. We were to cruise back to Miami where we would disembark. First we would make a “technical” stop on the island of Antigua to off-load the EU passengers who were no longer allowed to enter the USA. We would tie up in the port but nobody else was allowed off the ship. About three dozen passengers disembarked. The UK passengers were allowed to enter the USA for their flights home.

The next five days were spent at sea as we slowly made our way back to Miami. We missed the scheduled ports in Antigua, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas. Flying home was easy as the airports were very empty. We were asked general health questions before boarding flights and then upon arrival in Vancouver, were informed of the need to self-isolate for 14 days. The world is different today and we only hope that the problems resolve so the cruise industry can return to its former glory.

One couple tells their story being aboard the Westerdam

Author Stephen Blake just arrived back in Canada with his wife Susan posing with Holland America Line President Orlando Ashford after their ‘adventure’ aboard the Westerdam. Here is their story of 14 days at sea.

By Stephen Blake

We finally arrived home safe and sound after wondering if we were ever going to find a port to take us! It was quite the journey and a great adventure. We must say that Holland America treated all of us on the Westerdam royally and we have no complaints. In fact, we have a lot of praise for the way they handled the situation.

We started our trip in Hong Kong on January 27. All went well, even though we knew that the coronavirus (Corvid-19) was making the rounds in China. For that reason, we decided to pass on the side-trip to Macau and just stayed in Hong Kong. Almost everybody was wearing a mask, so we decided to do the same. There were line-ups for masks in front of drug stores that stretched for blocks. Most stores were sold out. At that time there were only one or two cases of Corvid-19 reported in Hong Kong. We spent our four days touring and joined the Westerdam on February 1st.

We filled out a health form to get on the ship. One of the criteria was that we could not have been in China in the last 14 days. We heard over 300 people in China who planned to take the trip were informed that they would not be allowed to go. Another group of people who don’t live in China, but who had traveled there, were also denied boarding. We ended up with only 1450 passengers down from a 1950 possible capacity. The ship had originally been sold out.

We sailed away with our first destination of Manila, Philippines. An immigration official from the Philippines was on the ship testing passengers with a heat-sensing camera. The whole ship’s contingent was paraded past the camera to ensure we had no sick people. On the next day at sea, the Captain came on the speaker and said he was very sorry but the President of the Philippines has denied us entry. They decided that no ship, which had visited China, Hong Kong or Macau, would be allowed into the Philippines. We were disappointed but a new port was put on our trip to make up for losing Manila.

At the same time, the Captain told us that we would not be ending our cruise in Shanghai. We would now end in Narita, Japan. A new itinerary was given to us. We were to land the next day in Hualien on the east coast of Taiwan. As we approached Taiwan, Hualien pulled its permission. We diverted to our next port and were to do an overnight stay giving us two days in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Great!

We arrived in Kaohsiung and were screened again when we left the ship. We had a great day travelling out to Lotus Lake and visiting a number of temples. We returned to the city and explored around and visited a market. It was very easy to use the underground so we traveled on our own. While we were having dinner back on the ship, the Captain told us that the Taiwanese had pulled their permission for us to be there. We were to stay the next day but forbidden to leave the ship. They allowed us to do our fuel bunkering and then we had to leave. The crew scrambled to change the ports again because we were not permitted to land at Keelung, where we were to overnight and visit Taipei.

It was off to Japan. Before we arrived at our first port, the Japanese pulled our permission to land at any ports in Japan. That also affected where we would end our cruise. At this time we were informed that the cruise was cancelled and we would head for a port where we could disembark. Holland America was very good and gave everyone a full refund on the cruise plus gave us future cruise credits equal to the amount we paid for the cruise. Susan and I like the sea days and the crew filled the activities with historical lectures, entertainment and lots of food! They also gave everyone free Internet and phone calls home. Free drinks were served one evening and wine was served with our dinners. Shipboard life was great and most passengers were quite content.

We were told we were heading in a southwest direction and that there were two ports that were willing to take us. The head office in Seattle, along with the ship’s crew, were working on which port would be best for us to connect with flights home. Even though it was reported in the news, based on some passenger’s comments, we were never told we were on the way to Guam. We were finally told that we would be going to Laem Chabang in Thailand for flights home from Bangkok.

As we arrived in Laem Chabang, we were told that we would not be allowed to berth at the dock but would have to anchor off an island until health authorities could come on and check everyone. We were given a warship escort to make sure we adhered to their demands. Before we arrived to our anchorage, we were told that permission was pulled and Thailand would no longer allow the Westerdam to land or anchor. Out to sea we went again!

Westerdam docked in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

The next day, we heard that we were sailing for Sihanoukville, Cambodia and we would fly home from Phnom Penh. We arrived on Thursday, February 13th and waited for information on when we would be leaving the ship and our travel arrangements home. We originally had our own flights booked but since they were from Shanghai and later changed to Narita, they were of little value.

Holland America told everyone that they would pick up the cost of flying us all home. We would go by chartered planes to Phnom Penh and then connect to our other flights. The Captain woke us up at 6:00 am to tell us that the Prime Minister of Cambodia was coming to visit us at 7:00 am and to greet the first lot of passengers leaving the ship. We were all to go to the decks to cheer him and wave the scarves that the Prime Minister had generously delivered to all the passengers the night before. Fortunately, our balcony suite faced the dockside so we just went out on our balcony to watch and wave.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (center holding flowers) visits Westerdam.

The media were gathered on the dock along with air traffic control and police. At the appointed time, two helicopters flew in and landed beside us on the dock. The Prime Minister came out and shook hands and presented flowers to the first group of 140 passengers leaving for the airport. He gave a speech in Cambodian, which was not understood by anyone except the Cambodians. Rough translation was that he welcomed us and said there was nothing to fear because none of us were sick. The first group arrived in Kuala Lumpur and were screened again. One elderly American woman had an elevated temperature and was taken to hospital along with her husband, who had come down with pneumonia. She supposedly tested positive for Covid-19 and the game changed again! Susan and I were to fly to Phnom Penh in the second wave on Saturday. We were given another temperature check as we left the ship. The Deputy Governor of Sihanoukville came aboard our bus to wish us well and safe journey home.

We were no longer permitted to fly through Kuala Lumpur. We were allowed to fly to Phnom Penh where we were taken by bus to the Sokha Hotel, a 5-star palace across the river from the city. We were given rooms and told we would get our flight departure information the next day. Now, because of the one lady who was sick, we had to get retested for the virus. We had already been thermo-tested about 8 times. This time we were getting the full treatment. We lined up for nose and throat swabs and our tests were sent off to a lab for testing. Amazingly, they were only able to test about 60 percent of the people on Saturday. We wouldn’t get our results until the next day and no homeward flights could be booked until the results were back.

On Monday, we were given a tour of the city from the Mayor of Phnom Penh. Buses were brought to the hotel and we loaded on. The Mayor came on each bus and wished us good luck and safe travels. We expected to fly home on Monday, the next day. Just before we left on our police escorted bus tour, we were informed that the President of Holland America had flown in and was giving us a cocktail party at 6:00. The Cambodian police and army stopped all the traffic and cleared the streets so our bus entourage could drive unimpeded through the city. We were really treated royally.

We got back to the hotel and changed for the party. As we were preparing, we got a phone call telling us our test results were negative and we would be flying out that night. We were to be ready to leave at 7:30 to the airport. I got the details of our flights, went online and selected our seats. We would fly to Narita, Los Angeles and then to Vancouver. Flights home were good, but it was a long day.

On arrival in Vancouver Tuesday morning, everyone on the airplane got up, collected their bags and was waiting to leave. Over the speaker, we were all told to sit down again. In came two ambulance paramedics and two Canada Customs agents wearing masks. I said to Susan that they were coming for us. They were! They asked some general health questions and took our temperatures. All eyes in the airplane were on us! Our temperatures were good so the Customs officers took us off. The two passengers across the aisle from us had done a trip from Vancouver to LA and back and weren’t feeling well. The ambulance attendants took them off and two other Customs officers escorted them out. Our Customs pair had us fill out a health questionnaire with contact information. We were told to keep the pens they gave us because they didn’t want to touch them after we had! We were told to drop our forms in envelopes they held open so they wouldn’t have to touch them. Too funny! We were taken through the terminal, by-passed all the normal lines, and led into the secondary area. The Customs officers collected our bags and took us out a side door. They said good-bye and we were on our way home.

That is the gist of our trip and hope you get an appreciation for the adventure we had. It turned out to be a great 4-day Hong Kong stay, 13-sea day and one port free cruise, and a grand three-day stay in a 5-star hotel. We cannot praise Holland America enough for the way they handled this situation that evolved as we travelled. They could not have made any better decisions with the information available. We are very happy with the way things turned out.

Windstar Cruises Expands Shore Excursion Program

Windstar Cruises continues to build on its impressive array of shore excursions.

Windstar Cruises has dramatically broadened its award-winning shore excursion program over the last three years, more than doubling its options for guests to upwards of 2,500 choices. The increase is a direct result of the line’s expanded global deployment to new regions like Alaska, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, and the Holy Land.

The small ship leader in destination delivery and diverse itineraries now sails to over 330 ports of call worldwide, with 700 cruise departure dates available through 2021. The company’s global expansion offers cruise guests itineraries that are immersive in a particular region or country such as Grand Japan, Around Iceland on the line’s all-suite ships, or Grand Caribbean Adventure on Wind Surf, the world’s largest sailing ship. In addition, nearly half of Windstar’s itineraries offer late night departures and overnights in port for more diverse excursion selections, including evening tours and overnight or multi-day options such as exploring Spain’s mystic inland region in the new “Beyond Ordinary: Alhambra In Depth & Insider’s Granada Overnight Tour.”

With smaller ships that can access and stay longer in smaller ports, Windstar’s shore excursions are authentic and personalized, allowing time and space to explore local cultures. To help guests navigate the many choices and match shore excursions to their interests, activity levels, and budgets, Windstar offers three shore tour categories. The award-winning line has recently debuted 10 Beyond Ordinary Tours, in-depth experiences offered in select ports. These tours complement the small ship line’s popular Concierge Collection and Essentials Collection, offered in every port.

Beyond Ordinary tours are comprised of the most over-the-top experiences that deserve to be called “once in a lifetime,” such as a panoramic helicopter flight from Monte Carlo that transports guests to Alain Ducasse’s La Bastide de Moustiers in Provence for a Michelin-starred lunch. A bit less high-flying but still exceptional is an excursion in Roses, Spain, with access to the Sant Pere de Rodes Monastery for a private yoga session on the rooftop, followed by brunch with views of the Mediterranean Sea.

Sky Princess Completes Successful Sea Trials

The 3660 passenger cruise ship, Sky Princess, completed sea trials to test out all systems.

International premium cruise line Princess Cruise has accomplished another major milestone in preparation for the debut of its newest ship, Sky Princess, with the completion of sea trials. The new cruise ship set out to sea from the construction dock at Fincantieri Shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy and was put through a series of maneuvers to test the propulsion, steering and navigational equipment.

After a successful six days of trials, Sky Princess is now back in the shipyard for further exterior and interior finishing to prepare for the maiden Oct. 20, 2019 seven-day Mediterranean & Adriatic cruise from Athens to Barcelona. The ship will sail a series of Mediterranean voyages before debuting in North America on Dec. 1, 2019 for sailing a season of Caribbean cruises from Ft. Lauderdale.

The 3,660-guest Sky Princess shares all of the spectacular style and luxury of her sister ships – Regal Princess, Royal Princess and Majestic Princess. The ship also will feature breathtaking Sky Suites, with expansive views from the largest balconies at sea. In addition, two entertainment experiences have been announced for Sky Princess – Phantom Bridge, a world’s first game combining digital and physical elements for the ultimate immersive escape room, and Take 5, the only jazz theater at sea, celebrating the iconic sounds, culture and history of jazz.

In addition, guests can make the most of their vacation time with the Princess MedallionClass™ experience, featuring the complimentary OceanMedallion™ wearable device that delivers an entirely new level of service and creates a vacation that is more simple, effortless and personalized.

The Princess Cruises fleet continues to expand with Enchanted Princess in June 2020, and three additional ships arriving in 2021, 2023 and 2025.

Additional information about Sky Princess and Princess Cruises is available through a professional travel advisor, by calling 1-800-PRINCESS (1-800-774-6237), or by visiting the company’s website at

Tips For Visiting Your Cruise Casino

An on-board attraction for many is the ship casino.

The casino on a cruise ship can be a big draw. Granted there’s a ton of activity on most every cruise ship, but a lot of passengers enjoy the chance to try out a casino in a more casual environment. That is to say, it’s easier to indulge in this kind of activity if all you have to do is walk down the hall, as opposed to going out of your way to visit a casino resort on land. If it’s part of your trip, rather than the entire goal, it just feels a little more relaxed.

Visiting a casino on a cruise ship is largely a traditional experience, but there are a few differences, and there’s generally a different atmosphere. It’s something you may want to give at least a little bit of thought to before traveling.

Know The Hours

You might think of casinos as being open 24/7 by nature, or at least being open pretty much any time you could possibly want to be in them. This is the case in some of the world’s biggest casino hubs, to be sure. But it actually isn’t the case on most cruise ships simply because of gambling laws. While there are exceptions, such as when ships dock in Bermuda, for the most part cruise ship casinos are closed when in port, whether day or night. This should be clear enough when you’re on board a ship, but it helps to remember it heading into your trip, because nothing is more frustrating than gearing up for a few hours at the gaming tables and then finding the doors closed.

Know What To Wear

Particularly if you’re not a regular casino gamer, you might have certain ideas about what to wear for this kind of activity. You’ve probably seen famous actors wearing tuxedoes to Vegas casinos, or seen images of people similarly dressed at world famous venues like the casino in Monte Carlo. This is fine, and can add a certain pageantry to the experience. But a casino cruise is generally more casual. We’d actually direct you not to Vegas or Europe but to a piece on fashion choices to consider when visiting a Canadian casino. These are more casual establishments in general, so the proposed dresscode is more like what you might wear on a cruise. In a phrase, however, dress nicely, but not necessarily fancily.

Expect More Beginners

Broadly speaking, casinos can be a little intimidating. There’s no harm in plopping yourself down at a slot machine and gaming alone, but sitting down at a card table can be daunting. For this reason it helps to know that casinos on cruise ships tend to have more beginners. Serious card sharks rarely play at sea (or so they say), and plenty of people in the ship casino will just be tourists who want to check it out and maybe have a little fun. This contributes to a more casual overall atmosphere.

Learn How To Play Blackjack

This is just one of many games that will likely be available in your ship’s casino, but it’s a great one to start with. The machines, from slots to video poker, don’t really give you the full experience. Bigger and more complicated games like poker and craps can take a little more getting used to. But blackjack is fairly easy to pick up, and gives you that awesome feeling of sitting at a table handling cards, sipping a cocktail and trying to win some chips. You can learn how to play simply by reading about it (and possibly pick up some great mathematical strategies as well), and focus on enjoying the games once you’re there.

Remember The Casino’s Goals

This is a quick one, but keep in mind above all else that the ship you’re on is a money-making machine, and the casino too is trying to generate revenue. Just because the atmosphere is a little more easygoing than most land-based alternatives doesn’t mean the odds are any better. That’s not to scare you off, but simply to remind you to be responsible.

Carnival Victory in drydock for new guest options

Carnival Victory, upgraded extensively in 2015, is undergoing more upgrades in drydock this winter.

MIAMI – Carnival Victory is in the midst of an extensive, multi-million-dollar dry dock that is adding a wide variety of food and beverage innovations, as well as two luxurious Captain’s Suites and new deluxe ocean view staterooms.
The new spaces, which are being added during a 17-day visit to dry dock in Freeport, Bahamas, include:

· Guy’s Burger Joint: a free-of-charge poolside venue developed in partnership with chef and restaurateur Guy Fieri serving hand-crafted burgers and fresh-cut fries enjoyed amidst a décor that celebrates the chef’s California roots and love of car culture.

· New Accommodations: Several new cabin categories will be added to Carnival Victory, including 260-square-feet Scenic Ocean View staterooms and 320-square-foot Scenic Grand Ocean View accommodations as well as Captain’s Suites, spacious 820-square-foot cabins offer a large extended balcony, two full-size bathrooms, separate sleeping quarters and a large living room.

· RedFrog Rum Bar: a poolside watering hole offering the quintessential Caribbean vacation vibe with refreshing Caribbean rum-based frozen drinks and beers, including Carnival’s own private label draught brew, ThirstyFrog Red.

· BlueIguana Cantina: a complimentary poolside Mexican eatery where guests can enjoy authentic freshly made burritos and tacos on homemade tortillas, as well as an elaborate toppings and salsa bar.

· BlueIguana Tequila Bar: a fun and festive outdoor bar offering a laid-back Mexican-themed atmosphere and tequila-based frozen drinks and beers, perfect for chillin’ by the pool.

· Bonsai Sushi Express: the success of the full-service Bonsai Sushi restaurants has spawned this casual, convenient yet equally tasty offshoot featuring a mouth-watering array of sushi, sashimi, rolls and more.

· Re-Branded Deli: the ship’s deli has been completely renovated with an updated design and new menu offerings, including seven sandwiches such as meatball, buffalo chicken, and The Cubano, along with Southwest chicken, falafel and turkey wraps.

· Cherry on Top: The “sweetest spot on board,” Cherry on Top is the gateway to the joys of simple indulgences with bins of bulk candy, fun-and-fanciful gifts, just-because novelties, colorful custom apparel and more.

These spaces complement Carnival Victory’s numerous other onboard amenities, including a 14,500-square-foot spa, a 214-foot-long water slide, a Punchliner Comedy Club offering adults-only and family-friendly performances, and Seuss at Sea, an exclusive partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises.
Carnival Victory operates year-round three- and four-day cruises from PortMiami. Three-day cruises depart on Fridays and call at Nassau, while four-day voyages depart Mondays and visit Key West and Cozumel or Nassau and the private Bahamian island of Half Moon Cay.

Princess puts guests in trees for 2018

A cruisetour with Princess Cruises offers a unique view of Alaska – from a treehouse.

Princess Cruises today announced the 2018 programming to be featured at the line’s custom designed wilderness treehouse located at Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. The treehouse is a new addition to the guest experience which allows guests an opportunity to view Denali, North America’s highest peak, while enjoying themed activities and socializing with fellow travelers, all amongst the trees. The treehouse was built during an episode of Animal Planet’s hit show “Treehouse Masters,” in association with the line’s partnership with Discovery Communications, which premiered during the season finale in fall 2017.

“At destinations around the globe, we strive to create a bond between our guests and the places we visit, and now more than ever people are visiting Alaska to experience the beauty and adventure the state has to offer,” said Lisa Syme, Princess Cruises vice president. “As the #1 cruise line in Alaska, we are eager to bring these fresh and engaging experiences to our Alaska cruisetour guests, providing opportunities for more travelers to connect with the people, nature, storied traditions and history of the Great Land in 2018.”

The treehouse was the first-ever designed and constructed in Alaska by Pete Nelson, the star of the hit TV series. As one of the highest land-based north-facing viewing areas, the treehouse provides Princess guests a one-of-a-kind experience to see the south face of Denali from atop the trees, and is powered by solar panels. At approximately 500 square feet, guests can access the treehouse by hiking the short “hill trail loop” and be rewarded with the ultimate Denali view.

For more information visit: Princess Cruise tours

Avoiding paying too much for a cruise

Getting to those favorite cruise destinations doesn’t need to be expensive.

(By Brittany Chrusciel – Cruise Critic) Cruise pros and first timers alike can benefit from optimizing their cruise booking routines. Dollars can be saved at every juncture, from planning where and when to go, to accessing special offers three months before you sail. Can’t seem to get your cruise fare to go any cheaper? Take advantage of perks and extras, such as onboard credit, that will add value to your vacation in lieu of slashed pricing. Whether in a rush to get something on the books or too rigid to change plans, there are plenty of reasons you might not be getting the best possible cruise vacation for your money. Check out the following 10 ways you might be paying too much for your next cruise.

Your Schedule Isn’t Flexible
If only we could all abracadabra some free time into our lives, coordinating vacation wouldn’t be such a problem. The reality is many of us answer to a rigorous work schedule. Add to that a school calendar or any other kind of obligation, and the window becomes even narrower. If you can only cruise around holidays, summer vacation and other peak seasons for cruise travel, you’ll pay for the convenience. If you can maneuver even a few days off in the fall or early spring, you can shave hundreds off the price of your sailing. If you know where you want to go, try to plan your trip for the region’s shoulder season. Conversely, if you have a limited timeframe for travel, keep an open mind regarding destination.

You Don’t Book During a Cruise Sale
The best prices — or best value — often show up during promotions offered by the cruise lines or travel agencies. But don’t expect the best cruise deals to come to you. You need to be savvy about finding them. When you’re ready to book, look to see if you can take advantage of a current promotion. If a promotion is ending soon, either act quickly to take advantage of what’s on the table, or gamble with what a cruise line might offer next. If there are no sale fares on offer, consider waiting to book in case new deals are on the horizon. These days, many cruise lines don’t wait for wave season, the promotional period between January and March once known for plentiful cruise deals.

You Underestimate Travel Agents
In the Age of Information, sometimes we forgo humans with real expertise and let the Internet compute all of our cruise details. As valuable as the Web can be, especially for research, cruise professionals (travel agents) can not only provide you with experience and personalized attention but can lock in a deal that comes laced with comped dinners, free wine and/or copious onboard credit. Established cruise agencies have access to special rates and can help you monitor fares and promotions so you book at the right time for the best price.

You Don’t Book Early
If you can commit to booking a cruise far in advance, your line might offer a discount that’s worth overriding your usual vacation-planning procrastination. Unnerving as advance bookings can be, they give you something to look forward to and let you lock in early-booking deals or promotions only available when reserving your next cruise onboard your current one. (You only have to put down a deposit, and you can re-price your trip if fares go down before final payment.) Plus, you have the advantage of being able to request particular cabins or book onboard experiences the moment they become available. Travel insurance can help ease your fears about putting money down so far from your future cruise.

See more ways to save money at: Cruise Critic

Eleven cruise ships coming for 2017

Another 145,000 Royal Class ship for Princess Cruises has been ordered from Fincantieri.

By Anne Kalosh, Seatrade – Eleven ocean-going cruise ships valued at a total $6.8bn are targeted for delivery in 2017, according to Seatrade’s orderbook. They’ll add 28,000 lower berths to global capacity.

This is similar to 2016, when 10 ocean-going newbuilds arrived, worth a total of nearly $7bn and adding 27,580 lower berths.

2017’s newbuilds are TUI Cruises’ Mein Schiff 6, Star Clippers’ Flying Clipper, Viking Ocean Cruises’ Viking Sky and Viking Sun, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Joy, AIDA Cruises’ AIDAperla, Silversea Cruises’ Silver Muse, Princess Cruises’ Majestic Princess, MSC Cruises’ MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside, and Dream Cruises’ World Dream.

This is an eclectic fleet. It ranges from a near replica of 1911’s France II, the largest square-rigged sailing ship ever built (Flying Clipper) to two very large and different prototype vessels for one brand (MSC Meraviglia, MSC Seaside). Three ships are tailored for Chinese passengers (Norwegian Joy, Majestic Princess, World Dream), and two are for Germans (Mein Schiff 6, AIDAperla). One, for a European owner, is entering service in the US market (MSC Seaside).

The year’s ultra-luxury entrant (Silver Muse) is the first newbuild for Silversea since 2009’s Silver Spirit (though the line subsequently built an expedition fleet with extensively renovated pre-owned tonnage). Star Flyer is the first newbuild for Star Clippers in 17 years (the last, Royal Clipper, came in 2000).

The ships range in size from 300 lower berths (Flying Clipper) to 4,500 lower berths (MSC Meraviglia), while gross tonnage swings from 8,770 (Flying Clipper) up to 167,600 (MSC Meraviglia).

MSC Meraviglia from STX France is the largest ship ever built for a European cruise line, and it will offer features like the first purpose-built venue for Cirque du Soleil. MSC Seaside is a new design, too. It’s been called ‘revolutionary,’ with a 360-degree promenade on Deck 8 that’s lined with indoor/outdoor shops and restaurants, a full buffet area and a pool—features typically located on upper levels, and high-rise hotel towers. It is Fincantieri’s first newbuild for MSC Cruises.

Silver Muse kicks off a new class for Silversea, but at 40,700gt with all-suite accommodations for up to 596 passengers, it’s not a huge leap size-wise from the 36,000gt, 540-passenger Silver Spirit of eight years ago. It features a wider array of dining venues (eight).

Norwegian Joy is second in the Breakaway Plus series (following 2015’s Norwegian Escape) and is heavily customized for Chinese travelers, with novelties like the first race track at sea. Majestic Princess is third in the Royal class (after Royal Princess and Regal Princess) and its nods to the China market include a Chinese haute cuisine restaurant by a Michelin-star chef. World Dream is the twin of 2016’s Genting Dream.

Fincantieri remains the most prolific builder, with five ships (Viking Sky, Viking Sun, Silver Muse, Majestic Princess, MSC Seaside), followed by Meyer Werft with two ships (Norwegian Joy and World Dream). Four other yards will produce one ship each—STX France (MSC Meraviglia), Meyer Turku (Mein Schiff 6), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (AIDAperla) and Brodosplit (Flying Clipper).

The record cruise ship orderbook got a further boost with Fincantieri signing a memorandum of agreement with Carnival Corp. & plc for one new ship each for Holland America Line and Princess Cruises. The order is valued at more than €1bn.

Fincantieri ceo Giuseppe Bono called it ‘an extraordinary moment for the cruise sector, and it is particularly rewarding for us to be able to seize all the opportunities coming from the industry growth, also thanks to our deep-rooted partnership with Carnival Corporation.’

The HAL ship will be a third in the 99,500gt Pinnacle class, for delivery in 2021. It will be built at Fincantieri’s Marghera yard. The ship follows 2016’s Koningsdam and its sister, Nieuw Statendam, scheduled for delivery in November 2018.

The Princess ship will be sixth in the 145,000gt Royal class. It will be built at Monfalcone for delivery expected in 2022 and feature the recently unveiled Ocean Medallion Class cruising. The vessel follows 2013’s Royal Princess and 2014’s Regal Princess. Coming in March for the China market is Majestic Princess, and a further pair of Royal-class sisters is due for handover in 2019 and 2020.

For more information visit: Seatrade

Dining tips from a cruise line chef

Cruise ships are known for good dining. Here are tips to make it even better.

Cruise Critic – Want the inside scoop on what to order in an onboard dining room? When is it a good idea to meet with the cruise ship’s chef? And what action should you take if something isn’t right?

Windstar Corporate Chef Michael Sabourin, who oversees the galleys on Windstar’s fleet of six small ships, shares some insights on cruise dining. Prior to that, he was Executive Chef on Royal Caribbean cruise ships Oasis and Allure of the Seas — two of the world’s largest cruise ships. Sabourin trained in his hometown of Montreal, as well as in Paris and at the Culinary Institute of America.

Here, he gives you the inside scoop on everything you should know to enjoy the tastiest cruise dining experience:

1. Newer ships make for better food.

If you’re looking to eat well onboard, Sabourin says, “Pay more attention to the individual ship than to the line. The newer the ship, the better.” Why? “Chances are, a new ship will have a stronger galley team because you need to have a stronger team to launch the ship.” Launching a ship is a challenging, risky proposition, so cruise lines aren’t taking any chances. When staffing a galley from scratch, they’re going to choose the best, most experienced people to ensure success, Sabourin explains, adding that “crew members want to be on the newest ships,” which means lines will have a bigger pool of eager galley candidates to choose from.

Bottom line, you’re likely to eat better on the newest ship, no matter which cruise line you prefer.

2. Veg out early in the cruise.

“Ships take on most — or all — food at the beginning of the cruise,” Sabourin says. “So you should eat plenty of fruits and vegetables the first few days,” when they’re freshest and most plentiful. Some smaller ships (including the Windstar fleet) do take on produce from ports along the way when there are good local markets (think European itineraries), but for maximum variety, gobble away when you’re first onboard.

3. Got allergies? Talk to the top.

“If you have allergies or special requests,” Sabourin advises, “ask to meet with the executive chef rather than going through the dining room staff. Cruise chefs are told to meet with people. They hate finding out that you’re allergic on day three of a trip!” Speak with reception to set up an appointment.

4. Not a carnivore? Plan ahead.

Don’t just shrug and accept that vegetarian entree of the day when you’re handed the menu. “If you’re vegetarian or vegan, ask for the next day’s menu at dinner the night before,” our insider recommends. “If you’d like something different, discuss it with the chef. That gives him time to prepare something off-menu for you.” Cruise lines are stepping up their available options, too. For example, Windstar has a collection of 50 different vegan recipes (some even contributed by passengers) that their chefs can whip up with a little notice.

5. Anyone can order off-menu.

“If there’s something special you want, ask the chef,” Sabourin recommends. “With a little advance notice, the cruise ship galley team can make just about anything” — particularly on a higher-end cruise.

Want something more unusual? Many galley staff are from India, Indonesia or Malaysia and are typically happy to cook their local dishes on request. In fact, chefs are quite often thrilled that you’re interested in their culture.

6. Be a fearless eater.

“Don’t be afraid to try something” on a cruise, Sabourin advises. It’s the perfect time to experiment with a dish, ingredient or cuisine you’ve never tasted before. Why’s that? “If you don’t like it, you can always get something else,” he explains. “There’s no extra charge!” And if you really like it, you can ask for seconds.

7. Report problems right away.

“If you have an issue with the food, don’t wait — go to reception and ask to see the chef,” Sabourin says. “Chefs on cruise ships want you to have a good experience. If people say they don’t like something, we won’t be offended. Chefs prefer meeting you, and they’ll take care of you.” Likewise, if something isn’t right when it’s delivered to your table, don’t be shy; politely explain to your waiter that there’s a problem. Even the best cruise galleys can have a misfire during peak times, so alert them and let them make it right.

8. Don’t wait until you’re home to complain.

“Don’t complain once you’re gone,” Sabourin cautions. “My biggest pet peeve is when I read the comment cards [at the end of a cruise] and there’s no record of a complaint in the reception log. Say something!” When you speak up (ask at reception to meet with the executive chef), cruise lines have a chance to fix the situation, so you can enjoy your food instead of plotting the poison pen letter you’ll write on disembarkation day.

9. Get the fish story.

Ask questions about fish and seafood dishes, Sabourin recommends. Generally, all things finned and flippered onboard cruise ships are frozen. But where and how? “On Windstar, the fish is flash-frozen where it’s fished,” he says. “It’s expensive, but it tastes better.” Indeed, many culinary experts say fish that’s flash-frozen on fishing vessels immediately after it’s caught is superior to fresh fish that has spent time in transit — and certainly better than fish that is frozen back on land, long after it was caught.

Sustainability is becoming a big issue, too. “European suppliers provide sustainable seafood sources,” Sabourin says, so if saving the planet is important to you (and that’s all of us, right?) ask where the fish or seafood was sourced. There are plenty of horror stories out there about Asian shrimp farms that are not only harming the environment but are also squalid and unsanitary. So be informed before you order that entree.

As is the case with fresh produce, smaller cruise ships are sometimes able to take on fresh fish. If you like that idea, choose a European itinerary. “When our ships sail in Europe, we have access to a lot more local fish directly from the fisherman,” Sabourin explains, while “in the Caribbean, there is a limited amount of fish and seafood species.

10. Don’t expect fish cooked rare.

The only rare fish you’re likely to see on a cruise is while you’re snorkeling. “The CDC [U.S. Center for Disease Control] says fish should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit for safe consumption,” Sabourin explains. “Depending on the type and thickness of the fish, that temperature could render a fish dry.” Cruise ship chefs have a responsibility to ensure that passengers are safe and might not be able to serve a fish rare, even if people ask for it. Cooking techniques like braising, steaming and en papillote (baking a fish wrapped in parchment paper) tend to keep fish moister and more tender. If you’re a fan of lightly cooked fish, stick to those preparations rather than something grilled — especially if it’s a thicker steak-type cut.

11. What’s your beef?

“You can always count on beef,” Sabourin says, explaining that it’s the most reliable cruise ship menu item. But the variety or grade of beef can make a difference in flavor, juiciness and tenderness. “Find out,” he advises, either by perusing the menu or asking. Fat marbling is a major factor in determining how the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) grades beef. “Select” beef has slight marbling; “Choice” means moderate marbling; and “Prime” has abundant marbling, which makes it the most flavorful, juicy and tender grade.

But that’s not all! “Windstar uses certified Black Angus beef,” Sabourin says. “It’s raised with very specific standards. The DNA of the animal must be verified to be called certified Black Angus.” He has had the opportunity to meet a certified Black Angus rancher, and says they take great care in how the animal is raised. “Black Angus is a cut above USDA Prime, Choice and Select. It’s abundantly flavorful, incredibly tender and naturally juicy.”

If your cruise line is serving one of the top types of beef, you might want to double-down on those steakhouse reservations or order that beef Wellington early in the cruise. If you hold off, you might be kicking yourself once you try it later in the voyage!

For more information visit: Cruise Critic