Saturday, September 29, 2007

Cruise Ship Rescue at Sea

On Sept 24, 2007, approximately 40 miles southwest of Key West, FL, Carnival Valor rescued ten Cuban refugees who had drifted at sea for five days aboard a homemade raft.

Video of the rescue is on You Tube.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Cruises: "Soda Card" Cheats--Just Don't Do It

When you embark on your next cruise, do you plan to purchase a "soda card"? That's actually a sticker placed on your onboard charge card that allows you an unlimited number of fountain soft drinks. Many passengers, especially those with children, find this beverage deal to be a money-saver.

However, it's possible to take saving money to an extreme. From messages posted on Internet forums, it seems some passengers feel that the purchase of a single soda card should entitle them not only to unlimited beverages for themselves, but also for their spouses and children.

C'mon, folks, that's CHEAP. Not only is such an action cheating the system, but it results in consequences for others in the long run. How so? Read on...

It hasn't been that many years ago that cruise lines didn't care if you brought a bottle of your favorite liquor on board as long as you consumed it in your cabin. People abused that policy and it's mostly history these days; the exception being a bottle or two of wine brought on at embarkation. More recently, some cruise lines made a somewhat futile attempt to limit the quantity of soft drinks brought aboard by passengers to a "reasonable" amount.

I have actually seen people at embarkation with cases and even coolers full of beverages. Now, isn't that going just a bit overboard?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Cruising... Don't Leave Home Without It

American Express has announced the introductions of Gold Card Destinations, a new collection of travel benefits available on all consumer American Express Gold Charge Cards, including Gold and Rewards Plus Gold Cards. According to American Express, "Gold Card Destinations enables Card members to enhance their vacation experiences with special amenities valued at $100 to $150 or more on virtually any trip from American Express Gold Card Destinations travel partners. In addition, through Gold Card Destinations, Card members have access to exclusive, unique travel and entertainment packages updated each month on the dedicated Gold Card Destinations web site:"

When you click on the link above, to find cruise line perks select "Upgraded Experiences" from the column at the left and then "Cruises" in the navigation bar at the top. Participating cruise lines include: Azamara, Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, The Yachts of Seabourn, Silversea, and Windstar.

What do you get? Here's a Holland America Line listing for a round-trip sailing this winter from San Diego:
American Express® Gold Card members receive an exclusive additional $150 amenity when they book any American Express Mariner Club cruise with Holland America Line. American Express Mariner Club benefits include a complimentary hosted cruise, private shore side excursion and exclusive onboard cocktail party,
double Membership Rewards points and Cardmember Annual Travel Benefit.

Holland America Line - Gold Card Destinations Benefit: Spa taster package, which includes Pinnacle Grill lunch for two, champagne & chocolate-covered strawberries in stateroom

Contact an American Express Travel Specialist for more details and pricing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Princess to Keep St. Thomas on Itinerary

On Sept 14th we shared that, "An editorial in the Virgin Island Daily News this week expressed concern that Princess Cruise Lines has canceled 10 scheduled calls on St. Thomas by Sea Princess for the current winter season, which begins Nov. 14th."

Happily, the Associated Press now reports that Princess has agreed to reinstate St. Thomas port calls after receiving a pledge from authorities to ease frustrating immigration delays. Princess is satisfied by an arrangement to add inspectors to the port during visits by the line's Sea Princess and will drop the plan to substitute other islands on the itinerary of its 14-day "Grand Caribbean Adventure."

Cruise Travel: All New, Updated & Revised Ports of Call

Caribbean bound this winter?

Cruise Diva has revisited the most popular ports in the Caribbean and Bahamas. From Aruba to Virgin Gorda—all our ports information is updated and revised!

Discover what to see and do in your Caribbean and Bahamas ports of call.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Cruise Lines: No Wind In Their Sails

Something appears terribly wrong at Windjammer Barefoot Cruises. If you can believe the Windjammer Flotilla message board on the 'Jammer Babe web site, the unconventional line with the "world's largest fleet of tall ships" has apparently run into a cash crunch that threatens to sink their operations. A buy-out of the troubled company is reported to have fallen through.

While Windjammer headquarters in Miami remains tight-lipped concerning the situation, members of the Windjammer Flotilla aren't. One message board post over the past weekend reads in part, "A Captain's meeting on the Polynesia just finished. The crew was told, THE DEAL IS OFF. No buyer. The company is completely out of money. They cannot pay the crews and they cannot send them home."

True? It's hard to say. However, one thing is certain... passengers who arrived in Grenada for the Sept 23rd sailing of Yankee Clipper were informed that their cruise was a no-go. The ship is stranded in Trinidad.

Loyal 'Jammers are steadfast in their support of the ships' crews and keep the faith that rum will forever flow and the tall ships will continue to sail. While the company is still accepting reservations--and payments!--we doubt that passengers will be lining up at the rail on very many Windjammer cruises to moon foo-foo ships in the near future.

While we cannot confirm this information, documents some recent experiences. It doesn't sound promising. Caveat emptor.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Cruise Lines: Sitting on the Dock of Tampa Bay

Rumor has it that Disney Cruise Line may move some of its ships out of Port Canaveral when the line adds two new vessels to its fleet by 2012, and, according to the St. Petersburg Times, executives have looked over Tampa as a possible second homeport.

Port Canaveral is a natural home port fit for Disney since it's the closest to Walt Disney World, where many passengers combine stays at the theme parks with 3-and 4-night cruises. However, the newspaper also reports that a spokeswoman for Disney has said the cruise line needs to consider other home ports and itineraries for their expanding fleet.

Also reported was that Disney officials have already inspected Tampa to confirm the port could handle their ships. It's not a done deal, though--Tom Wolber, the cruise line's operations chief, has also told the Orlando Sentinel that Miami and Fort Lauderdale, the nation's No. 1 and No. 3 cruise ports, are "obviously other alternatives."

Friday, September 21, 2007

Cruise Ships: Seabourn's Pretty Women

Isn't she lovely? So the song goes... and so it goes for Seabourn's luxurious sister-ships. The three mega-yachts are undergoing multi-million dollar renovations during drydock maintenance periods scheduled between September of 2007 and April of 2008. Renovations--the most extensive since balconies were added to 36 of each ship's suites five years ago--include major overhauls of two of the intimate ships' popular open-air alternative dining venues, which will increase seating capacities and enhance the options for guests to enjoy evening entertainment "Under the Stars."

"As we prepare for the launch of Seabourn Odyssey, we are also investing in the future of our existing fleet," said Pamela C. Conover, Seabourn's president and CEO.

The ships' indoor/outdoor Veranda Cafe, located all the way aft overlooking the wake when the ship is underway, is converted each evening into Restaurant 2, serving innovative tasting menus and themed dinners in a casual setting. The renovation will enlarge the outdoor section, increasing the venue's seating capacity and adding a new awning for enhanced weather protection and a dramatic touch of style. The Sky Bar, overlooking the sun deck and whirlpool spas, is a popular gathering spot at any time and is where Sky Grill dinners are occasionally served. During the renovation, twin staircases leading from the deck below are being replaced with a single stairway, allowing an increase in the deck space adjacent to the Sky Bar. Existing tables are being replaced with more versatile furniture, some of which can be removed to clear the deck space for occasional on-deck entertainment and dancing.

Further features of the renovations include an upgrade of the bedding in all guest suites, new carpets in many public areas, upgrades to the treatment rooms in The Spa at Seabourn, and new furniture in the card rooms and Internet centers.

One change will be immediately visible as guests arrive to embark. The ships' livery is being updated (as it is in the photo above), with the decorative line along the shear of the hull being changed from dark blue to black, and the distinctive shield emblem on the ships' stacks highlighted in gold rather than blue. Seabourn Pride has just completed her makeover in Germany. Seabourn Spirit's turn will be at Singapore in January, 2008 and Seabourn Legend's at Lisbon in April, 2008.

For more cruise industry news--updated as it happens--see Cruise Diva's Cruise News.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Carnival Corp: Demand for Cruises is Strong

Carnival Corp Chairman and CEO Micky Arison reports that third quarter results for the cruise industry's giant came in better than expected primarily due to stronger pricing on bookings taken closer to departure.

"Our earnings were up 12 percent driven largely by the successful introduction of new ships for both our North American and European brands in time for our peak summer season. Our North American brands enjoyed another strong European season, a solid Alaska season, and a modest year over year improvement in revenue yields in the Caribbean. The recovery in the Caribbean has continued as the demand for Caribbean cruises remains strong," Arison said. The company's European brands benefited from strong improvements in operating results with increased revenue yields on a dollar basis due to stronger Euro and Sterling currencies. Local currency revenue yields were down against very strong comparisons with the previous year.

And the outlook is strong. "For the balance of 2007 and into the first half of next year, bookings are well ahead of last year," Arison said. He cited the company's pricing strategy of early discounts on Caribbean cruises stimulating strong booking volumes early in the year - a strategy now driving revenue yield improvement into the fourth quarter. "We've already seen Caribbean pricing improvement in the back half of this year, and we are optimistic that it will continue into the first half of 2008," he added.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Crystal Cruises' Wine & Dine Indulgence

When cruise lines began offering specialty restaurants on their ships there were passengers who scoffed at the idea of paying "extra" to dine in them.

While today's passengers expect the upscale dining choices, and most have no problem with the relatively low cost, it will be hard for many to swallow a $1,250 tab for a meal. And that's per person for Crystal Cruises' ultra-extravagant Vintage Room dinner. To date, it's the costliest and most exclusive we've heard of.

And, yes, we can already hear the grumbling over dessert. It's Mille-Feuilles with Red Berries, Cardamom Ice Cream... we think that roughly translates into cake and ice cream. Sorry, no Baked Alaska. If you have to ask whether or not the gratuity is included, you might want to pass on making a reservation.

For more details about the menu and rare wines that accompany each course, check out Cruise Diva's Cruise News.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Norwegian Cruise Line Introduces Their Newest Ship: Nowegian Gem

The newest jewel in Norwegian Cruise Line's fleet, is absolutely, positively "It."

Their latest ship is Norwegian Gem and, as they say, she’s definitely got “It.” The brand new ship’s got happening restaurants, sophisticated bars and lounges, a host of world-class amenities, and like any true “It” Girl--a total disregard for watches and time. She's also got a too cool web blog where you can while away the hours BOWLING... yes, I've spent way too much time there bowling in Bliss Lounge online. You could call Norwegian Gem the Paris Hilton of cruise ships, she's soooo HOT.

Take a peek at what's in store on Norwegian Gem, join her entourage, and sign up to win a free cruise. Then watch for's first-hand report after a preview sailing from Boston in December. Sure it's mid-winter, but I intend to be her BFF (Best Friend Forever)!

Monday, September 17, 2007

How Hard-Working Crewmembers Spend Their Time Ashore in Bar Harbor, Maine

Ever wonder what crewmembers do during their time off? Sleep... shop... read a good book? It might come as something of a surprise, but reports that some are doing volunteer work this month in Acadia National Park while their ships are docked in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Amy Powers, director of CruiseMaine, who is credited with the idea of offering volunteer opportunities to crewmembers, has confirmed that crewmembers from Royal Caribbean International's Explorer of the Seas will participate on Sept. 19 and crewmembers from the Celebrity Cruises' Constellation, are expected to join in on Sept. 29. While their participation is tentative, Holland America Line's Maasdam crewmembers could be set to kick off the program as soon as this Friday, Sept. 14. also shares that "Some cruise lines provide incentives for their crews to contribute in some way to the communities they visit. Celebrity Cruises, for example, contributes a certain amount of money to a Crew Activities Fund for every hour of volunteer work by crew members."

Probably the last thing you would expect is that some of your favorite crewmembers might be wielding hoes to clean out ditches while they are ashore. Keep that in mind the next time you're contemplating how much to reward them for the hard work they perform to make your cruise as pleasant as possible. We applaud the crewmembers' efforts to "give back" something to the ports where their ships call!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Cruising? Pack a Hungry Suitcase

I get some unusual email, but this clever one really really piqued my curiosity...

Dear Linda, Need help finding the perfect getaway? Visit and ask me, Sammy Suitcase. Not only can I ride the baggage carousel with the best of `em, but my Vacation Fun-A-Lyzer can help you discover a great vacation. Instantly!
How could I resist meeting a hungry blue suitcase named Sammy? I visited his web site and selected items to drag and drop into his open lid. The result? Based on the things I chose to pack, Zen Master is my personality profile and my vacation of choice is the Caribbean. If I were a bag, I'd be a beach tote. I'd take it easy and nap in a hammock; my bumper sticker would read, "I'd rather be sitting under a palm tree."

If you didn't receive Sammy's email via Royal Caribbean, just click the link above and be prepared to pack your bag and sign up for future email newsletters.

Friday, September 14, 2007

St. Thomas Laments Loss of Sea Princess Calls

See Sept 26 UPDATE to this story

An editorial in the Virgin Island Daily News this week expressed concern that Princess Cruise Lines has canceled 10 scheduled calls on St. Thomas by Sea Princess for the current winter season, which begins Nov. 14th.

While officials for the Virgin Island Port Authority's Crown Bay Center don't seem terribly concerned, the newspaper's editors feel they should be. Sea Princess carries up to 1,950 passengers and 900 crew members, which translates into a winter season loss of as many as 28,500 customers for St. Thomas businesses, including retailers in the beleaguered Crown Bay Center. They also point out ominously that Sea Princess is owned by Carnival Corporation, which owns many of the other cruise ships calling on St. Thomas.

Sea Princess sails 14-night cruises that embark passengers in Barbados and Jamaica and, as a result, carries a large number of European and Canadian passengers. The newspaper states that Princess officials claim the cancellations are due to the lengthy amount of time (up to three hours) for U.S. Customs to clear non-US passengers when arriving at the Crown Bay dock. However, an unnamed US Customs official suggests that agents do their best to expedite passenger processing and other reasons might be cause for the cancellations. We note that Princess Cruises' printed brochures covering May '07 through May '08 show several ports of call changes other than the St. Thomas cancellations. Keeping in mind that cruise lines reserve the right to change itineraries for any reason, there may be truly be "other reasons" behind Princess Cruises' change of heart regarding St. Thomas.

Cruise Diva can't help but agree with the Virgin Island Daily News editor that the bottom line for St. Thomas is, "Without cruise passengers, everyone suffers." Think back... when was the last time you sailed on a cruise ship that called at St. Croix? Those folks are still suffering as they watch cruise ships bypass their lovely island for "safer" destinations.

Today's hint for cruisers... To avoid disappointment, it pays to check the cruise line's website for the most up-to-the-minute itineraries before booking and even after you've booked your sailing.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Embarkating in Galveston With Humberto

Today's landfall of a fairly wimpy Category 1 Hurricane Humberto delayed the arrival of Carnival Ecstasy into Galveston. Because the ship waited offshore for an "all clear" before proceeding into port to debark/embark passengers, boarding for today’s cruise was postponed until about 2:30pm.

Additionally, while Carnival Ecstasy is delaying its departure from Galveston to 6:00pm to allow boarding passengers some extra time to get to port, the ship's itinerary will not be impacted.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Cruise Lines Bypass Costa Maya for Alternate Ports of Call

Due to the extensive damage suffered by the cruise ship piers at Costa Maya, it appears that rebuilding will take longer than originally anticipated. Officials don't anticipate reopening two of the three berths until Sept 2008; the third won't be ready until early-2009. At this time cruise lines are working to revise itineraries for the long run; however, following are some of the short term replacement ports for Costa Maya:

Azamara Cruises

  • Azamara Quest will visit Cozumel.

Carnival Cruise Lines

  • Carnival Fantasy will visit Progreso.
  • Carnival Legend will visit Roatan.
  • Carnival Glory will visit Key West and Progreso and bypass Belize as well as Costa Maya.

Crystal Cruises

  • Crystal Symphony will visit Progreso.

Holland America Line

  • Amsterdam, Veendam & Westerdam will visit Cozumel.

Norwegian Cruise Line

  • Norwegian Sun will visit Cozumel.
  • Norwegian Spirit will visit Roatan

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

  • Seven Seas Navigator will visit Ocho Rios, Jamaica on the Nov 15, 2007 cruise and an overnight port call in Cozumel will be substituted on the Dec 27, 2007 & Feb 15, 2008 cruises.
  • Seven Seas Voyager will substitute an overnight port call in Cozumel and visit Key West.
  • Seven Seas Mariner will substitute an overnight port call in Cozumel and a longer visit in Grand Caymen during the March 14, 2008 cruise.

Royal Caribbean International

  • Enchantment of the Seas will visit Ocho Rios, Jamaica.
  • Grandeur of the Seas will visit Cozumel.
  • Jewel of the Seas will visit Playa del Carmen.
  • Voyager of the Seas will extend its port calls at Roatan and Progreso instead of substituting another port.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Cruise Travelers Take Note: Passport Services Back on Track

The US State Department is reporting that passport service has been restored to the standard six to eight week processing time for routine passport applications, and no more than three weeks for expedited service.

To date, the State Deptartment has issued over 16 million passports in fiscal year 2007, which ends on Sept 30, compared to 12.1 million issued in fiscal year 2006. Throughout the summer, their staff in Washington and at the nation's 18 passport agencies have worked to catch up and eliminate the delays in processing that had developed earlier in the year.

Also reported are plans to expand passport facilities and continue to hire more passport specialists in order to increase production capacity and meet the rising passport demand expected in coming years, as passport requirements are extended to land and sea borders. By Jan 2008, they will have hired hundreds of new employees, and production capacity at the National Passport Center in New Hampshire, the nation's largest passport facility, will have doubled. Longer-term expansion plans include new passport facilities strategically located to enhance customer service around the country.

Your tax dollars at work... however, the best advice remains to apply early when you are planning your next cruise.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Cruise Ships: Bypassing Costa Maya

Due to the devastation caused by recent storms in the Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Lines has announced the following itinerary changes for cruises departing this weekend.
  • Carnival Fantasy: September 8 departure - The scheduled call in Costa Maya will be replaced with a visit to Progreso.
  • Carnival Glory: September 8 departure - The scheduled calls in Costa Maya and Belize will be replaced with visits to Key West and Progreso.
  • Carnival Legend: September 9 departure - The scheduled call in Costa Maya will be replaced with a visit to Roatan.

All the other Carnival ships will operate as scheduled.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Cruises: What's New Pussycat?

We Americans share a great deal of our heritage, not to mention our language, with Great Britain, so I wonder why "Bagpuss" is not in our vocabulary. What's a Bagpuss? It's the cute little pink-striped kitty cat pictured here... sort of a kinder and gentler Brit version of the American cartoon Garfield.

And what this has to do with cruises--according to news from Ocean Village, the British cruise line for "people who don't DO cruises" the iconic pink cat from the acclaimed 1970's British children's television series, is setting sail aboard both of their ships beginning in October 2007, allowing adult passengers to enjoy a trip down memory lane and their children to make a close acquaintance with the enduringly popular character. In 1999, Bagpuss was voted the UK’s most popular BBC children’s program of all time and his appeal remains strong today.

Children and retro-loving adults alike will have the opportunity to meet and greet Bagpuss in person aboard Ocean Village, get their photo taken with him, and also enjoy a combined puppet and TV story-time performance, introduced by Bagpuss' famous rag doll sidekick Madeleine, in the Connexions bar onboard both Ocean Village ships. Sounds like fun to this Cruise Diva!

In case you aren't familiar with the line, check out Ocean Village to see what you're missiing.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Cruise Ships: Environmentally-Friendly

While we don't normally pay a lot of attention to travel industry "awards," would like to recognize the winners of an annual fleet-wide competition that highlights Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises' commitment to environmental innovation and improvement. Competing for the awards encourages and rewards crew members who advance their ships' environmental performance in ways that go above and beyond regulatory compliance.

Unlike other questionable awards that are often determined by reader polls, this one is reviewed by an independent environmental audit and consulting firm, Environmental Resources Management. The competition covered 2006 operations for 21 Royal Caribbean and nine Celebrity ships and judging was based on five criteria established by the cruise lines and auditing firm: Environmental performance; timeliness and effectiveness of corrective actions related to audit findings; reports of near incidents and non-conformities; submission of environmental status reports; performance of environmental equipment and innovative thinking.

And the winners are... Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas was selected as the Environmental Ship of the Year and Brilliance of the Seas as the Environmentally Innovative Ship of the Year; Celebrity Summit was honored as both the Environmental Ship of the Year and the Environmentally Innovative Ship of the Year for Celebrity.

Well done and our congratulations to the winners!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Cruise Lines Watch Tropical Storms From East to West

Cruise lines are presently keeping a close eye on Hurricane Henriette on the West Coast and Hurricane Felix on the East Coast and altering ship itineraries as appropriate.

An extremely dangerous Category 5 hurricane, Felix made landfall near Punta Gorda, Nicaragua with wind topping out at 160mph. Heavy rain and high winds continue across parts of Nicaragua and Honduras, with deadly flash flooding and mudslides are forecast. Felix will have no affect on the United States.

Meanwhile, as Henriette approached, hurricane warnings were posted for the southern tip of Baja California and tropical storm warnings are in effect for mainland Mexico.

Itinerary status and today's updates for Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International ships are available on

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Elvis Cruise: Day at Sea

The joyous sounds of Gospel filled the Celebration this Sunday morning as The Jordanaires and The Imperials led us in fellowship with our shipmates. While the stirring sounds of one of Elvis' favorites, "How Great Thou Art," brought everyone to their feet, our sea day hasn't been all seriousness.

After all, what would a day at sea on a Carnival "Funship" be without a party? Today's was the Elvis Cruise T-Shirt Party with complimentary drinks poolside from 1:30 to 3:30. How cool is that, free drinks for everyone wearing their Elvis Cruise T-Shirt! Last night's gift was an Elvis Cruise insulated drink mug--ideal for use at a deck party.

While the cruise is winding down, the action isn't. On tonight's program is the Elvis "Gold"-themed production show and there's a lot going on all afternoon leading up to it--autograph sessions, Elvis Bingo, stage stories with the TCB Band and Joe Guercio, "Driving With Priscilla" remembrances hosted by Jerry Schilling, and another top finalist in the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest performs before dinner. Capping the evening is the final round in our own passenger Elvis Tribute Artist challenge.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis has left the ship... but he'll be back next year on Carnival Fantasy, sailing from New Orleans over Labor Day weekend.

And, as Elvis would say, "Thank you. Thank you very much."

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Elvis Cruise: A day in Nassau, Bahamas

Carnival cabin stewards are noted for their ability to fashion towel animals--cute creatures that greet passengers at nightly turn-down. Along with towel animals and chocolates on our pillows, we've been surprised with a special gift each night during The Elvis Cruise. Last night's was an exclusive Elvis Cruise cap. Today we made a fashion statement ashore in Nassau, Bahamas.

Elvis, like many creative people, was not a morning person and his habit was to sleep in late--very late. That's why the Elvis Breakfast Bar is being served daily at 3:30 in the afternoon during The Elvis Cruise. The staple of the Elvis breakfast is his favorite 'Fried Peanut Butter & Banana Sandwich.' Naturally, the Celebration's chefs have learned to make them fit for The King.

Celebration docked in Nassau until midnight, making it the ideal backdrop for The Elvis Cruise poolside BBQ dinner and a late-night Elvis Under The Stars deck party. Of course we are enjoying another production show--tonight's centers around "Vegas" with the TCB Band, Terry Mike Jeffrey, Ronnie McDowell, and the Imperials. And that's not all the entertainment on tap... following a second round in the passenger Elvis Tribute Artist challenge, Ruby Wilson, "The Queen of Beale Street," is rocking the ship with a dose of powerful Delta blues.

Incidentally, we've noticed a lot of military members onboard and there's a good reason for that. Jazz Cruises LLC, producers of The Elvis Cruise, donated cabins to make it possible for them and their families to sail along. Elvis is surely smiling his approval.

UPDATE: Read more Memories of The Elvis Cruise