Friday, August 31, 2007

The Elvis Cruise: A day in Freeport, Bahamas

Let's back up a bit--back to when we arrived onboard. Everyone received a beautifully designed combination program- and- journal for The Elvis Cruise. Then, when we returned to our staterooms after dinner, there were Elvis posters awaiting us. We were able to put them to use this morning during autograph sessions with the stars who actually shared the stage with Elvis and who keep his legacy alive. How cool is that?

Today we docked in Freeport, Bahamas at noon and it's a tough call--what to do... go shore to shop or stay onboard to play Elvis Bingo... that's E for Elvis, P for Presley. A downpour cut the shopping short, so we were able to do both.

Instead of dinner in our assigned restaurant, we took advantage of the lovely evening and opted to grab a bite in the casual Bistro to dine outside. The prime rib and batter fried shrimp were excellent.

Tonight's big production show, "Aloha," featured music from Elvis' time in Hawaii. Performed by Ronnie McDowell, Terry Mike Jeffrey, and The Imperials, the songs really brought back memories. "American Trilogy"--the finale--brought everyone to their feet!

Afterward, The Elvis Cruise hosted the first-ever challenge to find the best Elvis Tribute Artist at sea. The contestants are really battling it out for cash prizes before a standing room only audience.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Elvis Cruise: Embarkation Day

Even before the voice of reason in our GPS announced 'turn left,' we knew where to go. Up ahead, parked on the corner in front of The Best Little Shore House in Town, was a 1950-something pink Cadillac.

We'd arrived at JAXPORT in Jacksonville, Florida to a terminal rocking with Elvis music to get us in the mood during check-in. Embarkation for The Elvis Cruise onboard Carnival Cruise Lines' "Funship" Celebration had begun.

Once aboard we continued rocking during an afternoon performance by Joseph Hall, a top-5 International Finalist in the 2007 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest.

The highlight of the first day of The Elvis Cruise was the evening show hosted by Jerry Schilling--a tribute to Elvis' early years. Fittingly, Ruby Wilson kicked off the show with "Walking in Memphis." Video clips of early television and stage appearances by The King alternated with The Dempseys, Terry Mike Jeffrey, and Ronnie McDowell performing Elvis hits, accompanied by The Jordanaires, long-time Elvis back-up singers. The show climaxed with all the artists on stage, rocking the boat with "Shake Rattle & Roll."

UPDATE: Read more Memories of The Elvis Cruise

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

5 Signs That We're Going on The Elvis Cruise

Yes, we're almost ready for the drive to Jacksonville where we'll board Carnival Cruise Line's Celebration on Aug. 30th for four fun nights on The Elvis Cruise. How has preparing for this cruise been different? These are some signs...
  • Lunches have consisted of a peanut butter and banana sandwich every day for the past week
  • The car radio is tuned to the All Elvis channel
  • I shopped for Blue Suede Shoes
  • My iPod is loaded with Elvis' greatest hits
  • Celebration is now referred to as "Graceland South"

Follow along as I share the activities and entertainment on The Elvis Cruise. With luck, and a good computer connection at sea, I'll be posting updates as they happen.

UPDATE: Read more Memories of The Elvis Cruise

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

No Triumph for Alabama Cruise Terminal at Mobile: A Cruise Hoax

It's no secret that many people in and around Mobile, Alabama would like to see their cruise business grow. Since 2004, when Carnival Cruise Lines based the 1,452-passenger Holiday there, authorities have been scouting the cruise lines for a second ship, or at least a larger and newer one from Carnival.

So, it comes as no surprise that a press release announcing the homeporting of Carnival's 2,758-passenger Triumph in Mobile was enough to cause a stir in that genteel southern city. The only problem was, it was a hoax perpetrated by a Cruise Critic message board post, and a rather believeable one at that. After all, didn't Carnival recently announce a significant increase in capacity for Jacksonville's cruise operations? Therefore, a similar move would not be unheard of for Mobile.

Word about the press release quickly spread and when an alert reporter from the Mobile Press-Register investigated, Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen told her, "We do see erroneous reports and rumors on message boards ... But this is not anything that I've ever seen before. This is the first time I can remember somebody doing this positioned as a press release." The Press-Register also reported that when the faux release appeared, bearing the date Aug. 24, Guilliksen said calls came quickly into Carnival headquarters. He checked out the web site, and then he called Cruise Critic to request that it be removed.

Why would the cruise line have to take such action? And how could this happen? Apparently, even Cruise Critic staff members didn't initially question the "press release" authenticity, if they even noticed it. Like other Internet sites, Cruise Critic operates message boards moderated by volunteers, who are enthusiastic, but with little insight into the cruise industry. However, management appears to recognize that misinformation, disguised as pranks, spreads like wildfire through their message boards. As stated by the editor of Cruise Critic, "There are people who like to make mischief."

Sadly, it's more than mischief when unsuspecting readers are duped. As I said in the Aug. 4th blog, "you can't believe everything you read in the newspaper (unless it's in the comics section)." That also applies to message boards online, even one that boasts to be on "the most influential cruise site on the Web." Word to the wise: use them for fun, but don't depend on them for accuracy.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises

Each cruise "season" when new guidebooks are published, I can't wait to hold my very own... the guidebook I write for Fodor's Travel Publications. While the cover hasn't changed, the contents are totally updated and the second edition of Fodor's The Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises is now available.

In addition to being the author of The Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises, I also contribute the cruise material for other Fodor's guides. Coming in October, watch for Caribbean Ports of Call 2008 and later on, Alaska Ports of Call 2008, Bermuda 2008, and Greece, 8th edition will also be on book shelves (and available to pre-order now at

All-new and launching in February is Fodor's The Complete Guide to European Cruises, which I wrote with my co-author and colleague Ralph Grizzle.

I hope readers of the Cruise Diva Blog enjoy them!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Carnival "Fun Ship" Crewmembers Love Kids

Last May Carnival Ecstasy crewmembers reached out to sponsor an orphanage in Merida, Mexico, which is a 40 minute drive from the cruise ship's port of call in Progreso. Home to 50 children from ages 6 to 15 years of age, the orphanage is run by two priests as well as local volunteers.

The crew's project is two-fold: to renovate the facility and supply materials to help in the day-to-day operations at the orphanage. In addition to hiring contractors to upgrade the plumbing and other building projects, the crew has pitched in to paint and perform general maintenance. They also share their onboard skills, such as teaching personal health and hygiene (ship's nurses), cleanliness and housekeeping (stewards), and nutrition (chefs).

It hasn't been all work and no play. Not only do crewmembers travel to the orphange, they have also hosted the children on the ship for a fun day in port. Visit their website at Crew Cares 4 Kids...Making A Difference to follow their progress.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Cruise Lines Revise Costa Maya Itineraries

Puerto Costa Maya in Mexico is presently closed due to damage by Hurricane Dean. As a result, new itineraries for three ships departing this weekend have been announced by Carnival Cruise Lines. The Costa Maya port is expected to remain closed for six to eight months and hopes to reopen in mid-2008.

  • Carnival Fantasy's Aug. 25 departure from New Orleans will call at Progreso instead of Costa Maya.
  • Carnival Glory's departure from Port Canaveral on Aug. 25 will call at Key West on Aug. 26, sea day on Aug. 27, Cozumel on Aug. 28, Progreso on Aug. 29, at sea on Aug. 30 and Nassau on Aug. 31.
  • Carnival Legend's Aug. 26 departure from Tampa will call at Key West on Aug. 27, at sea on Aug. 28, Ocho Rios on Aug. 29, Grand Cayman on Aug. 30, Cozumel on Aug. 31 and another sea day on Sept. 1.
Carnival is evaluating all itineraries for ships scheduled to call at Costa Maya and will announce more changes soon.

Royal Caribbean International has one ship scheduled to call at Costa Maya in the upcoming week and has announced the following itinerary change:
  • Rhapsody of the Seas, departing from Galveston on Aug. 26 will now call in Cozumel, Roatan, Playa del Carmen, and Progreso.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Peek Inside the Cruise Industry

John Heald, Senior Cruise Director for Carnival Cruise Lines has been blogging from Carnival Freedom since last March, mostly sharing his daily life and the quirky situations he encounters at sea. This week he was in Venice and previewed Cunard Line’s new Queen Victoria, currently under construction at the shipyard there and scheduled to enter service in December. It's an enteresting blog entry and the photos of the unfinished interiors are intriguing. Heald's commentary gives them life.

About the Queen Victoria, Heald blogs: "First impressions are for me and many others so very important and the first impression of seeing the Queen Victoria was…well, let’s just say this. There is no need for her to have the word Cunard on her bow or anywhere else. You don't need to be in the business we are in to know that this is a Cunard ship…you just know... some sixth sense tells you that those lines, those colours (and, yes, we are spelling that the British way) means it can only be a Cunard ship."

Read more in the August 22nd entry of John Heald's Blog (click on the link in the right-hand column to "An Afternoon With The Queen" under Recent Updates). The entry for today contains photos of the mostly-destroyed pier at Costa Maya.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Costa Maya Suffers Damage From Hurricane Dean--Revised 4:30pm

As a result of the near-direct hit by Hurricane Dean, there are reports of heavy damage to the cruise piers and facilities at Puerto Costa Maya and the fishing village of Majahual. It appears that the cruise port will be closed for an estimated six to eight months. Port spokesman Cesar Lizarraga told Seatrade Insider, ‘We believe more than 50% of the pier is gone. It’s a multimillion-dollar loss.’

While many Mayan residents evacuated the area, it's too soon to tell if there are any fatalitiess as a result of the powerful storm.

Revised to add: When Dean slammed into the Yucatán before dawn Tuesday at the port of Costa Maya near Majahual, about 40 miles east-northeast of the city of Chetumal and 150 miles south of Cancún, according the the Miami Herald, "It was the most intense storm to make landfall since Andrew steam-rolled South Miami-Dade County in 1992. It also was the third most intense Atlantic basin hurricane to reach land in history. Some areas flooded and hundreds of structures were damaged or collapsed, especially in Majahual. But Mexican President Felipe Calderón said he had no reports of storm-related deaths and power should be restored within days. In neighboring Belize, also hit by the storm, trees fell and debris flew through the air, but, again, no early reports spoke of sweeping damage."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Cozumel is Back on Track for Cruise Passengers

COZUMEL, Mexico - The island of Cozumel experienced only tropical storm winds, as Hurricane Dean moved through Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula early Tuesday morning on August 21. Cozumel is in excellent shape and the island's tourism infrastructure is completely intact. According to Raul Marrufo, Director of the Cozumel Tourism Promotion Board, "Cozumel was well prepared for Dean, but fortunately the hurricane did not pass through the island," explained Marrufo. "Cozumel is back to normal and everything on the island is set to resume operations on Wednesday including local schools, hotels, restaurants and more. Some of the hotels, restaurants and shops took today to clean up and remove light debris scattered by the tropical winds," adds Marrufo. "All of the resort properties and local businesses will be open and prepared to welcome guests back to the island by tomorrow."

Current updates from the island as of 8/21/07, 5:00 p.m. Central Time:
  • The Cozumel International airport reopened immediately after the storm at 12:00 pm, Aug. 21 and received its first flight, a Continental Airlines flight that arrived from Houston.
  • Passenger ferry services between Cozumel and Playa del Carmen will resume operation tomorrow, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007, at 6:00 a.m. CDT. The vehicle and cargo ferry will begin service tomorrow as well at 12:00 p.m.
  • All of Cozumel's piers, including the Punta Langosta Pier and International Pier for cruise ships, are fine and fully operational.
  • Cruise ships will begin returning to Cozumel on Thursday, Aug. 23. The island will be welcoming two Carnival Cruise Line ships scheduled to arrive that first day and three ships (including Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines) on Friday, Aug. 24.
  • The majority of Cozumel hotels and resorts were up and running today and the remaining properties will be open and ready to receive guests by Aug. 22.
  • Restaurants and shops throughout the island, including downtown San Miguel, have started to reopen today and all are expected to resume business by Aug. 22.
  • Cozumel beach clubs are scheduled to reopen on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007.
  • The Cozumel Country Club Golf Course incurred no damage and will reopen Aug. 22.
  • The Museum of the Island of Cozumel reopened today.
  • Chankanaab Park and the archaeological sites at San Gervasio will reopen Aug. 22.
  • All island tours are currently up and running.
  • The Atlantis Submarine ride will begin operating again on Friday, August 24, 2007.
  • Individuals who have existing travel plans to Cozumel during this time are always encouraged to check with travel agents, hotels and airlines for additional updates.

Travelers can also visit on 8/22/07 for Cozumel updates and recent photos from the island.

Hurricane Dean's Hits & Misses

Even as Hurricane Dean began pounding Mexico's Yucatan, locals in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands were breathing a sign of relief after enduring the uncertainty of a direct hit themselves. It remains to be seen how Mexico fares, but Jamaica and Grand Cayman plan to welcome cruise ships back as early as this week. Freedom of the Seas is slated to dock in Ocho Rios tomorrow.

While some cruise ports fared better than expected, Seatrade Insider reports that communications are still out in the area of Costa Maya, Mexico. Packing maximum sustained winds of 165 mph, Hurricane Dean roared ashore at the nearby fishing village of Majahual. Much of the mostly-rural area was evacuated before the Category 5 storm arrived.

Meanwhile, Bahamas tourism officials declared the diversion of seven cruise ships to Nassau to be an unexpected economic boon to their sagging economy. Due to itinerary changes, the Bahamas Journal reports that the arrival of nearly 18,000 cruise passengers is expected to bring in not only $15 per passenger in government taxes, but also an average of $73.50 per passenger in spending once ashore. The hurricane windfall (pardon the expression) could mean as much as $1.49 million to the island. Even a scheduled temporary four-day closure of Nassau's downtown Straw Market for a general cleaning was postponed to allow vendors to capitalize on the unexpected surge of cruise ship passengers.

For a list of itinerary alterations: see Cruise Diva's Special Hurricane Report

Monday, August 20, 2007

Would you like a balcony with your short cruise?

Carnival Cruise Lines announced an expansion of its short cruise offerings from Miami with the 2,052-passenger Carnival Imagination and 2,642-passenger Carnival Destiny operating new itineraries beginning in fall 2008.

The 70,000-ton Carnival Imagination, which will become the first Carnival ship to be completely remodeled under the line's "Evolutions of Fun" enhancement program, will sail on year-round 3- and 4-day cruises from Miami beginning Sept. 22, 2008.

Significantly, Carnival Destiny will be the industry's only 100,000- plus-ton-mega-cruise ship to offer year-round 4- and 5-day cruises when it launches this program from Miami Sept. 27, 2008. Not only will it include short cruises on a mega-ship, it will also offer a wide selection of affordable balcony staterooms--a popular amenity that's simply not available on other ships in the short cruise market.

Finally! More balconies on short cruises!! We love it.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Cruise--In the Eye of a Storm

Even as Hurricane Dean was poised to intensify and wreak havoc in the Caribbean, cruise passengers rushed to Internet message boards to share their feelings. Is their main concern the islanders who may lose everything, including their lives, to the fury of the storm? Well, unfortunately, the answer is NO. While some have expressed their worry for the people in the path of the hurricane, others are in full whine mode. (Would they like some brie with that whine?)

Already I've read these complaints... "the cruise line won't tell me for sure where the ship is going," "the cruise line is lying to me," "the cruise line policies are inflexible," and so on. Plus, message board groupies are squabbling with one another about port charges--if they miss a port, they want, no DEMAND, a refund of the port charge.

Just a reminder for those who've forgotten--cruise lines reserve the right to alter itineraries for any reason. Cruise Diva believes that a hurricane is a pretty darn good reason. I can assure anyone who will calm down long enough to listen that cruise line personnel are working feverishly behind the scenes to figure out scheduling alternatives, but they aren't using a crystal ball to do so. That's why no one can tell Western Caribbean passengers with absolute certainty where they are going. Even the National Weather Service can't predict with absolute certainty where the hurricane will hit next.

Come on, folks, give the cruise lines a chance. They don't want to ruin your cruise vacation. Only Mother Nature can do that.

Here's Cruise Diva's advice when Cruising Into Hurricane Season.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Pre-Cruise Planning

I get a lot of email from cruisers asking for advice about what to wear. My response naturally depends on where they are going, but it always includes a link to The Weather Channel.

Before I begin packing for cruises to far-flung destinations (Alaska, Europe), I always check the 10-day weather forecast. It's not a bad idea to do so even if your cruise is to the Bahamas, Bermuda, or the Caribbean... there could be a storm on the horizon that you're unaware of.

If your plans include exploring some of the world's chillier regions, check out Cruise Diva's advice for Cool Cruising.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ill Winds Cruise the Caribbean

In the wake of Hurricane Flossie, and with the development of Hurricane Dean and Tropical Storm Erin, August is blowing in the most active period of Hurricane Season 2007. Experts predict a busier than average storm season, forecasting as many as sixteen tropical storms with nine reaching hurricane strength. If you have a Caribbean cruise booked in the next few months, you should be planning more than what you'll wear on formal night. While predictions aren't always accurate, it's wise to be prepared.

Peter Evans, Executive VP of, advises, "With several more weeks of summer still to enjoy and the rapidly approaching fall travel season, travel insurance is the best protection for tropical vacations in hurricane prone areas. The key is to plan ahead as trip cancellation and interruption protection is based on the occurrence of unforeseen events. This means you need to purchase coverage before a tropical storm or hurricane is named and possibly affects a part of your itinerary." You also need to know that not all policies are created equally. "Coverage for weather-related trip cancellations and interruptions differs by company and plan," explains Evans. The coverage spectrum includes:
  • Common carrier (airline, cruise line) stops travel to a particular destination due to weather
  • Destination uninhabitable -- if your hotel or vacation resort is devastated by a storm
  • Your own home sustains storm damage and is made uninhabitable
  • Cancel for Any Reason -- 75% of your trip cost can be recovered
Another reason to plan ahead is to maximize the complete range of benefits offered by trip cancellation policies. The majority of policies require that you make your purchase within 7 to 21 days of your initial trip deposit to be eligible for financial default protection and coverage for pre-existing medical conditions. Travel insurance is a prudent investment that provides peace-of-mind protection. To find a protection plan that best suits your needs, visit, the world's leading, consumer-oriented on-line travel insurance aggregator.

Get more information from Here's how a storm could impact your cruise!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Pay Up Or It's No Passport For Your Cruise

A recent Fox News story has revealed that the same passport requirements which have caught thousands of travelers unprepared this year have also uncovered deadbeat dads whose child support payments are in arrears to the tune of millions. You see, the US State Department denies passports to noncustodial parents who owe more than $2,500 in child support.

Oops, somehow, these men are unaware that governement agencies at the state and federal level cooperate with each other. Adolfo Capestany, spokesman for the state of Washington's Division of Child Support, told Fox News, "For us, it's been amazing to see how people who owe back child support seem to be able to come up with good chunks of money when it involves needing their passport. Folks will do anything to get that passport, so it is a good collection tool." Once they catch up the support due, they can reapply for passports.

Collections from the Passport Denial Program can be expected to increase when future passport requirements take effect for sea, as well as air/land travelers. So, for you daddy-dearest types who plan to cruise with your new honeys, the message is clear... take care of your children. If you don't pay, you won't sail. (That goes for mommies as well.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Don't Let It Spoil Your Cruise: Lost Luggage

With an increasing number of suitcases being mishandled by the airlines, sooner or later every cruise traveler is bound to experience a sinking feeling. Upon arrival at your embarkation port's airport, the luggage carousel spits out bags at a brisk clip until all are spinning into their owners' grasps... except yours. What to do?

First, don't panic. It's possible your suitcases simply didn't make it to your flight and will arrive later in the day. Your initial move is to file a report with the airline. Even if you checked your luggage with one airline and connected to another, the report should be with the airline you arrived on. The airline's agent may be able to use the tracking number to determine its location. If the next flight from the airport where you checked luggage (for non-stop), or an interim airport (if you made a connection) is arriving soon, my suggestion is to wait at the airport if you have time. Sure, it's a hassle, but if you flew to your cruise embarkation port city a day early, it's worth the wait of an hour or so to be reunited with your luggage, especially if it's too early to check into your hotel.

Unfortunately for European cruisers, the summer of 2007 may go down in history as The Summer of Lost Luggage. Many passengers are reporting missing or delayed suitcases, with airports in London and Rome being particular culprits. From personal observation, you might want to avoid flying on British Airways, which has been mishandling luggage for years. Even if your luggage doesn't show up before you embark on your ship, with any luck it may find its way to you during a port call during the cruise. Make your predicament known to the staff at the Purser's Desk as soon as possible after boarding and request their assistance.

What to do in the meantime? Be proactive and pack a change of clothing, or at least fresh undergarments, in your carry-on. Never put medicine or anything you can't live without in checked luggage. Ask the airline representative if you are entitled to reimbursement for items you must purchase until your luggage arrives. Keep receipts for the airline or your insurance company--many travel insurance policies cover lost and/or delayed luggage. Purchase what you need, either in the ship's boutique or in ports. In some instances, the cruise line may offer you an allowance for replacement garments from the shops on board; some will even lend formal attire from the stock they have on board.

Just don't depend on the airlines during The Summer of Lost Luggage.

Monday, August 13, 2007

What do cruise ships and airplanes have in common?

Over the weekend, their passengers experienced delays near Los Angeles.

At LAX a glitch caused the computer system that processes customs information to malfunction on Saturday and again Sunday night, causing as many as 20,000 people to be left waiting on airplanes and inside and outside terminals for hours. Incoming and outgoing international flights ground to a standstill as the terminals filled with stranded passengers. Passengers on incoming flights were forced to sit and wait in at least forty planes on the tarmac.

A Carnival Cruise Lines ship was delayed for two hours at the Long Beach Cruise Terminal when a suspicious boat was spotted near the ship. Federal security regulations prohibit unidentified vessels from coming within 100 yards of a cruise ship; the security zone also extends to 200 yards in front of a ship. A skiff with four occupants was spotted and subsequently disappeared before authorities could respond. Nothing out of the ordinary was found by divers who searched the pier area and cruise ship hull. The cruise ship, Carnival Pride, departed safely at 6 p.m. Sunday.

Thankfully, those events weren't life-threatening and both have happy, albeit frustrating outcomes. We're certain that passengers aboard Carnival Pride were happier (and more comfortable) than those aboard the 'stranded' airliners. We wonder how many of them were planning to embark on a cruise the day of their arrival.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Takin' Care of Business: The Elvis Cruise

Has it really been three decades since Elvis "left the building" for the last time? Fiercely loyal fans can still recount where they were when they heard the untimely news.

To relive those decades old memories, not to mention some of the hottest music sounds ever recorded, The Elvis Cruise sets sail on August 30th aboard Carnival's "Fun Ship" Celebration from Jacksonville, Florida.

Hosted by long-time Elvis friend Jerry Schilling, the cruise features a theme-within-a-theme. To explore the phases of Elvis’ life and career, shows will focus on Memphis, Aloha, Vegas, Gospel, and Gold. Performers include a full roster of talented artists, highlighted by members of Elvis' own TCB Band and The Jordonaires, backup vocalists for a number of Elvis Presley’s hit singles.

Sanctioned by Elvis Presley Enterprises, The Elvis Cruise is produced by Jazz Cruises, LLC, the world's foremost producer of music cruises, with six full ship music charters which sail each year. The Elvis Cruise is also a full ship charter and has nearly sold out--if you want to join them, act quickly and call 1-800-704-3034. Mention "Graceland" to receive a special discount.

Unable to sail this year? No problem, The Elvis Cruise is scheduled to become an annual event. Watch for details and plan to join Elvis fan-atics at sea.

UPDATE: Read more Memories of The Elvis Cruise

Thursday, August 9, 2007

After you book your cruise, get a good book

Cruises and reading just seem to go together and I always make a last-minute trip to the bookstore for a good "beach read" before I finish packing. One of my current favorites is the Darcy Cavanaugh Mystery Series, written by my friend Candy Calvert. Candy's sense of humor mixes shipboard comedy with mystery and romance. Add an umbrella drink and it's a perfect combination.

Following on the heels of Dressed to Keel and Aye Do or Die, Candy is about to launch Darcy Cavanaugh's latest cruise ship adventure, Mai Tai to Murder. Put all three in your carry-on and prepare to set sail.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

So, that's what "whatever" means at NCL

We love Freestyle Cruising, but who knew "whatever" meant JEANS?

From NCL's Frequently Asked Questions:

How should I dress for dinner?

Freestyle Cruising gives you the freedom to dress as you please – morning, noon and night.

  • Casual attire is perfect for all restaurants during the day -- Khakis, skirts, jeans, casual tops, shorts or whatever. Swimwear with a cover-up is fine at the buffet and outdoor restaurant.
  • For dinner, collared shirts and pants or nice jeans work for guys. Slacks or jeans, dresses, skirts and tops are perfect for women. But if you want to dress up and add a little glamour when you dine out, that’s OK too – we’ve reserved one restaurant each night just for that.
  • For kids 12 and under, nice shorts are appropriate in all restaurants at all times.

Just a bit of advice for Caribbean-bound cruisers--it's hot in the Caribbean and you're going to melt in that denim.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Oh, give me a home(port)...

The largest vessels currently at sea are Royal Caribbean's 160,000-ton, 4,300-passenger Freedom-class ships, two of which homeport in Miami. And, while Royal Caribbean hasn't finished launching all the Freedom-class vessels yet, Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades is already angling to snag the next, even bigger class of ships.

Due to set sail late in 2009, the first of Royal Caribbean's Genesis-class cruise ships will be the world's largest at approximately 220,000 tons and carrying a whopping 5,400 passengers (double occupancy). The word is out that Port Everglades administrators are talking up a terminal expansion plan that would enable them to handle up to 6,400 passengers at a time, the maximum that each Genesis-class ship would carry. Plus, they want to host not one, but two Genesis-class ships.

What does that mean for passengers? Miami is the "Cruise Capital of the World" and, frankly, has a much better infrastructure in terms of the airport and ground transportation. Anyone who's had to wait for a cab at Port Everglades, or been stuck in a holding pattern while crowded airport gate areas clear before being allowed through security, will concede that Fort Lauderdale just might not be ready for an extra five to six thousand people on any given weekend.

Miami offers efficiency in the port and airport that Fort Lauderdale simply doesn't match, even today. Even retrieving your car from the parking garage can be a hassle at Port Everglades. That's Cruise Diva's opinion from a passenger perspective. Is anyone listening?!?

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Cruise Reviews: "Thoroughly confused"

In a recent email, a reader expressed her utter confusion about cruise reviews. She's booked on a cruise next year and, in anticipation, has been reading reviews. Now she's condidering cancelling because of the inconsisent reviews she has read online about that particular ship.

She's not alone... I hear this a lot from booked passengers. As I responded to her, one thing I keep in mind when reading cruise reviews is something my mother always used to say, "Don't believe anything that you hear and only half of what you see." That may seem almost too skeptical, but Mom's point was to always keep an open mind.

Cruise reviews are individual opinions and I am, quite frankly, surprised by a lot that I read. Some avid cruisers have their favorite cruise lines and can't wait to criticize other cruise lines that they try. Why? Because the new line (not their old favorite) might have done something differently that they didn't like. Over the years I've found that more people write reviews that highlight the negative. Happy passengers tend to tell their friends and family, but don't seem to write reviews as often as angry ones.

The bottom line, I believe, is that inconsistent reviews are a result of differing passenger expectations.

Flying to Your Cruise

Last month TSA agents in both the Atlanta and Chicago airports asked if my carry-on bag contained a video camera. Unlike many cruisers, I don't have one and I was a bit puzzled.

According to new regulations from the Transportation Security Administration: "Effective August 4, 2007, full-size video game consoles (for example Playstation, X-box, or Nintendo) and DVD players must be removed from their carrying cases and submitted separately for x-ray screening. Laptop computers and video cameras that use cassettes have long been subject to this policy. Small electronic items, such as cell phones, MP3 players, iPods and portable video game systems do not have to be removed from their carrying cases."

Hmmm... I knew about laptops, but not video cameras.

And now, cleared for takeoff, also as of August 4th, "TSA will no longer ban common lighters in carry-on luggage. Torch lighters remain banned in carry-ons. First and foremost, lighters no longer pose a significant threat. Freeing security officers up from fishing for 22,000 lighters every day (the current number surrendered daily across the country) enables them to focus more on finding explosives, using behavior recognition, conducting random screening procedures and other measures that increase complexity in the system, deterring terrorists. The U.S. is the only country in the world to ban lighters – all other nations, including Israel and the U.K., do not."

Gee, someone in Stockholm, Sweden needs to be told... there were big signs in the airport there just a few weeks ago listing banned items and lighters were prominently displayed as not allowed.

And in another move, "TSA is also modifying the rules associated with carrying breast milk through security checkpoints. Mothers flying with, and now without, their child will be permitted to bring breast milk in quantities greater than three ounces as long as it is declared for inspection at the security checkpoint."

I don't really understand why a mother without her child would need to carry around breast milk, but I can verify that TSA agents will allow you to carry on over-the-counter and prescription medications such as cough syrup in bottles larger than the 3-ounce limit on other liquids. Just tell the screener that you've got it and hand the bottle over for inspection.

By the way, Bose noise-cancelling headphones and an iPod are on my list of MUST HAVE items for in-flight comfort. If they are ever disallowed, I'll just stay home.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Caribbean Cruiser... what's up?

Recently I read an article in a well-known national newspaper that suggested the Caribbean is losing its appeal for cruisers. Envision the Cruise Diva's surprise, especially since the first edition of her Fodor's guidebook, The Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises went into a second printing and a new, revised edition will be on bookstore shelves soon. Someone is interested in Caribbean cruising!

Further, according to statistics from the Cruise Lines International Association, the Caribbean is the most sought-after cruise destination by far, with the region featured on roughly half of all itineraries of North American cruise operators.

So, it was no surprise to hear that Princess Cruises plans to position seven Princess ships to explore all corners of the Caribbean in 2008-2009.

According to Jan Swartz, Princess' senior vice president of customer service and sales, "We've found both first-timers and long-time cruisers love to travel with Princess in the Caribbean." She adds, "Our wealth of itinerary options offers even the most experienced cruisers new Caribbean destinations, particularly on our longer voyages. Combined with our amenity-filled ships, Princess offers perfect escapes to the world's most popular destinations."

In addition, when the new Carnival Freedom begins its winter schedule of seven-day Caribbean cruises from Miami this coming November, it will further bolster Carnival Cruise Lines' industry-leading and record-breaking 2007 Caribbean cruise season during which the line will carry an unprecedented 2.9 million passengers within the region - the most in its 35-year history.

In 2007, Carnival will have deployed 18 ships in the Caribbean with 14 of those offering year-round service. Overall, upwards of 1,150 three- to eight-day cruises will be operated by Carnival, which is the only cruise line to offer the option of departing from 12 convenient U.S. homeports.

"The Caribbean offers everything that consumers want in a vacation - picture perfect weather, gracious hospitality, unique sightseeing experiences, great shopping and, of course, gorgeous beaches," said Vicki Freed, Carnival's senior vice president of sales and marketing. "But there's more to the Caribbean than great beaches - this is one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world, with a rich history dating back centuries, magnificent architecture, and historical attractions and landmarks," she added.

According to Freed, while Caribbean demand the past year or so has been impacted by unfavorable economic factors affecting consumers' discretionary purchasing, it was clearly part of a cyclical trend that the industry has seen many times in the past. "Bookings for the second half of 2007 and early 2008 have shown much stronger fundamental demand and the trend we were previously observing clearly was not a reflection of the Caribbean's popularity or desirability," said Freed. "Consumers are unquestionably responding well to the strong value appeal inherent in a cruise vacation versus other vacation options," she added.

"Many of our other guest metrics also point to the strength of Carnival's Caribbean cruise product, with guest satisfaction levels remaining at exceptionally high historical levels including very favorable guest feedback on Caribbean destinations," said Freed.

So, what does all this mean? Well, to my way of thinking, there's nothing wrong with the allure of Caribbean cruising. And you can't believe everything you read in the newspaper (unless it's in the comics section).

For details on the above news items, see Cruise News From

Friday, August 3, 2007

New on has some great new features this week. If your're planning a crossing or a cruise from Southampton, England, resident Jack Wilson shares advice on how to get there and what to do either pre- or post-sailing.

From up north in Alaska, join our readers Linda Carmi for a cruise onboard Norwegian Pearl and Diane Starnes to sail aboard Celebrity Summit. You won't want to miss these cool reviews.

Watch for more new articles, reviews, and news from!

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Welcome to the Cruise Diva Blog where cruise travel guidebook author Linda Coffman will share news items, thoughts about the cruise industry, and bits of information for avid cruise passengers.

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