Monday, December 31, 2007

In The Headlines, Cruise Stories Not Always What They Seem

When hundreds of cruise passengers report to the infirmary with similar symptoms, does that necessarily mean their ship is SICK?

Hardly. But you'd never know that from news reports about nasty cruise ship diseases that attack unsuspecting vacationers. would like to honor USA Today with 2007's Most-Misleading-Headline Award for... "Curse of Camilla hits Cunard's Queen Victoria." While the American press gleefully reports on every outbreak of norovirus (acute gastroenteritis) on cruise ships, the British tabloids are having a field day with this one because the champagne bottle failed to smash against Queen Victoria's hull when The Duchess of Cornwall named the ship earlier this month. Apparently British reporters are superstitious, particularly when it comes to members of the Royal Family.

Let's look at the real story. Is there an actual cruise ship disease? No, not hardly. However, you'd never know that by the way newspapers and television report every outbreak of 'stomach flu' on cruise ships and fail to mention how common it is elsewhere. It's actually possible to pick up a norovirus almost any place and you're more likely to get it on land than at sea. Get the real story behind the headlines from's article, Is Your Cruise Ship Sick?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Our Favorite Cruising Video of 2007

Enter "cruises" into the search box on YouTube and the result is a fascinating array of how-I-spent-my-vacation home movies and video sales tools created by travel agencies. Refine your search to a specific cruise line or ship name and you'll find even more. Search for "QE2" and in the list you'll find the "QE2 Amarillo Video."

What's that? The music video filmed for charity during the World Cruise 2006 is set to the Tony Christie single (Is This The Way To) Amarillo? and features over 500 crew members from Cunard Line's Queen Elizabeth 2. I'm not sure what charity benefited, but it seems that everyone from the captain on down to guys in the garbage room participated in the lip-syncing, booty-shaking spoof. Who says there are no singing waiters on Cunard?

After you've seen the charity video, don't miss the "QE2 Amarillo outtakes"... you'll want to see the pillow fight. Look closely, was that a real cat on the navigational charts?

Hat tip to Cruise News Daily for sharing these links back on Feb 2nd in an article entitled "How Often Does QE2 Call at Amarillo?"

Friday, December 28, 2007

Cunard Queens to Rendevous in New York

If you're in New York on January 13th, you won't want to miss a bit of maritime history in the making when fireworks and fanfare mark the first and only meeting of Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth 2, and the new Queen Victoria. This is the first time in Cunard Line’s 168-year history that three Queens have been in service at the same time and, with QE2 retiring in November 2008, it will also be the only occasion to see all three in one place.

“This is an historic occasion for Cunard and New York, marking the only time that the three ships will be together…ever!” said Carol Marlow, president of Cunard Line. “More history will be made as our grand dame QE2 departs on her 26th and final World Cruise and Queen Victoria will depart on her maiden World Cruise,” Marlow added.

The regal fleet is scheduled to depart at 6:30 p.m. Queen Mary 2 will sail from her home port, Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, while QE2 will depart from Pier 92 and Queen Victoria will depart from Pier 88, both at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal. Then, the three Queens will rendezvous and sail past the Statue of Liberty during a spectacular fireworks celebration at approximately 7:00 p.m. Thousands are expected to gather at ideal viewing locations to wish the majestic fleet of Queens “Bon Voyage” and see the fireworks celebration.

The best spots for a clear view are:
  • Battery Park: On the southern shoreline of Manhattan.
  • Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park: Overlooking the Hudson River with great views of the Statue of Liberty.
  • The Esplanade: Running the entire length of Battery Park City, along the Hudson River from Stuyvesant High School on the north end all the way south to Battery Park.
  • Hudson River Park: 550 acre park extends for five miles along the Manhattan shoreline from Battery Place to West 59th Street.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Azamara Cruises Takes Specialty Dining To A New Level

It's only been months since Azamara Cruises was officially launched and they've already proven that they are listening to their passengers. While developing their brand, Azamara worked diligently to create a deluxe onboard experience and initially everyone got at least one complimentary meal in the specialty restaurants, Prime C and Aqualina (suite occupants got two). However, passengers felt there was nothing deluxe about paying a surcharge if they wanted additional reservations.

In a responsive move, dining in both specialty restaurants is now always complimentary. Guests accommodated in staterooms are invited to reserve two evenings' dining and suite guests are entitled to three reservations. Additional reservations are available on a space-available basis and can be arranged either by butlers, or at the desk in either restaurant or Discoveries, the main restaurant. It is recommended that a $5 per person gratuity be extended when dining in the specialty restaurants.

A couple details haven't changed. For the "Tastings" option in Aqualina, a surcharge of $50 per person includes a set menu of six courses that pairs wine with each course. The charge does not include gratuity but covers the wines that are served. There is also a nominal surcharge for premium cuts in Prime C.

For more information about Azamara Cruises, Enter the World of Deluxe Cruising with Cruise Diva.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Did Santa Bring You A Cruise For Christmas?

There weren't any cruise documents under your tree? Then it's time to take matters into your own hands and plan a 2008 cruise on your own.

When I'm thinking about booking a cruise I do the same thing you should... research, research, and more research. Then I call my trusted travel agent. One thing I learned over twenty years ago is that when planning a costly cruise vacation, the last thing you want is a travel agent who has:
  • never been on a cruise
  • calls a cruise ship "the boat"
  • or worst still, quotes BROCHURE rates.

Not all travel agents are as savvy as the one I trust with my hard-earned cruise vacation dollars. So, how do you find a cruise travel professional you can trust? And what are the advantages of using a travel agent? Here's Cruise Diva's advice about Finding The Right Travel Agent.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Cruises: New Ships For 2008

It's almost 2008 and the beginning of "Wave Season"—the time of year when winter doldrums set in and it's time to think of warm sea breezes and booking your next cruise.

Are you tired of the same-old, same-old and looking for a brand new ship? The good news afloat is there will be a variety of them launching throughout the year from both mainstream and premium cruise lines. To assist you with your selection, Cruise Diva presents New Ships for 2008.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Queen Victoria's Virtual Tour

Over her three-day celebratory launch in Southampton, England, more than 7,000 well-wishers toured Cunard's newest ocean liner, Queen Victoria. Now, an interactive link on the Cunard website makes it possible for everyone to click-and-tour the ship's spectacular interiors in the company of her distinguished Captain, Paul Wright, and Cunard Entertainment Director Alistair Greener.

Appropriately, the tour begins with Captain Wright welcoming visitors on board in the Grand Lobby, the ship's social center. Greener then takes viewers through each of the ship's magnificent spaces, including The Royal Court Theatre and exclusive private viewing boxes, the Queens Room, the two-story Library and The Cunard Royal Spa & Fitness Centre.

"We are harnessing the power of multimedia technology to introduce Queen Victoria in an entirely new way," said Carol Marlow, president of Cunard Line. "They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so we are thrilled to add this 'virtual tour' to help visitors get an inside and advance look at the ship," she added. Embedded video images provide 360° views of the ship's public rooms and accommodations and can be found on the Line's homepage at

After you've taken the virtual tour, read the Cruise Diva's illustrated Queen Victoria Preview.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Plan A Really BIG Cruise From Galveston

Royal Caribbean International’s Voyager of the Seas launches seasonal sailings on Dec. 23rd with 7-night western Caribbean cruises from Galveston, Texas. The largest cruise ship to call Galveston island "home" promises to boost waterfront revenues that began sagging last year when cruise lines diverted ships to other cruising regions. The 138,000-ton Voyager of the Seas carries as many as 3,114 passengers and features an ice-skating rink, rock-climbing wall, and nine-hole miniature golf course.

According to the Galveston Daily News, Port of Galveston officials reported a $1.5 million dip in revenues this year due to increasingly popular--and profitable--European itineraries that lured ships away. However, the arrival of larger ships, such as Voyager of the Seas, will help offset revenue declines. Each time a passenger boards or debarks a ship, Galveston port collects service fees and cruise passengers pay between $45 and $100 to park in port lots as well.

Royal Caribbean plans 20 trips this season, proving that, yes, there is a Santa Claus.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

An Unexpected "Excursion" From Dawn Princess

When it became apparent last Friday that Laura Montero, a 14-year-old Illinois girl vacationing aboard Princess Cruise' Dawn Princess, had a "hot" appendix and needed surgery, the cruise ship's captain sent out a distress call that was answered by the USS Ronald Reagan. On training maneuvers about 500 miles away, the nuclear carrier was the closest ship with a hospital facility. According to a news release from the US Navy, the aircraft carrier steamed overnight toward the cruise ship, which was about 250 miles northwest of Cabo San Lucas when the call was received. A helicopter took off from the Reagan before dawn on Saturday to close the final 175-mile gap between the ships. After a 45-minute flight, the crew lowered a medic onto the cruise ship deck and the teen was loaded into a basket, lifted into the helicopter, and flown back to the Reagan for an emergency appendectomy.

Without room on the helicopter to accommodate her, Montero's mother was required to stay aboard the cruise ship. When Dawn Princess docked in San Diego on Sunday, the Navy flew the girl’s mother to the Reagan aboard a C-2 Greyhound carrier onboard delivery flight. The Reagan arrived in San Diego on Tuesday as scheduled and the teen was moved to a civilian hospital. Thanks to the US Navy and crew of the USS Ronald Reagan, Montero is expected to made a full recovery.

Cruise News Daily reports that Dawn Princess' Captain Marco Fortezze and his senior officers will host the Reagan's commanding officer, Captain Terry Kraft and his senior officers at a luncheon aboard the cruise ship when they are once again in port together in San Diego on Jan. 6th.

We wish them Bon Appetit and offer three cheers for a job well done!

Photo: Medical personnel aboard the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan unload 14-year-old Laura Montero from an HH-60H Seahawk on Dec. 15 following an emergency medical evacuation at sea. (MC2 Joseph M. Buliavac/Navy)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

And Norwegian Gem's "IT" Girl Godmother Is...

First, a few word's from Norwegian Gem herself, "The chicest party to hit the Big Apple is almost here. That’s right, I’ve made it to New York City and everything is set for my Christening Ceremony and Inaugural Sailing. I can hardly contain my excitement. The City is looking oh so glamorous and you can feel the buzz in the air (along with the chill). It’s nice to be here (finally) in my home for the winter. I love New York and I must say I’m a great addition to the city that never sleeps."

And who is the ultimate Norwegian Gem "IT" Girl godmother? I'm not there, but my spy (with a Blackberry) tells me she's Cindy Cardella, age 31 from Fairfield, NJ.

Congrats, Cindy!!! You GO, girlfriend!!

Check out the Norwegian Gem blog at and watch "License to Thrill" starring all my Main Men at NCL.

Discovery Offers Free Cruises To Military Personnel

For the past four years, Discovery Cruise Line has offered a special program for military personnel serving in the military overseas. To thank them for their service, Discovery offers those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan at any time during the preceding year a free Discovery day cruise to Grand Bahama Island.

Hanns J. Hahn, General Manager of Discovery, said, "We want to recognize our military personnel and remind families of military personnel about this program so they can give them a gift of a totally free cruise this Holiday Season."

The offer, which is valid until December 31, 2010, is for a free roundtrip cruise to Grand Bahama on Discovery Cruise Line including the cost of all meals on board, all service charges, taxes, and Bahamian departure fees. There are no additional costs involved.

To register a family member, friend or loved one for the free cruise, simply register that person's name online at and Discovery will mail a receipt and a holiday card for them to pass on to the service man or woman. The receipt will entitle the person to his or her complimentary Discovery cruise. The receipt should be presented at the pier at the time of sailing, together with a Military ID and a letter from their unit confirming the places of service during 2007. Advanced reservations are required.

Discovery sails daily from Ft. Lauderdale to Grand Bahama Island, departing at 7:45 am and arriving back at the pier at 10 pm. Each year Discovery carries approximately 200,000 passengers between the two destinations.

The cruise features all the amenities of a longer cruise in one fun-filled day, including three all-you-can-eat lavish buffet meals on board, exciting casino action, live entertainment, outdoor games and activities, contests, spacious sun decks, a swimming pool, duty free shopping, and more. For more information about this offer and for reservations call 1-800-93-SHIPS or visit Discovery's web site at

Monday, December 17, 2007

Grand Cayman Asks "Where Are The Cruise Ships?"

In a report report issued by Cayman Net News, businesses catering to tourists in George Town, Grand Cayman say they are suffering due to the decline in cruise ship visitors to the island.

Unfortunately, Grand Cayman experienced more than a 30 percent loss in cruise ship business during 2007. The Cayman Islands' Department of Tourism has released discouraging figures: 70 cruise ships called at Grand Cayman in November 2006, but the November 2007 schedule only included 53 ship calls. December figures are just as dismal with 72 cruise ships due to stop compared with 92 in 2006. That translates into 100,000 fewer visitors for November and December 2007 compared to 2006. On days when there are no ships in port, some George Town businesses report a decline from thousands of dollars in sales per day, to zero.

The bottom line is that weather and the preference for cruising ports-of-call with berthing facilities has hurt Grand Cayman. We love the island and hope things pick up for them.

For the full story, see Cayman Net News.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Norwegian Gem At Sea

Like most of Norwegian Gem's "It" Girl BFFs, I slept in today. After grabbing coffee, my first stop of the day was the Bridge Viewing Area where I discovered officers on duty steering Norwegian Gem toward a patch of blue sky and sunshine.

Most of the pool deck has been cleared of slush, but it's still cold outdoors and I won't be joining the brave souls who are enjoying the hot tubs. However, indoors we're the hottest thing at sea. We'll be bowling later in Bliss, the ultra-hip South Beach-style lounge with four bowling lanes.

While inspecting the launderette, which is complimentary for passenger use, I ran into one of the Second City Players who pointed out that Bliss is a hip late-night dance spot for the younger crowd, which leaves Spinnaker Lounge free as a secondary show lounge and dance club for the (ahem) older crowd. Later tonight, Bliss is the site of a White Night Party... oops, my wardrobe is black and I have nothing white to wear. Have I missed something? Is white the 'new' black? I hope no one notices my fashion error. I may have to join my "older" peers to party in Spinnaker. It's good to have choices and there are plenty of those here on Norwegian Gem.

About that launderette, no... I wasn't actually washing clothes. I was just checking it out in case I need to iron something later.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

On Board Norwegian Gem in Boston

"The weather outside is frightful" here in Boston. Thankfully, my flight from Atlanta arrived on time before it began to snow. And snow. And snow.

By the time I'd finished lunch in Norwegian Gem's Garden Cafe--excellent cheese tortellini prepared on the spot--there was more than a dusting of cold white stuff covering the pool deck. It's been a long time since I've seen snow and it was a new experience to see it while on a cruise ship.

For a while it appeared that we weren't going anywhere on our 2-night cruise to nowhere. As snow continued to fall, it delayed many travelers and we waited on late arrivals. Instead of sailing at 5pm, we finally left Boston at 7pm. I don't think anyone showed up for the poolside sailaway party, but I did see a few people making snow "angels" on the open decks.

Never mind the weather, Norwegian Gem is indeed the "It" girl in every sense of the word, especially if that word is food. Eating... again... in Cagney's for dinner--a delicious steak and yummy Bananas Foster for dessert. Before I turn in I'm going to the show, "World Beat," billed as a musical voyage around the world.

Anyone up for a snowball fight? Maybe we'll even make a snowman tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Norwegian Dream: For Norwegian Cruise Line It's Deja Vu All Over Again

Passengers on board Norwegian Dream's current "Chilean Fjords/Strait of Magellan" cruise that departed Buenos Aires, Argentina last Sunday and is scheduled to end on Dec. 23rd in Valparaíso, Chile are getting a bit more time in Montevideo, Uruguay than they anticipated. The 1,750-passenger cruise ship remains in port after colliding with a container barge that was adrift in the channel on Monday, causing the harbor to close until Tuesday afternoon.

Norwegian Dream returned to dock Tuesday evening with damage to its bow and forward ballast tank that couldn't be repaired as quickly as anticipated. NCL has released a statement that the ship will not sail until late Thursday afternoon and, as a result, will miss several significant ports of call. Passengers will receive a $150 per person on board credit, plus approximately $61 per person in government taxes and fees to compensate them for the missed ports. In addition, they have been offered a 50% fare refund and a 15% credit for a future cruise booked while on board. Passengers who wished to disembark and fly home will receive the 50% refund and the on-board credit as well.

In an odd twist of fate, the cruise ship/barge collision is a circumstantial repeat. Back in 1999, Norwegian Dream experienced a similar brush with a container ship in the English Channel.

I'm leaving early--very early--in the morning to embark on NCL's newest ship Norwegian Gem for a 2-night preview sailing from Boston. It's supposed to SNOW in Boston. Here's hoping it doesn't start until my plane has landed and I'm aboard.

Come Friday, will I be bowling on Norwegian Gem or trying to return home? Check here for an update!

Queen Victoria: A Royal Occasion

While some viewed Cunard Line as a declining company during the 37 years that passed between the launches of Queen Elizabeth 2 and Queen Mary 2, others with a vision were hard at work. With the addition of Queen Victoria to the fleet, the Cunard lion once again roars!

It was an honor to be invited to attend the Queen Victoria Naming Ceremony in Southampton on Monday. Truthfully, while I've attended many ship namings, I'm still in awe of the preparations Cunard Line made for this very special event. While the the sun was shining, it felt frigid outside. Even so, we were comfy in a massive auditorium erected pierside for the occasion--2,000 guests were accommodated within a structure that included risers, assigned seating, and even an orchestra pit and, of course, a Royal Box. The program proceeded in Three Acts, with British actor Sir Derek Jacobi, in the guise of Phileas Fogg (remember the character from "Around the World in 80 Days"?), acting as master of ceremonies and chronicler of liner history. Included in the acts were performances by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, The Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines, The Royal Marines Fanfare Trumpeters, Gypsy Dance from Carmen, Bizet sung by Katherine Jenkins, and moving performances by tenors, Alfie Boe, Jon Christos, and Gardar Thor Cortes, and the Choirs of Winchester Cathedral.

Act II was the highlight--The Naming of the New Cunard Queen. With Queen Victoria's bow visible behind the stage, Captain Wright escorted Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall to perform the Naming and... the champagne bottle failed to break. No problem. To the relief of all, an Easy Button took care of it and a back-up bottle DID shower the ship with bubbly. His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales looked on fondly as his lovely wife accepted cheers of approval and sparkling confetti filled the air.

In a bow to the season, the program concluded with "O Come All Ye Faithful" and I admit tears filled my eyes with the wonder of "snow" showering Cunard officers and crewmembers on stage. Words really are inadequate to describe the pageantry. It was an event that I'll never forget. My whirlwind trip came to an end after a formal gala reception, sumptuous dinner, and more entertainment on board. Then it was time to bid farewell to Queen Victoria and catch an early flight home.

For a peek at photos of the Queen Victoria Naming Ceremony, visit Cruise Diva's Album.

More pictures will follow, including Cruise Diva's personal photo tour of Queen Victoria.

Monday, December 10, 2007

On Board Queen Victoria

Brrr… it’s chilly here in Merry Olde England. Actually, it's downright cold (and a good reason to shop for something to keep warm). We don’t have to worry about it for this afternoon’s Naming Ceremony for Queen Victoria in Southampton, though. An auditorium has been erected pierside and we’ll be sheltered and warm.

Oh, you want to know about the ship? She’s beautiful, dignified, regal, and should please her tradition-minded guests. The Queens Room is so traditional that there are three etchings displayed there which were created by none other than HRH Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Past the formal areas, there is a handsome spa with all the feel-good bells and whistles and plenty of room to play by two pool areas.

What has most impressed me so far? Britannia Restaurant is drop dead gorgeous and we enjoyed an exceptional luncheon there yesterday. I love the Winter Garden--a tranquil, yet ‘living’ space with plants and rattan furniture and a retractable roof to let in sun shine and warm sea air when the weather is fair. Plus, there is the legendary Cunard service that is simply superb.

Oops... time to get dressed up for lunch in Queens Grill and the royal formalities this afternoon. Ta ta until later! I'll have lots more to report, with dozens of photos.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Ocean Liner Or Cruise Ship?

That's a question usually limited to "ship junkies" who argue that the boxy superstructure and shallow draft of modern vessels defines them as cruise ships, while real ocean liners (insert a sigh here) were sleek in appearance with a deep draft. Notice the "were" in that sentence--like I said this is normally a discussion among ship junkies, amateur or otherwise.

So, it came as something of a surprise to see the debate in, of all places, The Daily Echo (a Gannett newspaper in the UK), which reports, "Some quarters have questioned whether Queen Victoria should be classed as either a liner or a cruise ship but the company's president and managing director Carol Marlow is definite on the subject. 'Cunard Line ships do not sail on cruises, Cunard liners sail on voyages,' she said."

The paper seems to solve the riddle by stating, "It seems then that Queen Victoria is something of a hybrid. She will be taking her passengers on fabulous cruises but her hull has been strengthened to allow her to make transatlantic voyages thus giving her liner status." However, comments by readers go back and forth on the issue.

In any case, there are some excellent images of Queen Victoria's Southampton arrival in a photo gallery on the site. Just follow that link if you aren't interested in the "controversy." I'm no expert on ocean liners, but I'll let you know my opinion after I've been on board for a couple nights.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Packing For A Cruise

Even though I travel a lot and use numerous "tricks" when filling suitcases, I must admit that I dread packing more than any other task.

While getting a rollaboard ready for my flight to London tomorrow, I'm suffering pangs of doubt. Do I really need this item or that one? Can I substitute a less bulky pashima for the shawl I planned to wear?

This is a short trip (see yesterday's entry for details about the Queen Victoria event I'm attending), so all I'm taking is a carry-on rollaboard and a small tote that contains necessities for the flight. For the return flight I'll have to put the tote and its contents inside the rollaboard until I actually board the plane because the UK only allows ONE carry-on. It's crunch time and the pashima gets to go, while my new shawl stays home. Darn! I'll need the space later, but at least I know the rules. I looked them up ahead of time. I'm prepared for the UK's one carry-on allowance.

One good thing about the carry-on regulation regarding liquids is that 3-ounce bottles of potions and lotions weigh a lot less than larger size containers. And I have to lift my rollaboard into the overhead compartment when I board my plane so I try to keep that in mind. If I can't lift it at home, it just won't fly.

Those "tricks" I mentioned above? You can use them too. Just check out the Packing section on when you're planning your next cruise!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Royal Reception for Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria, the newest royal in Cunard Line's historic fleet, is all set for her official Naming Ceremony in Southampton, England. Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall will do the champagne-smashing honors on Monday, December 10th in the presence of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales.

More than 7,000 people are expected to visit the ship over the course of Queen Victoria's three-day celebratory debut, including more than 2,000 VIP guests, celebrities, and dignitaries who will dine throughout every restaurant on the ship during the evening gala celebration. In preparation, Cunard has announced the promotion of Jean-Marie Zimmermann to the position of Global Culinary Ambassador, responsible for overseeing Cunard Line's trio of ocean-going liners. He's already in action planning and preparing the culinary program for Queen Victoria, which includes a multitude of receptions, lunches and dinners for the official Naming Ceremony.

Preparations are also being made here in Georgia. I'm flying out on British Airways on Saturday to attend. Yes, the Cruise Diva received one of the coveted invitations, which is on heavy stock paper rimmed in gold. Wow! Can you tell I'm excited? I've torn my closets apart to come up with a suitable wardrobe. Naturally, I've shopped a bit, although I couldn't find just the right hat.

Unfortunately, I'll miss the fireworks that are scheduled for Tuesday evening when Queen Victoria sets sail on her maiden voyage. I'll be back in Atlanta by then. But, I promise to remember each and every detail about the ship, the meals (I know I'll be dining one evening in Queens Grill), the Naming Ceremony, and what the Duchess wore--including HER hat. The stories and photos will be here on the Blog and on next week.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Cruises: The Perfect Ending... Or NOT

All good things must come to an end and that's especially true with cruise vacations.

To cruise passengers, debarkation is generally the most unwelcome aspect of their trip. After being coddled and pampered on board, a rude re-entry into the real world generally awaits in the pierside terminal when arriving in the United States. I'm not talking about the mad scramble to find my black luggage in a sea of black luggage. What irritates me the most are the lines and, especially, the delays.

First, we cool our heels waiting to be called to debark. This isn't the fault of anyone on the ship--they have to hold up passengers so the terminal doesn't get overcrowded. It's a safety issue. When we finally hear the announcement for our group, reach the terminal, snag a porter to handle the suitcases we've retrieved, then we face the dreaded Immigration line.

Just to be fair, some ports do a better job than others, but none appear to be the picture of efficiency. Of course, I'm talking about the line for Immigration & Customs. Your tax dollars at work, fellow cruisers. The cruise lines have no control over them. Neither do the Port Authorities. It's the Feds in action. Or inaction. And it's not the individual workers who are at fault. Although I've run across some with a really bad attitude, most are amiable sorts if your paperwork is in order. It's just that there aren't enough of them. For instance, recently in Miami there were only six agents to clear a ship carrying nearly 3,000 passengers. The terminal has twelve stations, yet only half of them were manned. You do the math. Under-staffing is what causes the back-up.

Words to the wise--fill out your Customs Declaration completely and accurately and sign it before you leave the ship. Have that form and your identification in hand. Be prepared to answer any questions you're asked (if you've purchased liquor, they will certainly ask you how many bottles). Smile and be pleasant. And, to get through the process as efficiently as possible, get a passport!

Here's how to apply for a passport.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Mark Your Calendar For Disney Cruise Line's New Itineraries

Disney Cruise Line is introducing two new eastern Caribbean itineraries for 2009 and special offerings for 2008. "Expanding our offerings in the eastern Caribbean provides our first-time cruisers an array of popular destinations to choose from, while also providing seasoned Disney cruisers new destinations to visit and explore with Disney," said Tom McAlpin, president of Disney Cruise Line.

McAlpin noted that there are also special offerings during 2008, including a summer season of sailings to the Mexican Riviera. As an added summer treat, Disney Cruise Line has redesigned their four-night itinerary from May 11 through Aug 24, 2008 to feature two stops at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas. Castaway Cay continues to be one of the highlights of a Disney Cruise vacation, and this new itinerary affords twice as much time--two full days!--to enjoy all the amenities and activities of the tropical oasis.

On select sailings in 2009, Disney guests will be able to explore either St. Croix or Tortola. The largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Croix offers a wonderful mix of colonial-style architecture, natural wonders, quaint shops, and spectacular marine habitats. Tortola, part of the British Virgin Islands, features centuries-old ruins, botanical gardens, sugar mills, sensational bays, and beaches. The new eastern Caribbean itineraries will stop at St. Croix or Tortola, St. Thomas, and Disney's private island, Castaway Cay.

Additionally, Disney Cruise Line will continue to offer its current version of the eastern Caribbean cruise. Scheduled in-between the new special sailings, it includes calls at St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Castaway Cay.

Check out Cruise Diva's Cruise News for specific itinerary dates and more details. Call Disney Cruise Line at 888/DCL-2500, or contact your travel agent for reservations.

Photo: Copyright

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Sad Cruise Ending

Hattiesburg, MS: The Hattiesburg American reports that the search for a local 77-year-old man who went missing from Carnival Cruise Lines' Fantasy has ended. After investigators discovered a suicide note in the man's cabin, the Coast Guard suspended its search for him at 10:15 am, Sunday, Dec. 2nd. Apparently the note indicated the man, who took the cruise alone, had health problems. The emergency contact person listed on the man's cruise forms indicated he was divorced and, "he did not have any family."

While the victim's identity has not been released, he was reportedly last seen at 7 pm Friday. The Coast Guard searched 400 square miles in the Gulf of Mexico and part of the Mississippi River from the Southwest Pass at the mouth of the river, north to the Port of New Orleans, and even sifted through the ship's dock area in hopes that the missing passenger would be located.

Carnival Cruise Lines has released this statement, "During the debarkation process for the Carnival Fantasy, which had docked in New Orleans (Saturday) morning at the end of a five-day cruise, it was determined that one passenger was unaccounted for. The 77-year-old male was traveling by himself in a balcony suite. The cabin door was double-locked from the inside but the guest was not in the cabin. All proper authorities, including the FBI and US Coast Guard were notified. Based on a variety of factors, foul play is not suspected."

Cruises: Port Everglades Snaps Up New Royal Caribbean Ships

Have you tried to get a decent rate in a Fort Lauderdale hotel recently? The sky-high prices appear to reflect the popularity of Port Everglades as a cruise embarkation port and it's about to get even more crowded.

The Sun Sentinel reports that Royal Caribbean has agreed to homeport both of its two new mega-size Genesis-class cruise ships at Port Everglades year-round, ending months of competition for the business between the Broward County port and the Port of Miami.

Royal Caribbean's base of operations in South Florida has long been the Port of Miami--the line is even heaquartered there--but the new agreement creates a major, long-term partnership with Port Everglades by guaranteeing 17 million passengers over the next decade. While Miami and Port Canaveral currently out-rank it, Fort Lauderdale officials say the Royal Caribbean deal will make Port Everglades the largest cruise port in the world. Each Genesis-class ship will carry up to 6,400 passengers and 2,000 crews members on weekly Caribbean cruises, which are expected to begin sailing from Port Everglades in mid-2009.

One of Port Everglade's aging terminals will be renovated at a cost of $37.4 million to accommodate the new ships. Local taxpayers won't be footing the bill, though. According to the Sun-Sentinel, cruisers will bear the cost through a $5.70 surcharge imposed by Royal Caribbean on passengers. That's in addition to the $9.95 user charge each passenger pays. It appears that Floridians have taken a page from the state of Alaska's playbook on charging cruisers to "use" their state.

A Royal Caribbean spokesman said the cruise line chose Port Everglades over Miami because it offered "a little bit more in terms of servicing passengers and the development of the port." Cruise Diva has an opinion on that and will share it shortly.

Photo Above: Port Everglades on a Late Saturday Afternoon