Friday, July 6, 2007

From the return to the past department:

The last couple of days in CND we have run articles about mechanical problems on Millennium which have resulted in the ship remaining in port for several days and missing four scheduled ports on published itinerary. It's not that the passengers don't have anything to do. The ship is at Civitavecchia, and Celebrity has been running complementary buses to Rome, Florence and Naples (two of the ports that were missed) for the passengers. We've seen messages from people who say their entire trips are ruined by missing specific ports. Some say they have been planning the details of the cruise for a couple of years.

Because cruise are what they are, itineraries often get changed, sometimes as a result of a mechanical problem, sometimes as a result of weather. Each time, there are passengers who are heartbroken because they missed the perfect trip they had been anticipating.

Perhaps it's time for cruise lines to go back to the way they used to market cruises. It would certainly ease the disappointment of altered itineraries. The emphasis of their advertising used to be on the ship - with all of its wonderful amenities - being the true destination of the trip. The region was marketed as the destination, not the specific ports. The ports themselves always were mentioned as added bonuses.

Basically what potential passengers saw in the brochure was this WONDERFUL FLOATING RESORT in the CARIBBEAN - or a CRUISE in the MEDITERRANEAN where you will have all this wonderful food and these fun activities at night while you sightsee in ITALY and GREECE during the day. The itineraries would be shown in a small box, with a small map, and often the port times wouldn't even be listed. The pictures would mostly be of the ships and their facilities or gorgeous generic pictures of the area. Shore excursions would only be sold once onboard, or once you had received your documents a month or so before sailing.

This avoided the tunnel vision that many people have about the specific ports they are going to and the exact number of hours or minutes they will have there.

If the cruise lines were to put their marketing focus back on the cruise itself, when something changed, there wouldn't be the loss of things people had spent so much time anticipating.

After all, you are going on a cruise. You're not taking the ship just for transportation between ports. It's time for the cruise lines to get their customers focused on that again.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

From the bum advice department:

There is an article by Arthur Frommer that's being syndicated and popping up on a number of newspaper websites. When I saw it yesterday on the Houston Chronicle website, it was entitled "If you've got the time, but very little money, consider a 'repositioning cruise.'"

In it Mr. Frommer says that repositioning cruises are "unpopular with the American public" and for these, cruise lines "charge stunningly low prices." I don't know where Mr. Frommer has been for the last twenty years, but while this was once true, it isn't anymore. Either Mr. Frommer is seriously out of touch with today's cruise market, or he started with a premise and then massaged his figures to prove it. Take your pick; the information in this article is wrong.

These repositioning cruises come about because cruise lines need to move their ships between seasonal homeports, such as from Europe to the Caribbean in the late fall/early winter. At one time their thinking was to get their ships from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, with few ports and charge whatever they could just to get some passengers on the ship. That's the world Mr. Frommer is remembering.

Quite a few years ago now, cruise lines figured out how to get passengers on these cruises, so they could fill the ships and charge normal rates for them. They added a few days to the trip so they could stop at some interesting ports. Other lines turned them into theme cruises which would draw a specific clientele passionate about the theme. There are usually more sea days than normal in these itineraries, so those appeal to the ever-growing number of experienced cruisers who enjoy the sea days. This is the world the cruise industry is operating in today.

What's more troubling than Mr. Frommer's lack of knowledge of the current market is the way he misleads readers with his figures. In the article he gives seven examples of the the supposed bargains. The lowest price is on Costa Fortuna's November 2 (2007) sailing from Genoa to Ft. Lauderdale. It's 15-days, calling at five ports and, according to him, a lead price of $549 per person, which he calculates to be $36 per day. (Actually it's closer to $37.)

It sounds like a great bargain, but then he goes on to say that you add $260 for port charges and fees, $44.16 for government taxes (Who else charges taxes besides governments?), and air fare. Cruise lines don't even quote fares like this because several years ago it became illegal for them not to include the port charges and fees in their advertising. Another little item you need to add on is air fare to get you to the port of embarkation (or home depending on where you live). For this one, to give him the benefit of the doubt, I looked for the lowest air fare from Ft. Lauderdale to Genoa to get you there a day before the cruise. showed a one way rate, booked through a consolidator of $470, including tax.

So adding on all these "must-pays," the rate jumps from $549 to $1323, still not bad for a 15-day cruise. That comes to $88 per day, a big difference from the $36 Mr. Frommer was touting.

That's still not bad, but you wouldn't have to look too far to find a round trip cruise from Ft. Lauderdale in early November that had a lead total price of $88 per day or less.

The bottom line is that repositioning cruises today are not any particular bargain as so many people, including Mr. Frommer, try to tell you.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

From the tall ship department:

MSC Cruises is sponsoring the Mediterranean Tall Ships Races, said to be the European sailing event of the summer. The regatta takes place from July 28-31 and sails from Alicante, with stops in Barcelona and Toulon before ending in Genoa.

The regatta attracts 40 ships, 13 of which are "A class" vessels over 164 feet, and they are crewed by about 3,000 people 16-25 from various parts of the world. The ships will be on display for three days after the race at Genoa's Porto Antico, where there will be various events open to the public.

From the squish department:

Often at ports of call cruise ships are mixed with cargo vessels, and passengers are required to ride a bus to the port entrance. They are irritated because they have to wait for the bus and don't see the danger in walking through a working port. There was an incident in Hong Kong on Monday that demonstrates the danger, even if you're just minding your own business.

A truck driver had parked his truck while he was waiting his turn to be loaded. A container (those metal boxes you see stacked up that are the size of a semi-trailer) disengaged from the crane that was lifting it from the ship onto another truck. The container dropped about 40 feet onto the top of the waiting driver's truck, crushing it and killing him. The fire department had to be called to remove him.

And that's why the ports insist on the cruise passengers taking the buses. They can be routed way out of the way of where the work is going on, letting passengers enjoy the port squish-free.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

From the couch potato department:

Cable TV's Travel Channel will debut a new series on Alaska, a favorite cruise destination. "Into Alaska" stars animal guy Jeff Corwin who will hike the back country to see the animals in their natural habitat they way you probably won't see them on your cruise.

The weekly series debuts on the Travel Channel on Tuesday, July 10. Don't kick yourself if you can't watch (or TiVo) it then; like most Travel Channel programming, it repeats multiple times each week. Everything you need to know (and then some) about Into Alaska is on the series' show page on the Travel Channel website. It also includes some good resources on Alaska.

From the Best Comment We've Seen This Week Department:

A poster on a cruise message board posted she had been married in the Cayman Islands while she was on a cruise recently. When she tried to register her marriage with her home state, the county official told her they couldn't do it without her being remarried in the county, and she doesn't know what to do about it. The discussion has dragged on for pages as one poster says her marriage is legal and then another says it isn't.

Then one clear-thinking person replied:

"Hmmm, who to believe, who to believe ... State
authorities or someone on a message board. Decisions, decisions."

That comment is the highlight, but if you're bored, you can read the thread posted on Cruise Critic's message board.

From the what's the matter with kids today department:

Remember the man who seemed to have a little too much to drink over the weekend and went overboard from Carnival Liberty? The story got bizarre enough for us when the FBI told us that the man climbed into a lifeboat in its stored position above the Promenade Deck and began hacking away with an ax at the cables that were securing the boat (it probably seemed like a good idea at the time) before jumping into the ocean when the security staff told him to stop. The full story appeared in CND yesterday.

The Washington Post now reports that man was from the Washington DC area, and he has been a middle school science teacher there since 2002. We hope one of his former students is right when she said, "It doesn't seem like him." You can read the Post's take on the story on their site.

Monday, July 2, 2007

From the managing your relastionship department:

NCL created the new post of VP of E-Commerce and Customer Relationship Management & filled it today with Michael Dauberman. He will report to NCL's SVP of Sales & Marketing, Scott Rogers. Rogers said that he wants passengers and travel agents visiting to have "a superior experience" and have all of their needs met. From our perspective, that's easy: All that a website has to do is (a) work (without a lot a bells and whistles like things popping up and video welcomes) and (b) have every question we could reasonably ask be answered there and easy to find.

You can read the press release with Dauberman's background detailed on NCL's website.