Cruise Holidays - Attheta Travel

I am proud to be certified by CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) as an Elite Cruise Counselor. The Cruise Counselor Certification Program is CLIA's most comprehensive training which requires agents to successfully complete a number of compulsory training courses and exams, attend cruise conferences, and conduct ship inspections. Anita Thompson, Attheta Travel, dba Cruise Holidays.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Part 3 - Star Princess around Cape Horn

Continuation of Cruise Log (see earlier post)

Part 3
Our 2 sea days were filled with a variety of activities.  From playing pinochle, watching movies in the big theater (moved inside as it is cooler outside).  A few interesting lectures on places we are going to be visiting.

We have so lucked out with great weather for both the Falkland Islands and cruising around Cape Horn on Sunday afternoon.  Saturday, when we arrived in Stanley on the Falkland Islands, we had no tour planned but we spent several hours walking the town and mailing post cards to ourselves as we forgot the address book, at home.  So will hand deliver as we see you upon our return home.!!!  Stanley has less than 2,000 people on the island, but with 2 ships in we tripled the amount of people to the island.  Very small but loved the laid back life style.

Sunday was a lazy day (except for playing cards and eating) until around 5 PM when we started cruising around Cape Horn.  Very cool out with a little rain.  Clouds hung over the cape so not the best picture taking weather, lots of bird life to watch.  Went to dinner and then watched a great production show of musical play songs.  We started watching the Academy Awards in the theater then moved to our room to watch until we fell asleep.  The Academy Awards didn't start until 10:30 in this time zone.

On Monday we were to arrive in Ushuaia, Argentina, but because we had been to the Falkland Islands, Argentina decided to not allow us into port, as they are in a disagreement with the government of the Falklands.  So we are having a slow cruise through Glacier Alley, which was to have been later between 6:30 to 8 PM so actually we will see much better, but will not see the town of Ushuaia.  Also just got the notice that our tour tomorrow to Otway Sound in Punta Arena, Chile (to see Penguins)  has been cancelled as there has been a sudden migration of the penguins.  Sorry Isabel no pictures from us, but have bought some from the photo staff on the cruise ship........

Today ended up being one of the best parts of the cruise, the glaciers were breath taking, many pictures to show all of you later.   Having a great trip with so many special people we have met.......................

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cruise Feedback: Star Princess in South America

Part 1
Well, here we are cruising on our way to Montevideo, Uruguay after leaving Rio.  The journey to Rio was long, but it could have been much worse, both flights were smooth and ahead of schedule.  Customs went quick and easy, transport to hotel was as quick as it could be with all the traffic.  Our rooms were ready for us and it was before noon.  We didn't wander to far, but walked the beach area and local neighborhood, looking for tee shirts for the guys, (Fran and Bill).  We went the wrong way, but found them within two blocks the next morning.  On Friday afternoon we went on a tour to Christ the Redeemer, what a sight.  One of the 7 wonders of the world. 

Getting on the Star Princess was long but once we had our keys, three of our four bags were waiting for us in our cabin.  We are all unpacked and ready for the next 2 days at sea. Didn't go down to the computer lab last night so this is  actually  our first day at sea and we have enjoyed meeting many new friends, swimming and laying in the sun, a formal night for dinner and great show of music from the UK since the 60's.

Part 2

We had a second sea day and enjoyed a variety of activities.  Bill took part in a golf chipping competition into one of the pools.  I read and enjoyed the sun..  We both watched a ice carving demonstration, AMAZING!!  Went to a great show after dinner called Los Gauchos, part comedy and part Argentina bolo show.  Then went to a Latin Festival with all Latin style music.

On our 4th day we arrived in Montevideo, Uruguay and since we didn't have a tour until the afternoon, we went off ship and walked around an older part of the city, many roads were not for cars to drive on.  Lots of old architecture and also many rundown buildings.  We were glad we went for this walk, because in the afternoon, we took a tour of the city and it was like being in two different worlds, the old and the new more modern.   Tonight, after dinner we saw a show with the singer Jamila, who traveled with the Supremes, in the 60's.  Still had a great voice even with a throat infection!  After this we got a latte and went out to the Ultimate Deck Party for about an hour, before we called it a night, as we have an early morning arrival into Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

On Wednesday we were up early and out to the bus at 7:45, where we drove out into the country to visit a Estancia (ranch).  You could look around and see demonstrations of how the gaucho"s worked and played.  They cooked us a wonderful barbeque or asado.  The food was plentiful and very good, served with all the wine, beer or soft drinks you wanted.  We drove back in Buenos Aires to visit the Recoleta Cemetery.  The cemetery contains 6,400 diverse mausoleums  including the crypt of legendary Eva "Evita" Peron.  After we arrived back to the ship we just relaxed and enjoyed the sail away.  Buenos Aires is very much like Seattle. 

The next two days are sea days and we will also be cooling down in temperature, as been between 82 and 92, but we are heading for between 40 to 50 something.  Hope the rain stays away!!

Bill and Penny

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Photos of Nelson Cruise

Photos for the Nelson cruise, posted on 17 February 2012.
Click link for blog article:  Nelson Cruise

Monday, February 20, 2012

Revitalized Cruise Ships

While you may trade in your car every few years for a newer model, cruise lines build their ships to last for many years. Rather than trade them in, cruise lines continually refurbish and refresh their ships with new décor and new features.

One of the major refurbishment projects currently underway is Carnival Cruise Lines’ “Fun Ship 2.0” initiative. Carnival will invest more than $500 million in new dining, bar, lounge and entertainment experiences for its guests. Carnival has forged new partnerships with popular celebrities, too. George Lopez is Carnival’s new creative director for comedy and will lend his expertise to hiring comedic talent for the line’s Punchliner Comedy Clubs. Food Network personality Guy Fieri will put his unique style into Guy’s Burger Joint, a new poolside dining venue.

Celebrity Cruises has been busy “Solsticizing” its four Millennium Class ships, equipping them with some of the most popular features from its well-received Solstice Class. The “Solsticizing” process includes the addition of AquaClass, Celebrity’s spa-inspired, veranda-equipped category of accommodations. Other additions include “Qsine,” a specialty restaurant known for creative presentation of delicious food; the Celebrity iLounge, where guests can get familiar with the latest products from Apple; the Bistro on Five creperie; and Cellermasters wine bar, which has a state-of-the-art wine serving system.

Princess Cruise Line’s Sapphire Princess began a whirlwind, four-week transformation in early January. When it returns to service on February 4, it will have a new atrium with a café, wine bar and pizzeria. The Sapphire Princess is also the final Princess ship to receive a giant poolside screen for Movies Under the Stars; and The Sanctuary, a peaceful retreat that’s just for adults.

In mid-February, Royal Caribbean’s Splendour of the Seas will become the first cruise ship equipped with an iPad in every stateroom. Guests will use the tablets to access daily schedules, check their onboard accounts, order room service, view restaurant menus, access the Internet and watch movies. iPads will be added to the rest of Royal Caribbean’s Vision Class ships when they undergo revitalization during the next two years.

To find out more about sailing on any of these or other revitalized ships, talk with Anita, your Cruise Holidays personal cruise expert.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cruise Feedback: Southern Caribbean Medley, Emerald Princess

Southern Caribbean Medley Cruise Summary – Emerald  Princess
January 17-27, 2012
Ned and Carolyn Nelson

Flights to Fort Lauderdale
            We flew Continental from Seattle through Houston because we wanted to stay away from the Midwestern winter problems.  Always a good plan.

Princess Pick up and Transfer to Sheraton Ft Lauderdale
            Princess Representative was waiting in baggage claim and had us 8 passengers on the bus in 20 minutes after our baggage was in hand.  Good Job
Sheraton- Ft Lauderdale
            An older property but with a great location right on the beach and within a block of the intercostal water taxi.  The bed was very good. You have to pay $10 a night for the Internet and their food prices are really high.  All things considered, I think we will go back to the Embassy Suites next time.
Princess Transfer to Ship
            Scheduled departure time was 1200 but we actually left at 1220 because of some late cruisers.  Bus ride is 10 minutes to the ship.  Princess took care of the baggage.

            We were directed into the priority boarding line because the regular line was so long and because we used the Princess Bus. The good news is that we were through security in about a minute and headed to check in.  Princess no longer makes you check in by decks instead you are directed to the shortest line.  Again, no line.  So after waiting for the boarding picture we were in our cabin 25 minutes after the bus departed the Sheraton.  Fantastic.

Sail away and Day 1- Ft Lauderdale
            The lines at the Horizon Buffet were painfully long but we were hungry enough to put up with the bother.  The mandatory Muster Drill was very crowded and seemed a little longer than normal probably because of the recent accident in Italy.  Sailaway in Ft Lauderdale is fun because of the crowds in the Condos and  on the beach.  Weather was perfect so it was a great way to start the cruise.

Day 2  - Princess Cays
            This was our third trip to Princess Cays.  Tender service was prompt and safe.  The grounds are perfect and we found lounges easily.  The bad news is that darn sun was really hot for us folks from Seattle.  Next time we are going to rent a clamshell cover.  We wanted to shop outside the gate but you now need a passport to do your shopping over there.

Day 3 – At Sea
            Princess has added activities so there is never an excuse that there was nothing to do.   There were 4 Trivial Pursuit games every day that were all filled to capacity.   You have to get up early to get a lounge in the sun because the cruisers are still putting their books and towels on them and then going back to bed or eating.   Princess does not enforce the no saving policy.

Day 4  -  St Thomas
            We took a taxi downtown and went through the stores.  Things are painfully expensive and we think the notion that this is a bargain center is way overblown.

Day 5   - Dominica
            We always use Princess Tours.  Too many horror stories about non-cruise line tours.  Took a  Princess bus ride around the island with stops at the botanical gardens and a waterfall.  We now like the shorter tours so we can return to the ship and do things there.
Day 6- Grenada
            Another bus ride around the island.  It was interesting to see the University which is where the US Marines staged a rescue back in the 80s.

Day 7 –Bonaire
            Our tour was a Glass Bottom Boat ride which was really neat.   There are 3 separate tours during the day and they are always all sold out so we were lucky.  Great hosts who know where all the marine life is.

Day 8 – Aruba
            Tour included a Butterfly Farm, the Aloe factory and a tour of the island.  The Butterfly Farm was the most interesting thing on the cruise.  We got some great pictures of Butterflies on Carolyn’s nose.  They loved her.  Other travelers were jealous.  NOTE:  There is a great Starbucks in the Renaissance Hotel lobby which is about a long block away from the pier for those of us who care.

Day 9- At Sea
            We love days at sea.  One thing we did not do is visit the Sanctuary which is an adult only area that you have to pay $10 for a half a day or $20 for the whole day.  Next time we’ll try it..  Again, no place to lay in the sun on any deck.  The Movies Under The Stars were always packed at night too.

Day 10 – At Sea
            This is the day you panic to do all the things you postponed earlier.  Princess asks that baggage be put out as soon as you can and so on this trip it seemed to be the most organized.  There were bags in the halls starting around 3 but they never seemed to be a problem.

Day 11 Disembark in Ft Lauderdale
            Princess is trying to improve on this usually painful part of the cruise experience.  We used EZCheck which meant our bags were sent directly from our cabin  to Seattle.  Princess will not let you sleep in.  They want to make sure you are out of your cabin by 8. We left the gathering lounge 30 minutes after the meeting time and were at the airport in 30 minutes later.  They let the EZCheck passengers off before all the folks looking for their luggage.  We will do this from now on.

The Emerald Princess Ship
            Typically wonderful ship.  Everything was clean and in good shape. 
Food (Dining Room)
            Thanks to Anita and Garry we always get a table with the perfect location and wonderful tablemates.  Great wait staff. We ate all dinners in the dining room.  Food was very good. 

Food (other venues on board)
            We try to use the dining rooms for breakfast and lunch too because of the crowds and to avoid the potential for picking up some diseases.  Wait times were minimal and we enjoyed the peace and quiet.  The International Café had good food all day.

Room Service
            Breakfasts were very tasty and always served right on time.
Cabin and Cabin Care
            This is the first time we have asked for an egg crate bed mattress.  Our bed was hard as a rock but much better after the addition.  Everything worked in the room.  Our attendant Manu from Thailand was very friendly and took good care of us.

Internet Service
            We paid the $100 for 250 minutes and used every minute.  The service is really slow especially on the last day. The Internet Café was always busy so we were glad we brought out laptop which worked just fine in our room.

Cell Phone Service
            We had notified Verizon to activate International coverage .  Service was excellent and our fees ranged from $1.49 to $2.99 a MINUTE depending on where we were.  Carolyn is hiding the Verizon bills because she talked a little too much.
            Too many things to do. We spent too much time addicted to the Trivial Pursuit games with our new friends.  We were obsessed with winning against some really smart competition.  We finally won the last game and proudly picked up our prize which was the $1.99 Princess Pen.  Ah, the thrill of victory.  After our victory we were recruited by a very nice English lady who was forming her team for the following cruise.  She really only wanted Carolyn but was willing to take me too.

            Princess is now running the Theaters shows 3 times every night.  And for the first time on any of our cruises we actually could not get into two of them. The cruisers get there early and are willing to stand in long lines to make sure they get in.  Production shows were good but the comedians, the hypnotist and others were only fair.  The lounge singers were good.  The Beatle Maniacs were especially good even with huge lines.

            The SPA seemed to be especially busy on the ship.  Shops had the usual stuff which is not all bad. There are now excellent shopping areas just after you leave the piers in every port.  Prices did not seem out of line and there was good tourist stuff available.

            We skipped gambling this trip because we can’t stand the smoke. Now that there is no smoking in Princess cabins the smokers all go to the casino. There were 2 No Smoking days in the casinos but the smoke smell lingers on.

Staff and Service
            Really good all around.  Princess does not be pushing drinks as hard as they used to.  There were hardly any waiters in the theater at all.

            Very efficient at Princess Cays.

Disembark Process
            Usually one of our dreaded parts of cruising.  Princess is improving. See our notes above.

Transfer to Airport
            Took 10 minutes to fill up our bus.  Very efficient.  We are believers in Princess Transfers.  Taxi lines are very long when there are a lot of ships in port.

Ft Lauderdale Airport Departure     
            Be prepared for long lines and limited seating especially when multiple ships arrive.  There are more people sitting on the floors than at any airport we have ever seen. Not much food available in the US Air departure areas.  We are going to consider staying over a night after getting off the ship to avoid this problem.  Plus, it is a very long flight (s) back to Seattle after the stress of getting off the ship.
Insurance- Travel Guard
            Glad we didn’t have to use them;  but a necessity of cruise travel.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Currency for Your Cruise Vacation

If you plan to spend some time on shore during your next cruise, it’s a good idea to have a little cash in your pocket. There might be some small purchases that you don’t want to put on a charge card, or you may encounter shops, tour guides or local cafés that simply don’t accept charge cards. The question is, what type of currency will you need?

In the Caribbean, the islands have a patchwork of official currencies. Some islands, including St. Lucia, use the Eastern Caribbean dollar. Some use the currencies of their sovereign nationals: for example, Guadeloupe uses the euro and the U.S. Virgin Islands use the U.S. dollar. Other islands – such as Aruba, the Bahamas, Barbados, the Cayman Islands and Jamaica – use their own currencies. However, you’ll find that the U.S. dollar is widely accepted throughout the Caribbean, even when it isn’t the official currency.

Mexico has tightened its currency policies in recent years, and some tourists find that they need pesos in order to do business with local merchants. Still, because U.S. currency is accepted by many businesses in Mexico’s cruise ship ports, you may not need to exchange much, if any, cash.

In both the Caribbean and Mexico, Canadian currency is not as widely accepted as U.S. currency. Canadian travelers might consider changing some cash to U.S. dollars before leaving home, or to the local currency when you go ashore.

If you are taking a European cruise, it’s unlikely that either U.S. or Canadian currency will be accepted on shore. A majority of the countries in the European Union use the euro, and that’s what you’ll want in your wallet for stops in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, The Netherlands and Finland. However, some popular European cruise destinations – including Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom – are members of the European Union but use their own currencies.
Remember that you can change cash into the currency of your destination before you leave home; at the airport; at a bank, currency exchange or automated teller machine on shore; and sometimes on the ship itself. Be sure to ask for smaller bills, which will come in handy for tips and small purchases.

Anita, your Cruise Holidays personal cruise expert, can give you more advice on the best ways to get the currency you need for a smooth onshore experience.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cruise Ship Cleanliness is Serious Business

Since the early 1970s, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has helped the cruise industry fulfill its promise of clean, sanitary ships that minimize any risk of gastrointestinal or other communicable illness. Through the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program, every vessel that has a foreign itinerary, carries more than 12 passengers and calls on a U.S. port receives unannounced inspections twice a year. The cruise lines also work with the CDC on crew training and passenger education.

Each inspection takes about five to eight hours and covers the ship’s water supply; the filtration and disinfection of spas and pools; the storage, preparation and serving of food; employees’ hygienic practices; and the general cleanliness and physical condition of the ship. Ships receive inspection scores based on a 100-point scale. To pass, a ship must receive a score of 86 or more. A ship that does not pass inspection will be reinspected within 30 to 45 days.

The inspection process is rigorous, and the cruise lines rise to the challenge. In fact, it’s not unusual for ships to receive a perfect score of 100. Some ships that recently earned perfect scores include Disney Cruise Lines’ Disney Dream; Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Norwegian Sky, Norwegian Pearl and Norwegian Gem; Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2; and Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam and Oosterdam.

Health Canada conducts unannounced inspections on cruise ships that visit Canadian ports during its cruise season, which extends from April through October. Health Canada uses a very similar inspection and scoring system to that used by the CDC.

For more information on how cruise lines keep their ships clean and safe, talk with Anita, your Cruise Holidays personal cruise expert.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Cruise Ship Safety

In the aftermath of the Costa Concordia tragedy, the cruise industry is addressing questions about cruise ship safety and doing its best to ensure the peace of mind of cruise enthusiasts and future cruisers around the world.

What happened aboard the Concordia is extraordinarily rare, especially since the cruise industry has been hailed as the safest form of commercial transportation. Within days of the incident, Costa issued a statement saying in part, "While the investigation is ongoing, preliminary indications are that there may have been significant human error on the part of the ship’s Master, Captain Francesco Schettino, which resulted in these grave consequences." Costa has also stated, "The route of the vessel appears to have been too close to the shore, and the Captain’s judgment in handling the emergency appears to have not followed standard Costa procedures.”

Current safety regulations
The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), is the world’s largest cruise association, and its mission is to promote policies and practices that foster a safe and secure cruise environment. CLIA is composed of 26 of the world’s major cruise lines. Safety is CLIA’s number one priority with CLIA members committed to the safe operation of all cruise vessels in their fleets.

The cruise industry maintains an excellent safety record. In 1996, the U.S. Coast Guard conducted a comprehensive safety study that concluded the cruise industry is the safest form of commercial transportation.
Last year alone, over 19 million passengers enjoyed safe cruise experiences around the world.

Additionally, Michael Crye, CLIA’s executive vice president of technical and regulatory affairs, recently pointed out that from 2005 to 2011, the cruise passenger shipping industry carried nearly 100 million passengers, but only suffered 16 deaths due to marine casualties during that period of time.

The cruise industry complies with all International Maritime Organization (IMO) standards governing the operation of cruise vessels worldwide. These regulations are closely monitored by both flag and port states. These internationally mandated standards — treaties adopted by the United States government — govern the design, construction and operation of ocean-going vessels and are codified in the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention and its amendments. 

Other IMO safety standards which have been adopted internationally include: Convention on the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW), which deals with crew training as it relates to safety, The International Convention in Load Lines, and the IMO’s International Safety Management (ISM) Code, which relates to mandatory codes of practice. 

Coast Guard inspections
The cruise industry cooperates with the U.S. Coast Guard and other maritime nations to ensure the safe passage of passengers. To ensure compliance with SOLAS, the Coast Guard examines each new cruise vessel when it first enters service at a U.S. port. Thereafter, these vessels are subject to quarterly Coast Guard inspections. The examinations emphasize structural fire safety and proper life-saving equipment.  Additionally, the Coast Guard witnesses fire and abandon ship drills conducted by the ships’ crew and operational tests are made on key equipment such as steering systems, fire pumps and bilge pumps. The Coast Guard also closely examines the vessels and their operation for compliance with both international and U.S. environmental laws and regulations. The Coast Guard maintains the authority to require correction of any deficiencies before allowing a ship to take on passengers at any U.S. port. 

Where do we go from here?  
At a televised press conference during the Passenger Shipping Safety Conference, a previously scheduled event that began shortly after the Concordia sinking, the head of CLIA said her organization would call on the IMO to implement a comprehensive evaluation of the findings of the Costa Concordia investigation so that the cruise industry remains one of the safest recreational industries globally.

“While there is still a great deal not yet known about this incident, all of our members recognize the seriousness of these events and want to ensure that we apply the lessons learned from this tragic event,” said Christine Duffy, president and CEO of CLIA.

Individual cruise lines are lining up behind CLIA’s call for the comprehensive evaluation of safety regulations. Additionally, many of them are reviewing their own safety procedures. Carnival Corporation & plc, parent company of Costa Cruises and nine other lines including Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line, announced a comprehensive audit and review across all of the company’s cruise lines.
They will review all safety and emergency response policies and procedures, officer and crew training and evaluation, bridge management and company-wide response and support efforts. In addition, the company’s Health, Environment, Safety & Security Committee is engaging outside industry-leading experts in the fields of emergency response organization, training and implementation to conduct an audit of all of the company’s emergency response and safety procedures and to conduct a thorough review of the Costa Concordia accident.

Other cruise lines are also informing the public of their already stringent safety standards. For example, Royal Caribbean International released a statement along with a video that lays out its commitment to the safety of the millions of guests and crew that sail on their ships.

Historically speaking, other cruise ship tragedies have led to greater safety guidelines across the industry, on everything from the number of lifeboats aboard ships, to crew experience and discipline, to ship construction.

Travel agents have your safety and well-being in mind
One of the messages that has gone largely unspoken is the importance of utilizing a travel agent. While no travel agent could have predicted or prevented what happened aboard Concordia, travel agents are your first line of defense when travel plans go awry. Thousands of passengers stranded in Italy needed assistance in finding a way home. This included arranging hotel, airline or train tickets, or car rental. Anyone who left their passport or other travel documents behind in the chaos, or incurred water damage, faced an extra layer of complexity and inconvenience. A good travel agent would certainly move you to the top of their priority list and assist in helping you get home as quickly and as safely as possible.