What’s new to cruising: part four

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

More and more of us are taking to the water for our holiday. With this in mind, we asked  travel guide publisher Berlitz to tell us what’s new for 2013 in the world of cruising

The growth of shopping
Onboard ‘enhancement’ items – such as luggage and tote bags, bed linen, personal amenities, wooden deck lounge (steamer) chairs, coffee tables and chairs, ship posters, cruise line memorabilia and collectibles, wine glasses, chocolate, flowers, and even mattresses – can now be purchased online from the major cruise lines (examples: www.carnivalcomfortbed.com; www.shophollandamerica. com). But such online shopping usually only works if you have a US address and credit card.

The floating playgrounds
The world’s ‘largest ever’ cruise ships, Royal Caribbean International’s Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas, have redefined large resort ship cruising. With a capacity of 6,000-plus passengers, they are innovative and exciting – which means they are not quiet or relaxing. Being aboard such a floating playground can mean waiting for elevators, and disembarkation is a bit like getting out of a sports stadium at the end of a big game. After which, of course, you’ll need to locate your luggage. Midsize ships benefit from the introduction of so many large resort ships because more and more experienced cruisegoers are downsizing to avoid the big ships’ sanitized cruise experience and long lines.

Dining and service
‘Specialty’ pay-extra restaurants are fashionable, particularly aboard the large resort ships, and are ideal for escaping from huge dining halls full of noise and singing, table-dancing waiters. These are typically à la carte restaurants serving superior food. But a couple each having two glasses of palatable wine could, with the cover charge, easily end up paying $100 for dinner. Some companies (such as Royal Caribbean International) with multiple restaurants aboard some ships offer specialty dining packages. Cruise lines stuck with traditional two-seating dining are looking for ways to be more flexible. An openseating option is now available aboard most of the major lines, including Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean International – but not Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, or MSC Cruises. More ships offer flexible dining and 24-hour casual (get-your-own-food) eateries, so you can eat or snack when you want. Although the concept is good, the delivery often is not; it is typically rather soulless, self-service eating.

Security hassles
Most destinations throughout the world strive to welcome cruise ships and passengers, valuing their visits and business and helping create jobs for local communities. However, I have been hearing a large number of complaints from passengers concerning arrivals in the United States. Homeland Security officials in the US have never been noted for warmly welcoming foreign visitors at America’s airports, and their elaborate red tape has been increasingly wrapped around cruise ships. Although they seldom have a problem with ships operated locally in or from the US, they often carry out a ‘face check’ when a ‘foreign’ cruise ship arrives – that is, they want to see each passenger individually. The resulting delays, more appropriate for an immigrant vessel than a cruise ship, can shorten passengers’ time in port by as much as eight hours. In one case, the first passengers from P&O’s Arcadia were allowed off the ship in Los Angeles before 11am, but the last passengers weren’t cleared until 4:30pm. Even though all passengers had completed applications for multiple-entry ESTA visas and the ship had just come from Alaska, another US state, the officials insisted on carrying out detailed passport checks, extensive background interviews, and full biometric checks, including fingerprints of both hands and retina scans. I encountered the problem myself in Miami in 2008 when Balmoral was given a hard time by the bureaucrats. US Coast Guard and US Public Health inspections forced the company to disembark its passengers two days early, which cost the cruise line money in compensation. During one Fort Lauderdale call by Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa, an inspection of fewer than 400 passengers took more than three hours. All of this clearly costs the US both revenue and visitors because some ‘foreign’ cruise lines such as Fred Olsen, responding to passenger complaints, have decided it is no longer worth calling at American ports, and other lines are thinking of following suit. One frustration concerns the way in which regulations are interpreted in wildly different ways between ports. There’s no sign that immigration, customs, and tourism officials are getting their act together, but there must surely be a better way. After all, cruising prides itself on being hassle-free.

The 2013 Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships is now available in e-book format (£17.99), while the printed edition (704 pages) is published on 1st October (£17.99 www.insightguides.com/berlitz/berlitz-cruising). Also available now is the Berlitz Cruise Ships 2013 App (£6.99) for the iPhone and iPad which allows would-be cruise-goers to quickly search through all 284 ships according to their needs, whether for family travel, cuisine, accommodation, size of ship and many other criteria.

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