Monthly Archives: March 2009

Carnival Reports Higher Profits

Last month, I wrote about Royal Caribbean’s drop in profits compared to last year.  Last week, it was archrival Carnival Corp.’s time to report earnings. In contrast to Royal Caribbean’s report, Carnival’s profits actually rose from the same period last year. Earnings per share rose by 10%. A closer look at the numbers, though, reveals that the increase is likely due to a reduction in costs, as revenue actually fell.  This is due to the dramatic price reductions we’ve seen due to the economy. As Carnival’s CEO Micky Arison put it: “We’ve had very strong volume against very lousy rates.”

Of course, the drop in rates is very good news for travelers, if not for the cruise lines. Take for example the prices on Carnival Freedom’s upcoming cruises:

Carnival Freedom Offers

When you think of Carnival, though, keep in mind the company not only owns the “Fun Ships”. They own such varied brands as the venerable Cunard, the classic Holland America, Princess Cruise Lines, and the Yachts of Seabourn, among other brands. This range attracts a very diversified customer base, and it allows their customers to “mature” from one line to another. A first time passenger on Carnival may want to try Princess for a different atmosphere, or may move to Holland America or Cunard as they get older and more affluent.

In short, if you want a cruise, it’s likely one of Carnival’s brands will have what you’re looking for. They offer different experiences and are targeted to different audiences. If you’re thinking about a cruise, please let us help you find the right one for you.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Starwood Hotels to Celebrate Earth Hour

Starwood Hotels, the company that represents such brands as Sheraton, Westin, Le Meridien, and the new Element and Aloft, has announced that their properties will participate in this weekend’s Earth Hour. For one hour, the hotels will turn off their signs, dimming or turning off non-essential interior lighting, using candlelight in public areas such as restaurants and bars, and informing guests about the hotel’s observation of Earth Hour through in-room voicemail messages and guest room television messages to encourage them to do the same.

In addition, hotels are coordinating additional events to highlight awareness, such as walk-a-thons in their local communities, public candlelight unplugged concerts, and guest receptions featuring signature green cocktails.

According to their press release, Starwood is rolling out initiatives to conserve energy and water, reduce waste, and improve environmental quality at their properties. I couldn’t find specific details on these initiatives, but their corporate environmental policy, which reads:

We, at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., believe that economic growth and the well-being of society are inextricably tied to the health of the environment. Accordingly, we embrace our responsibility for environmental stewardship and are committed to integrating leading environmental practices and sustainability principles into our core business strategy.

Through collaboration with our hotel owners, franchisees, suppliers and business partners, we will actively work to reduce the environmental impact of our business activities and to continually improve and innovate on practices aimed at:

  • conserving natural resources,
  • minimizing waste and pollution,
  • enhancing indoor environmental quality,
  • establishing and reporting on key environmental performance indicators, and
  • raising environmental awareness among our associates, guests and communities.

We acknowledge that, in many ways, we, like the global community we serve, are only in the early stages of developing and implementing the many changes that will be necessary to achieve these vital goals. Nonetheless, we strongly believe that our efforts to support a healthy environment serve the interests of both current and future generations and constitute the foundation for enduring success.

As part of that corporate policy, Starwood is proud that have launched Element, the first major hotel brand to mandate that all hotels in the US (there’s currently 4 of them) pursue the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification.
I think what Starwood is doing is commendable, and I hope the Earth Hour initiative is just a sign of their efforts to become more environmentally friendly.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Royal Caribbean Improves Family and Youth Programs

Royal Caribbean is widely regarded as a family-oriented cruise line. It’s advertising strategies, both the recent Get Out There, and the current Nation of Why Not, place a strong emphasis on the active lifestyle that drives teens and young families to their ships.

Now the cruise has set itself to improve on their programs for families and young passengers. One of the few turn offs or challenges for parents who take young children on a cruise is to get them to sit through a lengthy dinner. Until now, the options have been to try to have children behave through a meal that lasts longer than an hour, or resign oneself to eat at the buffet every night. My Family Time Dining changes hat by aiming to help kids complete dinner within 45 minutes, freeing parents to enjoy coffee and desert at their leisure. Once seated, kids will get expedited service and will be immediately served. My Family Time Dining will only be available during the first seating in the main dining room, for kids registered in the complimentary Adventure Ocean youth program. After dinner, children will be met by Adventure Ocean counselors and escorted back to the Adventure Ocean spaces for ongoing evening activities. In addition, Royal Caribbean has a new children’s menu with healthier options that will be presented on brain-teasing placemats designed by Fisher-Price for kids up to age 7 and a more mature interactive menu for kids age 8 to 13. My Family Time Dining and children’s menu options will be available fleetwide in July.

H2O Zone Children's Pool on Freedom of the Seas

H2O Zone Children's Pool on Freedom of the Seas

Royal Caribbean is also offering new programs for babies 6 to 18 months old, and 18 to 36 months, with more activities and services. They will also allow parents to pre-order organic baby food, diapers, creams,. etc. through their website for delivery to their stateroom.

For active families, Royal Caribbean is dedicating its jogging tracks to parents with strollers (in the mornings). For more artsy children, there will be 45-minute sessions at Adventure Ocean oriented towards creating works of art using Crayola products. Another option for young children is the Adventure Family Library section within the onboard library. The section offers classic and popular family titles in a variety of languages, based on the ship’s itinerary, and a comfortable reading area for kids. In the evenings, Royal Bedtime Stories invites the family for a bedtime story and lullabies. Children are encouraged to dress in their pajamas and enjoy a cookie or two with milk, while an Adventure Ocean counselor reads a storybook.

The line also is extending hours in the Adventure Ocean and teen-only spaces. Scheduled programming will now run everyday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. (extended from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m.) .

You will be able to enjoy these activities on any of Royal Caribbean’s ships. However, the most populars for families remain the Freedom class (Freedom, Liberty, and Independence of the Seas) and the new and even larger Oasis of the Seas.

If you would like to explore what Royal Caribbean can offer you and your family, please contact us.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Costa Rica Named Natural Biogem

Costa Rica’s tourism slogan is “No Artificial Ingredients“. Indeed, the country pays special attention to its rich natural resources. In a country smaller than West Virginia, you can enjoy beautiful beaches, see active volcanoes, do whitewater rafting, tour the cloudforest, practice deep sea fishing, and many other things. Of course, throughout the country you will come close to the flora and fauna that make the country proud. Animals you may see include toucans, parrots, and some of the other 850 species of birds, monkeys, sloths, alligators, etc.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an organization dedicated to protecting wildlife and wild places, has now named Costa Rica as the first country to receive its Natural Biogem Award. The country was honored for its commitment to protecting the more than the 500,000 species of flora and fauna which inhabit the country and for its goal to become the first carbon neutral country by 2021.

Costa Rica’s commitment to the environment is evident when you see that it declared 25% of its territory as environmentally protected areas, back in 1979. It has over 28 national parks, reserves, and national refuges, including Manuel Antonio National Park, perhaps one of the most visited ones.

Beach at Manuel Antonio National Park

Beach at Manuel Antonio National Park

Because of all this, the country has become a very popular tourist destination. There is literally something for everyone: from just enjoying the beach, all the way to extreme sports like bungee jumping and the always popular canopy trails. Accommodations range from hostels to 5 star hotels like the Four Seasons in Papagayo and the all-inclusive Paradisus Playa Conchal.

Canopy at Turubari

Canopy at Turubari

Most first time visitors take at least a week to visit 2 or 3 places. A typical itinerary would include:

  • Arrival into San Jose, and possibly overnight in San Jose, depending on flight arrival times
  • Visit to Poas Volcano and travel to the Arenal volcano area, at Hotel Montana de Fuego or Tabacon Resort
  • Stay in the Arenal area for 1 or 2 days, then go to Monteverde Cloudforest
  • Spend a couple of nights in Monteverde, then go to Guanacaste or Manuel Antonio, where Si Como No is one of the best hotels
  • Spend 2 or 3 nights enjoying the beaches and activities in the area
Poas Volcano

Poas Volcano

Of course, the itinerary can be customized to whatever you prefer to do, and will also depend on the time of year. For example, there are times where getting to Monteverde can get complicated…

I’ve visited Costa Rica many times, and every time I see something new. There’s no shortage of places to go and things to see, on and off the beaten path.

If you want help in creating your own Costa Rica itinerary, please contact us.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Spirit Adds More Fees

It seems like with the airlines, it’s always one step forward, two steps back. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about US Airlines eliminating charges for beverages. On the opposite side of news, Spirit Airlines announced a new fee last week. We’re used to Spirit and other airlines trying to charge us for whatever they can, but sometimes they go too far, in my opinion.

The newest charge instituted by Spirit was reported last week by the Sun Sentinel. If you look at Spirit’s press releases, you won’t find it there. So what is this new fee? They call it a “Passenger Usage Fee”, and it is $4.90 per flight (almost $10 on a simple round trip). Usage of what, you may ask? Well, using their website to book a flight on their planes! So now, you have to pay for the privilege of helping the airline make money and sell you a ticket. According the website, the fee is:

Passenger Usage Fee of $4.90 per traveling customer per one way travel applies to all reservations with the exception of those bookings created directly at Spirit Airlines’ airport locations. All fares are subject to change until confirmed and purchased.

So when you try to purchase by phone, you also pay that fee, in addition to whatever they are charging you to speak to someone. I called Spirit to compare prices, and the agent in India told me that he could offer me a better rate than the website (even though the recording I listened for 5 minuted said the opposite). He also told me that if I went to the website, I’d pay between $10 to $50 more than what he was offering me, and that there were no fees for booking over the phone.

I know he was just trying to make the sale, but he shouldn’t have to do it by misleading potential customers. Just to hear his reaction, I checked on the website the flights he was offering me for $239 per person, and the same flights cost $229 if purchased online. His tone quickly changed and told me to purchase it online but to hurry up because the price may no longer be available if I take too long.

I wish that Spirit and other airlines would stop with the misleading advertising, and the lowballing of prices. If it costs $250 to fly from one place to another, say so. Don’t advertise the flights for $50 and then tack on a million fees. On the Spirit flights I was looking at, taxes and fees were 30% of the total cost. The sad thing is, that’s not even close to the worse I’ve seen. On some international flights (especially those amazing fares to Europe you see advertised), fees can add up to more than 100% of the original fare. How is that allowed? Good question for our legislators…

In the meantime, you have no choice but to look closely at what you’re being charged for, and especially what you’re going to be charged for after you purchase the ticket (checking bags? Want a blanket?). Or, you can call your travel agent, who will do that homework for you and give you the best options overall.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Hotel Rooms for Women Only

Perhaps the latest trend in the lodging industry is providing rooms, and indeed whole floors, spcifically designed for women. MSNBC reported on this last week. The idea behind women-only floors is of course, security. Women traveling alone can easily recognize if someone is out of place. Most of these floors will have added security, like key-card access restrictions and a female-only staff.

Rooms that cater to women provide added amenities, such as curling irons, bath salts, a vanity kit, yoga mats, and women-oriented magazines. There’s a stool at the sink and special lighting for applying makeup. Usually, there’s no additional cost for these rooms.  Some of the hotels that offer women-oriented rooms are the Premier Hotel in New York, a Millennium hotel, and Crowne Plaza hotels in Washington, DC, and Bloomington, MN. There are hotels that have similar services in one form or another in India, Singapore, and Switzerland.

An extension of women-only hotel rooms is women-only vacations. Companies like Gutsy Women Travel do just that. They offer unique, small group tours oriented to women. They cover the world and have different types of tours: Adventure and nature, cultural, shopping, dining and cooking, etc.

If you’d like to explore these options, or perhaps get a group of friends together for a trip, I will be happy to help you.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Norwegian Cruise Lines Welcomes You Aboard

I have to admit Norwegian Cruise Lines has never been among my favorites cruise lines. It seems that for every good experience someone has aboard an NCL ship, there’s a negative one. However, they seem to be improving. Feedback I’ve received from clients in the last year has been much more weighted to the positive side of the balance. This does not come through coincidence. Norwegian has been working on improving its service and the overall quality of its product for the last year or so.

Norwegian’s difference from most other cruise lines is its emphasis on doing whatever you want whenever you want. They call it Freestyle Cruising. The most obvious place where you experience Freestyle is the dining rooms. Your are not tied to having dinner at a specific time, or in a specific restaurant, as you are with most lines. You can choose among several options, some of which incur an additional cost. Feedback from recent clients suggests that it’s worth it to pay for the premium restaurants, as the food is much better.

Norwegian’s improvements have focued on making Freestyle better. They call it Freestyle 2.0. The main points are:

  • As you board the ship, you receive a complimentary glass of champagne
  • Upgraded bath and body products
  • Fresh fruits delivered to your stateroom daily
  • Expanded kid’s crew hours
  • Twice weekly lobster in the main restaurants
  • Upgraded mattresses, linens, and pillows
  • Seaday Jazz Brunch

Now Norwegian has added a Welcome Aboard cruise guide. The 21-page booklet includes information on the itinerary, stateroom, deck plans, advice  on what to pack, and cruise information in general. It also includes personalized luggage tags. This booklet reverts the decision Norwegian made a couple of years ago to issue only electronic documents that had to be printed at home. It obviously makes cruisers feel better about who they are traveling with and anticipate the cruise more eagerly.

If that’s not enough, Norwegian also released a press release last week announcing that customers who purchase the now improved travel protection plan when they book their cruise, will be eligible for a full refund (minus the cost of the policy) if they have to cancel because of a job loss.

If you want to take advantage of their offers, I’ll be happy to find the right cruise for you. Their current promotion is below:

NCL Freestyle Promotion

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171