Tag Archives: Cruise Ship

A Short Poesia Cruise

I know I haven’t blogged in a long time. I have to admit I’ve concentrated most of my online time to twitter and facebook. One reason is that I prefer to blog about my personal experiences, and I simply didn’t travel much last year.

However, a couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to take a short 2-day cruise aboard MSC Poesia. If you’re saying “Aboard what?”, you’re probably not alone. When you think of cruises, MSC Cruises is definitely not the first cruise line that comes to mind. They are an Italian cruise line, mostly focused on the European market. In fact, out of their 11 ships, only MSC Poesia is deployed in this continent. It sails to the Caribbean and the Northeast and Canada (during the Fall).

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that we traveled on a travel agent incentive rate. In fact, they had a promotion on this sailing, where we cruised for free (paying taxes only) if we sold another cabin in the sailing. My parents were visiting Florida, so the 5 of us decided to go.

I had heard a lot of mixed reviews on MSC, so I wanted to see for myself. I have to say some of the comments I heard were accurate, a lot were not.

The first thing you notice when you board the ship is that it’s very elegantly furnished. The ship offers most of the basic amenities a modern ship provides, including a gym, spa, children areas, and a variety of restaurants and bars. You will also notice that since the ship caters to an international audience, announcements are made in several languages. I counted English, Spanish, Italian, German, and French. Fortunately, they don’t seem to make as many announcements as in other cruise lines.

We were assigned a balcony cabin on deck 9. The cabin was comfortable and nicely decorated. The floor to ceiling mirror made it seem even bigger. Ours was a triple, with a sofa bed for the same person (although we used a crib instead). We saw other balcony cabins that were only doubles and were smaller.

The two most common complaints I’ve heard of MSC are about food and service. Here, I have to give them mixed reviews as well. Service throughout the ship was very good, except for the housekeeping department. The crib that we requested, and were told was going to be delivered by 4:00 pm, didn’t arrive until 9:00 pm. More importantly, we needed some help on the first night (courtesy of what was probably a stomach virus our toddler caught ), and it took a while to find someone willing to help. One person said he needed to “talk with the chief”, while another said his shift was over and to find someone else. This was the only sour point, though. I talked to several waiter and bartenders that were very happy. One has been cruising with MSC for over 10 years.

When it comes to food, I know that’s one thing that usually breaks or makes the cruise. MSC has the typical cruise set up. A buffet-style restaurant open throughout the day, a couple of set-time dining venues, and a couple of premium restaurants (including a sushi bar, which we unfortunately could not try).

My biggest disappointment was with the buffet restaurant. The food is laid out cafeteria style, where you have to line up and go through the entire display to choose what you want. This made for very long lines, having to stand for over 20 minutes for breakfast or lunch. By the time you got your table, some of the food was already cold. The quality of the food was good, though, with some dishes being very good (in particular the eggplant Parmigiana!). One other complaint is that this restaurant did not serve more than a very limited menu after 8:30 pm.

Now to the main restaurants, where we had dinner both nights. MSC offers 3 menus every night: A set of favorites available every night (steak, salmon, etc.), and “American menu”, and an Italian menu. The Italian menu highlights the cuisine of a specific region each night. We enjoyed dishes from Tuscany the first night and from Piedmont on the second one. I found the food between good and very good, but generally under seasoned (nothing a little salt couldn’t fix). One area which positively surprised as was the desserts. We tried 3 each night, and they were all very good (from a lemoncello soaked cake to cheesecake and tiramisu).

One more area that got mixed reviews from us was the entertainment shows. Both shows were a mixture of dancing and acrobatics. The dancing was invariable mediocre; the acrobatics were breathtaking (you have to questions the sanity of anyone on the receiving end of a knife thrower on a moving ship).

Other than the shows, there was live music and entertainment throughout the ship. One thing I did not see is as many programed day time activities, as I’ve seen on other lines (although this may have been because we didn’t have any days at sea).

All in all, I wouldn’t hesitate to sell MSC cruises to the right client, under the right conditions (itinerary, pricing, etc.). However, I find they will need to improve in some areas if they want to compete with the likes of Celebrity and Princess.


Norwegian Sky

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend the weekend aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Sky. I would like to share my impression of the trip. I have sold NCL cruises before, of course, but until a couple of years ago, only on request. I used to get very inconsistent feedback from clients, in terms of service, quality of the food, etc. Consequently, I only sold them by request.

NCL Sky from Great Stirrup Cay

That started to change a couple of years ago with the launch of their Freestyle 2.0 initiative, as well as the launch of their newer ships, like the Gem, Jewel, etc. I started to get more requests for these ships, and NCL in general, and clients usually came back very satisfied.

I can’t really compare my cruise on the Sky with my previous cruises, though. This is the oldest and smallest ship I’ve cruised on, and it was the shortest itinerary as well (other than pre-inaugurals). Nothing wrong with that, but you can’t compare the Sky with Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas (not to mention the Oasis) or Celebrity’s Solstice.

Here are some of my impressions on the ship:

Passengers were a mixed of young couples (incidentally, I hadn’t see so many tattoos since I accidentally went to Daytona during Bike Week), a couple of large family groups, some ladies groups traveling together, and your assorted 40 to 50-something couple, international tourists (mostly Argentinian and Brazilian, from what I could hear), small families, etc. People were well behaved, we didn’t see any public drunkenness or any loud or obnoxious behavior.

The ship is very nice in some areas, but the decor is not as polished in others, in my opinion. I liked the decor of the Crossings restaurant, not so much the Palace restaurant, but that’s just a matter of taste. The age of the ship is more apparent in areas that don’t seem to have been renovated, like the public restrooms, for example.
In general, common areas seem well maintained and very nice. However, once you start looking at the details, some parts show their wear.

The pool area was as popular as ever, but with no days at sea, it wasn’t difficult to find a chair.

We had a balcony cabin, which I think was smaller than the other ones we’ve been on (not surprised by this, though). It had the usual furniture, including a small couch and small TV (no flat screens yet).The ship only does 3 and 4 day itineraries (from Miami to the Bahamas), so storage space was sufficient for what we brought. Norwegian’s Freestyle Dining program helps with the packing as well, since there are no formal nights (so no suits are needed). One design flaw that bothered me is that the reading lights behind the bed are too low, so you either have to out a pillow against them or risk a bump in the head!

Balcony Cabin

The balcony has railings rather than a glass panel, which may be a consideration if you’re traveling with children.

Food was OK. Nothing spectacular, but nothing inedible either. We gave it a 6 or 7 out of 10 on average

We had lunch and breakfast at the buffet, which was OK quality and what was expected for a buffet. The food serving area is small and can get cramped, but they have another line in the adjacent outside restaurant. Tables are hard to come by during breakfast, but you can also take your food to the sports bar across the hall, and servers would proactively show people the way to ensure everyone was seated as quickly as possible.

Palace Restaurant

We had 2 dinners at the Crossings main restaurant. The food was pretty good, except for one dish of tortellini with cream sauce, which was too “floury”. Otherwise, the flavors were good, and service was attentive and friendly. We went after 8pm both nights and were seated immediately. I never saw a wait for the main restaurants, and the screens on several common areas alert guests of how full all the dining venues are. Premium restaurants filled up quickly, especially in the first and last nights, so plan accordingly.
The third night we had dinner at the sports bar, which serves “comfort food”, like chicken fingers, etc. We had the fish and chips, which was pretty decent. Fries come straight out of the main buffet line, so they are thin, not the thicker ones you usually get with fish and chips
The only noteworthy thing about the buffet is they always have vegetarian selections (so do the other restaurants), and they have a crepe station (so so) and an ice cream and chocolate fountain station (no way you can screw that up!)

Perhaps the low point of the cruise was the shows. We went to the musical review the first night and left halfway through. The other 2 were scheduled at 8:30, which is while we were having dinner, so we didn’t go to them. There was only 1 show scheduled per night, plus the usual karaoke, newlywed game, etc.
One weird thing about the ship’s layout is the disco is an open space on deck 6, between the atrium and the theater. I don’t know how they control access to those over 18 only (after 11pm), as we left before 11. One nice thing is they had latin music earlier for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, and we had a good time there.

If I have to complain about something, it was the lack of attention to detail in some areas. Nothing that would ruin your vacation, but things I would not have expected to see, like:

  • Paint splattered on the balcony railing that could have easily been cleaned
  • A wine order that was not taken until we had the salads served and wine that arrived when we were already having the main course
  • A napkin on a bread basket in the main restaurant that had ketchup on it. It was in plain view and wouldn’t have taken any time or effort to change it for a clean one.
  • One thing that did bother me was the remote control was not just dirty, but really filthy. I had to ask then to exchange it, and the steward kept insisting it wasn’t dirty. I had to tell him it didn’t work for him to bring another one. No reason to have something that everybody touches be that dirty.

All in all it was a good experience and I’d do it again with the right mindset. I have posted more pictures on our facebook page. Please visit and become a fan.

If you guys have any questions, shoot away!

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

Welcome to Azamara Club Cruises

This week Azamara Cruises issued a press release with very exciting news. They are changing their name to Azamara Club Cruises and introducing a series of branding attributes that will help it define itself better and target themselves appropriately.

If you haven’t heard of Azamara before, it’s because they’re not a very large cruise line. It only has 2 ships, Azamara Quest and Azamara Journey. They are not new ships or large ships. They both carry just under 700 passengers. Azamara is owned by Royal Caribbean , but you won’t find rock climbing walls, zip lines, or neighborhoods on board. Instead, you will find a more sophisticated environment, stressing the service, food, and the destinations themselves. Instead of competing with the likes of Royal Caribbean and Carnival, they are on par with Oceania.

The line’s rebranding focuses on 4 aspects:

  • Customer service: Including English trained butlers for suite guests.
  • Food and wine: With expanded wine selection from boutique wineries not widely available. Wines are included with lunch and dinner
  • Wellness and vigor: Azamara will continue to provide standard spa services, but will also have acupuncture, yoga, Pilates, and other immersion programs available.
  • Destination immersion: Perhaps the most important of all, Azamara ships will visit 140 ports in 50 different countries in 2010. That gives passengers an amazing range of vacations.

These are all things they’ve always done very well. Their intention is to now take them to a different, exceptional, level.

To me, what makes Azamara different, is the focus on the destinations it will visit. My biggest problem with cruises is that they don’t really allow you to explore a destinations, just merely get a glance. This is fine for a Caribbean cruise, where islands are small and the focus is usually on the beach. It’s not so when you’re visiting far away lands with enough history and attractions to last a week’s visit or more. Here Azamara will also be different. They will schedule overnight stays in several ports, like Istanbul, Sorrento, St. Petersburg, Bangkok, Singapore, etc.

They will provide exciting shore excursions not usually available through most cruise lines. Some of the ones mentioned include driving a Ferrari in Civitavecchia (the port for Rome), an evening gondola serenade in Venice, an Imperial Russian Court evening in St. Petersburg, etc. They will also feature 2-day packages that will allow passengers to go from Hiroshima to Osaka on a bullet train, visit the Taj Mahal, overnight tours in Israel, etc.

The line also offers a few things that are usually extras: bottled water, specialty coffees and teas, gratuities included in the cruise fare, destination-oriented entertainment and enrichment programs, self service laundry, etc.

All this, of course, comes at a price. Don’t expect to pay the same for a Norwegian cruise than for an Azamara Club sailing. They’ve always had terrific offers, with free air (like this one for Caribbean sailings through March), and 2 for 1 cruise fare on selected sailings. That may change as they adjust their pricing to the new offerings. In fact, prices are already going up.

If you’re interested in exploring what Azamara has to offer, feel free to contact us. We’ll 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

Cruises Offer More Dining Options

main_dining_hero

Celebrity Cruises just announced the introduction of Celebrity Select Dining. This new option allows passengers to dine in the ship’s main restaurant, but not have a preassigned dining time, as is the traditional dinner schedule. Instead, guests can select to dine at any time between 6:00 and 9:30 pm., and even make reservations online up to 4 days before the cruise.

The program is being rolled out sequentially to all Celebrity ships (except for Celebrity Xpedition), starting with the Equinox on the September 26th sailing. It will be completed by February. Reservations will be on a first come, first served basis, and for passengers who elect to participate, gratuities will be automatically charged to the on board account.

It used to be that cruise lines offered 2 set times to dine in the main restaurants. You chose between early and late dining, and were stuck with that choice for the duration of the cruise. If you wanted to have dinner at a different time, you had to go to one of the alternate restaurants. In the last few years, however, starting with Norwegian Cruise Lines, the option to have dinner in the main restaurant (or one of them, at least), has been introduced by several lines. The following is a summary of the offerings:

  • Norwegian Cruise Lines: They were the pioneers of the flexible options with their Freestyle Dining. You’ve surely seen the commercials; do whatever you want, whenever you want. Norwegian has done away with the set dining times altogether, and bases dining service on offering different menus in different restaurants. Their newer ships, like the Jewel and the Gem, have even been designed with the Freestyle philosophy in mind. NCL ships offer smaller restaurants, with up to 13 different restaurants on board.
  • Carnival: The Fun Ships don’t currently offer a flexible option. It’s either early, late, or one of the other restaurants.
  • Royal Caribbean: Their “My Time” dining allows passengers to have dinner at any time in the main restaurants. It’s very similar to Celebrity’s Select Dining, which is likely based on My Time. In addition, Royal Caribbean offers “Family My Time” dining. This program is targeted to families with younger children. Appetizers are served immediately, and the children’s dinner is finished in 40 minutes.  They are then taken to evening activities with Adventure Ocean counselors, while the adults continue the meal at a more leisurely pace.
  • Princess Cruises: Their anytime dining allows passengers to dine at the main restaurant between 5:30 and 10:00 pm. Some ships have dedicated Anytime Dining restaurants, separate from the traditional dining restaurants, but providing the same menu and service.
  • Holland America: Provides an open schedule in its main dining room, as part of their As You Wish Dining program.
  • Cunard: Guests can dine any time between 7 and 9 pm, but some restaurants offer either early or late dining only.

Any way you look at it, dining is one of the prime attractions of a cruise, and a very important part of the cruising experience for most passengers. If you’ve been on a cruise, you understand why. If you have not, I invite you to experience it. Just contact us and we’ll plan the perfect cruise 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

Go Behind the Fun with Carnival

Carnival Cruise Lines has just introduced a “behind the scenes” tour that takes guests to areas that are usually off limits.  The tour, called “Behind the Fun”, is currently available on the Carnival Valor and Carnival Conquest only, and will be extended to all ships with sailings of 7 days or longer by September.

Carnival Valor

Carnival Valor

Ship tours themselves are nothing new. Most cruise lines offer tours of the theatre backstage area and the main galley. Carnival’s tour will also include crew areas, such as their gym, galley, dining room, and training center, as well as the ships’ laundry rooms and galley. The biggest draw, however, are bound to be the engine room and the bridge.

The tour is also unique in that it will let guests interact directly with several officers, including the captain, chief engineer, chef de cuisine, and other department heads. Since groups are limited to 16 guests per tour, they afford a great opportunity to interact with them in a more intimate setting. Guests also receive souvenirs from the tour, including a picture with the captain on the bridge.

The three and a half hour tour costs $95 per person and can be booked through the ship’s excursion desk.

There are currently great prices for cruises into the Fall and Winter, so there’s no better time to go on a cruise and experience this tour. Prices are as low as $489 per person + taxes. Feel free to contact us for details and to book your next vacation.

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

Free Soda on a Cruise?

Most people know a cruise is far from All Inclusive. Even though your meals and even most of the entertainment is included, there’s now more “opportunities” to spend money aboard: specialty restaurants, specialty coffee, gambling, spinning, ice cream, and of course, drinks.

One item that hits families especially hard sometimes is sodas. This sometimes surprises first time cruises, who expect alcoholic drinks not to be included, but don’t know they’ll have to charge their Cokes to the onboard account. Most cruise lines offer All You Can Drink Soda Cards on the first day of the cruise. For a fee that starts at about $30 for a 7-day cruise, you get a special cup and a sticker on your cruise card that allows you to get unlimited sodas at any of the restaurants or bars aboard the ship.

Now USA Today is reporting that Norwegian Cruise Lines has teamed with Pepsi to offer free sodas aboard NCL cruises booked before October 15th, and sailing through 2010. The promotion applies to sailings 7-days or longer for up to 2 people per cabin.

Norwegian Gem

Norwegian Gem

What’s the catch? This is a promotional rate, not a product, so it has to be booked when you reserve the cruise, not when you board the ship. It’s not combinable with other special rates, so don’t assume you’re getting the best deal. Other rates may be low enough that it’s not worth it to get the free Pepsi. Also, since the promotion is limited to 2 people per cabin, families with children sailing in triple or quad cabins may not get the full advantage of the promotion.

If you’d like to take advantage of Norwegian’s offer, such as this Transatlantic cruise, this 14-day Southern Caribbean cruise, which visits ports you usually don’t get to from Miami, or this extended Mexican Riviera cruise, please let us know. We’ll look for the best option and let you know what your best bet is.

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

Repositioning Cruises

If you’re looking for very good deals for a cruise, you’ll often be told to look for a repositioning cruise. So, what is a repositioning cruise? As the cruising seasons change, cruise lines need to relocate (or reposition) their ships where demand is stronger and where they can command better prices. Other factors that play into moving ships around like this are weather patterns (like the Atlantic/Caribbean hurricane season) and the need to provide repeat cruisers with new itineraries in different regions or ports.

The two most common types of repositioning cruises are:

  1. Transatlantic cruises: Ships leave the Caribbean for Europe in the Spring and return from the Old World in the Fall. This also coincides with the hurricane season for the Caribbean routes, and this is when cruise lines keep the fewest ships in the area (most likely for financial reasons than climatic ones, though).
  2. Transcanal cruises: Cruise lines often advertise Panama Canal cruises of around 10 days leaving and coming back to Florida. In reality, these sailings enter the canal, reach Gatun Lake, turn around, and come back to Florida. However, as the Alaska sailing season begins in May, and again when it ends in September and October, ships make a full transit of the canal as they move from one coast to the other.

Other repositioning cruises are made when ships come back from South America to the Caribbean, from Alaska or the West Coast to Asia or Australia, etc.

So, how good are the deals for these cruises? Sometimes they’re really good. Back in April, I have clients who traveled on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas from Fort Lauderdale to the UK, and paid $700 per person for a 13-day cruise, and sailed on Balcony cabins! Granted, this was an extremely good deal, but not really unheard of. This one for Celebrity Century’s trip back in November comes close.

The main drawback of repositioning cruises is usually the airfare. By definition, you need to purchase one-way tickets, which especially for international flights, tend to be expensive. However, I just came across one offer from Royal Caribbean that solves this problem. They are moving the Enchantment of the Seas from Fort Lauderdale and Colon, Panama. They have also chartered flights to return passengers back to Miami. This allows them to offer much better prices and lock the air fares as well:

RCCL Enchantment Repositioning

As you can see in the flier above, prices for this 8 day sailing start at $749 per person, including the flight back! This is less than $100 per person per night, for a cruise that goes all the way South to Cartagena, and includes the flight back to Miami. It’s really pricing that you don’t see very often. Of course, the also offer cruise only pricing for those who want to stay in Panama longer, or who want to fly back directly.

If you would like to know more about repositioning cruises, or want to look into booking this sailing of the Enchantment, please let me know.
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