Category Archives: Cruise Ship

Revisiting Greenland

Picking pix for upcoming presentation on South Greenland.

changesinlatitude-logoMy husband and I visited South Greenland a few months ago on the ‘Sea Spirit,’ a small expedition ship. On Wednesday, I’m giving a presentation on Greenland at Boulder’s Changes in Latitude, a wonderful Boulder travel store. Preparation prompted a run though our images. Take a glance at one or two from each stop:

Boardi8ng the 'Sea Spirit' at the pier in downtown Reykjvik. There followed two days at crossing the Greenland Sea and the Stait of Denmark
Boarding the ‘Sea Spirit’ at the pier in downtown Reykjavik. There followed two days crossing the Greenland Sea and the Strait of Denmark
Cape Farewell, southern tip of Greenland.
Cape Farewell, southern tip of Greenland.
Locals in Nanortolik at the dock to welcome us -- the first sea visitors of the 2016 season.
Locals in Nanortolik at the dock to welcome us — the first sea visitors of the 2016 season.

Continue reading Revisiting Greenland

Cruise Lines’ Broken Promises

Caribbean islands expected that money would flow into local economies.

TouristI am no fan of cruises — and the bigger the ship, the less I like them. Pictures of floating behemoths towering over local landmarks and landscapes make my stomach churn. The opposite aspect of tourism, especially in developing countries, is eco-tourism, cultural tourism and voluntourism.

The 'Oasis of the Seas,' currently the world's largest cruise ship, carries more than 6,000 passengers -- most of whom have no real interaction with the places and people they visit.
The ‘Oasis of the Seas,’ currently the world’s largest cruise ship, carries more than 6,000 passengers — most of whom have no real interaction with the places and people they visit.

A dispiriting Associated Press report” “World’s biggest cruise ships drop anchor in Caribbean, but ship-to-shore feud brews over cash,” starts with the observation that “tourists emerge by the hundreds from a towering, 16-deck megaship docked at the Caribbean’s newest cruise port. They squint in the glare of the Jamaican sun, peer curiously at a gaggle of locals beyond a wrought-iron fence and then roar out of town on a procession of air-conditioned tour buses.

“Few stop to buy T-shirts, wooden figurines or beach towels from the dozens of merchants lining the road outside the fence, or visit the colonial-era buildings that dot the town. Not many even venture beyond the terminal’s gates, unless it’s in one of the buses that whisk them past increasingly disgruntled vendors and taxi drivers.”

And the report continues along that vein. Bottom line is that these megaships exemplify everything that is wrong with a big part of the tourism industry: superficial visits often to private islands or fenced-in areas available only to passengers, the failure of trickle-down dollars into the local economy, visitors’ isolation from the place they are visiting. Read the piece and weep. At least that’s what I did.

Ocean Conservancy Plea to Cruise Lines

A change in course can protect whale sharks.

OceanConservancy-logoWe all get lots of solicitations on behalf of good causes. A recent one from The Ocean Conservancy tugged at my heart and is relevant to cruise aficionados, especially those who travel on Royal Caribbean or Carnival ships along the Mexican coast. Here it is:

The largest fish in the ocean is one of the most majestic, too: the whale shark. These gentle giants are also in danger.

Right now, there’s a very simple way to protect them, and you can help. Off the coast of Mexico, thousands of whale sharks gather to feed and mate every year. Unfortunately, there are two cruise ship companies whose cruises currently travel through this important area where whale sharks congregate in large numbers and swim slowly at the surface of the water.

The beauty of this area is bringing more and more visitors each year, and unfortunately, they are having some negative effects on the whale sharks. There is an easy step to be taken in protecting whale sharks in this region, and we hope you’ll take just a moment to let Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruises know how important it is to you that they adjust their course by 7 miles to protect these magnificent animals.

Whale sharks can reach over 40 feet in length, and they swim slowly while close to the surface with their mouths open to eat their staple food source, plankton. This makes them particularly vulnerable to ship strikes, which is why it’s so important to adjust cruise ship routes to protect them.

Ships are currently required by Mexican law to go at least 3 miles east of Isla Contoy, but just 4 additional miles would keep the ships from passing through this critical whale shark area and prevent possible negative interactions with these incredible creatures.

Just 7 miles can save whale sharks. Please encourage Carnival and Royal Caribbean to help make a difference for whale sharks.

Rockets Land on German Cruise Ship

No damage but big scare for passengers.

"AIDAdiva" with her colorful hull.
“AIDAdiva” with her colorful hull.

As if norovirus, pirates off the Horn of Africa and the occasional grandstanding captain weren’t enough, cruise ships being in the wrong place at the wrong could be recipients of unwelcome rocket fire in the eastern Mediterranean That reportedly happened to the “AIDAdiva,” a cruise ship carrying German passengers [that] was under rocket fire attack when leaving Ashod, Israel’s largest port.

According to a report in ETN Travel News, “It is unclear if the rockets were those from the Israel Defense Force or from Hamas, the radical Palestinian organization currently firing dozens of rockets at cities in Israel. When the cruise ship left Ashod, sirens were sounding in Ashod and other Israeli cities warning of attacks by the radical Palestinian Hamas organization…Rocket parts landed on the cruise ship. Fortunately the rockets exploded  before hitting the vessel deck. No casualties or significant damages to the cruise ship have been reported.

“The ship is currently on its way to the next port of Crete in Greece. It should reach Crete on Wednesday morning.. A Statement released by “AIDAdiva” voices its regret. The cruise liner said no travel alert was issued by German authorities prior to them sailing to Israel. After the incident, German authorities issued an alert.”

Certainly makes for a memorable vacation, and not in a good way.

RCCL Halts ‘Allure of the Seas’ Sailing

Super-sized  cruise ship out of service while propulsion problems are addressed

RoyalCaribbean-logoWhen Royal Caribbean announced its “Allure of the Seas” back in 2009, it boasted not only about its size (6,000+/- passenger, crew of 2,000, amenities aplenty). Along with its sister ship, the “Oasis of the Seas,” it ist the largest cruise ship on the planet. “Propulsion problems” became apparent last month and kept the behemoth from attaining full speed, meaning shorter port calls, disgruntled passengers and unhappy vendors in the eastern Caribbean.

The line has now canceled the February 23 sailing. The “Allure” will operate through the Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year and MLK holiday, before putting in at a shipyard in the Bahamas, missing Presidents; Weekend. Pod propulsion systems are considered more efficient than conventional propulsion systems but are difficult to repair at sea.

Royal Caribbean's "Allure of the Seas," is the world's largest cruise ship.
Royal Caribbean’s “Allure of the Seas” is the world’s largest cruise ship. (Royal Caiibean photo)

 

The diagnosis was mechanical issue, with problems in one of the  three “propulsion pods.”” Bearings, the line said, were experiencing  “unanticipated wear.” Maneuverability was said to have been unaffected. This is not an isolated problem. Celebrity Cruises’ 2,138-passenger “Celebrity Millennium had its own pod issue that resulted in the cancellation of several voyages.

Authorities Poised to Ban Cruise Ships from Grand Canal

One tourist death & one near-miss will hopefully change laws

"La Divina," a 4,500-passemger behemoth named in honor of Sophia Loren, is the largest ship to call on Venice. The No Big Ships in Venice Committee calls her "the menace to Venice."
“La Divina,” a 4,500-passemger behemoth named in honor of Sophia Loren, is the largest ship to call on Venice. The No Big Ships in Venice Committee calls her “the menace to Venice.”

Four of us, celebrating two landmark anniversaries, are heading for Italy at the end of this month (my husband’s and my 20th and our brother- and sister-in-law’s 25th). Our first stop will be Venice. A lifetime ago, I visited La Serena three times — once each in fall, winter and spring, so never in summer’s peak tourist season and before the cruise industry explosion. These ever-larger floating sea monsters destroying Venice’s tranquility and ancient foundations might finally be banned from the Lagoon following two recent headline-making incidents. As eTN Global Travel Industry reported:

“The eyesore of cruise ships on Venice’s famous skyline could soon become ancient history, as the behemoths are set to be banned from the city’s waterways. The new proposals by Italy’s Environment Minister follow a crackdown on water traffic, after the death of a German tourist two weeks ago.

“Joachim Vogel, 50, a professor of criminal law, was crushed against a dock by a reversing vaporetto water bus as he took a tour with his family by gondola near the Rialto Bridge. The tragic accident has prompted authorities to bring in a series of new safety regulations including ‘a floating congestion zone’ on the Grand Canal to ease the chaotic rush hour waterway traffic. . . Venice’s proud residents have long been up in arms about the presence of large cruise ships passing through the lagoon, with a flotilla of protesters taking to the waters in June. Lobbyists argue that the huge ships, sometimes ten storeys high, erode the canals and the city’s fragile foundations, contribute to the worsening flooding that occurs every winter and damage the delicate eco-systems of the lagoon. The cruise companies pay huge port fees for the privilege, but their passengers frequently eat and sleep on board and contribute little direct revenue to restaurants and hotels.”

Back in July, according to the UK’s Daily Mail Online, another incident was a close call (a near-miss, in airline lingo) of a cruise ship coming perilously close to the shore to show off for a mega-yacht owned by a VIP:

Venetians have reacted with fury after a cruise ship allegedly passed within yards of the city’s historic banks while performing ‘a salute’ to a major company shareholder. Film footage of the [110,000-ton] “Carnival Sunshine,” which is owned by the same parent company as the notorious “Costa Concordia,” appears to show the 110,000-ton liner passing within 20 metres of the city’s fragile shoreline. The ship botched its manoeuvre, squeezing a vaporetto water taxi and other boats between the ship and the bank, witnesses claimed….

“At the time of the incident an 150ft super yacht belonging to former Carnival CEO and major shareholder Mickey Arison was moored on the same part of the shoreline, the local newspaper Nuova Venezia reported, fuelling rumours that the manoeuvre was an in fact a sail-by salute. The incident raises the spectre of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, which sank after hitting rocks off the coast of Tuscany during just such a salute to the island of Giglio last year.”

The cost of refloating the paralyzed “Concordia” (hopefully) without harming the Mediterranean’s largest marine sanctuary, is approaching $1 billion — more than a year and a half after s hot-dogging captain brought her too close to the rocky shore. The accident cost 30 lives, but the cruise line seems not to have learned much from the tragedy. It seems, though, that the government has. The Italian Environment Minister, Andrea Orlando, said he would present proposals for reigning in the cruise industry before a cross-party committee of Parliament in October. He told the paper Il Gazettino that the proposals would implement the emergency legislation drafted after the “Concordia” tragedy, prohibiting ships of more than 500 tons from coming within two nautical miles of “landscapes of value such as the Venice lagoon or fragile environments such as the marine sanctuary between Sardinia and north-east Italy.”

I’m waiting to hear what, if anything, the Italian Parliament does to prevent future incidents and to restore La Serena’s serenity. It won’t be in time for our visit, but others will benefit to restrictive new legislation.

The Carnival Curse Continues

Carnival ‘Triumph’ breaks free from repair dock

The 'Triumph' in happier days.
The ‘Triumph’ in happier days.

The Carnival “Triumph,” which was adrift for days in the Gulf of Mexico in February when its propulsion system broke down, was briefly adrift again when it broke away from its moorings at a Mobile, Alabama shipyard where it was being repaired. It hit an Army Corps of Engineers boat before coming to rest against a cargo vessel. It was retrieved by tugboats and resecured. The 800 or so people on board — presumably repair workers — hadn’t expected a harbor cruise. The curse continues. During the incident, a security guard was knocked from a pier and remains missing.

Meanwhile, Carnival Cruise Lines, the world’s largest cruise operator, rejected Senator Jay Rockefeller’s  suggestion or request that it reimburse the U.S. government for costs incurred while rescuing the company’s ships, which have been involved in 90 “serious events” over the past five years, culminating in the power outages on “Splendor” in 2010 and the “Triumph” this year, according to Senator Rockefeller at a cost of $4.2  million for Coast Guard and Navy assistance to the two ships. Carnival brushed off the Senator’s request.

A Bad Week for Cruise Ships

One ship adrift in the Gulf of Mexico; fatal lifeboat drill on another

The "Carnival Triumph" floating helplessly is anything but triumphant.
The “Carnival Triumph” floating helplessly is anything but triumphant. (US Coast Guard photo)

What’s the opposite of “triumph”? That should be the new name for the “Carnival Triumph,” which suffered an engine fire on Sunday and has been adrift in the Gulf of Mexico ever since. Passengers are reporting the usual foul conditions that befall a ship stranded in tropical seas — no water, new air conditioning, little food, overflowing toilets, nauseating smells, desperate passengers camping on decks. overworked but ultimately helpless crews. Big tugboats that are to tow the “Triumph” to Mobile, Alabama, are supposed to arrive on Thursday — and I have no idea how long that tow is supposed to last, or whether they will also supply auxiliary power.

The ship departed from Galveston on February 7 with 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew members for a short cruise and was scheduled to return from Mexico yesterday, February 11. After the fire, the ship was supposed to have towed to a port in Mexico, 150 miles away, that strong  currents pushed the crippled ship 90 miles further.

Very small lifeboat alongside a very large cruise ship Manuel Gonzales photo.
Very small lifeboat alongside a very large cruise ship and behind a rescue vessel. Manuel Gonzales photo.

While all this was going on in the Gulf, a lifeboat from the “Thomson Majesty,” a British-operated cruise ship, fell upside down into the water at the port of Santa Cruz on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands during a safety drill, killing five crew members and injuring three others  Some 1,400 passengers were on board, but none were involved in the dockside accident. Of course, an investigation The small, white two-hulled lifeboat capsized alongside the large ship, which had  been  due to sail Sunday afternoon to the Portuguese port of Funchal on the mid-Atlantic island of Madeira.

Three of the crew fatailities were Indonesian men, one Filipino man and one Ghanaian man, according to reports. This is normally a festive season on La Palma, but island authorities canceled Sunday evening’s Carnival festivities but said they would resume as planned on Monday.

Lifeboat drills are supposed to help save lives, not take them, and cruises are supposed to be pleasurable not something out of Dante’s “Inferno.” Sadly, things do’t always happen the way they are supposed to.

Norovirus Hits More Cruise Ships

More cruise passengers disembark from two floating Petrie dishes

Under a microscope, the norovirus resembles Christmas balls, according to this illustration from Britain’s National Health Service.

The Crown Princess docked yesterday in Galveston following a nasty norovirus outbreak that sickened 96 out of roughly 2,600 passengers and six of the 1,180 crew members. That’s a pretty small percentage — except it felt major to the 102 people afflicted by this highly contagious disease virus causes diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain. The Houston Chronicle reported that passengers were confined to their cabins, which were three sanitized times a day. Passengers who became patients were given medical care, but true to form in much of the cruise industry, they were charged for the attention they received. The “Crown Princess” also had a norovirus outbreak earlier this year.

Just 10 days earlier, the Oriana put in at Southampton after as many as 400 passengers were felled by the norovirus while on a 10-day Baltic cruise to visit northern European Christmas markets, according to The Guardian. The paper quoted one passenger as saying the trip “felt like they were sailing on a “plague ship.” Carnival, which owns the ship, passed it off as “an incidence of a mild gastrointestinal illness” among the passengers and claimed that only six out of 1,843 passengers were afflicted.

Mideast & North African Turmoil Strangles Egypt Tourism

Terrorism & tourism, and vacationers & violence don’t mix

I was able to remove Egypt from my bucket list of travel destinations when I was there for 10 days in early 2009 for a Society of American Travel Writers Freelance Council meeting. This was, of course, before the Arab Spring. Egypt is in effect the westernmost country of North Africa and the easternmost in the Middle East.

Our group visited Cairo, including the vibrant Khan el-Khalili Bazaar in the Islamic district, a district with many old Christian churches, the Egyptian Museum on Tahrir Square,  the pyramids and Sphinx in nearby Giza and the older pyramids at Saqqara. We even had an audience with the controversial and since deposed Dr. Zahi Hawass, formerly Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, a cabinet post under the former regime.

We cruised the Nile, visiting breath-taking temples and tombs — Abu Simbal in one stop and then on a riverboat traveling downtream from Aswan to Luxor. With a smaller group, I went to Alexandria and marveled at the modern library with the ancient name, walked along the crumbling Conrniche, ate lunch in the Cecil Hotel of Alexandria Qaurtet fame), explored  an old citadel overlooking the Mediterranean and visited the World War II battlefield, memorial and museum at El Alamein. And I am so-o-o-o glad went when I did. Continue reading Mideast & North African Turmoil Strangles Egypt Tourism