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EDITORIAL

In Defense Of Cruising

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“Seriously? You’re going on another cruise?” Someone in your life has probably said it, their voices filled with incredulity, as if your favorite pasttime is as impossible to understand as quantum physics. And yet again, you find yourself having to mount an argument in defense of cruising… even if doing so is sort of a waste of time. Because the only rational response is also the vaguest: “Try it… you’ll like it.”

I took my first cruise just over three years ago. It wasn’t motivated by any great desire to give cruising a try. In fact, despite loving the ocean and growing up borderline obsessed with The Love Boat (or maybe just Charro), I’d never actually considered hitting the high seas as a vacation option. Truth be told that first trip wasn’t actually about cruising, it was about escaping. I was about to turn 50 years old, and figured the best way to avoid any and all markings of the milestone would be to go somewhere, alone, and weep into a few cocktails.

So much for the idea of aging gracefully.

As I was debating where to go, a friend complained about how traffic on the Henry Hudson Parkway always got snarled on days when cruise ships were docked at the pier in midtown Manhattan. I’d love to say that I did a lot of research in order to decide which ship I’d take where, but… I’d be lying.

5 Reasons To Cruise For Your Special Occasion

I knew I didn’t want to fly before or after the cruise, which meant sailing out of Manhattan. The good news is that when New York City is your homeport, you can get on a ship almost any weekend. The bad news, and it’s not really all that bad, is that your options are rather limited. It happened that the Norwegian Breakaway was doing a 7-day sailing to the Bahamas the week of my birthday, so while necessity may be the mother of invention, convenience was what gave birth to my obsession.

A few days into the trip, I was instant messaging with my best friend back home. “Dude,” I said to him, “this is amazing! I’m having the best time I’ve ever had!”

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Without missing a beat, he responded, “Drinking. Gambling. Eating out. What, exactly, did you think you wouldn’t like about cruising?” It was the kind of moment that would inspire Homer Simpson to utter, “D’oh!” while slapping his head comically.

Mounting A Defense Of Cruising

By the end of that first week, I was hooked. I’d had an amazing week, met some incredible people, eaten at an array of great restaurants, danced until dawn, swum in the bluest waters I’d ever seen and — despite having done all this and more — found time to relax in a way I hadn’t in years. Before I was even off the ship, I’d booked another cruise. And then another.

Ever since, I take at least two cruises a year, and spend the months in between each trip planning the next one. To bastardize an old country song, I think about cruising once a day, every day… all day long, and this proves endlessly amusing to some of the people in my life who don’t “get” my obsession.

Every now and again, one of those people will — I assume simply to amuse themselves — try and push my buttons. They’ll ask the questions every non-cruiser asks those of us who know what they’re missing. Of course, I have the standardized answers that we all have at the ready. (“Actually, it’s not expensive when you look at what’s included and compare it to the price of a land-based vacation.”) And if they really want to have a serious discussion, I’m more than happy to share my thoughts on everything from food (“I’d say Royal Caribbean’s Wonderland is one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had, on land or at sea.”) to balcony preferences (“Once you go aft-facing balcony, you never go back.”).

I’ve even managed to convince a couple folks that they should give cruising a try. (Not my best friend, but hey, I’m workin’ on him… )

I’m sure cruising isn’t for everyone, and statistics show that there’s a vast swath of the American public who’ve never been on a ship. If they want to hear me explain why they should set aside their preconceived notions and give it a try, I’m more than happy to do so. But they can’t blame me if my enthusiasm results in them coming down with cruise fever. After all, it’s incredibly contagious!

Do you have people in your life who just don’t “get” your love of cruising? 

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EDITORIAL

Cruiser Suggests Removing Gratuity To Send Message

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Upset that a cruise during which she hoped to relax was disturbed by construction taking place on the ship, a disgruntled passenger took to a message board to vent. It was the type of complaint that pops up from time to time on cruise-related message boards, claiming that a significant number of passengers had complained to guest services about their restful vacation being disrupted by the work being done. And like clockwork, one of the people responding to the original posting offered a suggestion which is made far too often.

“When things like this happen,” he suggested, “everyone should go to guest services and remove the daily gratuities. That will send a powerful message to the cruise line!”

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Except, of course, that it wouldn’t. And worse, it would be punishing the wrong people. Think of it this way: If you go to a restaurant and the waitress works her butt off to give you the best service possible, but the food isn’t very good… should your server be punished via a lousy tip? Or would it make more sense to speak to a manager regarding the chef who prepared the food?

Still not convinced? Imagine it was your child working in that restaurant, doing an absolutely top-notch job and yet being stiffed on tips because the chef prepared bad food.

READ MORE: The Ultimate Guide To Cruise Tipping

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The daily gratuities charged by most cruise lines are a subject of much debate. Personally, I’ve long advocated that the charge should be rolled directly into the price of the cruise (which would also cut back on the inevitable outcry which arises each time they are raised). I also think there should be no circumstances under which they can be removed.

“But what if the service is bad?” some will ask.

“Doesn’t matter,” I will respond. Because even if you do come across a few bad apples during the course of your cruise, the vast majority of the crew members — including many you will never see, let alone acknowledge — work hard to make sure you have the best possible vacation.

“I remove the gratuities,” some will say, “and then individually reward those who provide me with good service.” Again, I will remind them of all the people who work hard behind the scenes and who will never be on the receiving end of their magnanimous dispensing of individual tips.

Personally, I can think of nothing that could ever justify my removing the daily gratuities charge from my bill. Beyond that, however, the notion of removing the tips of hard-working individuals as a way to “send a message” to their bosses is incomprehensible to me.

Want to send a message to the corporate offices? Write a letter. Send an E-mail. Heck, take your business to another cruise line and then write a letter letting the one you’ve left behind exactly why you decided to do so. If you truly believe that money talks, then surely the loss of a loyal customer is going to speak far louder than would the comparative pittance that is the daily gratuity charge.

Under what circumstances would — or have — you removed the daily gratuity fee? Do you think the cruise lines should simply roll the fee into the overall cost of the cruise? 

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EDITORIAL

11 Reasons To Book Norwegian Bliss

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There are so many new ships coming down the pike it’s tough to figure out which one we’re most excited about. But if you’re thinking about booking the Norwegian Bliss — which will make her maiden voyage from London to New York City on April 21 — you’ll want to do so sooner rather than later. Why? Aside from the fact that that Frank Del Rio, President and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Lines, recently declared the ship to be the “best-booked new build in [the company’s] history,” which could make availability scarce, here’s why we think you’re going to want to give this exciting ship a try!

1. The Observation Lounges

Although designed specifically to give breathtaking views of Alaska (whose waters the ship will begin sailing in June of 2018), the observation lounges (yes, plural) on this ship will prove popular no matter where Bliss sails. A throwback to another era, the lounges — one of which will be available to all guests, while the other will be available exclusively to those staying in The Haven — promise to make watching the world go by your new favorite pastime.

Located at the very front of deck 15, the Observation Lounge is the place to see (the sights) and be seen (enjoying a drink). Rendering by NCL 

2.The Smokehouse

Country music and barbecue go together like peanut butter and jelly (or chocolate, depending on your flavor palate), so it’s kind of surprising that it took this long for anyone to combine the two and stick them on a cruise ship. But with the introduction of Q, Norwegian will serve up a Texas-style BBQ joint featuring chicken, ribs and brisket, all perfectly smoked over hickory, oak and pecan wood. Stick around after dinner for the kind of foot-stomping, foot-tapping, drink-swilling good time rarely found outside a honky-tonk.

Welcome to Q Smokehouse. Come for the ribs, stay for the tunes. (Rendering courtesy of NCL)

3. The Broadway Show

Big Girls Don’t Cry… unless they miss Jersey Boys, the jukebox musical chronicling the true story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. The original production won four Tony Awards, including one for Best Musical, and ran on the Great White Way from 2006 until 2017. This is the latest Broadway show to be mounted by NCL, which has also hosted Rock Of Ages (aboard the Norwegian Breakaway) After Midnight (aboard the Norwegian Escape) and more.

Trust us: You know a lot more of the songs these guys did than you think you do. (Artwork courtesy of NCL)

4.The Coolest Happy Hour At Sea

Being big fans of drink packages and specialty cocktails, we don’t tend to associate our time on a cruise ship with prohibition. But the Norwegian Bliss is set to change that with the interactive show Happy Hour, The Musical: Prohibition Edition. Set in a New Orleans speakeasy on the 1916 night before prohibition kicked in, the show serves up tunes from the era as well as a slew of specialty cocktails, promising a good time for all.

Happy Hour: The Musical takes passengers back in time to the even of prohibition. (Photo courtesy of NCL)

5. The Chocolate

In another first for the cruise line, Norwegian Bliss will feature Coco’s, a diet-busting spot sure to satisfy your sweet tooth. Where else are you going to find a personal chocolate fountain in which to dip things like cake or pieces of fruit? With many of the gorgeously artful menu items specifically designed to be shared by up to four people (or not…), this will be a great after-dinner spot.

Wonder if Coco’s Cookies ‘n Cream Milkshake comes in a calorie-free version? (Photo courtesy of NCL)

6. The Beatles

Step into a recreation of Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club and catch a cover band doing all your favorite Beatles tunes. Which means that if you play your musical cards right, you can hear country at Q, classics at the Cavern Club and then head on over to Social (formerly known as Alibi), the the ship’s comedy/nightclub… which sounds like an evening that is as full as it is exhausting!

First introduced on the Norwegian Epic, the Cavern Club — and their lead act, The Beatles — are coming to Bliss. (Art courtesy of NCL)

7. The Perfect Pre-Dinner Drink Spots

Whether you’re looking to kick the evening off with a glass of wine or a cocktail, Norwegian Bliss will have you covered. For the vino lovers, there’s The Cellars — A Michael Mondavi Wine Bar. Conveniently, it happens to be located right next to La Cucina (the ship’s Italian eatery), and you can order up a few nibbly bits to go with your wine. The venue will also feature events such as wine tastings. More interested in cocktails? The A-List Bar (named after NCL’s president and CEO, Andy Stuart) is an uber chic setting in which to sip the hand-crafted cocktails whipped up by your mixologists. This one’s ideal for folks grabbing dinner at either Los Lobos or Cagney’s Steakhouse, as it’s located right between them.

There’s no such thing as a B celeb at the A-List Bar. (Rendering courtesy of NCL)

8. The Haven

Yes, many other Norwegian vessels feature this ship-within-a-ship area which allows its inhabitants to live it up, luxe life style. And like those versions, Bliss‘ Haven will offer a variety of cabin configurations, all of which include the services of a butler and concierge. But no other ship in the fleet offers what this version of The Haven does: exclusive access to a two-story, forward-facing observation lounge featuring killer views. It’s the perfect space in which to take it all in while also feeling like you’ve gotten away from it all.

The two story Haven observation lounge is definitely a room with a view. (Rendering courtesy of NCL)

9. The Faux Windows

Think all the bells-and-whistles aboard this ship are reserved for folks paying top dollar for high-end suites? Then you haven’t seen Norwegian Bliss‘ version of inside studio cabins. Designed for solo travelers who want to avoid paying the supplement that usually comes with rooms meant for two or more people, these rooms are smaller, but offer way more than meets the eye. Not only do guests have access to the solo lounge (a great way to meet fellow travelers), but in yet another Norwegian first, these inside cabins are actually rooms with a view. Sure, it’s a fake view, but the “virtual windows” instantly turn the studios into oceanviews!

For the first time on an NCL ship, the solo studio rooms will have a “virtual window.” (Rendering courtesy of NCL)

10. The Chance To Save The World

Take time from your busy schedule of bar-hopping, port-visiting and sun-worshipping to save humanity… or at least pretend to. First introduced on the Norwegian Joy, the top-deck laser tag arena sets up a story in which a rag-tag team of cruisers — including you — visits an apparently abandoned space colony to find out what went wrong and prevent an alien invasion. Space suits not required.

Who knew that when aliens invaded, the final battles would be waged aboard a cruise ship? (Photo courtesy of NCL)

11. The Go Karts

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Did you really think we’d put together this list and not even mention the largest race track at sea? It’s like you don’t even know what we’re most excited about! Yes, we have every intention of jumping in one of these electric-powered vehicles to prove that we have what it takes to beat the competition!

On your marks! Get set! Go… straight to the race track. (Picture courtesy of NCL)

Of course, perhaps the biggest reason to book your stateroom now is that you’ll want to knock the Norwegian Bliss off your bucket list before it’s time to start getting excited about the line’s next ship, the already-under-construction Norwegian Encore!

What has you most excited about Norwegian Bliss? 

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EDITORIAL

Why I Always Buy The Beverage Package When Cruising

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“Should I buy the drink package? Is it worth it?” Those have to be among the questions most often asked when people are planning their cruise. Whether it’s Carnival’s Cheers! program, Norwegian’s Ultimate Beverage Package or Royal Caribbean’s Deluxe Beverage package — each of which comes with its own distinct pricing, restrictions and allowances — almost every cruiser wrestles with whether or not the packages offered is right for them.

Cost Vs. Convenience

Search message boards or Facebook pages, and you’ll find people who have spent a whole lot of time doing the necessary math to figure out exactly what the “break even” point is on each cruise line’s drink package. Using that information, people can ask themselves some basic questions (How many drinks per day do I think I’m going to have? Are the types of alcohol I prefer included in the price? Will I drink fewer drinks on the days we’re in port?) in order to make an informed decision.

For me, however, it comes down to something far simpler: peace of mind.

Nothing beats bellying up to the Carnival Sunshine with a drink package.

During the one and only cruise on which I didn’t purchase a beverage package, I found myself running a mental tab each time I ordered a cocktail. Drink Of The Day? $10.95. My usual bourbon and diet? $9.95. Wine with dinner? Well, you get the picture. Each night, I’d use the interactive television in my stateroom to obsessively check my onboard spending, the vast majority of which went toward drinks. One day, I found myself skipping my usual morning Bloody Mary (and, in case my folks are reading this, let’s just pretend that I only have one each morning, shall we?) in order to save a little money.

One Less Thing To Stress About

I don’t remember what the final bill was at the end of the week, let alone whether it proved to be more or less than it would have cost to purchase the beverage package. (It was something of a moot point to begin with, given that the package was not actually offered on this particular sailing.) I do remember hating the fact that on that final morning, my credit card was going to take a hit.

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I’m the type of cruiser who likes to pay everything in advance. I always have the gratuity charges added to the final payment, sign up for the internet before getting on the ship (especially if it means I get a little bit of a discount)… heck, I even give myself a daily “casino allowance.” So the ability to pay for my drinks in advance, thereby allowing me to turn off the “ka-ching” sound effect that echoed in my head each time I ordered a cocktail, is darn near priceless.

More than a few cruisers get their money’s worth out of drink packages downing nothing but mudslides!

Clearly, this approach isn’t for everyone. Drink packages can be pricey, with Carnival’s currently running $51.95 per person per day (plus an additional 15% gratuity) and Norwegian’s running a whopping $89 per person, per day (plus a 20% gratuity). Of course, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of Norwegian passengers get the Ultimate Beverage Package “free” as one of the perks offered nearly year-round by the cruise line, paying only the gratuity charge.

As I said earlier, you can easily search out drink menus, find out how much your beverage of choice will run, guestimate how many you think you’ll have over the course of your cruise and see if the package is worth it for you. It’s also worth noting that on most cruise lines, if one adult in a room wants the beverage package, all the adults in the room have to purchase it as well… something I, as a solo traveler, don’t have to factor in.

Personally, I avoid math whenever possible — especially where planning a vacation is concerned — and take the path of least resistance. Just thinking about doing all those calculations gives me a headache. (Is there such a thing as a math hangover?) All I know is that I’m always happy when, on that final day of the cruise, the only charges I see on my bill are for Bingo cards.

Do you usually buy a drink package when cruising? What do you base your decision to buy — or not purchase — the package on? 

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Hi, this may be of interest to you: In Defense Of Cruising. This is the link: https://cruiseradio.net/defense-of-cruising/