Tag Archives: Cruise Critic

What are your worst cruise mistakes?

An item on the Cruise Critic message boards caught my eye recently, in which member ActiveTraveler, aka Andrea, bravely posted a list of cruising mistakes, hoping that flagging them up would help others in their planning. She doesn’t actually confess to having made all these mistakes, mind you!

Here are a few that I like from her list:

*Pack too much, pack too little, or pack the wrong things for your cruise?

*Select the wrong cabin, do the wrong activities, or order the wrong food?

*Take pictures of the wrong things and forget to take pictures you wanted?

*Get too much or not enough cash or exchange currency the wrong way?

*Miss the beginning of a tour you had reserved in advance for any reason?

Yes, guilty as charged for several of those, especially the packing, the almost missing a tour (open the ticket envelopes and double check your bookings the minute you arrive in your cabin) and the currency – a large wodge of useless Turkish lire is still sitting in my safe, waiting to be aired again.

Member GreatDaneMom adds a few more to the list of mistakes:

*Booking an anniversary cruise the last week of May out of Port Canaveral and NOT realizing the kids in Florida are out of school for the summer

*Booking a cabin across from a passenger laundry room

*Linking my dining reservation to a group of cruisers I met on a cruise board who turned out to be awful people and we were stuck eating with them

None of these is actually going to wreck a cruise, although we’ve probably all learned not to repeat them. But member tea4ular tells a sad story of putting down a deposit for a family group on a cruise, getting very excited and only researching travel to join the ship when it was too late: “The cost of airfare, hotel for a night in each direction, and then transportation from airport to hotel/port, added a cost equal to the cruise fare. BAH! Had to call friends and family, and we all cancelled.”

And then there’s the debate about planning. Do you over-plan and end up over-scheduled and exhausted? Under-plan and miss places you might have enjoyed?

I suppose the best advice I could offer regarding the destinations is simply to be informed. Read the Cruise Critic boards and port reviews, learn a bit of local history from a good guidebook and establish the difference between tours that work best with a guide (Pompeii, Jerusalem, most places in Egypt) and places you can explore easily and cheaply on your own (St Martin, Juneau, Barcelona).

And finally, a note on clothing. Wear your skinny clothes early on in the cruise and save the expanding ones for when the situation gets critical near the end. On a recent Princess Cruise, after a week of enjoying the food, my friend and I poured ourselves into our only remaining posh frocks, sat at dinner, unable to move, seams bursting, gave up, tottered back to our cabin and ordered room service in our tracky bots.

What’s your worst cruising mistake? Weigh in and add to the list!

SJB

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If Britannia ruled the waves

We had to laugh at the weekend over the comments made by Carnival’s senior cruise director, John Heald, in his personal blog. John, as you may know, has an extensive cult following as well as providing valuable insight into the world of Carnival.

Anyway, John, blogging from Venice, where he was attending the naming of Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam, extended special, tongue-in-cheek congratulations to his friends from the USA on the occasion of Independence Day:

“Let me finish with a special wish to my American friends for a very Happy Fourth Of July… I hope you have a great family day celebrating killing my great, great, great, great grandfather. Personally, I wish we had won… then I could get a decent cup of tea on the ships.

“The Queen, The Mad Duke and the blind Prince with the jug ears and his horse… sorry, wife, would be living at the White House.

“The letter ‘U’ would be reinstated in words such as ‘colour’, ‘honour’ and ‘splendour’. Likewise, you would learn to spell ‘doughnut’ without skipping half the letters, and the suffix ‘ize’ would be replaced by the suffix ‘ise’.

“You would all say ‘bugger’ instead of ‘daaaaamn’.

“You would drive on the correct side of the road and eat with the fork in the left hand.

“The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Only proper British Bitter should be called beer.  Budweiser should be referred to as ‘NearFrozenCamel’sPisseiser.’

“The national sport would be cricket and Denny’s would serve Yorkshire Pudding and Spotted Dick… for breakfast.”

All this got us thinking here at Cruise Critic… If Britannia still ruled the waves, how might cruising have changed, other than being able to get a proper cup of tea on a ship?

The early dinner sitting would be much quieter, for a start. The gym on board would probably be empty, too.

Nobody would go to the shopping talks.

Those massive tray-plates in the buffets of the big cruise lines would be smaller as we Brits prefer to make return visits rather than pile our chocolate pudding on the same plate as the garlic prawns and blue cheese dressing.

The midnight buffet may never have evolved at all – perhaps it would have become a kebab stall instead.

Tipping would never have reached the level of complication it has today, although there might be a pot on the bar for loose change.

Yes, life at sea would be very different without the influence of our American cousins, to whom we at CruiseCritic.co.uk also extend our (belated) July Fourth good wishes. Do add your own observations to the list! SJB

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Sweet Dream

Looks as though the tide has turned for the much-maligned Thomson Dream.

Thomson followers will remember the trouble when the ship entered service for the line at the beginning of May, an unhappy combination of dodgy plumbing, the ash cloud stranding crew all over the world and lukewarm food.

Reviews on Cruise Critic throughout May reflected the troubles and everybody had fun creating headlines for their stories that usually involved the word ‘nightmare’.

But take another look at the review section on the site. What a change! Reviewers throughout the month of June have loved the ship, almost all of them giving it an overall score of four or five (five plus is the highest possible). The nasty smells appear to be a distant memory. “There was NO smell of sewage and NO unclean areas of the ship,” says member Wilmar2010.

First time cruiser Tim Charles adds:  “As I walked up the gangplank my nose was twitching but there was no smell at all. We did see the odd bucket under drips in one or two places but it was just water (no smell) and they were fixed.

“The staff to a person were great, the entertainment was fantastic something for everyone. The drinks package was extensive. We enjoyed all of the food we had.”

Another couple of first timers, Lynne&MarkB, were impressed with the food, too: “Did the Grill one night, attention to detail was good, service was far superior and personal. And the staff really came alive by singing at the tables. Worth the money for the experience.”

Member maurjam comments: “I think when Thomson first took over this ship they inherited a lot of Costa’s problems but they are on top of them now.” While member Dacia Kelly enthuses: “We have every intention of booking for a future cruise to see what improvements have been made to what we thought was an already great ship!”

I’m pleased for Thomson. I sailed on part of the second cruise and although I did see the buckets and soggy carpets, the crew were some of the happiest and funniest I’ve ever encountered, despite some grumpy passengers. That alone made me want this ship to work. SJB

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What do you really want from a port of call?

Every now and then, one of the opinion polls in the Cruise Critic message boards captures the imagination of our members and fires off a spirited debate.

The one I’m referring to (it’s here: http://tinyurl.com/2felwxo) was inspired by the announcement a few months ago by Azamara Cruises that it was going to offer more port-intensive itineraries, with deeper ‘immersion’ in the local culture. We asked you what cruise lines should do to improve the whole destination experience – a question that’s particularly relevant as the Mediterranean, where culture is one of the main attractions, enters its peak season.

Personally, I would have ticked nearly all the boxes; surely anything that makes it easier to explore the local culture is a good thing? As it turned out, though, everybody has a different idea!

Top billing went to the suggestion that cruise lines provide suggestions for independent exploration, like self-guided walks; 58.48 percent of the respondents voted for this. Similarly, more authentic port lecturers, who actually lived in the ports of call, would be popular, as would an alert to any festivals going on when the ship was in port. More food and wine from the region in which the ship was travelling got the thumbs up from 57.75 percent, while 53.17 percent wanted free destination information. And by that, I imagine they don’t mean photocopied maps of the shopping area.

The ensuing discussion pointed out that we’d missed out more overnights in port, which I imagine would be a winner (and in the case of Azamara, is beginning to happen).

What made me smile was the universal slamming of the dreaded ‘shopping programme’, whereby a ‘lecturer’ advises the willing on board where to shop in port. Needless to say, the cruise line gets a kickback for any purchases made.

Member SeaStar2 wanted “Port talks that don’t stress shopping but rather the history and culture of the ports….better maps that show something besides the stores in an area.”

Member MrsMuir was less charitable: “The so-called port ambassadors should walk the plank, and port lecturers should take their place.”

Member Hlitner, meanwhile, has a conspiracy theory: “The dirty truth about cruise lines is their main interest in ports is selling their own overpriced excursions. Cruise line excursions are a nice profit center for cruise lines who increasingly rely on-board expenditures to fatten the bottom line. Many cruise lines no longer provide any good information for travelers who want to do things on their own.”

Strong stuff. And may I put in my own request for improving the local experience? Although 38.03 percent thought it was a good idea to bring local entertainers on board, does it always have to be the ubiquitous ‘folkloric’ show? I’m all for a spot of impromptu Greek dancing after dinner in a taverna (after enough retsina) or taking a flamenco class in Spain but how many of you really attend/enjoy/remember yet another display from a handkerchief-waving dance troupe with, heaven forbid, audience participation?

Shout me down if I’m wrong, though!

SJB

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Need cruise advice? Then come to the Travel Clinic!

Do you have a burning cruise question? Can’t decide between the Med and the Caribbean? Big ship, small ship? How to entertain the kids at sea? Or even, where to start?

Perhaps Cruise Critic’s editor-in-chief, Carolyn Spencer Brown, can help! Carolyn will be live tomorrow (Tuesday) at noon on the new, spruced-up website for The Times, answering your questions in an hour-long question-and-answer Travel Clinic dedicated to all things cruising. Why not put her encyclopaedic knowledge to the test? No topic is too trivial or too tricky!

These live Q&A sessions are one of the new features of The Times’ two websites, one for The Times and one for The Sunday Times. There’s been some debate in the media recently about whether users will be willing to pay a nominal fee for access to the two sites but this won’t affect tomorrow’s discussion as there’s no charge to join in. Just register in advance at http://tinyurl.com/2eonqvk.

SJB

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On our way to Southampton!

Norwegian Epic may be limping due to a technical problem that’s slowed down the ship enough to delay its arrival in Southampton tomorrow…but we are on the move.

Here’s today’s trivia quiz (first winner to answer all questions correctly wins a Cruise Critic prize) — I’ll admit, this one isn’t going to be easy.

We’ve just cruised past a special ship; its smokestack is pictured, left. Which line built and operated the venerable vessel? What was its original name (and what were subsequent iterations)? What year was it originally launched? And what’s it being used for today?

Please send your answers to Kelly@cruisecritic.co.uk.

Good luck. Oh, by the way, we’re still getting answers to the weekend question (What was the first ship to have a passenger escalator?). We’ll keep you posted.

CSB

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NCL delays Epic’s Southampton arrival

Bad news — Norwegian Epic’s developed technical problems that affect its speed (we’re told it’s definitely not a safety issue). As a result, the ship is delaying its much-anticipated arrival into Southampton tomorrow morning. Instead it will arrive at dinner time.

We’re already onboard so we’ll continue to keep you posted via our blog, news coverage on Cruise Critic’s home page, and Kelly’s Q&A on the Norwegian Epic forum.

But we do want to make sure any folks who are planning to come out tomorrow — whether to board the ship or to celebrate its arrival — read our news item, posted early this afternoon, with the details.

CSB

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We’re onboard Norwegian Epic!

I’ve just arrived at Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic, a vessel we’ve dubbed the “it” ship of 2010. Its earned the nickname because Norwegian Epic, in its own distinctive way, is as innovative in terms of design and features, as Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, which I’m sure you’ll recall debuted last year.

Norwegian Epic, which was only officially delivered on Thursday, arrived here in Rotterdam this morning and boarded its first set of passengers shortly after noon. The fact that the ship already looks really put-together is an amazing feat in itself (one that we address in our new Q&A with Klaus Lugmaier, the cruise line’s hotel director, http://bit.ly/aO7gTR )

But what’s more important of course is what the ship looks and feels like! Since NCL was pretty cagey throughout the nearly four years it took to plan, design and build Norwegian Epic, all we had to go by was renderings, essentially architects idealized visions of spaces on a ship. Now, having seen it (in a whirlwind tour this afternoon) in reality, my overall reaction is an enthusiastic “wow!” I can’t wait to see more, experience more, learn more as the week progresses.

At Cruise Critic we think Norwegian Epic’s design and debut is pretty important stuff so we’ll be all over the place with all sorts of coverage, beginning today in Rotterdam. We’ll keep it up as the ship arrives at Southampton for a couple of days of festivities there – and then culminate in the grand finale of its New York City christening on July 4, complete with fireworks.

What will you find? Our homepage will feature news stories as they occur. On Cruise Critic’s Norwegian Epic forum, Kelly Ranson, our U.K. editor, will literally be running around the ship looking for answers to member’s questions (go here to post yours: http://bit.ly/d5pFkf ). We may throw a few polls into the forum as well. On this blog I’ll be posting impressions and opinions about what I’m seeing on Epic, along with some photos. And keep an eye on Cruise Critic’s Facebook (facebook.com/cruisecritic) page and follow our tweets on Twitter (twitter.com/cruisecritic and twitter.com/cruisecriticUK). And finally, prepare for a few surprises….

Can you tell we’re excited about Epic?

And a reminder that Cruise Critic isn’t simply a vehicle for us to tell you what we think. We want to know what’s on your mind, too.  Join the debate, ask a few questions, vote in our polls and tell us what you want to know about when it comes to Norwegian Epic.

CSB

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It’s the “it” ship, trust us…

Norwegian Epic, the newest (and largest) cruise ship from Norwegian Cruise Line, also known as the “freestyle”  icon (no rules, no regimentation), was delivered today by STX Europe’s shipyard in France’s St. Nazaire.

At Cruise Critic we call it the “it” ship because it’s the rare vessel in 2010 that’s completely and utterly unique. There are a lot of nice new ships launching this year, such as P&O’s Azura, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth and Celebrity’s Eclipse, but they’re pretty much copies of an earlier original. Norwegian Epic IS an original.

By and large, the ship seems at first to be geared to a huge, sprawling, mostly U.S.-centric audience. In its own way, though, the line is trying to court UK and European cruisers too (with the former, it’s bringing the ship, pre-inaugural era anyway, to Southampton for some festivities and with the latter, it’s planning to deploy Epic to the Mediterranean during summertime starting next year).

Frankly I don’t think the ship is either American or European. It’s a mishmash of styles that have more to do with age demos than cultural ones. If you regularly read the celebrity-oriented tabloids, you’ll fit in just fine (which if we’re all going to be brutally honest, includes most of us!). Clearly, this is a ship that’s courting the hip and trendy young set (if in cruising we classify the “young set” as the under 50s, well, bear that in mind).

So there’s the solo studios for single travelers, the Spice H20 beach club for South Beach wannabes, and the Blue Man Group, essentially a mime act, that started in the U.S. but is now spreading worldwide.

We’re not the first to express the opinion that the ship’s exterior is the ugliest we’ve ever seen (and I’ll tell you that a few NCL folks have admitted as much to us) though if you’re already onboard, I’ll say it probably doesn’t matter what the outside looks like. I’ll confess that when writing a poll this week that asked “what one aspect of Epic intrigues you?” [Poll is here, please feel free to weigh in: http://bit.ly/aFTUuh], I did slip in a reference to the ship’s unwieldy outward design (somewhat surprisingly, a mere 5 percent so far have voted for this option).

Shockingly, even less enthusiasm was accorded to such choices as Shanghai’s Noodle Bar (an industry first), which so far has engendered just 1.5 percent-worth-of-excitement, the Spice H20/Posh Beach Club (which weighs in at a measly 2 percent) and, sadly, the Argentinean steak house restaurant, which clearly is not ringing bells but does deserve a bit of credit for a daring effort (it gets less than 1 percent).

CSB

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Best punishment for sunbed hogs, other hot topics

You never really know what you’re going to find in Cruise Critic’s daily poll (it’s found on our home page; scroll all the way down). We have to keep it pretty simple because it’s formatted to accept just four possible answers. But we’ve had fun with it, using it as a lab rat for theories we may have, having fun with a current events-inspired query, and, sometimes, being completely silly.  Votes on polls, which are usually launched end-of-day and stay up for 24 hours, almost always surprise us. Some recent chin-scratchers:

*87 % said that sunbed hogs should be punished (options included being thrown in the pool, banned from the bar and, garnering most votes, locking such offenders “in their cabins”).

*Cruise lines may like to brag about butler services but Cruise Critic readers are clearly not elitists. When we asked “have you had a butler on a cruise” more than half, talking about past — and future — cruises, said “No! It’s not my thing.”

*And in the biggest upset of last week’s polls, more said they’d watch World Cup games on a cruise ship than in a pub. That’s shocking. Even more – 52 percent – said they wouldn’t bother to watch at all.

Have an idea for a poll? Tell us.

CSB

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