Tag Archives: Cruise

Laundry dilemma

Laundry dilemma

Planning on using the self-service laundry during your cruise? Well, as I’ve discovered on Ruby Princess, you’d better have some American quarters with you.

The logic behind getting coins to use the passenger laundry room is bizarre. We’ve trekked up Vesuvius, slogged around Pompeii, sweltered on a public bus in Livorno, hiked up and down the zig-zag cliff path on Santorini and got sand in everything on the beach in Mykonos. So it’s not unreasonable to expect I might need to do a batch of washing by now.

The washing machines only take American 25c coins, as does the machine that dispenses powder. So I asked at reception if I could change a couple of Euros to dollars as I’m not in the habit of taking American coins on a cruise around the Med. The answer is no. They will convert dollar notes to dollar coins, but not Euros. So can I change some Euros for dollars to get my dollar coins? No, they don’t offer currency exchange at all, as there is a machine on board that does that.

I need $4 for powder, one wash and one dry. So the smallest Euro note, a five, should do. But no; the machine charges $3.50 commission, regardless of the amount of the transaction. So I need a 10 Euro note and in any case, the machine is broken. At which point I get annoyed and go back to reception. The kind assistant purser patiently explains that even if the machine is broken and they do have to change money for the laundry, they still have to charge $3.50 commission.

So essentially, if you don’t have US dollars on you, notes or coins, you will pay $7.50 for one batch of laundry instead of $4. I know it’s petty of me to raise the issue, and Princess Cruises is by no means the only line to offer washing machines operated by US coins, and there is more to life than this, but still.

Eventually, I got my 25c coins and noticed that one was a Princess token, the kind you get in the casino. It struck me then how stupid I’d been; I should have nipped in there and played the fruit machines for a bit. I could have won my laundry money!

SJB

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Filed under Cruise Lines, Mediterranean Cruise, Opinion

Man overboard – or not?

Man overboard - or not?

There was an hour of intense drama on Ruby Princess last night when a passenger gave the ‘Man Overboard’ alert.

While the way the crew handled the event was nothing but impressive, the reaction of the passengers was fascinating and in some cases, bizarre.

The captain made an announcement about an hour out of Mykonos, as the sun was beginning to set. “Man overboard, port side”.  I’m on the starboard side. So what do I do? Rush out onto the balcony, only to find that pretty well everybody else on the starboard side had rushed out onto their balcony. I met many of my neighbours for the first time.

Everybody was in a state of mild shock, wondering if it was for real.

Being a nosy journalist, I went down to the promenade deck to see what was going on. But in under five minutes since the announcement, the crew had sealed the outside decks with ‘crime scene’-style yellow tape. All the officers who weren’t on the bridge or guarding the doors, where small crowds had formed, were gathered on the port side and a red flare was streaming smoke from a distant spot on the water. One man said excitedly, “This is awesome,” as though it was some kind of entertainment that had been laid on. Another guy said to his friend, “Come on, let’s go to the casino.” A Japanese man turned up with a huge Nikon, full zoom lens attached, presumably hoping for some gruesome action.

Most upsetting was the frightened parents who were running up and down the stairs in panic, trying to remember where they last saw their kids (there are a lot of families onboard with teens who do their own thing on the ship).

Meanwhile, the art auctioneer calmly continued to describe the ‘Picassos’ in the Explorers’ Lounge. The scene was truly surreal.

At this stage, we still didn’t know if there was an actual person in the water and the ship was a-twitter with rumour; it’s incredible how quickly untrue speculation spreads, the most chilling part of which was that a child had gone missing. Passenger Services started naming people who should make contact. The captain made a grim-sounding request for the person who had sounded the alarm to identify themselves. A Greek coastguard boat was spotted heading towards us. But by now, the flare had burned itself out and the sun had set.

The crowds dispersed and people ambled into dinner, where I kept a vigil by the window; at this point, the ship was almost stationary in the water as the search continued. I don’t know how you’re supposed to react in a situation like this; it seemed like something potentially so enormous and so tragic, but most people just kept on eating. On the other hand, what else were they supposed to do?

Eventually, the captain made another announcement and the entire dining room fell quiet; you could have heard a pin drop. The person who sounded the alarm had failed to identify themselves; the crew had done all they could; nobody had seen a person in the water or, indeed, the blue sunlounger which had caught the alarm-sounder’s attention in the first place; and we would resume our course to Piraeus.

So it was a false alarm that turned out to affect a lot of people. The officers, the engine room crew, the dining room service crew, all the passengers who were separated from their family at the time, the Greek coastguard… I imagine one passenger is feeling very foolish indeed today. But the episode has certainly given me a thorough respect for the intense emergency training that cruise ships’ crew receive.

SJB

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Filed under Cruise Lines, Family Cruises, Mediterranean Cruise, News

Titanic, Part 2: Why all the fuss in Belfast?

Belfast. Image courtesy of Belfast Visitor Convention Bureau

As promised, here is part 2 of our visit to the new Titanic Belfast project, currently under construction in Belfast.

Why is there such a big fuss in Belfast over a ship that sank a long time ago? ”At the time Titanic was built,”  Bryan Gregory, the executive in charge of Titanic Belfast says, “Belfast had the four largest industries in the world, in shipbuilding, rope making, linen production and tobacco. The city really was a hive of industrial activity and that spirit has sustained us through the 30 years of the troubles.”

Also intriguing is this question: Why is Titanic, beyond Belfast, still such a magnetic presence? Gregory, I thought, had an interesting answer. “The romanticism of the ship,” he says, “is part of it, as it as a ship of unfulfilled dreams, one that is an uncompleted journey.”

The Titanic-obsessed, dubbed “Titanoraks” have had this city on the radar for years. Says Colin Cobb, proprietor of Titanic Walking Tour, the name is “a geek version of anorak, the name for plane spotters, but a Titanorak is an honorable geek”.

Titanic crafts made by children

Even local kids have Titanic fever.  Through everything from arts and crafts to history, Belfast children actually learn about Titanic in school! Particular kudos to the young interpretive artist who created a papier mache version of the ship – he got it right about Titanic’s four funnels (these were on display at Titanic Belfast’s marketing office).

If you’re a tourist visiting Belfast, there’s much to see and do. You can take a boat tour that gives a close-up look at the slips occupied by Olympic and the drydock in which Titanic was built.

Take a boat tour in Belfast (Westerdam is in the background)

In Titanic builder Harlan & Wolff’s headquarters down on the Belfast waterfront, the drawing gallery is on the Titanic Walking Tour itinerary; with its soaring glass ceilings, it’s the place where the ship’s architects and designers drafted plans.

The Ulster Folk & Transport Museum (a must visit on any trip to Belfast whether you’re interested in Titanic or not, and I figure you wouldn’t have gotten this far into the story if the ship is a snore!) has still and moving images and the world’s largest collection of photographic negatives.

Dry dock

But the highlight, the real moment of “wow!” has to be the dry dock in which the ship is built. It’s still here (and still dry) and the view, alongside the historic pumphouse (which houses a café and gift shop) is the most interesting visual of all.

Ultimately, the dream for the creators of the glossy new Belfast Titanic museum complex see it as a magnificent centerpiece for the magnet in this city that the ship has become. And it’s one that will connect, as well, with all of the disparate Titanic offerings, from the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum to walking tours and to the boat rides that sail up to ship slips.

Stay tuned; we’ll continue to follow Titanic’s progress in Belfast. And whether you’re thinking of booking a cruise that will call at Belfast in 2012, the anniversary year, or considering a more intensive visit (count me in there!), you might want to start planning the trip!

CSB

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Just how big is Oasis of the Seas?

Click to see the full-size version. Image courtesy of IGLU.com

So just how big is Royal Caribbean’s mammoth Oasis of the Seas?

Our friends over at U.K. travel agency,  www.iglucruise.com, have created this fun graphic to show the true size of the 225,282-ton,  5,400-passenger ship!

It just goes to show how cruise ships have advanced over the years — according to this chart, Oasis is three times the size of the QE2 and five times bigger than the Titanic.

The picture also gives some handy information about ship building and the fast facts on how much food is consumed at sea!

One staggering fact is that Disney Cruise Line serves up 5,000 eggs each morning! Mind you, after seeing plates piled sky-high in the buffet restaurants at breakfast, we can see how this may be possible!

Do you have any fun cruise ship facts? Share them with us!

KR

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Bienvenue a Monaco!

Monaco

We’re alongside in Monte Carlo today and it’s unbelievably hot and humid; the kind of heat that leaves you lethargic and drained. Flat sea and no wind, and it’s only now, in the late afternoon, that a few yachts are pottering out of the harbour in search of a bit of evening breeze.

Because of the heat, we’re all too floppy and apathetic to do much and besides, have been here before and ‘done’ the sights. And in Monaco, what better activity is there than people, car and yacht-spotting anyway?

There’s a vessel just across the yacht basin from Ruby Princess that’s bigger than some small cruise ships: Al Mirqab. I was so blown away by its enormity that I Googled it and found that at 436 feet and displacing 5,000 tons, it’s one of the largest private yachts ever built and belongs to the prime minister of Qatar. A mere 10 guests are accommodated and cared for by a crew of 60! Six crewmembers each!

Meanwhile, up in Casino Square, the scene was as insane as it ever is and we played a game of spotting locals and yachties (men in loose shorts, baggy shirts and loafers, the women in huge, stacked heels, glittery sun dresses, immaculate hair, improbable tan, carrying Louis Vuitton bags), who stand out among the throng of tourists. A round of one milkshake, one Evian and one iced coffee came to 23 Euros.

I photographed a Rolls Royce with the numberplate ‘1 ME’. A crowd suddenly materialised from nowhere like bees around honey and started snapping shots of a young man cruising past in an open-top white Merc.

I’ve no idea who he was but a woman rushed up to the car and threw a bottle of water over him as he drove away. This place is barmy. OK to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here!

But for all its conspicuous consumerism and unimaginable wealth, Monte Carlo provides a fine and surprisingly unsnooty welcome to cruise passengers, whose vessels, after all, change the entire look of this tiny place.

Singer Dame Shirley Bassey once complained that billionaire Roman Abramovich’s yacht, Le Grand Bleu, ruined the view from her Monaco apartment. But the Russian’s boat wasn’t a patch on Ruby Princess, which effectively creates an 18 deck-high wall along one side of the harbour.

Our handy welcome pack

Yet we’re greeted by a cool, air-conditioned cruise terminal with an information desk staffed by helpful locals. Little welcome packs are given to everybody, including a map, postcards, a leaflet detailing all the attractions and their opening times and a handy discount book worth 26 Euros off entrance to museums. There are details of restaurants offering a cheaper ‘plat du jour’ menu and discount vouchers for shops.

The boat man on the Taxi-Bateau that crosses the harbour for one euro each was chatty and even the waiter in the Café de Paris had a certain brusque charm.

Although Shirley Bassey might not approve, you get the feeling that Monaco makes a real effort to host cruise passengers. Even if we do stand out somewhat.

SJB

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Eye Openers in Guernsey

Having visited Guernsey’s St. Peter Port several times on cruise ship calls and loving it (it’s definitely on the list for a more in-depth, non-cruise-related holiday in future), I looked forward to yesterday’s call there on Westerdam. But this time I got a chance to learn about the island without actually setting foot off the ship!

This time, a bit of Guernsey came to Westerdam.

We had reached out to local journalists Mark Windsor and Nicci Martel from the Guernsey Press and Star, and Claire Brouard, from Island FM radio, with an invitation to come onboard the ship for lunch, a tour, and good conversation. The afternoon delivered on all three counts.

From left to right, Mark Windsor and Nicci Martel from the Guernsey Press and Star, and Claire Brouard, from Island FM radio

Some interesting tidbits:

*First, the complicated stuff and I only include this info because Mark tells me that Brits often don’t really get what Guernsey is all about:  Guernsey is one of England’s Channel Islands and a British Crown Dependency. Sark, Isle of Man and Jersey are among others. They’re not part of the U.K. – they’re a separate possession of the Crown.

*Remember “Bergerac”? The popular 1980s cop show was actually based in Jersey but gave the Channel Islands a big jolt as a tourist destination at the time. The basic gist of the series was, according to Wikipedia, “the blend of holiday locations, the island’s tax exile millionaire populace and, of course, some unsavoury criminals.” Our Guernsey journalists were stunned to learn from my Finnish husband that the show was such a huge hit in Finland that charter air and package tours were created to ferry Finns to the Channel Islands.

*Did you know that Guernsey’s big “crop” is money? It’s a banking mecca on the scale of Bermuda and the Caymans. The next big industry is tourism; horticulture’s on the wane but islanders do grow tomatoes and flowers (I’m told the gorgeously scented freesia is the most common flower)

*There was a spirited debate about Guernsey’s awareness among travelers. My husband, Teijo Niemela, who’s editor of Cruise Business Review (www.cruisebusiness.com), a cruise industry business to business magazine, and who joined us for lunch, really peppered the trio with questions about why the Channel Islands doesn’t market itself more aggressively to cruise lines.

*It’s almost as expensive to live here as it is in London! Claire, who’s shopping for a home, regaled us with tales of too-small, garden-less condos here that were more expensive than detached homes with big backyards in other parts of England. Island living is definitely London-esque, real estate-wise.

Shopping

*Speaking of shopping, one of the big selling points for Guernsey when it comes to cruise visitors is its variety and quality as a shopping destination (and its light tax position). It has a nice blend of high street chains and unique-to-Guernsey boutiques. But it’s a controversial issue. The Guernsey Press and Star (http://www.thisisguernsey.com/2010/07/19/the-high-streets-ship-fails-to-come-in/#ixzz0vd9SEZRH) reported recently that on a day with two ships (and 4,000 passengers) in port, the High Street was deserted; cruise shoppers did not materialize. On our visit, I noticed that many, many passengers returning onboard from their day ashore were carrying shopping bags (certainly saw more of these than on our Portland/Weymouth call).

Westerdam's Crow's Nest

On their part, neither Claire, Nicci or Mark had ever been on a cruise ship before and it was illuminating to see what caught their attention. One great comment from Claire on the pool deck, looking back towards the island: I’ve never seen Guernsey from this vantage point before! Other hits onboard for these first time cruisers included Holland America Line’s Explorations Café (the coffee bar/library/card room/Crow’s Nest bar), the lavish theater (easily as big as anything we have on Guernsey, Claire noted), and a tour of our cabin, a standard balcony that was roomier than they expected.

The weather, which was gloomy, spitting rain throughout the day, was definitely  more conducive to staying cozy and dry onboard! Ironically, just as Westerdam began to raise its tenders in preparation to heading back out to sea, the skies cleared and the sun shone brightly. Alas, it was too late to do passengers any good.

CSB

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I Do Like To Be Beside the Seaside

Weymouth seafront

Where do you really go when your cruise ship docks at England’s Portland? You go to the seaside resort of Weymouth! Our cruise was officially underway Tuesday with Portland, on the Dorset coast, as our first port of call. This is a new destination for me (have spent a lot of time in Brighton, Southampton and in various delightful New Forest towns and villages but haven’t gotten this far west) and you can figure out a lot about a port stop by reading between the lines.

In this case, the fact that most of the ship tours were heading away from the port (Stonehenge was a big draw) was one sign. That the shuttle bus that took us from ship to town ferried us to Weymouth rather than Portland, well that’s another. It’s a little weird that all the info the ship provided was about Portland, rather than Weymouth, as if the onboard folks didn’t realize we were stopped here, at the former, to go there, to the latter.

On a longer cruise like this one (anything over 7 days I consider “long” and the more I cruise the more I love the more-than-a-week trips because there’s just more time to both explore on land and relax onboard), the best first port is a low-key stop.

Summertime in Weymouth

Now, while Weymouth, in the height of its summer seaside glory, was anything but low-key, the port is a reasonably relaxed one; there are no major pressures to trod from museum to museum and from historic relics to old castles.

The Weymouth tourism folks who greeted us at the dock  recommended a place to rent a bike, as I had planned  to go into town and find a great bike path to get some exercise and also see the place. But it didn’t in the end work out. In fact, quite boringly (but yet oddly satisfying), I spent time ashore picking up some miscellany for my husband at Marks and Spencer, bought a few books and magazines at W.H. Smith, and then headed across the bridge for a long, lazy meal at Lane’s, where a delicious two-course lunch was £10.95 (the local crab salad starter with a tomato and mango salsa is a winner).

Today, at Guernsey’s St. Peter Port, is another fun day – yes, there’s history here, but it’s also a terrific shopping port. After this, we’ll get serious!

CSB

P.S. By the way, Portland will be host of the 2012 Olympics sailing competitions….

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