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Latvian capital sees 19% jump in tourists

In:
09Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

The port of Riga, the capital of Latvia, saw a 19% jump in tourism in July 2010 compared to the figures from July 2009.  Royal Caribbean's Vision of the Seas made her first stop there and with it, brought to Latvia's capital more than 2 thousand passengers. 

With these figures, the city bureau of tourism, Maxim Tolstoy, intends to maximize the flow of tourists for next season. Most of the tourists that visited Riga were tourists from Sweden, USA, UK, Germany and Norway. 

Riga, and Latvia in general, is still an outsider in terms of tourism among its fellow Baltic countries. Riga spends 2.1 million Euros on tourism, which is dwarfed by the city of Tallinn that spends four times that and the city of Vilnius three times that figure.

Royal Caribbean to make more stops in Uruguay

In:
09Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

Royal Caribbean announced that during the next tourist season, several of its ships will make stops between Montevideo and Punta del Este in Uruguay. The announcement was made this past week by Michael Ronan, Royal Caribbean's Vice President of Government Relations, Caribbean, Latin America & Asia, in a meeting with national authorities that included President of the PNA Engineer Alberto Díaz, Vice-President Juan José Domínguez, Fernando Repremar Penalty SA, Uruguay agents of Royal Caribbean Cruises, Mr. Osvaldo Tabacchi ANP general manager, Captain Daniel De Leon, Luis Fontes Head of the Port of Colonia, Schubert Arq Gonzalo Mendez and Baranda.

Mr. Ronan spoke to the National Port Administration where he highlighted the main objectives of his trip, which were to exchange ideas about adapting the existing port infrastructure to the needs of tourism enterprises.  But he also warned of the need for new infrastructure to provide adequate comfort facilities for hosting thousands of travelers in each of these huge cruise ships. 

Also at this meeting Michael Ronan announced that this upcoming cruise season will feature fourteen stops in the port of Montevideo and Punta del Este. The first cruise which will visit Uruguay this season is the Splendour of the Seas, due to arrive in Montevideo on Dec. 23 at 9:00 in the morning.

Port Canaveral proposes idea of new cruise terminal

In:
08Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

Port Canaveral CEO J. Stanley Payne wants to add a brand new multimillion dollar cruise terminal to Port Canaveral, Florida to help stimulate the growth of the cruise ship industry in the popular port.  

Royal Caribbean already home ports a few of their ships at Port Canaveral, including Freedom of the Seas and Monarch of the Seas.  

Payne believes that while no tenant is specifically interested in the terminal right now, by building a new terminal, it will catch the attention of the cruise industry and generate interest in adding ships here.  "Once cruise lines start seeing you as a port that can't grow, then you have a problem," Payne said.  Payne also pointed out the fact that Jacksonville and Miami are building or upgrading terminal spaces in their ports.

A new cruise terminal could cost between $40 million to $75 million, depending on the amenities port officials decide to include in the terminal. Port Canaveral's existing three terminals for cruise passengers handles the six ships.  The newest port is terminal number 8 and was built specifically for Disney in 1996, with a nearly complete new $22 million upgrade for the terminal that is needed for its two new ships that will call Port Canaveral home in 2011 and 2012.

The cruise industry is the port's No. 1 revenue generator and it has been responsible for millions of dollars in new investments in Brevard County. A study released earlier this year by Lancaster, Pa.-based Martin Associates, which specializes in analyzing the operations of ports throughout the world, said the port helps generate $1.1 billion in revenue across all of its businesses, and $48 million in state and local taxes.

Blogger reviews Vision of the Seas

In:
07Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

Tom Truxton of the RVTimes, an online guide for camping, posted an interesting review of their trip on Royal Caribbean's Vision of the Seas.  What's interesting about the review is it not only documents much of the trip, but also harps on negative elements of their cruise to bring up the issues they experienced.

To start things off, after boarding Vision of the Seas, Truxton went to the Windjammer for lunch and were disappointed in the food they had.

The food for the boarding lunch was dry and bland, kind of like the foods the kids cook at home when it is their turn to cook; compared to the Monarch we were greatly disappointed and hoped that it was not the norm for this Windjammer. Unfortunately this did prove to be the norm for the Windjammer on this cruise but a glass of lemonade improved things some and gave it a tangy taste. Every time we ate in the Windjammer we found the food to be dry and relatively bland, I looked around the restaurant and peeked into the kitchen but I didn’t see my kids working, there were a few dishes that broke the pattern but not many.

The good news is they also took the time to highlight what they liked about the cruise, like dinner in the main dining room.

Dinner in the Aquarius Dining Room was fantastic; we were not disappointed once by the quality of the food or the service that we received there. We ate dinner in the Aquarius every night, breakfast every morning but one, and lunch twice. Our waiter and assistant waiter were very attentive, after the first night the waiters called us by name as we were arriving, had our preferred drinks waiting for us and made us feel at home (Unlike our kids who make us feel like we shouldn’t be home.) Where the Windjammer disappointed the Aquarius made up for.

In the casino, things weren't very good 

The Casino table game staff did not seem to know what they were doing, it seemed as if I constantly had to remind them that they did not pay a bet, did not remove a lost bet, paid my winnings to another player, or they just did not seem to understand their games themselves. My biggest disappointment in the Casino came from the Texas Hold-Em table, which was only opened once during the cruise, was dealt by a dealer that did not seem to understand the game, and had an outrageous rake of 10%

In the end, their cruise was a positive experience for Truxton and his family.

While I identified a lot of negatives in this review overall we did enjoy ourselves, but we can see several areas where the crew of the Vision of the Seas could improve if this is reflective of their normal attitude. Hopefully we can schedule a trip on the Vision when it is on a regular itinerary and we can see what a trip then would be like.

Maureen Brandt wins final cooking competition to become chef of 150 Central Park

In:
06Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

The final cooking competition is over to become the next chef at 150 Central Park on the soon to be launched Allure of the Seas and it's Maureen Brandt of Stillwater, Minnesota.  Brandt won the fan vote last month and today competed with five other chefs for the right to become the next Chef de Cuisine of 150 Central Park, the signature restaurant onboard Allure of the Seas.

Brandt competed in a day long competition and cooked three meals for the panel of judges.  Her specialties included chilled Lobster, provencial Lamb Loin and a pistachio cake.

Chef Daniel Fein came in second place and CruseCritic is reporting he has accepted the position of Chef of 150 Central Park on Oasis of the Seas, whose chef has announced previously that he will be leaving.

With Brandt winning, she completes a long trek of winning the Allure of the Seas Culinary Challenge, which started back in early July 2010.  She submitted a video of her cooking a dish and explaining why she should be considered for the contest.  She then made it to the final six competitors, won the fan vote and today has won the cooking competition.

Brandt is a 1999 graduate of Stillwater Area High School and she is also a "Certified ProChef Level Three" by the Culinary Institute of America and CEC through the American Culinary Federation.

The panel of judges for the cooking competition included Culinary Institute of America Chef Lou Jones and Dr. Victor Gielisse and from Royal Caribbean Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations, Lisa Bauer; Vice President of Food & Beverage Operations Frank Weber.

Cruisers to Dominican Republic will no longer pay $15 fee

In:
06Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

President Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic signed into law a decree that will exclude cruise ship passengers in transit from paying the $15 airport fee.  The fee had been generating around US$7.4 million in revenues for the government of the island nation.

The country earns around US$80 million per year from the 400 cruise ships which currently dock in Dominican ports, where each one leaves around US$200,000.A 5% growth in cruise ship arrivals is expected this year, with more than 350,000 tourists visiting in the first four months.

Royal Caribbean has two ships that stop at Samana in the Dominican Republic, Explorer of the Seas and Enchantment of the Seas.

Cruising 101: Tips

In:
06Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

One of the most debated topics when it comes to cruising is gratuities, or tips.  Tips are found throughout your cruise vacation and differ in the amount to give as well as the frequency to give.  Gratuity is general is a very subjective matter but it's something you need to know about before you cruise so you can better plan your budget for your trip.

Obligatory Gratuity

Of all the tips you may or may not hand out, there are a few people on the ship that everyone should tip at least something to.  These are...

  • Stateroom attendant
  • Waiter
  • Assistant Waiter
  • Head Waiter

These four people are the crew members you will have the most contact with during your cruise.  While there may be some discussion of how much to tip them, there's little doubt that they all should be tipped at the very least. Because there's so much confusion as to how much to tip, Royal Caribbean provides a list of suggested gratuity amounts.

  • Suite attendant: $7.25 USD a day per guest
  • Stateroom attendant: $5.00 USD a day per guest
  • Dining Room Waiter: $3.75 USD a day per guest
  • Assistant Waiter: $2.15 USD a day per guest
  • Headwaiter: $0.75 USD a day per guest

These suggested rates are just that...suggestions.  Basically, if you feel the service you received was within your expectations, these amounts are fitting.  If you feel the service was better than you expected, you could always tip more.  Every person has their own ideas of how much tip is "right", so it's up to you but at least these figures will give you a good starting point.

Other Gratuities

You will quickly find gratuity opportunities elsewhere on your cruise.  If you order a drink from a bar or wait staff, a 15% gratuity will automatically be added to your bar bill or wine check when you are served.  There is also an option for tipping more, but generally the automatically included tip will suffice.

Even before you board your cruise, there are porters at the cruise terminal to help you check in your luggage.  These folks tend to be very helpful and it's customary to tip them $1-$2 per bag. It's not required and if you opt not to tip them, your bags will still make it on the ship, however, many opt to tip these people for the prompt service they provide

If you take an excursion, the decision to tip can be less obvious.  Some excursions do include gratuity in the cost of the excursion, so be sure to check the description of any excursion you take to see if that is the case.  It's hard to give a general answer for if it's right to tip on any excursion as it's less clear.  Personally, I recommend tipping if someone gives you or your family service above and beyond what's reasonable.  A good example may be if you are doing a parasailing excursion and the staff gives you or someone in your party a few extra minutes, or perhaps lets your daughter "drive" the boat.  Special things like this are good reasons to tip the staff a few extra dollars.

How to tip

The gratuities for the wait staff and your stateroom attendant can be prepaid either before you book your cruise, added to your SeaPass account during your cruise or paid in cash at the end of your cruise.  Regardless of how you pay for them, labeled envelopes will be delivered to your stateroom during your cruise to allow for an easy exchange of gratuities.

Tipping others is less formal, as you will either be giving them cash or amending the bill you receive after getting a drink.  When you're off the ship, tipping by cash is the preferred method and it's best to bring a lot of $1 and $5 bills with you to have on hand for tipping.  Don't worry about carrying local currency, nearly every destination you visit will be people more than willing to accept United States currency.

When to Tip

In addition to how much to tip, there's a great deal of discussion of when to tip.  Everyone has their own preferences.  Some people like to tip a little at the beginning of the cruise to ensure great service for the rest of the cruise.  Others prefer to tip at the conclusion of the cruise to reward good service.  There isn't a right or wrong way to tip, it's a completely subjective decision.  For your waiters and stateroom attendants, it's most common to tip them on the last night of the cruise.

Brilliance of the Seas: Not only for oldies

In:
06Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

The Evening Herald, an Irish newspaper, sent a reporter to cruise on Brilliance of the Seas to check it out.  The reporter flew to Dubai to board Brilliance and came into the assignment with the notion that cruises were for old people but that seemed to quickly disappear once he boarded the ship.

I feared that I was entering a floating retirement home, where dinner would take place at 5pm, and a game of bingo would set you up nicely for hitting the hay at 8pm. But in truth, the stereotype didn't stick.

The stateroom seemed to be more than he was expecting and his only issue was with the shower, which he found small and the shower head wasn't very accurate.  Otherwise, he found the stateroom a nice place to spend the next few nights.

He also documented much of the activities and entertainment on Brilliance of the Seas, taking time to explore the ship properly.

The boat's central atrium, its regular clinking of glasses accompanying the tinkling of a piano, gave it the feel of a plush hotel lobby, and lulled you into the mood to slump into a comfy seat and gorge yourself on brandies.

Like many who go on cruises, food was a big deal and he seemed to be rather impressed with what he found both in the complimentary dining as well as elsewhere on the ship.

The food on board was a revelation. The main restaurant, which served buffet meals all day, catered for every imaginable taste, all laid out in a cavernous area which meant that there was no queuing, and no scramble for seats, even though up to 800 people could be eating at any one time.

I dined in Portofino, and it was better than any Italian restaurant I've been to in Dublin.

Overall, the author seemed happy with his experience and definitely seemed to be recommending a cruise aboard Brilliance of the Seas to everyone.

DVR Alert: Man-Made: Ultimate Cruise Ship - Freedom of the Seas

In:
06Aug2010
By: Matt Hochberg

Set your DVRs (or VCRs if someone actually still has one) for Sunday night to check out National Geographic Channel's series "Man-Made", where they will take a look at the Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas ship.

Freedom of the Seas debuted in 2006 as the worlds largest cruise ship: a fast, fabulous floating city with nearly 6000 people on board almost every day. Freedom has a reputation for everything thats bold and beautiful, and her first New Year's is set to be an extravagant celebration with a week of intense preparation leading up to the biggest ever New Year's Eve party at sea. She is equipped with the technology to handle almost anything: rogue waves, hurricanes, terrorist attack and even contagious diseases - threats no captain can ignore. In the lead up to the big bash, Freedom and her crew of nearly 1500 will not only battle the elements but also a full complement of eccentric guests. The first New Years Eve on the worlds biggest cruise ship: plain sailing or a nautical nightmare? This is the inside story.

Remember how I said to set your DVRs? Well that's because it's airing on the National Georgraphic Channel at 2am on Sunday, August 8th.  I don't know about you, but I'm not usually up that early/late, so I'll opt to record it instead.  Here's a quick clip from the episode.

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