(the following article was written by Greg Shapiro)
Of all the ports I’ve sailed into as a crew member, Havana is my favorite. I fell in love with the city while working as a guide on the first round of Cuba cruises. We were the only ship from the United States, with just 700 passengers every 2 weeks. This summer is the beginning of a new era for Havana. If you’re considering a cruise to Cuba, don’t hesitate! But make sure you follow my insider tips to get the most out of your visit.
#1- Don’t miss the sail in: Sailing into Havana is like going back in time. On the port side of the ship, you’ll get up close and personal with the Morro Castle as you sail through the narrow harbor. On the starboard side, you’ll enjoy a panoramic view of hustle and bustle of central Havana, Art Deco facades, classic cars, and pedestrian traffic on the Malécon, Cuba’s ocean-front boulevard. Get a good spot on the top deck early in the morning and bring your binoculars.
#2- Carry a lot of water with you: It’s going to be a long, sweaty day and you need water by your side. I suggest investing in a 40 oz. Hydroflask. Fill it with ice and water from the ship before disembark. You’ll have cold water for 12+ hours and create less waste from buying and disposing plastic bottles.
3- Don’t get stuck in the line to exchange money: Your credit and debit cards from the United States likely won’t work in Cuba so you’ll need to exchange money…and so does everyone else. Either get off the ship before you’re fellow cruisers, or get stuck in an hour long backup at the exchange booths in the cruise terminal. Another option is to exchange money at the San José Artisans Market down the street. Save money: Make sure you bring Euros, Pounds, or Canadian Dollars to avoid the extra 10% exchange fee on United States Dollars.
#4- Get away from the bus: Tours are great, but let’s face it, you spend more time stuck on a bus than you do immersing in the local culture. Budget some time in your schedule to stroll around the Plazas of Old Havana or visit a museum near Parque Central. Just make sure you check the “self-guided” box when you fill out your affidavit. This means that you agree to document the educational and cultural activities you do while you’re in Cuba.
#5- Do some research beforehand: Enrichment presentations can be hit or miss, so don’t wait until you’re onboard to start thinking about Cuban politics and culture. This doesn’t mean you have to bury your head in a long history book. Rent the movie Una Noche. It’s a thriller about teenagers who try and escape Havana on a homemade raft. If you’re looking for a quick and easy read, checkout my cruise-friendly guide 12 Hours in Havana available on Amazon.
About the Author:
Greg Shapiro is a millennial travel hacker, an expert at packing lots of fun into short periods of time. From backpacking South America to sailing around the world, he’s visited over 35 countries and counting.
Repositioning cruises notoriously have a high proportion of non-port days.
With a five-day ocean crossing scheduled for the second week of ours, we learned after coming aboard that rerouting to avoid Cyclone Cook would give us even more time at sea – three consecutive days before we reached the first port.
Are long stretches at sea a problem? I was going to find out.
“I’d go crazy” was the most common response when I told friends my 15-day cruise included more sea days than ports. Yet, once I started asking other passengers how they felt about the upcoming days at sea, many said they were looking forward to them.
“We always choose the cruises with the most time at sea,” one woman told me. “We can’t get enough of it.” When I asked her why, she stared as if it was obvious. “Because it’s so relaxing!”
The Space-Time Continuum
But it may not be relaxing for you. Spending day after day at sea challenges your normal sense of space and time. You’ll have more time and less space than you’re used to.
For some of us, that’s a wonderful thing. Away from our normally rushed lives, we suddenly have all these free hours, and can spend them any way we want. That’s a true gift.
But you might find the combination of expanded time and confined space hard to handle. You may not know what to do with yourself and start thinking about being off the ship. Except there’s nowhere to go – then the gift has become a trap.
PLANNING V IMPROVISING
The key to surviving and enjoying long periods at sea is knowing which of these personality types you are. If it’s the second, you’re going to need to plan your day – and the ship’s daily newsletter should make it easy to do that. If it’s the first, you’ll be fine however you play it.
I met a lot of planners. “I just follow Navigator” (the Holland America Line phone app for scheduled activities and entertainment) one woman told me. Another couple, seasoned cruisers, said they looked for other card-players at the start of each cruise and established a routine of meeting up at the same time each day.
Then there were the “go-it-aloners”. People who settled on a deck lounge each morning with a book and may, or may not, end up falling asleep. Knitters and embroiderers, quietly absorbed in their craft. Jigsaw enthusiasts poring over puzzle pieces. And, alone at the back of the deck, someone serenely practising an unusual stringed instrument.
These long sea days are a golden opportunity to do things you want to do, but never get around to – book a spa treatment, sit for a photographic portrait, learn new computer skills, attend an enrichment lecture, go dancing in the afternoon, or spend all day playing, drinking and chatting with friends.
Or just sit on deck and stare into space. Does it really matter if the sunshine and the fresh air and the movement of the ship send you to sleep? As one woman put it, when she told me how she appreciated having to rest: “You’d never take the time for yourself at home, would you?”
WATER, WATER, EVERYWHERE
There’s something special about slowing down and re-focusing while on a ship that’s alone on a vast ocean. Whether you’re a photographer who spends hours trying to capture the effects of clouds and lights over water, or someone who doesn’t consciously notice the maritime “scenery” at all, this natural environment can have a calming and liberating emotional effect.
The world looks different from here. You’ll reconnect with some things and disconnect from others. My partner took the opportunity to liberate himself from internet and email, which in itself creates a special space.
HOW I SPENT FIVE DAYS AT SEA
My first three sea days were spent getting to know the ship and planning new shore excursions for our changed route. Only during the five-day ocean crossing in the second week did I really get to test my “at sea” survival skills.
I settled on a mix of planning and improvisation. Each day began with the same routine – a cup of tea on deck, and a swim or session at the gym before breakfast. Most days also ended on deck, meeting new friends for a drink or enjoying a quiet cup of tea before bed.
In the hours between, I rekindled a childhood love of ping-pong, listened to a lecture on celestial navigation and attended a digital workshop on photographic editing. I learnt some basic hula steps (where else would that have happened?) and joined a pop-up watercolour painting class organised by a fellow passenger. I read one book and started another, went to high tea and martini samplings, attended an art auction, and spent hours gazing at the water and the sky.
I loved my days at sea, but what worked for me won’t necessarily work for you.
One man, who overheard me discussing with another passenger how relaxed we felt, couldn’t wait to offer a contrasting viewpoint.
“There’s not enough to do!” he complained. His wife, he said, would have liked line dancing and Zumba. He wanted to play mini-golf or take part in a pickle ball tournament. “We’re active people,” he said. “I can only sit in this deckchair for about half an hour, and then I have to get up and move around.”
For him, the number of sea days wasn’t the problem. He had built up brand loyalty to another cruise line with a different activities philosophy, and this voyage was an experiment that hadn’t worked. “I’m just on the wrong ship,” he said.
So you must understand your needs and choose a ship that can meet them. That’s never more important than when a voyage includes long stretches at sea. Some people like a busy ship, while others prefer peace and quiet. Some will adapt to any circumstances, while others have clear ideas about the activities they want.
When considering a repositioning cruise, research the culture and facilities of the particular ship you have in mind. Do you like watching movies? Make sure your ship has a proper cinema. Would you enjoy organised and sociable physical activities such as dance lessons or sports competitions? Check whether these will be available.
Cruise ships have personalities and you need to find one that matches yours. On a ship that’s right for you, extended periods at sea can provide a wonderful opportunity to rest, practise hobbies or socialise. But find yourself on the wrong ship and those days will drag.
Last year, Capt. Joseph Baer — founder, president and CEO of Covington, Ky.-based Grand Majestic — bought the former casino boat Diamond Lady, which was originally built in Bettendorf, Iowa in 1991 and had been laid up for years.
He said the company is putting “many millions” into the riverboat to transform it into a 70-passenger overnight river cruise boat that will be able to sail along some smaller inland waterways due to its shorter height and lower draft.
“We’re small enough and have a light enough draft where we can drop our stacks and get up into Catoosa,” said Baer, referencing a city on the outskirts of Tulsa, Okla. Baer noted that the smaller size of the Grand Majestic means it can clear some bridges and shallower waters that other overnight passenger vessels sailing the Mississippi River System can’t. He said the company plans to do cruises up to Omaha, Neb.; Sioux City, Iowa; Charleston, W.V.; and into the outskirts of Chicago.
The vessel is getting a complete overhaul, and will feature one main dining room and a separate lounge area that will host entertainment. There will be several stateroom categories ranging from a superior stateroom with access to the main deck, to suites large enough to have their own private dining room, for which full sit-down meal service can be ordered. All passengers will be able to order room service.
The ship’s interiors are being outfitted to make passengers feel that they are stepping back in time, but “not so overdone antique-wise that you feel like you’re staying at a B&B,” said Baer. There will also be modern amenities such as satellite TV and WiFi. Staterooms will be ADA compliant.
Excursions will be included, along with one hotel night prior to boarding the vessel. An example of an excursion, according to Baer, is a visit to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, which includes a tour of the caves and a picnic lunch.
The Grand Majestic is slated to launch on Sept. 23, 2017, after which it will sail a variation of seven- to 21-night cruises along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, as well as along several smaller tributaries.
Cruises start at $3,800 per person, a price that includes the pre-cruise hotel night.
New cruise ships are launching nearly every year, and the focus always seems to be bigger, bigger, bigger. While it’s true that bigger ships can have amazing features, they can also be overwhelming and many cruisers find that they actually prefer smaller ships. But what is it that can make smaller ships better than today’s biggest vessels, and which size is best for your cruise vacation?
Bigger Isn’t Always Better
The biggest cruise ships can be phenomenal. These mega-liners are filled with fantastic features that may include dozens of bars and restaurants to choose from, luxury spas offering the most exotic treatments, expansive gyms with specialty classes, multiple pools and whirlpools and a wide range of unique attractions such as ice rinks, bumper cars, 3D theaters, indoor skydiving, zip lines, robot bartenders and more. With so much to see and do right on board the ship, one of these larger vessels can be ideal for a diverse group of passengers or anyone whose idea of a great vacation is one big adventure with something new around every corner.
But there are drawbacks to these humongous cruise ships. Part of being bigger is accommodating more passengers, and with 4,000-6,000 or more passengers on board, lines can be longer and the ship may feel more crowded. Fares for these ships can also be higher because of the demand to try out all the latest features, making the vacation more expensive no matter where the ship may be traveling. Itineraries can also be less diverse on larger ships, because many smaller ports of call may not be equipped to handle either the docking needs of the vessel or the influx of so many passengers at once. And while so many fun features can be attractive, passengers may find themselves overwhelmed on board and forced to miss out on opportunities because there’s just too much to do.
Photo By: Russell Otway
Why Smaller Ships May Be Better for You
Smaller cruise ships, on the other hand, offer a very different experience than the largest vessels afloat today. On a small ship, there are fewer passengers and crew, and everyone has a better opportunity to get to know one another, to swap stories and to make friendships that can last far longer than any one vacation. Passengers can also get to know the ship better, discovering every nook and cranny of the vessel – that case of awards and recognitions for the ship and crew, those unique volumes in the ship’s library, which café or bar offers the best drinks, just the right time for the best sunset views from the promenade deck – without missing out on other activities.
Because smaller ships don’t offer as many bells and whistles built in to the ship, the focus of their sailings is more often on a broader, more in depth appreciation for each port of call. Instead of elaborate Vegas-like show productions in mega-theaters, for example, a smaller ship is more likely to host local dancers, musicians or other entertainers while in port, offering guests a unique opportunity to experience the region’s true culture and heritage. Historical or cultural lectures are more common on small ships, and there is often a better selection of unique shore tours that allow passengers to thoroughly get to know every port they visit.
Today, we’ll look at a couple of the most popular home ports — the gateways you fly into to launch your trip — and a few upcoming cruises.
Port facilities are rustic in some countries, including Vietnam and Cambodia, where cruise tourism is relatively new, but cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong have spent millions updating their facilities, and it shows.
Kaiser told me he enjoyed his time in Singapore; I did too. The island nation, at the southernmost tip of the Malay Peninsula, is a popular port for U.S. cruisers.
More than 400 ships called on Singapore last year, carrying more than 1 million passengers, according to the region’s tourism board.
Singapore often is a traveler’s introduction to Southeast Asia. It’s a good starting point for several reasons, including the cost of getting there. Round-trip airfare from LAX to Singapore’s Changi Airport can be found for as little as $550, according to Airfarewatchdog.com.
When you exit your plane at Changi, you’ll find a high-tech hub that was recently chosen the world’s best airport for the fifth year in a row in the annual Skytrax World Airports Awards.
Singapore has much to offer visitors, including futuristic architecture, excellent shopping in the boutiques of Orchard Road, and exotic elements in the temples of Little India, the shop houses of Chinatown and the city’s night markets.
“We have many diverse destinations within a short sailing distance, year-round warm weather and calm waters for cruising,” said Chee Pey Chang, assistant chief executive of the Singapore Tourism Board, adding that many visitor arrivals are from California.
Kai Tak, Hong Kong’s other terminal, open since 2013, is farther from the downtown area, but it’s one of the world’s newest, most technologically advanced such facilities. Above it is the largest rooftop garden in Hong Kong.
It’s hard not to like Hong Kong’s diversity, architectural innovation, great shopping opportunities and cosmopolitan edginess. As is true in Singapore, English is also widely spoken in Hong Kong.
Round-trip airfare from LAX to Hong Kong International Airport starts at about $734.
The prime season for exploring Asia is fall through spring, when temperatures are cooler. Here is a sampling of upcoming cruises researched by Expedia CruiseShipsCenters. International airfare is not included.
From Hong Kong to Singapore: Fifteen-night cruise aboard the Azamara Journey, Dec. 23-Jan. 7. Azamara Club Cruises, from $4,949 per person, double occupancy.
Do you use a wheelchair? All ships are not created equal when it comes to access. Facilities for disabled travelers continue to improve, so a newer ship, especially one built in the last five years, may be a better bet. Check ship diagrams to see where accessible rooms are and try to learn whether public rooms are accessible. Call the line’s special services department for more information.
(This article was recently printed in the New York Times)
A summer cruise around Iceland is an ideal way to appreciate the country’s landscape, which includes geysers, waterfalls and glaciers. Diane Eide, an Iceland specialist at Travel Experts, said such a trip was “a convenient way to see much of the country because driving from place to place takes a lot of time.” An Iceland cruise is also relatively affordable, with good values to be had between June and September.
Peregrine Adventures, for instance, has several eight-day Cruising Iceland sailings this summer. The trips begin or end in either Reykjavik or Akureyri and include stops in Siglufjordur, Iceland’s northernmost city; the large fishing port of Isafjordur; and Heimaey Island, which was nearly destroyed in 1973 by lava flow. From $1,620 a person.
Iceland ProCruises is offering several 10-day Iceland circumnavigation trips this summer. The cruises have the expected stops, like Reykjavik, but also include more atypical ones, such as the town of Stykkisholmur, near Breidafjordur Bay, known for its bird life and Snaefellsjokull glacier, which sits atop a 700,000-year-old dormant volcano. From $2,595 a person.
Travelers looking for a longer getaway have the option of the 12-day MSC Northern Europe Cruise, which has port stops in Akureyri and Isafjordur and also spends two days in Reykjavik. Options for shore excursions, available at an additional cost, include kayaking through fjords and hikes to waterfalls. From $1,869 a person.
Luxury-seekers may consider Group IST’s Iceland Adventure trip, on a yacht with rich woodwork, brass finishes and antique décor. A highlight is a visit to Lake Myvatn to see fields of lava and bubbling mud pools. From $4,769, including land tours. SHIVANI VORA
Cruise travel last year beat projections, according to new data released by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
Cruise travel reached 24.7 million cruise passengers globally in 2016, CLIA reports, up from a projection of 24.2 million. CLIA is also forecasting a strong year of growth for 2017, with cruise passengers projected to reach 25.8 million.
“One of the many reasons that the cruise industry continues to thrive is because of the personalization it is able to offer to its guests from around the world,” said Cindy D’Aoust, president and CEO, CLIA, in a written release. “Never before have I been a part of or seen an industry that is so good at listening and reacting to what its customers want, and this is why we are going to see our industry continue to grow.”
Top Cruise Destinations in 2016
Caribbean (35 percent)
Mediterranean (18.3 percent)
Europe w/o Med (11.1 percent)
Asia (9.2 percent)
Australia/New Zealand/Pacific (6.1 percent)
Alaska (4.2 percent)
South America (2.5 percent)
Much of the industry’s growth can be attributed to the continuing development of the Asian market, CLIA said, with ocean capacity rising to 9.2 percent in 2016, a 38 percent increase from 2015. The increased capacity in the region, combined with travelers in this region going on shorter, and more frequent cruises, has kept this marketplace at the top of emerging markets within the cruise industry.
New Cruise Ships
Globally, the 2016 CLIA fleet was comprised of 458 ships and welcomed nine new ocean ships and 17 new river vessels for a total of 26 new ships. These new ships represent an additional 28,000 passenger capacity.
5:45 a.m. EDT) — Following the Wednesday christening of its newest ship, AmaKristina, AmaWaterways has revealed it will launch a new Danube-based river vessel in 2019 that is set to be the largest in the world.
To be named AmaMagna, the behemoth will have the same length, height and draft as the line’s other vessels, but at 22 meters it will be twice as wide, allowing for larger cabins — most about 300 square feet — with a capacity for 194 passengers (40 more than Crystal Mozart).
Its width also means it will be the only ship docked in ports that allow two-deep berthing.
Rudi Schreiner, AmaWaterways’ co-owner and president, said the new ship will feature ocean-style cabins, multiple dining venues (including outdoor dining), an elevator that goes all the way to the top of the ship, a heated top-deck pool and hot tub with bar, expanded entertainment and spa offerings and a water sports platform with zodiacs, canoes and other recreational equipment.
The ship will also boast a fitness center large enough for small group classes, hosted as part of the line’s new wellness program, which will roll out next year to one ship per river.
AmaMagna shipbuilder Koert Kamphuisen of Vahali Shipyard said the vessel will be green, using propulsion that’s a hybrid of diesel and electric engines. In total, there will be 10 small engines, with just four used for propulsion. If more power is needed, electric ones will be used.
“In the end, we expect to save 20 to 25 percent more fuel,” Kamphuisen said, noting that smaller engines also mean less noise.
Construction began on March 6 at Vahali’s headquarters in Belgrade, Serbia. When the hull is completed, the vessel will be finished at the company’s facility in Holland. Because its size will prohibit it from being towed directly to Holland by tugboat, it will instead be taken by freighter via the Black Sea.
AmaMagna is the second of two new ships officially ordered for delivery in 2019. AmaMora, whose name Schreiner said was just chosen Thursday, will be similar to AmaKristina and sail Rhine itineraries.
The line is also considering three additional ships for 2019 to sail the Douro, Irrawaddy and Ganges rivers.
It’s the question every cruise passenger wonders about, and one that was articulated in the opening credits of ITV’s recent fly-on-the-wall docudrama, The Cruise.
Arriving at the quayside to start her holiday aboard Royal Princess, one woman gazed up at her home for the next week, and proclaimed: “Beautiful! Makes you wonder how they keep afloat.”
The vessel might have the Duchess of Cambridge as a godmother – she was heavily pregnant with Prince George when she cut the ribbon in 2013 – but to most eyes she’s no beauty.
At 330 metres (1,083 feet) long, she is longer than the Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool football pitches laid end-to-end. The vessel’s 17 passenger decks, with their serried ranks of balconies, reach a height of 66 metres (217 feet) – taller than Nelson’s Column with a couple of Routemaster buses piled on top.
At Promenade Deck level, she is 38.4 metres wide (126 feet). Higher up, the Lido Deck overhangs the side of the ship and a Sea Walk projects outwards for a further 26 feet.
Below the waterline there’s only 8.5 metres (28 feet) to the keel. That’s just over 10 per cent of the ship’s bulk.
So how does it stay afloat? How does it resist being blown over in a gale, or toppled by rough seas? What stops it from capsizing if the ship is forced to make a sharp turn?
Let’s remember that it is also burdened with the weight of 3,500 passengers and all their luggage. Not to mention the food required to keep them sated, the thousands of tables and chairs in restaurants, bars and theatres, beds, bathrooms, the swimming pools, the marble-clad atrium, the lifts, and everything else required to service a floating hotel.
But, despite all of those things and more, the vessel is full of air. Imagine a bowling ball and a beach ball side by side. Drop them in the sea and the beach ball will float, high in the water.
Let’s dispel another myth before starting to look at the physics.
Although the size of a ship is calculated on its tonnage, this is a measure of volume rather than weight. It is defined by the ship’s enclosed internal space.
A ship’s weight is measured by the amount of water it displaces. Royal Princess, for example, is 142,714 gross tonnes, and while sister ship Majestic Princess is almost the same size it measures 143,000 gross tons for the simple reason that there is a glass roof covering one of its swimming pools.
Despite the seemingly unfeasible height relative to the volume below the waterline, its centre of gravity is kept low because the heaviest equipment – its engines – are below decks, along with the tanks containing fuel, waste, and drinking water. There are also ballast tanks, containing water that can be pumped from one end of the ship to the other, and from port to starboard, to maintain stability.
Now, the physics. A cruise ship displaces an amount of water equivalent to its own mass. The pressure of the sea pushes up against the vessel’s hull to counter the downward force of the ship’s mass. Unlike air, water cannot be compressed, so the combined forces create buoyancy.
It’s basically the principle discovered when Archimedes took a bath 2,300 years ago and ran naked through the streets of Syracuse in celebration.
The water a cruise ship displaces becomes the waves and wash it creates as it moves along. A rounded U-shaped hull is preferable for creating buoyancy; some ships are flat-bottomed and while they still float, they are likely to move uncomfortably in heavy seas.
Staying afloat is the abiding principle of a cruise ship, but the hull must also be designed to resist obstacles such as concrete piers, rocks, sandbars, and even icebergs.
Inside, a series of separate compartments with automatic watertight doors prevent the hull filling completely with water. On the Titanic, those compartments did not reach high enough and water overflowed from one to another.
On the ill-fated Costa Concordia, the captain’s action in sailing too close to rocks breached several compartments at once and his subsequent actions in trying to turn the ship caused the ship to tilt, or list, with fatal consequences.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has released more good news for the cruise industry as part of its first Cruise Industry Consumer Outlook of 2017, conducted in partnership with J.D. Power.
According to the report, cruise travel is continuing to become more popular and awareness is on the rise among all types of travelers. 64 percent of study respondents said that their awareness of cruise vacations has improved within the last two years, and, in the last four months alone, 30 percent of respondents said that their awareness of cruising and ship-based excursions “increased greatly” compared to a year or two ago. In terms of perception, only 6 percent of respondents expressed an unfavorable attitude towards cruising, down 11 percent from four months ago.
The findings dovetail with other recent positive signs for the cruise industry. In CLIA’s fourth Travel Agent Cruise Industry Outlook Report of 2016, over three-quarters of travel agents surveyed projected a continued increase in cruise sales volume, and 67 percent of travel agents reported seeing growth in river cruise popularity.
The number of travelers who are interested in taking a cruise vacation is up to 63 percent, with interest in both ocean cruising (50 percent) and river cruising (30 percent). Over 50 percent say they will or probably will take an ocean cruise, while 80 percent say they will board a cruise ship within the next 12 months.
The study also found that travelers find cruising a good value for the money. 67 percent of respondents said that cruising offers a high value experience for the money, beating out land-based vacations at 47 percent. 66 percent were aware of close-to-home embarkation port options and more than 50 percent were willing to drive up to 500 miles to a port.
J.D. Power conducted the survey online in August and December 2016, targeting 500 consumers who earn more than $50,000 annually and had taken a vacation within the past three years. CLIA said that this report is the first of three to be released in 2017.