Hurricane Season: We’re At the Peak

August 26, 2014 | By | 3 Comments

norwegian breakaway's captain showing the status of a hurricane



On its New York to Bermuda run this week I was among 4,800 passengers sailing aboard Norwegian Breakaway who got some bad news. Hurricane Cristobal, a late-developing storm that gave a lashing to the Dominican Republic and Haiti and bounced tropical showers off the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas, is headed straight for, you guessed it, our three port days in Bermuda.

As a result, our voyage will feature stops at Florida’s Port Canaveral and the Bahamas’ Nassau. Nice, but not quite, dare we say…the ports we’d all planned for.

Welcome to peak season hurricane cruising. While storms can occur anytime between the months of June to November (and even occasionally earlier or later), mid-August to mid-October is prime time. This affects itineraries primarily, but not exclusively, in the Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda, Atlantic Canada, the Mexican Riviera and Hawaii. (In Asia, at the same time, typhoon season can plague itineraries there.)

The good thing about cruise travel vs. resort stays in potentially affected regions?

“A cruise ship is the safest place to be in a hurricane,” said our captain, Evans Hoyt. “Because we can choose to be where the hurricane is not.”

Celebrity Summit, which had also planned a three day Bermuda port stop, was also affected, as was Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas, which left Bermuda a day early to avoid the storm.

In a PowerPoint presentation in Breakaway’s atrium Monday, Captain Hoyt calmly discussed the unusual move of changing a ship’s entire itinerary — midcruise. He showed graphics of the track of the storm with the National Hurricane Center as his source. He explained the factors behind the decision (the sudden transformation of our sunny morning to an ominous dark cloud situation in the afternoon provided helpful visual support). When he was done, the several-thousand-strong group of passengers ringing the atrium applauded. That’s right. Their vacations were completely uprooted and yet, passengers still clapped.

Overheard, afterward, a passenger — completely calm — said, “I’m on a ship so I’m already in my happy place.” In contrast, another passenger who had (according to the rumor mill at the forward elevator bank) planned a wedding on one of the Bermuda port days, was livid and loudly demanding compensation.

In Cruise Critic’s Hurricane Zone, we offer lots of advice about cruising during the almost half-a-year period in which storms could possibly disrupt your trip. And while you can find it there, some of it bears repeating.

*Weather — at a resort or on a cruise ship — is not guaranteed. Tread carefully when it comes to planning major life events on shore at this time of year. Investigate insurance possibilities.

*If you have booked your port tour through your cruise line, it will of course refund the money should the ship not make it to port. But independent tour operators are a grey area; before you commit, make sure you understand what their cancellation policies are should your ship not make it to port. In this case, Viator, an independent operator we’d booked a tour with, told us it would refund Breakaway passengers who’d purchased its Bermuda tours.

*Flipping an entire itinerary is highly unusual (more typically storms may re-order port schedules or drop a stop to avoid bad weather), but cruise lines have no liability for such changes.

*Once kids go back to school (mid-August to mid-September), hurricane season cruises are just about the best deals you can get. But remember the catch.

In our case, Captain Hoyt’s decision to abruptly change our route meant that the sea turned calm and the once-threatening sky turned happy again; cheers and shrieks resumed from families having fun at the pools, ropes course and waterslides; and the Maltings Bar on the ship’s Waterfront was packed with passengers sipping whiskey and playing Mah Jongg.

All that’s left is to hope, fervently, that Bermudians stay safe and the island is spared.

    Cruise Critic Live! Norwegian Next Dining

    August 25, 2014 | By | No Comments

    hibachi chef with diners at teppanyaki on norwegian cruise ship ncl cruise ship
    Each week on Cruise Critic Live!, we’ll take a look at all the things to love about cruising, from favorite destinations to amazing dining experiences, and we’ll give you the inside scoop on the newest ships at sea and on the rivers. We’ll also welcome outside experts to this space, including cruise line CEOs and newsmakers. And of course, we want to hear from you: What would you like to discuss?
    This week, we’re chatting about dining onboard Norwegian cruise ships. Cruise Critic Editor in Chief Carolyn Spencer Brown is onboard Norwegian Breakaway, and we’re joined by Frank Weber, vice president of product development for Norwegian Cruise Line. We’ll talk about the line’s initiative, Norwegian Next, and, of course, the food. Norwegian passengers told the line they wanted improvement, and the line is happy to accommodate — Carolyn’s onboard to give a first-person account of the new commitment. Plus, we’ve got Norwegian menus — lots of menus — for those who must know what will be served when they cruise. Join us at 3 p.m. (EDT) August 28.
    Have you missed out on a chat? Have no fear: We archive them all here. Read them to find out which cruise line CEO announced refurbishment details for his company’s ships, what features were really great on Regal Princess and where to find some quiet time on Norwegian Getaway.

      Where in the World is Cruise Critic?

      August 25, 2014 | By | No Comments

       Carolyn Spencer Brown, Colleen McDaniel and Chris Gray Faust on map
      Cruise Critic staffers set sail every week, traveling the globe to bring you the latest cruise ship trends, port sneak peeks and onboard observations. Here’s where we are this week.
      (Got questions about any of the ships we’re boarding or ports we are visiting? Ask us in the comments!)
      Ship: Norwegian Breakaway
      Where: Departing from Norwegian Breakaway’s home city of New York, we’re heading to Bermuda, where we’ll have three full days to explore.
      Who: Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief
      Why There? The appeal of this cruise is split right down the middle. I’m intrigued to cruise on Norwegian Breakaway, my first look at the line’s newest model of ship. More than any other cruise line, at least for now, Norwegian’s voyages are more resort-oriented than traditional, and I’m curious to try the Vegas-style experience. And Bermuda – which consists of some 120-plus islands and is a British overseas territory – has beautiful beaches, lively culture, and fun pubs. Another plus: New York is a drive-to port for us, so I’m pleased to cruise without flying.
      We Can’t Wait: Onboard, Breakaway is a nightlife ship so I’m planning to jump in wholeheartedly — friends just back from a cruise on Breakaway raved about the White Hot Party and “Burn the Floor,” in particular. We love its range of restaurants – with 29 different options it’s going to be hard to get to all of them, but we’ll try. In Bermuda, we’re excited to be there for Wednesday’s Harbour Nights street festival and a cycling trip along the 18-mile Railway Trail. We’re also very excited to co-host Cruise Critic Live! — our weekly chat — from the ship. Since Norwegian Cruise Line recently announced major new upgrades to its onboard menus, we’ll be chatting with the cruise line’s VP of Product Development Frank Weber. Come by and join us on Thursday, August 28 at 3 p.m. (Eastern).
      Cruise ship docked near construction
      Tour/Ship: Shipyard tour of Royal Caribbean’s new ships, Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas
      Where: Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany
      Who: Colleen McDaniel, Managing Editor
      Why There? We’re visiting to see the progress on Royal Caribbean’s two newest ships and checking in on the cabin factory. We’ll have plenty of photos and maybe a little news to report from the trip.
      We Can’t Wait: The two ships are full of innovation, and I’m excited to see what they look like up close and personal. Quantum of the Seas will be further along than its fleetmate, Anthem, so I’m looking forward to seeing the spaces the line has been touting for more than a year: Two70, the dining spaces and of course, the pool deck. This will be my first shipyard tour, and I’m thrilled to see how the building works and comparing the progress on Quantum and Anthem, which is still in blocks.
      Moose eating with mountain in background
      Tour/Ship: A Holland America Cruisetour to Alaska
      Where: The cruisetour begins on land in Anchorage, before heading up to Denali and Fairbanks. We then explore Dawson City and Whitehorse, Yukon, before boarding Holland America’s Zuiderdam in Skagway for four days along Alaska’s Inside Passage.
      Who: Chris Gray Faust, Destinations Editor
      Why There? Cruisetours continue to be one of the best ways to see a lot of the 49th State in a short amount of time. Besides taking a look at Holland America’s Zuiderdam, I’ll give you the scoop on excursions, lodging and other nuts and bolts of what a typical cruisetour is all about.
      We Can’t Wait: I’m no stranger to Alaska’s Inside Passage (read my review of Alaska expedition cruising), but the interior will be completely new to me. I’m interested to see how a cruisetour compares in value to a land vacation, and also how the experience on an Alaska mainstream cruise ship compares to the smaller vessels I’ve been on.

        Hot on the Forums: Where’s My Bedtime Chocolate?

        August 22, 2014 | By | 14 Comments

        Piece of chocolate on pillow
        I think we all agree there’s never any danger of going hungry on a cruise ship; yet it seems there are some metaphorical tears on the pillow following reports of a shortage or total demise of bedtime chocolates – and it’s prompted quite a debate on the forums.
        However much I’ve already eaten, if I spot a sweet treat in my cabin I’ll consume it, even though the notion of eating chocolate immediately before bedtime at home is an alien concept (even for me). And I admit to feeling short changed if there’s a little poem or profound philosophical ditty on my pillow instead.
        So it’s no surprise that Cruise Critic member cruisestitch triggered a lengthy thread on the Celebrity forum after posting: “Bedtime chocolates gone! Now really, Celebrity. You have to cut corners so close that there aren’t any pennies per night for pieces of chocolate?”

        Read on to find out more.

          Cruise Lines Take Part in ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

          August 21, 2014 | By | 3 Comments

          als association ice bucket challenge
          If you haven’t heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge, then you must be living under a bucket. The trend sweeping the nation involves plenty of ice water with the intention to raise awareness and funds for those living with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” Everyday Americans, celebrities, sports teams and even a former president have stepped up to the challenge — an overwhelming list of participants that also includes cruise line executives and crew. To date, the ALS Association has received $41.8 million as a result of the viral challenge — $39.7 million more than the same time period a year ago. Check out some of the participants from your favorite cruise lines below:

          Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corporation


          Carnival crew fleetwide



          Guy Young, president of Uniworld



          Ken Muskat, EVP; Bonnie Levengood, SVP; and crew of MSC Divina



            Steal of the Week: 7-Night Norway Cruise from $999

            August 21, 2014 | By | No Comments

            piggy bank cruising
            Everyone is looking for the deal of the century. So how do you choose the one that’s right for you? Check the Lido Deck each week to get the scoop on our favorite deals — then grab the phone and pack your bags.
            THE DEAL: Holland America Line is offering a seven-night Norway cruise onboard Rotterdam, sailing roundtrip from Rotterdam on May 9, 2015. Prices start from $999 per person for an inside cabin and include bonuses as part of the Explore 4 package.
            WHAT WE LOVE: Pay from $143 per person, per night and explore four ports in Norway with two opportunities for scenic fjord cruising. Scenery is spectacular in May, and you’ll be immersed in the countryside with just two days at sea. If you book an outside or above category cabin, the value of your Holland America sailing increases with their Explore 4 promotion, offering cruisers a free Signature beverage package, free dinner at the Pinnacle Grill, reduced cruise fares for third and fourth passengers and reduced deposits. Suite passengers receive all the above plus $300 in onboard credit and a free Canaletto dinner. You’ll never forget where you’re sailing from on this ship — both the port of embarkation/disembarkation and the ship are Rotterdam.
            WHAT GIVES US PAUSE: Taxes, fees and expenses are an additional $161 so you have to factor that into the price. To receive any of the bonuses, expect to spend roughly $1,560 per person (including those fees). Rotterdam is an older vessel — updated, sure, but it may not have any of the bells and whistles of newer ships if you’re looking for that.
            HOW TO BOOK IT: For all the nitty-gritty on this deal (including that pesky fine print), click here.
            Compare flight prices with our sister site TripAdvisor’s meta-search tool.
            Looking for cruises for under $75 or even $50 a day? We’ve got ‘em listed on our Cheap Cruises page.
            Get great cruise deals — and exclusive member offers — delivered weekly to your inbox.

              Wanderlust Wednesday: The Glass Island

              August 20, 2014 | By | No Comments

              Black and white picture of city with waterway
              Every Wednesday, we’ll be taking you on a journey around the world to some of the most interesting places our members have trekked, swum or merely witnessed from afar while cruising.
              Whether these photos inspire you to plan a relaxing escape or walk on the wild side, we hope they ignite your senses and give you ideas for your next cruising adventure. If you have a photo you’d love to share, send it to us at photos@cruisecritic.com or post it in our member photo gallery.
              This photo of a sidewalk along the canal in Murano, Italy, may have been taken in present day, but it conjures up the image of a simpler time. Brightly colored and vibrant, Murano is known for its glassmaking of more than 700 years. Thanks to Cruise Critic member bigxstudio for submitting the photo.
              Find interesting places to visit based on region.
              Everything you need to know about planning a cruise.
              Explore Trip Reports of unique itineraries.

                Member Review of the Week: Nifty Fifty

                August 19, 2014 | By | No Comments

                Sunset overlooking mountains and see with close-up flowers
                Each week, we choose five cruise reviews written by our members, one of which is showcased as the Member Review of the Week. In the spotlight this week is Cruise Critic member dag144‘s recent cruise to the Eastern Caribbean aboard Caribbean Princess.
                Overall Impression: This cruise marked a significant milestone for avid cruiser, dag144. Aside from being the first onboard Caribbean Princess after sailing with the line numerous times, it was dag144′s 50th cruise: An anniversary that made for a new favorite (revealed below).
                Read on for highlights, tips and more.
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