Monday, January 30, 2012

How are beds laid out in a cruise ship cabin? Does it vary by class of cabin? Will I have to choose between an upper and lower bunk?

Most cruise ships have their cabins laid out such that there are two lower bunks which can be a queen size bed or separated into two twin beds. There are exceptions to the general rule though. Some of these exceptions have beds that form an L shape and can’t be pushed together.  There may also be a couch that pulls out or beds that come down from up above to provide a 3rd and 4th bed for the cabin.
When you book usually if there are only two of you planning to use the cabin you will be provided a cabin which can only accommodate two guests as the triple and quadruple occupancy cabins are typically saved for those who need 3-4 bunks.  If you do proactively choose a cabin that fits 3-4 but only book two into the cabin, know you could be moved by the cruise line if they need the cabin with additional bunks. The cruise line wants to fill every legally sellable bunk with a paying passenger on every cruise.
These pull down bunks are called Pullman bunks. They are unlocked and come down from the ceiling for bedtime and are usually stored by the cabin attendant during the daytime. These upper bunks are a mattress on a frame just like the lower bunks and are just as plush.  Pullman bunks can lay either parallel or perpendicular with the other bunks in the cabin. It is a hit or miss thing depending on how the ship was originally designed.  Regardless the sleep tends to be the same regardless of if you are sleeping with the length or beam of the ship, be it on the lower or upper bunks.
As I mentioned in some cabins (typically larger ones) a couch with a pull out bed may be employed to provide the 3rd and 4th sleeping spaces.  These will open up and the bed will be made for sleeping and folded away during the day. These beds are not quite as comfortable as the other bedding, but then so when it a couch bed as comfortable as a regular bed, never has there been one in my experience.  Note that the couch beds are for 2 people so if you take a suite and bring along your twenty-something kids one of each sex they may give you a weird look when it comes to sharing the couch bed.
The last bedding examples are rarer and usually restricted to suite, or explorer style ships.  In larger suites often the bed is a king size bed, sometimes even with rounded edges. These beds are usually made as a single bed and can’t be easily broken down into two separate beds. Also, some ships allow/have rollaway beds for adding another bunk to a larger suite cabin. This is something which would need to be reserved at the time of booking though.  My final example on explorer style ships are bunk beds where the lower bunk is a solo cruiser bunk as is the upper bunk. This may be found on some specialized explorer ships and is an atypical arrangement.
Ultimately if there are specific bedding arrangements that are critical for your cruise to be an enjoyable cruise it is key to let your cruise agent know of the requests as you are booking.  This will allow them to ensure you don’t end up in one of the exception cabins.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Was the 20/20 Cruise Confidential Story on January 20th a fair portrayal of the cruise industry?

The very short answer is No! ABC’s 20-20 portrayed the cruise industry, specifically a couple of the leading cruise lines as dangerous vacation choices.  Instead of focusing on the Costa Concordia disaster as many of their lead in ads indicated, they only briefly spoke of that story and instead engaged in journalistic bashing of the cruise industry as a whole portraying isolated incidents as regular normal behavior aboard the cruise ships.

Of note, ABC is owned by Disney who also owns a cruise line. (For full disclosure I own shares of Disney and also other cruise lines.)  The only shots used of the Disney ships were showing where cruising can be fun, none of the reported violence came from aboard Disney ships. It only takes a google search and you will find where violent acts have occurred on Disney ships primarily crew on crew violence. So ABC’s 20/20 should really have mentioned those events as well instead of giving the false appearance that the Disney ships are free of the violence they showcased.

ABC’s 20/20 took it upon themselves to find some of the more violent video from aboard cruise ships and use it to portray specifically Carnival and Royal Caribbean ships as having a high level of violence guests on guests, drunkenness, and the wildest crew parties afloat.  Is it true these events sometimes happen, absolutely, but then again one gentleman was beat nearly to death at a football game in California this season, which was an isolated and very sad situation.  The video obtained and aired by ABC’s 20/20 was all stuff that can be found out on Youtube, most of which I have seen before.

Unlike what ABC 20/20 portrayed cruise ships don’t have daily brawls between and among various guests. Most guests are not falling down drunk every day of the cruise, although they do occur and you can see some humorous videos out on youtube, including one of a lady so drunk she decided to just do her business on the pool chair.  Passenger on Passenger violence is generally pretty isolated, but can occur when people drink and forget their manners and let hot heads prevail. That happens in bars and all kinds of other venues back on land every day as well, just watch the news or call and ask the police.

Ships do maintain security both plain clothes and uniformed security in an effort to help keep both passengers and crew in line.  The FBI will get involved in situations involving US passengers and most cruise lines are cooperative in reporting such instances to the FBI. Security will step in and help break up fights and will even detain passengers in their cabins or a brig cell where appropriate. Passengers who get really out of hand will also be sent packing at the next port of call and in some cases handed over to the local police at the next port of call.  Ships do maintain guest behavior policies which are there for the safety of all guests and they are enforced.

Why ABC’s 20/20 didn’t point out more about what the cruise lines do to prevent and deal with these situations is beyond me. Further, why didn’t they go out of their way to point out these are isolated incidents which do not occur very often? I can’t answer that, but guess it is all about have a more sensational story.

In speaking with many different crew some who I have sailed with several times, I know that yes there are some wild and crazy crew parties from time to time. The same occurs on deck with passenger parties as well.  The crew party shown on 20/20 is likely from one of the exceptionally wild and crazy parties celebrating a specific event or holiday.  Do you really think the lamest party goers who are sitting around chatting with a drink in front of them make the sensational video, of course not, but those folks are out there on video as well. The video shown was the wild and crazy people really letting loose which is just fine as long as they keep to themselves and don’t violate any rules related to personal space violations.  Yes there are rules about crew behavior too.
Overall this was just a story in which 20/20 could slam an industry during prime time television viewing hours. It’s a shame how far off base their story was and how little they did to explain how safe cruising really is.   It is very safe and among the best vacation bargains out there these days.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Costa Concordia Situation, more information! & Cruise Safety!

A lot changes in the course of 24 hours in this sad story. We now have a captain remanded to house arrest, something many think is a bit more freedom than he deserves. We also have a higher official death toll at 11 (9pm Tuesday evening here) with still 25 missing.  The ship has a non-stop search operation ongoing now so they can try to find any remaining survivors.
Where does this lead us overall?  Well, we still have more questions about the chain of events that led us to a Friday the 13th crash at sea that has left many folks dead.  There are many who are now calling for increased safety training for passengers as well as the crew, specifically those assigned to lifeboats.  Increased training definitely is a good idea as there are gaps in the training which can be filled.
Generally speaking there is likely a bit of damage for the cruise industry to work out.  The inaction and inappropriate actions by the captain of the Costa Concordia really worry some people. Those who are new to cruising have to know or be convinced that in fact the crew actions were the exception not the rule. The crew on most ships will make sure everyone is taken care of and help like they should during an emergency situation.   Most crew are well trained and want things to go smoothly.  Keep in mind a successful evacuation helps the crew survive as well.
We have to consider cruising is generally incredibly safe.  The ships are designed for passenger comfort and seaworthiness.  The deck officers generally operate only in safe seas and avoid overly dangerous maneuvers where possible. The deck officers review the planned course and account for weather and other factors before entering the course into the official trip plan each trip.  Even for trips run over and over again the plan is double checked each trip/day/shift to ensure everything is going as planned.
Many captains would actually rather be at sea commanding the ship from the bridge than spending most of their day being the star of the ship. Most prefer working for the cruise lines because of the more stable work environment and that they do get to interact with more people and have better food and accommodations than they would on a cargo ship or tanker. Regardless, you will find professional master mariners sailing in the top deck officer positions on most cruise ships. Even the cruise lines want it that way since so much rides on safe passage.
Add to the good safety record that cruising is generally one of the best vacation bargains available, cruising is still a great way to spend your vacation.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Costa Concordia Situation

I’ve been paying close attention to the Costa Concordia accident since before much news hit the US airwaves on Friday night. In fact I managed to get my most up to date information not from any of the big box US based television news outlets but from twitter and the folks I follow there.  (We can easily be followed using   @Brookscruisesvc  to follow us.)  The news was coming right out of Italy, and these days with translation available thru various websites, you can get a reasonable English account of the news in Italian.

First I want to express deepest sympathy to the passengers and crew and families of these people who suffer the effects of the tragedy.  The loss of even one life in the accident is tragic, and with a current death toll (as of noon on Monday the 16th) of five that is a very sad loss of life.  With 15 still missing it is possible that the death toll will reach 20.  Now some folks I have read cite the percentage loss of life as a measure and using that it makes 20 look small, but if you look around you somewhere you gather and think 20 that is a lot of lost life, but I made my point any loss is too much loss of life so I don’t plan to debate the final death count.

Unfortunately, based on current statements by Costa it appears the ship’s Master did not follow proper maritime or company protocol in operating this ship. It appears his digression from the prescribed routes have contributed in part or may be fully at fault for causing the accident. The accident and subsequent confusion in evacuating the ship has then resulted in the death of at least five and to many injuries. That does not even begin to that into account loss of personal items by the passengers and crew or the financial loss to Costa for damage to the ship and all of the lost passenger revenue expected to be produced by the ship.  

No, I am not focusing on the financial impact, at least yet, because until the rescue efforts are complete and well behind us it is still a human toll story.  This is a human story that appears to have started with a planned special sail by Giglio, Italy. This sail by was apparently preplanned as it was advertised by the sister of the ship’s Senior Head Waiter.  She posted (and that post appears to now be gone) on Facebook that such a sail-by would occur.  The post was reprinted in at least one UK based newspaper.  So we have a situation where a “stunt” was planned ahead of time and unfortunately it did not go well.

Personally this tragedy will not affect my feelings about being on a cruise ship. Generally, it is about as safe a way to travel as you can find. One of the reasons why it will not affect my feeling about cruising is the fact such stunts are incredibly rare and after this one failed to work correctly, the scrutiny on other ship’s Masters will be so tight as to ensure a copy-cat event does not occur. Further, my sailing out of Galveston rapidly move into deep water where all obstructions are well marked and typically lit (most are related to the offshore oil fields) making for an interesting area transit.

A lot of lessons will be learned from the accident that ultimately will improve safety even more for cruise ships. So far based on my read of the situation the training for the crew at each lifeboat station needs improvement and that will almost certainly happen very quickly with the other major cruise lines out of concern that nothing such as the chaos of this evacuation can ever be repeated again. SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) conventions are likely going to be modified to enhance safety to an even greater degree.  This was done after the Titanic (almost 100 years before the Costa Concordia) sank.

As someone who worked on vessels at sea during my College Summer days, I know that safety training is important for crew.  Safety training for passengers happens both on the welcome aboard message on your TV upon arrival on the ship as well as at Muster Drill.  SOLAS requires a muster drill within 24 hours of initial sailing.  In the case of the Costa Concordia the initial sailing actually happens for guests on different days due to three or more boarding ports.  In the case of the port near Rome, they wait for Muster drill the full 24 hours and combine it with the one for those boarding at the main embarkation port.

I’ve seen a muster drill called and performed for those who boarded down-line on one of my Royal Caribbean sailings.  Those new guests were run thru the full drill, and it was done where they all had the training before we sailed from their departure port. I believe that is the best way for the Muster Drill to happen, before any new guests leave their own departure port, not after they are already at sea.

As this story continues to unfold we will likely see Costa heap more blame on the Captain. They already have made more than one public statement in which they describe his actions as unauthorized and inappropriate. Based on transcripts from the “black box” (which is really orange if you go look for them) the Captain did refuse to assist in organizing the rescue efforts as ordered by the Italian Coast Guard. That alone should lead the Master to a 12 year prison sentence. Of course he is likely to be charged with murder or maybe manslaughter for each one of the deaths. Also, he is likely to be charged with criminal negligence in causing the accident itself and will likely face criminal charges for any environmental damage.

Greenpeace has been cited as confirming the area where the ship lays tonight is a marine sanctuary for dolphins. Likely, a dolphin or two lost their homes as a result of this. Yes marine animals have homes as well, and most cruise lines go out of their way not to disturb such animals or their homes.  Of course until all of the fuel, oil, and other environmentally dangerous fluids are removed from the ship there stands a big chance we could see ecological disaster at the current final resting site of the ship.

A sad addition to the end of the story, just a few moments ago the missing count was raised to around 30 passengers and crew, depending on which report you see. Regardless that is a disturbing and very sad turn of events this evening. Fortunately unlike prior evenings the rescue crews are continuing their search thru the ship despite the darkness of the overnight hours.

We will write more in another blog in the near future.

Is cruising for families of just old people?

Years ago, cruising was said to be for the newlyweds and nearly dead. Even then it was not really an accurate picture of who cruised but just the same, cruising has changed over the years. Most would say cruising has changed for the better but then again it is all about perspective. Cruising is open to a wide spectrum of different cruisers.

Cruise ships these days range from 12 passenger luxury vessels to ships that can carry at maximum passenger capacity well over 6000 passengers.  That is a 1:500 ratio small ship to big ship.  From a cost standpoint, which is somewhat hard to compare because that small luxury ship includes everything you could want where the big ship has tons of add on items to get to the same experience and you can never make the big ship into the peaceful oasis like you would fine when cruising with only 12 passengers. 

With such a wide range of ships available, there is a ship that fits pretty much every personality. Some ships do lend themselves to a less active crowd while other ships are an abundance of activity nearly 24 hours per day.  If you are a new cruiser you should consult a travel agent to get information about what cruise is best for you. Every ship you see advertised does not fit every family or couple and picking the wrong ship can leave a really bad impression of what cruising is all about.

Cruise lines and even ships within lines are designed to attract a particular audience. Some ships go as far as stating explicitly that certain groups are not provided special services on their cruises leading a good agent to redirecting that audience to a more appropriate ship. This allows the cruise to attract a more similar group of passengers which tends to make those folks happier.  Few ships though explicitly exclude specific groups of travelers though. Usually it is the flip where specific audiences are targeted. 

Watch the advertising for specific cues. Carnival calls their ships fun ships, advertising for Royal Caribbean is family oriented, advertising for Cunard showcases luxury travel. That the cues to another level, isolate specific ships with unique features and destinations and you begin to see what ships work for each audience.
Cruising now has something for nearly everyone so get out there and enjoy a cruise.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

What kind of onboard activities can I expect while cruising?

There are tons of different options available while cruising. Typically there are fitness related activities, trivia related activities, sports related activities, and crafts related activities available during each cruise. On sea days typically you are able to participate in more than one type of activity often one of each of the above. Some cruise lines even offer culinary experiences, which can range from cooking classes to bartending classes.

As I write I can tell you there was a great co-ed belly flop contest held on the ship today. This is one of those events where the guests are strongly urged to participate in the fun and games. Everyone tends to get a little something for their participation. There are both adult and kids events available and even at times family events.

Most ships publish a newsletter every day. Typically it is published in time for evening turndown service. This allows your cabin attendant to place the information in your cabin so you can review it before the new day begins. For me a ritual before going to bed is to review the activities for the next day and mark those which I want to be sure to consider. I then carry with me all day the planning guide so I can find other activities as I need to fill some time.

If you look for it, there are some cruises available where there will be lots of very special activities. These cruises are usually noted well ahead of time and advertised as such. It is also quite likely that these cruises may also have additional costs. These can be some incredibly exciting cruises if you are seeking out the special activities that will be offered. Culinary cruises are among the ones which come to mind first.

Overall you will find on most of the larger ships (as well as many of the smaller ships) tons of activities available depending on what it is you want to do. You can ask the guest services folks, read the daily activities section of the newsletter you get daily, or check you in-stateroom TV for information about activities  coming up over the next 24 hours or so.
Some special once per cruise activities not to be missed include (these are ones I specifically like) the captains talk, ice carving demonstrations, food carving demonstrations, the belly flop contest, and the farewell show.  There are so many other special events every cruise it is important to keep up with what is going on and attend those activities you like.  It is ultimately up to each cruise to do what they want that will make their own cruise more enjoyable.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Why we blog

We love to share travel information specifically about cruising with others.  That is why we blog. Of course as we have an agency that specializes in cruises we can also help you plan you next cruise vacation.

Traveling is a passion so read our posts and comment.

Happy 2012!!!