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Tuesday, March 15
* From the times are changing department: Illustrating the long pauses between orders for new ships over the last year or so is an interesting fact about RCCL. The only increase to capacity for either the Royal Caribbean or Celebrity brand this year are the 151 new cabins that will be added to Enchantment of the Seas during its lengthening this summer. 

Friday, March 11
* From the more truth in advertising department: It's time for cruise lines to get what they're selling in line with what their policies reflect and what consumers expect.
   Most experts in the cruise industry agree that consumers should be focused on buying the right line and ship rather than focusing on the specific ports of call (obviously don't buy the "right" ship if it's in Alaska and you really want to cruise the Caribbean), because you spend a lot more time on the ship than you do in any one port, or even all the ports put together for that matter. In the end, by picking the right ship, the consumer is much happier than if the choice is based on the specific itinerary.
   Most consumers, however, spend much more of their time anticipating the ports than is really advisable. They've chosen the "exotic western Caribbean itinerary" over the "seafarer western Caribbean itinerary," or after careful study, one Mediterranean itinerary over another. To help them do that, the cruise lines devote lots of pages in their brochures to describing their different itineraries and ports. The cruise lines also "help" consumers focus on the ports by making all their ships very similar so consumers won't have to choose between the ship they really like that goes here and another one that goes to a "better" collection of ports.
   Then reality sets in. In the real world, cruise ships often don't go where they are scheduled to go. Sometimes it's a mechanical reason, sometimes it's inclement weather, and sometimes there are other valid factors that cause a schedule change. Recognizing this reality, cruise lines have told consumers right up front in the brochure (but with no glossy pictures) and in the contract on the ticket, that the cruise line is not responsible for itinerary changes, and they actually owe the consumer nothing for any changes. 
   What's happened is that the marketing people have gotten a bit carried away, and have been letting consumers (with their help) focus on the itinerary rather than the ship as the actual destination. For their own good, and the good of the consumer, they need to get back to the way they used to market and the way feature-rich land-based resorts still market. They need to focus on the wonderful things available in the "resort" and look at the locale (in the cruise lines' case, the ports) as an added bonuses for the customer if and when they should feel the desire to leave the resort, and stress that many people never feel it necessary to leave.
   It also only make sense with the current generation of larger ships being built with more and more features. Consumers are going to be more conflicted as these ships call at four ports in a week, and feel compelled to do everything in every one of those ports, at the same time taking away from their time to enjoy the growing number of shipboard features. Something's got to give. For this, and other reasons, it's only logical, that eventually the number of ports of call are going to be reduced on most itineraries so consumers won't feel cheated because they didn't get to do everything they wanted to do on the ship.
   What can the consumer do? That's simple. Right now - before the cruise lines start telling you to do it - start focusing on buying the right ship and line. Then when your ship deviates from the planned itinerary, you'll still have had an outstanding vacation and not be heartbroken that you've missed the port you've been looking forward to, or outraged that the cruise line only gave you $20 onboard credit because you missed it.

Wednesday, March 9
* From the truth in advertising department: As long as we've been reading bulletin boards and consumer-help columns, we are constantly amazed how people research every last detail of their cruise: what night they are serving lobster in the dining room, the name of the cruise director and captain, the name of some obscure local shore excursion operator, right down to the type of bedspread and mattress they will likely have in their cabin. They have the details of their cruise memorized from line's brochure: the times they are scheduled to be in each port, the sample dinner menus, the ship layout and the cabin dimensions. Yet they seem to know nothing of the major points about the terms under which they made this major purchase - even though they are all spelled out in the brochure - and probably vastly more important than if they will be serving Baked Alaska in the dining room.
   Here are three important things that are spelled out in the brochure and should be at least as important to a consumer as what time the ship is scheduled into port: The cancellation and refund policy. (If you cancel a few days before sailing, there is no refund or future cruise credit.) That cruise lines are not financially responsible for schedule or itinerary changes. (If the ship doesn't go where its scheduled, the cruise line owes you nothing. Anything they give you isn't really "compensation," but rather a goodwill gesture.) The Carnival Vacation Guarantee. (Carnival considers this one of their major selling points. If you get on the ship, and don't like it, tell them by the time you get to the first port of call, and you can get off and get a refund for the unsailed days and a free flight back to the port of embarkation.)
   There are lots of other points spelled out in the brochure, but over the last week, we've seen notes posted by unhappy individuals that, if they would have read the brochure before spending a couple thousand dollars, they wouldn't be so unhappy today. Do you know what their excuses were for not knowing these important points? "No one told me." Once they are aware of the terms they agreed to when they purchased their cruise, it's even more astounding when they then say, "My situation is special; the cruise line should do things differently for me than they do for their other millions of passengers."  
   Advice for all consumers: When you start memorizing the text of the brochure, start at the back under the heading that says, "Important information," or "Things you should know." Then realize that no matter how many times you've sailed with the line, or how special your circumstance, these things really do apply to you.

Monday, March 7
* From the big bucks department: When you deal in numbers of passengers that cruise lines do any little thing you do for every passenger can have a major financial impact. For example, one passenger on a ship where there was a small operational issue told us he thought it was "ridiculous" that the cruise line wouldn't give the passengers $50 onboard credit because of situation. The ship had more than 3,000 passengers on it. That totals $150,000. Even though that's only a miniscule portion of the company's annual profit, what middle-level manager at your company would want to authorize a $150,000 worth of drinks for customers just on the possibility that it may make them feel better about the company - especially knowing that the more often this is done, the more often it will be expected? These figures balloon even larger when you think about what cruise lines pay for ships. Just today, Royal Caribbean announced they would pay $230,000 per berth for their third Freedom-class ship. $230,000 in and of itself is a huge pile of money, but imagine multiplying that by 3,600 units. That comes to $828,000,000. Who can really imagine that much money? Or writing a check for it?

Thursday, March 3
* From the classic liner trouble department: Proving that if you dock it, they won't necessarily come, the City of Long Beach has declared the company currently operating the Queen Mary for them in default and wants $3.45 million from them. The city owns the liner, and the Queen's Seaport Development Company leases it from them and operates it. According to published reports, since the ship was permanently docked in Long Beach, the operation of the ship has never broken even, even under Disney's management. The city could replace the company leasing the ship, but with whom? Who wants to step in and operate a business that hasn't turned a profit in the last thirty years? 

Wednesday, March 2
* From the more time for partying department: NCL America is canceling the first of the series of Pride of America positioning cruises in order to give them more time for inaugural events on the East Coast and show off the ship there, since it's unlikely the vessel will ever return. This cruise was to have been a trip on June 19 from New York to Miami. Lloyd Weft still expects to hand the ship over to NCL America on time with the European inaugural events still going off as scheduled. The first revenue cruise open for sale in America is now the 11-night Miami to Los Angeles Panama Canal cruise. Following more inaugural events on the West Coast, the second of the positioning cruises will be on July 12, a 10-night cruise from San Francisco to Honolulu. More inaugural events are on tap in Hawaii before the Hawaiian inaugural on July 23. Do you get the feeling that NCL America is really just a party animal? 

Monday, February 28
* From the big money for nothing department: While Norwegian Cruise Line has been waiting for a buyer for Norway, it has been sitting empty in Bremerhaven since last summer. Even though the ship has been bringing in no money, NCL has continued to maintain it, and to do that a crew of about a hundred remains aboard. The cost to the line of just having it sit there has been $365,000 per month.

Friday, February 25
* From the gallery of body fluids dept: ABC Primetime ran a piece Thursday night about cleanliness aboard cruise ships. I think they went into the story imagining they were going to find germs and sickness waiting to happen in cabins and dirty kitchens or the like, but what the report really turned out being was mostly about disgusting samples of body fluids found in surprisingly unlikely places in the cabins.
   The report was pretty accurate if you listened for all the details that whizzed past. (Unfortunately, the average viewer probably wasn't picking up many of those.) There were things that the report did right, and there were impressions left which were rather unfair:
   Things the report did right:

  • A couple of times they mentioned earlier reports they had done on hotel rooms which found across the board, in all categories of hotels, the same surprising and disgusting things. Some of the repulsive things they mentioned they found in the hotel rooms were found in even more unlikely places.
  • They rightly questioned why they found some of these samples on blankets and bedspreads.
  • The report mentioned several times that the things they did find won't make you sick. (They were just disgusting.) They also made special mention that they found no samples of noroviruses, even on the lines which had larger outbreaks last year.

   Things that came out unfairly:

  • While the report said they didnít find things that could make you sick, they softened that praise by saying those results may not be typical because they took only limited numbers of samples. (Doesn't that also mean the disgusting things they found may not be typical?) What they didn't consider (or even mention) was that the reason they may not have found harmful germs like norovirus that could make you sick is because the cruise lines are so good at cleaning for those.
  • The report didnít highlight the places that were cleaned well where they didnít find traces of these body fluids, such as bathrooms or in the middle of the table. If you notice, the places they are showing evidence of these with the black light, were places that one wouldnít normally expect to find "dirt," so you wouldnít normally take extra care in cleaning. These unlikely places included cabin walls, the ceiling, the front of the refrigerator, the telephone, on life vests and the back of the cabin door. They were also found in such places as corners of the tray that holds the ice bucket which was formed by the top of the tray and the side that comes up around it to keep moisture from running off the tray. They also found them in a similar place on a coffee table. They didnít find them in middle of that table or tray, so that would suggest that they were cleaned by someone running a cloth or a sponge over them as you would do in normal cleaning. When one is doing normal cleaning they wouldnít take extra care to poke the cloth down into corners where they canít see any evidence of dirt (it took the ABC reporters using a black light to know there was something there) and certainly wouldnít expect to find something like a body fluid.
  • The reporter included an interview with the doctor who ran the lab which processed the samples, and he said that these wonít necessarily make you sick, and this is probably not anything new, but rather the methods of detecting them have just become better. But he didnít give us any benchmarks to compare anything to and tell us just how common it is to find disgusting things in surface corners. They didnít take samples from the area in the reporterís (Chris Cuomo) home where a guest would stay to see if there were foreign things on the wall or table or door. They didnít check to see if all the soap dispensers were filled in the restrooms at ABC News. They didnít check to see what surprising substances they could find lurking in an executiveís private office at ABC News. There was just no benchmark presented to tell us how common or uncommon this really is.

   Conclusions:

  • The report was obviously designed to shock and disgust us that evidence of body fluids could be found in randomly chosen cabins, and it did that. But upon reflection, a more interesting (and enlightening) story may be about what people could possibly be doing to deposit them in such outlandish places and so far from where one could reasonably expect to be finding them.
  • An issue was raised that passengers have the expectation that their blankets and bedspreads would be laundered between cruises. While this isnít the norm in either the hotel or cruise industry, this doesnít seem unreasonable, and for an upcoming CND story weíll be checking with cruise lines to see where they stand on this possibility. In the mean time, it should be remembered that for a few years, itís not uncommon to find many lines and hotels triple-sheeting the beds so you donít touch the blanket.
  • Itís important to note that places you would expect to be cleaned (such as the bathroom) were apparently cleaned effectively by the cruise line because the report never showed evidence of extraneous body fluids or harmful germs being found there. What supposedly surprised Chris Cuomo, the reporter, and was presented to surprise the viewer, were the unusual places these traces showed up. It follows then that cruise lines and the individual who would clean these rooms would also be surprised to find traces of passengersí body fluids in such unusual places as were presented in the report. Obviously, if you suspect there is "dirt" somewhere, you clean differently (i.e., more thoroughly) than when something doesnít appear dirty. For example, you donít wash and disinfect the walls and ceiling (one strange place where ABC said they found traces of these fluids) if they donít look dirty and you have no real reason to expect there to be something there that needs to be cleaned. (How often have you done that in your own guest room, just in case one of your guests decided to urinate on the wall while he was there?) Obviously by the lack of presence of these samples being found on normal surfaces such as tabletops (ABC had to go into corners to find their samples), the cruise line was doing normal types of cleaning.
  • The report seems to suggest that cruise lines should clean better, but it didnít offer suggestions as to how this could reasonably be accomplished to account for what seems to be passengersí unreasonable behavior. It would be nearly impossible to clean and sterilize every surface of every cabin between every cruise. Suggestions?

 

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