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Cruise News Daily's thoughts on things seen and heard around the internet and the cruise industry.

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Thursday, August 19
* From the bonus for winners department: If a gold medal isn't enough for an athlete to win at the Olympics, German athletes have a special incentive for bringing home the gold. German cruise line Aida (and one of the lesser-known members of the Carnival family to North American readers) is awarding a free cruise next summer to any German athlete who wins a gold medal at the Athens games. Germany already has six gold medallists, with lots of time in the games for more to qualify. And Aida won't be unfamiliar to them. AIDAura is one of the ships chartered to house Olympic visitors at Piraeus, and is the official meeting point for the German Olympic family. All that US gold medallists get is a zillion dollar contract to endorse shoes. 

Wednesday, August 18
* From the no wonder I was always thirsty in Hawaii department: I was talking with someone today involved with Independence, which used to sail for American Hawaii Cruises and is now owned (but temporarily mothballed) by NCL America. We were talking about how unique the ship is, and he happened to mention that the ship was designed by the same person who designed the Coca Cola bottle. 

Tuesday, August 17
* From the we remember Andrew department: Even though it was more than a dozen years ago that Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida, people there haven't forgotten it and the kindness shown to them by others who sent them help when they needed it. With that in mind, the employees at NCL's Miami headquarters have been collecting supplies for their neighbors across the state who lost their homes last week in Hurricane Charley. They know the things needed first-hand. NCL has rented a truck, packed it up with the donated supplies and it will be dropping the supplies off in Southwest Florida communities on Wednesday.

Monday, August 16
* From the it's better that you don't see him department: We had to chuckle when we saw a discussion online about whether to tip the Maitre d'. Most people seemed to say they don't tip the maitre d' unless he actually does something for them personally. Last year I had seen similar discussions which progressed into questioning what the maitre d' actually does on the ship besides change dining assignments and stand at the door of the dining room or walk among the tables and greet passengers. I knew he must do more, but I didn't know exactly what, so on the next trip, I made that a point to research, and spent a couple of full days with the maitre d' for an article in Cruise News Daily that turned out to be kind of a "day-in-the-life-of" type of story. It really opened a lot of readers' eyes to what was going on that they never saw, but was essential to that dining room experience they enjoy. On that trip, the man just about worked me to death in those two days. We were in constant motion.
   Most passengers never see the Hotel Manager, yet he (or she) is the one making everything run right in the ship's hotel operation. But if there's a problem, that's the person to see. Like the Hotel Manager, the Maitre d' is the person to see if there is a problem or concern with dining or food anywhere on the ship (not just the main restaurant). So unless they see him (or her) in passing, most passengers never really see the Maitre d' unless they have a problem. The person they probably assume is the maitre d' is one of his assistants. The maitre d' (or restaurant manager is a new title being used on many ships) is the person responsible for all the service of food everywhere on the ship. Anytime there is food being served, he or (most likely) one of his assistants, is there. Meanwhile the maitre d' is involved in a zillion administrative duties, such as scheduling staff both in the dining rooms and the myriad of special functions all over the ship that need food served, handling special requests from passengers, dealing with personnel issues as dozens of crew members sign off and on the ship each week, daily/weekly training sessions with waiters, and organizing the service for special events which ships are known for - along with hundreds of other details that come up each day.
   Out in front of the passengers, the assistants are watching everything that goes on and anticipating needs. From the time the waiters show up for their assignment, they are inspecting the waiters' appearance ("You need to polish your shoes before you come back this evening."), watching how the service is being performed, making sure everyone looks like they are enjoying themselves, and stepping in with an extra touch or direction where it's going to make things go better or head off a problem they see developing. 
   So to those passengers who say the maitre d' never spent any time with them or did anything for them personally, we have to tell them that's probably a good thing. Even though they didn't see him, the assistant maitre d' probably saw a lot of them, and knew everything that was going on at their table (as far as the service). If he didn't spend time talking with them, it probably meant he was dealing with concerns elsewhere. And if he had spent a lot of time hovering near their table, it probably meant he was anticipating maybe a more junior waiter needing some supervision. So the bottom line is that if you can say you never saw the maitre d', it's a sign he has done his job well and everything was working like clockwork - and probably one of the highest compliments you could have paid him (or her). 

Friday, August 13
There was no Cruiseblogger entry on Friday, since we were right in the projected path of Hurricane Charley. We had no time to write let alone listen for anything interesting. As it turned out, the storm made a last-second turn and missed us, but destroyed the communities just a few miles south of our office.   

Thursday, August 12
* From the which bus do I get on department: When we were in Alaska a couple of weeks ago, we noticed a lot of Princess buses pulling up to the Holland America ships that were in port, and even a few Holland America/Westours buses at the Princess dock. Some people were confused and didn't want to get on the other line's bus. We wondered if that meant programs were one in the same, or if both operators - now owned by Carnival Corp - were headed toward merger. Charlie Ball, president of Princess Tours, who just happened to be on the trip with me, told me they have no plans to merge the two tour companies. What is happening is that they are keeping their business within the Carnival family. He said that both companies need to charter buses for additional capacity some days. In the past, Princess Tours, for example, never would have chartered from rival Holland America, but instead they would have gone to another local company. Now since both have the same ownership, it only makes sense to go to sister company Holland America first for a charter rather than an outside company. Holland America likewise goes to Princess first when they need to charter an additional bus. Charlie said that they can't always accommodate each other, and then they are both still chartering locally. He said that each company has its own style, so it doesn't make sense to merge the companies, especially since both operate at capacity, but arrangements like this where they can keep business in the Carnival family do make sense - even if they do occasionally confuse a passenger or two.

Wednesday, August 11
* Here's an interesting deal we came across for those of you sailing out of Royal Caribbean's Cape Liberty Cruise Port at Bayonne (NJ) . The Crown Plaza at Secaucus (NJ) has a package rate for those who want to drive in a day in advance so they are can start their cruise fresh. The hotel has a rate of $169 (per room, single or double - $189 per room, triple or quad) that includes the room for one night, parking at the hotel for the whole time you are on your cruise and round trip transfers from the hotel to the port. Information about the hotel is available on their website. Reservations for the package must be confirmed by calling the hotel directly at 201-348-6900. (It doesn't necessarily show up on the website or by calling Crown Plaza's central reservation office.) 
   There are a couple of things we considered before we posted this here. The hotel does have vastly lower rates (in the $80's and low $100's) especially with an advance booking and prepayment. Those rates don't include the transfer to the port, which with the service the hotel uses run about $25 per person. Yes, the hotel offers free parking on the other rates, but only for the nights you are staying at the hotel; the package includes the parking while you are gone (so the security service won't tow your car away). The parking, especially is what makes the package rate attractive because if, for example, you are going on Voyager's 9-night Caribbean cruise, that means even at the port's relative bargain rate of $12/day, parking at the port is going to cost you $108. Take that off the $169 rate, and it means the room is only costing you $61, and it's certainly worth that to drive in and stay the night before the cruise. The hotel is also near the Designer Outlets, so it even gives you something to do on sailing day before your ship boards.

Tuesday, August 10
* From the I got mine before you got yours department: A couple of months ago Cruise News Daily ran a story about Princess taking over the operation of the spas on two of their ships, and in part of it Jeff Kohl, Princess' Director of Spas Operations, mentioned that the line would be selling Princess' unique line of products both on the ships and on their website. Later after a cruise on Princess, I related an interesting story about how good I found the shampoo in my cabin, and I mentioned it to one of the people in the spas. This wasn't one of the Princess-operated spas, and the gentleman told me that a lot of their customers rave about that shampoo, but since it's a Princess product, they didn't have it in their spa, and they had never really seen it since it isn't supplied in the crew cabins. The next time I talked with Jeff, I found out that project about selling the products was a lot farther from realization than I understood, and apparently it's going to be some time before I can order shampoo on the Princess website. I wrote another story about Princess' eucalyptus-scented shampoo saying I apparently wasn't alone in my regard for it, but for those who were also awaiting it on the Princess website, the wait was going to be lengthier than I originally led them to believe.
   Several weeks passed, and I had forgotten about the story. One day as I was about ready to leave for lunch, a delivery man brought me a large cardboard box. I hadn't ordered anything from anywhere, so I was a little surprised and immediately checked to see if it was ticking or smelled like explosives (I don't have a dog), but it did have a strangely familiar smell. I noticed it was from Princess Cruises, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and open it. I had lived a rich and full life. Imagine my surprise when I found Julie Benson, Princess' Public Relations Director, had read the article and sent me a couple hundred little packages of the Lotus Spa shampoo - just like on the ship - to tide me over until it is sold on the website. So in the mean time the rest of you Lotus Spa shampoo fans will just have to go on another Princess cruise to go on a Princess cruise to get your eucalyptus fix. I've got mine, and I think of Julie every morning in the shower while I'm pretending I'm on a cruise. 

Monday, August 9
* Last week when Carnival (followed the next day by Royal Caribbean) put restrictions on travel agents advertising discounted prices below the official Carnival-authorized rates, it set off quite a bit of discussion on the bulletin boards. Unfortunately there are two misconceptions.
   One is that this means higher prices and is some sort of "price-fixing." Untrue. The two companies didn't put any restriction on discounting their prices, just on the advertising of the resulting lower rates. It's just going to make it more trouble for the consumer to find the discounted rates since they will actually have to contact each agency to ask what their current rate is.
   The other is that this restriction applies to all the Carnival Corp brands. That's not true either. It applies only to Carnival Cruise Lines. The other Carnival brands are free to do whatever they want. Carnival lets all their brands operate independently when it comes to policies, pricing and marketing; they actually compete with each other. That's not to say that some of the other Carnival brands won't see benefit in the policy and adopt it, but they don't all march in lockstep with each other. When Royal Caribbean announced a similar policy the next day, they applied it to both the Royal Caribbean and Celebrity brands. 

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