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Friday, November 5
From the early bird gets the worm department: Princess inaugurates their seasonal service in Galveston on Monday. Grand Princess is stopping traffic as local people drive to the port just to get a look at it. At 109,000 grt, it's the largest cruise ship ever to be based at the Texas port. Even though the season has yet to begin, Princess reports they are virtually sold out for their entire winter stay this year. If you've only been thinking about trying Princess this winter, better luck next year.

Wednesday, November 3
From the who cares who wins department: In the current issue of Cruise Week, Princess CEO Peter Ratcliffe comments, "I've been in this industry 20 years, and I've never seen an election with business so strong heading in. Every four years the business drops prior to the election. I have no idea why we have not had the blip, because there's war in the headlines." It could be a similar phenomenon to what was first noticed during the first Gulf War waged by the first President Bush. Until that time, the entire pleasure travel market always had a major downturn during times of war, but starting at that time, there were shifts in patterns of where people were traveling, but overall, the pleasure travel market wasn't depress. The industry finally came to the conclusion that people have reached the point where they view vacations as necessities and they are going to get away no matter what. The same thing could be transferring into elections with people deciding they are going to go on vacation no matter who is elected, so their attention isn't diverted during the campaign, and they continue to buy vacations, just like they continue to go to the grocery store during the election process.

Friday, October 29
From the two-dollar a gallon department: Asia's Star Cruises announced a fuel surcharge yesterday due to the world's soaring oil prices. The surcharge will be from $2 to $4 per person per day depending on the vessel and itinerary. Sister line NCL said they have no immediate plans to implement a fuel surcharge. Similar surcharges were used by most lines during previous oil crises, but lately when questioned, most US-based cruise companies have said they haven't yet been seriously affected by the rising oil prices because they hedge their prices, contracting for their oil purchases months in the future. For that reason they can now usually build rising costs into their future cruise pricing. Time will tell if Star is starting a trend.

Thursday, October 28
From the why didn't anybody think of that before department: Ships in the RCCL fleet compete with each other for the company's annual environmental innovation award. Yesterday, this year's award went to the crew of Explorer of the Seas for inventing the Sludge Buoy System. No, the Sludge Buoy isn't a superhero grime fighter. It's kind of like one of those pool cleaners that floats on the surface of a swimming pool, but the Sludge Buoy would be jealous of of any pool cleaner, because he has a much less glamorous place to work. The Sludge Buoy spends his days (and nights) floating around in the bilge water holding tanks on Explorer. It sucks off the oil that floats to the top of the water. This way when the remainder of the oily water is run through the oily water separator, it's more efficient, runs faster and can process more bilge water in a shorter amount of time. Previously the dirtier bilge water ran through the separator, and it took longer to clean it so that the (almost) pure water could be safely (and legally) discharged into the sea. Now why didn't I think of that?

Wednesday, October 27
From the making as little as possible department: CND recently carried an article about the completion of a 6-month test by Royal Caribbean in which they concluded that they should impose a service charge for passengers eating at their Johnny Rockets restaurants. We've noticed some incensed passengers on bulletin boards snorting that they'll show Royal Caribbean; they just won't eat there and give the line their $3.95! They obviously didn't read our article, because that's the idea. The line doesn't see much profit potential in the $3.95 fee (they even give away one free meal in JR's to past passengers, so a relatively small number of passengers actually pay); what they really wanted to do was stem the demand for the restaurant. If passengers just want a burger and fries, they have that for free elsewhere on the ship. The problem was that the specialty restaurant had become so focused on just serving the food to accommodate the ever-present line and that the "Johnny Rocket experience" had been lost; there was no time for the music and dancing or the catsup smiley faces.
   It brings to mind a conversation we had earlier this year with an executive of a European-based line. Much to the dismay of the small number of American passengers, the line didn't serve coffee after dinner in the main dining rooms. If you could talk the waiter into it, it came from the coffee bar, and there was a charge, but most of the time, it was just politely suggested that coffee was served in the coffee bar. Was it a clever move to maximize revenue? No, he explained, they just aren't equipped to serve coffee (or more popular in Europe, specialty coffees such as cappuccino or espresso) in the dining room, especially on a mass scale. Most Europeans don't have coffee after dinner, and if they do, they prefer to go elsewhere for it, such as the coffee bar. Another problem with serving it in the dining room is that in Europe, people linger for hours over a cup of coffee, and the culture dictates that it would be very impolite for the waiter to rush them along. Those lingering over coffee from first seating, may well linger right through second seating. Here, the charge clearly wasn't for the revenue, but just to move people along to another place where they would pay the same charge.
   Something else I had never seen before is that there was a small charge for room service (except for breakfast). When I asked about that, I found it was only imposed on cruises within certain areas, and again, it was to discourage usage. It seems that in some cultures, people come into the cabin and immediately pick up the phone and order a bunch of sandwiches "in case somebody wants them." The ship can't begin to keep up with the volume of orders, and they find that nearly all of the food goes uneaten. So the charge, even though minimal, is simply to discourage indiscriminate orders when the ship is sailing in an area where the local passengers are used to automatically ordering lots of extra food, yet isn't high enough (curiously about $4, just like the Johnny Rockets charge on Royal Caribbean) to deter someone who really wants a sandwich. 
   In each of the three cases, the charge isn't viewed as a money-maker, but rather just to stem demand, and if it works the way the cruise line wants, they will make as little as possible from it. Besides, they say, if they really wanted to make money from it, they would expand the capacity to make as much as they could.

Monday, October 25
From the be prepared department: When you go ashore, and you are doing more than just walking into town, or going on one of the ship's excursions - like taking a taxi to an uncrowded beach or going off on your own excursion - be sure to take the ship's port agent's phone number with you. If you should run into some delay getting back to the ship, or some other kind of trouble, you'll at least be able to contact the ship and tell them where you are. There's of course no guarantee the ship will wait for you, but if you can tell them where you are and they see that you'll be there within minutes of sailing time, the ship can make a decision about waiting for you. If they have no idea where you are at sailing time, they won't have anything to consider and will just go ahead and leave.

Friday, October 22
From the oily subject department: Yesterday while discussing how Royal Caribbean is dealing with rising oil prices, RCCL chairman Richard Fain mentioned that each year RCCL uses 7.5 million barrels of oil. So when you hear on the news that oil went up a dollar a barrel, it means that eventually, Royal Caribbean could potentially pay out an extra $7.5 million and get nothing extra for that extra money. (Of course, other factors such as when they buy and if the price has risen or fallen at that time, are going to change that, so in the real world it won't necessarily be a straight $7.5 million.) By the way, a barrel of oil is 42 US gallons, so RCCL annually uses 315 million gallons of oil. At the price of oil these days, we wonder if they've ever considered trading a ship for an oil well.

Thursday, October 21
From the subliminal message department: Princess has a bunch of cool new gadgets for your computer. Probably the coolest is a desktop version of some of the bridgecams they have on their website. By downloading the webcam desktop you have a 24/7 view from the bridge of Caribbean Princess or Sapphire Princess right on your desktop all the time. (For those who aren't technical, there are simple directions on the Princess website to download it and start it running. (You're on your own from there, however. We're not responsible for any wrong buttons you push or if you throw Pittsburgh into darkness or anything like that.) If you're brave enough to install it, Sapphire will take you vicariously to some pretty interesting parts of the world this winter as the ship wraps up its Mexican Riviera itinerary. It then heads "down under" to Australia and New Zealand for their summer and finally in the spring you'll sail to some ports you may have dreamed about going to in Asia. Other downloads available on the Princess website are new screensavers, slideshows, desktop backgrounds, and if you are really into Princess - icons and avatars you can you can use to post in your bulletin boards messages and instant messages. You can pick all this up for free in the downloads section of the Princess website. Sorry, no Princess underwear - yet. 

Tuesday, October 19
From the life imitates art department: The late Rodney Dangerfield used to tell a story about a priest that liked to skip church on Sunday morning to play golf. One day God and St. Peter were watching him, and St. Peter asked God why he didn't send a lightning bolt down and strike the priest dead. God said, "Watch this," and the priest got a hole in one. "Why did you do that?" St. Peter asked incredulously. "That's every golfer's dream!" God said, "Who's he gonna tell?" 
   Last week I was on a ship in the Mediterranean. As I was walking along the main passageway, there were three or four slot machines in the corridor outside the entrance to the casino. One caught my attention as its bell rang briefly signifying a small winner. I know the mechanism didn't realize how small. The winner was a girl about ten or eleven, and standing next to her was her sister who was three or four years younger. As European children, they knew from years of training how fit into the adult world and not be obtrusive. It was formal night and they were both dressed appropriately in small formal gowns and like small versions of adults. Before picking up the coins from the tray, I saw the girl guiltily glance in both directions and quickly pick them up and drop one back in the machine. After another more careful look in both directions and she pulled the handle. Again the bells sounded and she and her sister exchanged a smile as a few more coins clinked down into the tray. Another careful look in both directions and then a small hand snatched the coins and dropped another one in the machine. These guilty looks continued as the small winnings would continue, punctuated by an occasional loss. The littlest girl tired and wandered off, but the older girl kept feeding the machine in the busy hallway for another five minutes or so. No one but me seemed to be noticing, and I couldn't watch too closely, because I didn't want her to notice me. Each time coins dropped, there was this big smile, and she glanced around to be sure no one was looking before she whisked them into her little handbag. And each time before pulling the handle, there was a careful look around to make sure no one was paying attention. After one winner, I noticed that she actually was actually having to scoop the large number of coins out of the bin. She had been doing ok.
   After a few losses in a row, I thought the show as probably over, because the young lady seemed to have the intellect to quit while she was ahead. About the time I was ready to move on, it happened. After the usual quick, guilty glance in both direction, she pulled the handle and the machine sounded like a cell phone gone wild. Its lights were flashing and the bell just would not stop ringing. Her hands franticly pounded every button on the machine to get it to stop before the attendant came to pay off the winner. Finally, in desperation, the girl just took off down the corridor, too afraid to wait around for her jackpot. She may have ended up donating the jackpot back to the cruise line, but she had a handbag full of coins, and I could almost hear Rodney, after fidgeting and loosening his collar with a pronounced gesture, saying, "Who's she gonna tell?"

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