CruiseMates, a popular online resource for unbiased and authoritative cruise information, features ship reviews and articles, cruise news, polls, message boards and more.
NEW YORK TIMES: "Many sites that offer reviews are selling cruises, which raises questions about impartiality. An exception is CruiseMates."
FORTUNE MAGAZINE: "The Web's best site for articles, advice, or chatting with Cruise People. Self-financed and run independently of the industry, so their opinions are impartial."
By PAUL MOTTER
Valentine's Day is just two days away, so a nice romantic gesture would be to enter Carnival's "Read My Valentine" contest. All you have to do is write a story about anything romantic concerning you and yours. It can be about how you met, or a story about the two of you on a Carnival cruise, although the Carnival cruise element is NOT a requirement to enter the contest.
The Carnival contest closes on February 14th, so the cruise prize they award will be for a later date. The prize is a four-day Western Caribbean cruise in the Owner's Suite (!) on either Carnival Imagination or Inspiration.
Two weeks ago we gave you a listing of cruises leaving this week which you could use to celebrate Valentine's day. Just to give a little insight into how the cruise booking process works, as these ships filled up the prices also went higher, so if you are looking to book a last minute cruise on any of these ships now, in almost every case there is still availability, but only a few ships and saildates are still the same price as before (Carnival Paradise, Majesty of the Seas).
But the lesson here is that as the number of available cabins goes down, the more the cruise fare goes up. Just like airlines. The idea that you can sail "stand-by" or that truly last minute bargains exist is not really true. Almost every ship sails very close to full these days, especially on anything like a holiday, and so it pays to plan ahead.
Changes in Hawaii
NCL-America just announced that it is reducing its fleet in Hawaii, not by just the expected one ship, but by two. As of May 11, this year, there will only be one ship sailing under the U.S. flag in the Hawaiian Islands; Pride of America. This was the second ship introduced to the Hawaiian Islands, but the first ship purpose-built for cruising in Hawaii.
The announcement that they would reduce the fleet to one ship came as a complete surprise; even though we have all known for over a year now that they would move the third NCL-America ship, Pride of Hawaii, out of the region. They are re-flagging it as a non U.S.-flag vessel and it will sail in Europe under the name Norwegian Jade.
The newly announced re-deployment will be the oldest ship Pride of Aloha, which was once the Norwegian Sky. It was allowed to be re-flagged as a U.S. ship under an exemption by congress to the PVSA Cabotage laws, despite the fact that it was not built in the Unted States. The ship will go to NCL co-owners, Star Cruises in Asia.
In a related announcement by NCL, the much older (non-NCL) ship that used to carry passengers in Hawaii under the cruise line American Hawaii Cruises, the Independence, will also be sent to Asia, but for what purpose is yet to be determined. It is an older liner and might just be broken up for scrap. NCL acquired the ship as part of the complex deal it made with the U.S. Government to rescue the "Project America" shipbuilding and flagging initiative that was started in 2000 and floundered after 9/11.
While we still give NCL a lot of credit for what it has done in Hawaii, it appears that sometimes even the best efforts and intentions are not enough to make an enterprise profitable. The cost of supporting a crew within the mandates of U.S. maritime law has proven to have a limiting effect on the scale of the product. There are ships that operate under the U.S. flag, but they tend to be only small, elite yacht-like vessels with a small crew and a premium price.
Meanwhile, in the statement regarding the changes in Hawaii, NCL backs off from the strictest interpretation of the proposed changes to the cabotage laws now under consideration by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency. NCL President Veitch states, "we project a continued improvement in this one-ship operation as the unique nature of Hawai`i, from a cabotage standpoint, is clarified and restored." The key being that he states that NCL considers Hawaii to have "a unique nature" as far as cabotage is concerned. The opinion that the proposed cabotage changes should only affect Hawaii are now being distinctly clarified by NCL.
There is fear in many U.S. ports that the proposed changes will apply to all U.S. cruising regions, and not just Hawaii. It was NCL who initiated the possible changes in the cabotage laws by complaining to the CBP about foreign-flagged vessels entering Hawaii waters. NCL still wants restriction in Hawaii, but has now clarified they want Hawaii to be considered a unique destination, and that far-reaching changes in the cabotage laws should not affect other cruising regions.