West coast cruises are a great deal this summer.
Pacific Coast Cruising
In case you were napping last month and happened to miss "swine flu," many cruise lines were forced to re-route their scheduled cruises with Mexican ports of call. For Caribbean cruises it was relatively simple to replace stops in Cozumel, Progresso or Costa Maya with stops in Jamaica or extra days in Grand Cayman. But from Southern California, where Mexico ports are the only logical non-U.S. ports available, the scheduled Mexican Riviera cruises were sent on rare cruises north to San Francisco, Astoria Oregon, Seattle and Victoria and Vancouver British Columbia.
Carnival had just repositioned the 110,000-ton Carnival Splendor to Long Beach to service the market to Mexico. The ship is too big for the Panama Canal and required nine weeks to sail around South America. Its maiden roundtrip Mexico voyage was only March 1st, and by late April it had to be sent in the opposite direction when H1N1 broke out. Instead of Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan, the temporary re-routing has taken guests to Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. This route will remain in force until mid-June when Mexico cruises are scheduled to resume.
Royal Caribbean had just accomplished the same repositioning of its first post-Panamax West Coast megaship, the 140,000-ton Mariner of the Seas. The ship circumnavigated South America from Miami to Los Angeles and had only been in service to the Mexican Riviera since January when H1N1 hit. The line started Pacific coast cruises featuring San Francisco, Astoria Oregon or Seatle Washington, and Victoria, British Columbia.
It is helpful to note that cruises between U.S. cities are actually pretty rare. Until now they have been limited to ships repositioning between Mexico and Alaska for the seasonal change between winter and summer cruising regions. An obscure law, the century-old Passenger Vessels Services Act, prohibits foreign carriers from carrying passengers between U.S. port cities.
This law, also called the PVSA and sometimes mistakenly identified as the "Jones Act," applies to all forms of transportation (planes and trains included) operated by non-U.S. companies. To be specific, the purpose of the law is to eliminate competition from foreign transportation companies that come to the U.S. to pick up or drop off passengers. They are allowed access to one U.S. destination, but cannot pick up U.S. citizens and drop them off in another U.S. destination.
Almost every cruise ship you probably know is a foreign carrier, flagged in a foreign country and using non-U.S. crewmembers. They can call in Miami, Ft Lauderdale, Charleston, New York, San Diego, Long Beach or Seattle, for example, but they cannot transport passengers between those cities.
That is why when we saw Royal Caribbean temporarily re-routing their Mexican cruises to mostly U.S. ports of call on the West Coast we urged East Coast denizens to give these rare cruises a try. Take it from me, a born and bred West Coaster who finally had the chance to see East Coast cities like Miami, Charleston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York and Boston later in life, it is exciting to see how the other half (of our country) lives. For East Coasters, if you have never seen San Diego, San Francisco or Seattle you are missing some of the great American cities.
In fact, these cruises as re-routed by Royal Caribbean have proven to be surprisingly popular and the company has said they might offer these itineraries on a regular basis - at least through the summer months. I am not personally surprised at all and have always believed that cruises along both coasts could be very successful given the opportunity. The main thing that must be understood about these cruises is that this is not a ferry service. These ships are not for the purpose of transporting passengers between these cities, they only visit these cities for a day. Yes, you are allowed to get off the ship and see the sights, but you have to get back on the ship before it sails.
That ship then has to eventually visit a "distant foreign port" as the PVSA specifies. Just so you know, Ensenada Mexico, Victoria or Vancouver BC all qualify at a distant foreign ports. This cruise ship then has to return to the same city it started from - making it a fully roundtrip voyage.
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