Thursday, September 26, 2013

Luggage Tags for Cruisers

Cruising Bag Tags and Bag Spotters

Cruising or traveling soon?  Ever have a hard time spotting your bags on a crowded luggage carousel, or in a cruise terminal when it's time to go home?
All Aboard Bag Tag

Solution:  Attach a cruise themed bag tag to each piece of your checked luggage. A picture of your favorite cruise ship or a tropical themed design will help your bags to stand out from all the rest.

Choose from two types:  Luggage spotter styles with a design (only) on both sides or personalized ones, with a space for your name and phone number on one side.

Here are some of the first type, that you can use as simple luggage spotters:

NOTE:  When personalizing a tag, I recommend customizing with just your first name, or initials, and NOT including your address.  Why?  You want enough information to help you recover lost bags, but NOT enough to make it easy for unscrupulous eyes looking to identify homes that may be temporarily vacant. No use tempting fate!

Here are samples of some of the ones that you can personalize with your name and phone number:

Browse more Cruising Luggage Tags

Travel Safety Tip

Another word of caution for travelers... I see this all too often, and it really makes me cringe.  Never, ever, ever post something like this on your Facebook page or other internet site:
We leave on the 8th for seven wonderful days sailing the Caribbean - can't wait!
Messages like this may be intended for your friends and family, but with the internet, you just can't control who else might see them.  There may be someone who just may see messages like that as an invitation to "explore" an unattended residence.  No, you didn't post your address, but that doesn't necessarily protect you.  There are ways to find it. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Veendam, Quest, NCL Star, Heading to Mazatlan

Three Cruise Lines Recommence Mazatlan Visits

By Antonio peraza (Own work),
via Wikimedia Commons
It's been well over two years since the cruise ships stopped calling at the port of Mazatlan, Mexico.  The hiatus was precipitated by incidents in which bandits robbed cruise passengers tour groups at gunpoint.

The city, on Mexico's central western coast, just ESE of the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, went to work to clean itself up, and earn back the tourist dollars so vital to its economy.  There's been a crackdown on crime, and new safety measures, including the installation of numerous security cameras.

They've also built a new "tourism corridor" that runs from the port to historic Old Town Mazatlan, at a cost of three million dollars.

All this is beginning to convince a few cruise line executives, and three lines have already put Mazatlan on their itineraries:

  • Holland America Line (HAL) will re-commence calling there in early November as part of their Hawaiian cruise round trip from San Diego, as well as a number of Mexican Riviera cruises and a couple of Panama Canal trips, all on the Veendam.
  • NCL sends the  Norwegian Star there once again, beginning in December, for Mexican Riviera, Canal Transits, and even as part of a crossing.
  • Azamara's Quest has a single visit scheduled for February, as part of a twelve night voyage that departs Los Angeles on January 29.
It will be interesting to see how long it takes Carnival, Princess, and Royal Caribbean to follow suit.

Meanwhile, those on the ships that will be visiting there can once again enjoy
Cliff Diver photo, Kfengler,
via Wikimedia Commons
touring the beautiful 1875 church in the center of town, and watching the cliff divers plunge into the sea from near the lighthouse that was once the highest in this hemisphere.  (Note:  The divers actually work for tips!)

The lighthouse, El Faro, has a beacon that can be seen for 30 nautical miles... watch for it as your ship approaches the harbor.  It's now only number five in height, as four others in the Caribbean sit on even higher ground, but it's still a point of interest, dating back to 1879.

There are also a number of area beaches, shopping, sport fishing, a tour of the Pacifico Beer Brewery, and opportunities for bird watching for those interested in other activities.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Happy Birthday, Belize!

September 21 is Belizean Independence Day

Mahogany Tree in British Honduras
By Standley, Paul Carpenter,  [Public domain] 
Happy Birthday, Belize!

On September 21, 1981, the nation of Belize was born.  The Central American country that forms part of the western shore of the Caribbean Sea wan its independence from the U.K. on that day. 

Formerly called British Honduras, the country had been called by the new name of Belize since 1973, but didn't have full independence for nine more years. 

To celebrate Belize Independence Day, here's one fact you may not have known about the country:  

The Mahogany tree is the national tree of Belize.

Want to know a little bit more about this popular cruise port of call?  Check out Pictures of Belize, where you'll see some pleasant scenes from there, and pick up a few more interesting facts with which to amaze and astound your friends, co workers, and fellow cruisers.

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to actually be in Belize on September 21, and that day filled itself with memories I'll treasure for a long time.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Kudos to Crown Princess

Crown Princess: Heroine in the Med

With all the turmoil  in Syria, it was bound to happen.  Desperate Syrians are fleeing the utter horrors ravaging their homeland crowded by any means available.  158 of them piled into a small boat in an attempt to escape by sea.  Not surprisingly, the packed boat didn't' make it to their destination.  But the refugees did - courtesy of a cruise ship.

Crown Princess by UrbanCowboy89, CC
A call for help went out from the Italian Coast Guard, who had received word that the boat was adrift some 100 miles out at sea.  That call was answered by the Crown Princess, which was in the midst of a Mediterranean Cruise.  It meant the cruisers aboard would miss their stop at the port of Corfu.  But what is that compared with human lives, 64 of them women and children?

Crown Princess diverted to the location of the stranded boat, and brought all aboard.  What a relief that must have been to those refugees to be on the comfortable big ship, where they received food and water!  Medical attention, too.

The Princess cruise ship met up with Italian naval vessels that took all but one of the people from the small boat to Syracuse, Sicily.

Watch a short video of the dramatic rescue video here.  Note the very pregnant woman dressed in brown being helped onto the ship.  The last frames of the video show the same woman being taken onto the helicopter that airlifted her to a hospital.  Her baby was born shortly afterwards.

My favorite part of the video, though is the little girl reaching for what appears to be a hamburger.  I can't help but wonder how she will remember these events years hence.

Kudos to Crown Princess for coming to the rescue once again.  That's right, this isn't her first rodeo.  She's rescued boaters and sailors in distress before, and she's not the only cruise ship that has done so.  It just doesn't always make the cut for the TV news highlights, so most people don't realize how often it does happen.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Win a Norwegian Breakaway Plus Cruise!

Cruise Free on a Norwegian Breakaway Plus Ship

Here's your chance to cruise on a brand new ship for free.  Norwegian Cruise Line's two new Breakaway Plus ships, due out in 2015 and 2017, have yet to be named.  That's where you and (hopefully) your free cruise come in.

Ten possible names have already been selected.  All you have to do is vote for the two names you like best.  The ships will be christened with the names receiving the most votes. After the voting ends, the cruise winner will be chosen at random from among all those who voted.

Sky Stern Clock
That's it.  Just vote for your favorite two names.  Do it on the special NCL facebook page set up for the contest.  You can vote once each day, until September 24.  So, go vote now.  And again tomorrow, and the next day, too.

Time's a-wastin' - vote now!

Contest open to residents of the U.S. and Canada (except Quebec) who are at least 18 years old.  For further terms and conditions, see the contest page.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The 2013 Hurricane Season Marches On

The Tropics Were Busy This last Week

Hurricane Ingrid on 9/14, Courtesy NASA
From most people's perspective, the 2013 hurricane season has been a pretty ho-hum one so far.
However,  it might surprise a few folks to know that we are all the way up to letter I in the alphabet, and that hurricane watches and warnings are now up for parts of Mexico.

Hurricane Ingrid

Hurricane Ingrid, the ninth named system of the season, is expected to make landfall, perhaps  somewhere north of Tampico, Mexico, tomorrow morning.

And Ingrid wasn't the only fish in the sea this past week.  Gabrielle and Humberto were both making waves of their own.

Tropical Storm Gabrielle

Gabrielle, the storm that wouldn't die, first appeared as a wave on August 25.  For 10 days beginning on Sept 4, she waxed into Tropical Storm Gabrielle, and waned back into a tropical depression several times, even dissipating at least once in the process. By the time she reached Bermuda, she was at TS strength (for the third time, if I'm not mistaken) and brought those folks some very unpleasant weather before finally zipping off for the north Atlantic on Sept 13.  

Hurricane Humberto

While Humberto never made landfall, he did raise some eyebrows as he became the very first full blown hurricane of the season on September 11.  Had he held off for just a few more hours, he would have been a record maker as the latest ever first hurricane of the season in modern history.  In 2002, Hurricane Gustav formed on the same date, but a few hours later than Humberto, making him the latest first storm of his season in the last 70 years. This past week's Humberto is in second place for that particular honor.

In an average season, two to three hurricanes have already formed by this time, with the first appearing around August 10!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Spookiness on the Seas

Halloween Cruising is an Experience

Stateroom Door Marker
Whether you dress in a costume or not, cruising during Halloween can be a lot of fun.

Though we've taken our full share of October cruises, only one included Halloween night.  We didn't do costumes, but we really enjoyed sitting on the lido and watching those who did parade by.  Remember - what happens on the lido stays on the lido, and some of those costumes weren't the kind a lady would tell about.  But some were a lot of fun.

There were the all too predictable pirate guys and gals, ghosts, togas, and yachting captains.  Gilligan showed up and a couple of masks of famous people.  Appropriately enhough, since the cruise left from Port Canaveral, within sight of the shuttle launch pads, one clever couple dressed in astronaut costumes.  There was even a black cat with a red and white striped stove pipe hat paying tribute to Dr. Seuss.

Costume parades on board can be either organized (with prizes) or casual, like the one we witnessed.  Some lines have special activities that night.  Disney, of course, does a great job making Halloween at sea special for the kiddies.

Each year also brings its share of private efforts, like the one being organized this year by  Theirs is for singles only, and they've reserved 500 cabins on Carnival Liberty's Oct. 26 sailing, promising special activities just for those solo travelers who book the cruise with them.

If you've never sailed on Halloween, this year could be your time. It just may turn out to be one voyage you'll remember for a while.  There's still plenty of cabins left on many cruise ships.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Sailboat Clocks

This page, titled Sailboat Clocks, has a  nice selection of desk and wall clocks for sailboat lovers, including this one from Amazon, which is especially pretty:

Quartz Desk Clock – Hand Sculpted Metal with Natural Capiz Shell – SailBoat Design
Hand sculpted deck clock made of metal and capiz shells.

If you're a cruiser, sailor, or are just fond of the ocean, it might be worth a visit.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tropical Depression 7 Forms, Becomes Gabrielle

Tropical Storm Gabrielle Nearing Puerto Rico

T.S. Gabrielle this morning

The area of low pressure that I mentioned yesterday morning was declared  Depression Number Seven by late afternoon, and then upgraded to Tropical Storm Gabrielle late last night.

The center of the system is nearing the southeastern coast of Puerto Rico this morning.
The satellite image shown here may be a bit confusing until you realize you are actually looking at two systems.  The center of Gabrielle is actually somewhere off the southern coast of Puerto Rico.  The "blob of stuff" to her northeast is actually a separate area of  stormy low pressure (but not an organized system) which could possibly feed moisture into Gabrielle to aid in building convection.I say possibly, because I am not a weather expert, but it sure seems plausible to me.

Tropical Storm Gabrielle's vitals as of 8 o'clock EDT this morning:

LOCATION: 65 miles WSW of Ponce, P.R.
MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS: 40 m.p.h., gusting to 50
MOVING:  Northwest at 8 m.p.h.
PRESSURE: 1008 mb, or 29.77 in.

Puerto Rico and the northeastern Dominican Republic are under a Tropical Storm Warning.  (No ships will be porting while this is the case)
The southeastern portion of the Dominican Republic has a Tropical Storm Watch.  Ports are likely closed there, too, at present.)

St. Croix has received heavy rainfall and some wind, as have some of the other Virgin Islands.

The center of the storm is expected to pass just east of the Turks and Caicos tomorrow, then head NNW, passing well to the east of Bermuda a few days later, if she holds together that long.  According the the experts there could be 'some strengthening' today and tomorrow.

Some cruise ships may alter their itineraries to ensure everyone's safety, and / or due to port closures.

As always with the tropics, things can and do change, so keep an eye on the NHC's  Public Advisory, issued every three hours when a system is near land, and every six hours otherwise.

UPDATE:   At the 11 am advisory, the NHC has downgraded this system to a Tropical Depression.   However, heavy rains and TropicaL Storm force winds are still expected today in the area including Puerto Rico and some of the Virgin Islands.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Blustery Weather for Carribean Cruising?

Tropical Low May Dampen Some Cruises

Image courtesy NOAA and the NHC
Cruisers to the northern Lesser Antilles, as well as Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and possibly  Labadee,  and the Turks and Caicos might encounter a bit of wind and ran today and for two or three more days, due to a low pressure system moving through the area.

The latest computer models forecast it to turn north before making it into the Central Caribbean, moving towards the general vicinity of Bermuda later on.

As of this morning, the National Hurricane Center has given the system a 40 percent probability of strengthening into a tropical cyclone over the next two days, and a 60 % chance of doing so within five days time.  A tropical cyclone is an organized storm system of Tropical Depression strength or greater.

While chances of it becoming a named storm (the next stronger step after a Tropical Depression) are nebulous at this point, should it manage to do this, it would be called Gabrielle.

Some related pages:
2013 Hurricane Names
2013 Hurricane Season Predictions
Ten Tips for Cruising in Hurricane Season

Keep an eye on the tropics, folks - it's that time of year!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Tampa to Get Vision

Vision of the Seas to Home Port in Tampa

Port of Tampa getting a second Royal Caribbean cruise ship.
Vision of the Seas (P.D.)

Beginning in mid November of next year, the Vision of the Seas will sail seven night Western Caribbean itineraries out of Tampa, departing on Saturdays.

Ports of call will include Cozumel, Costa Maya, Belize, Roatan, and Grand Cayman.  It appears that most weeks, four out of those five ports will be on tap.

The ship comes to Tampa just a year out of an extensive dry dock, scheduled for 34 days, beginning later this month.  The refurb will include not only the things we've come to expect from a revitalization operation, like new carpets, furniture, and flat screens in cabins, but a whole lot more.  There will be new alternative eateries, including a Chef's Table, a re-done atrium, an outdoor movie screen, and even a few added balcony cabins.  Those will be near the bridge, where there is currently a crew conference area.

For Loyalty Program members: The Concierge Lounge  will be in a section of the Viking Crown, while the Diamond Lounge will be located in a part of Some Enchanted Evening.

The Vision will be joining Brilliance of the Seas, which will continue her winter schedule of five night cruises from Tampa.