Quantum of the Seas is making her way down the River Ems as I type. Quantum was built at the Meyer Werft shipyards in Papenburg, Germany. The yards are 32km (26 miles) from the sea, and the journey takes approximately 10 hours. This is a unique experience, and thousands of spectators turn out when Meyer Werft delivers a ship. She’ll be assisted down the river by two tugboats, and interestingly, make the journey in reverse. Apparently, it’s easier to maneuver the ship down the river that way.

“For hours we are actually taking the ship along this very, very tight channel where there is only about two to three feet of distance on each side between the ship and the river bank,” said Patrik Dahlgren, Vice President for Marine Operation at Royal Caribbean International. “We can’t set a firm date or time for the conveyance because it’s all timed with the tides and weather conditions to help balance the movements of the ship along the river.”

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Image courtesy of Royal Caribbean International

Once arriving in Eemshaven, The Netherlands, Quantum of the Seas will begin her sea trials, the last step before entering service on a trans-Atlantic cruise from Southampton to Bayonne, NJ where she’ll homeport for several months before sailing to China. The MJ on Travel team will be sailing on one of Quantum’s first cruises in December. Personally, I can’t wait to see the ship!

-MJ, September 22, 2014

 

Azamara Club Cruises, a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., has announced some changes to its loyalty program, Le Club Voyage. In an era when cruise lines, including RCCL subsidiaries Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises, seem to be improving their loyalty programs, Azamara’s changes seem out of step at first glance. A little background might be in order.

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Most BoardingArea readers might be inclined to ask how many cruise miles do I earn per cruise, and how many does it take to get a free cruise? That’s not really the way cruise line loyalty programs work. Cruise programs tend to be more perk based, with the value and cachet of those perks rising higher as you cruise more. The perks range from anything like discounts on future cruises to complimentary internet minutes to special dinners and lounge access are the reward for loyalty. There are ways to earn points towards a free cruise from cruise line credit card rewards cards, but those programs generally are separate from the loyalty program. Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s take a look at what’s new, and what’s going away with Azamara’s loyalty program on January 1, 2015, courtesy of azamaraclubcruises.com.

EFFECTIVE ON VOYAGES DEPARTING ON OR AFTER JANUARY 1, 2015, LE CLUB VOYAGE MEMBERS WILL ENJOY THESE NEW BENEFITS:

  • The support of our new onshore Le Club Voyage Ambassador, Nicole Lukacs. (MJ notes: I think it’s interesting that they named their primary loyalty program ambassador) You’ll love Nicole’s enthusiasm and singular focus on enhancing your Le Club Voyage experience.
  • Earn complimentary nights* when you advance to a new member tier, ranging from two nights (Explorer) to ten nights (Discoverer Platinum).
  • Stateroom category upgrades for $199 USD per person*, or $398 USD per stateroom for singles.
  • Quarterly savings of 10% on select voyages.
  • Savings of 3%* to 10%* on open and reserved passage voyages when booking onboard. Plus, a $200 onboard credit for the future voyage when a reserved passage is booked.
  • Priority check-in for Discoverer members and above at select ports.
  • A dedicated onshore Le Club Voyage desk for all your membership inquiries.
  • Ongoing Club communications and social media engagement to keep you connected and in-the-know.
  • And best of all, two new annual Le Club Voyage voyages filled with exclusive events, socializing, and a few wonderful surprises. You’ll love these exciting voyages created with our most loyal guests in mind!

IN ADDITION TO YOUR NEW BENEFITS, THESE LE CLUB VOYAGE BENEFITS WILL CONTINUE:

  • An onboard Le Club Voyage hostess on every voyage.
  • A welcome Le Club Voyage party on every voyage.
  • An exclusive Le Club Voyage get-together with senior officers and staff for Discoverer members and above at select ports.
  • Savings of 5% when spending $1,000 or more in Fine Jewelry, or 10% when spending $2,000 or more for Discoverer members and above.
  • Spa savings of 10% to 25% depending on member level.
  • Internet savings, now 30% to 50% based on member level.

WHAT’S BEING DISCONTINUED?

Our top priority has always been to deliver an extraordinary travel experience. Your Le Club Voyage benefits enhance that experience, and we try to make them meaningful and valuable. And yet it’s a balancing act. As we introduce new benefits on voyages departing on or after January 1, 2015, we’ll be discontinuing some others:

  • Sparkling wine in staterooms upon arrival
  • “Welcome home” gift when advancing to the next tier
  • One bag of free laundry
  • Complimentary wine tasting on voyages of ten nights or more
  • Free Internet service. (Note that while the “free” is going away, we’ll continue to offer Internet savings based on your member level.)

We expect mixed reactions to the discontinued benefits. It wasn’t an easy decision, but we believe it’s the right long-term decision for our guests and brand. Look at it this way: you’ll be earning points toward free nights instead of free laundry or Internet minutes. Plus stateroom upgrades, savings on select voyages, and other new benefits. As a Le Club Voyage member, we never want you to question your value to us…or our desire to create value for you.

Is It Really as Bad as Some on the Cruise Fan Message Boards Make Seem to Think?

The complimentary nights option when advancing between loyalty tiers is interesting, but other than that, this seems to be moving Azamara’s loyalty program more towards those of its larger market brethren. On the other hand, even Royal Caribbean provides me with a complimentary bag of laundry during a cruise, and I get a few minutes of free internet too. You can review all benefits of Le Club Voyage by elite status level here.

Most telling, I think, is a look at the loyalty programs of other small ship lines. It’s important to note that Azamara Club Cruises is a 2-ship cruise line, with both vessels having capacity for around 600 passengers. Mass market it is not. Regent or Oceania might represent a better, if not completely equal, comparison. Each of these lines appear to offer similar benefits to Azamara with the addition of some quite generous onboard credits ($1000 for top tier Diamond members) in the case of Oceania and free unlimited laundry for top tier customers at Regent. Azamara’s Le Club Voyage doesn’t quite measure up to these other small ship line loyalty programs. In their defense, now that Regent and Oceania are likely to be purchased by NCL, one can be forgiven for wondering much longer the most generous parts of their loyalty programs will last?

The Most Interesting Development

Personally, I think the advent of free cruise nights as part of a cruise line loyalty program is the most interesting development of all. In fairness, those free nights are tied to progression between elite tiers, but I can’t help but wonder if this could be a sign of things to come in cruise line loyalty? I don’t know….and I am not even speculating, yet.

Coming up – a deeper look at loyalty in the cruise market.

-MJ, September 3, 2014

A great week of travel talk, and a long sought travel experience is the story this week. Yesterday’s ride aboard the A321T 3-class airplane in First with American Airlines was a highlight of the week. I’ll have a full trip report up later this week. Here’s a look at the weekly recap.

And this week, at MJ on Travel -

  • Trip Report – The AA A321T First Class
  • Trip Report – My First United Flights in Years
  • Hotel Review – Renaissance LAX

These topics, the weekly cruise deal, and no doubt more, this week at MJ on Travel.

-MJ, August 17, 2014

Who else has a “bucket list?” There are bucket list trips, bucket list places, and bucket list things to do. MJ on Travel? Well, I have a cruising bucket list.

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Allure of the Seas was a bucket list cruise. You might wonder why such a massive ship sailing for a mass-market line would be on anyone’s bucket list. Allure is not only a big ship, she’s the largest cruise ship afloat, a marvel of engineering. I’m of the mind that everyone that likes cruising should sail on Allure or her sister ship, Oasis of the Seas, at least once. The remainder of my bucket list cruises aren’t nearly so entertaining. In no particular order, here they are.

The Galapagos Islands aboard Celebrity Xpedition - I’ve traveled to Ecuador a few times, on business, but I’ve never been to the beautiful Galapagos Islands. While I don’t think anyone would confuse me with a naturalist, the tranquil beauty of the Galapagos and all manner of animal life there intrigue me.

Anywhere aboard Pacific Princess – The modern day Pacific Princess is not the same ship that Captain Stubing sailed and introduced America to cruising. However, she’s still a wonderful smaller ship with appealing ambiance and capacity for only 680 guests. She’s still the original Love Boat, so you can place Pacific Princess solidly at the top of my cruising bucket list.

The Amazon River with Aqua Expeditions – The custom-built river ships of Aqua Expeditions offer up close and personal cruising experiences. With a maximum of 32 guests, this promises to be a unique experience, an up close look at the wonders of the Amazon, and just about the exact opposite of the Allure of the Seas cruise I mentioned above.

Polynesia with Regent – I chose Regent for their service reputation, but I’d sail anyone around Polynesia. The longer the itinerary, the better.

The Mighty Mississippi aboard the Queen of the Mississippi – I might be the youngest person on board, but I can’t deny that I have always had a strong desire to take a Mississippi River cruise. Perhaps it’s my interest in American history, or maybe it’s just that I have an intense interest in all manner of floating transportation vessels, but cruising aboard the Queen of the Mississippi is among my top cruising goals.

The Baltic and Northern Europe - Very high on my list would be a Baltic and Northern Europe cruise. Norway, Finland, St. Petersburg….all are unique destinations, and I can’t wait to visit them during a great cruise vacation. I think this wonderful 13-night cruise aboard Celebrity Silhouette might just do the trick.

So there’s my cruising bucket list. Tell us about yours! Enjoy your weekend!

-MJ, August 15, 2014

While I wouldn’t want to imply that Port Canaveral is an easy drive from Atlanta, at 7 hours and change, it is doable. Being safe in that knowledge, it’s afforded me some flexibility in picking and choosing cruise itineraries. Within some limits, I can manage to squeeze in a few days off on relatively short notice as long as I can manage my projects accordingly. As you might remember, I’ve been stalking a particular cruise itinerary for a short summer getaway. It’s been pricing at various rates, all above $300 per person. That’s not a bad price, it’s just that I know it can go lower, I have that flexibility I mentioned, and…well….. if I take that quick getaway next week or in 3 weeks……that’s really indifferent to me at this point.

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That $109 number is, of course, short of taxes and port charges, and is based on double occupancy. It’s also a Georgia state resident rate. But the all-in price works out to roughly $100 per night for two people. Granted, the bar bill is extra, but I think you see where I’m headed. If you’re just a bit flexible, you can really take advantage of some remarkable cruise prices. (Note: This is the 8/18 sailing of Enchantment of the Seas if anyone’s interested.)

-MJ, August 11, 2014

As an experienced cruiser, I know what I am getting when it comes to doing business with one of the so called “mass market” lines. You get your room, you get meals in the dining room and the buffet, and you get coffee, tea, and water to drink. Beyond that, there’s usually a charge. Notably, sodas are included with Disney, and perhaps others. When I’m preparing for a cruise, I plan on expenses above and beyond what are paid in advance. That’s just the way it is with the mass-market lines. The up market lines vary with some being what I’d safely consider “semi-inclusive” and others being “all inclusive.”

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Courtesy of NCL

NCL recently introduced a short term offer that really has me intrigued. Essentially, it’s an “all inclusive” package that you can buy in addition to your normal cruise fare. It will include most alcohol (up to $10 per drink), dining in one of the up charge restaurants each night, and more. The all-inclusive packages are available for all cruises in 2015 and all categories of staterooms for sailings of 3 nights up to 14 nights. According to NCL’s press release,

The All-Inclusive package is available for 2015 sailings from three to 14 days in length, is priced by the number of days, and is available for all stateroom categories, including the Haven by Norwegian. When adding the All-Inclusive to a selected cruise, guests receive 10 percent off the cruise fare. For a seven-day cruise, the $899 package includes the Ultimate Dining package; the Ultimate Beverage package; shore excursion credit of $200 per person, pre-paid daily service charges; a 250-minute Internet package per person; 20 photos of any size; chocolate-covered strawberries; a bottle of wine; one bingo session and six bottles of water. For cruises from three to five days, the shore excursion credit is $100 per person; and for sailings from 9-14 days, the package includes 12 bottles of water.

As part of the All-Inclusive offer, Norwegian’s Ultimate Dining package provides complimentary access to one of the line’s specialty restaurants every night of the cruise, including Cagney’s, the popular steakhouse; French bistro, Italian restaurant, Moderno Churrascaria, Asian-Fusion restaurant and more. The Ultimate Beverage package includes a variety of spirits, cocktails, draft beer, bottled beer and glasses of wine up to $10 and unlimited fountain soda and juices at all bars, lounges, restaurants and on Norwegian’s private island, Great Stirrup Cay.

On certain sailings, I’m a big fan of all inclusive drink packages, and this is pushing things to the next level. I like the idea of an “all in” price. Those who know how to maximize the already included offerings may not be interested. But for those of us that like to push their cruise vacation to the max, this may be a very attractive option. I’ll be watching with interest to see if this spreads to the other big cruise lines. It’s also an acknowledgement IMHO that the price differential between the big lines and up market lines like Crystal (which is mostly inclusive) is not as big as one might think at first blush. Would you be interested in booking one of these all inclusive packages?

-MJ, August 9, 2014

 

Of the many questions I get on cruising, one of the most difficult for me to answer is the quandary of the solo cruiser. For the well partnered among us, I’ll elaborate. When you see a price for a cruise, it is usually based on double occupancy. If you select “1″ for the number of travelers when you book a cruise, you are likely to pay for 2. Of course, this is not always the case, and I have seen some cruise lines offer a cabin for a “single” price from time to time. In all cases, I’ve found those sales accidentally. Further, some cruise ships, NCL Epic comes immediately to mind, are equipped with single occupancy cabins….an innovation which is making an appearance on more ships. And that is a good thing.

Provence, France. Trying out panorama feature on iPhone 4S.

For those times where there is no special pricing or a single occupancy cabin, Celebrity Cruises has introduced a benefit for its Captain’s Club members. If you’re sailing solo you’ll now receive double Captain’s Club points. Here’s the text from an email I just received from Celebrity.

Captain’s Club is happy to announce a new benefit for solo travelers. When you sail with us as a single traveler in a stateroom, you will earn double the amount of Club Points*, based on stateroom category and number of nights sailed. This applies to all sailings on or after July 1, 2014, and to all Captain’s Club members including Preview members.

While I think I might prefer the lower price if sailing solo, that just doesn’t happen very often. At least there’s some recognition here for solo cruisers.

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Well, it’s looking more and more like December will be my next opportunity to cruise, but that hasn’t stopped my search for good deals. I’m game for most anything in the short cruise market right now, as I just need a quick getaway. As I was poking around, I came across this itinerary aboard the Caribbean Princess for Labor Day week, departing September 1.

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$229 is a pretty good price point for a 5-day getaway during Labor Day week. With the Monday holiday, you only have to burn 4 vacation days, and you get the weekend on each end. And check out this itinerary, 2 ports of call bookended with a relaxing day at sea at the beginning and the end. This speaks to me.

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The voyage number is B438, and you can check out the full scoop at princess.com. Have fun, and let me know if you go for this one!

-MJ, August 6, 2014

Disclaimer: The Weekly Cruise Deal is a service for readers. MJ on Travel cannot guarantee that the pricing available at the time the deal was first discovered will be available when you book.crusi

Royal Caribbean’s newest and most innovative ship, Quantum of the Seas, is edging closer to completion at they Meyer-Werft yards in Germany. Not only will Quantum feature the latest cruising from a guest entertainment perspective, she’ll also feature brand new fitness classes like FlyWheel. Here’s a look at Spinning Into Fitness with Quantum’s Sports and Fitness Advisor, Dhani Jones.

News that the Atlantis Resort in Nassau, Bahamas, will join the Marriott Autograph Collection of hotels piqued my interest, but probably for reasons that are a bit different than others. Nassau is a huge stop for mass-market cruise ships, and a port that I’ve visited so many times that I usually choose to stay on the ship when docked there unless I want two things – wi-fi at the Green Parrot bar near the port, or to hit the super-duper awesome water park at Atlantis.

The cruise lines sell excursions to the water park that include transportation to Paradise Island. The cost is typically $165 per adult, and $119 for children. You can also buy a day pass at the resort on a space available basis. And finally, I’ve previously covered a unique way to obtain access using Ultimate Rewards points. Now, there will be another option.

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Image courtesy of Marriott

Of course, all of this is pure speculation until Atlantis actually joins the program, and we learn what category the hotel will be assigned. We’ll know this fall, according to Marriott. Depending on where you are with points balances, and your travel goals, I think it could be possible to make a case for spending Marriott Rewards for a room, even if you aren’t spending a full night. For a family of 4, you could be looking at $568 for a day at the water park, and that’s before food and beverage. It will be interesting to see where Atlantis winds up on the category chart. Then I’ll test whether this will work in practice.

-MJ, August 5, 2014

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