USA Today/10Best Readers’ Choice New Media Award for Best Cruise Blogger winners Matt Hochberg and Scott Sanders share a couple of things in common: each authors a blog that’s dedicated to coverage of primarily a single cruise line, and they both have successful podcasts as companions to their blogs. Matt won for The Royal Caribbean Blog which he started in 2010 and is described as “your ultimate source for Royal Caribbean coverage,” and he hosts The Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast. The Royal Caribbean Blog is an unofficial fan blog written for other fans of Royal
Caribbean, and is not affiliated with Royal Caribbean International. Scott won for The Disney Cruise Line Blog. Since 2012, The Disney Cruise Line Blog and accompanying podcast has been an unofficial source of Disney Cruise Line news and information and a place where fans can share Disney cruise experiences.
....Matt Hochberg, a USA Today/10Best Readers’ Choice New Media Award winner for Best Cruise Blogger is the creator of the Royal Caribbean Blog, and the reassuring voice of the Royal Caribbean Blog podcast. I say reassuring because if you happen to be listening to the podcast a lot, including going back into the archives to listen to episodes you might have missed or replaying episodes you’ve previously listened to, it likely means you are booked on Royal Caribbean and your sailing date is approaching! You are part anxious, and part excited, and Matt (along with occasional guests) calms your anxiety with useful information and stokes your excitement with fun insights. In anticipation of my December 2018 Anthem of the Seas cruise, I listened to every episode of the Royal Caribbean Blog podcast of the last couple of years (and if Anthem was in the episode title, let’s just say I listened to it more than once.)
....I asked Matt how the Royal Caribbean Blog came about. Matt recalled that his second Royal Caribbean cruise was on Oasis of the Seas. As alluded to earlier in The Joy of Cruising, almost every couple of years the world’s largest cruise ship is introduced. But sometimes a new world’s largest ship is so revolutionary, so spectacular, that it “changes the game” in cruising (much like Royal Caribbean’s Sovereign of the Seas discussed in Chapter 1.) Oasis was that kind of ship when it was introduced. Matt said, “I remember back when Oasis of the Seas debuted it was a really big deal, still is, and I was really pumped to go on it. It just redefined what a cruise ship experience could be. My excitement was so great that I needed an outlet for it. I was just that kind of person that I like people to share my experience. I wanted to blog about my experience. I ended up expanding that idea beyond just blogging about my cruise on Oasis to actually covering Royal Caribbean in general. There were a lot of existing cruise websites, some great ones in fact. But none of them focused just on Royal Caribbean. While they did a good job, they only got, say, 10-20% deep into what Royal Caribbean is all about and there is still quite a bit left out. I felt like I’m not going to be able to compete with the major cruise websites out there and cover the whole industry, but if I do a deep dive and cover everything Royal Caribbean, then I can really stand out from other people and bring something different to the table.” Royal Caribbean Blog was born. Matt....
....Scott Sanders is a USA Today/10Best Readers’ Choice New Media Award winner for Best Cruise Blogger for the Disney Cruise Line Blog. I first became aware of Scott several years ago when I discovered his blog in advance of taking my grandkids on their first cruise, a four-day voyage on the Disney Dream. Two weeks before our sailing, Scott posted a video on his blog of his daughter’s first time on Disney Cruise Line’s AquaDuck, the first "water roller coaster" at sea introduced on the Disney Dream. So, my then 5-year old granddaughter watched Scott’s daughter Isabelle screaming gleefully riding AquaDuck—along with the many other AquaDuck videos on YouTube—over and over.
Scott’s blog and podcast are the go-to source for Disney Cruise fans looking for news, tips, and opinions in addition to, or instead of, official information from the company itself. It’s not just Disney Cruise fans that rely on Scott’s insights. Scott is extensively consulted by media such as the Orlando Sentinel and USA Today to opine on Disney Cruise Line news and developments, and has appeared in the book, The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. Scott started the Disney Cruise Line Blog in 2012. He added a companion podcast April 2016. The website is more than just a blog chronicling Scott’s cruises. In addition to posting daily trip reports when taking his family on a cruise, the website also offers fans a historical look at the various Disney Cruise Line itineraries and provides info about upcoming sailings. In addition, each week Scott summarizes the current special offers and blogs about the latest news surrounding Disney Cruise Line and its ports of call.
Scott lives with his wife Emily, and daughter Isabelle in Celebration, Florida, known as “The Community Disney Built.” Celebration is located five miles from Walt Disney World Resort and was originally developed by The Walt Disney Company. Scott is originally from the Midwest and came south to Florida for the weather and has lived in Florida for most of his adult life. Scott and Emily were married in a Disney Wedding at Walt Disney World Resort.
I asked Scott to talk about how his passion for all things Disney was formed. He told me....
Read the complete story of how Matt and Scott’s passion for cruising moved them to become a main resource for fans of two of the world’s top cruise lines in respectively, Chap 18, Royal Caribbean Blog: Matt Hochberg, and Chap 19. Disney Cruise Line Blog: Scott Sanders, The Joy of Cruising. Available now!
....given her background in sales and marketing, within days of contacting the employment firm Flavia was offered an interview. It was for a position with Royal Caribbean as a Cruise Specialist—an entree to a career that I suspect many of the readers of The Joy of Cruising would have been very enthused about in their thirties. Flavia, however, was not all that excited, as the opening involved a position in a call center, which was far from the ideal environment given Flavia’s extroverted personality. (Above Flavia on her first ever cruise, Grandeur of the Seas.)
Flavia reflects back on the day she arrived for her interview with Royal Caribbean with amusement. “My attitude was already negative and when I saw one of the employees arriving at the office in jeans and tee shirt, I was quite disgusted. Only later did I learn that Friday was ‘dress down’ day.” Long before she was blogging about couture and style, Flavia was cognizant of how people should present themselves—even though her presumption about the employee’s attire was incorrect!
It turned out it wasn’t so much an interview as a written assessment administered to a roomful of applicants. Applicants would move on to an interview with Royal Caribbean staff only if the assessment score was adequate. Flavia dutifully took the exam, still not particularly enthused about the position. In fact, Flavia had arranged an interview for later that day with a previous employer and was just going through the motions at Royal Caribbean. While waiting for the assessment to be scored, the applicants were shown a video of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. Flavia had never cruised before. It was at that moment of watching that video that Flavia’s life was changed forever. “I mean really, really, changed,” Flavia told me. “The ship was huge; it looked like a lot of fun and it had a pool and a kid’s club. Then there were endless other things; I just kept thinking, what, there’s a rock wall; what, there’s a surf simulator; what, there’s a mini golf course; a theatre, parades, parties, nightclubs. My mind was blown.” Now Royal Caribbean had Flavia’s attention. She was captivated by what was on the screen. “Now I wanted that job; I had to have that job, I had to get on that ship. It was like everything else just melted away and I had one vision: getting onboard that cruise ship with Lucy, my daughter.”
....Now Flavia found herself fantasizing. This cruise ship on the screen meant there was a way she could travel again, and even as a single mom. Normally a cruise would be out of reach financially for Flavia, but she had recalled one of the Royal Caribbean staffers mentioning something about free or very cheap cruises during their presentation to the applicants. “I had to get on that ship, and I had to get this job. That was that.” Flavia did get the job with Royal Caribbean. She set out to make her fantasy of traveling with her daughter a reality.
The Royal Caribbean call center training was rigorous and comprehensive, providing Flavia with in-depth knowledge into Royal’s products, services, and system. It also included training on Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises as they were all under the same parent company. It was six weeks before she was allowed on real telephone calls, and once that began, she was subject to constant monitoring and mentoring on her performance and was accountable for a stringent set of criteria to meet on each call. Flavia and her call center colleagues faced financial consequences for failing to meet the call standards as determined by the Royal Caribbean Quality Assurance team. There were many times Flavia wanted to rip her headset off and quit. But her mind kept going back to that video about the cruise ship. So, she resolved to get past the six-month probationary period, take her daughter on a discounted Royal Caribbean cruise, and then quit!
Despite the demands and tedium of call center work, Flavia thrived and frequently exceeded sales milestones. As a result, she was offered a free “familiarization” trip (familiarization trips are for employees and travel agents, but not everyone is lucky enough to get one; they are usually based on sales performance.) Flavia could not believe it. The fantasy was about to become a reality in the form of a four-night cruise on Grandeur of the Seas departing from Palma de Mallorca, Spain and docking in Málaga, Spain. Flavia was overcome with gleeful anticipation. “I did panic a bit I must admit,” Flavia said. “I wondered if it would really be everything I had expected. What if Royal Caribbean had just told me it was great, but in actual fact when I get onboard I am going to hate it and be stuck on the ship with a bunch of people I don’t like? Suddenly I started to worry.”
When we arrived at the port there was a huge ship, just like the one in the video. Then as we turned the corner there was what seemed in comparison a small, not so impressive ship behind it. Oh no, that was the ship we were going on, not the lovely big one. Now I was really worried.”
Flavia boarded and found that “small” ship to be quite nice and it did not feel small at all. In fact, once onboard she found it to be huge. The ship was gorgeous, with a lovely chrome and beech atrium with marbled floor and a ceiling that seemed to extend to the sky. The first food venue Flavia and her colleagues tried was the buffet with a seemingly endless array of choices. After eating they went to the sundeck and Flavia laid out on a sun lounger. She felt like she was back at the beach, only there were really friendly waiters wearing Hawaiian shirts saying hello and asking if anyone wanted anything. She also found the other cruisers to be very personable. The cruise was off to a great start and getting better and better.
Flavia kept hearing others talking about the sail-away: go find one of the many ideal vantage points on the ship, with a cocktail in hand for sail-away. Flavia chose to join the group of Royal Caribbean employees that she was sailing with on the top deck. Cocktail in hand, steel drum band playing and guests joining members of the Royal Caribbean entertainment team to dance on the deck stage, the anticipation was thrilling. That larger ship, the Liberty of the Seas, the one Flavia mistakenly assumed was meant for her to board, went off first. Despite already being captivated by the more modest ship she boarded, Flavia watched wistfully as the “ship like the one in the video” sailed past. Someday….
Read the complete story of Flavia’s transformation from cruise line call center rep to cruise travel influencer in Chap 8, Ships and Champagne, The Joy of Cruising. Preorder soon....
Theme cruising....passion for cruising with passion for a hobby, interest, culture, or lifestyle, be it jazz, poker, quilting, wellness, or whatever. Or, even more esoteric pursuits: there are cruises aimed at bikers (yes, your motorcycle is loaded on the cruise ship), cruises for cat lovers (Meow Meow Cruise), cougars (not the cat variety!), couples seeking stronger marriages, swingers, and recovering substance abusers.
...there is a staggering array of themes covered by these special interest cruises. Essentially, if a theme cruise purveyor is willing to invest money, time, and other resources necessary to design, organize and market the theme cruise—and assume the risk of the cruise failing to generate the requisite demand—it can be arranged. The nature of theme cruises I have seen marketed run the gamut. Passionate about motorcycle riding? ETA Motorcycle Cruises tagline is “Bring your bike with you on a cruise.” (Chapter 25). Love poker? Card Player Cruises is run by a couple of Poker Hall of Famers (Chapter 24). How about craft beers? The California Beer Festival at Sea. Knitting, quilting, health and wellness? Yes, there is a cruise for you. Recovering substance abuser? Want to strengthen your marriage? Celebrate and rejuvenate your religious faith? All are covered by theme cruises. Yes, there are even clothing optional cruises—either geared more towards cruisers seeking risqué fun, or others appealing more to naturalists.
I could go on and on. The opportunity to network with other like-minded cruisers can be arranged around essentially any pastime, avocation, or interest...
There are many formats for carrying out theme cruises ranging from the cruise line offering it directly to customers, to a theme cruise purveyor such as a travel company or a group of independent entrepreneurs chartering a cruise ship, to various iterations in between. For instance, a cruise line may choose to bring on board a performer, celebrity chef, sommelier, author, orator, thought leader, or other celebrity. Often these cruise line theme cruises are in conjunction with sponsors and feature celebrities who the sponsors are in partnership with. For instance, Celebrity Cruises partners with Fine Cooking magazine and their Emmy® Award nominated PBS series, Moveable Feast with Fine Cooking. Celebrity Cruises’ Moveable Feast passengers participate in cooking classes and demonstrations, and even can opt for excursions to shop for local ingredients in preparation for a private dinner on the ship. In early 2019, Holland America Line and O, The Oprah Magazine are partnering on a Girls’ Getaway cruise featuring Oprah Winfrey on Holland America’s newest ship, Nieuw Statendam which launched in December 2018 with a transatlantic voyage. Oprah, is the Nieuw Statendam Godmother. The Girls’ Getaway cruise sold out in three days after it was announced. In these instances of cruise line theme cruises, passengers may choose to partake or not in various performances, demonstrations, or presentations. Such cruises may be arranged entirely by cruise line staff or a collaboration between a cruise line and a sponsor, or with a separate theme cruise operator.
Alternatively, the theme cruise may be a music fest, or beer fest, or nudists, or whatever the theme is that takes over the entire ship; partaking is largely unavoidable and the theme and the cruise are for the most part inseparable. Generally, in these instances the theme cruise operator “rents” or charters the ship and its staff from the cruise line—at a cost of approximately $1 million to over $10 million depending on ship, season and duration of the cruise—and the cruise line is otherwise not directly involved in the theme cruise except to offer the food, ship services and amenities, and standard entertainment such as lounge acts, and activities....
Music-related cruises are by far the most popular type of theme cruise. Jazz, rock, R&B, country, reggae, even classical—virtually every music genre has one or more dedicated cruises. For many well-established music artists, performing on theme cruises offers a stable source of work and a way to bring their music directly to fans at a time when radio is dramatically different as a means to get music to fans than in the past, and retail music is virtually extinct. For the fans, it is an opportunity to see artists who may no longer be regularly touring, or not accessible in a cruise passenger’s home town. Music cruises can focus on a single artist who performs a couple of concerts and the remainder of the cruise activities are around meet-and-greets, DJ’s and parties, and themed activities. Popular single artist cruises include the Kiss Kruise, New Kids on The Block Cruise, and The Backstreet Boys Cruise. At least one single artist cruise takes place without the actual artist! One successful theme cruise revolves around a legendary artist that has been deceased for over 40 years—the Elvis Cruise, an homage to Elvis Presley, celebrates his music and the musicians who performed with him. More typical is the music festival type theme cruise featuring numerous performers and accompanying comedians, celebrity hosts, and activities that are in keeping with the music genre featured by the cruise.
Particularly with music theme cruises, there is a contingent of cruisers who after experiencing a theme cruise choose never to go back to traditional cruising due to the cruise mates they meet, and more importantly, getting an intense dose of whatever it is they are passionate about. Imagine what it must feel like for a person into music of a certain period, say, the 50’s and 60’s, to experience that music live, performed by the original artists daily for a week! Why wouldn’t someone want to keep repeating that experience without giving up any of the benefits of a traditional cruise—the ship amenities; experiencing all the joy that comes with being on the ocean; and, getting to stop at wonderful destinations? It is of little surprise that theme cruises have very high retention rates....
There are now websites that track upcoming theme cruises. So, a cruiser who is passionate about some interest could look for cruises that cater to him or her. Alternatively, some cruisers use these sites to inform themselves about cruise ships’ future full or partial-ship charter plans so they can modify their own travel plans accordingly. It is possible to be “bumped” when a ship gets chartered after you book, and I have heard of passengers who wish to avoid a theme cruise that they find themselves on the same ship with, in the case of non-full ship charters. They might have had an unpleasant experience or heard about one from another cruiser. These unfortunate stories are relatively rare occurrences though. In fact, Chapter 22 Festival at Sea, tells the happy story of Ms. Dorothy, 80-something cruise passenger who experienced just the opposite: Ms. Dorothy found herself on the same ship as a theme cruise that she was not a part of, and was aimed at a very different demographic—and yet the theme cruise became an annual tradition for her....
Read the complete chapter, Theme Cruising: Two Passions in One, in The Joy of Cruising. Available now...
....In 2018, Dana Freeman was named one of the “10 Travel Influencers Changing How We Vacation” by Porthole Cruise Magazine, and she was also selected as one the “30 Bloggers and Travelers to Follow for Summer Vacation Advice” by Travel Pulse.
Dana has had a diverse career path to get to where she is today as a travel writer and influencer, but her passion for travel can be traced in a straight line back to her grandmother. Somewhat before her time, Dana’s grandmother, Mildred, was an itinerant traveler dating back to the forties and fifties. After a divorce, her grandmother vowed to continue traveling, and cruising was particularly conducive to traveling solo; accordingly cruise travel developed into a passion for “Gram.” It was not unusual, even in the fifties, for Mildred to save up her money, put her kids in summer camp, and go on a cruise. Mildred also frequently traveled professionally in her medical administration career. She introduced Dana to travel, first by having Dana accompany her on a business trip to Greece, and then sshortly thereafter taking her on her first cruise—just the two of them. Consequently, Dana became addicted to travel as a young teen, and that passion for travel has morphed into a passion for travel writing, and Gram forever speaking through her as what Dana refers to as “her travel muse.”
In 1980, “Gram” decided to share her love of travel with her four grandchildren by inviting each one of them to accompany her on a trip of their choice. Each year Gram planned a trip with one grandchild to go anywhere in the world that they wanted to visit. Dana was the oldest of her grandchildren and got to travel with Gram first. 12-year old Dana knew Gram’s true passion was cruising—and that was her pick to travel with her. “I wanted to see why she loved cruising so much,” Dana said. In August 1980, Gram and Dana embarked on the Holland America Line SS Veendam on a cruise to the Caribbean.
In 2010, 91-year old Gram—known as Great Gram to Dana’s two children, daughter Callahan, 8, and son Flynn, 11—expressed an interest in resurrecting the tradition she had started 30 years earlier of traveling with Dana and the other grandchildren. Gram told Dana, “I want to take your kids out on a trip like I did when you were children.” What an audacious thing to want to do at 91. Not surprising given Gram’s longtime love for cruising, and her independent attitude. (Gram continued in her career until well into her eighties, only stopping due to failing eyesight.) Dana was very hesitant to let the kids go on a cruise with Gram alone. Gram would be 92 by the time she traveled with the great grandkids. Dana told her, “I don’t think that it’s fair to put on the kids the burden of something happening to you. And they are a lot to handle.” Gram responded, “Ok fine, why don’t we all just go. I’ll take you all.” After Gram quickly reached that compromise, Dana’s concern was alleviated. She assumed this would be a one-time event. “I thought she would take my children, my husband and myself on a cruise because that is what she really wanted to do and we felt like she could not do it herself anymore and it would be done. Gram’s passion was cruising and that’s what she wanted to do.”
In August 2010, virtually 30 years to the day of 12-year old Dana’s first cruise with Gram, Dana, her husband Andrew, son Flynn, daughter Callahan and Great Gram embarked on the Windstar Windsurf in Barcelona, Spain to Nice, France. Aside from a cruise in Mexico with her parents as a young teen on Sitmar Cruises (now P & O Holidays), for Dana it was the first time cruising in almost 25 years. Flynn and Callahan, and Andrew, would get to experience their first cruise on one of the world’s most exclusive vessels. “It sort of spoiled them rotten going on the Windstar Cruise line as their very first cruise!” With a capacity of only 310 passengers, the five-mast, seven-sail, 6-decks Wind Surf yacht was the flagship of the luxury Windstar fleet—its largest and most well-appointed craft. The Freeman family and Gram were “somewhat of a square-peg-in-a-round hole” on the grand Wind Surf. “We were definitely an anomaly; even for my demographic in the mid-forties, I was not the typical Windstar cruiser. My kids were the only kids on ship. So as a family we were definitely seen as an oddity. Gram was the oldest on the ship and my kids were the youngest.” Nevertheless, Dana described the Wind Surf cruise as incredible. So, much so that Great Gram and Dana’s family decided to take another cruise the next year. “When we got home from the trip—I don’t even think Gram’s luggage was unpacked—Gram said, let’s go again; so where are we going next year.” It turns out Cruising with Grandma became a tradition—beginning with Gram at 92-years old and taking place over the successive four years—of Gram taking Dana, Andrew, Flynn, and Callahan on a cruise. Not just any cruise; Gram was partial to small luxury craft. So, after first experiencing Wind Surf, the Freemans got to experience a Mediterranean cruise on Seabourn, another cruise line that Gram was very fond of....
Read the complete amazing saga of Cruising With Gram in Chapter 5, Dana Freeman Travels, The Joy of Cruising. Available now...
The Joy of Cruising: Passionate Cruisers, Fascinating Stories
The Joy of Cruising
1. The Joy of Cruising
2. Marathoner of the Seas: Joe Church
3. Jim Zim
4. The Godmother: Elizabeth Hill
5. Dana Freeman Travels: Cruising with Grandma
6. Sheri Griffiths: Cruise Tips TV
7. The Traveling Wife Cruising Around the World
8. Ships & Champagne
Cruisers Like You and Me…Sort Of
9. Bill and Rosie and Mark and Leanne and Karen and Jerry
10. A Cruising Ministry
11. Cuba Cruising
12. Seventeen Seas
Cruising’s Young and Restless
13. Cruising’s Young and Restless
14. Cruising Isn’t Just for Old People
Cruise Bloggers: The Readers’ Choice
15. Cruise Bloggers: The Readers’ Choice
16. CruiseMiss: Danielle Fear
17. Popular Cruising: Jason Leppert
18. Royal Caribbean Blog: Matt Hochberg
19. Disney Cruise Line Blog: Scott Sanders
Theme Cruising: Two Passions in One
20. Theme Cruising: Two Passions in One
21. Malt Shop Memories
22. Festival at Sea
23. Music On the Ocean: Cruise Production, Inc.
24. Card Player Cruises
25. ETA Motorcycle Cruises
Performing On the Ocean
26. The Cruise Director: Alonzo Bodden
27. Jazz On the Ocean: The Legendary Manny Kellough
28. Lectures and Luxury
29. Laughter On the Ocean: AJ Jamal
30. The Holidays 2018
....Emma Le Teace, Cruising Isn’t Just for Old People, profiled in Chapter 14; Jason Leppert, Popular Cruising, profiled in Chapter 17; and the three dynamic young individuals discussed in this chapter, respectively: Danny Bradley, The Cruising Baker, Matt Mramer, Cruising with Matt (above in Rome), and Marcus Adams, Sparkx, average 29 years old. Between these five millennials (people born between the early 1980’s and the early 2000’s) they have cruised well over 200 times to virtually every corner of the globe that can be accessed via cruise vessel. Everyone of them has experienced one, and in some cases several cruises typically thought of as “bucket list” experiences. Almost all pursue their passion for cruising on a part-time basis. Besides their relatively young age, the only commonality they all share is that they started their cruising life at a very young age, as early as a toddler, and on average ten years old....
....There is clearly a trend towards cruise passengers becoming younger. This trend manifests itself in a number of ways, with the most dramatic being the design of the cruise ships themselves. I have alluded several times in The Joy of Cruising to the ongoing movement for the cruise lines to introduce bigger and bigger ships, but in addition to new cruise ships increasingly being “up-sized,” cruise lines are also installing a number of youth-friendly attractions which appeal to millennials as well as families with children. In 2018, Norwegian Cruise Line launched Norwegian Bliss. Paraphrasing from the NCL press release, here are some of the fun, creative, youth friendly innovations highlighted: “…a two level electric-car race track. The competitive track, the longest at sea at nearly 1,000 feet, will rev up the hearts of all who race around her many twists and turns… After burning rubber at the race track, guests can test their agility at the open-air laser tag course… The ship's Aqua Park also includes two multi-story waterslides. Not for the faint of heart, the high-speed Ocean Loops free fall slide includes two exhilarating loops, one that extends out over the side of the ship and a second see-through loop that stretches down to the deck below, sure to offer a wet and wild ride. The tandem Aqua Racer slide allows guests to race side-by-side on inner tubes for more than 360 feet, with a translucent section that provides stunning ocean views as guests twist and turn to the finish line.” There are many other examples I can point to which underscore this “theme parkification” of cruise ships. Basically, if it is a popular land-based attraction, it is likely already on new or recently refurbished cruise ships, or coming soon. Bumper cars, carousels, trampoline parks, bowling alleys, skydiving simulators, zip lines, IMAX movie theaters? Already on cruise ships. Several years ago I took my grandkids on a cruise that stopped in Grand Turk. The Grand Turk Margaritaville featured a FlowRider® surf simulator, which my grandkids loved, and I thought was an ingenious attraction which resulted in some priceless videos of them falling off, or successfully navigating the boogie board. At that time, I assumed Grand Turk Margaritaville had a FlowRider® because it was the world’s largest Margaritaville; it was unimaginable to me on a cruise ship. Well now there are FlowRiders® on half the Royal Caribbean ships....
In 2020 Carnival Cruises will introduce the first roller coaster at sea, BOLT, on the Mardi Gras. While Carnival is the most popular cruise brand with its affordable pricing and promotion exuding “fun” as exemplified by Chief Fun Officer, Shaquille O’Neal, Carnival doesn’t crack any lists of the world’s largest cruise ships. Mardi Gras will be Carnival’s first foray into super-sized ships—the first in Carnival’s new XL-Class. At 185,000 gross tons, which is 50,000 more than Carnival’s largest current ships, Horizon and Vista, doubtlessly Mardi Gras will be jam-packed with millennial-friendly attractions.
....can’t help but wonder if in the next decade or so a cruise ship will be introduced that brands itself as a floating theme park! Along the lines of a theme park, Royal Caribbean is building one, sort of, not on a cruise ship but as part of a cruise. Royal Caribbean is in the process of redesigning Coco Cay, its private island in the Bahamas that is a stop for its Caribbean cruises, under a $200 million project called “Perfect Day at Coco Cay.” The renovation....
....another new innovation appealing to millennials is cruise lines jumping on the burgeoning craft beer trend. The Carnival Vista launched in 2016 was the first North American cruise ship to have its own brewery. Carnival followed that up with the launch last year of Carnival Horizon with another brewery, Guy's Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse and Brewhouse, a partnership with Food Network star Guy Fieri.
Its arguable as to whether cruise lines are adding these millennial-friendly attractions on their ships and private islands because of increased millennial passenger demand, or to generate increased millennial passenger demand. What is unarguable is that....
Read the complete chapter “Cruising’s Young and Restless” in The Joy of Cruising. Available now!
What does Queen Latifa and Queen Elizabeth have in common?
....cruise ship “Godparents” are usually women, even animated ones like Tinkerbell who was named Godmother to Disney Cruise Line’s Wonder—although rapper Pitbull was selected as Godfather of Norwegian Escape. The notion of a ship godmother had its origins hundreds of years ago where ceremonial launching of seagoing vessels took place in various forms, either celebratory or religious, depending on local custom, but generally to bestow the ship and crew with well-wishes and safe travels.
Often cruise lines select celebrities for the role of christening a new ship. In addition to the aforementioned, Godmothers have included Helen Mirren, Dame Judi Dench, Sophia Loren, Whoopi Goldberg, Reba McEntire, Jennifer Hudson, Mariah Carey and many more that are well-known to most of us. Sometimes the choice of a Godmother is associated with a cause that the cruise line chooses to support. In 2001 following the terrorism of September 11, as a tribute to New York City first responders, Royal Caribbean selected four representatives of the New York Fire and Police Departments as Godparents of Adventure of the Seas. In 2012 Celebrity Cruises
named four employees, all of whom were either survivors of breast cancer or whose mothers had breast cancer, as the Godmothers of Celebrity Reflection....
....Elizabeth heard again from Royal Caribbean. The list of potential Independence Godmothers was down to four, and Elizabeth was asked to come to the airport with her passport and a ballroom gown in a couple of days. Then the four potential godmothers were flown in a private jet in the company of Richard Fain, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Royal Caribbean to the Aker ship yard in Turku, Finland where the finishing touches were being applied to the dry-docked Independence. Elizabeth had flown before—though certainly not in a Lear jet—and in any event she is not a happy flier. The Godmother finalists toured the massive structure; already in a state of awe—the last several days since hearing from Royal Caribbean had been a whirlwind and she had just gotten off a Lear jet—Elizabeth was amazed taking in the sights of the massive, gorgeous structure, unlike anything she had ever seen before. After the tour the finalists then went to their suites to change into their formal outfits to attend the Independence “hand over ball,” where the Finnish shipbuilders formally convey the ship to Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. The ceremony was in the Independence main dining room, where the potential Godmothers and dignitaries dined at an enormous table in the center beneath a grand chandelier. After speeches and congratulatory applause, celebrations continued with music, dancing, and lots of champagbne. The following day the finalists returned to the UK and were interviewed by a panel lead by Sir Steve Redgrave....
Read the complete modern day fairytale of The Godmother:Elizabeth Hill in Chapter 4, The Joy of Cruising. Available now....
The voice, the easy going pace, great production values, and the thoughtful, in-depth, reflective commentary of Jim Zim’s videos have contributed to Jim becoming one of the top cruise video channels on YouTube. His channel has over 205,000 subscribers, is comprised of almost 375 videos, and has garnered 200 million views including one—the Green Thunder waterslide onboard the Carnival Spirit—with nearly 100 million views....
....Besides that voice, Jim Zim’s background—the journalism education and experience in radio
announcing—along with his hobbies of photography, videography, computers, video editing, and
electronics serve him well in his YouTube career. I can imagine the hardware—audio/visual,
photography, computers and more Jim must have at his house. He brings much of it on cruises
with him—several cameras, including his primary shooter, a Canon EOS 80D Digital SLR, wide
angle lens, and tripod among them. If you are ever on a cruise with Jim Zim, just look for the
guy who carries around a giant professional-quality broadcast microphone so he can do voice-
overs on his YouTube videos.
....in 2012 things change dramatically when Jim uploaded a video about the first of its kind vertical-drop waterslide to be installed on a cruise ship. It was the Green Thunder waterslide, then the steepest and fastest waterslide at sea, with a 100 feet drop, through a trap door and entirely vertical for the first third of the way propelling thrill seekers at speeds of 20 feet per second. In 2012, Jim and Kellyn boarded Carnival Spirit for the fourth time in the past three years but this time it was like an entirely new ship as it had just undergone a multi million-dollar refurbishment, or dry dock in cruise parlance, and the Green Thunder was the featured upgrade. Jim posted the video to YouTube much in the way he had posted his other cruise videos: he thought it was interesting. He had no illusions about the video becoming a hit on YouTube. In fact, he never even checked his YouTube channel metrics after posting his previous cruise videos, and it was months after uploading the slightly over one-minute long Green Thunder video before Jim visited his channel. To Jim’s astonishment he discovered that his video on the Carnival Spirit had two million views! Jim was shocked! Of course there was that feeling of pride that comes with something you did being acknowledged and validated by others. But the popularity of the video spurred another thought in Jim. Being only vaguely aware of YouTube monetization—whereby video creators meeting certain benchmarks can earn money as a result of advertisements accompanying their videos—Jim conferred with his son who concurred regarding the monetization potential, and Jim researched the process. Fairly soon Jim’s Carnival Spirit Green Thunder video was generating advertising revenue for YouTube which they shared with Jim. Now the pride that came with discovering that he had a viral video had risen to yet another level as Jim Zim was now an official YouTube Partner. The promise of a new income source lay ahead, although Jim lamented the fact that he had not become a YouTube Partner prior to the Green Thunder video accumulating two million views. Jim was worried he was “too late to the party.” Most of the people who wanted to see the video had probably already done so, and it would quickly cool off and stop getting views on YouTube. That worry turned out to be unfounded. The Green Thunder video is approaching 100 million views on YouTube!
Read the complete chapter “Jim Zim” in The Joy of Cruising. Available now!
....in the ensuing years Joe became bored with just exercising and started running. By 2005, now down to 160 pounds, Joe ran his first marathon and a new passion for long distance running was born. Just as he traveled to pursue his bird watching passion, Joe traveled as part of his new passion, first visiting different states to run marathons and then establishing a goal to run a marathon in all fifty states. Eileen had also started running and sometimes traveled with Joe on his running trips; other times Eileen would leave Joe at home and join her siblings who liked to travel on cruise ships. Eileen sailed on three cruises without Joe, and of course she would rave to Joe about the wonders of cruising after each one. Eileen pointed out to Joe that each ship she had cruised on had a running track, so he would not have to miss his running if he joined her on a cruise. Joe reluctantly agreed to accompany Eileen if she acquiesced to one condition: on the first night of the sailing, he would get out of bed shortly after midnight and run the 26.2-mile marathon distance before the deck became populated with sunbathers, lounge chairs were moved into positions that can obstruct runners, and the running track became congested with casual walkers and joggers. Eileen was elated, and in January 2008, Eileen, Joe and some family members embarked on Joe’s first cruise, sailing Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas from Miami....
Late on the night of embarkation, Joe changed into his running gear, quietly so as to not disturb a sleeping Eileen, and at around 1:30 in the morning he went up to Deck 12 to the running track. Not that long prior the sports deck had been busy with first night cruisers milling about or lounging and enjoying the views of the ocean. Now chairs were strewn about with empty glasses and bottles sitting beside them, and the deck was stained where drinks had been spilled. The reddish-brown tinted, lightly padded, almost one-quarter mile running track circled the perimeter of the deck and offered exquisite ocean views—when the sun came up. Joe was not up there for the view.
Exactly four-and-a-half hours after stepping foot on the track in the darkness, Joe had finished his first cruise ship marathon-distance run. Joe had circled the track for 118 laps, and the “marathoner of the seas” legend was born. The sun had not yet risen.
...after several cruises, Joe began to entertain the notion of running a marathon-distance on all of the Royal Caribbean ships. Such an audacious goal was not uncharacteristic for Joe. After all, before he caught the cruise bug, he was on his way to running a marathon in every state. So, he and Eileen began planning Royal Caribbean cruises, especially paying attention to ship locations and ports of call—as that would influence what birds might be in the area that Joe could add to his sighting list. Joe lined up local bird guides in some of the ports; not only did he get his runs in, Joe saw many of the birds that are endemic to the Caribbean and Central America. How wonderful it must be to be able to meld multiple passions!
In the first four years of Joe joining Eileen to cruise on Royal Caribbean, they cruised eight times. Joe logged many more than the 210 miles resulting from running a marathon distance on those eight Royal Caribbean running tracks. He did not limit himself to only running the 26.2 miles on each cruise, usually choosing to run at least a few other mornings. Most of those eight cruises were in the Caribbean and the Bahamas. One of them, however, was an Alaskan cruise. Joe, Eileen and their son Mike flew to Anchorage. Prior to embarking on the Radiance of the Seas they spent a week visiting Denali before taking the train to Seward to board the southbound cruise. During that pre-cruise week, they each ran in a local marathon, Joe the full 26.2-mile distance, while Eileen and Mike ran a half-marathon. As opposed to Caribbean cruising, a cold water Alaskan cruise definitely presented some physical challenges for Joe’s cruise ship marathon-distance running...
....On another cruise, Legend of the Seas from Quebec to Florida, the winds and seas were such that the ship’s Captain shut down the running track for the first couple of days, disrupting Joe’s routine of doing his run on the first night of the cruise. One of the cruise ports of call was in Boston. The weather had calmed by the time Legend of the Seas ported in Boston. Instead of running in the middle of the night, while most of the passengers were touring Boston, Joe went up to the sports deck and ran his 26.2 miles. As best as can be determined, Joe is the only person who has run both the Boston Marathon and a Boston Harbor “marathon” on a cruise ship.
Read the complete chapter “Marathoner of the Seas: Joe Church” in The Joy of Cruising. Available in March; preorder soon!
I traveled on my first cruise vacation thirty years ago. I was intrigued by the idea of a cruise for perhaps a somewhat superficial reason: I had done a fair amount of vacation traveling to Bermuda, the Bahamas and the Caribbean, and had become enamored of the concept of “all-inclusive” vacation resorts, where for a fixed price vacationers’ lodging, meals, alcoholic drinks,entertainment, activities, and even cigarettes (hey, it was the eighties) were included. My first visit to an all-inclusive was to a resort in Jamaica that was called, aptly, “Hedonism”. With youthful exuberance, less maturity, and lack of self-control that comes with being in my twenties, I approached that first all-inclusive stay with the same rationale I approached all-you-can-eat buffets back at home: “they’re going to lose money on me!” I partook in it all, indulging to excess in everything that was available, especially liquor (screwdrivers with my eggs and bacon at breakfast). It was on that first all-inclusive vacation that I cultivated my taste for cognac—even if it was not exactly top shelf. Up to then, the concept of an after dinner cordial was foreign to me. My rationalization of getting my money’s worth veered into stupidity. For instance, even though I had kicked the smoking habit several years prior to that vacation, I could not resist the saucer of complimentary cigarettes that adorned each of the bars at Hedonism. Convinced that I could indulge for just the week I was there, I ended up re-starting the smoking habit again for another several years.
Cruise ships promised many of the same amenities of all-inclusive vacations, at least the food, activities and entertainment part, with the added benefit of being able to visit more than one destination. Despite cruises having obvious appeal, I had demurred. For one thing, I just was not a “water person”. In my boyhood in Brooklyn, NY, the closest I got to the ocean was occasional visits to iconic Coney Island. I never learned how to swim; my only opportunities to visit a swimming pool in my youth were when my summer day camp occasionally took field trips to the Department of Parks and Recreation McCarren Pool. Furthermore, I was apprehensive about an unknown: the possibility that I or my companion would experience seasickness that would ruin our vacation. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by these floating all-inclusive resorts.
In 1988, Royal Caribbean launched Sovereign of the Seas, then the world’s largest cruise ship at over 73,000 gross tons. It was 12% larger than the then cruise ship size champ, the Queen Elizabeth 2, and almost 60% larger than the Titanic. Its scale was so unimaginable that a May 1987 article in the Chicago Tribune exclaimed that “it is doubtful any larger cruise ship will be built in the near future.” The article was sort of correct; depends on how “near future” is defined. In 1995 Princess Cruises launched the larger Sun Princess, the setting for The Love Boat: The Next Wave, a revival of the iconic The Love Boat television series that ran from 1977-1986.
Sovereign of the Seas promised as many, or more than, the amenities of the most luxurious all-inclusive resorts. The floating city boasted 14 decks traversed by glass-encased elevators, a high-end shopping mall, the largest casino at sea, night clubs and lounges, spa, and numerous photo-friendly vantage points. A stunning atrium soared five stories and surrounded tropical plants, a splashing fountain, more glass-enclosed elevators and a sweeping staircase. My cruise on Sovereign of the Seas was my first “real” date, well, the first time traveling together, with my then girlfriend Cheryl. Besides the obvious sentimental value I hold for that cruise—Cheryl is now my wife of 26 years—my recollection of that voyage is that it was magical. Amazing, grandiose midnight buffets with ornate ice and butter carvings, formal nights where everyone dressed to impress (both now forgone cruising traditions), a grand atrium unlike any cruise venue seen before according to veteran cruise mates on that voyage with us, and all the other amenities and trappings of a new, state-of-the-art vessel easily convinced me that cruising was something that I wanted to do more of.
Read the complete Chapter 1, The Joy of Cruising. Available now!