Sailing the Seven Seas

Let’s begin this nomadic tale with Manan, who had traversed the globe visiting dozens of countries along the way.

By
November 15, 2015 01:14
The Carnival cruise ship Ecstasy leaves the port in Miami, Florida

The Carnival cruise ship Ecstasy leaves the port in Miami, Florida. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Manan had imagined leaving his village in South India and seeing the world.

Marco had last been on a cruise over 30 years ago on his honeymoon.

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Little did they know that in the fall of 2015 each would play a vital role in creating a vacation the likes of which fairy tales are based on.

Let’s begin this nomadic tale with Manan, who had traversed the globe visiting dozens of countries along the way. Starting six years ago as a lowly waiter he had worked himself up to a butler status on one of the premier cruise lines in the world. With 1,200 sailing passengers, he and his crew of 700 tended to their every need.

Oceania Cruises, Manan’s employer was founded in 2002 by cruise industry veterans. With five ships in their fleet they focused on the premium clients. Their philosophy, embraced by fervent clients, is that a vacation should be more than just time away. It should be a chance to create everlasting memories. Like other destination specialists, they have designed itineraries to feature some of the world’s most intriguing ports of call. Similar to other top-line cruise companies, they utilize a country club casual ambiance. No need for neckties and formal wear on their ships. Investing their money on stylish decor and elegant furnishings they focus on multiple gourmet restaurants with open-seating allowing the passenger to dine whenever and with whomever they decide.

When Marco elected to go on a cruise, he went through a long list in making his decision. These days, you can enjoy world-class dining, spas, zip lines, a meeting with Mickey Mouse or playing golf or tennis, all while on the ship. Finding the right cruise can seem like a daunting task – especially for first timers. Here are a few tips: First, consider where you want to go. The Caribbean is a popular destination for cruises if you reside in North America, and there’s a reason why – it’s great for families, couples and singles alike. Caribbean cruises are very relaxing because there isn’t a ton of pressure to get off the ship early to explore. European cruises allow you to choose an itinerary with plenty of time off the ship in exciting ports. Cruising removes obstacles that can make international vacation planning complicated, such as transportation and language barriers, making it one of the easiest ways to enjoy exotic foreign destinations.

Often vacations must be planned around school schedules and holidays, so you’ll want to choose a destination that has optimal weather for the time of year you can travel. For winter cruising, the Caribbean, Hawaii and Mexico are popular destinations, but South America and Southeast Asia also offer prime cruising weather for travelers looking for something more adventurous. In the summer and early fall consider Alaska or Europe. The warm weather in these regions is worth the crowds you’ll likely experience.

If you’re hoping to save money and avoid crowds for any destination, consider sailing during shoulder season when prices are lower but weather is still pretty reliable.

If you’re someone who plans on spending a lot of time on the ship relaxing, you may want to splurge on a larger cabin. But if you plan to leave the ship and take advantage of excursions every day, then you may wish to book a smaller room and save your budget for tours. Likewise, if you’re an extremely social person and plan to spend a lot of time socializing, it may not be worth it to invest in a private balcony.

Next, you’ll want to consider who you’re traveling with. Are you traveling with your spouse for a romantic getaway, your children for a fun family vacation, or a multigenerational group looking to enjoy some memorable shared experiences together? If you’re with your entire brood, consider Disney Cruise Line, which specializes in entertaining the whole family.

However, if you’re looking for a line that will whisk you away in an intimate and romantic setting, luxury lines like Azamara Club Cruises and Oceania Cruises offer exceptional style and some of the best value.

Choosing ship size – megaship or boutique vessel – has a huge impact on the cruise environment. Large cruises offer an exceptional array of entertainment options, dining venues and amenities, and are typically the way to go if you’re traveling with younger children or a large group looking for lively nightly activities. However, if you’re hoping for a more intimate, relaxing luxury experience with attentive service and a sophisticated ambiance, consider choosing a smaller luxury cruise.

When you envision yourself aboard, are you unwinding by the pool or up early taking advantage of excursions offered in each destination? If you’re hoping to spend most of your time aboard, you’ll want to choose a boat with plenty of activities so you don’t go stir crazy. Royal Caribbean International caters to cruisers of all ages with onboard zip lines, bumper cars, rock climbing walls and even ice-skating rinks. Their entertainment is also top of the line – Broadway-caliber shows and mystery dinner theaters will entertain families and couples alike. Likewise, Disney Cruise Line offers countless activities onboard – themed dinners, meet-and-greets with Disney characters and many kid-oriented pool and sports activities.

If you’re less concerned with flashy onboard amenities and more interested in what you’ll see when you leave the ship, consider choosing a cruise that specializes in destination immersion. Azamara Club Cruises caters to a sophisticated clientele whose priorities are to maximize time off the ship, with overnight stays at ports and late port departures. Likewise, Oceania Cruises also offers late port departures, which allow guests to experience each stop to its fullest.

Think about what you want out of your cruise experience and where you’ll end up spending the most money and then choose a cruise that offers the best value for that element. Food connoisseurs should look for a line with a heavy focus on culinary quality. If you value fine wine and spirits, consider choosing a cruise that offers all-inclusive packages that include alcoholic beverages in the cruise price. Azamara Club Cruises offers complimentary standard spirits, sodas and specialty coffees, with unlimited premium packages available for only $12.95 per person/per day. Regent Seven Seas Cruises offers unlimited beverages. If instead you hope to explore each destination, Regent Seven Seas Cruises offers free, unlimited shore excursions in each port of call.

For Marco, late October was the time he and his wife could take off and with his sister and her husband joining them on a 10-day jaunt from Barcelona to Lisbon was selected. They decided to go all out and booked a penthouse suite with a private butler. They were wise enough to not book so far in advance and got an excellent price. Taking a cruise in the off season offers one the opportunity if they can be patient to jump in at the last moment and grab a very reasonable rate. Ensuring it’s not a high-season time for plane tickets, enables the sage customer to save hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

For Manan, he had already sailed the seven seas, including the Arctic, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Pacific, South Pacific, Indian and Southern oceans. Much has been written that cruise liners exploit their workers. Manan works six-months straight and then has a two month vacation. He’s flown back to his home country and his monthly salary is almost $800 a month.

Working on a cruise ship involves long hours for sure, but every crew member does have free time and there are always crew activities organized to ensure that ship life involves much more than just work. Likewise, while there are crew parties organized every week or two, working on a cruise ship does involve real responsibilities and anyone who doesn’t take it seriously will find themselves out of a job before long.

The misconception is that the pay on board cruise ships is quite low. And while some positions earn a low base salary, when combined with tips, usually these crew members are earning much more than they would earn in their home countries. And when you consider that crew members have very little expenses during their contracts (room and board, health insurance, flights to/from the ship, etc. are all taken care of), it is possible to save much more money during one contract than most people would save in a year or more working a job back on land. Manan shared with Marco that after two more years he would have saved enough money to open up a hotel in India.

When Marco boarded the cruise liner, tears welled up in his eyes. Never had he seen such opulence, such luxury oozing from every corner of the boat. Fine art and sculptures dotted the lobby, the staircase and chandelier reminded him of luxury liners he has seen in the movies. The exuberance of the staff and the abundance of food in the dining room left him speechless. The size of their cabin reminded them of their first apartment they had rented as newlyweds.

When Manan, dressed in his tails introduced himself to the couple as their private butler and their maid curtsied as she greeted them, they felt as if they were characters in a 19th-century novel. Exploring the ship left them giddy as school children on their first day of school. The Canyon Ranch Spa Club offered sublime spa services; their fully equipped gym, with fitness classes and a personal trainer had them gasping for air. Near the top deck they entered the ships’ culinary center. They had the opportunity to learn gourmet cooking working side by side with master chefs.

The library on the boat, offered a wide variety of books, stretching out over 100 meters with deep leather seats where one could delve into the latest bestsellers.

Adjacent to the library was the coffee bar. Floor to ceiling windows provided panoramic views as baristas served the finest espressos, cappuccinos, pastries and homemade cookies. The pool deck was replete with chaise lounges, a heated swimming pool and extra-large towels. Returning to their cabin, they stood on their balcony as the ship sailed out of the Barcelona harbor and the sun set slowly over the horizon. Manan uncorked their champagne as tears of pure happiness rolled down their cheeks.

All cruise liners offer shore excursions, ranging from half-day coach tours, to a wine-and-dine experience in the port city. While being of the highest quality they all share the same component – outrageous prices.

Most of their four-hour bus tours cost $119 for a short walking tour of the city, be it Palma de Mallorca or Lisbon.

For years we’ve recommended to our clients to do a quick Google search of free walking tours and avail themselves of local guides, usually unlicensed to introduce them to their city. You pay what you want at the end of the tour, with most people giving €5-€10.

Many clients also simply take a taxi upon disembarking having the driver show them around.

Marco took this advice and reported back that the guides on the free walking tours were excellent and in fact he never made it back for the four o’clock afternoon tea time on the boat. In fact, exhausted after a full day, he never managed to enter the casino that sprang to life each night when the boat was in international waters. They did manage to catch one or two nights of the lounge performers but most nights were spent savoring a fine meal peppered with great conversation.

His curiosity was sated and he inquired about the different cruise liners.

Although there are quite a few cruise lines, as a result of a period of industry consolidation most cruise lines today are owned by four corporations.

The largest of these is Carnival Corporation with over 100 boats. In fact it started as Carnival Cruise lines back in 1972 by Israeli businessmen Ted Arison and Meshulam Riklis. Due to mounting debts Riklis sold his stake in the company to Arison for $1 in 1974.

Now led by Ted son’s Mickey Arison (who also owns the Miami Heat basketball team) the company registered profits of $1.2 billion in 2014. Carnival owns such lines as Princess, Holland America, Costa, P&O Cruises, Cunard and Seabourn.

The second largest cruise corporation is Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. It is the holding company for the following cruise lines – Royal Caribbean International (23 ships), Celebrity Cruises (11), Pullmantur (five), Azamara Club Cruises (two) and CDF Croisières de France (one).

The third largest cruise line is Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. It, like Carnival and Royal Caribbean, is a publicly traded corporation.

NCLH currently has 15 ships in service within its Norwegian Cruise Line and just like Carnival Corp. and RCCL, NCLH has become a conglomerate.

Within its Prestige Holdings subsidiary, NCHL owns the luxury brands Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Coming in as the fourth largest cruise line, MSC Cruises has 12 ships with a passenger capacity of over 28,000. The line has four ships on order. It is a subsidiary of the giant cargo shipping company Mediterranean Shipping Company. Apart from the big four, there are a number of smaller cruise lines that are trying to stay independent.

Is cruising for everyone? Of course not. Both the price and lack of kosher food options will dissuade many people. For others though it’s a little like visiting Disneyland with all of the lands being represented. For Marco it was a dream come true and for Manan he’s living his dream and lighting up the stars with a smile as wide as the horizons.

The author is the CEO of Ziontours. For questions and comments: [email protected]


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