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rj42

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  1. I find the worthwhile upsells are after room assignment. I was upgraded from inside guarantee to an oceanview, but it was under the BB King’s lounge, so I was happy to pay $50 pp for a verandah, especially for 7 days at sea to Hawaii.
  2. Another good thing about the 1-nt Cruise was HAL was adding the beverage package for $20, so you could do some serious cocktail sampling. For those looking to get between Seattle and Vancouver, Quick Shuttle goes right to the terminal in Vancouver—I'm taking it tomorrow to the Noordam. Taking Uber or Lyft to the Seattle pier is cheaper than a taxi, or you could get creative and ride an app-based electric bike, as I did to the NCL pier for an Alaskan Cruise. The Bliss debacle comes from the lines trying to add as many stops as possible on coastals, to increase excursion revenues. HAL started doing the same thing this year, adding multiple stops down the coast, including SF, which charges high port taxes. I used to go each season for 4-day cruises with pleasant stops in Santa Barbara, Astoria, and Victoria, but now the longer cruises and higher taxes don’t make it worth it to me, especially with the frequently less pleasant weather going down the coast (sometimes the winds get so bad they close outside promenade access). Princess still offers several 3-day ones, though, sometimes at deep discounts.
  3. The Bliss is only going until October 27, but looks to do Mexico cruises during most of the winter next year, including shorter 5-day ones to Ensenada and Cabo. If you want to get really ambitious, both the Joy and Bliss will be doing several Miami-LA Panama Canal cruises of 16 days or so. I went on the Joy to Alaska in May, shortly after its refurbishment, and it was my favorite ship ever, with beautiful art and layout and design. The "Footloose" is more impressive than the other NCL Broadway shows that are mostly just singing hits, with lots of dancing in this one (the romantic leads are also an item in real life--I saw them holding hands in port). The magic show was also an impressive spectacle. I also love the pool deck layout of the Joy, with a huge open space (designed that way for the Chinese market), with smaller pools at each end, so there's more room for dancing, music, and watching the screen. The go karts are also fun to watch, and they have various virtual reality machines and laser tag, if you want to try new things. The Cavern Club is also great for Beatles lovers (go early if you want a seat), and the they do a longer show on the main stage one night. I also enjoyed little secret treats, like jars of gummy bears and peanut brittle by the buffet desserts, and I enjoyed trying different Indian foods in the buffet also, especially since the dining rooms had the same lunch menu every day. I think the Joy and Bliss would be wonderful for Mexico, although I usually do HAL for 7-day Mexico ones, since I like to be close to the water on their promenade decks for frequent sightings of whales and dolphins. I've seen plenty of breaching whales, some surfacing next to the ship (including rare Arnoux's beaked whales), and lots of dolphins jumping and dancing and chasing the ship (sailing in towards Cabo was the most active whale/dolphin spotting for me). If you want to swim with dolphins yourself, Cabo has a dolphin center near where the tenders dock, and if you order online ahead of time you can get cheaper prices.
  4. I'm excited now to go on the maiden voyage on Oct 13, from Vancouver to Honolulu. Although when I went on the Emerald Princess last April after a refurb, it spent hours outside Vancouver, waiting for the navigational system to sync, and there were a lot of malfunctions, everything from the sound/lighting system in the theatre not working, to not having hot water for a shower the first evening (even worse, toilets throughout the ship not flushing). The Norwegian Joy last summer was much less problematic after a big refurb, except for paint/glue smells in various spots. I wonder if they bring in an entirely new crew after a refurb, since the previous one would be in the way during construction and wouldn't be earning gratuities?
  5. I remember getting outraged by seeing a couple of Pomeranians walking the promenade on the Westerdam, with their own little grass relief area. That night they appeared in the show with a magician, so I felt a little foolish. He even told a joke about the attitudes when he was walking them, saying people asked him indignantly if the dogs were allowed on the ship, to which he replied "No, they're not". It's a dangerous thing if the emotional support dog scammers start bringing them on board, instead of just planes. I get that people get lonely without their dogs and don't want the expense and confinement of a kennel, and they want to get attention on a ship and spoil their precious pet with room service steak. But it's cruel to a dog, cruel to the stewards who have to clean up their messes, and disrespectful to other passengers, especially future occupancy of rooms that smell like dog pee or have poo stains and dander. HAL stewards already do the quickest and most stressful turn-around of any cruise line before debarkation, they don't need to do a pet cleanup as well.
  6. One advantage I found was on the Zuiderdam, which was delayed returning to Copenhagen by climate change protestors in Kiel blocking the ship. Those who had flight ease were automatically rebooked, but everyone else had to make their own arrangements, although the ship opened a phone at customer service for passenger use for rebooking.
  7. On the Imagination/Inspiration, you'll see more tattoos than walkers and mobility carts, which is refreshing. I've been on them around 10 times, and you'll see partiers, but also plenty of families looking for a pleasant time, and plenty of SoCal locals looking for a cheap, quick escape, particularly on the 3-day weekend cruises. They're old ships and basic, but they're also small, so it's easy to get around and find family members (I get lost on Princess ships, especially with the dining rooms you can only get to by going down one elevator/stairwell). Caring about a tv or bedroom lighting is sad on a cruise--bring a tablet with movies loaded onto it or a Kindle, or maybe go out and see one of the comedy shows at night, or go out and watch some of the stunning moon views over the water, or play some late-night putt putt golf, or actually get involved in the last-night Mardi Gras or music trivia fun in the atrium or give line-dancing your best shot on the sail-away party. I'm a stuffy old HAL/Princess guy too, but I actually enjoy the fun aspect of the Carnival ships. I avoid the smoky casino, bars, adults-only zone, and other party areas, so everywhere else it feels like a family-friendly fun ship. If you go to anytime dining at peak periods, you'll wait in line--so I go to the buffet for an early dinner (a lot of the dishes are duplicates of the MDR), and then go for a late second dinner in the dining room, where things are less crowded and stressful for everyone (sometimes I even manage to avoid the dancing and "Celebrate"/"GangnamStyle"). I also like being able to go to Catalina, instead of being constantly pestered in the Mexican ports (you also get to ride roomy local tenders, instead of the sardine-can ship tenders), and with an electric bike you can easily get up to some amazing views. Another thing I love about the 4-day Long Beach cruises is the ease of getting cheap airfare from the West Coast, particularly on Jetblue to LB, the ability to get to the cruise terminal on free tourist buses from downtown, and the opening of the big dome and the multiple security/check-in lines that eliminated the previous bottlenecks. Most of all, I love that it's the cheapest cruise around, important for a solo passenger having to pay double, and 4 days is the just-right length for me, because I get too bored and stressed out on longer cruises. Unlike Princess and NCL, the Carnival prices usually stay the same outside of summer and holidays, so you don't get regret over last-minute price drops. There are annoyances, like the heavy pushing of photos, the smoke spreading everywhere, the awful food in the buffet, the shows, and the customs guys doing thorough checks on computers (vs San Diego, who just look at the passport and wave you on). But I try to focus on the strengths, as I do on every ship and every line, and try to be empathetic and non-judgmental.
  8. So I've been having faint signs of hope that HAL might actually have a user-friendly check-in process online. They used to send you to a check-in page without automatically filling in your cruise code, so I'd have to go back into a separate page to look that up. Now I just have to input my name, because that's still too complex for HAL to do. It actually works now, until the onboard account page. Then I get 'you have 15 minutes to complete this page'. Then in the cards section where every other website in creation offers to store a saved credit card, HAL makes you input a new card every time. Fortunately, every other website in creation allows me to autofill my credit card info on my Chrome browser. So I do that, try to save, and get 'your session has expired'...20 seconds after starting. Then I sigh, mumble an expletive, make sure my ad-blocker is turned off, and then laboriously input every field. Click save, then '403 Access Forbidden'. Every other cruise website in creation allows me to search by number of passengers, so they might attract solo passengers and families. Every other cruise website in creation tries to get you to a booking page as quickly and easily as possible, whereas HAL leads you an on interactive map of your itinerary, and even when I manage to actually get to a booking page, I've found no way to change cabin types--every other cruise website in creation lists all the different cabin prices and encourages you to upgrade. Every other cruise website in creation tries to make loyal cruisers like an honored and valued guest. When I try to look up the basic information in My Account, such as details, bookings, and Mariner status, I always get "Your request cannot be processed. Please try again later", or "You must answer different questions and your answers cannot be the same across questions". I can only conclude that as part of their endless cost-cutting measures, HAL has outsourced its website management to the Indonesian MDR mint/dinner-gong guys in the usher suits as something to do in their non-dinner time.
  9. My routine as a shy solo cruiser is to look at the dining room menu ahead of time (it's up during the day outside the upper dining room), then write down what you want. Then when the Lido buffet opens, usually 5:30, I check out what I want that's there--usually all the appetizers are there, most of the desserts (excluding things like creme brulee), and I usually get a bowl of each dining room soup there (delicious). Then if there's a main dish I want, like salmon, I'll order that for a later room service, with creme brulee for dessert, so I minimize time and still get what I want, and spread the dining out so I don't get over full. A lot of new cruisers aren't aware that you can order anything from the dining room dinner menu for room service. For vegetarians, they have some good main dish items (tofu curry is tasty), the Asian market during lunch usually has tofu dishes, along with veggie sushi, the salad station will fill you up with tons of veggies (and a veggie omelet in the morning), and even the burger bar has a tasty portobello burger. The dining room staff will bend over backwards to satisfy vegetarian needs, so just ask on the first night and they'll bring out special menus or even fix something special (many of the chefs are Indian, so they can make some amazing vegetarian Indian dishes). Then there is always lots of fresh fruit for breakfast, oatmeal and bran cereals, and HAL also has the most amazing bread rolls, with a huge variety. Then for late-evening after a show, the only thing open is usually the pasta station, where they'll also assemble lots of veggies to go with pasta and marinara sauce. Alaska is also
  10. If you just want warm water, the Vibe H20 has a large hot tub aft, protected from the wind, and there are a few small pools and hot tubs on the main pool deck, at each end. I saw people using them despite colder weather, so they're probably kept pretty warm, and not too crowded. Having been on the Joy last week, I'd say an indoor pool doesn't mean as much to me as the wealth of things to do on the ship in any sort of weather. I've been bored to death on Princess and HAL in Alaska, whereas I had the time of my life on the Joy, because of the "Footloose" show, the amazing "Elements" show, the comedy club, three different Beatles shows, country and rock bands in the various bars and on deck, and most importantly to me, the ocean promenade outside deck 8, with couches and stools to enjoy sunsets and whale watching and to walk around the ship and enjoy the beauty of Alaska. Instead of reading reviews (which usually reflect negative attitudes rather than reality), I'd recommend going on youtube and searching for Norwegian Joy videos and filter it for the last month. They had a couple of 1-night cruises for travel agents, and several made comprehensive and helpful videos of the ship after refurbishment, so you can see what the pools and hot tubs look like and get a better idea if the ship is for you. Personally, I found it the most beautiful ship I've been on in terms or decor and art and use of space, and as I said, I found the entertainment the best I've seen on a ship, but as with most cruises, it's what you make of it, especially with the unpredictable weather of Alaska and the diverse crowds and dining options on a ship like the Joy.
  11. Actually, you can get a limited buffet breakfast in the American Diner some mornings. I did embarkation lunch in Savor/Taste, although they seem to have only one lunch menu for the entire cruise (although with plentiful options). The observation lounge also has snacks for most of the day. The best option for good anytime food is The Local on Deck 7. They have a soup of the day, salads, burgers, fish and chips, sandwiches, and great chicken wings, as well as a limited breakfast menu, and are open from morning until 4 am. I found The Local and dining rooms less stressful for lunch than the buffet, although I made quick trips to the buffet for their yummy cookies and good selection of scoop ice cream. I also enjoyed eating from the buffet out on the pool deck, which in Alaska had overhead heaters over the closer tables (Ringo eats his breakfast out there).
  12. A lot depends on the weather. If it's rainy or cold out, everybody stays inside and the Lido and other public areas get crowded. My solution is to bundle up and go where people aren't, particularly the outside promenade deck, or places like the deck 2 lounges by a window during the day. The buffet area between meals is also a good option, as is the Crow's Nest in the evening, or the Lido pool deck in the evening, where I can sit on a deck chair and read my Kindle in peace. If you want to avoid crowds, then you can eat dinner in the Lido or order room service or eat at 5:15 or after 8, avoid the buffet during lunch (order room service or grab a salad and sandwich or Dive-In burger), and wait until the initial crowds have gotten off the ship in ports. And when you disembark, either choose self-disembarkation and be the first off the ship (carrying your luggage), or wait until everyone else has gotten off. Those practices work for me both on 1500 HAL ships and the 3800 on the Norwegian Joy last week.
  13. You probably won't see many out on the open ocean, except spouts from a distance. Last week on the Norwegian Joy I passed one close going out of Ketchikan, several from the boat and shore in Icy Straight Point, and others sailing around the Inside Passage. I've heard good sightings around Sitka, if you take a whale watching tour, and on the way home I usually spot whales entering the Straights of Juan de Fuca (you can also get a cell phone signal on the Washington side as you get close to Pt Angeles). My best advice for spotting whales is to walk the promenade deck, which gives you the best viewing (I've seen whales right next to the ship), but you also get others spotting whales and pointing them out, which maximizes your chances. That said, I've had better whale watching on the Mexican cruises, particularly around Cabo, where they give birth in the winter and do more jumping and movement--plus you get porpoises chasing alongside the ship and jumping.
  14. Having just returned from the Norwegian Joy, with a 2-hour very professional production of "Footloose", an exciting and beautiful Cirque du Soleil-type production, a Beatles cover band, three comedians, and country/rock bands and piano performers and deck DJs, I realized how much of a letdown it will be to go back next week to corporate-sponsored HAL music entertainment that is the same setlists on every ship ("Piaf to Peanuts" for the umpteenth time, anyone?) and second-rate comedians and musicians in the main theater (plus the same Planet Earth movie that's on every ship now). Ah, how I miss snooty Ukrainian babes in Adagio, piano bar guys who would take requests, and even some production shows that were inspired and interesting (the Westerdam ones were my favorites).
  15. You can check maritime weather forecasts right before the cruise to check wave height and direction for west of Vancouver Island, where the seas can be rough or smooth. If you're seriously prone to seasickness, then for future Alaska cruises you might choose a n/s cruise between Seward/Whittier and Vancouver, which stays in more protected waters. Another option on HAL is to order food from their seasickness room service menu, which has things like chicken soup and crackers. Late dining and alcohol also aren't wise for preventing seasickness. As with rain, though, open ocean conditions can vary greatly in Alaska, as on the Pacific Coastal cruises I like to take. Personally, the rise and fall of a ship is kind of fun for me, and gives me great sleep, and I had a lot of fun with a wild ride going out of the sand bar in Astoria one evening without stabilizers, with the captain telling everyone to sit down or hold onto something and the Adagio violinist trying not to fall off her stool.
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