Hey Ladies! LezCruise!
In this issue we talk about transatlantic cruises and a big change at Regent Seven Seas Cruises.  We also talk about how to protect yourself from norovirus, give you some information about the newsletter, and tell you a little story about a recent interaction we had.

Regent Seven Seas Goes Smokeless
New Smoking Policy

Recently our favorite cruise line, Regent Seven Seas, announced a change to their smoking policy.  Beginning in December 2007, smoking will no longer be permitted in staterooms or on balconies.
Regent says it is making the change due to the potential fire hazard of smoking, and because of discomfort to other passengers caused by smoking in these areas.  Smoking will still be allowed on open decks, in the pool bars and in the casinos.  Guests who violate the new smoking rules will be given a written warning, and repeat offenders will be put off the ship at the next port of call.
We know that many smokers will be dismayed to find yet another restriction imposed on them, but we were very glad to hear this news.  Our biggest beef with Regent was that there didn't appear to be a smoking policy - other than in the dining room, people seemed able to light up wherever they wanted.  There didn't even seem to be the starboard-smoking, port-nonsmoking (or vice versa) rules, as on other ships.
Now, the ship we were on, the Navigator, did have an excellent ventilation system, so that the only time we smelled any smoke was when people were actually smoking (unlike on the Celebrity Mercury, where the smoking side continually reeked of cigarette smoke no matter what).  But still, it was frustrating to be in a public sitting area and have someone next to you suddenly light up, and then have to breathe their smoke or leave.  So we are glad to see Regent implement a fairly strict smoking policy.
The new policy will become effective on different dates on the different ships:   December 21 on Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Mariner, followed by Seven Seas Navigator on December 27 and Paul Gauguin on December 29.

Destination: Transatlantic
Is a crossing for you?
OK, we will admit that we've
never actually done a crossing.
So this article doesn't contain "here's what to do on a crossing" tips.  Rather, it's what we know about crossings and why we want to do them (plus a little about our fantasy crossing).

Transatlantic cruises once were the heart of daily commerce across the Atlantic, but today they are seasonal. Cunard line operates a schedule of weekly crossings from April to October, but most other transatlantic sailings occur with the migrations of cruise fleets from the Caribbean to Europe and the Mediterranean in the spring (usually April) and the return voyages in the fall (usually November).

Eastbound crossings frequently depart from New York, Boston, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and a few Caribbean ports. Westbound ships often sail from Southampton, England; Barcelona, Spain; and other major European port cities. In each case, ships may take a longer, slower southern route past the Canary Islands, or the shorter and quicker northern course.

While a few of these voyages include visits to ports along the way - such as the Canary Islands on the southern crossings or Iceland on the northern path - the unique character of the transatlantic cruise makes these simply short diversions from the main event - the transit across the vast expanse of the Atlantic.
Which is why we find them attractive.  We like ports of call (especially Caribbean ones, as we love to snorkel and float in that impossibly blue water), but what we really love about cruising is just being on a ship out in the middle of the ocean.  Some of the most transcendent cruise experiences we've had involve sitting on a balcony or standing on a deck, watching the water go by, listening to the sound of the ship cutting through the surf, and feeling the rhythmic movement of the ship.  
Plus, when you're stopping at ports of call, you do feel compelled to go and do things onshore - which can break up your day.  We're curious to see what kind of routine one could fall in to with a succession of 6 or 7 sea days - we suspect it might be divine.  At the Vancouver Four Seasons -- the only Four Seasons we can afford -- we tend to sleep in, go to the health club and swim and take saunas, eat breakfast, wander around a bit, eat lunch, take a nap, wander a bit more, have dinner, read and fall asleep, then repeat the whole thing the next day.  We find it glorious and wonderfully relaxing, and we imagine a crossing would be similar.
And finally, it just sounds like a much more pleasant way to get to and from Europe than flying. 
So here's our fantasy crossing vacation (which requires gobs of money and time off, which is why it remains firmly in the fantasy category for now.)
  • Take an Amtrak sleeper car from Portland to New York
  • Sail on Cunard from New York to Southampton, sometime in early or mid October
  • Get a Eurail pass and spend about a month traveling around Europe
  • Sail on Regent Seven Seas or Crystal back to the States.  These crossings usually happen in mid November, and generally depart from Spain or Portugal and end in Florida
  • Take an Amtrak sleeper car from Florida to LA or San Diego, then another from California to Portland (or, if scheduling permits, a Panama Canal cruise to LA or San Diego, then the Amtrak to Portland)
Maybe someday...

Cruising 101 - Norovirus
Reduce your chances of getting sick
Norovirus on cruise ships is big news. What isn't big news is some bug going around at your place of work or at your child's school. It could be the same thing, norovirus, and the percentage infected could be even higher, but it doesn't make the news. We say this not to minimize the issue, but just to let you know that your risk of getting sick on a cruise ship is really not much higher than anywhere else.
That said, a cruise ship is still the kind of place where a bug can spread easily, because there are a bunch of people together in one spot, sharing the same facilities.  So what can you do about it? 
The biggest thing you can do anywhere (cruise ship, at work, in a restaurant, etc) to reduce your chances of picking up a bug is WASH YOUR HANDS.  A lot.  It's generally also recommended that after you wash your hands in a restroom, you use the towel you just dried your hands with to open the bathroom door, so you don't undo your work by immediately touching a knob that my have been touched by someone who did not wash their hands (sad, but true - a fair percentage of people don't wash their hands after using the bathroom).  On cruise ships there are usually hand sanitizers at the ready when you board the ship, and often when you enter a dining venue.  Our recommendation is that when you see one, use it. 
OK, so you've washed and sanitized your hands.  What else can you do?  A couple more things, according to a May 2007 issue of the industry newsletter CruiseWeek:
  • Cruise in the spring, summer or fall.  Norovirus is seasonal, with most outbreaks occurring during flu season - especially January or February
  • Pick a small luxury ship.  You can view all outbreak incidents reported to the CDC going back to 1994 here. What you'll see is that no cruise ship is immune to norovirus, but you'll also see that Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, Seaborne and Silverseas appear quite infrequently (Crystal, our second favorite line, not at all).  You can also check out a ship's sanitation scores here.  Make sure you click to read why cruise ships had points docked from their scores. Sometimes it's something really bad - sometimes it's really not.
And there's one last thing you can do.  This comes from us here at LezCruise - don't be selfish.  If you find yourself experiencing any sort of symptoms of illness, tell the cruise officials!!  Yes, they'll probably quarantine you, and yes, that seems unfair after you've spent so much money on a cruise, but we urge you to think about others.
We'll end with a little story.  Last December we were on a Crystal cruise Seminar-at-Sea with about 100 other travel professionals.  At one of the seminars, we were asked to form the dreaded Small Group with the people around us and complete an exercise.  We dutifully moved closer together, except for the gentleman to our right, who said he'd stay where he was because he was sick and supposed to be quarantined and didn't want to infect us (he said this like he was doing us some sort of favor by letting us know).  We were appalled, and watched him after that.  At every break in the seminar, he got up, walked around the room (holding the handrails), went and poured himself juice and water (we even saw him pick up a paper cup, look at it, then put it back), handled the tongs to get himself a donut, and basically touched every surface he could.  Later that day, after the seminar was over, we saw him sitting in the hot tub.
You don't want to be this guy, liberally spreading pestilence because you don't want to be quarantined.  If you're sick, stay in your room.  It's actually not that bad.  Mary did develop a nasty cold once on a cruise ship and quarantined herself. She reports that if she has to be sick, she'd rather be sick on a cruise ship than anywhere else. She had everything she needed brought to her and all she had to do was lie about. There are certainly worse things in the world.

In This Month's Newsletter:

Regent Seven Seas Goes Smokeless

Newsletter Update
Schedule Change
When we started LezCruise, we decided that we wanted to have a monthly newsletter.  And so we enthusiastically went about creating one.  And it was fun.
But we've found, as time goes on, that the fun factor of maintaining a monthly newsletter is decreasing, and (more alarmingly) the drudgery factor of same is increasing.
Which makes us sad, since we do actually enjoy putting together and sending the newsletter.
So our solution is just to do it less often, so that when we do create a newsletter, it's fun again.  We'll be sending out the newsletter on a quarterly basis now, rather than monthly.
We'll shoot for March, June, September and
December, but of course there will be some wiggle room there.
Activist Corner
LezCruise vs Microsoft
A while back we got an email from Microsoft inviting us to try out their new Microsoft adCenter (Microsoft's answer to Google AdWords) for a couple months, free.
Never one to pass up free, we signed up and created an ad, and included the keywords we wanted to use.  Soon after submitting our ad, we received an email that some of our keywords had been rejected.  The reason?  "Forbidden content."
And just what was this smut we were trying to post?  The rejected keywords were lesbian group cruise, lesbian cruise and lesbian travel.
Since it's unlikely that they were having a problem with group, cruise or travel, we are forced to conclude that the objectionable word is lesbian.   
Not lesbian sex, hot lesbian pics, or anything that might actually indicate graphic material - just lesbian.  
So Microsoft finds the very idea of lesbians objectionable and forbidden. 
We were very offended and immediately contacted them.  They were very nice, offered us an appeal process, completed our appeal quickly and we were able to proceed with our chosen keywords.  Still, the idea that we would have to get special permission to use the term lesbian rankled. 
Mary got all wrought up and wanted to issue a press release to a bunch of queer papers and such -  but of course that takes time and energy, and neither of us are really of an activist bent, so nothing has happened as of yet (Mary cherishes the notion that she still might).  
But we thought it couldn't hurt to let our loyal LezCruise users know, in case anyone out there felt like taking up the baton!