Carnival Cruise Lines issued a new policy last week that bans passengers from bring non-alcoholic beverages (bottled water, sodas, juice) onboard its ships. Passengers who need specific beverages for medical reasons can present a note from their doctor to be exempted from this rule. Royal Caribbean already has a similar policy. I’m just going to let my bias shine on through. I think this sucks and it’s another way that many of the mass-market lines just nickel and dime you to death. You’ll never see this sort of thing on Crystal or Regent which is why we prefer the smaller and luxury lines. Not only do they not charge for non-alcoholic drinks, but they let you bring whatever you want on board – alcoholic or non.

Earlier I wrote about the new passport regulations (which are constantly changing). Because of those new regulations, more people are applying for passports, and processing times on passport applications have gone from 4 to 6 weeks to 10 weeks or longer. Even if you pay for expedited passport processing there is a 4 week turnaround. You can go to to get information about applying for a passport and to check the status of your passport application. provides information about the new passport regulations under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which covers travel from the U.S. to the Caribbean, Bermuda, Panama, Mexico and Canada.

Bottom line: if you’re anticipating travel out of the U.S. in the near future and you don’t yet have a passport, take the time to get one now!

From the Amtrak web site:

“Amtrak is pleased to offer the Campus Visit Discount. This discount allows high school juniors and seniors visiting a college campus to take one parent or guardian along as a free companion.

“Amtrak is making this great discount offer in conjunction with our partner, Collegia. Just click on the ‘Apply Now’ link at the right to go to Collegia’s Campus Visit page. There, complete a brief form and you’ll be given an Amtrak Promotion Code. Then, return to to continue booking.”

Here’s the link to get the discount:

Carnival Corporation announced today that it has signed a definitive agreement to sell its Windstar Cruises brand to Ambassadors International Inc. for $100 million.  Ambassadors International is the parent company of Majestic America Line, which owns the Delta Queen, Mississippi Queen, American Queen, and Columbia Queen.  We’ll have to wait and see what this move means for Windstar.

I’ve been catching up on my travel reading and one of the newest trends in luxury lodging is flat screen tvs, ipod docking stations, and bose sound systems. Every time I read about those things I think, that’s the LAST thing I want is to listen to my neighbor’s bose sound system. I will admit that I am WAY overly sensitive to certain types of noise. I am the person who’s constantly pointing out, “Wow, doesn’t that [tv] [radio] [domestic disturbance] coming from [next door] [upstairs] [down below] drive you crazy?” And then the people whom I’m with, who didn’t notice it previously, thank me for pointing it out because now it’s bugging them.

Anyway, I’ve decided to compile a list of lodgings that do not have tv’s in the rooms because those are the places I want to stay. For now, I only have two: On the Oregon Coast, The Sylvia Beach Hotel (an Oregon institution and wonderful for many reasons) does not have tv’s, radios or phones in the rooms.

The other, I just read about, and while it is in not-very-gay-friendly Jamaica, it sounds wonderful. The Jamaica Inn, located 10 minutes from downtown Ocho Rios and Dunn’s River Falls, does not have tv’s, radios, or clocks in the rooms. I quote from their website: “On-property croquet, swimming pool, snorkeling, kayaks and sunfish sailing are complimentary. Windsurfing, sailing and diving facilities available nearby at an additional charge. Jamaica Inn guests can also play tennis nearby . An exercise room is located in the garden wing. Equipment includes a stair climber, stationary bicycle, treadmill and free weights.”

Here’s another place posted by a user: I know of a wonderful place – no tvs, no radios, no phones, no AC etc. – on the Big Island of Hawai’i – Hawai’i island. It is called “Kona Village Resort,” on the west (Kona) coast. Wonderful, secluded, “old-Hawai’i” feel, your own individual rooms/houses called “hale” Polynesian-style buildings, 3 fabulous meals included – is not cheap. I’ve stayed three times with girlfriends (room with one big bed) – one night, two nights, one night, over 10+years, Very friendly, on the ocean (many hale have ocean views, some on lava rock etc.) Ocean swimming, snorkeling, tennis etc., pools, massages, the Fri. night Luau is great too. Things for kids to do too, plus (two?) months in the year the kids are not encouraged to stay, so just for adults. They will pick you up at the airport, so no car needed. Check them out!

If you know of any other wonderful places where there are no noise-making electronics in the rooms, please let me know so I can post them here.

Some of you may have already read this in our newsletter, but I’m putting it in the blog also after reading a thread on CruiseCritic about formal night. Seems like we’re not the only ones who worried, worried, worried about it!

The statistics we gather when you register on our web site tell us that many of you have never cruised before. So we thought it might be helpful to run a series of articles addressing the questions we had the first time we cruised. Our biggest worry? Formal night. Some people love to dress up, and do it well. We’re learning to enjoy it actually, but I kind of doubt that we do it well. However, we’ve learned how to fit in on a cruise ship. Now, not all cruise ships have a formal night, or even a dress code, but many do and here’s how we handled it our first couple of cruises: Cruise 1 – order room service on Formal Night. Do not venture out of the room under any circumstances. Cruise 2 – Eat in the alternative restaurant. Look at all the ladies and think, “Hmmm. All it takes is something sparkly. I MIGHT be able to do that.” Cruise 3 – Buy an outfit for formal night!!!

Let me backup a little, though. For those first 2 cruises we still had to dress up, certainly more than the pajamas we sometimes wear to dinner at home. (The other night, we almost went to a restaurant with Mary still in her pajamas – luckily we noticed just as she was getting in to the car.) What we did was buy a few skirts. The best were the reversible skirts we got at Nordstrom. We each bought one, so between the two of us we had four skirts. I also bought a black skirt and black pants and a black top at Chico’s. If you haven’t discovered Chico’s and you are not a hot young thing, you really should check it out. Their clothes are extremely comfortable and surprisingly flattering for someone whose weight is no longer what it was when she was a cross-country runner. Also the sizes are 1,2, and 3, so you can pretend you are really tiny. A couple black and white v-neck t-shirts and a black sweater for me and I was set. Certainly not the most creative or stylish dresser on the ship but as far as I know no one pointed at me and said, “Look at THAT inappropriate clothing!”

In anticipation of formal night, we went to that bastion of high fashion, Sears, and bought REALLY CHEAP sparkly clothing. Mary bought a dress and I bought a top to go along with my black skirt. My top was not just REALLY CHEAP, but REALLY REALLY CHEAP. The sparkles rained down onto my body and the floor every time I took the scratchy blouse off and I had to shower before climbing into bed after formal night was done. But, dressed up with some nice inexpensive jewelry loaned to us by a friend who has more fashion sense than us, we fit in just fine on formal night. And it was totally worth going to the dining room for the amazing chateaubriand.

We have a special section in our closet for cruise clothes, and we really don’t wear them any other time, but we’ve come to love packing our cruise clothes, unpacking them on the ship and picking out what combination we will wear each evening. It’s so easy now, it’s practically GarAnimals!

Effective immediately Crystal Cruises are now trans-fat free. Crystal is the first cruise line in the world to ban trans fats on its ships.  According to a Crystal press release, Crystal’s chefs “have removed all trans fats in favor of more than a dozen trans-fat-free oils, including sesame seed, pumpkin seed, walnut seed, corn oil, and several olive oils… The changes have been incorporated across the ships’ menus and restaurants and include everything from French fries to salad dressings…

Crystal’s crew galleys are now trans-fat free as well. In keeping with its commitment to more healthful lifestyle choices for its crew, Crystal Cruises is focusing on crew menus with more fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and offering crew-only wellness classes and sporting activities.”

As a side note, Mary and I recently returned from a Crystal cruise and agree that it was the best food we’ve ever had on a cruise ship and some of it was the best food we’d ever had, period.  If you like steak, Crystal has amazingly wonderful steaks.

Twice a year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention inspect cruise ships for sanitation. The most recent scores were released earlier this month, and the Regent Seven Seas Mariner became the only cruise ship ever to earn a perfect score of 100 three times in a row. (We love Regent, by the way, and the Mariner has excellent Alaska itineraries every summer.) Other ships that scored a perfect score:

Oceania Regatta – Oceania is another small ship cruise line that we’d like to try. We heard excellent things about it during our recent seminar on Crystal’s Serenity.

Princess: Caribbean Princess, Crown Princess, Tahitian Princess, Golden Princess

Royal Caribbean: Jewel of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas

NCL: Norwegian Sun, Norwegian Jewel

Costa’s Mediterranea

Carnival’s Miracle

Celebrity’s Millennium

P&O’s Aurora

You can look up the inspection scores for any ship you are thinking about sailing on here.

There’s been a fair amount of news lately about norovirus on cruise ships and I have had some people ask me about it, so I thought it would be a good idea to give you some information and some resources. Basically, norovirus is a stomach flu. We hear about it mostly on cruise ships, but you can get norovirus anywhere, and you probably have at some point in your life. The link above takes you to the Center for Disease Control’s information page about norovirus.

The Center for Disease Control has a Vessel Sanitation Program where you can learn minute details about the ship on which you may be thinking about sailing. Cruise ships that fall within the purview of the Vessel Sanitation Program sail on voyages from 3-21 days and carry 100 or more passengers. Any time any of these ships has a sailing in which 3% or more of the passengers or crew report symptoms of gastrointestinal illness, the details must be reported to the CDC. You can view all reported incidents going back to 1994 here. What you’ll see is that no cruise ship is immune to norovirus, but you’ll also see that in some cases the numbers are quite low.

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. I 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.

You can reduce your chances of getting sick by making sure you wash your hands frequently. Cruise ships actually make it easier for you by providing hand sanitizer before you board the ship and before you enter any place to eat. If you don’t want to get sick, use that stuff, whenever you see it.

The web site I provided above, plus this one, which provides sanitation inspection scores from the CDC for all cruise ships, can help you choose your cruise wisely. 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.

You can also pay attention to the ship you’re on and their attention to cleanliness. Last June we were at a cruise-a-thon and toured a number of ships. One of the ships we toured required us to stand in line for over an hour and fill out forms stating whether we had any signs of illness in the last 4 days. When we got to the point where we could board the ship, they took the forms without looking at them and did not direct us to use the hand sanitizer that was at the entrance to the ship. This told me that the staff of this particular ship were not actually concerned with preventing the spread of illness. They had paperwork to prove that they were doing something but, unlike every other ship we boarded, they did not make us wash our hands before boarding the ship.

I’ll end with a story I just heard about someone who became ill with a stomach virus the night before boarding a cruise ship. She boarded the ship and ignored signs all over the ship asking passengers experiencing any gastrointestinal illness to report to the ship’s doctor. After two days of illness she finally did report to the doctor. Needless to say, they were very unhappy with her for waiting. She was quarantined to her room for one day and brought stomach-friendly foods like rice and other white things.

The cruiselines can take all the precautions in the world, but there is nothing they can do about someone who chooses to walk about the ship sick and infect others. I urge you to think about others if you become sick. They may quarantine you, which means you can’t leave your room, but they’ll also bring you food and wait on you hand and foot. I know my girl doesn’t do that for me! My partner did actually 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.

On Thursday, November 30 at 10 pm ET/PT, The Travel Channel will air The Trip of A Lifetime – Alaska. Cruise West is featured as two sisters take their dream trip along the inside passage. Cruise West features small ships that allow you to get up-close and personal. If you find you’re interested in cruising to Alaska on Cruise West, let us know. In conjunction with the television show, Cruise West is offering special deals through December 8.

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