Why Some European Cruise Lines Now Avoid America – Other Cruise News: On Board Drink Prices in 1983 – The New Celebrity Silhouette

by Kevin Griffin

In the wake of the bureaucratic processing some “foreign” cruise ships have received from US Homeland Security, several European-based operators of small to medium-size tonnage have started to avoid making calls in US ports. Now, after the 7-hour delay incurred by P&O’s Arcadia in Los Angeles in late May, we have a look at the situation in a bit more detail. On a lighter note, we have a look at shipboard drink prices in 1983 compared to today. We also take a look at the latest changes to the Solstice class, as introduced by the Celebrity Silhouette, christened in Hamburg last week.


Why Some European Cruise Lines Now Avoid America

We read recently how when P&O Cruises’ Arcadia called on Los Angeles on May 26, during a 72-night return cruise from Southampton to Alaska, her clearance was delayed for seven hours by US Homeland Security. Not only were her 2,000 mostly elderly passengers delayed, but there also seemed to be no real reason for it, the ship having visited only US and Canadian ports since her May 7 inward call at San Francisco.

Despite this, and even though all had completed applications for multiple-entry ESTA visas, her passengers were subjected to detailed passport checks, extensive background interviews, and full biometric checks, including fingerprints of both hands and retina scans. In the end, although some were off the ship before 11 am, all the ship’s passengers were not cleared until 4:30 in the afternoon and P&O had to extend her Los Angeles call by a day and drop a call at Roatan in order reach Fort Lauderdale on schedule later in the cruise.

A June story in the “Daily Telegraph” reported that Arcadia’s passengers “had already been given advance clearance for multiple entries to the country during their trip,” but “when a handful of them questioned whether the lengthy security checks at the port were strictly necessary for a group of largely elderly travellers, officials were not amused.” It seemed like retaliation. Surely, one of the courses administered at Homeland Security should be manners. In the meantime, with similar stories being heard from US airports, behaviour like this is sending business away from American shores and hurting their economy. There must be a better way.

The Arcadia had left Southampton on April 12 for the Caribbean, Mexico, the US West Coast, Alaska and British Columbia, with visits planned at no fewer than nineteen US ports, three on the West Coast, eight in Alaska (three of which were for sightseeing), and six on the East Coast. With that number of visits, it seems surprising that the ship had such trouble in Los Angeles, her eleventh US port, when she arrived from Vancouver, particularly so as it was during this cruise that the world learned that Osama bin Laden was dead.

But the story finally made public something that has been going on for several years and usually escapes the news. The cause of these problems is that invariably on the arrival of a “foreign” cruise ship, as opposed to one that is operated locally in or from the United States, Homeland Security want what they call a “face check,” that is they want to see every passenger individually.

The time taken to do this literally turns a cruise ship into something more closely resembling an immigrant ship, and the delays incurred have several times shortened passengers’ time in port by anything between three and eight hours. One important result is cancelled shore excursions, there not having been time to perform them after Homeland Security had done their detailed checks.

This treatment of foreign cruise ships by Homeland Security, who have more recently been using the less threatening and more sensible name of its Customs and Border Protection (CBP) section, is costing the US both money and visitors as foreign cruise lines decide it is no longer worth it to call at United States ports. One by one, lines have been forced to make these decisions by their own clientele, who are often elderly and hardly threatening, as the lines cannot afford to subject them to the kind of examination and greeting that has been meted out in recent years by US officials.

To cite just one example, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines have this year planned a 28-night cruise that will go only to Canada. In five weeks time, on September 5, the Balmoral will leave Southampton for Cobh, Halifax, Sydney, Charlottetown, Port Saguenay, Quebec, Trois-Rivières and Montreal, and return by way of Baie Comeau, Gaspé and St John’s, Newfoundland.
In 2009, when the Balmoral left Dover on September 26 for a similar 40-night cruise, she had turned at Montreal and then headed for the delights of New England and New York. But after what is now apparently a typical Homeland Security delay, in this case in Boston, the Balmoral did not return to North America in 2010, and this year’s cruise will make no calls at all in the United States

To go back a bit, the Balmoral had already been subjected to a number of indignities by US bureaucrats in 2008. In that year, just after Fred Olsen had her lengthened, she was sent to Florida to run a small series of cruises out of Miami. On her maiden arrival on March 1, US Coast Guard and US Public Health inspections are said to have forced the line to disembark her passengers two days early, putting them up in local hotels while the authorities did their inspections. While this may have been a decision made by Fred. Olsen in order to ease the inspections, this was not how the voyage had been booked, and in addition to using hotels such as the Hilton, the line gave its passengers a two-day refund, a future cruise credit, a daily food allowance and free shuttle buses to Miami Beach, all of course at some expense.

Passengers on subsequent cruises from Miami still complained of intimidating immigration officers at Miami airport and continual delays in the baggage hall. Although Fred. Olsen also tried a Miami season of big band cruises by the smaller Braemar that autumn, in the end it never repeated the experiment and Miami lost a potential cruise customer.

In 2009 and subsequent years the Balmoral went on World Cruises instead, but even there there have been changes. In 2009, sailing eastabout, she visited Alaska Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, and in subsequent years went westabout, calling in Los Angeles and San Francisco in 2010 and 2011 before crossing to Australia. But next year, the Balmoral will make no calls at all at US ports. Instead, she will go eastabout again, making four calls in South America before returning to Britain via the Caribbean. But the United States has not been completely ruled out by Fred. Olsen as the Black Watch will call at New Orleans and Galveston in the early part of her 2012 Round South America cruise.

Fred. Olsen might have made some breakthrough though, as the Balmoral is scheduled to return to New York in April 2012, operating on charter to Miles Morgan Travel, as she repeats the famous voyage planned but not completed by the Titanic 100 years earlier.

Even before the Balmoral’s first call in Miami, on December 14, 2006, Hapag-Lloyd had offered a 9-night Caribbean cruise from Fort Lauderdale, expecting to elicit further interest in their product from the American public, especially as the Europa had not typically been calling at US ports. But it was at Fort Lauderdale that a CBP passenger inspection of just 400 passengers took more than three hours and excursions had to be delayed or passengers missed them completely. It was at this stage that Hapag-Lloyd decided to reduce the number of calls the Europa made to US ports and the result was that on last year’s World Cruise the only US port she called at was Honolulu.

Only recently has the Europa made US calls again when she visited California this April and the opportunity was taken to introduce the new Columbus 2 and Europa 2, which are being introduced in 2012 and 2013 respectively, in the US market. After crossing the Pacific, she made calls at San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. She also made five calls in Hawaii this year. But compared with 2,000 passengers on the Arcadia, it takes much less time to process the Europa’s 400, so Hapag-Lloyd have recently been able to return to the US, at least to a small extent. This November the Europa will make a Transatlantic crossing from Lisbon to Miami, a switch from Fort Lauderdale, possibly to avoid having to deal with the same CBP agents.

However, Hapag-Lloyd has also called at US ports with its other ships. In May 2008, for example, the Bremen operated a 16-night coastal cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Halifax, and the Hanseatic makes calls in Alaska each summer. But with the Columbus completing her last Great Lakes season this autumn, there will be fewer US calls by Hapag-Lloyd ships.

Even in the Great Lakes, Hapag-Lloyd have had trouble. At one US port, on arrival from Canada, CBP had proposed removing all the passenger’s luggage from the ship in mid-cruise so that it could be inspected and the ship cleared! And Mackinac Island has now lost all calls by non-US ships because to install CBP’s facility requirements would cost $150 for every passenger landed, or three times the onerous Alaska head tax (that has since been reduced) just for one island.

Even Saga Cruises, which operates the Saga Ruby and will introduce the Saga Sapphire next spring, as well as the Quest for Adventure, is contemplating dropping calls on US ports. With its ships carrying nothing but “foreign” passengers as far as the American authorities are concerned, Saga is in the same position as Fred. Olsen and Hapag-Lloyd, or even P&O Cruises with the Arcadia. Others question whether it’s worth going through the expense of raising railings to 54 inches and putting peepholes in all doors as required under the 2010 Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act.

One thing that is striking is that many of these bureaucratic measures have only come about fairly recently. The terrorist attacks on the United States happened in September 2001 but in April 2008 CBP were still talking about fingerprinting non-US citizens boarding cruise ships departing the United States (!) and in May 2010 about requiring cruise lines to hand over passenger reservation information to CBP, as is done with the airlines. This is years and years after the original event and although the measures seem pointless, a culture now seems to exist in the United States whereby few are willing to object to these costly proposals. In the case of fingerprinting, for example, Homeland Security has proposed contracting this function out to private industry.

Although Homeland Security officials believe cruise ships could become terrorist targets, a 2010 intelligence report from the National Maritime Intelligence Center (NMIC) of the US military found no credible terrorist threat to cruise ships existed. And as there is no sign of progress ahead, many ships will continue to avoid US ports.


On Board Drink Prices In 1983

Having just come across a bar list from Western Cruise Lines’ Azure Seas, sailing on 3- and 4-day cruises from Los Angeles in the 1983, it is worth looking at how much on board drinks cost back then.

Cocktails were pretty well $1.75, no matter what you wanted – Margarita, Bacardi Cocktail, Stinger, Black Russian, Pink Lady, Grasshopper, Champagne Cocktail, Manhattan, Whiskey Sour, Rusty Nail, Sidecar, Wallbanger – all $1.75. But even more shocking, a Martini was only $1.60 – something cruise lines typically charge $10 for today, and even more if the vodka is Grey Goose. A Daiquiri or an and Old Fashioned was also $1.60.

Highballs were $1.50, Bourbons $1.50 too, as were Canadian Club, Seagram’s VO and 7 Crown. Also $1.50 were Beefeater and Tanqueray gin, Bacardi and Meyers rum and Smirnoff vodka. Liqueurs and Cognacs ran to $1.75.

On the cheaper end, beers were $1.20 for Budweiser, Miller Lite, Heineken and Dos Equis, and on the high end one paid $2.00 for a Long island Ice Tea, Strawberry Daiquiri or Margarita or a Banana Daiquiri. The only thing more expensive than this was an Irish Coffee or a Mexican Coffee or a Cappuccino with Cognac, all of which ran to $2.50.

And on the non-alcoholic side, 50 cents got you a glass of Coca Cola, Sprite, Club Soda, Ginger Ale, Seven Up or Tonic Water, while 60 cents got you a can. Orange, tomato and grapefruit juice were all 75 cents, whereas at breakfast on Royal Caribbean today one must pay $2.50 additional to get the freshly-squeezed variety of orange juice.

From that lowly $1.60 Martini of 1983, many ships, but particularly those of Celebrity Cruises, now have their own Martini bars, while others have specialty Martini menus. Cruise lines today sell Martinis for $9.00-10.00, or even more, even $15.75 if it’s Grey Goose vodka. Just what makes people think that the French can make good vodka isn’t clear except that Bacardi bought the brand for $2 billion in 2004.

Typically now, it costs around $4.00-$6.00 for a beer and around $6.00-$8.00 for a drink. Prices today are more typical of shore-based hotels and drinks have become a huge profit centre for cruise lines since they abandoned the idea of selling them duty free. Today, that huge margin of tax and duty that has been saved goes straight into cruise line coffers. The same is true, of course, for wines.

The New Celebrity Silhouette

Christened in Hamburg last week was Celebrity Silhouette, the fourth in this series of five Solstice class ships. The Solstice class has been Celebrity’s most successful, and the last of the series, Celebrity Reflection, is due next year. While each new ship has been a development of her predecessors, the Silhouette has more changes, notably around the Lawn Club on her upper deck.

A great new addition to this area is the Lawn Club Grill, where you can select a cut of meat, fish or chicken to grill yourself with the assistance of a chef, or if you want to, have it cooked for you. The only downside is that as alternate dining venues continue to spread, this costs $30 a head. You can also make your own pizza, starting with the dough and choosing from a wide selection of toppings.

Also distinguishing Silhouette from the other Solstice class ships are eight private lawn cabanas called Alcoves. Far more elegant than rival Holland America Line’s tent cabanas, these can accommodate up to four, and come complete with picnic baskets, soft drinks, an iPad loaded with music and games and chilled towels. They also carry a higher price than Holland America’s tents, at $99 a day in port and $149 at sea. The lawn itself also now has eight hammocks and two giant Adirondack chairs that will be popular for photo opportunities.

Another innovation, The Porch, has an outlook onto the lawn and views of the sea. The Porch offers soups, sandwiches, coffees and other light meals. An Art Studio has also replaced the glass-blowing feature that earlier Solstice ships have and supplies and professional help allow you to play around at being artistic.

(Kevin Griffin is managing director of specialist cruise agency The Cruise People Ltd in London, England. For further information concerning cruises mentioned in this article readers can visit his blog)

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