I have enjoyed cruising all over the world for the last twenty years or so and, although I occasionally hear an ill informed comment about it being a snobbish and elitist holiday choice, most people seem quite interested in cruise and cruise ships – even if its not a holiday choice for them, they can understand why it appeals to others.
So I was completely blindsided by a conversation with an acquaintance the other day, the highlights of which were:
What a terrible choice to make….
Huge carbon footprint …
No wonder everyone hate cruisers!’
Now I’d already been thinking about the protests against cruise ships that we’ve been seeing – in Barcelona and Venice for example – and I’d been thinking about the phrase Concious Cruising and how we should consider changes to our behaviour ashore to make us more in tune with local people and the local economy ( please read https://portexplore806233846.blog/2019/07/31/meet-nate-my-cruising-epiphany/ ). However I really had assumed that cruising was better for the environment that flying, I was certain that it must have a smaller carbon footprint – it but turns out that I was completely wrong!
The figures actually that show that on a Transatlantic crossing the QM2, for example, gets about 45 passenger miles per gallon when running at its most efficient whereas an Airbus A321, in comparison, gets just over 107! This is because traditionally ships burn a much worse fuel than planes – in fact its the heavy, sulphurous sludge oil that’s left once aircraft and other higher-value fuels are refined. Even while docked, cruise ships usually keep running their engines – burning fuel to provide electrical power for its passengers and crew.
Southampton, UK is one port that has had enough – Christopher Hammond, leader of Southampton City Council is quoted as saying “Communities find it difficult to see the benefits of these big cruise ships, it’s a very visible thing: a big funnel chucking out black soot and smoke. People think, I’m breathing all that in.” His suggestion is that cruise ships plug into on on shore electricity and turn off their engines while docked to avoid the problems but what else can be done? And is anybody doing it?
Over the last few years many ships have installed ‘scrubbers’ which reduce smoke emissions but whilst they reduce air pollution they work by contaminating and discharging waste water- which is just swopping one pollution problem for another! Battery power isn’t an answer, except for some smaller ships, as batteries couldn’t last for several days at sea. Other options are cheaper, less polluting fuel options such as Liquified Natural Gas, Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) systems, even trials of wind powered generators! (Sails anyone?!)
Wastewater and pollution from onboard sewage brings another huge set of problems so as the Green Movement grows there is obviously a huge need to Cruise Companies to address this before cruisers become the pariahs of the tourism industry! Alaska already has a series of environmental targets for cruise ships in the area and now Europe is being advised to do the same – “With friendly words you will not get any changes,” said German environmental group NABU CEO Leif Miller “so port cities and coastal communities are now asked to ban dirty ships – like Norway is doing for some of their fjords – to protect the people and the environment.”
Happily it does appear that these messages are getting through…
CLIA announced today that 44 percent of new cruise ships are planning to use LNG fuel for propulsion and the industry is taking its responsibilities towards safeguarding the environment seriously by investing more than 22 billion dollars into new technologies such as exhaust gas cleaning systems, LNG fuel and shore-side power. Obviously new ships can be designed to take advantage of new technology but what about older ships? Well things are looking hopeful there too… Earlier this week MSC Cruises, the world’s largest privately-owned cruise line, announced that their ship MSC Magnifica is having a major refurbishment for its 2021 season when out will be based in Southampton, with itineraries in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, the Baltic and the Norwegian Fjords. Environmental improvements include ….
“two new major and important onboard environmental advances to complement a wide range of existing leading-edge environmental technologies across the company’s entire fleet: a state-of-the-art Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) system and next-generation Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT) system. SCR technology helps reducing nitrogen oxide into pure nitrogen and water through advanced active emissions control technology. MSC Cruises also took the opportunity to install a state-of-the-art advanced wastewater treatment system on board that meets the highest standards and that purifies used wastewater to near tap-water quality… state-of-the-art environmental technology, including hybrid exhaust gas cleaning system (ECGS), as part of MSC Cruises’ longstanding commitment to minimize and continuously reduce its impact on the environment.”
– oh and they will be fitting Magnifica so that she can plug into the shore supply in Southampton! So well done to MSC – lets hope other cruise lines really start to take their environmental responsibilities seriously too!
Sir Richard Branson has spent the last 50 years shaking up the recording, aviation and holiday industries and has now turned his attention to Cruise World. One thing common to all his businesses is the way he treats his staff – Sir Richard is quoted as saying “Clients don’t come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” Talking to the crew on board Scarlet Lady it seems that its not just talk – well designed crew areas, housekeeping for staff cabins, comfortable classy uniforms, individuality positively encouraged, good working conditions and excellent pay – this crew definitely feel valued and wow does it show. I was onboard the new Virgin Voyages ship Scarlet Lady on her first night in the UK – the weather was appalling and caused some issues with boarding but we had plenty of time to have a good look round and to be absolutely blown away – not just by the weather but by the enthusiasm, friendliness, helpfulness and genuine interest of the crew in every venue and at every level. From the Lovely Miss Tora – the resident Drag queen – to our cabin steward, all of the staff we met, from restaurant, housekeeping or entertainment teams were fun, happy, stylish, hugely proud of their ship and with a real sense of family.
As well as the staff there were other things that I absolutely loved about the Scarlet Lady, a few that I personally wasn’t so keen on on and some that seemed positively DAFT such as the duplication on numbers on either side of the ship. To be fair the cabins are also either labelled A or Z to designate which side of the ship you are on but I think its going to cause a fair bit of confusion and personally I always rely on odd and even cabin numbers to work out which way I’m going and on which side!
This is part of Bransons ‘disruptive’ take on tradition which starts with a modernising shakeup in terminology onboard – gone are words such as cruise, passengers, buffet, balcony, port and starboard and in comes a new language – voyage, sailors, Galley, terrace, A and Z respectively. Oddly though, the toilets (some of which are trendily gender neutral) are labelled as The Heads which was causing complete confusion to those ‘sailors’ new to ‘voyaging’ – none of whom seemed to have got the memo about it not being a ‘boat’ either!
I was NOT IMPRESSED with the lack of pool provision – neither the pool on deck or the spa pool were big enough for serious swimming, more suited to a quick dip to cool down- there’s so much impressive sports equipment on board that I was actually surprised that the ship didn’t feature an endless pool for serious swimmers. The pools, plunge pools and jacuzzis are really just about adequate for sitting in with a drink but I really wasn’t that impressed. Other sports, spa, beauty provision seemed top class and well though out – maybe Sir Richard doesn’t swim!
On the other hand while there’s been a lot of criticism about the cabin design I actually LIKED the room – the hammock on the terrace was a lovely touch and surprisingly comfortable. I didn’t think that the ability to reconfigure the bed in various ways was hugely useful and would probably request it was left as a bed – it seemed to be causing a lot of extra work for the cabin stewards as well as extra laundry in replacing sheets. However the bed itself was extremely comfortable with high quality linens, pillows and duvet. Absolutely couldn’t fault it!
There was maybe the odd niggle about the lack of storage, positioning of switches and charging points but on the other hand there was a huge wardrobe with lots of hanging space and shelving, two full length mirrors and a nice desk with a handy charging shelf – different from a conventional cruise cabin but no better or worse than many hotel rooms and absolutely fine for the 5 day voyages that the ship will be running out of Miami. The bathroom itself was quite small but the towels were good quality and the shower was larger than usual with a proper door rather than a curtain , both a handheld and overhead shower and full size bottles of body wash, shampoo and conditioner – part of Virgins impressive environmental manifesto for the ship which includes a ban on all all single use plastics. The app and iPad weren’t in use for this preview so I can’t comment on those.
What I absolutely LOVED though was the food on board – I would be very very happy to spend five days on board just to get the chance to try all the different restaurants! There is no main dining room – instead there are six restaurants that would be classified as ‘speciality restaurants on a conventional cruise but here with no ‘cover charge’ as well as some more ‘snack’ based restaurants ( Pizza, American Diner, Tapas) and a Food Court where the emphasis is on fast food, cooked to order – all day breakfast, noodles, bento, sweet treats.… Interestingly each restaurant has its own head chef and kitchen. – there isn’t a conventional ‘main’ kitchen or executive chef. The result is some very exciting menus in very varied, individual and exciting venues.
We ate in Gunbae – a Korean BBQ experience – we shared a table with four other guests, ate interesting and unusual food served by efficient, informed and helpful staff. However I had complete FOMO about all the other restaurants on board and had to be dissuaded from asking to have one course in each! Eating in a different restaurant every night would be an awesome foodie experience. Each is individually styled and feels completely different – the views from the eponymous Wave restaurant are stunning ( or would be if they weren’t of Dover), Test Kitchen a gleaming ordered space of brushed steel and gleaming glass and Razzle Dazzle takes its inspiration from the WW1 ships camouflage of the same name and interpreted it in Virgin red as well as the more conventional black and white. The staff here were quick to explain that although it is the vegetarian restaurant on board it also has a list of ‘naughty’ extras including salmon, pork, chicken and smoked bacon. I’m not sure you need the option though as friends who ate here said that they would never have known that the ‘impossible burger’ and the ‘fish and chips’ were both veggie! We couldn’t view the outside spaces due to the wind but I suspect my favourite spot will be on the Dock on Deck 7, eating a little Mezze, sipping white wine and watching the world slip away..
The entertainment on board was less formal than on a conventional cruise ship as you’d expect! Lots of games, including a video arcade You didn’t always have to go in search of it – sometimes it came to you!
There are various ‘pop up’ acts, even a parade, and an interactive Drag lunch in Razzle Dazzle restaurant. Live music in both the Dock House and the beautiful copper themed Sip champagne bar were at a level where you could sit nearby and listen or sit elsewhere and chat – that was one of the other things I LOVED about Scarlet Lady – the little tucked away areas and conversational seating groups in every bar and restaurant. The ship has been designed so that although it takes about 2700 guests you should never be in a space where you see more than about 200 of them at once. This presumably doesn’t include the Red Room performance space – state of the art sound, lighting and electronic screens, reconfigured in an hour or so to form a conventional theatre, an arena like area with seating either side or a huge dance floor and catwalk.
We saw some literally jaw dropping acrobatics and dance in a Romeo and Juliet / West Side story update and then a late night show that I absolutely didn’t understand but absolutely loved! I LOVED The Manor night club with its wonderful but disorientating mirrored entrance, an updated Studio 54 type disco with the Groupie karaoke rooms where you could colour coordinate your diamante mic and feather boa! I’m not quite sure when you’re meant to sleep but once you locate it inside the wardrobe there is an electronic Do Not Disturb sign for your door!
The crew are in love with the ship, the brand and their boss and it shows, the Scarlet Lady is a stunning ship, the attention to detail and the variation in entertainment , dining and decor is really impressive.
Do I think all cruisers will love Scarlet Lady? No.
Do all cruisers love the same ships and cruise lines? No of course not.
And that’s why it doesn’t really matter what we all think! Sir Richard and the Virgin brand haven’t been successful for nearly fifty years by misjudging their market – they create a product that appeals to a new one and hope to convert other people as customers too. Having a great time aboard this ship isn’t about being young as much as it is about being young at heart and I for one can’t wait to visit her again – I’m firmly in the red corner!
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Virgin Voyages for this overnight stay. All views and opinions are my own and I retain editorial control. I was not paid to attend this trip.
You might like to see the initial notes I made on the train home
• Food – choice of restaurants, menus, reduced waste by cooking order
• Layout, decor – games room, nooks and crannies, innovative use space, usb ports on table
• Red Room Theatre – innovative use of space, incredible acrobats, stork?
• The Manor – lighting, mirrored entrance, sound not too loud
• Dock House – seating, charging points, band!
Ecological statements and efforts
Spa especially pool, quartz bed also beauty stuff was elsewhere which is better. More mirrors!
Pop up experiences – entertainment brought to you – loved Miss Tora
Live music – guitarist and the band – music added to rather than overwhelmed the experience
Outdoor fitness stuff and gym spaces looked great.
Beds ( but VERY comfy) It doesn’t actually seem to give much more usable space and the twin bed configuration is weird. Concerned about extra laundry which seems at odds with ecological aims and about extra work for staff – tightest spot is at foot of bed with could have done with being a few inches wider.
Swimming pool – looks very small but presumably not many people will use using in comparison to gym/ keep fit/yoga space?
A-Z is fine but duplicated cabin numbers just seems too complicated
The light switches hidden inside the wardrobe behind the door which we didn’t find until we were leaving – presumably also on no functioning iPad.
OVERALL – am not target market – am old enough to be target markets’ Mum but was made to feel of value and completely welcome by absolutely everyone I met – age is just a number on Virgin!
Would love to spend time aboard somewhere hot when all of the ship was available especially on a cruise with lots of port days so don’t notice lack of pool too much!
One of the crucial elements of planning a cruise is the preparation – it’s important not to underestimate the amount of background work that needs doing beforehand so that things flow smoothly and you have the relaxing and enjoyable cruise you deserve!
Apart from anything else once you’re onboard you will be amazed at how much it costs to use the internet and you really don’t want to waste valuable time ashore looking for free WiFi so you can check out Tripadvisor for things to do! Get all your excursions and trips ashore planned and sorted before you go!
Then there’s all the information you need to keep at your fingertips – flights, reference numbers, logins, transfers, packages, upgrades, loyalty level perks. hotel booking, excursion bookings & DIY plans all need keeping track of!
This is why we think you’ll love the Cruise Planner – its a great way to keep all your information to hand. It shows you what still needs to be done and planned as it keeps everything neatly in one place. Grab a Planner as soon as you book your cruise and get things organised!
But its more than just a place to record all the information and details that you need – it actually helps you plan what you are going to do ashore.
Firstly there is the cruise arc planner – this gives a complete overview of the cruise with space to note times of arrival, departure, sunrise and sunset time, currencies amongst other things. Its really helpful when you’re looking at a the whole cruise experience as you can see if you’re in danger of overload by planning too many archaeological sites or full day excursions on consecutive days.
Other things you will find in the Cruise Planner are Port Excursion Brainstormers which help everyone decide what the focus of each day ashore should be, a list of apps to download which will be useful onboard as well as comprehensive packing lists & worksheets.
The diary pages have space where you can make a note of any invitations or bookings for a specific day – there is also have a Journal section to record all the special moments of your cruise. With a section to note down all the details about your cabin and about the staff and crew the you meet The Cruise Planner eventually becomes a permanent Travel Journal which you can see keep, both as a handy reference of arrangements that you made and as a reminder of a perfect cruise
We’ve been overwhelmed by the lovely feedback we’ve had since the first Cruise Planner was published last summer. People say it both enhances your cruise experience and ensures your memories of it stay fresh. This is a recent message from one happy customer…
“I’m having so much fun preparing for our February cruise using The Cruise Planner! I always do a Journal of each trip, but this is special and so helpful with keeping everything together. I don’t want to rush the cruise, but I can’t wait to use it onboard nightly and then to complete it at cruise end. Since it’s signed by Cathy Rogers, the author, I may add a few more autographs from Crew. I Love The Cruise Planner.” Debi B-M
At present there are two editions of the Planner – the original portExplore Version and the new limited edition Cruise Addicts Planner which is very similar but has an added section of puzzles – cruise related word search, sudoku and Travel Dingbats – to while away the time!
More versions will be coming out in the spring – some targeted at a specific Cruise location – Alaska for example and some of the original design but in different colours – we’ve been asked for this so that if you have more than one cruise in preparation you will be able to know quickly which Planner is for which cruise!
On World Whale Day I just wanted to pay tribute to ORCA the U.K. whale Conservation and Education Charity & tell you about an exciting way that you can help their conservation work by becoming a Marine Mammal Surveyor. ORCA run one day training courses that teach people, with no previous knowledge, how to actively participate in whale and dolphin conservation. After the training you can join survey teams aboard ferries and cruise ships leaving from ports across the UK. There you would help conduct scientific surveys to record the different species’ of whales seen, and record where they are and what they are doing. Almost anyone can take part in the course – you just need a reasonable level of fitness and a love for whales and dolphins.
The one day ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyor course teaches you to identify and record whales, dolphins and porpoises during offshore surveys. These classroom based courses take place all over the UK. You will learn all the skills you need to identify and record whales, dolphins and porpoises. A one day course costs £89 and will take place this year in Newcastle, Glasgow, Southampton and Plymouth.
Once you have completed a course and joined ORCA you get the chance to join teams on both ferries and cruise ships with free accommodation supplied if needed – although you’re responsible for your own travel, food and insurance it’s a great way to get out on the water and be part of a really important survey.and
We recently travelled from Dubai to Singapore with Celebrity Cruises and found that this itinerary threw up a number of issues with currency which we thought were worth sharing for others sailing in the area. The itinerary is also running in reverse and I know that there are other cruise lines who are travelling the same route over the winter months so this will be of interest to people on those cruises although obviously some of the ports may vary.
I should say at the outset that we don’t usually take much cash with is as we are huge fans of currency cards – you transfer money onto them which can then be spent in whatever local currency you need without any extra currency or transaction charges. On this cruise we wished we had had more US$ with us – read on to find out why..
In general the safest and best way to spend money when travelling is by using prepaid cash cards which operate without transaction charges – available in the UK from various companies such as Starling, Post Office Money and Cashplus but our card of choice is from Monzo. We particularly like it because its easy to use – it comes with an App that gives you an instant confirmation and conversion when you spend money on it, it also lets you transfer money between cardholders easily and split bills between friends with cards which is great if you’re travelling in a group because it saves having to have a physical ‘kitty’. We don’t normally take much actual cash with us on a cruise, preferring to use our Monzo cards, as we can swop money between us if either card becomes should be lost or deactivated.
DUBAI, UAE – the local Currency is the UAE Dirham – this is not a closed currency so you are able to purchase it outside the country but we decided that we would use a card or withdraw cash from an ATM as needed. This was because our cruise started with an overnight in port and, as we have visited a few times previously, we were not sure that we actually intended to spend any time ashore. We arrived in Dubai and were ushered straight to our transfer coach, with no time to look for an airport ATM. We checked in at Cruise Terminal 3 and made a mental note of the position of the ATM. Unfortunately during the evening Constellation was moved along the quay to Cruise Terminal 2 – a much smaller and less impressive affair that does NOT have an ATM! Having decided to take a short trip to see the QE2 which is moored not far from the Cruise Terminal (and being too hot/ tired/ lazy to walk!) We spoke to the taxi wrangler who got us a cab that took card payments – preferable to the half mile or so walk back to the other terminal. Luckily the QE2 hotel have an ATM in their lobby because the taxi drivers machine ‘didn’t work’ and he actually needed to be paid in cash!
MUSCAT, Oman -the local currency is the Omani Rial – again this is not a closed currency so you are able to purchase it outside the country and again we had planned to use a card or withdraw cash from an ATM as needed. There are no currency exchange facilities or ATM inside the cruise terminal. The nearest is on the Corniche on the way to the Souk – the first ATM is VISA only but the second takes Mastercard – there are Money change facilities along the front as well but they were not open – we arrived at lunchtime and they did not reopen until about 16.00
MUMBAI, India – the local currency is the Indian Rupee – it is a closed currency not available outside India. There is a Money Exchange in the cruise terminal, immediately after the immigration desks. It is a fairly slow operation and a large queue built up – only cash can be exchanged, they won’t take a debit or travel card. We exchanged pounds and also the few Dirham and Rial that we had – the rates for exchange were not displayed and there was no discussion to be had about the rate you were given but once we worked it out they seemed quite fair. There is NOT an ATM in the Terminal or anywhere else inside the Port. So you definitely need actual cash with you – either to exchange for rupees or to spend as needed. US Dollars seemed acceptable at most of our destinations although you definitely got a better price when you paid in rupees. So I would take US Dollars and either exchange or use them as you need – prices are widely quoted initially in dollars but pounds and euro were obviously also acceptable. There are money exchange and ATM facilities throughout Mumbai but none that were immediately obvious close to the port. Taxi drivers do not take cards.
Goa, India -the local currency is the Indian Rupee – it is a closed currency not available outside India. We did not dock at the port in Vasco da Gama as some cruise sites suggest, but at a new cruise facility which is further west on the peninsula at Mormugao – quite a long steep walk from the nearest town. There was absolutely no currency exchange or ATM in or around the port so it is best to bring Rupees with you from the previous port. There were Tuk-Tuk and a small hotel outside the the port area but no other shops or facilities. There is a busy and efficient taxi rank where prices for various trips are quoted in US dollars – there did not appear to be much room for negotiation. Taxi drivers do not take cards. The airport is nearby and probably a good source for an ATM or exchange if you can’t find one closer. Restaurants and bars were all happy to be paid in US Dollars, GBP or € as well as in Rupees – cards did not seem to be widely accepted.
Cochin, India -the local currency is the Indian Rupee – it is a closed currency not available outside India. There was a mobile Money Exchange just inside the gate, again only to exchange cash – no cards accepted. There was no ATM anywhere in the port area. There are taxis at the gate which accept Rupees, US Dollars, GBP or € but no other facilities. Taxi drivers do not take cards If you are walking to the Wellington Island pier to get a ferry across to the Old Town you will pass money exchanges and ATM. Cash is preferred in most places but some tourist shops take cards. The currency exchange remains open into the afternoon so that departing passengers can convert their Indian rupees back to US Dollars, GBP or €. You cannot exchange Indian Rupee for Sri Lankan Rupee.
Colombo, Sri Lanka – the local currency is the Sri Lanka Rupee – it is a closed currency but you may be able to find a small amount in the UK – the rate will be poor. There are absolutely no facilities at the port – no currency exchange or ATM. The nearest banks and ATM are on Bank of Ceylon Road, close to the Old Dutch Hospital – about twenty minutes walk. There are TukTuk and Taxis at the port gate – cards are definitely not accepted, all the drivers were quoting prices in US dollars, a very few seemed happy to accept pounds or Euro. To be honest I think you’re better to take US dollars rather than walking twenty minutes to get local currency. Cards seemed to be accepted in shops and bars but oddly not at The National Museum which was cash only ( they also omitted to mention that there was an ATM right by their car park entrance – not exactly what you’d call welcoming!)
Phuket, Thailand -the local currency is the Thai Baht – this is not a closed currency so you are able to purchase it outside the country. It is a Tender Port so you arrive straight onto Patong Beach and main shopping street. There are ATM and Currency Exchanges that will happy give cash for a card transaction both on the road close to the sea and the less tourist orientated street that runs parallel inland where you might get a better rate. There are plenty of taxis available – cards not accepted, cash only. Prices for boat and taxi tours quoted in Baht and US dollars.
Singapore -the local Currency is the Singapore Dollar. We docked at the Marina Bay Cruise Centre which has Money exchange and ATMs available. Smaller ships dock at The Singapore Cruise Centre which is attached to a large shopping centre and to the Metro system. There are plenty of ATM & money exchange facilities nearby. the Metro stations take cash and cards. Some cabs in Singapore take cards – you can also use an Uber app to book a cab. Shops and restaurants take cards and cash – prices are in Singapore Dollars. If someone does accept US dollars or another currency it will be for a very poor exchange rate.
Hope that’s all helpful – its a wonderful itinerary – have a great trip!!
It’s no secret that I think Cruising is awesome – a wonderful mix of fresh air, open skies, luxury, laughter, friendship and food. I feel I t’s a great way of seeing a lot of places without having to pack and unpack every day – sometimes luxurious, sometime more basic it’s just the best way to explore the world!
So I’m always sad when someone tells me that choosing and and booking their first cruise seemed so complicated that they just gave up, or worse still that they booked a cruise with the wrong cruiseline or on the wrong itinerary for them and they hated cruising! I know that these things can be hard to judge until you have some experience but I’m a firm believer that most people who say they don’t like cruising just chose the wrong cruise!
So if you’re even vaguely considering cruising as a vacation – and I absolutely think you should – then I highly recommend you attend the Cruise University before booking a thing! It will leave you full of confidence about dealing with all the options and it might even save you from an expensive mistake!
The Cruising University is a short course – prepared by the lovely Emma Le Teace from Cruising Isn’t Just for Old People – she really understands all the worries and concerns that you might have about cruising and I can’t praise the course highly enough! It’s exactly what the industry has needed for a while now!
Inside the Cruise University you’ll find these topics
How to Find The Best Cruise For You
How to Book Your Cruise as Cheaply and Easily as Possible
How to Plan and Pack For Your Cruise
What to Expect on Your Cruise
All the information is given in simple, easy to follow bite size chunks with videos and accompanying PDF downloads so that you don’t forget a thing! It’s a brilliant course for anyone who is thinking about taking a cruise and I’m proud to recommend it to you as an #affiliate
Please share to anyone who will be interested and et me know what you think!
When you use a card to pay for something abroad, whether its a currency, credit or debit card, you are normally given the option of paying either in the local currency or in your own home currency.
When drawing cash out at an ATM/ cash machine it often actively encourages you to select your home currency by displaying phases such as “Choose your home currency to lock in your rate now and avoid any currency fluctuations”.
When shopping with a UK card, in France for example, you will be given the choice of paying for your purchase in Euro (the currency of the shop) or in GB Pounds. As you are handed the payment machine it will flash up a message along the lines of “Would you like to pay in local currency or in the currency of your card?”
And you pause and think “ ooh I know one of these is the right thing to do….
And then not be sure…
SO…..It might seem convenient, even sensible to choose to use your home currency but DON’T DO IT! NEVER, EVER!!
ALWAYS choose local currency and not your home currency. The reason for that is that it is YOUR bank that will handle the currency conversion. If you let the shop, restaurant or even their card machine operator calculate the conversion rate to give you a home currency figure then and there to select, they will almost certainly give you a very poor rate, far below market exchange rates.
Why? Because otherwise there is really no other reason for them to offer you the service! If they can make a profit on the card transaction as well as on the sale itself its so much better for them – they have just made double the money on one sale! In reality a shop can set any exchange rate they like and if you accept it, they will process it at that rate – you won’t be able to query it later. PLUS you will still be charged any relevant overseas transaction fees, it doesn’t help you avoid those either ! So it’s an easy profit for them at no gain to you at all.
For example, I recently drew out money at an ATM in Canada, the CA$203 processed as £119.42 – a rate of 1GBP = 1.7 CA$. However but the rate displayed that I would ‘lock in’ by having them convert it immediately was 1GBP = 1.55CA$, meaning they would have charged me about £130.96. Thats £11.76 on one transaction, an awful rate!
REMEMBER – always select LOCAL currency – the rate will be always be closer to the official market rate and more importantly there is no chance of you being deliberately ripped off by someone setting a fraudulently inaccurate exchange rate. The more a shop assistant or waiter tries to convince you to pay in your home currency the more likely it is that it is a potential fraud. Insist on paying on local currency – whilst a merchant can choose whether and which cards they accept, your card provider does not authorise them to to choose between local and home currency on your behalf – if they make the selection for you and present you with a transaction that is already in GBP then refuse to enter your pin and ask them to do it again. NEVER put your pin in without checking the amount and the currency.
Latest update from UK foreign office advising against all but essential travel to China – Hong Kong and Macau are excluded from this advice. If you have a China cruise booked this means that you should be able to claim on insurance if you have to cancel. It’s possible though that Cruise Lines will re-route their itineraries so keep in touch will your cruise agent/TA.
China has issued new travel guidelines to halt the spread of the Coronovirus as the situation worsens. Some Cruise operators, including Royal Caribbean, MSC, Costa Cruises and Genting have cancelled a total of 12 cruises scheduled to embark from China in the next week (see below for specifics). Those passengers will be offered full refunds or the option to transfer their booking because these cruises have been cancelled by their operators.
If you are booked on a cruise in the area our advice is to wait for your cruise company to contact you – at present Foreign Office advice for U.K. cruisers is only to avoid the Wuhan area itself (not difficult as it is hundreds of miles from the nearest coast!) so if you were to cancel the cruise yourself you would not be covered by your insurance. As part of their response to the outbreak the Chinese Government have instructed local travel agencies to cancel all group tours outside the country for now which will mean large scale cancellations on sailings elsewhere in the world, so this may mean that cruise operators will have availability to offer alternative cruises – it is a rapidly evolving situation.
In reality though the problem is not just in China – the virus has already spread and with cases reported from Canada to Australia and France it may be that the decision is taken that a strict screening and hygiene regime on cruise in the area is the way forward rather than wholesale cancellations – for example RCI will not allow people who live in Hubei Province, or have visited Hubei in the last fortnight, to board its ships. For cruises already in the region, travel ashore in Chinese ports is restricted and even Hong Kong has declared a virus emergency, with both Disneyland and the Ocean Park theme park closed today.
It is certainly a worrying and difficult time for those booked on cruises in the Far East, the cruise companies will be working on it so our advice is;
Wherever you are cruising pay strict attention to hygiene with regular hand washing and minimal hand contact with others.
Stay in touch with your cruise company & / or travel agent
Check your contact details are correct on your Cruise Personliser.
Check that you have granted permissions for email correspondence from the cruise line ( if you’ve ticked ‘no’ to phone or email, they will have to write to you.)
Waiting patiently is always the hardest thing to do but this is a rapidly evolving situation and no cruise company is going to be able to give information about cruises in March at the moment. I am sure they will be monitoring the situation closely and looking for alternatives they Will not discuss those until decisions are made, please don’t make the situation worse by yelling at call centre staff!!
CANCELLATIONS (as we understand them at present.)
Royal Caribbean Spectrum of the Seas 27th January from Shanghai to Okinawa, Japan is sailing but passengers may cancel or reschedule. MSC Splendida 28th January from Shanghai is cancelled Costa Atlantica 27th and 31st January cancelled NeoRomantica 25th and 30th January and 2nd February Serena 25th and 31st January cancelled Venezia 26th January and 2nd February cancelled Costa say guests are eligible for a full refund or rebook an alternative before the end of 2020 with a $50 onboard credit. Genting World Dream has cancelled a turnaround call in Guangzhou but will continue to operate from Hong Kong
If you have confirmed information about other cancellations please add it below…
We visited Muscat, Oman on a repositioning cruise last year and wrote a Port Profile for talkExplore group https://www.facebook.com/groups/talkExplore/ which is worth a read if you’re headed that way on cruise. I really like Muscat,it’s clean air and low rise buildings are a real change from Dubai. If you have a chance to visit then grab it!
This years cruise only had a relatively short six hour stop in port and with sunset falling about 4 hours after arrival we really weren’t sure what to do. Som discussion in talkExplore Facebook group led to a suggestion from group member David Innes on the best spot for a bit of exploring and a perfect sunset view. I’m happy to report that he was spot on with his advice so am sharing her for you too!
Muttrah is the area of Muscat nearest to the ship and within easy, flat walking distance of the port gate. We docked at 14.00 so had lunch on board before taking a leisurely walk along the Corniche (sea front) to the shops and Souks of Muttrah.
The markets which we had visited last year were firmly closed but we found shops aimed at visiting cruisers and other tourists were all open in and around the Souk even though those aimed more at the local market didn’t open until 16.00.
Wandering the lanes of the Gold Souk and the more general Grand Souk is a great way to spend an hour or so soaking up local culture even if you don’t want to actually spend any money! There are nice cafes (no alcohol) just outside the Souks and all along the Corniche – we enjoyed fresh coconut water straight from the nut for less than 50p – very refreshing!
David’s advice was to head to Muttrah Fort which is at the opposite end of the Corniche – about 20 minutes walk from the port gate. Built by the Portuguese in 1580 the fort is a wonderful spot to look down on the port and the town – especially as the sun sets.
The 300 odd steps to the very top of the fort are achievable and well maintained but there are good views even from the lower levels.
As the sun goes down it becomes easier to spot the guard towers in the mountains above which formed a protective ring around the port. David advised us to wait until the muezzin begin the call to prayer from all the mosques below, it bounces off the surrounding hills and you seem to be in the centre of a 360* wall of sound!!
There is a ticket office which was closed (apparently it usually is!) but the fort itself was open so we didn’t pay anything at all for a really lovely experience. Thanks for the recommendation David, we loved it as much as you did!
Interesting new research from CLIA UK & Ireland has resulted in the publication of its top ten cruise destinations for 2020.
The recent UK research also found that almost two thirds of the 409 UK cruisers surveyed return to a destination they first visited on cruise holiday. I’m sure this is true, we definitely use a cruise to identify ports that we want to return to as well as those we can probably live without ever visiting again – Mumbai is a recent example that springs to mind! In addition 60% of those surveyed said that they would add a pre or post cruise stay – pretty essential when travelling long distance to meet a cruise as it helps with both fly delays and jet lag.
CLIA’s top ten list of ‘must visit’ destinations for 2020, includes both cities and more remote regions all of which can be visited on a cruise holiday. Not quite convinced about some of them, see what you think…..
CLIA’s Top 10 destinations are:
1. Canadian Rockies, Canada – usually combined with an Alaska cruise and often a shore trip
2. Singapore – an easy city to get around and acts as a hub for both air and cruise travel in Asia and Australasia
3. Kimberley, Western Australia – an expedition cruise destination described by CLIA as “ simply breathtaking”
4. Porto, Portugal – a popular southern European city with a warm winter climate – personally I think I’d prefer Cadiz…
5. The Svalbard – a Norwegian archipelago is between mainland Norway and the North Pole – an expedition destination as well as a cost effective way to visit the country.
6. Panama Canal, Panama – the iconic link between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans features in the list although I would argue strongly for the inclusion of the more picturesque Suez Canal in its place!
7. Castro, Chile – a picturesque lake city built above the waters on stilts
8. Tokyo, Japan – another good destination to visit on a cruise as local accommodation and food costs are so high.
9. Cape Town, South Africa – all I can say is that if this is at nine then the others must be awesome!
10. Bozcaada, Turkey – East meets West in this historic town, important in the Trojan wars as mentioned by Homer in the Iliad and by Virgil in the Aeneid – I’ve not been yet so can’t comment but I would definitely suggest Split, Dubrovnik or Trogir in Croatia for a similarly historic and lovely location
Oddly we’ve visited the top two destinations in the past six months and totally agree with both – presumably we should now start to work our way down the list! Or maybe its time to discover new destinations for the 2020 survey!
We had so many lovely messages about our cruise competition round up last month and I set out to do another list for you but I think we’ve hit a bit of a low patch!!! Cruise Competitions seem in very short in supply this month – I’ve added some that finish in December and suspect that our next roundup will be in January – prime holiday booking time, so we will probably be inundated then!!
PS. Tiny little reality check… most of these are UK only competitions but if you are from elsewhere you can always check and see if you can enter!!
CLOSING THIS MONTH…
November 6th. The awesome Floating Festivals, is offering a chance to win a balcony cabin for two on next years special seven-day voyage, aboard RCI Anthem of the Seas, the Sail Away with Jane McDonald Cruise. The prize is worth £3,000 and takes place in September 2020, you never know you might even have the chance of a cocktail with the Queen of Cruise herself! https://www.worldofcruising.co.uk/win-jane-mcdonald-cruise
December 9th. If you are a member of MySaga …. they are running a couple of good competitions … ( there are age restrictions obviously and you also need to have previously cruised with them or bought another of their products such as insurance) you can enter to win one of five prizes of a balcony cabin on a four-night fully inclusive mini-cruise aboard Spirit of Discovery from Dover to Sandringham, Norfolk and Amsterdam https://www.saga.co.uk/membership/ballots/2020/apr/escape-to-the-continent-spirit-of-discovery
December 31st Vote in the Wave Awards to win a luxury seven-night cruise in the Greek islands with Celestyal Cruises, including flights and transfers, through World of Cruising Magazine, in exchange for your for your email signup to their mailing list. hhttps://www.worldofcruising.co.uk/vote/
January 3rd. If you are a member of MySaga they are running a couple of good competitions … ( there are age restrictions obviously and you also need to have previously cruised with them or bought another of their products such as insurance) you can enter to win one of five prizes for two people sharing a standard balcony twin/double cabin, on the Norway’s Ancient Fjords cruise aboard Spirit of Discovery for seven nights, from Dover on 26 May 2020. https://www.saga.co.uk/membership/ballots/2020/may/cruise-norway-ancient-fjords
Good Luck with these though and please do let me know if you win a cruise – especially if you need someone to come with you, I’m always ready to help out!!