Thursday, September 25, 2014


By Ana Franca
TRO Travelgram, September 25, 2014

Young pizza makers aboard an MSC cruise (Photo: MSC Rights)

From cooking classes to dizzyingly fast water slides, here is a fun compilation of what's available for children of all ages on board ship
A is for Animation: Cartoon-loving children have the opportunity to learn how to draw and create their own animations. Disney Cruise Line does this better than most with professional artists at hand to help children create (possibly) the next Disney character.
B is for Basketball: Families and children alike can enjoy a game of basketball on the upper decks of many ships. Most Norwegian Cruise Line ships offer a fitness center. The basketball courts are often on the top-most deck, so it feels as if you're playing in mid-air, with only the sea below you.
C is for Cooking: Junior master chefs can join the professionals in learning learn the art of pizza and biscuit making and even sushi preparation. Apart from travelling for free children will get plenty of attention on board an MSC ship where crew - including chefs - will help them create dishes.
C is also for crow's nest - which you can climb the rigging to, on the much smaller Star Clipper ships.
D is for Dance: From theatrical performances to contemporary dance there are endless opportunities for youngsters to hit the dance floor. Princess Cruises' newest ship Royal Princess has an outdoor dancing area for teenagers as well as with a DJ booth and lounge area with foosball, hip-hop dance classes, Skee-ball and video games.
E is for Excursions: from bobsledding in Jamaica to camel riding in Lanzarote and submarine trips in the Caribbean almost all family-friendly cruises will have shore excursions designed to keep the whole family busy and entertained. This could be a rare opportunity for family time - on board the children may well be enjoying the kids' clubs or spending all their time with other children their age.
Many cruise lines have snorkelling gear and offer guided sessions for children (photo: Alamy)
F is for Fashion: Budding fashionistas can showcase their talents at on-board fashion shows, often using their own creations. For the 12 to 14 year-olds Carnival has devised a space called Circle C, in which teenagers can decorate their own T-shirts. And on Royal Caribbean's Barbie-themed cruises there's a catwalk show.
G is for ship's Galley: Go behind the scenes and take a tour of the galley (the kitchen to landlubbers!). Princess Cruises usually offers a couple of ship tours each day on sea days. Families can visit the engine control room, medical centre, print shop, laundry, photo lab, bridge, and other areas typically seen only by the ship's crew.
H is for Hip Hop: Learn from the professionals at hip-hop classes. With Royal Caribbean you could dance 24/7 if you want. On Freedom and Oasis-class ships you have Bebop with DreamWorks, penguins and pandas and salsa in the Latin club, Boleros. There are family disco nights, pre-dinner fox-trotting, dancing-under-the-stars pool parties and DJs on the decks in specially designed teenager-only clubs.
I is for Ice skating: Children and parents alike can learn the ropes on the ice or show off their skills as well as watching the professionals in some spectacular ice shows. Royal Caribbean offers has ice rinks and ice-skating classes tailored to age and level of expertise.
J is for Jukeboxes: Budding DJs can tailor the evening's tunes according to their taste. The teenager's lounge on Norwegian Epic resembles a night-club and the music selection is left up to discerning youngsters.
The Norwegian Epic Teens Lounge (photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)
K is for kids' clubs: these come in every shape and size, from toddlers to teens - all are catered for.
L is for Late nights: The fun continues with late night movies, pool parties and sports activities. Apart from its Ocean and Pacific ships, Princess Cruises offers late-night movies and teens-only dinner parties. A great way for young adults to let down their hair in the safe confines of the ship.
M is for Movies on deck: Royal Princess, Carnival Dream, some Royal Caribbean ships and most MSC cruise ships screen films out on deck. M is also for Mocktail Mixology: Princess (teens program), Carnival and Royal Caribbean all offer place where children can learn how to make their own mocktails with professional bartenders showing how it’s done.
N is for Nature: there are countless opportunities on board and ashore for children of all ages to learn about local and ocean wildlife with fun and insightful talks. Many ships offer guided excursions ashore. Be sure to sign up early.
Children can enjoy expert talks about marine life with Celebrity (photo: Celebrity)
O is for Open Mic: Superstars in the wings can showcase their talents with open-mic karaoke nights. On Allure and Oasis of the Seas, Royal Caribbean offers "open-mic" and karaoke competitions as part of its 12 to 14-year-old children's program.
P is for Pirates: There’s no better environment than a cruise ship to really feel like a pirate, whether dressing like one or joining the pirate parties. Disney Cruise Line offers the ultimate Pirate Party - crew dress in pirate outfits and pirate-themed songs blast through the decks. Captain Hook makes an appearance and when, naturally, Mickey saves the day there are celebratory fireworks.
P is also for Plank - which extends over the sea from the top deck and can be walked on board Norwegian's newest ships.
Q is for Quizzes: For all the family, there’s a wide array of quizzes and game shows throughout the voyage - especially on sea days. The Teen Zone on Cunard's ships includes table tennis tournaments, team games, quizzes and bingo during the evenings.
R is for Rock climbing: Dare-devil youngsters can scale to the top of a rock-climbing wall. Norwegian Breakaway - and most of Norwegian's fleet - is known for its adventure programmes. The climbing wall is one of the main features.
Climbing wall on Norwegian Breakaway (photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)
S is for Surfing: Ride the waves on the upper deck with surf simulators (called the FlowRider) aboard Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas.
T is for Table Tennis: For those budding Olympic champions... Thomson Cruises' Sports Deck is kitted out for basketball, tennis, volleyball, and five-a-side football.
U is for Underwater: Children will need their goggles for the games and competitions that take place underwater.
V is for Volleyball: The perennial beach favorite can more often than not be enjoyed on an upper-deck court. At Sports Square, an expansive outdoor recreation area aboard Carnival's Magic and Breeze ships, you can play basketball, volleyball or soccer on a multi-purpose court.
W is for Water parks: An absolute must for any family cruising with children. Norwegian Breakaway has a massive water park with loops, fast slides, mini rivers and a small pool for the very young ones.
The water park on Norwegian Breakaway (photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)
X is for X Box: For computer games lovers there are large scale X-Box tournaments which will keep children entertained for hours. Celebrity's family-friendly cruises have a Wi-Fi connected X-Box room featuring all the games you could possibly want. Make sure they get some sun.
Y is for yawning:  There'll be no need to concern yourself with sleepless nights on board a cruise ship. The little mites will be exhausted.
It's also for Youth Clubs: With dedicated age groups from toddlers to teens.
Z is for Zip Line: Fly above the atrium on deck nine of Oasis of the Seas. If you're brave enough.

(Edited: Spelling & punctuation corrections made from original article by LeAnne Rigsby, Cricket Cruise & Travel, LLC, September 25, 2014)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

arrival duty free: When, where, how, why and exactly what is Duty Free?

arrival duty free: When, where, how, why and exactly what is Duty Free?

In April 2014 on Carnival Magic, my husband purchased an expensive necklace for me for our 40th anniversary in the ship's jewelry shop. When we asked the store staff about duty were told there wouldn't be any. 

However, on debarkation morning (Galveston, TX) his Fun Pass ship card was flagged to not allow him to disembark the ship. I was told to proceed with disembarking and go through Customs & Immigration. I was not allowed back onto the ship -- even though I had both our U.S. passports and the Customs & Immigration Declaration form. They (Carnival) wouldn't even let me give his to him. 

I did as I was told, went through Customs just fine, but they would not allow me to stay in the terminal near their "territory" to wait for him. 

I eventually had a cell phone call from my husband telling me he needed his passport and the Customs form. I told him where I was waiting, and a Carnival staff-greeter showed up & got these from me. About 10 minutes later, I had another phone call telling me he needed several hundred dollars in either CASH OR CHECK to pay the duty on the necklace!

*** Customs ONLY takes cash or check -- there is an ATM machine available by their office but we only had a credit card and the interest rate on ATM cash withdrawals is 22%!!  And we don't take checks with us when traveling out of the country! 

What had transpired on the ship unbeknownst to me, was my husband was made to stand in an area away from the other debarking passengers. No one with Carnival or U.S. Customs would tell him what the detainment was about -- although the only thing it could be for was the necklace purchase. About 15 minutes later, he was escorted up 5 decks and questioned about "any purchases made while onboard." When he told them he'd bought a necklace for his wife, they STILL would not confirm if this situation & treatment was because of that -- he said they barely spoke at all). He was then escorted off the ship to Customs by an agent. When the Customs desk agent discovered he didn't have his passport and declaration form, he was again escorted to a private office (with his luggage in tow) where he was allowed to call me. After the Carnival staff member brought those 2 items to them, the agent calculated the duty at just over 5% tax. A U.S. Customs agent came out to where I was sitting and retrieved the cash payment from me, and afterwards my husband was allowed to leave. 

The entire situation was handled inappropriately and was embarrassing. He felt like he was being treated as a thief and was already pronounced guilty. We had filled out the Declaration form with the purchase price of the necklace -- we never intended not to show our purchase, even though we were told there would be no duty. 

As a travel agent & agency owner, both my husband and I attended the Carnival Conversations (for travel agents) in Austin two weeks later, & discussed the situation with the Carnival staff. They apologized for the way he was treated and how it was handled. However, U.S. Customs is in control of the ship once it docks and the ship has no control over how Customs handles any situation. But more to the point, we told Carnival to please tell their onboard shop employees NEVER to tell guests there's no duty on purchases. 

As we later found out after many phone calls to U.S. Customs, each person within a family traveling together (on the same Customs & Immigration form) is allowed $800 duty free in purchases. They did tell us that had we purchased the necklace OFF the ship in one of the ports, Customs would never have known about it and would have a hard time proving we owed duty. 

Once a ship arrives back into the U.S. and Customs boards the ship, it is "THEIR" ship; the cruise line has no control. Customs goes over ALL onboard purchases and red flags large ones which would require duty tax to be paid. Those people who've made these large purchases are not allowed to leave the ship. They go through exactly what my husband did.

As I waited in the approved area of the terminal, I watched as unsuspecting guests were herded over to a bank of teller windows to pay the duty on all cigarettes and alcohol purchased whether onboard the ship or in a port.
I heard "I NEED SOME MONEY!" constantly,

In May this year, I had a fellow alumnus tell me about having to pay duty on his wife's carton of cigarettes that were bought in Houston prior to their cruise.  He even showed the Customs agent the Texas tax stamp on them.  He was told to either pay the duty or go to jail.  He paid.  And he's still pi$$ed about it.