Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cruise lines seek smooth sailing for web use

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WHILE most cruisers are positive, ask them what bugs them most about cruising and one of the answers will be "the Internet."

On ships, Internet access can be slow, intermittent and expensive. Prices can range from 55 to 75 cents a minute and in 50-to-500-minute packages, the cost is adjusted by the number of minutes.

Viking Cruises, the new name covering Viking's river and ocean cruises, has determined Internet connection bugs passengers so much it's offering free web service on the Viking Star, the first ocean-going ship, set to launch in 2015. On Viking's river ships, the Internet is always free as the ships are within yards of shore so connections, while balky at times, are local.

Viking isn't alone in improving Internet access. On many ships you can now connect from anywhere -- your room, the bar and so on -- and the cost is usually the same. This happens in an age when all generations are connecting online to family and friends, including by streaming video, and expect Wi-Fi to be faster and cheaper.

Royal Caribbean's chief information officer Bill Martin, in a recent interview with Information Week, indicated his company increased its bandwidth sevenfold this year, enabling more guests to be online simultaneously. The cruise line is currently piloting fibre-like service on Allure of the Seas, with test packages for $49.95 a day, or a seven-night unlimited data package for $179. Minute usage rates are 65 cents.

-- -- --

After an engine room fire on Feb. 10, Carnival's Triumph was left adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. Since then, Carnival has spent $300 million on engineering upgrades and fire suppression equipment to help prevent such incidents.

Carnival is rebranding the company, and president and CEO Gerry Cahill says it's stepping up with a strong guarantee.

"The Great Vacation Guarantee is designed to provide an assurance to those (passengers) who, if they are dissatisfied for any reason, have a simple and hassle-free means for receiving a full refund and more," he said.

"Unhappy passengers simply notify the guest services desk within 24 hours departure to receive a full refund of their fare plus 10 per cent, along with complimentary return air transportation from the next port of call. They'll also get complimentary ground transportation and hotel accommodations (if necessary), along with a $100 shipboard credit to be used on a future Carnival cruise."

The guarantee covers cruises of three to eight days to the Bahamas, Caribbean, Mexican Riviera, Alaska, Canada and New England departing through April 30, 2015.

Obviously, the idea is to encourage people who have never tried Carnival -- for whatever the reason -- to give it a whirl.

Phil's Pick of the Week

Since they were launched as the world's two biggest cruise ships, the popularity of Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas has kept price points higher than most ships in the fleet.

Here's a reasonable deal, with prices available at time of writing and based on per-person, double occupancy. It's a seven-day cruise on Allure of the Seas and leaves Dec. 1, 2013 from Fort Lauderdale. Ports include Labadee (Haiti), Falmouth (Jamaica) and Cozumel. Starting price: $690 (balcony, $819).

See a cruise travel agent or go to Royalcaribbean.com.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

Visit portsandbows.com for daily updates on the latest cruise news, best deals and behind-the-scenes stories from the industry. You can also sign up for an email newsletter for even more cruise information. Phil Reimer can be contacted directly at portsandbows.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 5, 2013 ??65533

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