World Cruise, Red Sea, Cruise Line Policies

It’s been another busy week for cruise news, and Cruise Hive has it all covered, with developments from Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, and Royal Caribbean.

Cruise News Update

It’s time for a deep dive into this week’s top cruise news stories from Cruise Hive, where we have full coverage of Norwegian Cruise Line changing its onboard currency exchange services, Carnival Cruise Line possibly placing a multi-ship order with Fincantieri, Holland America Line hiking crew gratuity fees, MSC Cruises cancelling three sailings due to Middle East turmoil, a Royal Caribbean ship rescuing six fishermen and their dog, and Royal Caribbean’s Ultimate World Cruise making waves on social media.

Big Currency Exchange Shift at Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line’s foreign currency exchange services will become a thing of the past starting on February 1, 2024, when a new policy requiring that the U.S. dollar be used to settle all onboard charges takes effect.

The cruise line currently accepts multiple foreign currencies as a convenience to international guests, and allows cruisers to settle their accounts in their local currency and to exchange currency onboard their ships. 

The new policy nixes those services, and means that guests who wish to settle their onboard accounts with cash must do so in U.S. dollars. It also requires that those who need to exchange currency must do so before embarkation or at banks or ATMs during port calls.

Norwegian Cruise Line Ship
Norwegian Cruise Line Ship (Photo Credit: Melissa Mayntz)

Most cruisers create their onboard accounts using a credit card, but some use cash or traveler’s cheques. The cruise line has suggested deposit amounts for those who use cash or traveler’s cheques to establish their account, based on the length of their cruise. For sailings of 8 nights or longer, for instance, the deposit should be $450 USD per person.

Currency policies vary by cruise line. At Carnival Cruise Line, currency exchange services are not provided, except for the conversion of Canadian dollars on U.S. sailings. Royal Caribbean accepts most foreign currencies and converts them to U.S. dollars.

Carnival Cruise Line Expected to Order Mega-Ships

Cruise watchers were excited to learn that Carnival Cruise Line is expected to place a four-ship order with Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri. Moreover, the order is likely to be for mega-ships in the range of 208,000 gross tons, a shipping industry trade journal reported.

Ships that large would be the biggest of the Carnival Cruise Line fleet. Its largest ships sailing today are the Excel-class vessels, Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration, and Carnival Jubilee, all weighing around 180,000 gross tons.

Under Construction Carnival Cruise Ship
Under Construction Carnival Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: Carnival Cruise Line)

Carnival Cruise Line has not revealed any details about the pending order, however it did confirm that the line expects to have the first ship delivered in 2027, meaning that the shipbuilders would begin work fairly soon, since mega-ships take about two years to construct.

The estimated cost of each vessel in that size range would be about $1.6 billion, so the anticipated order for four ships would reflect an investment of nearly $7 billion.

If the cruise line moves forward with the order, the new ships would still fall short of its competitor’s largest ship. Royal Caribbean’s new Icon of the Seas, set to sail her maiden voyage on January 27, 2024, is 250,800 gross tons, making her the world’s largest ship afloat.

Holland America Line Hikes Crew Gratuity Rates

Holland America Line, a premium brand owned by Carnival Corporation, is raising its crew gratuity rates fleet-wide effective on February 14, 2024. 

The daily charge will rise to $17 per person for guests in non-suite cabins and $19 per person for those in suites. Current charges are $16 for non-suite guests and $17.50 for suite guests.

The increased fees will be charged to guests who booked their cruise on or after January 15, 2024; those who booked before that date will pay the lower rates.

Holland America Line Cruise Ship
Holland America Line Cruise Ship (Photo Credit: MaleeS)

The cruise line’s new fees reflect a 6% hike for non-suites and 8% for suites. However, the last gratuity fee increase was applied a year ago, on February 1, 2023, when the charges rose from $15.50 for non-suite guests and $17 for suite guests.

Comparing those rates to the new, 2024 rates shows spikes of 9% for non-suite guests and 11% for suite guests. Cruise insiders suggest that more Carnival Corporation cruise brands are likely to soon hike their gratuity fees as well.

Holland America Line’s crew gratuities remain lower than some competitor lines, such as Royal Caribbean, which charges daily rates of $18 for non-suites and junior suites, and $20.50 for suites. Norwegian Cruise Line also charges more — $20 for non-suite, and $25 for suites and The Haven.

Red Sea Transit Too Risky For Three Grand Voyages

Turmoil in the Middle East, particularly in the Red Sea, prompted MSC Cruises to cancel three Grand Voyage sailings due to depart in March and April 2024.

The cruise line notified guests booked to sail aboard MSC Splendida, MSC Opera, and MSC Virtuosa that the voyages could not safely go ahead as planned. All three voyages were to sail north through the Red Sea and transit the Suez Canal. 

MSC Splendida was scheduled to depart on April 6, 2024 on a 23-night cruise from Durban, South Africa to Civitavecchia, Italy. The voyage was to include calls to Port Louis, Mauritius; Limassol, Cyprus; Rhodes, Greece; Messina, Sicily; and Naples, Italy.

MSC Cruises Ship
MSC Cruises Ship (Photo Credit: Travel Faery)

MSC Opera was to depart on a 21-night cruise on April 21, 2024, from Dubai to Genoa, Italy. The itinerary was to call at Abu Dhabi; Sir Bani Yas, UAE; Muscat, Oman; Limassol, Cyprus; and Rhodes and Mykonos, Greece.

MSC Virtuosa on March 30, 2024 was to begin a 23-night voyage from Dubai to Southampton, UK. The cruise included calls at Doha, Qatar; Abu Dhabi; Sir Bani Yas, UAE; Muscat, Oman; Rhodes, Greece; and Barcelona.

The cruise line offered guests alternatives, including transferring a booking to a similar Grand Voyage, choosing a different cruise, or requesting a full refund.

Ship Rescues Fishermen, Dog in the Gulf of Mexico

Six fishermen from Cozumel, Mexico, and their dog were rescued on January 16, 2024, in the Gulf of Mexico by Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas, which had departed Galveston, Texas, two days earlier on a 7-night Western Caribbean cruise.

The fishing vessel, Aris, lost engine power and communication on January 14, 2024, and was estimated to be located some 20 miles from the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Local rescue efforts were launched and media alerted boats and ships in the area.

Royal Caribbean Harmony of the Seas Rescue
Royal Caribbean Harmony of the Seas Rescue

Luckily, crew onboard Harmony of the Seas spotted the vessel and dispatched a rescue craft. All of the fishermen and the dog, named Canelo, were rescued and transferred to Mexican Navy authorities, who returned them to Cozumel.

The 5,479-guest Harmony of the Seas continued on her way, without any change to her itinerary. The 226,963-gross-ton ship, an Oasis-class vessel, is calling at Roatan, Honduras, and Costa Maya and Cozumel before returning to Galveston on Sunday, January 21.

Under international maritime law, all vessels are required to render assistance at sea whenever necessary.

TikTok Keeps ‘Ultimate World Cruise’ in Spotlight

Does the old saying that all publicity is good publicity applies to Royal Caribbean’s “Ultimate World Cruise,” the 274-night voyage aboard Serenade of the Seas that has become a TikTok sensation?

It depends on who you ask. For guest and influencer Marc Sebastian, who is chronicling his experience of one segment of the cruise with a series of TikTok videos, it does apply, since his sponsor is looking for media exposure. For Royal Caribbean, Sebastian’s videos that show his frustrations are, perhaps, not as welcome.

Passenger Not Enjoying the Ultimate World Cruise
Passenger Not Enjoying the Ultimate World Cruise

However, the social media posts by Sebastian and other “influencers” onboard the ship are keeping the name of the cruise line and the ship front and center.

Sebastian, whose posts have gone viral, has complained about over-zealous restaurant staff and the various packages cruisers are encouraged to buy, such as for drinks or internet service.

Other commenters have posted grievances about what they see as preferential treatment of the cruise line’s loyalty club members. Services that members receive, such as exclusive lounge access, are common, and well-known to seasoned cruisers.

Royal Caribbean appears to be taking its social media stardom in stride, as Serenade of the Seas continues her journey to 150 destinations in 65 countries. Anyone eager to join the ship can still book segments, which range from 9 to 28 nights. The cruise concludes in Miami on September 10, 2024.

More Cruise Headlines

Now that you’re up to date on the big cruise headlines, check out even more industry coverage from Cruise Hive, including Carnival Cruise Line receiving a prestigious award in Galveston, Texas, Virgin Voyages’ Valiant Lady calling at the British Virgin Islands for the first time, a Bahamas shore excursion shutting down after a shark bite, cruise arrivals breaking records at a growing Spanish port, and a ship damaged by a rogue wave planning her return to service.

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