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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Back from Mexico on the Star Princess, what Swine Flu? More cruise ships to visit San Francisco SOON

Just yesterday, I disembarked from the Star Princess cruise ship at Pier 35 in San Francisco. I was aboard a ten day Mexican Riviera cruise with stops at Acapulco, Manzanillo, Puerto Vallara, and Cabo San Lucas. And three "at sea" (transit) days going south and two going north after the last stop in Cabo.

The most frequent question I was asked when I returned to work is, "you got the flu?" And I was like "NO!"

When I disembarked, I noticed that KTVU and KGO radio was there to interview people who just departed and were to embark soon. KGO-TV (ABC 7) decided to get their helicopter and film the ship departing for its next cruise to Mexico.

But really everyone, the cruise ship was far away from any real danger from this Swine Flu.

The Star Princess has satellite TV and all cabins can at least receive the BBC, and one of CNN's news broadcast sister stations. Those stations had priority over others like the Cartoon network and TNT's coverage of the NBA playoffs.

The Swine flu story did not hit the TV news until we reached Cabo San Lucas, and it was not in "hyper news" mode. It was typically the headline story, but coverage mostly focused on that Miss USA controversy with Miss California. It was until our last two days at sea that the word was breaking out like crazy about the illness spreading to the United States and the media going crazy and wild with every single minute on the flu.

For the Star Princess, it was not much of a major concern. With the norovirus being the big headliner news of the cruise industry, all the cruise lines, including Princess has taken very serious prevention measures to stop the spread of the stomach virus. But these prevention measures and the actions the ship's crew asked the public to take upon also helps dramatically reduce the risk of the Swine Flu.

Princess has done the following during my trip, even before the words "Swine Flu" hit the TV airwaves:
  1. Passengers are surveyed about any illnesses before boarding the ship.
  2. Hand sanitizers are available at every food venue. For example, the pizza and burger bars have hand sanitizers next to where you order, and the Horizon Court buffet has a station next to the stack of plates.
  3. All the public restrooms have reminders over the toilet and urinal stalls to wash hands for at least 20 seconds.
  4. The daily "Princess Patter" had a health reminder published everyday including warnings about eating at the Mexican ports (don't drink the water!! The classic joke...).
  5. They frequently sanitized areas of the ship, like the handrails, lounge bar tables, and other public areas.
Especially noted, when this story started coming into the news, it was happening in Mexico city, and even the nearest port we stopped in Mexico was at least four hours away by car from the capitol.

I guess our cruise was the lucky one, we got out just in time. The Star Princess departed yesterday afternoon going on a three day at-sea journey to the southern most port of Acapulco and will head up north to the other ports before returning to San Francisco is approximately nine days. I'm checking with my colleagues at Cruise Critic for more info, but the Star Princess info has not been published.

HOWEVER: I just checked the ship's webcam and the ship is now heading to Ensenada, Mexico. It looks like the ship will be making their "technical stop" for legal reasons (it's a foreign flagged ship and by U.S. law, requires to stop in at least one foreign port), but Princess has not released any word about the ship making a different route, such as doing a U.S. West Coast trip.

For all you San Franciscans who work near the Wharf or major tourism companies in the city, there are ships that will be coming to Pier 35 sometime soon and a MEGASHIP will be visiting on a weekly basis. With many cruise companies turning away from Mexico, they need some place to stop to keep the passengers from turning the ship into a mutiny. Cruise Critic has some information, but...

Official postings from the Pier 35 website is as followed:
  • Carnival: Carnival Splendor will make an SF appearance instead of stopping at Cabo San Lucas. Not updated on Pier 35 website, but is on Cruise Critic. I'm assuming that the ship is in route right now and should show-up soon. That ship is HUGE and it met-up with the Star Princess just about five days ago at Cabo San Lucas.
  • Celebrity: Celebrity Infinity will arrive on May 11, 2009 (PIER 27). Word from the company is that it is currently doing a repositioning cruise and Mexico's ports will be skipped.
  • Crystal: Crystal Serenity will arrive on May 5, 2009. The company has not released any info, but they are heading south from Victoria, Canada and after SF, will stop in Los Angeles.
  • Fred.Olsen: Balmoral will arrive on April 29, 2009 (TOMORROW). The company says they are on a world cruise and will be skipping Mexico for Costa Rica and Guatemala.
  • NCL: NCL Pearl will arrive on May 5, 2009. No info at company's website, but April 29 and May 1st port of calls in Mexico have been cancelled (via Cruise Critic).
  • Princess: Star Princess will arrive on May 7, 2009 (regularly scheduled disembarkation).
  • Royal Caribbean: Serenade of the Seas will arrive May 2, 2009 (repositioning?).
  • Royal Caribbean: Radiance of the Seas will arrive on May 13, 2009 (looks like a repositioning).
  • Royal Caribbean: Mariner of the Seas will arrive on Mondays from 2PM to 8PM. The cruise originates from Los Angeles (round-trip), with stops at San Francisco, Victoria (Canada) and Seattle. It will do a west coast U.S. trip instead of its planned Mexico trip. Not published in Pier 35 website, but is on the RCC's website. Details for the ship and new ports of calls is here. Arrival dates at SF: 5/4, 5/11, 5/25, 6/1, 6/8, 6/15, 6/22, 6/29, 7/6, 7/13, 7/20, 8/3, 8/10, 8/17, 8/24, and 8/31. That ship alone carries over 3,100 passengers. Star Princess met the Mariner of the Seas at its stop in Puerto Vallara.
I think our tourism industry is going to have a good time. Remember to pay those taxes so maybe we can fix MUNI!!!!

So after all this fear about sickness from my cruise and getting that out of the way, I had a lot of fun! Sorry for not posting on my blog during my ten day absence, but I was having way too much fun, including being in a hypnotist show. People told me that I was the most hilarious, especially when I was asked to rub my butt on the carpet and the lounge furniture.

UPDATE: Word from a user from Cruise Critic reports that the recently departed Star Princess will now stop at: Long Beach, Santa Barbara, Catalina Island, and San Diego. It will skip all Mexico ports other than the required one by law (Ensenada). I guess I should be lucky that I didn't take this later departure.

UPDATE #2: The Sapphire Princess will be visiting San Francisco sometime within a seven day period starting on May 2nd. This itinerary change is posted in the USA Today blog. Their arrival to SF is May 7th (update from Princess Cruises).

UPDATE #3: The Carnival Splendor ship is out at sea right now and is planning to make only one stop... San Francisco. Word has it the passengers are pissed. See at Cruise Critic and their message board.

UPDATE #4: The Pacific Princess will stop in San Francisco on May 11th from 9AM to 10PM on its northbound journey towards Seattle. This is posted on the Princess Cruises website.

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