Explorations From Home: Cruising with Norwegian Cruise Line

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3TMRURgvQY&feature=youtu.be

Join AAA Travel and Norwegian Cruiseline as we look at the deals and destinations that have made Norwegian a popular choice for AAA members.


Are robotic bartenders just the beginning?

When cruise lines released robotic bartenders into the mainstream, they were treated with mixed reviews. How would a patron's teasing smile and gentle wink score the stronger pour? There was chat of the initiative being a money play, a way to reduce staff and control alcohol distribution. But in a COVID environment, the robo-tenders seem to be a solution. As all of the travel industry searches for operational solutions to new safety protocols, what other technological advances will consumers see in the months, and years to come.

Smartphones replace everything

Consumers have seen restaurant menus and paper in-room handouts replaced with scannable QR codes that display all your options on your mobile device. Contactless hotel check-in capabilities, mobile room keys, touchless payments, and in-app ordering and appointments-booking had already crept into the hospitality sector, but now almost every aspect of the experience can now be accessed through guests’ own mobile devices. Customer-facing tech tools are being deployed to provide remote access to front-desk, concierge and customer-service functions. With good integrations, travelers may not know if they're speaking to a chatbot, property staff, or someone across the globe. Either way, the industry is putting immediate assistance straight into guests’ hands without the need to come face-to-face with hotel employees.

Even in-room controls, like the remote to your television, could fall to your smartphone. In some locations, guests can pair their mobile devices with their in-room TVs to use as remote controllers, to access online versions of in-room paper menus, order room service and more, simply by scanning a personalizing QR code on their TV.

Adaptations to Facial Recognition

Casinos in Las Vegas, along with other institutions, have adopted facial recognition tools to help them identify key guests on their properties. Taking this to new levels, these recognition engines could help monitor and enforce mask use. Scanning the property, these eyes in the sky could identify individuals while they’re wearing masks, and help alert management when someone enters the premises without a mask or is wearing it improperly. Add in a thermal-camera integration, and the industry will have another safety net in place.

Geo-Tracking and Alerts

In addition to rail operators, bus companies can alert passengers as to when their coaches arrive at a certain distance from the platform, to avoid overcrowding in stations. Geo-prompted push notifications can also come in very handy for keeping guests updated on safety protocols and other vital information about their visit.

The Power of UV 

Hotels and cruise lines understand the importance of sterilization and have taken a page from hospitals and healthcare environments. With high-powered UVC technology, hoteliers and cruise lines can safely, quickly, and effectively eliminate up to 99.9 percent of the surface and airborne pathogens in indoor settings. With the right systems, they can effectively sterilize larger spaces throughout hotels, cruise ships, entertainment venues, spas, restaurants, shops, etc. without using chemicals or leaving behind residue.

Artificial Maids

Similar to the robots cleaning the isles of your local Stop and Shop, and much more complex than your household Roomba, robotic maids are sweeping their way into the travel industry.  Service robots boast advanced information and communications technology, including space-mapping, autonomous driving ability, and voice recognition.

The biggest question, and one that will take time to answer, is if travelers will feel comfortable with these new innovative solutions. AAA Travel understands you may have questions about your personal plans, and how the current environment may impact your travel. To speak to a AAA Travel Agent, please call 1-800-222-7448.


Cruise Lines Update Ventilation Systems

Cruise lines are examining harder-to-see improvements, thinking beyond their mandatory face masks and limited sailing capacity. The spotlight has turned to upgrading ships, with the focus on ventilation systems.

Cruise Critic was one of the first to report the industry's desire to upgrade their airflow systems, a move driven by scientific research, which is now focusing more on the aerosol spread of COVID-19, as opposed to surfaces.

While some cruise lines have already committed to a 100% fresh air mix aboard their vessels going forward, many are still finalizing their health and safety protocols. Only a handful of lines released detailed preliminary health and safety protocols, but one constant across all plans was an air circulation component.

Norwegian Cruise Line recently stated new health and safety protocols that included the installation of new medical-grade H13 High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters across its fleet. These filters are estimated to remove 99.95% of all airborne pathogens that are 0.1 microns or larger. The COVID-19 pathogen is 25% larger than this standard, coming in at 0.125 microns.

Windstar Cruises is focused on performing a retrofit its entire six-ship fleet with HEPA filters, and additional germicidal irradiation known as UV-C designed to kill bacteria and viruses, including coronaviruses before they can enter the air mix aboard its ships. That solution is recognized by the European Union, which recently published its Healthy Gateways guidelines for cruises to resume within European waters. This process destroys bacteria and viruses that are not trapped in the HEPA filter before they can enter the air mix on board the ship –a technology that could be combined with robotic technology on larger ships.

Windstar's HVAC strategy also includes an EvaClean electrostatic sprayer with PurTab Disinfectant. The EvaClean electrostatic sprayer uses technology that adds a magnetic charge to the sanitizer solution itself. As the sanitizer is sprayed, the solution attaches itself to surfaces and wraps fully around objects and surfaces to provide entire coverage. PurTab is a chlorine-based, hospital-grade sanitizer proven to kill a wide array of microorganisms, including coronavirus and Norovirus.

To date, vessels have trusted a "fresh air mix" for the ventilation of public spaces and staterooms onboard. This system mixes fresh air with recirculated air to cut down on costs and energy expended to keep the ship temperate. As early as February, researchers at Purdue University were warning that this mix could contribute to the spread of COVID-19 aboard cruise ships and other buildings shoreside using similar heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. It is believed cruise ships could minimize the risk of transmission by simply using exclusively outside air and not recirculating it within the system -- a technique known as 100% fresh air mix.

100% fresh air mix is exactly that – a ship with air units that pull in outside air through the ship's exterior louvers and vents, not relying on recirculation before exchanging it. Of course, everything has a plus and a negative impact. The 100% mix places extra demands on the blowers, chillers, air conditioning units, and other equipment used for air exchange. All of these systems carry massive electrical power requirements, which in turn puts increased demands on the ship's hotel and technical systems, including the vessel's generators.

With cruise ships remaining docked throughout the summer, it seems cruise lines will have time to implement changes before their next round of sailing dates. But in the meantime, you may have questions. AAA Travel is here to help. To speak to a AAA Travel Agent, please call 1-800-222-7448.


Royal Caribbean Group Reinvents Muster Drill

For many cruise lovers, their least favorite part of a vacation (though possibly the most important) is attending the mandatory muster drill. In addition, while we all try to avoid gathering together in limited spaces, it seems a solution to the gathering of travelers was necessary. Royal Caribbean Group has acknowledged this and is replacing the safety drill – with Muster 2.0™, an entirely new approach to delivering safety information to guests. The innovative program, the first of its kind, reimagines a process originally designed for large groups of people into a faster, more personal approach that encourages higher levels of safety.

With new technology comes new opportunities, and muster has gone mobile. With Muster 2.0, the key elements of the safety drill – including reviewing what to expect and where to go in case of an emergency, and instructions on how to properly use a life jacket – will be accessible to guests on an individual basis instead of a group approach that has been followed historically. New technology, eMuster™, will be used to help provide the information to guests via their mobile devices and interactive stateroom TVs. Travelers will be able to review the information at their own time prior to setting sail, eliminating the need for the traditional large group assemblies. The new approach also enables everyone on board to maintain better spacing as guests move about the ship, and it allows guests to enjoy more of their vacation with no interruption.

After reviewing safety information individually, guests will complete the drill by visiting their assigned assembly station, where a crew member will verify that all steps have been completed and answer questions. Each of the steps will need to be completed prior to the ship’s departure, as required by international maritime law.

“The health and safety of our guests and crew are our number one priority, and the development of this new muster process is an elegant solution to an outdated, unpopular process,” said Richard Fain, chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Group. “The fact that this will also save guests time and allow the ship to operate without pause means that we can increase health, safety and guest satisfaction simultaneously.”

“Muster 2.0 represents a natural extension of our mission to improve our guests’ vacation experiences by removing points of friction,” said Jay Schneider, Royal Caribbean Group’s senior vice president of digital. “In this instance, what’s most convenient for our guests is also the safest option in light of needing to reimagine social spaces in the wake of COVID-19.”

This marks the first dramatic change to the safety drill process in a decade, since Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas moved the life jackets from guest staterooms to the muster stations, which improved the evacuation process and has been widely followed throughout the industry. More than a year in the making, Muster 2.0 is also an initiative that will be part of the comprehensive set of protocols and procedures Royal Caribbean Group is developing along with the Healthy Sail Panel that was recently assembled in collaboration with Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.

“This new process represents the kind of innovation that the Healthy Sail Panel is focusing on as part of its mission to enhance the health and safety of cruising,” said former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, co-chair of the Healthy Sail Panel. “It shows that we can accomplish a lot if we try to think outside the box on safety.”

“I'd like to extend my congratulations to Royal Caribbean Group on this innovative milestone. It's exactly what our industry needs during these unprecedented times and we appreciate the generous offer to participate in this innovation,” said Frank Del Rio, President and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. “In this industry, we all work cooperatively to enhance health and safety, and this is an example of that.”

The distributed muster for ocean-going vessels concept is patented in the United States and is patent-pending in major markets around the world, including the various cruise industry flag states. The company has also worked with international regulators, the U.S. Coast Guard and other maritime and government authorities to ensure it meets all safety requirements.

In addition to introducing the new process on the ships of its own cruise lines – Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara – Royal Caribbean Group is offering to license the patented technology to interested cruise operators and will waive patent license fees during the time the world and industry battle the global pandemic. Patent licenses have already been granted to the company’s joint venture, TUI Cruises GmbH, as well as Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., the parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Muster 2.0 was first tested on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas in January 2020. Guests who took part in the mock process indicated a strong preference for the new approach and also reported better comprehension and retention of the safety information.

As you plan your next voyage, consult your AAA travel agent. You'll be offered up to date safety information, as well as member-exclusive pricing and add-ons. To speak to an agent, call 1-800-222-7448.


viking mississippi

Viking Announces More 2023 Mississippi Sailings

With itineraries selling out in weeks, Viking knew that their Mississippi sailings were a big hit with American travelers looking for that river cruise experience in rivers closer to home. In response, Viking has announced additional dates for 2023 bookings for its first domestic ship, the Viking Mississippi.

The debut of this ship is still a year away, scheduled for August 2022, but the buzz around the release is astounding. Viking Mississippi will sail on the lower and upper Mississippi River, between New Orleans and St. Paul, Minn. Stretching for 2,350 miles, from Minnesota's Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico, new cruises on the Mighty Mississippi offer a different type of cross-country journey for the curious explorer–one that allows you to be immersed in American history and culture.

"We are very pleased at the initial response and support we have received from guests and community partners along the Mississippi River," said Torstein Hagen, chairman of Viking. "Like me, many travelers are planning ahead for when we will once again be exploring the world in comfort -- to exotic destinations as well as those closer to home."

AAA Members recently had the opportunity to learn more about the Mississippi opportunity, thanks to a Next Network Broadcast focusing on the ship, the voyage, and the benefits of booking through AAA Travel. In addition to the exclusive benefits available to AAA members, viewers learned more about A Mississippi River cruise, and the rare opportunity to sail through America's heartland. Highlights included detail on the picturesque towns and boom cities; the views of pastoral farms and towering bluffs; and immersive experiences in the region's rich history and culture.

To learn more about this voyage, watch our recorded broadcast found in the Next Network video archives.

To read more about the itineraries Viking offers, now domestic and internationally, visit our itinerary list.

As always, your AAA membership comes with access to AAA Travel Advisors. Let AAA Travel review the special member benefits available to members booking Viking vacations. To speak with a travel representative, call 1-800-222-7448.


Healthy Sail Panel Created to Tackle COVID-19 at Sea

Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings together launched the "Healthy Sail Panel," a task force charged with uncovering solutions to the cruise industry's approach to keeping ship passengers and crew safe from the coronavirus. The panel will examine safety measures ranging from the use of ultraviolet lights to safe meal service, and everything in-between. The panel is also forecasting costs that may result from their suggestions, such as modifying ships to encourage social distancing.

But the learnings and enhancements may mean more to the cruise lines than just addressing COVID-19. Long term adjustments to ships and regulations could aid in the overall prevention of diseases, including any that might pop up in the future, and the dreaded Norovirus.

The panel has held two sessions to date. The panel’s short-term recommendations could take two months to develop and release, and ideas for longer-term implementations could take up to a year. For now, cruise ship fleets around the world remain docked. Major operators have extended the cruising suspensions into September.

Yes, COVID-19 has sickened and even killed passengers and crew earlier this year, yet ships have the advantage of a more controlled environment. Operators can regulate the flow of passengers through hallways, launch technology to best find or kill the virus and establish rules about congregating faster and more targeted than cities and states.

If you are preparing for a cruise, or have questions about an upcoming voyage, AAA Travel Agents are here to help. Speak to a AAA Travel Counselor now, call 1-800-222-7448.


Viking will cruise the Mississippi River

Any river cruiser will share that Viking offers a relaxing, immersive and thoroughly enjoyable cruise experience. Viking is a leader in river cruising, and designs itineraries where you can enjoy the ever-changing scenery along the banks of waterways such as the Danube, Rhine, Seine, Douro, Volga and Yangtze. With river cruising, voyagers unpack just once, and Viking allows you to settle into the cabin of one of their award-winning, state-of-the-art 190-guest Longships and journey into the very heart of iconic cities and charming towns.

Viking will launch new destination-focused travel experiences on the Mississippi River in 2022, with its first 386-guests custom vessel, Viking Mississippi, with sailings ranging from 8 to 15 days. Viking’s arrival will bring modern river cruising to the Mississippi and will represent a major commitment to tourism and economic development in many communities along the river. Currently scheduled ports of call on Viking’s new Mississippi River Cruises comprise seven U.S. states: Louisiana (Baton Rouge, Darrow, New Orleans and St. Francisville); Mississippi (Natchez and Vicksburg); Tennessee (Memphis); Missouri (Hannibal, St. Louis); Iowa (Burlington, Dubuque and Quad Cities); Wisconsin (La Crosse); and Minnesota (Red Wing, St. Paul).

The new state-of-the-art Viking Mississippi is inspired by Viking’s award-winning river and ocean ships and will feature clean Scandinavian design, as well as public spaces that are familiar to guests but that have been reimagined for Mississippi River voyages. Purpose-built for the Mississippi and currently under construction in Louisiana, the five-deck ship’s cutting-edge design, expansive windows and comfortable amenities will make it the largest and most modern cruise ship in the region.

Stretching for 2,350 miles, from Minnesota's Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico, our new cruises on the "Mighty Mississippi" offer a different type of cross-country journey for the curious explorer–one that allows you to be immersed in American history and culture. A Mississippi River cruise offers the rare opportunity to sail through America's heartland. Explore picturesque towns and boom cities; take in views of pastoral farms and towering bluffs; and immerse yourself in region's rich history and culture.

Here are a few highlights Viking has revealed:

  • New Orleans's festive French Quarter and Creole cuisine
  • Cajun heritage in Baton Rouge
  • Vicksburg National Military Park
  • BBQ and Delta blues in Memphis
  • Mark Twain's boyhood home
  • Working family farm visit in Iowa
  • Birdwatching along the "Mississippi Flyway"
  • St. Louis's Gateway Arch and pioneering spririt
  • Norwegian cultural experience at Vesterheim
  • Intricate locks and dams of the Upper Mississippi

As with all vacations, more days mean more to discover, and the cruise line offers several extension packages you can add before or after your Viking cruise or cruisetour. Enjoy additional days to explore your embarkation or disembarkation city, or see a new destination altogether with a choice of exciting cities.

As a AAA Travel Member, you have AAA Member Benefits tied to your membership. Talk with a AAA Travel Agent for more information, and view our Viking packages, including this Mississippi tour.


Cruise Lines Respond to Global Crisis

The ripples of COVID-19 sent tidal waves across the travel industry. While no destination or establishment has been left unaffected, the cruise industry has been notably impacted. Cruise lines have had to adjust to global impacts before and are no strangers to thinking quick and adapting procedures fast.

Carnival has amended its ship cleaning standards, above and beyond their existing rigorous daily cleaning regimen and standards. Cleaning rounds have become more frequent, and a heightened focus is placed on the sanitizing of tables, chairs, menus, and other surfaces in restaurants and bars before use.

Open deck sanitation is paramount for their crews, including sun loungers, outdoor furniture, mini-golf, sports equipment, handrails, and additional hand-touched surfaces in all public areas and lounges.

Wherever possible, Carnival staff is serving guests at food stations, including the Lido buffet and ice cream machines. Where not possible due to layout restrictions or other locations such as condiment set-ups and salsa bars, dedicated personnel are posted to monitor these stations and service and ensure they are cleaned and sanitized in a timely manner. In any self-service areas that remain, serving utensils are replaced on a more frequent basis.

Carnival stateroom surfaces and fixtures are thoroughly cleaned up to twice daily with particular attention to bathrooms and surfaces frequently touched. All guest corridors including handrails and stateroom door handles are frequently sanitized. During instances that guests display flu-like symptoms, the stateroom will receive additional deep cleaning.

The cruise line has even adjusted the temperature in their washers and dryers, increasing heat settings for enhanced disinfection of laundered goods, including bedding, tablecloths, towels, and napkins.

At night, a deep cleaning and disinfection process is conducted utilizing electro-static applications through specialized machines in highly trafficked public areas. This includes all restaurants, the fitness center, spa, lido deck areas, promenade, casino, medical center, public restrooms, lounges, bars, lobbies, elevators, atrium, youth activity centers, arcade and all crew public areas.

Much like Carnival, Celebrity has made a multitude of onboard adjustments. They’re also presenting travelers with new benefits and more flexibility in planning and departing on a cruise.

An enhanced Cruise with Confidence policy allows Celebrity cruisers more ways to sail. Simply book your vacation by August 1, 2020, to take advantage of perks like the Best Price or Best Offer agreement. Under this pledge, if the fare on your Celebrity sailing is reduced or the promotion gets better, they will honor your choice right up to 48 hours before you sail. Your AAA Travel Agent will help you in monitoring the pricing points, and act as a liaison between you and the cruise line, offering a double check that you are receiving the best offer available to you.

In the event your situation changes, Celebrity now offers you a window up to 48 hours before you sail to cancel and receive 100% Future Cruise Credit to use toward any sailing through May 4, 2022. Furthermore, if you want to take the same cruise the following year for the same price and with the same promotion, you can. Simply notify your AAA Travel Agent to start this change by August 1, 2020.

With updated policies and enhanced booking options, the industry as a whole is striving to earn your trust. From the booking process to your disembarkment, cruise lines are stepping up to make a difference.

At embarkation, Princess Cruise will require all guests and crew to participate in mandatory health screenings, which may include a thermal scan to check temperatures, and in some cases secondary screenings. Depending on the results, they will deny certain individuals boarding if it is felt they could pose a risk to others. Highly touched surfaces throughout each embarkation terminal will be sanitized continuously, and terminals will be thoroughly sanitized and, where possible, fogged before and after each embarkation and debarkation

And like the other cruise lines, Princess ships will sail with a highly capable medical team that will receive special training for COVID-19. Any guest or crew member who exhibits symptoms of respiratory illness will strongly be encouraged to visit the Medical Center for a complimentary consultation and, if appropriate, screening for COVID-19.

Whether you are considering a return to the seas or are exploring your first cruise options, you may have questions. AAA Travel Agents are here to help you make smart, safe, yet exciting travel plans. Speak to a AAA Travel Counselor by calling 1-800-222-7448.


Hurtigruten announces cancellations on the Norwegian Coast.

In March, Hurtigruten cruise made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend operations worldwide in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. As of June, and in light of the current Coronavirus situation, the cruise line has decided to cancel the following sailings:

• BGO-BGO – MS Kong Harald – July 6
• BGO-BGO – MS Lofoten – July 3
• BGO-BGO – MS Lofoten – July 14
• BGO-BGO – MS Nordkapp – July 10
• BGO-BGO – MS Nordlys – July 9
• BGO-BGO – MS Nordnorge – July 4
• BGO-BGO – MS Polarlys – July 1
• BGO-BGO – MS Polarlys – July 12
• BGO-BGO – MS Vesterålen – July 7
• BGO-BGO – MS Vesterålen – July 15

A changed reservation will be reimbursed as a Hurtigruten Future Cruise Voucher in the amount of 125% of amounts paid (including fees) and 10% discount on a future cruise. This Future Cruise Voucher is valid on any Hurtigruten cruise, Expedition or Norwegian Coastal - from 1 July 2020 to 31 December 2021. Your AAA Travel Agent can offer you more details and assist you with booking your future adventure.

Speak to a AAA Travel Counselor now, call 1-800-222-7448