In This Issue
- Cruising Etiquette
- Old San Juan
- The Jones Act
Common Courtesy In Cruising
You don’t need a Miss Manners at sea to know there are some basic, common sense rules of etiquette for cruising. No, there is no handbook on it, but the key words here are “common sense.” For some less thoughtful folks onboard, taking a vacation means taking a break from using their brains.
Picture a cruise ship like a floating village or small town at sea. As with any unfamiliar place you go to, you should get to know the lay of the land, so to speak. No one is going to be just like you; people from all over the world, from different cultures and religions are sharing the same floating space as you are. Everyone should learn how to live in harmony for this short stay so that all of you will have the best vacation possible.
Some cruisers have been to their share of ports and know what to do. However, newbie’s need to pay some attention to their surroundings. Read the literature about the ship’s activities. And if there is any doubt about something, ask a member of the cruise ship’s personnel. Now, let’s talk about some of those unspoken shipboard “rules:”
Cool it with the complaints – You are on vacation! Nothing is more unattractive than a grown-up whining like a child over something like waiting in line. You know that saying “When in Rome?” Well, it is your vacation. No worries, no deadlines, no being late to anything … you’re on a ship and nothing on board is going anywhere. Say hi to the people next to you; challenge someone to a game of paper, scissors, rock to break up the monotony.
Respect the Dress Code Guidelines – Cruise ships will often post some clothing guidelines for dinner or live entertainment for that day. If you don’t follow the guidelines, you will not be thrown off the ship. However, you would feel mighty uncomfortable wearing your Bermuda shorts and flip flops to a semi-formal dinner or dance.
Say so long to the seat savers and line cutters- It is a bit exasperating to take the time to arrive at a decent hour to catch the next lounge act only to have a sea of coats draped over chairs and no bodies in the seats. And line cutters, shame on you. It is one thing for you to stand in line and have your spouse join you after a quick trip to the rest room. It is a whole new ballgame letting in your twenty newfound friends from the poker tables cut in line.
No hogging of the gym equipment/hot tub/lounge chairs/computers, etc. – There are possibly several thousand other people who at some point want to use stationary bike or hot tub privileges. Be mindful of others who are discreetly waiting without complaint for their turn.
Designated smoking areas – There are specific areas just for smokers on board. Do not be selfish and light up at the dining room table while others are eating. Here’s a big clue: if you see ash trays, you can light up.
These unspoken rules sound perfectly logical don’t they? Yet, some cruisers forget themselves in their quest for a good time and other people suffer for it. If you are unsure of something, ask. Let your common sense rule. And don’t worry, it won’t get in the way of your good time.
Visiting Old San Juan
In the Caribbean there are a couple of cruise departure locations but the main cruise port is San Juan Puerto Rico. This port provides a large natural harbor and perhaps the largest international airport in the region. San Juan is a big metropolitan area with beaches, resort hotels and casinos but the focus for most visitors is Old San Juan. Located just a short walk uphill from the cruise ship piers, it is a great destination to spend some time exploring.
Puerto Rico is an American possession and while there have been a number of movements for independence, the Puerto Ricans seem to be happy with the status quo. Unfortunately in the last couple of years this island has been seriously impacted by a devastating category 5 hurricane and more recently a series of earthquakes. We’ve been in and out of San Juan a couple of times since and the signs of rebuilding and repairing are everywhere.
For cruisers visiting Old San Juan there’s a free trolly that goes to the city center from the docks. If you are going to be spending a day or two in San Juan and want to see the countryside a rental car is probably your best choice with rates ranging from $30 to $50 a day. Taxis are readily available and a trip to the airport should run about $25 – $30.
The old city is the main attraction and the free trolly makes it easy to spend some time visiting Old San Juan’s incredible fortifications and the historic town itself. There are also a couple of Puerto Rican rum distilleries that provide visitor tours in the area as well.
San Juan is one of the most fortified ports in the Caribbean dating as far back as the early sixteenth century. In 1508, Ponce de León founded the original settlement, Caparra on the island. In 1521, the settlement was abandoned and moved to a site which was called at the time “Puerto Rico” (meaning “rich port”). Constructed in 1521, Casa Blanca served as the first fortification of the new settlement and was residence of Ponce de León descendants. La Fortaleza was built in 1533, followed by the construction of a battery at “the Morro” overlooking the protected harbor. Plans for the castle portion of San Felipe del Morro were made in 1584. Extensions to the Morro, plus construction of El Cañuelo, and El Boquerón, were begun in 1599 and the complete fortification of the city began in 1630 and was concluded by 1641. The addition San Cristobal fort was completed by 1771.
Old San Juan National Historic Site was established in 1949 to preserve historic fortifications in Old San Juan. The historic site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 and La Fortaleza along with the San Juan National Historic Site were then declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Thanks to a number of groups working to preserve the Old Town, today it represents one of the largest examples of Spanish colonial towns in the New World today.
Cruising and The Jones Act
Ever tried to book back-to-back cruises and the cruise company says you can’t book it because it invokes the Jones Act? The Jones Act along with its older sister the Passenger Vessel Services Act, are 100 plus-year-old regulatory relics intended to protect our maritime industry. The short description says that you cannot transport cargo or passengers between two American ports unless you use ships built in American shipyards, flagged as an American ship and crewed by U.S. citizens. The problem for the cruise industry is America doesn’t build cruise ships any more, it is expensive to flag ships in the U.S. and even more difficult to staff ships with U.S. citizens.
While it is a nuisance for the cruise industry it is a disaster for American business and our economy. As of 2016 there are less than one hundred tankers in the world that meet the Jones Act requirements. Because of this it is cheaper to ship U.S. oil to Europe from Texas than to refineries in New Jersey. What that means is our oil companies import more expensive oil while at the same time we export our oil. While complicated the Jones Act is one of the things standing in the way of our energy independence.
One of the more insane things that happened as a result of the Jones Act occurred during the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Norway dispatched three specialized oil clean-up ships to help with the disaster but the U.S. government wouldn’t allow them to help because of the act.
There have been a number of locations where the cruise industry has wanted to serve the American traveler by embarking in one port and disembarking in another. Hawaii is one of those locations, with inter-island cruises as well as cruises originating on the West Coast. New England cruises and Alaska are two other cruise destinations that would benefit by not having a Jones Act. In the case of Alaska there are a number of popular week-long itineraries that go one way, but because of the Jones Act they are served out of Vancouver instead of the U.S. port of Seattle. We recently wanted to take the last Alaska cruise of the year from Seattle and stay on for a cruise from Vancouver to Hawaii but because we would embark in Seattle and disembark in Honolulu the Jones Act prevented it.
If you are a cruiser maybe it’s time you suggest to your congressman that the Jones Act has outlived its usefulness. Even if cruising isn’t your thing you should still consider prompting your congressman. The Jones Act costs you money at the gas pump by adding one or two billion dollars to fuel transportation costs each year and also prevents economical use of LNG in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam.
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