Today we had our first sea day with beautiful weather and it looks like it will remain so. The frontal system of yesterday dissipated and the next one coming will only bring thunderstorms on Monday and we will be in Ft. Lauderdale on Sunday. And that should be a warm day as normally between systems the wind dies down. The route we are taking runs roughly along the east coast of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico before we reach Cuba and the Straits of Florida. I use the word roughly as it is not a straight course.
There are a lot of reefs and shallow banks on this route and thus the course line is not as straight as we would like it. Also there is a lot of current in this area and what we do is then let the current push us a little bit off course (to the West) until we come out of the current and then adjust the course again. This can be over a distance of some 20 miles while we are set to the West but then by catching the flow of the Gulf Stream (going North East) we come back on track again and even gain some miles. And in this day and age of saving fuel, every mile counts. So why fight the current by trying to stay on the dotted line, while the current later on pushes you back again anyway?
We have on board something unusual going on: our shopping mall is closed. Normally on the last two sea days, the guests shop to their hearts content, especially if Curacao and Aruba did not give enough satisfaction or souvenirs for the family at home. The guests had been advised of this at the beginning of the cruise, so I hope they all took pre-emptive measures. But there is a good reason for this. Holland America is changing its concessionaire. Shops, Casino, Art and also BB King and Lincoln Art are a form of concessions with which Holland America has a contract. They do not belong to the company itself. For years and years we had a company called Starboard, there roots lay (really in the mists of time as we are writing 1960’s here) in an English company called Alders. They were then absorbed in an outfit called Greyhound and they became subsequently part of this company called Starboard.
There are several of these tax free cruise ships concessionaires out there and every so often the contracts are renewed for another period. I am not privy to what these contracts entail but I know it is a mixture of what revenue part goes to Holland America but also if our guests enjoy the products which are sold on board. On one side that is hard to achieve as the complaints will always be that the prices are too high, on the other side the guests have a picture in in their mind of what they think they will find in the shops when they come on board. And as Holland America carefully notes what is in the comment on board forms, the opinions of the guests = potential shoppers = is carefully taken into account.
For reasons unknown to me, the contract has now changed and hence by Fort Lauderdale we will have a new shop organization. No doubt they will be carefully watched by our guests and the products intently scrutinized. I am regularly exposed to this process when my wife and I are making a cruise with another company and her Ladyship descends on the shops for an in-depth review. Thus I have learned that different concessions do different things and thus I hope that this new company (it is called Dufre) will bring merchandise on board the ship which will please the guests. Only downside is, I will never get my series of ship magnets complete now. Have to keep an eye on eBay for the missing ships.
What most guests do not know is that the shops originated from a private side line by the ships barbers around 1900. Gentlemen would complain that they had forgotten something or the other, while being shaved, and the barbers saw a nice bit of extra income there. It was not long before the company’s saw options here as well and by the 1920’s there were complete shops on board and on the larger ships even mini shopping malls. Normally done by the company’s themselves. That started to change in the 1960’s when it was realized that economies of scale could reduce cost and thus offer better prices to the guests (or more profit for the company) if larger numbers of ships were involved. And thus we now have shopping malls on the larger ships, run by various outside companies, and at least one mini-shop on the boutique ships.
Tomorrow we have our 2nd day at sea. With again good weather and calm seas. The guests should be happy, even without a final shopping experience.