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CNBC's Schacknow: Just Cruisin' In Panama


Regular fans of this blog (now closing in on double digits) will note that it’s been absent from the CNBC.com site this week.That’s because your breaking news producer has been spanning the globe in various exotic locales, doing exhaustive research on a variety of publicly traded companies, sparing no expense to satisfy your quest for information.

OK, I’m actually on a 10-day Panama Canal cruise with my lovely wife, Peri, enjoying a break from the day-to-day hustle and bustle of the breaking news desk. But I kid you not when it comes to information about business and publicly traded companies:

Riding The Waves: For starters, this cruise ship (Brilliance of the Seas) is owned and operated by Royal Caribbean International , parent company of the Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise lines. It’s the second biggest cruise line operator in the world behind Carnival Corp. . For numbers nerds like myself (I actually hold an MBA in accounting and I’m not ashamed to admit it), cruise ships are a fascinating study in revenues and expenses.

The cruise ship fares that passengers pay are ostensibly all inclusive, and if your primary goal is to eat as much food as possible, lie in the sun, participate in various ship activities, and go to the nighttime shows and other entertainment, it’s theoretically possible not to spend more.

On the other hand, enhancing your experience requires a bit of extra spending. Typical examples of onboard spending might be alcoholic drinks, bingo and casino gambling, tips for the waiters and cabin stewards, onboard shopping, excursions at various ports of call, or treatments at the day spa. Speaking of which--

Here’s The Rub: If you’re the type who enjoys massages and other relaxing spa treatments, the spa on board the Brilliance is operated by Steiner Leisure . The prices are about what one might pay for treatments at a high end spa at home, and, having done extensive field research, I can say the practitioners are highly skilled. Steiner has recently added more treatments to the menu (such as acupuncture) and the spas always seem to be quite busy.

Merry Isthmus: One of the more fascinating aspects of this trip was crossing the Panama Canal, built by the U.S. in the early part of last century (and given back to Panama in 1999) as a way to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific without that pesky 14-day trip around the southern tip of South America. 

There’s no EZ Pass in the Panama Canal – but it is, indeed, the toll charges that keep the Canal up and running. According to our ship’s captain, the Brilliance pays $160,000 to go through the Canal. Tolls for various vessels are based on cargo capacity (and yes, human cruise passengers are considered cargo). Smaller craft, like the ferry we took through two of the Canal’s locks pay a flat fee based on size – ours paid $1000, which probably explains the quality of the boxed lunch they gave us while on board.