ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL ORDERS SIXTH OASIS CLASS SHIP

OASIS
Symphony of The Seas, one of the vast Oasis Class cruise ships currently in service

Royal Caribbean International has placed a formal order for a sixth Oasis-class vessel with delivery aimed for in the autumn of 2023, it has been confirmed today.

The new, as yet nameless vessel will be built at the famed French shipyard of Chantiers De L’Atlantique at Saint Nazaire.

The news comes as speculation continues that at least one of this gigantic class of vessels will eventually be dispatched to the Far East. Today’s announcement now makes that move look more likely than not.

It’s also a staggering statement of intent, as these groundbreaking new vessels continue to arrive at quite a rate of knots. Royal Caribbean’s previous landmark achievement in completing the six-ship Vision Class in the mid to late 1990’s look positively tame by comparison. And even the subsequent Voyager class only ran to a five unit build.

This is yet another surge of forward momentum from this vast, maritime juggernaut of a company. Right now, Royal Caribbean International looks to be quite literally unstoppable.

Advertisements

MANO CRUISES UNVEILS ‘NEW’ CROWN IRIS

CROWN IRIS
The Crown iris, ex Norwegian Majesty, in her new livery. Photo credit; Mano Cruises

Israeli niche cruise operator, Mano Cruises, has just unveiled it’s new flagship, the 41,000 ton Crown Iris.

The much travelled ship (she began life in 1992 as the Royal Majesty) has benefited from an extensive refurbishment over the winter that entailed enhancements to all cabins and suites on board, as well as new decor and soft furnishings across many of the public areas on Five Deck.

Five restaurants are available for around 1400 passengers on a  series of sailings from the port of Haifa. These range from two, three, four and five night ‘taster’ cruises to full, ten to fourteen day Mediterranean itineraries. The inaugural cruise is a fourteen day voyage to Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean, scheduled to sail on March 3rd.

Nothing structural seems to have been done to change the vessel, other than the addition of a small, spiral water slide to the smaller, aft pool on the upper deck. That same upper deck now features new outdoor furniture as well.

Crown Iris takes over the role of the Golden Iris, fondly remembered by many as the Cunard Princess. The company has retained that ship, though it intends to try and charter her out in the foreseeable future. For now at least, Mano Cruises remains very much a one ship operation.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

CRUISING THE NILE; LIFE ON BOARD, AND SOME OTHER THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW…

NILE REIVER CRUISER

For many, a cruise on the Nile is, quite simply, the trip of a lifetime. In terms of getting right up close and personal to one of the most amazing and storied civilisations of the past, it ticks just about every box that you could possibly dream of.

You get to see and savour those incredible sights from a safe, comfortable base that feeds you, accommodates and cossets you, and then delivers you into a whole raft of stunning historical hot spots. And you get to see those sites in the company of some highly qualified, hugely knowledgeable guides whose collective expertise alone is arguably worth the journey.. For sure, there’s a lot to be said for taking such a safe, comfortable way to see the ‘greatest hits’ of Egypt in such a quiet, elegant, Olde Worlde kind of style.

But there are some things that you should prep for before you go; things that might, if taken heed of and allowed for in advance, actually enhance the quality of you trip even further. So, without further ado, let’s look at some of them….

DON’T DRINK THE TAP WATER. EVER.

No ifs, no buts, just don’t. Don’t even use the stuff for brushing your teeth, either. Instead, always use bottled water and, when doing so, first ensure that the seal of the cap isn’t broken, either.

Want ice in your drink? First, check that the ice on board has actually been made from bottled water, rather than the stuff emanating from the taps. It takes no time at all to ask, and you might just save yourself from a whole world of pain and discomfort.

DO EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED….

Don’t just make the blithe assumption that your river boat will be patronised solely by passengers belonging to the Anglo-Saxon speaking races. Interest in Egypt is universal, and people from all corners of the globe share that same curious, almost reverent sense of wonder that brought you there in the first place, too.

On our recent voyage, we had small groups of Chinese, Japanese, Americans, French, and even a few Australians on board. In general, the different nationalities stuck together on board at mealtimes, and during free time in the lounge, or out on deck. There was very little real crossover-cultural or actual-between any of them.

This is not as surprising as it might seem; after all, each group had its own, dedicated tour guide on board. Each of these was fluent in the national language of the group and, because of his (or her) knowledge and depth of experience, their accessibility and ability to communicate, each nationality naturally enough tended to pivot around their own guides. This isn’t snobbery, and certainly not a racist thing; it was simply a practical way of making the best of your time, both on board and ashore.

FUNNY FOOD?

Because the river boats sometimes cater for several different nationalities at once, there’s an obvious need to provide at least some kind of comfort food for each one. Conversely, there are always going to be some people who, quite unsurprisingly, want to try some of the more staple local Egyptian local dishes.

On the other hand, the river boats are relatively small, as are the galleys that turn out each of the three main meals for up to 180 guests per day, not to mention the crew. The ability to collect and collate fresh supplies as they sail up and down the Nile is pretty limited; the local infrastructure is inadequate to support the moving of such quantities.

So don’t expect the wealth of taste and choices that you would find on, say, a Royal Caribbean cruise. There simply isn’t the space or the scope to create it.

In general, breakfast, lunch and dinner are buffet self service, though sometimes for dinner you will be offered the choice of a main course that you usually pick out on the previous lunchtime. Typically, these revolve around beef, chicken or fish.

You’ll usually sit for all three main meals at tables assigned to your tour group for the entire duration of the trip. When sailing the river on sunny days, sometimes a lunchtime buffet up on deck will replace sit down lunch in the dining room. And afternoon tea, complete with the gorgeous biscuits, cakes and crepes for which the Egyptians are rightly known, is definitely not to be missed as you cruise the Nile. It’s an indulgent little bit of down time and-should you need an excuse-just consider it as a rightly earned reward for all that dutiful traipsing that you did ashore, earlier in the day.

EXPECT QUIET NIGHTS…..

If you’ve come here hoping to find a late night party boat, you’ve probably come to the wrong place. Egypt is a cultural binge where the emphasis is on feeding the mind and soul, rather than potentially hammering the liver. In general, bars on most river boats are empty by eleven o’clock at night, though you can usually order drinks via room service if you feel the need.

The size and scale of the river boats means that you can forget the glitzy casinos and fast paced floor shows, as well as the cosy piano bars found on the big, ocean going cruise ships. Most after dinner conversation revolves around recounting the visual highlights of the day over a couple of nightcaps.

Again, this should hardly be surprising. Many tours necessitate an early morning start just to avoid the extreme excess of Egypt’s mid day heat. And, if the sheer intoxication of all that fabulous history all around you isn’t enough-then, in all honesty, you really probably shouldn’t be here at all.

So; there we have it. Just a few tips from my personal point of view, and gleaned from conversations had with others. Just come with an open mind, and go home with a heart and soul filled with wonder.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I travelled with Discover Egypt on this trip. If you’re liking the look of this adventure, you’ll find their website at: http://www.discoveregypt.co.uk

CRUISING THE NILE-EGYPT’S TIMELESS TREASURE

nile
Cruising the mighty River Nile

The Nile at twilight; a small boat emerges from the forest of reeds that throng the river bank. On board, two teenage boys cast nets into a river already tinted a shade of burnished rust by the setting sun. From somewhere behind them, the asthmatic braying of a donkey cuts through the air like a buzz saw.

Stage left, and a cluster of squat, feathery date palms stand like blackened ramparts against the sky. A hawk soars overhead in the warm evening currents, looking for any unsuspecting prey that might have scampered down to the river’s edge. Meanwhile, the muezzins’s evening call to prayer echoes across the water as the minarets of a mosque, it’s ochre base tinted rose red by the sunset, splinters the skyline off to port.

A herd of cows grazes indolently at the water’s edge, no longer fearing attacks these days from the flotillas of Nile crocodiles that once used to cruise these same waters like so many predatory U-boats. The building in 1960 of the great High Dam at Aswan effectively banished these great, freshwater assassins-the single most fearsome predator on the planet- back behind the safety of it’s immutable concrete barrier.

There is more. Clusters of single story adobe buildings made of mud brick huddle around open spaces at the water’s edge, with groups of playing children shouting and waving as the river boats pass by. A cart, heavily overladen with cut sugar cane, clops by at a crawl. Here and there, car horns toot impatiently at who knows what. In random sentry towers strung out along the waterfront, soldiers lounging idly out of the openings take long draws on sparking cigarettes at the start of yet another, interminable evening shift.

Here and there, bridges vault the width of the ancient river, and electricity pylons stand at attention like petrified giants of old. It’s sedate, serene, utterly spellbinding stuff.

Our boat swishes downstream with an aloof, indifferent stance that echoes to perfection the progress of royal barges belonging to Akhenaton, Cleopatra, Rameses the Great and a whole host of other long gone pharaohs that once held sway across this timeless, legendary land. I find myself musing idly as to whether Tutankhamun himself felt the same sense of rare, detached wonder as I did right then as he gazed at this same, immutable scene. Certainly, it has changed very, very little indeed since his days.

Beyond all of this, ranges of low, rolling limestone hills stand, smooth and sharp etched against the flaring umber twilight. They resemble nothing so much as slumbering, mythical monsters of old. Here, in this land of legend, lore, and often very liberal interpretation, the line between truth and fantasy is sometimes as finely drawn as the strands of a spider’s web.

Beyond this natural barrier of reeds, trees and stone lies an embarrassment of scenic glories that still staggers the human heart and mind with it’s sheer scale, symmetry and magnificence. The tombs, monuments and ageless, immutable majesty of ancient Egypt constitute what is, collectively, the greatest single archaeological theme park anywhere on the planet. Nothing else on Earth even begins to compare to it.

This, then, was the promise that lay beyond the padded loungers and gently swaying parasols that lined the sun deck of the M.S. Tulip, our very own ‘royal barge’ for the week. Along her flanks, the age old River Nile hissed and swished by, fanning out in her wake to form an unbroken thread that joined us directly to that fabulous, storied past. Ahead lay what can only be described as the adventure of a lifetime; Egypt, up close and personal.

Consider this intro as your personal invite to join me for the rest of the journey……

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: For those of you who have already asked (and for anyone else who might be curious) I travelled with http://www.discoveregypt.co.uk

SHORT BUT SWEET; LONG HAUL TRIPS IN A WEEK….

maj
Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of The Seas is perfect for a short break cruise

If a week is, indeed, a long time in politics (and right now it seems like an eternity on both sides of the Atlantic), then the idea of a week away from politics, holidaying somewhere warm or maybe just satisfying some deep, latent wanderlust, has to be the gift that keeps on giving.

Nor do you have to limit yourself to something ‘local’ of you’re a resident of, say, western Europe. A flight of around ten hours will take you from some rain lashed runway in February to the shimmering, salsa fulled heat of sultry, sophisticated Miami. It’s a long hop for sure, but it’s a bold one. And, if changing your scenery and mood is a big thing for you, then this is one very bold step indeed.

Let me propose the following to see if it floats your boat, as it were…

Get on that plane, and fly to Miami. Leave Brexit and all that other bone chilling stuff flailing in your slipstream, and instead spend two days working on your tan on South Beach. Add cocktails in the sun for good measure, and a solid stretch of languid people watching as you do so. Not bad for starters, eh?

Feel the long, gloomy days of winter fall away like some damp, unwelcome overcoat as you board some gleaming white dream palace at the Port of Miami, for a three or four night mini cruise to the banner ports of the Bahamas and the Western Caribbean. Add Nassau, Cozumel, Key West or maybe even sensuous, sublime Havana to your own, personal playlist. Top up with a potent splash of adrenaline, and you’ll soon be grinning like a kid as your ship’s whistle booms out across Bayside, and you begin to nudge ahead, sailing between those hula waving rows of palm trees that line both sides of Government Cut. From there on in, the sense of sheer, almost wickedly indulgent fun will take over like some kind of subtly pre-programmed auto pilot. Best to just kick back, and not fight it at all…..

Sure, those days will pass by at a frantic rate of knots. Don’t think of it as a holiday; this is more of a fairground ride, paced at warp speed. It will be noisy, and will most probably lack any real, ingrained finesse. It’s exhilaration rather than sophistication, more roistering than ritzy. Fun in the sun when you should (in theory) be shivering at home. Take it for what it is, and you’ll own it like some surfer besting a class ten roller.

You can be a beach baby at Coco Cay, Great Stirrup Cay or even Nassau for the day en route. Cold beer in your hand, warm sand between your toes, blue skies up ahead. Para gliders ghosting across the sky; the roar of a jet ski tearing up the briny… this is no normal Tuesday in February, that much is for sure.

And, when you do get back to Miami, why not gift yourself one last day of fun and adventure before flying home? Go out and see the magnificent visual smorgasbord of the Everglades on an adrenaline pumping air boat ride, go shopping on Bayside, or just take in one last day of sun on South Beach? There are no bad options here; just different levels of indulgence.

Yes, it’s a long way to go for a week, and one hell of a lot to pack in, too. But that’s the hole point; get out there, eschew the ordinary and set a bead for the borderline outrageous. Give winter the drop kick. Put down that snow shovel, and pick up an ice cold Mojito at sunset.

Food for thought?  Lord, yes, I think so. In point of fact, I think I might just have sold myself on this.

See you out there….

CHANGING THE PLOT; WINTER CRUISING’S SHAKE UP

MARCO POLO
CMV’s popular Marco Polo is a veteran of the winter cruise circuit

Cruise ships and sunshine; the two go almost hand in hand in popular perception, just as they always have. Broad, sun splashed lido decks full of people soaking up the indolent seagoing lifestyle, has been at the heart of cruising’s grand, global pitch since the early 1920’s.

But that is now starting to change over the winter months…..

These days, many people are simply put off by the perennially overcrowded winter Caribbean cruise circuit, with it’s flotillas of vast, floating leviathans routinely descending on the same, cowed, cluster of islands. And the idea of flying long haul in advance certainly puts off many other people these days, too.

The result is that many cruise lines are now getting really creative with winter itineraries. And warm weather cruising-even in the depths of a European winter-is by no means the Holy Grail that it once was.

The Mediterranean is now a full on, year round cruising destination. Both MSC Cruises and Costa have a robust, year round presence in the seven to twelve day cruise markets in the region, with cruises that sail from Barcelona, Genoa and Venice, among others. Short flight times, together with much less crowded tourist sites, both make for quite impressive plus points. And, while the cooler temperatures may not fire everybody’s enthusiasm, the region in winter is still generally sunny, with clear visibility to boot.

Of course, the true, die hard sun worshippers can still set sail for the Canary Islands. You can neatly avoid the joys of a winter time Bay of Biscay buffeting by flying to join your ship at any one of a whole raft of Italian and Spanish embarkation ports, and then sailing from there. And many of those same ports also benefit from having frequent, good priced air lift from the UK and mainland Europe via a string of no frills, budget airlines.

Most unexpected, however, has been the slow but steady growth in winter cruising to the Baltic, North West Europe, and even Northern Norway. Round trip sailings from the UK on lines such as Cruise and Maritime Voyages, Fred. Olsen, P&O and even Cunard, can take you to some amazing, pre-Christmas market cities such as Copenhagen, Hamburg and Oslo. You can count on bitingly cold days that are still quite often blessed with amazing clear visibility. Crowds are much thinner, and you also get a much different, calmer take on cities than the crowds which flock to those same streets and squares in the long, light summer nights.

Another growth area is in cruises to witness the bone chilling, ethereal flourish of the Northern Lights, the spectacular natural panorama that quite literally lights up the skies of North West Norway during the long winter months. Both Fred. Olsen Cruises and Cruise and Maritime Voyages have found these cruises to be slow but consistent growers over the winter season.

Growing numbers of people each year are now more willing than ever to eschew that once mandatory winter sun tan for a raft of more eclectic, arcane adventures at sea. The convenience of home port departures, coupled with good pricing and fuelled by simple, neatly tailored marketing, has created a series of natty, nicely packaged travel options for the winter that are guaranteed to pique the curiosity of today’s most avid cruising fans.

GREEK ISLANDS TO BECOME YEAR ROUND CRUISE DESTINATION?

MYKONOS
Mykonos

As a rule, the main season for cruising the Greek islands runs from early March through to mid November, at least in terms of shorter cruises. But the region’s most consistent and destination immersive operator-Celestyal Cruises- is finally set to change all of that.

Beginning this year, the company will extend it’s main range offering of three, four and seven night cruises by a full month on either side, with the eventual aim of making the sailings a full, year round operation. At present, the line’s brace of intimate, smaller ships- Celestyal Crystal and Celestyal Olympia- typically lay up at the Greek port of Piraeus during the winter months, before resuming their respective cruise programmes the following spring.

As with anything, cruising those waters during these off season months throws up a whole raft of potential pros and cons. Here’s just a few thoughts of mine that you might care to take on board, pun wholly intentional.

CROWD NUMBERS WILL BE MUCH LOWER

In these destination rich waters, sightseeing is everything for a great many people. Nowhere else on earth offers up such a vast, vibrant palette of alluring historical sites and world famous attractions as those fabled, wine dark waters, and the clusters of often arid islands that sheer up out of them. And, of course, in the long, hot months of the summer season, they are often bursting beyond capacity with tourists. It’s not the ideal season for in depth exploration, to be sure.

Come summer, and whole flotillas of giant cruise ships descend upon this perennially popular region. One or two of these large ships at, say, Santorini (and that’s usually an absolute daily minimum in high summer) can disgorge a staggering nine thousand visitors ashore in one stupendous outpouring. The pressure on the local infrastructure is obvious and intense, as is the searing, pitiless heat that you’ll be subjected to as well.

Those quieter, off season months thin these same crowds out quite dramatically, as the bulk of those self same huge resort ships return to the Caribbean for winter. As a result, the entire Greek Islands region feels calmer, more tranquil and hushed. An ideal time for getting ‘up close and personal’ to those sites that you’ve always wanted to see. But, on the other hand…..

THE WEATHER MIGHT NOT BE KIND…

Sure, the temperatures can be quite mellow, with the Aegean region sometimes getting up to a positively balmy seventeen degrees centigrade, even in February. Typically, temperatures are lower than that, but it’s still agreeably mild. Perfect, in fact, for sightseeing.

The real problem can be the wind, which can whip up the sea on a regular basis at this time of year. And, because so many of those same popular Greek ports require you to go ashore by tender, there’s a real chance that you might end up missing one, or maybe more, of the banner ports of call should the sea kick up.

Still, safety has to come first, and no captain worth his salt would ever consider exposing his passengers to even the merest hint of danger. While potentially disappointing, your continued existence is much more important than taking a chance on getting you ashore to traipse around the likes of, say, Patmos. In the end, the weather can always be a factor, just as it can be on any cruise.

It’s also worth remembering that, as so many of these islands are clustered together in close proximity to each other, the captain can almost always take you to some other interesting little idyll in the event of a cancellation. Think of it as a form of ‘magical history tour’ and you won’t be too far off the mark.

PRICES ARE NICER….

From a European perspective, air fares to the prime Greek embarkation port of Athens are always cheaper in winter than over the peak summer season. There’s no shortage of good, quality priced air lift into Greece and, this being winter, overnight hotel stays will also be much cheaper.

LESS KIDS AROUND…..

If other people’s children are an issue for you on holiday, then obviously the patter of tiny footfall is going to be a lot slacker- and possibly even non existent, in fact-over those somnolent winter months. It follows that the ships themselves will often be a lot less crowded than in the fun filled, hectic hugger mugger of the long summer nights. More space, and an easier pace. The common sense here is obvious.

IT’S QUIETER ASHORE, TOO….

Banner ports of call such as Mykonos, Rhodes and Santorini will have many food and drink outlets closed up during the quieter winter months, but not by any means all of them. There will obviously be less choice and diversity than during peak season, and the overall pace of life ashore will feel much slower. Depending on your mindset, this could be either a boon or a bust.

So; there you go. You pay your money, and you make your choice. It’s entirely over to you but, as an avowed fan of the Greek islands experience in the long summer months, I am more than a little intrigued as to how those same islands would strike me during the calmer, cooler, less crowded days of winter.

And I don’t think that I’m alone on that one, either.

Elegant luxury travel on sea, land and by air, past, present and future