ALL CHANGE FOR CELESTYAL; MAJESTY IN THE AEGEAN FOR THE SUMMER OF 2018

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Majesty at San Sebastian, La Gomera. Photo by Anthony Nicholas

After her return from Thomson Cruises this coming November of 2017, it had been intended to send the 40,000 ton, 1400 passenger Celestyal Majesty (currently still sailing as the Thomson Majesty) to Cuba after a short refit. That plan has now been sunk.

Instead, it seems that the ship will lay up for the first two months of the year, before entering service on the three and four day run out of Athens to the Greek Islands and Turkey in late March.

Three day cruises will sail from Piraeus each Friday, offering a call in Mykonos that same evening. Next morning, passengers can choose between an early morning visit to Samos, or a shorter call into Kusadasi, before an early evening visit to Patmos.

Next day finds the ship at Heraklion in the morning, with an early evening visit to Santorini, before arriving back into Piraeus on the following Monday.

The four day, Monday sailings follow an identical route, except for an added, full day call into Rhodes after the Patmos call. In this guise, the Celestyal Majesty is offering the pretty much tried and tested ‘short run’ options that have proved so popular for several years now.

But it’s the following, seven day Idyllic Aegean itineraries that are really making waves. Beginning on April 30th, the Celestyal Majesty will offer a seven night cruise running through to October that offers no less than three overnight stays in two of Greece’s most compelling high spots.

 

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Mykonos at dusk. Photo by Anthony Nicholas

Sailing in late afternoon, the Celestyal Majesty arrives at Mykonos just before midnight that same day, there to begin a two day and night stay in the platinum chip people watching capital of the Dodecanese. Passengers can come and go from the ship as and when they wish during this extended stay- the only one of its kind-at the Aegean’s most hedonistic hot spot.

The ship then sails on to further calls at Ios and Milos, before a third full overnight stay in Santorini. There is an afternoon call into Crete’s capital of Heraklion, before a final day that again offers the options of either an early start to Samos, or a longer day in Kusadasi, before the ship returns to Piraeus the next day.

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Aegean Islands sunset. Photo by Anthony Nicholas

These new cruises- similar to the ones being offered aboard the smaller Celestyal Nefeli this year- have really upped the ante in the Greek local market. While still very port intensive, the included possibility of three full nights ashore (though it’s not likely that the ship would run all night tender service into Santorini) on a larger ship, really marks a significant notch up in the local product offering.

Shore excursions in the ports, as well as an all inclusive drinks package, are offered to UK passengers as part of the overall cruise price. And, while Celestyal does not offer a fly cruise programme, flights and transfers to Athens are easily arranged independently.

From London, Manchester and Edinburgh, Easyjet has direct flights to Athens. Ryanair flies to Athens from Stansted. Air France and KLM serve Athens from twenty one UK airports via their respective hubs at Paris and Amsterdam.

Celestyal Majesty herself is the perfect size for cruising to the smaller, more secluded ports of the Greek Islands, as well as the ‘Greatest Hits’ ports such as Mykonos. While she does not have numerous balcony cabins or multiple restaurants, she is a pretty ship, both inside and out, that will offer her passengers an authentically intimate, local Greek style experience, with food and entertainment crafted to fit the environment through which the ship will be sailing.

Standard inside and outside cabins are of roughly the same size; not huge, but big and comfortable enough for a week where passengers will be spending much of their time ashore. And, while wardrobe space might be tight, you won’t need a huge amount of formal wear for what is a very footloose, free and easy kind of cruise experience.

Highly recommended for sure.

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OOSTERDAM DOUBLES UP HOLLAND AMERICA’S MEXICO ROSTER

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Holland America Line’s Oosterdam

In a move that has come as a further sign in the revival of the Mexican Riviera market, Holland America Line has announced that the 1,920 passenger Oosterdam will join her sister ship, Westerdam, on cruises to the region this coming autumn.

Both of the ships- members of Holland America’s Vista class ships- will sail from the port of San Diego on a series of seven night, round trip cruises to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. Oosterdam will undertake her first cruise on September 30th, with Westerdam joining her in service from the California port on November 24th.

San Diego offers the easiest city to port access of any west coast American port in the region and, with direct flights now available on British Airways from Heathrow, the cultured, sophisticated city on the bay makes for a wonderful pre or post departure stay in it’s own right.

The arrival of Oosterdam marks an act of faith on the part of Holland America in the steadily resurgent Mexican Riviera market. For years, the trade was decimated because of adverse press reports on the levels of crime in Mexican ports, and at Mazatlan in particular. But in the last few years, local authorities have gone to great lengths to restore a sense of safety and security in all of the ports.

The season typically operates between November and March, though Carnival does sail the same route year round from Long Beach, and Norwegian Cruise Line also has the Norwegian Jewel sailing to the Riviera through this coming winter, also from Los Angeles.

Interesting developments in this part of the world, for sure. As ever, stay tuned.

LOUIS AURA CHARTERED TO ESTUR FOR 2017 SEASON

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Louis Aura

According to the well respected Cruise Industry News website (www.cruiseindustrynews.com) the laid up, 1968 built Louis Aura will begin a season of three and four night cruises for the Turkish operator, Estur, this summer.

The much loved ship, originally famous as Norwegian Caribbean’s Starward, will operate from the Turkish port of Cesme on a series of three and four night cruises to the Greek Islands. The cruises begin effective June 24th this year, with prices beginning at 199 euros per person.

If true, the news represents an astonishing, albeit very welcome reprieve for one of the cruise industry’s original pioneers; a much loved ship that has introduced many people to cruising over five successful decades.

For a few years, the Louis Aura was chartered out to a French operator called Rivages du Monde. This author can remember seeing her in the unlikely setting of Saint Petersburg in the summer of 2015. But, once that final charter finished, the ship was laid up and Celestyal Cruises, the offshoot of original owners Louis Group, showed no interest in reviving the ship. Most people took this as a sign that the Louis Aura had, indeed, come to the end of her days.

So the news that this lovely ship looks like having at least one last season in the sun will be welcomed by ship lovers all over the world. Let’s hope that Estur make this a yearly event.

For any updates, stay tuned.

STAR FLYER- THE WIND AND THE WAVES

 

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The stately Star Flyer in her natural element

She seems like a living, breathing anachronism in an age of ever more gimmicky, sensational cruise ships. There is no rock climbing wall, no dodgems, floor shows or ice rinks. No raft of alternative restaurants or string of glittering gift shops. But sometimes, less truly is more.

‘She’ happens to be the Star Flyer, one of a trio of sailing ships run by the Monaco based Star Clippers. Though she has mechanical power, the bulk of her progress is achieved via the vast acreage of sails that drape each one of her quartet of towering masts.

Bathed in early spring sunshine as she lay snoozing in the afternoon sun at Piraeus, the Star Flyer was a stunning spectacle. With the sharp, needle point bowsprit and the long, languid sheer of her snow white hull, she is a renowned jaw dropper of epic proportions. But step aboard, and you enter what seems to be a kind of time warp.

On deck, ropes and rigging dominate the bone white wooden decks. Sure, there are sun loungers, and even a pair of plunge pools. But if ever a ship showed her sinews at every turn, it has to be the Star Flyer.

Inside, you are drawn deeper into the world of this awesome, seemingly anachronistic dream. A world of polished wood and brass, glittering glass and walls framed with paintings of long gone sailing ships. Carpets are dark blue, with old rope knots weaved into the pattern. The cabins are compact little bolt holes, with just about enough storage space. There’s a functional bathroom, beds with duvets, and a pair of gleaming, glass framed port holes that would soon be regularly assailed by sparkling blue Aegean salt water.

It’s all surreal, very ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’ stuff. But when the Star Flyer unfurled a series of vast sails like so many lowering theatre curtains, the silence could have been cut with a knife. Conversations stopped; jaws dropped. And, without even the suspicion of a shudder, this magnificent, sea going cathedral of a clipper ship ghosted out of a moonlit Piraeus harbour, and out on to Homer’s ancient, fabled ‘wine dark sea’ of history.

Only the barely audible strains of Vangelis’ ‘1492- Conquest of Paradise’ flooded the air as a milk warm breeze caught the sails of our ship. The Star Flyer seemed to give a delighted shudder, she heeled smartly in response and, without ceremony or frivolity, we began our week long dance with the wind, the waves, and a gathering sense of wonder that would carry us as if on some magical flying carpet…….

WAS CAPTAIN SMITH CONCERNED ABOUT TITANIC?

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Captain Edward Smith in tropical white uniform, possibly on the bridge of the Olympic

Over the years, the much maligned and romanticised Captain Smith of the Titanic has posthumously come across as something of a casual, urbane chancer; a man whose breezy manner of doing things was the ultimate catalyst for the worst maritime disaster of the time. But was he really so blase about commanding the largest moving object on the face of the planet?

Smith was the senior captain of the White Star Line. As commodore, his £1200 a year salary was more than double that of his nearest rival. And no wonder; the socially adept and much admired Smith was considered the most popular skipper on the Atlantic, both by passengers and crew alike. He seems to have been one of those genuinely unique men that could forge bonds with people from across the world.

He was also famously in thrall to modern, twentieth century technology. In the summer of 1907, when he brought the then brand new, 24,000 ton Adriatic into Southampton to begin her maiden voyage, he said this to the assembled press;

I cannot conceive of any vital accident that would cause this ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that….”

But did subsequent events shake that complacent view? There is no record of how Smith reacted to the sinking of another White Star liner- the Republic- just two years after he made that fatuous pronouncement in Southampton. But it cannot have failed to have impacted on him.

It certainly impacted on the management at White Star, but not in a positive way; all of the passengers and crew of the slowly sinking Republic had been safely evacuated to other, nearby ships by the liner’s own lifeboats. And this fact prompted a seismic shift of perspective that would impact the Titanic and her captain just as fatally as the iceberg itself.

Post Republic, the management chose to look on lifeboats in general as ferry boats that would simply convey passengers from a sinking ship to rescue vessels, summoned by the miraculous new wireless telegraphy. They completely disavowed the notion that those same lifeboats might have to serve as survival craft in themselves for everybody on board. This complacent, delusional self satisfaction was at least partly responsible for the fatal dearth of lifeboats on the Titanic on that fateful night in April, 1912.

As for Smith, his triumphant ascent to command of the stunning new Olympic in June of 1911 seemed inevitable. Now he stood on the bridge of a ship twice as large as the Adriatic; in fact, a ship that was bigger than anything else ever seen. And trouble was not long in following.

As the Olympic attempted to dock at her New York pier for the first time, the surge created by her propellers sucked in a harbour tug like a bobbing cork, before the whirling blades neatly severed it at the stern. All told, it took eighteen tugs a full hour to dock the new ‘marvel’ at the end of an otherwise triumphant maiden crossing. Did this incident send any alarm bells ringing in Smith’s ivory tower?

Just three months later, the Olympic began her stately progress down Southampton Water at the start of another crossing to New York. Proceeding on a parallel course on her starboard side was a Royal Navy cruiser, the HMS Hawke.

Somehow, the suction from the giant Olympic sucked in the relatively small cruiser, swinging her to starboard and instigating a collision that left the reeling cruiser’s bow resembling so much sodden cardboard.

As for the Olympic, the impact tore an eighty foot hole in her starboard side, right aft. By God’s good grace there were no casualties, but it did mean the abortion of the voyage, and a trip to Belfast for repairs that took a full six weeks.

At the time of the accident, Olympic was under the command of Captain Smith, though the local harbour pilot, George Bowyer, was in charge of handling the ship at the time. All the same this incident was by far the most serious that Smith had ever been involved in over his thirty seven year career. If that did not give him food for thought, it certainly should have done. Or did the fact that the Olympic survived with no loss of life merely deepen his faith in this new, more technologically advanced breed of super liner?

Whatever, the Olympic accident did nothing to dent White Star’s faith in it’s star commodore. April 1912 found him in command of the newer, slightly larger Titanic. Her sixteen day, round trip maiden voyage to New York and back was expected to be Smith’s last hurrah. Once done, he could look forward to a long, honourable retirement.

It all went pear shaped at the start. As the Titanic edged gingerly downstream from the White Star dock, the suction from her propellers pulled the smaller New York away from her pier. Mooring ropes on the old American liner snapped like cotton, and her stern swung out like a battering ram. Only the frantic action of stopping the engines on Titanic, and the perceptive intervention of a local tug, prevented a serious and embarrassing collision between the two ships.

Up on the bridge of the slowly proceeding Titanic, the same duo of Smith and Bowyer must have seen these events unfold with scarce concealed horror. It had almost been the Olympic and the Hawke all over again. And it did seem to have an impact on Smith.

That evening, after taking on more passengers at Cherbourg, Smith took the Titanic through a series of lazy ‘S’ turns. He continued this process all the way through the English Channel, and right up to the entrance to his last port of call at Queenstown, in Southern Ireland on the following lunch time.

What provoked this? It seems that this third mishap with an Olympic class liner in enclosed waters prompted some deep, residual concern in Smith. All three near disasters had occurred within the space of ten months, and all in plain sight of the self same captain.

In all, the speed and handling trials of the Olympic had lasted a scant two days. For the Titanic, they took up a mere eight hours. This, for the two biggest moving objects on the face of the planet; two ships that were expected to navigate both huge oceans and shallow, crowded waterways alike. Perhaps the truth of that had finally come home to Smith and, in making his series of lazy, meandering turns en route to Ireland, he was attempting to get a better sense of the intricacies of steering his awesome new command.

However, that concern seemed only to apply to enclosed waters. Once clear of Ireland and with only the open ocean in front of him, Smith reverted to a cavalier, increasingly upped rate of speed. Ultimately, he was doing exactly what he had done- and got away with- for thirty eight years. But this time, it would go horribly wrong.

The long odds finally caught up with this most highly regarded of captains just four nights later, when the Titanic ran pell mell into a vast, eighty mile region of floating ice. The rest is history. If only Smith’s belated concerns about sailing in harbour waters had extended to a more cautious approach to charging head long through ice filled waters, then things might have played out very differently on that starlit Sunday evening of April 14th, 1912.