CRYSTAL CHRISTENS FIRST PURPOSE BUILT RIVER CRUISE SHIP

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The band new Crystal Bach

The Rhine at Rudesheim was the picturesque backdrop for the Sunday christening ceremony for the Crystal Bach, the first purpose built new river ship for the luxury brand. The vessel, the first of a class of four, is in fact the first purpose built new ship for the Crystal brand since the launch of Crystal Serenity back in 2003.

Crystal Bach marks the evolution of the prestige Crystal experience onto a more intimate and engaging stage for prospective guests. The all suite, all balcony ship is, quite literally, in a class of her own- at least until her three siblings come on line. Unlike most ships on the rivers of Europe, she offers truly all inclusive pricing to the top end river cruise market, and she also has the added benefit of being launched by an across the board hospitality team widely regarded as being the most accomplished in their field.

In addition, reviews for start up river scion, Crystal Mozart, have been universally favourable; not as easy a start as you’d imagine for a cruise line trying to break into the famously competitive European river cruise arena.

There’s real bustle and momentum in the Crystal universe of late, what with the launching of the line’s luxurious new air cruiser, the Boeing 777 named Crystal Skye, and the imminent major surgery about to be undergone by fleet stalwart, Crystal Symphony. The scheduled October/November refit will see the fabled ship enhanced with a series of new penthouses and penthouse suites, a completely refreshed series of dining options, including open seating in the main Waterside Restaurant, and a consequent increase in the amount of on board space, as guest numbers on board will be lower as a result of some of the smaller cabins being re-crafted into larger spaces.

Interesting times and intriguing tides. As ever, stay tuned for updates.

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SAGA SAPPHIRE- THE GREAT SURVIVOR

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Saga Sapphire

This week gives me a golden opportunity to sail on a ship that I’ve been keen to see for years, when Saga Cruises’ stately Saga Sapphire leaves Dover for a short, five day Bank Holiday jaunt over to the continent. While it’s a relatively short cruise, there should be time enough to get under the skin of this 37.000 ton ship and see what she’s really all about.

Both her history and her design are worthy of note. Ordered for Hapag- Lloyd cruises as the Europa, the ship was delivered to her new owners in December 1981, and she entered commercial service the following year. By the standards of her time, Europa was a stylishly streamlined, almost space age ship, with a sharp prow, a single funnel, and ship wide vertical division with the cabins located forward, and most public rooms stacked aft, abutted by a series of tiered terrace decks. The resulting ship was a  staunch, graceful vessel that would stand the test of time.

Those cabins were large by contemporary standards, though they lacked the balconies that were not then in vogue. Europa soon gained a reputation as the most exclusive and luxurious cruise ship in the world, and her German passengers loved her. A voyage aboard her represented one of the most highly sought after travel experiences available anywhere

By 1999,  with a newer, even more lustrous Europa on the horizon, the eighteen year old ship was sold to the Asian based Star Cruises, under the name of Superstar Europe. She operated short, port intensive Far East cruises for them, being renamed as Superstar Aries by 2000.

Once more surplus to requirements, the ship passed in 2004 to the Spanish operator, Pullmantur, who restyled her as their Holiday Dream. By 2008 she had moved again, becoming the start up ship for the French accented Croisieres De France, under the name of Bleu De France. At this time, a comprehensive $30 million modernisation brought her up to modern standards, though of course she was not as large or as amenity laden as many of the new ships then entering service.

Finally, the ship was purchased by the UK based Saga Cruises in 2011, and sent for a comprehensive refit that saw the addition of several more balcony cabins, the refurbishment of much of the ship’s interior, and a complete overhaul of the on board machinery. She re-entered service in April of 2012 as the Saga Sapphire and, after a shaky maiden voyage in April of 2012, she soon settled down into popular, acclaimed service.

Today, the Saga Sapphire caters to around 720 passengers. She offers intimate, luxurious, largely inclusive travel to the over fifties UK passenger, with an emphasis on fine food and flawless, bespoke service in surroundings of casual elegance.

As with any grand dame of a certain age, the ship has some delightfully quirky elements that I’m looking forward to seeing. She’s far more sedate than stuffy, with an airy, relaxing vibe carried through on a ship that is just ‘the right size’ for a more refined, traditional style of cruising, a product where fine gastronomy prevails over fabulous gimmicks; and calm style rises above a sense of calculated frenzy.

I’ll be putting together a series of blogs on this hardy, still highly styled perennial while I’m out there, and there will also be ample photographs to come as well. You’re more than welcome to ‘step aboard’ with me as we share what I believe will be a totally agreeable voyage of exploration.

As ever, stay tuned.

CMV’S COLUMBUS SLATED TO MAKE SECOND WORLD CRUISE IN 2019

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Columbus Photo credit: Cruise and Maritime Voyages

Cruise and Maritime Voyages’ new flagship, Columbus, will make a second round the world cruise in January of 2019, following brisk bookings for her inaugural 2018 sailing.

Like the 2018 opener, the 2019 world cruise will sail round trip from London’s port of Tilbury. The 120 day epic begins on January 5th, 2019, with fares for the complete circumnavigation starting at £15,999 for two people, based on sharing an inside cabin.

Columbus will first cross the Atlantic to the Caribbean, then sail through the Panama Canal, and across the South Pacific to the palm splayed, paradise islands of French Polynesia. From there, the 63,000 ton, 1400 guest adults only ship will make a run for the highlights of new Zealand and Australia.

The ship then makes a date with the ancient, awe inspiring Asian majesty of Japan, China, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia, before cruising to India and an eventual passage through the Suez canal. Then, as a final flourish, the ship winds her way through the springtime Mediterranean before returning to Tilbury in time for the spring.

This voyage is actually the third full world cruise to be operated by Cruise and Maritime, a relative newcomer to the UK market that has added substantially to its tonnage in the last couple of years. The first was operated in 2017 by the Magellan– formerly Carnival’s Holiday. 

For those unable or unwilling to indulge in the full, four month world fest, there will be a series of shorter fly cruise options available that allow passengers the luxury of cherry picking their favoured sectors, perhaps tying them in with land stays at banner cities such as Singapore, Sydney and even Bridgetown. And, with a large number of single cabins available on board at a minimal supplement, this big, beautifully refurbished vessel offers a fine, nicely balanced and relaxed way to see the highlights of the globe.

MAGELLAN MOVES TO MEXICO FOR 2018-19 WINTER SEASON

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CMV’s Magellan

In something of a pioneering move, Cruise and Maritime Voyages will send it’s 46,000 ton, 1400 passenger Magellan to operate a series of fly cruises out of Acapulco over the winter of 2018/19.

While most mainstream Mexican Riviera cruises typically start in Los Angeles or San Diego, the ship will actually home port in the Mexican resort of Acapulco itself. The resort, famous in the sixties as a jet set destination, is undergoing something of a renaissance after many years in the doldrums. But, while cruise ships have slowly began to return to Acapulco, the deployment of Magellan out of the port makes her the first cruise ship to be based there for a couple of decades.

The route itself is something of a game changer, too. Typically, ships in the region visit the three ‘greatest hits’ ports of Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta on their week long voyages. Typically, these cruises spend at least three days at sea en route.

Placing Magellan out of Acapulco allows for a more diverse and interesting itinerary, offering up calls at Ixtapa, Manzanillo and Zihuatanejo, as well as both Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. This makes these voyages the most port intensive on offer to passengers wanting to see as much as possible of Pacific Mexico.

Originally built in 1985 as the Holiday, the mid sized Magellan was originally intended for warm weather cruising, and a comprehensive refurbishment has seen the ship very smartly adapted to suit the tastes of the British cruise passenger. The result is a ship that can offer a pleasant range of public rooms, dining options and ample deck space, while at the same time maintaining a sense of intimacy and comfort.

This new deployment of the Magellan is definitely going to be one to watch, and is a real warm weather, winter alternative to the overcrowded Caribbean circuit.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

COSTA NEOCLASSICA TO JOIN BAHAMAS PARADISE CRUISE LINE

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COSTA NEOCLASSICA. Photo credit: http://www.cruisemapper.com

The Costa NeoClassica is set to join the current, one ship Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line as of June 2018, subject to an agreement being reached with the Palm Beach port commission that would allow the line to operate more than one ship from the port. With the current ship- Bahamas Celebration (The former Costa Celebration) sailing from West Palm Beach every second day, the issuing of an agreement looks like a pretty much done and dusted deal. Between them, the two ships are expected to carry around 765,000 passengers each year.

It is as yet unclear whether the company will simply charter the Costa NeoClassica, or purchase her outright. Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line is the creation of former Norwegian Cruise Line CEO, Kevin Sheehan, and has enjoyed steady success with it’s one ship deployment out of Florida. The company has been looking to expand for some time though, as yet, it is unclear whether the new ship will operate short, port intensive cruises, or something more substantial.

Built in 1991, the Costa NeoClassica sailed for Costa in all areas of the world, most recently in Asia. An intended extension of the ship- the new mid ship section had already been constructed at considerable expense- was aborted amid huge controversy at the time.

None the less, she remains an impressive vessel at some 53.000 tons.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

SUPERSTAR LIBRA TO START CRUISNG FROM TRIO OF ASIAN HOME PORTS

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Sperstar Libra. Photo courtesy of Star Cruises

Asian specialist cruises operator, Star Cruises, has announced that it’s 42,000 ton SuperStar Libra will begin a series of three and four night cruises around Malaysia and Thiland from September 3rd.

The voyages will allow passengers to embark the ship at either Port Klang- the main port of Kuala Lumpur, at Georgetown on the Malaysian island of Penang, or at the popular Thai tourist resort of Phuket.

The idea behind the repositionng is to broaden the ship’s accessibility to passengers holidaying on mainland Malaysia and Thailand, and perhaps tempting them into adding on a short, port intensive cruise to a Far East holiday itinerary.

The ship itself has an interesting history; built for Norwegian Cruise Line in 1988 as the Seaward, she was that company’s sole new build of the entire 1980’s. She typically sailed from Miami to the Eastern and Western Caribbean on week long deployments, a role she continued in for some time after being restyled as the Norwegian Sea.

The ship became too small and inflexible to fully showcase the new Norwegian ‘Freestyle Dining’ concept of the new century. The company, then part of Genting Group, seconded the ship to it’s Asian affiliate, Star Cruises.

Renamed as Sperstar Libra, she sailed for one season in the Mediterranean, on cruises that marked the Asian operator’s one and only foray to date outside of eastern waters. Later, she would be joined in Asia by other ex-Norwegian stalwarts Superstar Aquarius (the former Norwegian Wind) and her sister ship, Superstar Gemini, the former Norwegian Dream. At one stage, the ship was sailing cruises exclusively tailored to the Indian market.

Between them, this trio of smaller, more intimate ships have proved very popular with the Asian domestic market. But, with the introduction of newer, larger ships to the Genting portfolio, there now seems to be a conscious effort afoot by Star Cruises to introudce at least one of these classic vessels to a more international market.

I hope a similar scenario plays out for the two sisters mentioned above, built in 1992 and 1993 respectively. While Star Cruises did indeed achieve regional dominance in the Asia market, there are now many more competitors muscling in and expanding in that vibrant cruise region. Some diversity is clearly needed.

Until now, the line has been astonishingly reluctant to showcase it’s highly styled and much lauded product across Europe and North America. Quite why remains something of a mystery, but perhaps this first, cautious redeployment of the fondly remembered SuperStar Libra is a postive sign. Like the Libra sign itself, it’s all about achieving a harmonious balance.

Interesting times, for sure. As ever, stay tuend for updates.

COSTA VICTORIA RETURNS, ADIEU COSTA NEOCLASSICA

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Costa Victoria

Costa cruises has sold the 50,000 ton Costa NeoClassica to an as yet undisclosed buyer. The ship will leave the Costa fleet in March, 2018, after a final season of Maldives cruises. As of June 2018, her scheduled programme of Aegean cruises out of Bari will be undertaken by the redeployed Costa NeoRiviera.

The original Costa NeoRiviera itineraries in turn will now be taken up by the Costa Victoria, making her return to the Mediterranean after a deployment to China and Japan that began back in 2012. After refurbishment in a Marseilles dry dock in late March next year, the ship will begin a series of week long, summertime sailings centered on the Spanish Balearic islands.

The route comprises a Savona departure, and sails to Olbia in Sardinia, Mahon in Minorca, then an overnight stop in Ibiza, before calling at Palma de Mallorca and a final, overnight call at Tarragona, on mainland Spain. These cruises are currently slated to start in June, and what the ship will do between March and then is currently unspecified.

None the less, the return of the one off Costa Victoria to the Mediterranean makes for a welcome breath of fresh air. And the sale of Costa NeoClassica surely raises questions over the future of her sole surviving sister ship- Costa NeoRomantica- within the Costa portfolio.

While no buyer has been announced yet for the departing,  1991 built Costa NeoClassica, it is a matter of record that the UK based company, Thomas Cook, is looking for a pair of start up vessels for a cruise line of it’s own. Thus far, Thomas Cook has remained tight lipped about just which ships it is hoping to acquire.

Could it be that both the Costa stalwarts might soon be reunited, and sailing under the British flag?

Stay tuned for updates.