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….

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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.

OCEANIA TO BUILD NEW DUO OF DREAM SHIPS

MARINA

It’s official; Oceania Cruises has placed an order with Trieste’s ever busy Fincantieri shipyard for a brace of new 67,000 ton, 1,200 guest cruise ships. Slated for delivery in 2022 and 2025 respectively, these new ‘Allura’ class ships build on the success of the first pair of bespoke new builds, the successful duo of Marina and Riviera.

Ten years between these two classes of ships allows for a certain amount of fresh thinking and fine tuning. The new vessels will carry something like fifty passengers less than the early ships, while being around a thousand tons larger each. And each one comes with a hefty price tag of around 565 million euros in all.

Once again, the new ships will place an emphasis on the diverse, superlative cuisine for which Oceania has deservedly become a byword in recent years. Both ships will build on the popular design elements and classically inherent elegance of their fleet mates, while also showcasing an as yet unspecified series of enhancements and distinctive design and leisure highlights that will make them quite unique in their own right.

These two new vessels will bring the Oceania fleet up to eight ships in all; it’s a nice balance between the larger, more diverse ships and the original, more intimate quartet of 30,000 ton former R-class vessels with which the line built it’s name and crafted it’s niche.

Those four vessels are currently in the middle of a $100, 000, 000 refurbishment project-known as OceaniaNEXT-that will allow them to take on board the best design elements of Marina and Riviera, while simultaneously honing and enhancing them for the deluxe, destination intensive itineraries for which they have already become very well known.

As of now, both Marina and Riviera themselves will also undergo further enhancements, in April, 2019 and May, 2020 respectively.

All of this should help to position Oceania Cruises at the vanguard of casual, deluxe cruising for the next couple of decades or so at least. With two distinct sizes and style of ships, united by a common focus on exquisite dining and excellent, personalised service, this line has to be one of the most beautifully balanced products in the modern cruise industry today.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

COMING NEXT ON TRAVELS WITH ANTHONY; A WEEK ON THE NILE

nile
Cruising the timeless Nile

As winter hangs over the UK and continental Europe like some kind of damp, tousled blanket, why not join me next month on a trip back in time along one of the most renowned and enduring waterways in the world- the mighty River Nile.

Here, more than five thousand years of matchless history unfolds like a series of muffled drum rolls along the palm splayed, Felucca studded river that is still the very life blood of Egypt. We’ll sail the same waters as Cleopatra, Akhenaton, Rameses the Great and a whole host of other famous names as our river boat- the lovely M.S. Tulip- gets up close and personal to some of the most stupendous preserved temples and tombs anywhere in the civilised world.

We’ll wander like awestruck children through the haunting, silent sandstone expanse of the Valley of The Kings, and gaze in disbelief at the jaw dropping grandeur of the vast temples at Karnak, an ageless lesson in timeless, symmetrical grandeur.

You’ll see mummified crocodiles in the riverside Temple of Sobek, and mesmerising hieroglyphics several thousands of years old on the timeless stone walls of Queen Hatshepsut’s temple. We’ll take our martinis, Poirot style, on the terrace of the Old Cataract hotel at sunset, as sailboats flit below like fireflies on a river of gold, and date palms wave in the early evening breeze….

In Egypt, the Nile was always seen as the boundary line between life and death. Today, that same still, ageless waterway flows silently between those massive, ancient feats of construction that stand like so many random exclamation marks; a tumbling, ruined clutter of ancient, magisterial monoliths perhaps unmatched anywhere else on earth.

Come aboard. Be awed. Suspend your disbelief from a date palm, and dive into the past on a whole raft of exotic, eclectic adventures. This is Egypt, up close and personal, and coming at you right here, very soon indeed.

Welcome aboard…..

PULLMANTUR’S SOVEREIGN ROLLING BACK TO RIO FOR 2019-20 SEASON

MONARCH
Pullmantur’s Sovereign

The Sovereign, Pullmantur’s 1988 built flagship, will return to Brazil next winter for an eleventh season of short cruises from a brace of different ports.

The ship-originally built for Royal Caribbean International as the Sovereign of The Seas- spends her summer season in the Mediterranean, from where she offers a season of seven night cruises embarking in Barcelona and Rome, before crossing the Atlantic in later November to the Brazilian port of Recife.

Once on station in Brazil, the 78,000 ton, 2200 passenger Sovereign will offer a season of short, four and five night cruises that allow for embarkation both at Santos and Rio de Janeiro. In all, the ship will offer some twenty such cruises between December 2019 and February of 2020.

While these cruises will be sold primarily to the local market through Brazilian cruise specialists CVC, they are also available for purchase by European passengers through specialist operators such as Fred. Cruises, based in the UK.

Pullmantur is a mass market, all inclusive operator whose European cruise operation is aimed mainly at a Spanish speaking market. The overall value is excellent for a large ship, though it has to be said that most standard inside and outside cabins on the Sovereign are on the small side. Think comfortable and functional rather than plush and expansive, and you get the overall gist.

I’m hoping to do one of these short cruises at some stage. Stay tuned for further updates.