All posts by travelswithanthony

Hello world, this is Anthony's travel blog. I've done more than a hundred and thirty cruises and transatlantic crossings, with more to come. If you have a taste for style, beauty and elegance, welcome aboard. If you have a sense of wonder about the world around you, welcome also. We'll be looking at the very best in land, sea and air travel- both past and present. Together, we'll be going to some pretty damned peachy places. The small, off-the-beaten-track paradises, and the big, bustling cities. Kick off your shoes, grab a margarita, and enjoy the ride!

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.

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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.

 

FRED GETS FESTIVE-SINGLE SUPPLEMENTS TORPEDOED ON 2019-20 SAILINGS

BOUDICCA AT SEA
The aft terrace decks on FOCL’s evergreen Boudicca. Photo copyright is that if the author

 

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines is gifting potential single passenger with some early festive treats, as it removes single supplements on a whole raft of sailings over 2019 and into 2020.

The itineraries include both ex-UK sailings, and a series of selected fly cruises right across the entire, four-ship Fred. Olsen fleet. The only real caveat is that all travel must be booked by February 28th, 2019.

Among the options on offer are an eight night round Britain cruise, sailing from Liverpool aboard Black Watch on June 20th, 2019, and a fourteen night fly cruise on sister ship, Boudicca. That one begins in the Cypriot port of Limassol on March 5th, 2020, and finishes in Dover.

Another tempting option-also aboard Boudicca-is a  fourteen night foray to the ‘Fortunate Isles’- Madeira, Tenerife and Gran Canaria-departing from Dover on March 9th, 2019. This one in particular is a nice option for anyone desperate to dodge the last, dying days of winter.

Always famous for the warm, gracious service that is the hallmark of their smaller, more intimate ships, Fred. Olsen continues to offer superb on board cuisine, as well as one of the most highly rated shore excursion programmes in the entire cruise industry. Collectively, the four ships- Balmoral, Braemar, Boudicca and Black Watch- cover almost the entire globe on their yearly roster of sailings.

A great option for singles, to be sure.

MSC TO SHOWCASE FOUR MEGA SHIP DEPLOYMENT TO THE WESTERN MEDITERRANEAN FOR 2019

BELLISSIMA
Artists’ impression of the new MSC Bellissima

While it should be no surprise to learn that the ever expanding MSC Cruises will feature a four strong mega cruise ship line up in the Western Mediterranean over most of 2019, it has to be said that the coming season’s line up is unquestionably the Italian operator’s strongest ever in the region, as well as being the most amenity laden.

It showcases the newest ship in the fleet-the 177,000 ton MSC Bellissima- as well as the MSC Seaview, MSC Divina, and the popular MSC Fantasia.

These four ships will operate variations on the popular, seven night Western Mediterranean cruise circuit from April through until late October. Collectively, they will give MSC a stunning total passenger lift of 19,000 people per week, each week for the better part of over thirty weeks in all. That’s a truly staggering logistical exercise, in and of itself.

It’s also noteworthy that these larger, more amenity laden ships are deployed on the routes where facilities and port infrastructure are, on the whole, much better and more extensive than in, say, the Aegean market. And, with a far larger passenger volume to embark and disembark for each ship, this makes simple common sense, as well as being good business for MSC.

Take a look at those Aegean ports for a moment, if you will. Many cruises sail from Venice down to Croatia and the Greek Islands using smaller ships such as the MSC Lirica, MSC Sinfonia, and the larger MSC Poesia. Here, prime destinations such as Dubrovnik, Mykonos and Santorini are, often of necessity, tender ports in the high season. As a whole, they are easier to access by smaller ship; hence in part at least MSC’s decision to deploy the larger ships on the seven day ‘Meddy-go-round’ circuit out of Italy,. France and Spain.

One of the great advantages of such deployments for potential cruisers is the fact that they can board any one of these gigantic, seagoing cathedrals across a raft of different ports. MSC generally allows  embarkation from Rome’s port of Civitvecchia, as well as Marseilles and Barcelona, as an alternative to its main embarkation port of Genoa. In general, each of the different seven night itineraries will allow for at least one full day spent at sea.

Between them, these four huge, floating theme parks offer MSC’s typically sumptuous style and flair across all of the major highlights of the Western Mediterranean. From family friendly accommodations to the hushed, expansive inclusiveness of the MSC Yacht Clubs featured aboard all four ships, the line offers an unparalleled range of Italian accented cruising fun and finesse, served up with a series of world famous, legendary sights and experiences as fabulous focal points.

Let’s look at some of those itineraries as they currently stand. Alternative embarkation points are highlighted below;

MSC BELLISSIMA

The company’s new flagship will arrive in the Western Mediterranean, fresh from her spectacular christening ceremony in Southampton on March 2nd. She will carry a maximum of 5700 passengers on each sailing.

Weekly departures from Genoa to Naples, Messina, Valletta, Barcelona, and Marseilles.

MSC SEAVIEW

Catering to some 5179 international passengers, MSC Seaview offers week-long forays from Genoa to La Spezia, Civitavecchia (For Rome), Cannes, Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona and Ajaccio.

MSC DIVINA

The 4200 passenger MSC Divina begins her summer season in April, and offers sailings from Genoa to Civitavecchia, Palermo, Cagliari, Palma de Mallorca, Valenica, and Marseilles.

MSC FANTASIA

One of the staples of the summer Mediterranean circuit, the 3929 passenger MSC Fantasia sails from Genoa to Marseilles, Palma de Mallorca, Ibiza, Naples, and Livorno (For Florence, Lucca and Pisa)

All in all, quite a banner year for the ever expanding MSC in what remains it’s quintessential core market.

 

IT’S A MIRACLE-CARNIVAL RETURNS TO SAN DIEGO SAILING FOR WINTER 2019-20

CM
Carnival Miracle

After a seven year hiatus, Carnival Cruise Lines will finally make a brief but welcome return to ex-San Diego sailings over the winter of 2019-20.

The Carnival Miracle will make a series of sailings from the USA’s southernmost west coast port, down to the highlights of the Mexican Riviera, plus a couple of long, lazy swings out to the Hawaiian Islands and back. In between, there will be a handful of three, four and five night cruises before the ship heads back to Miami via the Panama Canal on February 20th, 2020.

The season begins with a seven night sailing from San Diego down to the ‘greatest hits’ ports of the Mexican Riviera- Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta- on December 1st, 2019.

Other highlights include a brace of five night voyages down to Cabo and back, plus a pair of three night ‘getaway’ voyages to Ensenada. There will also be a special, four night New Year’s Eve sailing down to Baja, California.

However, top billing goes to a brace of longer, bespoke Carnival Journeys that sail out to Hawaii and back; one of fourteen nights’ duration, while the second is a longer, fifteen night run.

This is very much a ‘toe in the water’ (pun wholly intentional) operation at present; an obvious attempt to complement the present, year round roster of three, four and seven night sailings out of LA’s port of Long Beach. Whether it can-or indeed will- be ultimately rolled out as a year long option is still open to question.

All the same, it’s nice to see Carnival returning to California’s most vibrant and diverse city after what really seems to be way too long away.

I’ll be watching this one with interest. As ever, stay tuned for updates.