Category Archives: cruising

GOLDEN PRINCESS GOING TO P&O AUSTRALIA; CARNIVAL SPLENDOR TO STAY WITH CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE

CARNIVAL SPLENDOR
Carnival Splendor

In something of a surprise move, Carnival Corporation has announced a ship swap for 2020; the proposed transfer of the Carnival Splendor to P&O Australia has now been cancelled, and the Australian company will now receive the 2001 built Golden Princess from Princess Cruises instead.

There’s little real difference in the size or passenger capacities of the two ships: I suspect the decision to retain the Carnival Splendor is simply a desire to keep a major fleet unit based permanently in Long Beach, California, where the Splendor will transfer to as of next year.

Ironically, the one off Carnival Splendor first began her regular career on that same, Mexican Riviera run in 2009. Launched in 2008, she did a few maiden sailings in Europe before making an epic circumnavigation around South America- Carnival Cruise Line’s first ever such voyage- before she took up station in the port of Los Angeles for regular, seven night Mexican Riviera cruises.

Once there, the Carnival Splendor endured a much publicised loss of power for two days, resulting in her having to be towed back for emergency repairs in San Diego. Since then, she has sailed successfully on many itineraries, including her current role in the Caribbean.

It was intended to send her back to California as a stop gap replacement for long standing veteran, Carnival Miracle, and then replace her in turn with another vessel out of Long Beach when she transferred to P&O Australia in 2012. That, as we now know, is not going to happen, and it’s more likely than not that the Carnival Splendor will become a more or less permanent Long Beach resident, at least for the next few years.

She beefs up the Carnival line up out of Long Beach with an increased passenger capacity in excess of 3,000, and joins the smaller Carnival Inspiration and Carnival Imagination to round out the company’s west coast roster. While the two smaller ships sail on a series of three and four night options each week, the Carnival Splendor will almost certainly run the line’s prestige itinerary down to Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas.

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CUNARD ORDERS NEW BUILD FROM FINCANTIERI

NEW CUNARDER
An artist’s rendering of the proposed new Cunarder, slated to enter service in 2022. Image credit: Cunard Line

In a move that has surprised many, Carnival Corporation has signed an agreement with Italy’s Fincantieri shipyard for a new build for Cunard. The new ship, coming in at around 113,000 tons and with a passenger capacity of around 3,000, is currently slated to enter service in 2022.

While there will be many synergies with the current, three ship fleet, this new vessel will be of a different design to the popular duo of Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, while also being a smaller, slightly more high density ship than the current flagship, Queen Mary 2. Inevitably, the name will also be the subject of much speculation to come.

Will Cunard go for a fourth ‘Queen’, or will the line itself seek to revive one of the more revered names from it’s storied past? While many think that another ‘Queen’ is a slam dunk in terms of a name, it’s worth remembering that the first so named ship was the Queen Mary back in 1936, by which time Cunard itself had been in the passenger business for almost a century. There was also the Berengaria of 1921, named after the wife of Richard the Lionheart. But she was an ex-German prize of war, built as the Imperator back in 1913.

By that time, many legendary Cunarders had already passed into the annals of seafaring lore, or were about to. Mauretania, Aquitania, Berengaria and Caronia are just a few of them. Reviving any one of these treasured names would signal both recognition of an illustrious heritage, and assumed continuity of what those great names represent. Cunard might just surprise everyone with this new ship.

And, for those who say that it won’t happen under Carnival management- well, it already did once. Recall the line’s restyling of the venerable Vistafjord into the Caronia back in 1999, a full year after the Carnival takeover. A repeat, while likely improbable, is by no means impossible.

And, it has to be noted, the availability of suitably regal names is actually pretty damned thin on the ground. Against that, the roster of evocative names from more than one hundred and seventy seven years of Cunard history is as substantial as it is stellar. While Cunard want a ship that will be complementary to the current trio, it will also be looking to make the ship as distinctive and original as practical. And nothing would do that quite so sweetly than by breaking with the sacred idea that all new Cunarders have to be named after a Queen. They don’t.

Interesting times, for sure. As always, stay tuned for updates.

NORWEGIAN JADE MAKES INAUGURAL CALL TO PORT OF TYNE

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Norwegian Jade at the Port of Tyne on September 1st, 2017. Photo: Anthony Nicholas

September 1st marked the auspicious debut of the first Norwegian Cruise Line ship ever to visit Newcastle’s Port of Tyne. The 93,558 ton Norwegian Jade- originally built in 2006 as the Pride of Hawaii- arrived in port on the penultimate leg of a round Britain cruise. As her 2,400 passengers poured ashore to visit such stellar local attractions as Alnwick Castle and the historic city of Durham, the ship played host to a small number of media, there to witness the formal exchange of visiting plaques between ship and port authority.

As well as the welcome news that the Norwegian Jade will be making a return to the UK next year (including three calls at Port of Tyne), there was also the chance to tour the ship (though not the cabins, which were all occupied by fare paying passengers) and sample a fine, three course lunch pared with some fulsome red wine in the ship’s beautiful Grand Pacific main dining room.

In the course of a recent, extensive refurbishment, the Norwegian Jade shrugged off many of her original colourful, slightly frantic decor elements. Now the ship is suffused with an aura of muted greys enhanced by a wash of sunlight from rows of floor to ceiling windows. The older, more funky style of furniture that once exploded around the ship like multi coloured mushrooms has been largely eschewed. In it’s place there now exists a calmer, more restrained palette that still has warmth but, at the same time, does much more to emphasise the scale and sweep of the ship.

Gone, too, are the upper deck, multi coloured water slides that resembled so many hallucinogenic spaghetti strands. This really is going against all current mainstream trends, and seems part of a more obvious resolve to raise the tone of the overall product. Though I doubt that other lines will follow soon, it’s still a pretty bold statement of intent. It fits the whole ‘pared back’ vibe of the ship quite nicely.

As always with Norwegian, a staple of in house, extra tariff dining venues take centre stage. Among them are the fabulous, French themed Le Bistro, the upper deck, American accented Cagney’s Steakhouse, and the Brazilian themed Moderno. Even the two main dining rooms continue to showcase the company’s signature ‘Freestyle Dining’; a concept that has more or less completely revolutionised the entire concept of cruise ship dining since it’s full scale introduction back in 2001.

But the Norwegian Jade is not some headlong rush into the future; parts of the ship showcase the Art Deco ocean liners of the past to near perfection. The Grand Pacific dining room is an out and out homage to the venerable old Queen Mary of 1936, with burled wood sheathing and evocative ceiling light fixtures. Meanwhile, the central, two storey ‘Bar Street’ has touches of Egyptian style lacquered panelling, and floor mounted ‘light fountains’ that are almost perfect copies of those once seen on the incomparable Normandie. And the large, upper deck SS. United States library pretty much speaks for itself.

Norwegian Jade left Port of Tyne for Southampton, there to embark on one last Scandinavia cruise before the ship returns to New York, sailing via Iceland. From there, the ship will showcase a brace of stunning fall cruises to Canada and New England, before redeploying to Miami to offer a full season of seven day Caribbean cruises from the Florida port.

With next year’s deployment of the Norwegian Jade aimed squarely at the British and German market, Norwegian Cruise Line will have a formidable competitor in place to fight for the best of the mainstream holiday family trade. And, with her on board prices now featuring all inclusive drinks as well, this stylish, thoughtfully redesigned ship offers a smart, elegant fun venue for all ages and tastes.

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.

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.