Category Archives: expedition cruising

SMALL SHIPS; GOING SOUTH FOR GOOD?

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Black Watch at Flam. Photo is copyright of the author

When Saga Cruises takes delivery of it’s new Spirit of Discovery in 2019, that line’s current, popular Saga Pearl II will leave the fleet. Though no buyer has yet been announced, it is to be hoped that this charming, intimate ship will find another owner, and hopefully within the UK market at that.

One possible interested party could well be Cruise and Maritime Voyages, which operates the Astor on a winter programme of fly/cruises to and from South Africa and Australia over the autumn and winter. Saga Pearl II is the near identical sister ship to Astor, and there’s no doubt that the two ships would make a great working duo. And, by then, it has to be reckoned that the veteran Marco Polo might well be coming to her final sell by date around that period. The slightly smaller Saga Pearl II would make an ideal replacement, with her outdoor terraced decks and similar, intimate styling, so the logic is inescapable here, too.

Against that, Saga Pearl II has a passenger capacity of just over 500- significantly less than the 800 carried by the adults’ only Marco Polo. And the trend lately at CMV has been to buy more bigger, second hand ships than before. The line first acquired the 45,000 ton, 1,300 passenger Magellan, and then upped the stakes significantly this year with the introduction of the near 64,000 ton, 1,400 passenger Columbus. Though relatively intimate compared with the modern big ships of P&O and Cunard, these two ships are still respectively double and treble the size of the Marco Polo. And, though intimacy remains at the heart of the CMV philosophy, the size of the ships is moving inevitably upwards.

A similar, upward gradient has also taken hold at Fred. Olsen, whose last addition- the 43,000 ton Balmoral- is almost twice the size of the 24,000 ton Braemar, and much larger than either of the stable, popular 28, 000 ton sister duo of Black Watch and Boudicca. It’s interesting to note that all four of the Fred. Olsen ships have been ‘stretched’ with the addition of a new mid section. In fact, both Braemar and Balmoral endured the process when already under the Olsen flag.

Like CMV, Fred. Olsen has nailed it’s colours firmly to providing a more intimate, British oriented travel experience, aimed at the older passenger. And, while both lines have succeeded and gained much success with this approach, it’s difficult to see how they expand in the same market; quite simply, the availability of major tonnage is now becoming an ever increasing problem.

Fred. Olsen has failed to add any new tonnage since the Balmoral back in 2009 and, while all four of the fleet’s ships are undergoing significant refurbishments to keep them fresh and attractive, the line is clearly in need of a new ship, or perhaps two. For a long time, the line has cast a covetous eye on the 38,000 ton Prinsendam of Holland America Line. Up to now, the Dutch line has proved very reluctant to part with it’s widely admired ‘Elegant Explorer’. But that might be about to change.

Holland America itself is in the throes of a retrenchment, geared towards providing the line with larger, more luxurious and family friendly vessels. Two of the 50,000 ton, 1990’s built Statendam class vessels- Ryndam and Statendam herself- were recently sold off to the Carnival subsidiary of P&O Australia. The two remaining in Holland America’s portfolio-Maasdam and Veendam– are clearly on borrowed time, especially when Holland America takes delivery of the stunning Nieuw Statendam in 2018.

If those two do, indeed, go- and it is pretty certain that they will- then Holland America might also, finally, divest itself of the Prinsendam. Any of these three fine, well cared for vessels would make great additions to  Fred. Olsen or, indeed, to Cruise and Maritime Voyages.

Elsewhere, other potential pickings are slim. I’ve already mentioned the lovely little Saga Pearl II, but the 19,000 ton Celestyal Nefeli- the original twin sister of the Braemar– might also be in the mix. Her two year charter to Celestyal Cruises comes to an end this year and, thus far, the Greek line has shown no commitment to renewing it. It has returning tonnage of it’s own to hand at the end of this year, coming back from Thomson Cruises. But the latter line’s decision to retain the popular Thomson Spirit for one more season might yet cause Celestyal to rethink again about the Nefeli.

Other than the ships cited above, it seems that the only new route open for both lines is that of dedicated new builds. Indeed, this is the route that Celestyal itself is heading towards, with plans for a pair of new, 60,000 ton cruise ships. And, with the current, on going boom in the number of small sized expedition ships now under construction, builders are beginning to appraise the viability of more general purpose, smaller sized cruise ships, albeit to a limited degree.

That said, none of this is written in the sky, never mind set in stone. It’s food for thought rather than a set menu. But, as the next two years or so play out, the moving of chess pieces here and there should be fascinating to watch.

As ever, pray stay tuned.

 

 

 

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SCENIC ECLIPSE- THE EXPEDITION BOOM CONTINUES

SCENIC ECLIPSE
SCENIC ECLIPSE

The burgeoning expedition cruise ship circuit looks set to reach a new plateau next year with the introduction of the all suite, all inclusive new Scenic Eclipse.  Purpose built for cruising to regions such as Antarctica and the Amazon, this new vessel pushes the boundaries in terms of sumptuous, on board amenities and sheer, personal indulgence.

Time was, you really had to be prepared to ‘rough it’ on an expedition ship to Antarctica. It was almost exclusively the preserve of chartered Russian ice breakers, hired by companies such as Quark. The vessels were as sturdy, uncompromising and yes, as spartan, as the incredible scenic smorgasbords that they pushed and crunched their way through. It’s safe to say that on board product delivery was not top of the bill on these ships, and equally safe to say that many loved them for that simple, no nonsense approach. They wore that perceived discomfort like a badge of honour.

My, how that will change….

Scenic Eclipse will carry just 228 passengers in all suite, all balcony accommodation, with a 1:1 crew ratio to match. When the ship is in Antarctica, passenger numbers will be limited to just 200. There will be no less than-count them- nine separate, all inclusive dining venues, and the ship will be completely all inclusive. There are indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs and, naturally, the Scenic Eclipse will carry her own helicopter, submarine for sightseeing under the ice, and an on board fleet of zodiac motor boats.

You’ll be able to scuba dive, or take specially prepared picnics ashore in some of the more temperate waters where the ship will cruise. You can take out a kayak or an e-bike, have unlimited wi-fi usage, and even have your clothes unpacked and repacked by your own, dedicated butler.

So, does all of this lavish indulgence (and I personally think that nine restaurants for a ship of this size and capacity is way over the top) mean that expedition cruising has ‘gone soft’? Will the exploits and memories of Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen be decried by the prowling presence of the sort of ship previously associated with a particularly well heeled Bond villain?

I guess it depends where you stand, but to my mind, the answer is ‘no’. There is no written rule anywhere that expedition cruising has to be either uncomfortable, or almost puritan in its scope and intent. The notion of progress is hog wired into our very DNA, after all. And, for all his seafaring prowess and derring- do, I dare bet that Christopher Columbus would have found crossing the Atlantic far more pleasant on the Queen Mary 2 than on the doughty, plodding little Santa Maria. Thrill seeking need not automatically equate to lack of style or space. I am more than happy to survey the great, jagged, blush tinted ice floes of Antarctica up close and personal, as long as I can sit in a hot tub with a glass of something warm and reviving to hand.

Scenic Eclipse? Sounds more like a scenic sunrise to me. As always, stay tuned for updates.