Category Archives: french riviera

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.

 

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WHAT NEXT FOR CELESTYAL CRUISES?

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The Celestyal Crystal has been operating seven day cruises from Piraeus since her return from Cuba this spring

The Greek specialist line’s current itineraries are sound, well thought out, and perennially popular. And Celestyal is cautiously expanding it’s Eastern Mediterranean programme, with a new, Egypt accented itinerary that will run through until November, with the short, three and four day Aegean cruises resuming as early as February. Both have the hallmarks of being a considerable success.

In terms of overall quality, the Celestyal product has improved, year on year. The choice of on board food, together with its variety and taste, has go markedly better. service, too, has improved to a good level of standard for a four star product. And, with the Cuba market now abandoned for the foreseeable future, both the Celestyal Crystal and the larger Celestyal Olympia have been refocused on the short, lucrative three, four and seven day cruise runs out of Piraeus. The use of nearby Lavrion as an embarkation port seems to have been abandoned, at least for the moment.

By all accounts, both ships are sailing at or very near full capacity on a weekly basis. The current brace of ships present an alluring, totally authentic, Greek accented experience for those who prefer not to sail those fabled waters on one of the larger mega ships, where the accent is on the on board attractions, and the gorgeous landscape sprinkled around them is so often an afterthought.

value, too, is a premium selling point. Each Celestyal sailing comes as an all inclusive package, with most drinks and some selected shore excursions folded into the fare. Coupled with the ease with which these ships can access sites that those other, larger ships must bypass, all of this combines to give Celestyal Cruises- always a destination oriented product-a distinct edge in terms of these short Aegean cruises.

But Celestyal is also currently sitting on another ship that really merits gainful employment soon-the Majesty. For want of either a charter or a dedicated itinerary, this beautiful ship is currently spending the summer in lay up. As situations go, it’s quite incredible.

The ship ran a programme of short, three and four day cruises from March through April. I was on the last, four night cruise in April, and the ship-and her crew- was performing beautifully. Yet now, in peak season, she sits wining at anchor, while her two siblings continue to garner big passenger loads on the lucrative Aegean circuit.

Next year, the line will also welcome the return of the Spirit, when that ship finishes her final charter to Marella Cruises this coming November. So, Celestyal has to find itineraries and/or charterers for both her and the Majesty for next year. What to do?

Obviously, markets have to be sourced and developed with care, and especially so when you are a smaller, more intimate, niche cruise line. So the time for planning and promoting these two welcome, potentially very profitable returnees to the Celestyal stable is clearly at hand.

Possibly, one of the ships could be based on Marseilles, where the ability to tap the potentially quite large French market is obvious. A new, port intensive seven night itinerary that parallels the current, seven night Celestyal Crystal sailings out of Piraeus could well be a potential winner.

Imagine being able to overnight in, say, Sorrento, Ajaccio, or even Ibiza? Tie in another couple of ports- maybe Villefranche and Cannes, for instance-and the appeal of a smaller, more intimate style of cruising (and cruise ship) becomes obvious.

The other ship could, perhaps, be home ported in Malaga, and offer a series of three and four night cruise departures that showcase such glorious regional locales as Cadiz, Valencia, Cartagena, and the seldom visited island of Menorca.

We’re not talking about filing 4000 passenger plus mega ships on a weekly basis here.; those Celestyal ships typically carry around 1400 passengers each at most. And, were the company to start offering complete fly/cruise packages, including transfers and even an overnight hotel stay where necessary, then the global reach of these short, totally alluring cruise options becomes readily apparent. It’s also an option that Celestyal cruises should consider for the Greek Islands and Turkey cruise options as well.

Food for thought? I certainly think so. What about you?

MONARCH EMERGES FROM $10 MILLION REFURBISHMENT

MONARCH
Pullantur’s Monarch in her current livery

Pullmantur’s Monarch has just emerged from a 21 day, $10 million refurbishment at Freeport’s Grand Bahama shipyard. The ship is probably best remembered as Royal Caribbean’s monolithic, 1991 built Monarch of The Seas.

Pullmantur- itself at one time part of the Royal Caribbean portfolio- has invested significantly in the 74,000 ton ship.

Much of the work carried out was internal in nature, and involved new carpeting, fixtures and fittings in cabins and public areas right across the 2,300 passenger ship, together with some external work across the pool deck, and other outdoor areas of the ship. In all, something like fifteen thousand square metres of  carpeting was replaced, together with around a thousand metres of furniture upholstery fabric.

Deck Twelve has been outfitted with a new solarium area, and the indoor spa and shopping complexes have also been refreshed. There has also been a change for all signage in food and public area outlets, with the intention of making it more user friendly for the ship’s predominantly Latino clientele.

On the technical side, Pullmantur says that enhancements were made to make the vessel more ‘environmentally friendly’, but actual details on these are non existent at the time of writing.

After completing this period of overhaul and updating, the Monarch resumed her programme of year round, seven day, all inclusive Caribbean cruises. These destination intensive cruises allow foe embarkation in either Curacao, Aruba, or at Panama City’s port of Colon.

Meanwhile, the Sovereign- twin sister ship of the Monarch- has returned to Europe after her usual seasonal winter programme in Brazil. The ship- formerly the Sovereign of The Seas- is now operating seven night round trip cruises in the Western Mediterranean that allows for embarkation from any of six ports of call en route.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

VILLEFRANCHE REVISITED- AN ONGOING LOVE AFFAIR

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The waterfront of Villefranche. Photo by Anthony Nicholas

Anyone who knows me even vaguely will tell you how much I love Villefranche Sur Mer. The small French fishing port is the pearl of the French Riviera; a jump off point for cruise passengers to visit the heady delights of Nice, Monaco, or even Cannes. As Villefranche has no pier, passengers come ashore via local tenders, and are then taken on tour by coach.

Their absence is fine by me; it leaves me free to just soak up the atmosphere and sheer, jaw dropping beauty of what is, quite simply, the most stunningly beautiful harbour in all of southern Europe. Villefranche, while not a cheap date, does not have the stratospheric prices and brittle glamour of nearby Monte Carlo. It’s always been about style here, rather than hype.

As our ship-Pullmantur’s stately, legendary Sovereign– hugged the coastline of the French Riviera, the expected springtime weather decided not to play ball. Presumably, it had not read the memo regarding blue skies and sunny weather.

Instead, a slate grey sea roiled and slammed against the sides of the ship. Grey clouds scudded like malign, ghostly galleons across a leaden sky that threatened rain at any moment. But none of that was going to dampen my enthusiasm; I was going back to Villefranche, setting foot once more on what, to me, amounts to hallowed ground.

I stood mesmerised on the windswept upper deck as the Sovereign loomed past Cap Ferrat. Before I knew it, the enormous ship swung to port, and came swaggering into the stunning bay of Villefranche. Jaws dropped by the dozen at that first view.

A vast, natural ampitheatre of low, rolling greenery is studded with hillside villas, peeping out from among the foliage. On the quay, a ring of beautiful Italianate architecture, clad in shades of ochre, terracotta and pale cream, crouched along the waterfront, their window shutters garbed in shades of electric green and petrol blue. A handful of unsteady fishing boats huddled against the quayside, as if seeking refuge from the rain clouds.

An hour later, I was on a tender to shore, bumbling across the slate grey briny. Whitecaps licked greedily at our flanks and, even as I watched, the gorgeous panorama of Villefranche opened like a flower, bursting into bloom. Oddly, I still felt the same sensations of awed reverence as when I first came here, way back in 1998.

I stepped ashore on the old stone quay, and took in that still peerless panorama. Truth be told, Villefranche seemed surprised to see us; some of the houses had paint peeling from their usually immaculate facades, and most of the cafes were still closed against the just gone winter weather. Rows of chairs and tables were stacked up against the front of these, as if seeking refuge from the elements. The normally pristine beauty resembled nothing so much as a drowsy supermodel, woken suddenly from her sleep, that had not yet had time to put on her make up properly.

There were very few people about on a waterfront that is normally sun splashed and awash with happy visitors in the long summer days and nights. The two small, perfectly formed beaches were empty, the twin bars that adjoined them still shuttered and silent. But the wisteria and the oleander were beginning to bloom again on the old stone parapets below the railway viaduct; a sure sign that much better weather was on the way. Alas, just not today.

Sovereign was the first cruise ship to arrive in Villefranche for the 2017 season, and she will be followed by literally hundreds more. In very short order indeed, Sleeping Beauty will awaken and greet these visitors with her usual flair and finesse.

Some of the old stalwarts were open, however. It was nice to enjoy a glass of wine and some sporadic people watching at Les Palmiers, a cafe bar set just back above the quay. I walked along the windswept beach and then came back for another glass of wine in the Wine Pier, the seaward facing conservatory of the waterfront Welcome Hotel, with its beautiful Art Deco interiors. Warm against the outside cold, that wine- a beautiful drop of Sancerre- was truly something to savour.

Later, as our tender purred back across the darkening sea towards the spectacularly floodlit Sovereign, I gazed longingly back at the waterfront of Villefranche. Pools of light danced and shimmered along the edge of the bay, casting a subtle, seductive glow on the water. I felt cheered, almost elated at the sight.

Spring might not yet truly have sprung on the pearl of the French Riviera, but I felt warmed, charmed and, once again, hopelessly in thrall to this singular piece of rare earth. Needless to say, a return visit is already in the planning.