Category Archives: OCEAN AND LAND TRAVEL

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.

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.

NIEUW STATENDAM AND MARDI GRAS; WHAT’S IN A NAME?

PE
Pacific Eden, soon to be CMV’s Vasco da Gama, started life as the fifth Statendam for Holland America Line

It has long been a truism of the fashion world that ‘everything old becomes new again eventually’. But it also happens right across the broad sweep of commerce as a whole; just look at the company currently trying to re-invent the postcard by offering to print and post all of those delightful photos that you have stored on digital media, and you get my drift.

The cruise industry, too, has a similar penchant for re-using the names of fabled former liners and cruise ships of old and, after years where cruise industry new builds were often almost religiously given the company’s own name as a prefix, there’s been something of a return to using the old names again of late. And, right at the forefront (as so often before) is the monolithic Carnival Corporation.

Holland America’s current, sassy Nieuw Statendam bears one of the most venerable names in maritime history. Beginning in 1898, no less than five of her illustrious fleet predecessors bore the name of Statendam (though admittedly, the prefix addition of the world ‘Nieuw’ is a nice bit of up to date word play). For the sea-minded Dutch, as well as for maritime historians and lore lovers in general, the very name of Statendam is almost totemic; an evocative nod to a time that is often- if incorrectly- seen as infinitely more glamorous than the current cruising scene.

Back in the 1920’s, a well seasoned travel writer bearing the equally well seasoned name of Basil Woon opined that ‘a speck of dirt on a Dutch ship would be enough to make the chief steward commit suicide’. And, indeed, Holland America maintains a timeless tradition for sparkling, on board cleanliness to the present. Just look at the constant raft of perfect, one hundred per cent CDC scores that the line continues to attain to this day. For HAL, this continuation of a seamless, cherished uniform standard over time is that company’s justly deserved great claim to fame. And long may it continue.

But the real surprise of these current times has surely come from Carnival Cruises itself. After decades of prefixing all it’s new builds- and, indeed, rebuilds- with the company name, it has just announced that it’s newest, largest ever built cruise ship will go right back to the future, in least in terms of name.

Starting in 2020, the Mardi Gras will be Carnival’s largest ever cruise ship when she enters service out of Florida’s Port Canaveral. She also bears the name of the line’s first ever cruise ship; the barnstorming, ex Canadian Pacific ocean liner that took the cruising world by storm (pun wholly intentional) when she made her initial, rocky debut back in 1972. No Carnival prefix here- just a statement of intent with a ship that is intended to be a literal ‘Carnival Afloat’, as it were.

Cunard is a fellow Carnival Corp. partner of HAL that can also look back on a long and illustrious lineage, with so many storied names to potentially choose from that it resembles a veritable, venerable conga line of ocean liner royalty.

That line currently sails a trio of cherished, British accented Queens (all, except for Queen Victoria, named in homage to venerated former company scions). Again, the play on famous names from a storied past has been an invaluable marketing boon for Cunard’s worldwide PR and marketing machine. And, with a fourth new Cunarder due to debut in 2022, the majority of expressed opinion seems to believe that this ship, too, will be named after a former monarch. The only problem here is that they are out of female names to use, other than-perhaps-that of Queen Anne.

Of course, there’s the potential that this particular name- never used before- might not be connected with the very successful, eighteenth century Queen Anne, but rather with the second, ill fated wife of the irascible Henry the Eighth. You can just imagine the jibes if any of her cruises had to be cut short at short notice….

Companies in general try not to associate new ship names with deceased grandees or even royalty, however noteworthy. An original idea of the French Line was to name their monumental new build of 1932 as Jeanne D’Arc. Instead, wiser (and perhaps more sober) heads prevailed, and the ship instead greeted both water and world alike as the Normandie. Mind you, considering her eventual fate, maybe that first choice of name was not too far wide of the mark, after all.

But, you get the picture. There has never been a second Titanic, Lusitania, or Andrea Doria, for instance. But as for the new Cunarder, she could still yet combine history and past majesty without needing to revert to any royal moniker at all.

Carnival Corporation could just well edge away from convention here- just as it has with the Mardi Gras name decision- and decide to eschew any royal connection whatsoever for the Cunard new build. And, if current practices and statement of intent are anything to go by, it might just well do so. As intimated earlier, it is not as if Cunard is actually short of excellent, alternative options.

How about a new Mauretana, or Aquitania? Caronia, anyone, or even Carmania? Or how about Carpathia, a name last borne by the ship that rescued the survivors of the Titanic? And perhaps, just perhaps, they could even consider a respectful nod to their former rival and partner, the White Star Line, and go with Olympic, or even the truly regal sounding Britannic? Neither of those names is as far fetched as they might seem.

What’s in a name, then? Quite a lot, as it turns out. History. Connectivity. Nostalgic familiarity and, perhaps more than anything, sheer platinum chip marketing clout. It will be very interesting to see just how this one plays out.

MAJESTY TO SAIL FOR MANO CRUISES AS CROWN IRIS IN 2019

MAJ

Israeli cruise operator, Mano Cruises, has announced that it will operate it’s recently purchased Crown Iris-formerly the Royal, Norwegian, and Thomson Majesty-on a series of Eastern Mediterranean itineraries next year.

The 40,900 ton, 1500 passenger ship will supplant the Golden Iris (originally the Cunard Princess) on a series of two to fourteen night itineraries, sailing from the port of Haifa. The ship will be targeted mainly at the local Israeli passenger market.

The two night cruises will call on the Cypriot port of Limassol while the longer, two week sailings will focus on port calls in Greece, as well as Black Sea destinations in both Bulgaria and Romania.

Prior to inaugurating this programme, the 1992 built ship will receive an extensive refurbishment that will cover all cabins. Some five restaurants will be available to passengers sailing on the ship.

It is possible that the 17,000 ton, 1977 built Golden Iris may go out on short term charter to another company, possibly for Greek islands cruises. At present, Mano Cruises is staying tight lipped on the subject but, only a few months ago, it did announce an intent to charter one of the two ships out during 2019.

The company purchased the ship from long term owners, Celestyal Cruises, after a long term charter to Thomson Cruises came to an end.

As always, stay tuned for updates.