Category Archives: OCEAN AND LAND TRAVEL

PRINSENDAM GOING TO PHOENIX SEEREISEN?

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The Prinsendam is one of Holland America’s most enduring and popular vessels

Stories are circulating that Holland America Line’s Prinsendam, the company’s popular ‘Elegant Explorer’,  will be sold to the German cruise operator, Phoenix Seereisen.

If true, it would re-unite the 1989 built ship with her former RVL fleet mate, Albatross, ex Royal Viking Sea.

The Prinsendam, originally built as the Royal Viking Sun,  was the largest ship ever built for the Royal Viking Line from scratch, as well as the last. And she may well now be surplus to the Carnival Group’s overall portfolio. Carnival CEO, Arnold Donald, is on record as saying that any ship of less than 70,000 GRT is likely to be sold in the next few years and, at around 38,000 tons, the Prinsendam as is would certainly fit in that planning.

For sure, the Prinsendam was at one time highly coveted by Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, and indeed she would still be a great fit with that company’s own duo of former RVL veterans, now sailing as Boudicca and Black Watch. but the smart money seems to be on the German operator, for now at least.

The Royal Viking Sun had a short stint at RVL, before that legendary company was wound up and the ship went firstly to Cunard, and then to Seabourn as the Seabourn Sun. Since her transfer to the Dutch brand in 2002, the restyled Prinsendam has offered longer, more destination intensive cruises, for which her intimate size and capacity-currently around 836 passengers-makes her a perfect choice.

Recently, Holland America Line sidelined two of its four, 50,000 ton Statendam class ships off to P&O Australia. In turn, one of these will now transition over to Cruise and Maritime Voyages next April. That leaves HAL as it currently stands with the two remaining ships in the class- Maasdam and Veendam-But this duo must surely also be on borrowed time as part of the HAL roster.

In any event, the move of Prinsendam to Phoenix Seereisen would make perfect sense if it does, indeed, come to pass.

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THE CHI-TANIC; A WORK IN PROGRESS

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The original area showing the lifts opposite the Grand Staircase on the Titanic’s sister ship, Olympic, and the same area as it is currently taking shape on the replica Titanic in China

Work on Romandseas’s spine tingling, almost totally land locked, full size replica of the ill fated Titanic is now expected to be completed by early 2019.

Work is proceeding at a stately rate of knots as the hull continues to grow at Sichuan, site of the vast Chinese theme park in which the recreated ocean liner will form a dazzling centrepiece once completed.

The replica of the ill fated White Star liner will feature some three hundred hotel rooms, based on the original first class cabins that were such a striking selling point of the original ship.

But, while much of the luxe and the high style of the ‘Floating Ritz’ will  feature heavily in the recreation, it’s also heartening to know that some of the vessel’s original, gargantuan sinews will feature, plus several of the more intimate areas known to students of the disaster. In addition, some of the much less ostentatious second and third class areas of the ship will be recreated in painstaking detail.

Among these will be the bridge, complete with it’s wheelhouse and chart room. An officer’s cabin and a recreated Marconi wireless room will draw sometimes pitiless scrutiny from die hard purists.

In terms of second and third class, there will be recreations of cabins from both classes.

Mechanics may well be awed by the recreation of the giant reciprocating engines, as well as the forward, Number One boiler room of the Titanic.

The liner’s elaborate, highly ornate Turkish Baths down on G Deck will be featured in the recreation, as well as the first class gymnasium up on the boat deck. Here, John Jacob Astor famously whiled away time with his wife as the original ship sank, cutting open a life jacket with his pen knife to show her the contents.

For lovers of all that doomed, gilded luxury, recreations of the lavish, first class dining room, plus one of the sumptuous, B Deck parlour suites, as well as the monolithic Grand Staircase with its trio of lifts, will be more than enough to appeal to the inner Jack and Rose of almost anybody out there.

ENCHANTMENT OF THE SEAS EXCELS IN SHORT 2019 CRUISE SEASON

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The enigmatic Enchantment of the Seas

While many of the ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet continue to garner headlines for their great size, amenities and range of dining options, other ships in the fleet simply carry on with their own, often unremarked on schedules.

Yet some of these vessels are among the mainstays of the Royal Caribbean portfolio, and perhaps none has been so overlooked, or as persistently passed over as the Enchantment of the Seas.

Originally built as one of the six ship Vision class of siblings, the 74,000 ton ship first entered service in 1997.

However, in 2005 the Enchantment was expanded by the addition of a brand new, purpose built, seventy two foot mid section. The work was carried out at a shipyard in Rotterdam, and it had the effect of raising the ship’s tonnage to it’s current figure of 82, 910 GRT. As it currently stands, the Enchantment of the Seas has a passenger capacity of 2,446, based on double occupancy.

The actual lengthening was regarded as a great success at the time, and it was the company’s intention back then to repeat the process with all five of her siblings, beginning with near twin sister ship, Grandeur of the Seas. However, the prohibitive cost of such a massive, multi vessel project, together with the entry into service of several successive classes of new, purpose built cruise ships at Royal Caribbean, meant that only the Enchantment of the Seas was thus remodelled.

The ship subsequently returned to Florida. Unlike her sisters and fleet mates, there has never been a subsequent deployment of Enchantment of the Seas to Europe, Asia, or even Alaska.

Instead, this beautiful ship currently operates out of Miami, sailing three and four night cruises to the Bahamas each week. The three night, mostly weekend cruises typically visit Nassau, Grand Bahama Island, and the company’s recently remodelled ‘private island’ at Coco Cay.

The four night sailings (and you really do need four nights to get the true feel of such a large, amenity laden ship) typically take in Coco Cay, Nassau, and Key West.

Unless some major policy change dictates otherwise, these cruises will continue on through to 2019.

This still very glamorous, under the radar ship is celebrating her twenty-first year of successful service with Royal Caribbean in 2018. I, for one, have always felt that she deserves somewhat more of a starring role in the company line up than has thus far proved the case.

ROYAL PRINCESS TO SAIL MEXICAN RIVIERA FOR 2019/20 SEASON

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Royal Princess at sea

Princess Cruises has announced that the Royal Princess will headline a three ship deployment to the Mexican Riviera from 2019 and 2020, sailing out of Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The 141,000 ton ship will make a total of twenty-seven cruises in all and, while most of these will be the regular, seven night runs from LA to Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas, the Royal Princess will also offer a handful of exhilarating, five night ‘Cabo San Lucas Getaway’ trips from LA, each of which will showcase an overnight stay in the Mexican Pacfic resort as the main feature.

In addition, the Star Princess will return to those same waters, sailing more port intensive, ten night sailings that will also offer ports of call on the Baja Peninsula and the Sea of Cortez, together with an overnight stay in Cabo.

Rounding out the Princess triple whammy is a series of cruises sailing round trip from San Francisco on the Grand Princess, the only large ship sailing regularly to Mexico from California’s mots stunning coastal city. Celebrating her twenty first anniversary in 2019, the Grand Princess was the first 100,000 tons plus ship in the Princess fleet when she launched back in 1998.

The itineraries are mainly ten day cruises but some, if not all of the trio will also some immersive, seven night wine themed cruises, and a string of very attractive, week long coastal cruises from LA that take in such resorts as Santa Barbara, Long Beach, San Diego, and the Mexican port of Ensenada.

All things considered, these cruises constitute some very canny little winter escapes, and show good overall planning on the part of Princess Cruises

CELESTYAL CRYSTAL COMMENCES 2018 ‘IDYLLIC AEGEAN’ SEASON

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Celestyal Crystal

In her first summer season back in the Aegean after several years out in Cuba, Celestyal Cruises’ popular 24,000 ton, 1,200 passenger Celestyal Crystal has embarked on a series of seven night sailings- known as the Idyllic Aegean itineraries- out of her home port of Piraeus, Athens.

These are very different from the normal Celestyal offerings on a number of fronts. Firstly, the vessel sails at 2100 in the evening, thus actually allowing passengers from Europe to fly in on embarkation day itself. The normal, 1130 in the morning sailings so typical of the three and four night itineraries usually mandate an overnight stay in either Piraeus or Athens itself.

Central to this new itinerary is a pair of overnight stops at both Mykonos and Santorini, allowing passengers ample time to sample both the famous Mykonos beach and nightlife scene, as well as the sublime experience of enjoying the summer sunset from atop Santorini’s lofty cliff top town of Oia.

Other ports along the way include a new, first time call into Milos, as well as full day stays at both Heraklion, with it’s fabulous Palace of Knossos and nearby resort life at Aghios Nikolaios, and also at Turkey’s beautiful, breezy seaside port of Kusadasi, an easy access point for the nearby ruins of once mighty Ephesus.

Uniquely among niche Greek Island operators, Celestyal includes complimentary shore excursions at many of the banner ports en route, as well as tips and an all inclusive drinks package.

All things considered, this longer cruise allows for more interaction and immersion with some of the most seductive, sought after destinations in the Aegean when they are at their most popular, at the height of summer. And the pretty little Celestyal Crystal offers a more intimate, truly immersive, Greek style experience and ambience that the big, international cruise ships simply cannot replicate.

ADVENTURE OF THE SEAS PART EIGHT; SOME POINTS WORTH MAKING

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Adventure of the Seas at Kralendjik, Bonaire. Photo: @antnich

After a couple of weeks at home, and having had time to catch my breath, now seems as good a time as any to reflect on this cruise experience.

While the destinations are wonderful, the holiday as whole is built around the ship. So, how did Adventure of the Seas shape up?

First of all, if you want a quiet, peaceful holiday, you are NOT going to get it on a ship carrying 3300 plus happy, pumped up passengers, especially when so many of them are young. That alone should be self evident to anyone whose IQ is actually larger than their shoe size; it’s not rocket science, people.

Yet I could find all the solitude and serenity I needed out on my cabin balcony. With just the sound of the sea as a backdrop, and a side order of cold wine and tender, beautifully sculpted sunsets to hand, it provided me with all the calm, healing balm that I needed.

Lines? Yes, you’ll find lines of people for the elevators, and they will be crowded, too- the same as in any small city. And that’s essentially what a ship like Adventure of the Seas is. Exercise a little patience, and just bear in mind that the entire ship is not your own personal, private fiefdom; you’ll always get where you need to in due course.

And sure, the buffet is crowded and noisy at breakfast times, and especially so on sea days. But the staff work miracles in clearing tables and keeping the flow moving. And do you need to eat breakfast in the buffet, anyway? Er, actually- no.

You can enjoy a far more leisurely, waiter served breakfast in the main dining room which is downright delightful, or even have breakfast brought to you in your cabin. And breakfast on your own private balcony is something you’ll never ever forget once you’ve tried it, for sure. Problem solved.

In fact, food on the whole was very good indeed, and better overall than I expected, especially on a mass market ship like this one. The extra charge ($38 per person, reservations only) Chops Grille was an outstanding steak house experience; my Filet Mignon was so tender that it almost crumbled at first touch of the knife. With ample, included sides of asparagus, mushrooms and truffle fries, plus some of the most decadent desserts I’ve ever sampled, Chops Grille was an amazing experience savoured in hushed, deeply luxurious surroundings. More of a food temple in fact, than a mere restaurant.

By contrast, the Johnny Rockets diner is pure Happy Days at sea and yes, it’s every bit as kitschy as you’d expect. It’s all streamlined chrome and screaming red booths, with tiny faux juke boxes on each table. Needless to say, there’s a conga line of burgers, hot dogs, fries, onion rings and milk shakes on offer. Did I mention the cookies?

Johnny Rockets is simple, uncomplicated fun with it’s home cooked comfort food, served up with a side order of Cadillac sized nostalgia. For $6.95 on an all you can eat deal, it seemed to be open right around the clock. And, obviously, it was hugely popular with families.

The main dining room is a swish, glamorous affair. Some three storeys high, it looks like a Hollywood film producer’s idea of what a 1930’s ocean liner dining room would look like. It serves up lavish, five course dinners for those on the normal two evening sittings, as well as those opting for flexible dining times (and yes, you can choose). While the menu on all three levels is the same, it changes each evening, and such staples as Caesar Salad and Manhattan Strip Sirloin are always available. It’s as much about theatre as cuisine, but it’s a hugely enjoyable experience. It’s well worth dressing up for at least once to share a real sense of occasion with family and friends.

Apart from the buffet (which also offers a casual dinner each evening) there are also free snacks, including pizza, sandwiches and cakes available at the French style Cafe Promenade, located on the Royal Promenade. This is also a good option for a light breakfast and, while the coffee is free here, there are also speciality coffees that incur an extra price. So, too, does the ice cream from the nearby Ben and Jerry’s franchise. If you want free ice cream, there is self serve stuff available from the dispensers outside the upper deck buffet.

You certainly won’t go hungry, and nor will you be starved of entertainment options, either. From nightly street parties and parades on the Royal Promenade to ice skating spectaculars in Studio B, the Adventure of the Seas has it all. From cool jazz to colourful calypso poolside, an acoustic guitarist to a sizzling salsa band, and even late night pool parties and non stop casino action, the Adventure of the Seas literally rocked, rolled and rhumabae’d through the course of our week on board. You’d be very hard put to find a more rollicking party boat than this one, if that’s your thing.

But, for those craving simple peace and quiet, there are no shortage of quiet, intimate nooks-in particular the gorgeous Schooner Bar- that serve up nothing more than great Martinis and some stellar conversation.

I really enjoyed my time on this glitzy, stupendous seagoing resort. Adventure of the Seas more than met my expectations, and frequently exceeded them in some really delightful ways. I’d certainly do this again.

ADVENTURE OF THE SEAS PART SEVEN- THE LONG JOURNEY HOME

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Royal Promenade on Adventure of the Seas

Finally, it’s Saturday morning, and the Adventure of the Seas is back where we started in Puerto Rico, just one week ago. It’s time to go home and, inevitably, the sense of regret and loss I always feel at the end of my trip sits as uneasily as an unwanted side order on my breakfast plate.

A long couple of days lies ahead; the inevitable downside to whooping it up for a week in winter on the other side of the world. But, truth be told, both Royal Caribbean and their partner airlines do their best to make the process as smooth and painless as possible.

Thus, our luggage already awaits us ashore, and I had been able to check in for my Delta flights the night before. I’m flying from Puerto Rico back to the UK via New York, but there’s plenty of connecting time. Finding my luggage is easy once off the ship; it goes into a separate, sealed van that follows our transfer coach to the airport. We enjoy a curbside reunion under sullen, humid skies. The warmth and wonder of those islands in the sun already feels a lifetime away.

Despite my flight not being for several hours, I’m glad to be able to check my luggage right away, and all the way through to Heathrow at that. Those last few hours pass in a blur of retail therapy, a couple of beers, and the attempted consumption of an armour plated hamburger that’s as spiky as an Armadillo. And, I might add, just about as edifying.

I’ve lucked out with an exit aisle seat on the four hour flight back to JFK, and it’s on a brand new 737-900 with seat back TV’s for everyone. The plane lofts into a flaring purple twilight, and I lapse into some obviously much needed sleep. Not long before landing, some very welcome (and free) Starbucks coffee gives me that vital caffeine lift that I need. As first legs of a long journey go, this was actually a damned pleasant flight.

JFK is rain lashed, with pools of light shimmering on the tarmac as we rumble to a halt. The Delta staff on our flight have been perceptive enough to inform us at which gates our onward flights will be waiting. It takes me all of fifteen minutes to debark and arrive at the gate for my next flight.

I’m on a Boeing 767 back to the UK, and my initial dismay at being on an ‘older’ plane fades when I see the smart, obviously newly refreshed interior on this one. Again, I luck out with an aisle seat (the 767 flies in a 3-3-3 across configuration in economy) and there’s more than enough room for me to hunker down for the next seven hours or so.

Manhattan falls away below us in a rain soaked, neon smear and, before I know it, the first drinks run comes through the cabin. I cradle a vodka and orange- Delta serves free spirits, wine and beer on all international economy flights- and decide on the chicken from the three choices on the dinner menu. I flick through a choice of more than ninety boxed seats on offer to watch, and that’s before I get to the films, when the main meal arrives.

It’s hot and plentiful, with some taste to it. At 36,000 feet, it’s realistically as good as it gets. Wines on offer are white, red, rose and even sparkling. The pours are generous too, from full bottles into plastic glasses rather than the small, quarter bottles that most airlines offer. Somehow, this just seems more satisfying. And, by the time I have munched my way through the meal and then gorged on four episodes of The White Princess, sleep finally creeps up and coshes me. I sag into a gentle, three hour snooze and, as I do, we cross the Atlantic, and dawn breaks once again over old Europe’s beckoning shores.

London is sunny enough as I transit through Heathrow in around thirty five minutes on a Sunday morning- something of a personal record. Both Delta flights have been agreeable, hassle free experiences; in fact, the crew on the overnight flight in particular were outstanding. But now I’m off to Terminal Five to surrender myself to the tender mercies of British Airways for the last, short leg home.

Check in is painless enough, and I have ample time to grab some lunch at Terminal Five. It’s over priced, over rated, and served up in hugely over crowded surroundings. At least Dick Turpin had the decency to wear a mask. But, needs must; because BA will offer you nothing in with the price of your ticket, not even a coffee. Nada. Zilch.

The hour long flight passes in a blur and, before I know it, we land with a gentle bump. The warm, welcoming lights of Newcastle’s passenger terminal glint on the rain sodden runway. The air is shockingly bone chilling. Even my luggage has made it home with me; something of a win-win situation these days. I sag with genuine gratitude into the back of my taxi, and recoil from the cold, oppressive darkness looming just outside my window.

So, those are the actual, physical logistics of the long journey home laid bare. It wasn’t too bad of an experience at all; long, but not interminable. And, for once, I didn’t actually feel jet lagged, either.