Category Archives: OCEAN AND LAND TRAVEL

SAILING 105 YEARS AGO TODAY; STEAMSHIP TITANIC, DESTINATION NEW YORK…..

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The Titanic begins her stately progress down Southampton Water on April 10th, 1912, in this famous photo by Frank Beken. The incident with the New York was behind her, and the big liner was now Cherbourg bound

Soon after noon on Wednesday, April 10th 1912, the ropes that had shackled the awesome bulk of RMS Titanic to her Southampton berth for a week were shrugged off like so many sodden strands, her trio of giant propellers kicked up the mud and sand of the River Itchen and, under the careful husbandry of six local tugs, the biggest moving object on the face of the planet began to inch gingerly forward to the cheers of a large crowd, gathered on the quayside.

Not everyone was glad to see her go. A contingent of six firemen had signed on to the ship, only to linger ashore over a last pint at The Grapes, a famous local dockside pub. By the time that they showed up to report for duty, the Titanic was already clear of the quay and, with the gangways down, the duty officer on board wasn’t taking their lateness as an excuse. That sudden excess thirst almost certainly saved their lives, but no one knew that then.

Those men watched in sullen silence as 46,000 plus tons of ocean liner, eleven decks high and almost nine hundred feet long, began her stately procession downstream. A wan springtime sun glinted against her quartet of towering, black and buff smokestacks as schools of whooping, shrieking sea birds wheeled and dived in her churning wake. The great siren on board boomed out an exultant, triple chimed salute to her home port, and Titanic began to pick up speed, her escorting tugs resembling so many panting puppies trying to rein back an agitated dinosaur.

Though the departure was intended to be low key, it would be full of high drama. Standing downstream, the wake from the Titanic snapped mooring ropes on the nearby steamer New York like so many cotton strands. The old American liner came loose, her stern looming out into the river until it came within mere feet of the startled, briefly stalled Titanic. As the crowds on shore gasped and strained their necks to see what looked like an imminent collision, one of the tugs got a rope on the New York. She was dragged back to her berth like some reluctant steer. With a sigh of relief almost audible from across the water, the Titanic resumed her stately progress downstream.

On board, the passengers had viewed the incident with a mixture of everything from amusement to outright horror. The ensuing delay while the New York was corralled and returned to the quay had cost the Titanic almost a full hour. Even as his ship skirted the Isle of Wight and dropped down past Ryde, Captain Smith was well aware that he would be late arriving in Cherbourg to pick up his passengers embarking on the continent. It couldn’t be helped; they would simply have to cool their heels until the Titanic made her delayed grand entrance into Cherbourg’s historic harbour.

Those were some very well heeled feet waiting for him, too. Among them was a substantial batch of platinum chip American corporate royalty; Astors, Guggenheims, Strausses, plus a whole supporting cast of railroad owners, property magnates, movie stars and professional sportsmen. There were art collectors, newspaper editors, and the simply rich. It was quite an illustrious roster in all; many of them had been regular passengers on the Olympic since her debut the previous summer. That giant ship- the first of the three great sister ships-had proved to be a marvellous advertisement for the newer, even more opulent Titanic. Bookings for both ships were very healthy right throughout that 1912 season.

This must have been a source of pride to both Captain Smith and White Star Chairman, Bruce Ismay, as the Titanic romped steadily across the sunlit English Channel. The sun shone; smoke from the first three smokestacks (the fourth one was a dummy fitted for aesthetic harmony) trailed back behind the ship towards home. On the aft mast, the White Star Line’s pennant fluttered gamely in the afternoon breeze.

Already, passengers were beginning to explore and exult in the ship that they were travelling on. In first class, afternoon tea was being served in the Verandah Cafe. Passengers in deck chairs took soup and sandwiches on the long promenade decks, bundled up in warm steamer blankets wrapped round them by solicitous stewards. People began making dinner reservations for the extra tariff, a la carte restaurant.

In the indoor squash court, the steady ‘thwack’ of ball against wall assumed a tempo that would be silenced only by the sudden inrush of surging, icy seawater some five nights later. The first passengers plunged boldly into the waters of the indoor pool nearby. Even braver souls surrendered themselves to the ministrations of trained masseuses in the garish menagerie of the Turkish Baths.

Others, more cerebral, lost themselves in a brand new book from the library, or wrote last, hasty letters home that could be sent ashore from Cherbourg and, later, Queenstown in Southern Ireland.

Late that afternoon, the coast of France emerged from the haze; a shimmering, low lying sliver that seemed to have a mirage like quality. But before almost anyone knew it, the Titanic arched a graceful turn, and came looming into the slowly darkening bay of Cherbourg. The anchor rattled down with a deafening crash right forward, and the huge liner swung skittishly at rest.

It was a brief break; that hours’ delay had helped nobody, and Captain Smith was anxious to begin his triumphant procession to the west, and the gala fire boat reception that awaited his glittering new command in New York. Two tenders- the Nomadic and the Traffic- came chugging out of the harbour towards the Titanic, like a pair of nervous courtiers paying homage to a new queen.

Aboard Nomadic were the first class passengers, and the mountain of luggage that always accompanied such people. As the Nomadic bumbled out into the bay, her irate passengers gasped in amazement at their first glimpse of the grand, stately Titanic, floodlit from bow to stern as the night took hold. They were ushered with apologies and assurances into the warm womb of the giant liner. A battalion of lift operators and bellboys stood ready at the adjacent trio of elevators to whisk these prized patrons off to their plush quarters, where the beds were freshly made and fresh flowers spilled out across almost every surface.

The second and third class passengers aboard the more plebian Traffic did not receive this kind of effusive, low key welcome. Instead, they and their much less substantial belongings were ushered through the steel shell doors of the hull, and into the belly of the brute. None the less, the same sense of barely disguised haste dominated the proceedings for all those embarking that evening.

As the two empty tenders backed away, the anchor was hauled up from the darkened briny. There was the clang and slamming of the shell doors along the liner’s hull. Once more, the great triple propellers- a full hundred tons of bronze in all- began to thresh up the waters around them.

The tender crews watched in awed silence as the floodlit Titanic swung through a graceful quarter circle, her quartet of great funnels standing like ramparts against the starlit sky. The deep, warm boom of the liner’s whistle echoed across the empty water like peals of slow, rolling thunder. And then, almost before they knew it, she had swept past them and disappeared beyond the horizon.

Disappeared, standing out for a noon arrival in Queenstown the following day, there to embark her last passengers. From there, it would be a stately romp across an agreeable, implausibly calm ocean for five days, before that first, glorious American landfall. Manhattan, and the promise of a freshly minted New York spring.

Several thousand miles to the west, a squat, glacial, salt water assassin waited patiently. Shrouded in darkness and black against the dark, still water, this potential killer- one of the truly deadly ‘great whites’ of the ocean- awaited it’s curtain call……

FLASHBACK TO MY FIRST TRIP; CARIBBEAN FLY CRUISING ON THE SS NORWAY IN 1981

THE NORWAY
The Norway as she appeared in 1981. Credit for this photo goes to the excellent http://www.classicliners.net

The purpose of this blog is not to provide readers with some glassy eyed, nostalgic trip back in time to recount how marvellous this first ever fly/cruise was. Yes, it was a life changing event, and it set my feet firmly on a path that they have never wavered from since, though that was far from being my intention at the time.

But what I want to revisit here are the actual logistics of that trip, and what was included in the fare. The time was October/November 1981 and, for those of you who do not know me personally, I live in the North East of England, several hundred miles north of London. So, without any further adieu, here we go….

My flights were booked on British Airways, round trip from London Heathrow to Miami International. If an option existed for a regional connection flight from Newcastle back then, I was never offered it by my very good local travel agent, so I suspect it might not have been in with the price package. Mind you, back then the take up for people going on Caribbean fly cruises was just a sliver of the massive market we know today. Also, factor in that I was 22 years old, literally on my ‘maiden voyage’ and, in terms of travelling savvy, as green as grass. I had never even been on a plane before that day.

I remember travelling down to London overnight on a National Express coach. It was October 31st, the coach was a full hour late, and snow began to fall quite steadily. Ominous portents, all.

There was no sleep on the long haul down to London Victoria, nor on the 45 minute long underground journey to Heathrow Airport. But I quickly learned that lugging suitcases up and down train station steps and escalators, plus shoe horning myself in and out of crowded underground trains, was a form of urban guerilla warfare that I had no wish to repeat.

Even back in 1981, Heathrow was a train wreck; an airport with all the warmth and welcome of a Dalek’s convention. It was hate at first sight.

I was on a BA 747 to Miami and, viewed from the boarding gate windows, the plane seemed immense. Of that first flight, I recall the euphoria of take off, and the fact that drinks on board had to be paid for in cash. The rest of that just under ten hour transatlantic flight is long since forgotten, but I don’t think I slept. By this stage of the trip, I was running on a mixture of fumes and sheer adrenaline.

Once at Miami and through the even then tortuous immigration process, I was met on the land side by a private transfer to the Miami Marriott Airport hotel. This was smooth and easy and, within an hour or so, I was in my (seemingly) high rise hotel room. I recall showering, ordering some room service, and then watching Star Trek; The Motion Picture on the in room television. Then sleep stole up on me and slugged me like a burglar, and I slept like a log until early on the Sunday morning.

Sunday, November 1st, 1981; breakfast outside in the sunshine- and a huge American buffet spread at that- made me suddenly realise that I really was in a different universe. There was a shared limousine van at noon that picked the small UK contingent up from the hotel lobby, transferring us from the Marriott to Dodge island, where the Norway sat waiting; a proud, pristine colossus etched in blue and white, standing calm and poised against a duck egg blue sky.

We saw Royal Caribbean’s Sun Viking first, an exhilarating sight in the brilliant sunshine. But that proud ship literally disappeared in the shadow of the vast Norway.

I was aboard before I even knew it. In those days, the Norway was so huge that she occupied both Piers One and Two on Dodge Island. I have no recollection of lifeboat drill, but do remember the Sun Viking edging downstream past the Norway, her passengers waving and cheering at us- and vice versa. Then the ropes came off, and it was our turn…..

That week- wow. It simply changed everything. We visited only St. Thomas in the Caribbean, and Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas- this was before Nassau was added to the itinerary the next year. My cabin- A080- was an inside, only slightly bigger than the average pygmy’s postage stamp. It mattered not a jot. This was the Norway, up close and for real. It was like being awake in a stunning, vivid dream for a week.

At the inevitable journey’s end the following Sunday, there was another limo pick up waiting to take me to a nearby airport hotel. In those days, Norwegian Caribbean Line (as was) included the cost of a hotel day room in the fare, just prior to the evening overnight flight home. This was hugely welcome as it gave you the chance to freshen up, grab some food, and enjoy your own private space before the flight home.

Cruise lines mostly no longer offer this, knowing full well that they can now sell you day tours to the Everglades and/or Ocean Drive before dropping you and your luggage at MIA. It’s a double win for them revenue wise, of course. Otherwise, it now means that you could end up deposited at the airport many, many hours before your flight home.

I think they put me up in the Howard Johnson Airport hotel. It wasn’t exactly the Ritz, but it was clean, comfortable, and had a bed soft enough to give me a few hours’ sleep, before the last shuttle transfer arrived to take me to the airport at about 1800.

Another BA 747 flight- this time overnight- deposited me smartly into the warm, welcoming embrace of Deathrow- oops, I mean Heathrow- at some appallingly uncivilised hour of the day. Scratch that- it felt appallingly uncivilised. I had just come off the Norway after all. At Heathrow, my pretty balloon suddenly burst with one almighty bang.

There then followed more urban warfare, getting back across to King’s Cross to connect with a surprisingly pain free, cathartic journey on a British Rail 125 that whisked me back to Durham in around three hours. The first sight of that fabulous cathedral was more welcome than I can describe. It has dominated the city skyline since it’s completion in the late eleventh century. I felt that I had been away a lifetime, but those ancient stone ramparts just gave my naivety a kind of benign smile.

So- that’s how it was. Now things are different, less inclusive, and I’m older. Victor Meldrew syndrome has begun to kick in, I fear.

And, of course, we no longer have the Norway. She is long since gone though, of course, she will never be forgotten.

For those who sailed her, loved her and cherished her, the Norway remains a permanent, imperious vision. Lit up like a Christmas tree from stem to stern, those great, winged stacks standing like ramparts against the flaring purple Caribbean twilight, she stands out into a sea of memories that she will always dominate, come what may.

How young I was. How little I knew. How much I learned in a short space of time. And, of course, how far it all led me. This is the stuff of dreams, ones that came true, and do not disappoint. Rare magic, indeed.

CRYSTAL SYMPHONY AND SERENITY TO GET NEW PENTHOUSE SUITES, DINING OPTIONS

CRYSTAL SERENITY
Crystal Serenity; sailing into a new era of excellence. Photo credit: http://www.cruisemapper.com

As part of a massive refurbishment project that will also include several new dining options, both Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity will be dry docked to allow for considerable enhancements to their current passenger accommodation.

Some existing rooms will be replaced with an entirely new class of room, designated as Seabreeze Penthouse suites. They will be pretty much the same size as the current penthouse suites aboard both ships, but will come with an entirely new design.

Approximately forty to fifty suites will be added to each ship and, as well as featuring new touches, some will offer use of the first ever washer/dryers ever seen in rooms of this size, the new, expanded suites will also have the effect of lowering the current guest capacity on each ship, thereby increasing the already generous on board space ratio.

In the case of Crystal Symphony, the count on board will revert from a current 922 down to 848. For Crystal Serenity, the figures go from the current 1070 guest down to a svelte 980- just over half of the 1800 routinely carried on the similar sized former Cunard flagship, QE2.

In addition, Crystal will introduce unlimited, free internet across both ships, 24/, for the duration of each cruise.

In stealing an edge on the competition, Crystal will enhance and revitalise the dining options available aboard both ships with a whole range of new eateries. These will include:

The Crystal Dining Room on both ships will be rebranded as the Waterside Restaurant, offering open seating dining and featuring a range of classic dishes and modern, contemporary favourites.

Tastes will morph into Silk, a venue that offers casual breakfasts, lunches, and family styled dinners that will showcase many Chinese style favourites.

The Lido on both ships will be restyled and reorganised as The Marketplace, offering buffet style tapas and ceviche during the day, along with other casual fare. At night, one part of the venue will become a Brazilian styled steak house- a churascaria- where succulent cuts of meat will be served up on skewers.

Silk Road will go on both ships, but will be replaced by a new Nobu venue entitled Umi Uma. In a nice nod to Crystal’s twenty seven years’ heritage, the phrase actually translates to ‘Seahorse’, the company logo. Suite guests will be entitled to unlimited dining in here, with other guests being offered one free dinner per voyage.

Popular Crystal stalwart, Prego, will remain and, once again, suite guests will be able to avail themselves of unlimited dining here. The Vintage Room will also remain, but with a modified menu that will also feature a ‘lunch and lecture’ programme on sea days, featuring fewer courses than the evening menu, and all paired with appropriate wines and beers.

With both the Crystal siblings going to open seating for dinner, entertainment options throughout will be redefined to enhance the roster of evening choices, under the supervision of former Norwegian and Costa entertainment guru, Keith Cox.

Overall, this programme of retrenchment and refinement to both of these fabled ships must be regarded as the most comprehensive in their history, and something of a leap of faith for Crystal Cruises itself. With expanded dining, accommodation and entertainment options, plus free internet and a higher guest/crew space ration than ever, these ships- like fine wine and good music- just seem to get better with age.

SOVEREIGN- STILL MAGNIFICENT

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Sovereign as she now appears. Photo credit: Daniel Capella

I recently spent a weekend on the Sovereign, formerly RCCL’s ground breaking 1988 build, the Sovereign of the Seas. That game changing ship- the first ever purpose built mega cruise liner- created a sensation at the time, and would later be followed by a pair of almost identical sisters, the Monarch and Majesty of the Seas.

It’s a testament to their original, sound design that all three ships are still sailing today. Sovereign herself left the RCCL fleet in 2009, being seconded to Royal’s Spanish offshoot, Pullmantur Cruises. The Madrid based operator still runs the legendary ship to this day.

I boarded the Sovereign in Barcelona, to where she had just returned from her winter season of three and four day cruises in Brazil. Ours was a short, three night ‘filler’ cruise to Villefranche and Toulon, before the ship began her summer season of seven day, round trip Mediterranean cruises. This coming November, the 74,000 ton ship will be dry docked for a refit before she returns to Brazil for another season of short, sultry, samba fuelled runs to the highlights of east coast Brazil.

So how does the Sovereign stack up now? With a royal blue hull, flaring prow and elegant, knuckled counter stern, the Sovereign is still dominated by the enormous Viking Crown lounge that circles the funnel, a full fourteen levels above the water. Known these days as the 360 bar, it still remains one of the most amazing vantage points ever put into any ship at sea. Overall, this amazing vessel still has a proud, swaggering stance that puts most modern cruise ships firmly in the shade.

The famous, five story atrium lobby- known back then as the Centrum- still divides the ship almost vertically right down the middle. Instantly memorable, it contains the first pair of panoramic glass elevators that were ever put into a cruise ship. Swathed in brass, marble and shimmering glass, the grand staircases descend past window walled vistas that still flood the entire, elegant expanse with natural sunlight. This has the effect of making the Centrum seem bigger than it actually is- a neat little trick that was not lost on legions of ship designers as a future inspiration.

While this neat, maritime crossroads remains in a kind of Eighties time warp, it still divides the ship as nicely as ever. Forward of it are the cabins and suites, stepped up from low down to the upper deck in a kind of vertical layer cake. Aft of the Atrium, a string of lounges, shops, bars and restaurants rise through deck after deck, many of them with stunning outdoor vistas.

The cabins are still tiny by modern standards, with insides and outsides alike measuring a paltry 122 square feet. They all have en suite shower and toilet, a small television, twin beds that convert to a very comfortable double, and just about enough storage space to stow the smart casual wardrobe that is all you’ll need to fetch these days. They are functional places rather than lingering spaces.

By contrast, a series of retro fitted suites and balcony cabins run from fore to aft at the top of the ship, and offer a more secluded, expansive range of accommodations at a great value point. Considering how noisy the ship can get, I would definitely recommend considering one of these.

Aft of the Centrum, the public rooms remain almost in a kind of Royal Caribbean Eighties time warp. The Spinnaker bar is still there; a long, narrow room flanked by floor to ceiling windows, with an adjacent, long sit up bar and decorative steering wheel, mast and sails. It always was the most popular public room on the ship and, with great quality live music each night, it remains so to this day.

The Spinnaker is flanked by the casino, which now also has its own bar. One deck up, the large Rendez-Vous lounge opens up to the full, wrap around promenade deck to both port and starboard. On both sides, this centrally located room features raised levels that look directly out over the sea. With it’s large dance floor and bar set at the back of the room, it remains a focal point for activities of all kinds by day and night.

Deck eight showcases the aft facing, hugely popular Zoom disco. Forward on the Centrum, a newly created Alhambra bar features a limited range of extra charge food and drink options, irregular opening hours, and stark white, sit up and beg style tables and chairs which are something of an oddity on this otherwise dated, but still tasteful lady of the seas.

Bar 360, accessed by outdoor stair cases and a single, solitary elevator, remains the crown jewel of the ship. With magnificent views from an encircling wall of floor to ceiling glass windows, it offers a plush, expansive, peaceful idyll from which to enjoy a sunset with your favourite drink, though some live music (there is a piano up here) would add a lot to it’s barely burnished lustre.

In terms of dining, the two main restaurants retain their original positions on decks three and four respectively. I’ll get into the food and service aspects of the ship in another blog to come, but the two single story rooms are still expansive, spacious and impressive; each forms a fitting backdrop for the panorama of the dinner ritual each night.

Up top, the original Windjammer Buffet remains pretty much as was, with expansive floor to ceiling windows, and thoughtfully well sited food stations. Needless to say, it can be busy at any time of day and night. Nearby, the former Johnny Rockets has been converted into the upper level Wu bar and Fusion restaurant; a kind of club class venue that offers a selection of Thai, Japanese and Asian menu options at a fixed price. Outside, the original chrome shell of the Johnny Rockets Fifties’ diner remains in place; an at once recognisable and evocative memory.

The pool deck, with it’s two large pools, twin Jacuzzis and forward bar, is largely unchanged. The aft bar is still there, but was not open during our cruise. Above the forward bar, a grill located under the top mast serves up chicken, pizza and other fast food items from mid afternoon until around sunset.

I hope this blog goes some way towards giving those who loved this legendary ship some idea as to how she looks and feels now. Twenty nine years after her stunning debut in January of 1988, the Sovereign is still a wonderful ship; an elegant, enigmatic wonder littered with quirky, evocative works of art. Her royal blue hull gives her a grace and stance that nicely echoes that of her one time great rival, the long gone SS. Norway. Ironically, those two ships were built in the same French shipyard at St. Nazaire, the self same yard that also built both the Monarch, Majesty and, of course, both the Ile De France and the Normandie.

Curious about how she is now? In the age old words of Royal Caribbean itself; ‘Get out there’……

ABOARD THE RIVER BEATRICE ON THE DANUBE

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The River Beatrice at Durnstein, Austria

While the art of cruising down almost any river is truly relaxing, certain elements aboard some boats combine to make the experience even sweeter. Having just spent a week on Uniworld’s sybaritic River Beatrice sailing between Budapest and Passau, I came to the inevitable conclusion that the sheer luxury of the hardware and soft furnishings on board, together with the all inclusive nature of the Uniworld experience, went a huge way towards creating a level of pampered indolence that enhanced the overall vibe quite considerably.

How so? Let me run through a few salient points here…

The white. twin level entrance lobby, with its vast central chandelier, made a stunning focal point.But it was the little glass jars full of gummy bears and other sweet treats, free all day long, that gave it a kind of slightly naughty, kid-at-the-sweet- shop feel. I must have snaffled at least two handfuls of those gummy goodies, each and every day. My bad. Bite me.

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Room #317 aboard the River Beatrice

The cabins. Roomy for a river boat at some 150 sq feet; all white accents around a Savoir double bed that was a dream destination in its own right. Small marble bathroom with a strong, potent shower and L’Occitaine goodies on tap. Ample storage space, fluffy towels and bathrobes and, best of all, floor to ceiling glass doors that opened onto the scenery drifting past your window. How wonderful to nurse a nightcap there- like a little window box opening onto the stars. Snug, spotless; utterly sybaritic.

The restaurant. Open seating for all meals, served as a mixture of buffet and waiter service for breakfast and lunch, and a slightly more formal, five course affair at dinner. Menus featuring superb local produce- freshly caught fish and many fresh, local vegetables. And, quite simply, the best Wiener Schnitzel that I have ever tasted anywhere. Pre-dinner treats also appeared in the lounge bar every night.

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Partial view of the lounge on the River Beatrice, looking ft from starboard

The lounge bar; an elegant, horseshoe shaped expanse of floor to ceiling glass walls, with its own bar, dance floor, and super comfy sofa and chair groupings. The duo that played in here every night were simply the best I have ever heard on any river cruiser.

The deck furniture; plump, cushioned sunbeds with adjustable awnings overhead. Tables and chairs sprinkled along the entire, narrow expanse. Perfectly primped topiary that added a touch of raffish class to a place where every bit of furniture constituted a genuine hazard to activity of any kind. Peachy.

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Upper deck of the River Beatrice on a sunny day in Budapest

The service- right up there with any deluxe boutique hotel that you can imagine. I was totally amazed to find the lounge bar in the capable hands of a barman I remembered from the Queen Mary 2, no less. Attentive without being intrusive, genuinely nothing seemed to be too much trouble. The Uniworld staff- from top to bottom- were friendly without ever becoming overly familiar.

Little things matter; the free Wi-Fi was such a boon, as were the free bicycles that we carried along with us. And the size of the boat- long and narrow as she was- meant that we could tie up almost anywhere. Often as not, we simply rocked up in the middle of town, literally steps from all of the sweet spots.

So- to coin a phrase- these are just a few of ‘my favourite things’ aboard the low slung, highly styled little jewel box that is the River Beatrice.

Nice, no?

FRED OLSEN ANNOUNCES 2017 CRUISES FROM NEWCASTLE

BALMORAL FOCL
Fred, Olsen’s stately Balmoral will be back at Port of Tyne for another season in 2017

Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines yesterday confirmed a second consecutive season of sailings from Newcastle’s Port of Tyne on it’s flagship, Balmoral.

The 43, 537 ton ship accommodates some 1,350 passengers across some 710 cabins. Beginning in May of 2017, she will offer some thirteen departures from Port of Tyne, sailing through until the end of September.

Highlights of the 2017 Balmoral programme will include a five night departure to western Norway, an eleven night ‘Swedish Waterways’ round trip, and a fifteen night ‘Authentic Andalusia’ sailing that will highlight seven ports of call in Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar.

The news, announced last night, comes as a welcome boost following the recent announcement of the return of Thomson Cruises to the Tyne for 2017- their first such sailings since 2014. That company will offer a series of Norwegian and Baltic itineraries. And, with the continuing presence of Cruise and Maritime Voyages for several Newcastle sailings next year, the placement of Port of Tyne as one of the premier regional departure ports in the UK seems assured.

Located just eight  miles from the centre of Newcastle, Port of Tyne boasts easy, accessible links from London and the north west via rail, road and air travel, and a dedicated cruise and ferry terminal that offers a seamless embarkation process overall.

For 2016, the Port of Tyne season commences with the arrival of Cruise and Maritime’s Magellan for the first of a series of seven night sailings to the Norwegian Fjords.

Stay tuned for further details.

CMV ADDS ANOTHER VESSEL TO FLEET FOR 2017

Columbus-edit-quarterside-web (1)In a very surprising move, Cruise and Maritime Voyages this morning announced the acquisition of the 63,786 ton Pacific Pearl from P&O Cruises Australia. The ship, to be renamed Columbus, will join the UK based fleet line up effective of June 9th, 2017.

Pacific Pearl was put up for sale as a result of the Australian company’s recent expansion, but an initial statement from Australia had spoken of an internal ‘transfer’ within the portfolio of the parent company, Carnival Corporation, rather than a third party purchase.

While it was known for some time that Cruise and Maritime were in the market for another ship, the acquisition of Pacific Pearl comes as something of a curve ball.

The ship is very well known as a former stalwart of the UK cruising scene. Originally conceived as the Sitmar Fairmajesty in 1989, she started life as the Star Princess for Princess Cruises when Sitmar sadly went bankrupt.  She was then remodelled as the Arcadia in P&O Cruises. Then, after a long and very successful stint as the popular Ocean Village of Ocean Village Cruises, the ship disappeared ‘down under’ a few years ago to become the first significant cruise ship dedicated to the year round Australian market.

Now she is coming ‘home’.

The French built ship will accommodate some 1400 passengers in her new role as Columbus. The vessel has some 775 cabins, 150 of which will be sold as dedicated singles.

Worthy of note is the fact that the ship has the first significant number of balcony cabins in the CMV fleet, including what will be some ‘fleet largest’ balcony suites coming in at 582 square feet. At the other end of the scale, even the smallest inside rooms come in at around 148 square feet.

Like her CMV fleet mates, Columbus will operate as an adults’ only ship. However, in a first for the line, Columbus will trial a pair of all age cruises over the peak holiday cruise season next August.

In terms of tonnage, accommodation and space, the Columbus marks a significant step up from the recently acquired Magellan and the veteran Marco Polo. And, with a trio of swimming pools and the company’s first ever forward observation lounge, the Columbus will up the ante considerably in terms of leisure facilities and entertainment venues, too.

Like her siblings, Columbus will be based in Tilbury. In fact, she will be the largest passenger ship ever to sail regularly from the famous Essex port, the nearest and most easily accessed cruise port to central London.

Look out for more here as itineraries are made available.