Category Archives: OCEAN AND LAND TRAVEL

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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IT’S A MIRACLE-CARNIVAL RETURNS TO SAN DIEGO SAILING FOR WINTER 2019-20

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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?

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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.

SUMMER IN THE CITIES; BALMORAL TO THE BALTIC IN MAY, 2019

BALMORAL
Fred. Olsen’s classy Balmoral

While 2018 has been a banner year for travel here at TWA, it already looks as if 2019 is shaping up fair to be even more so. In fact, the bar on that one was raised considerably by some very welcome news I received yesterday morning about one particular, much anticipated trip.

It puts me back aboard an old favourite cruise ship of mine-Fred. Olsen’s spacious, graceful Balmoral- on a fourteen night run out of Newcastle’s Port of Tyne to the capital cities of Scandinavia and back again. Leaving in early May, it’s the perfect time to get up close and personal to some of the most stunning highlights of that beautiful cruising region.

The cruise showcases overnight stays in both Stockholm and St. Petersburg, both cities that cry out for more than simply a one day stay. There’s also vibrant, beguiling Copenhagen, still very much the fun, summertime capital of Scandinavia, plus a visit to cool, cosmopolitan Helsinki and fairy tale, Olde Worlde Tallinn, in Estonia.

Unusually for such an itinerary, there’s also a welcome call int at Oslo, Norway’s green, gracious capital, on the way back to the Tyne. Throw in no less than three full, idyllic sea days, and you’ve got an itinerary that ticks almost every box imaginable.

The visual highlights en route are almost effortlessly impressive. Imagine close quarter cruising among the scores of amazing, pine clad islands in the Stockholm archipelago in the long, lingering afterglow of the ‘white nights’, and the warm, whimsical fairground lights of Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens in the first, full bloom of the spring.

There’s the amazing waterside splay of splendid Italianate architecture that lines the still, silent canals of Saint Petersburg, where the enormous glut of gold and gilt at Petrodeverts serves as a timely reminder of past excess and corruption. The winding, cobbled streets of Tallinn are dominated by towering, tapered Gothic church spires and gaunt castle walls dating back to the Middle Ages. Here, in a city blighted by both communism and fascism, that darker past is never too far below the gingerbread veneer that exists today.

Helsinki flaunts green, open spaces, cutting edge architecture and timeless Art Nouveau elegance, along a waterfront where fleets of fishing boats sit at anchor, while scores of seabirds wheel and screech all around them. And, as a fabulous finale, the stately, sixty mile inland sail to Norway’s capital of Oslo is one of the scenic, sublime processions from open sea to city on offer anywhere in the world.

It’s a fabulous smorgasbord of a trip and, just like any great feast, there’s one key element and mindset at the heart of it all that sets the tone for everything else. In this case, it just happens to be the ship herself.

Balmoral is warm, welcoming and spacious. A ship that typifies style, rather than hype. the ‘gimmicks’ here are genuinely gracious service allied to fine food, served in a variety of venues, and a warm, welcoming sense of care and concern for the passengers on board. It’s as much serene as it is surreal.

With passenger numbers on board kept to just under 1400, Balmoral is majestic yet manageable in terms of on board space. She’s expansive, yet easy on the eye. For such a special itinerary as this, she’s the ideal ship; her size allows her ease of access to the prime berths in those historic city centres, while still allowing space enough for you to be as sociable or as secluded as you like.

Add to that the ease of a convenient local departure (Port of Tyne is literally a twenty five minute drive from my front door) and that special, sublime play of light on water that is one of the true highlights of the summertime Baltic, and you begin to understand why this trip has so much appeal to me.

There will always be those who assert that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’; in this case, I’d amend that to familiarity breeds contentment…..

Come aboard with me in May 2019, right here on TWA, and we’ll sail those epic Baltic idylls in fine, timeless style. Lovely stuff.

 

SHORT CRUISES; A SURE THING, OR SHORT CHANGE?

BOUDICCA
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines is one of the major companies offering a range of short cruises from the UK each year

Let’s face it; there are times in life when you simply need a quick, short break from the normal, everyday routine, and you simply don’t have the time to take an extended trip. That being so, maybe a quick, three to five day cruise might just fit the bill.

Maybe you’re getting together a small group of friends for a reunion, or celebrating some landmark event that makes pushing the boat out (pun wholly intentional) seem like a grand idea. You want to put something together that is short on time, but high on style. Something truly memorable. Again, a short cruise might just be the very thing.

For sure, a short cruise means that you’re pretty damned limited as to where you can go, especially when sailing from a UK port. And not even the best salesman can make Cherbourg sound as alluring as, say Curacao. Plus, a lot of these trips tend to sail in the later months of the year, so the likelihood of getting good weather can be pretty low. If these are your main drivers, then you might be better off exploring other options.

That said, a short cruise still serves up more pros than cons in my experience. For me, a short cruise still wins out over a land stay in terms of style, price and inclusiveness every single time.

There’s also the welcome knowledge that you’re being cosseted in a safe, stress free environment; one in which your accommodation, food and entertainment have already been factored into the price. That leaves you free to simply indulge in all the fun stuff; drinking, dining, dancing, enjoying the shows and live music. Even for a few days, the world- if not quite your oyster- can seem like a pretty damned tasty prawn platter.

And there’s no denying that a short cruise sounds, indeed feels, almost wickedly self indulgent, too. It gifts you the luxury of time and space to reconnect with friends and family, in a way that the normal, hectic hugger mugger of everyday life often makes impractical.

Think of a short cruise as being like a really tasty box of chocolates; it isn’t going to last very long for sure, but just the memories alone will put a smile on your face long after you return to reality.

For Christmas shoppers, these short cruises are ideal, too. Many of them rock up at continental ports where traditional Christmas markets are a seasonal standard. And that in itself puts back the fun into Christmas shopping that is largely absent back at home these days.

Best of all, mind you, is the fact that you have gifted yourself with something truly special as a present, too. And-let’s face it- you’re worth it.

Do enjoy!

ROME; WHAT’S IN A NAME?

COLLOSSEUM
Rome’s tremendous, timeless Colosseum

Rome. One name. Endless images. The Eternal City. What exactly is Rome to you?

Rome for me is the hulking, ruined grandeur of the Colosseum, stark and unyielding against an early autumnal sunset. Every stone, pillar and archway has echoes of desperate gladiator duels, animal fights and appalling ritual sacrifices seared into it. It’s a crumbling construct that seems to defy both time and the Gods themselves.

Rome is that first hit of fresh, piping hot espresso, and the zesty aroma of lush, fragrant lemon trees in full bloom in the first, heady days of spring. It is sunset on the waters of the ageless, meandering River Tiber; sometimes, she’s an early evening stroll across one of the ancient stone bridges that still span that silent, serpentine sprawl.

Rome is the jagged remains of shattered Doric columns, glinting eerily in the noonday sun that still washes the scarred, silent expanse of the Forum. The same sun that once glinted on the blades of Brutus and Cassius as they bathed this self same spot in the blood of Julius Caesar.

Rome is the sight and sound of masses of motor scooters, buzzing like maddened wasps as they swarm in droves past the balcony from where the strutting, meat headed Mussolini once harangued the increasingly sullen crowds. It is the cool. ordered magnificence of Bernini’s stunning, colonnaded courtyard as it sweeps up to the serene, aloof symmetry of St. Peter’s. It is the intricate, impossibly beautiful frescoed real estate of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. And it is also the brooding, turreted bulwarks of Castel Sant Angelo, where more than one Pope sought refuge during the turmoil of the Middle Ages.

Rome is the bustling cafe society of Piazza Navona, with it’s impossibly ornate fountains. Rome is cold, crisp wine on a warm summer night, sitting and sipping under light bedecked plane trees as you savour la dolce vita unfolding all around you like some Caravaggio masterpiece.

Above all, Rome truly is eternal. A city that was once the centre of the greatest empire that the world had ever known. A magician’s conjuring trick that reinvented itself to become the focal point for one of the world’s prime religions. It’s a city that embraced modernity, while still framing it in the context of it’s own matchless, exalted past. A stunning juxtaposition of the ancient and the sometimes shockingly modern; the sensational and the effortlessly, eternally serene, sitting side by side.

Rome is a moody, Machiavellian style melting pot that inspired Michelangelo and infuriated Mussolini. A city so mesmerising in scale, sweep and historical scope that even the retreating German army baulked at destroying it in June 1944, in direct violation of Hitler’s personal order to do so.

Rome is Trevi Fountain. It is Audrey Hepburn’s fragile smile as she sits, draped across a scooter in Sabrina. Rome is laughing children eating delicious gelato on the Spanish Steps in the searing heat of a summer Sunday afternoon.

These are just a few of my own, mental images of this swaggering, majestic city. Now I’ll throw the question back out there one more time;

What is Rome to you? Why not go see for yourself……