Category Archives: Uncategorized

MAGELLAN MOVES TO MEXICO FOR 2018-19 WINTER SEASON

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CMV’s Magellan

In something of a pioneering move, Cruise and Maritime Voyages will send it’s 46,000 ton, 1400 passenger Magellan to operate a series of fly cruises out of Acapulco over the winter of 2018/19.

While most mainstream Mexican Riviera cruises typically start in Los Angeles or San Diego, the ship will actually home port in the Mexican resort of Acapulco itself. The resort, famous in the sixties as a jet set destination, is undergoing something of a renaissance after many years in the doldrums. But, while cruise ships have slowly began to return to Acapulco, the deployment of Magellan out of the port makes her the first cruise ship to be based there for a couple of decades.

The route itself is something of a game changer, too. Typically, ships in the region visit the three ‘greatest hits’ ports of Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta on their week long voyages. Typically, these cruises spend at least three days at sea en route.

Placing Magellan out of Acapulco allows for a more diverse and interesting itinerary, offering up calls at Ixtapa, Manzanillo and Zihuatanejo, as well as both Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. This makes these voyages the most port intensive on offer to passengers wanting to see as much as possible of Pacific Mexico.

Originally built in 1985 as the Holiday, the mid sized Magellan was originally intended for warm weather cruising, and a comprehensive refurbishment has seen the ship very smartly adapted to suit the tastes of the British cruise passenger. The result is a ship that can offer a pleasant range of public rooms, dining options and ample deck space, while at the same time maintaining a sense of intimacy and comfort.

This new deployment of the Magellan is definitely going to be one to watch, and is a real warm weather, winter alternative to the overcrowded Caribbean circuit.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

COSTA NEOCLASSICA TO JOIN BAHAMAS PARADISE CRUISE LINE

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COSTA NEOCLASSICA. Photo credit: http://www.cruisemapper.com

The Costa NeoClassica is set to join the current, one ship Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line as of June 2018, subject to an agreement being reached with the Palm Beach port commission that would allow the line to operate more than one ship from the port. With the current ship- Bahamas Celebration (The former Costa Celebration) sailing from West Palm Beach every second day, the issuing of an agreement looks like a pretty much done and dusted deal. Between them, the two ships are expected to carry around 765,000 passengers each year.

It is as yet unclear whether the company will simply charter the Costa NeoClassica, or purchase her outright. Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line is the creation of former Norwegian Cruise Line CEO, Kevin Sheehan, and has enjoyed steady success with it’s one ship deployment out of Florida. The company has been looking to expand for some time though, as yet, it is unclear whether the new ship will operate short, port intensive cruises, or something more substantial.

Built in 1991, the Costa NeoClassica sailed for Costa in all areas of the world, most recently in Asia. An intended extension of the ship- the new mid ship section had already been constructed at considerable expense- was aborted amid huge controversy at the time.

None the less, she remains an impressive vessel at some 53.000 tons.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

SUPERSTAR LIBRA TO START CRUISNG FROM TRIO OF ASIAN HOME PORTS

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Sperstar Libra. Photo courtesy of Star Cruises

Asian specialist cruises operator, Star Cruises, has announced that it’s 42,000 ton SuperStar Libra will begin a series of three and four night cruises around Malaysia and Thiland from September 3rd.

The voyages will allow passengers to embark the ship at either Port Klang- the main port of Kuala Lumpur, at Georgetown on the Malaysian island of Penang, or at the popular Thai tourist resort of Phuket.

The idea behind the repositionng is to broaden the ship’s accessibility to passengers holidaying on mainland Malaysia and Thailand, and perhaps tempting them into adding on a short, port intensive cruise to a Far East holiday itinerary.

The ship itself has an interesting history; built for Norwegian Cruise Line in 1988 as the Seaward, she was that company’s sole new build of the entire 1980’s. She typically sailed from Miami to the Eastern and Western Caribbean on week long deployments, a role she continued in for some time after being restyled as the Norwegian Sea.

The ship became too small and inflexible to fully showcase the new Norwegian ‘Freestyle Dining’ concept of the new century. The company, then part of Genting Group, seconded the ship to it’s Asian affiliate, Star Cruises.

Renamed as Sperstar Libra, she sailed for one season in the Mediterranean, on cruises that marked the Asian operator’s one and only foray to date outside of eastern waters. Later, she would be joined in Asia by other ex-Norwegian stalwarts Superstar Aquarius (the former Norwegian Wind) and her sister ship, Superstar Gemini, the former Norwegian Dream. At one stage, the ship was sailing cruises exclusively tailored to the Indian market.

Between them, this trio of smaller, more intimate ships have proved very popular with the Asian domestic market. But, with the introduction of newer, larger ships to the Genting portfolio, there now seems to be a conscious effort afoot by Star Cruises to introudce at least one of these classic vessels to a more international market.

I hope a similar scenario plays out for the two sisters mentioned above, built in 1992 and 1993 respectively. While Star Cruises did indeed achieve regional dominance in the Asia market, there are now many more competitors muscling in and expanding in that vibrant cruise region. Some diversity is clearly needed.

Until now, the line has been astonishingly reluctant to showcase it’s highly styled and much lauded product across Europe and North America. Quite why remains something of a mystery, but perhaps this first, cautious redeployment of the fondly remembered SuperStar Libra is a postive sign. Like the Libra sign itself, it’s all about achieving a harmonious balance.

Interesting times, for sure. As ever, stay tuend for updates.

COSTA VICTORIA RETURNS, ADIEU COSTA NEOCLASSICA

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Costa Victoria

Costa cruises has sold the 50,000 ton Costa NeoClassica to an as yet undisclosed buyer. The ship will leave the Costa fleet in March, 2018, after a final season of Maldives cruises. As of June 2018, her scheduled programme of Aegean cruises out of Bari will be undertaken by the redeployed Costa NeoRiviera.

The original Costa NeoRiviera itineraries in turn will now be taken up by the Costa Victoria, making her return to the Mediterranean after a deployment to China and Japan that began back in 2012. After refurbishment in a Marseilles dry dock in late March next year, the ship will begin a series of week long, summertime sailings centered on the Spanish Balearic islands.

The route comprises a Savona departure, and sails to Olbia in Sardinia, Mahon in Minorca, then an overnight stop in Ibiza, before calling at Palma de Mallorca and a final, overnight call at Tarragona, on mainland Spain. These cruises are currently slated to start in June, and what the ship will do between March and then is currently unspecified.

None the less, the return of the one off Costa Victoria to the Mediterranean makes for a welcome breath of fresh air. And the sale of Costa NeoClassica surely raises questions over the future of her sole surviving sister ship- Costa NeoRomantica- within the Costa portfolio.

While no buyer has been announced yet for the departing,  1991 built Costa NeoClassica, it is a matter of record that the UK based company, Thomas Cook, is looking for a pair of start up vessels for a cruise line of it’s own. Thus far, Thomas Cook has remained tight lipped about just which ships it is hoping to acquire.

Could it be that both the Costa stalwarts might soon be reunited, and sailing under the British flag?

Stay tuned for updates.

SMALL SHIPS; GOING SOUTH FOR GOOD?

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Black Watch at Flam. Photo is copyright of the author

When Saga Cruises takes delivery of it’s new Spirit of Discovery in 2019, that line’s current, popular Saga Pearl II will leave the fleet. Though no buyer has yet been announced, it is to be hoped that this charming, intimate ship will find another owner, and hopefully within the UK market at that.

One possible interested party could well be Cruise and Maritime Voyages, which operates the Astor on a winter programme of fly/cruises to and from South Africa and Australia over the autumn and winter. Saga Pearl II is the near identical sister ship to Astor, and there’s no doubt that the two ships would make a great working duo. And, by then, it has to be reckoned that the veteran Marco Polo might well be coming to her final sell by date around that period. The slightly smaller Saga Pearl II would make an ideal replacement, with her outdoor terraced decks and similar, intimate styling, so the logic is inescapable here, too.

Against that, Saga Pearl II has a passenger capacity of just over 500- significantly less than the 800 carried by the adults’ only Marco Polo. And the trend lately at CMV has been to buy more bigger, second hand ships than before. The line first acquired the 45,000 ton, 1,300 passenger Magellan, and then upped the stakes significantly this year with the introduction of the near 64,000 ton, 1,400 passenger Columbus. Though relatively intimate compared with the modern big ships of P&O and Cunard, these two ships are still respectively double and treble the size of the Marco Polo. And, though intimacy remains at the heart of the CMV philosophy, the size of the ships is moving inevitably upwards.

A similar, upward gradient has also taken hold at Fred. Olsen, whose last addition- the 43,000 ton Balmoral- is almost twice the size of the 24,000 ton Braemar, and much larger than either of the stable, popular 28, 000 ton sister duo of Black Watch and Boudicca. It’s interesting to note that all four of the Fred. Olsen ships have been ‘stretched’ with the addition of a new mid section. In fact, both Braemar and Balmoral endured the process when already under the Olsen flag.

Like CMV, Fred. Olsen has nailed it’s colours firmly to providing a more intimate, British oriented travel experience, aimed at the older passenger. And, while both lines have succeeded and gained much success with this approach, it’s difficult to see how they expand in the same market; quite simply, the availability of major tonnage is now becoming an ever increasing problem.

Fred. Olsen has failed to add any new tonnage since the Balmoral back in 2009 and, while all four of the fleet’s ships are undergoing significant refurbishments to keep them fresh and attractive, the line is clearly in need of a new ship, or perhaps two. For a long time, the line has cast a covetous eye on the 38,000 ton Prinsendam of Holland America Line. Up to now, the Dutch line has proved very reluctant to part with it’s widely admired ‘Elegant Explorer’. But that might be about to change.

Holland America itself is in the throes of a retrenchment, geared towards providing the line with larger, more luxurious and family friendly vessels. Two of the 50,000 ton, 1990’s built Statendam class vessels- Ryndam and Statendam herself- were recently sold off to the Carnival subsidiary of P&O Australia. The two remaining in Holland America’s portfolio-Maasdam and Veendam– are clearly on borrowed time, especially when Holland America takes delivery of the stunning Nieuw Statendam in 2018.

If those two do, indeed, go- and it is pretty certain that they will- then Holland America might also, finally, divest itself of the Prinsendam. Any of these three fine, well cared for vessels would make great additions to  Fred. Olsen or, indeed, to Cruise and Maritime Voyages.

Elsewhere, other potential pickings are slim. I’ve already mentioned the lovely little Saga Pearl II, but the 19,000 ton Celestyal Nefeli- the original twin sister of the Braemar– might also be in the mix. Her two year charter to Celestyal Cruises comes to an end this year and, thus far, the Greek line has shown no commitment to renewing it. It has returning tonnage of it’s own to hand at the end of this year, coming back from Thomson Cruises. But the latter line’s decision to retain the popular Thomson Spirit for one more season might yet cause Celestyal to rethink again about the Nefeli.

Other than the ships cited above, it seems that the only new route open for both lines is that of dedicated new builds. Indeed, this is the route that Celestyal itself is heading towards, with plans for a pair of new, 60,000 ton cruise ships. And, with the current, on going boom in the number of small sized expedition ships now under construction, builders are beginning to appraise the viability of more general purpose, smaller sized cruise ships, albeit to a limited degree.

That said, none of this is written in the sky, never mind set in stone. It’s food for thought rather than a set menu. But, as the next two years or so play out, the moving of chess pieces here and there should be fascinating to watch.

As ever, pray stay tuned.

 

 

 

IN PURSUIT OF RETRO; CRUISE SHIPS GO BACK TO THE FUTURE

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Artist’s impression of Saga’s new Spirit of Discovery. Picture credit: Saga Cruises

There’s been a bit of a quiet revolution going on among some of the cruise lines in the past few years. After years on end of new, looming floating tower blocks, each more staggering in scale than the last, there has been  a subtle, yet definite return in some quarters to a more classic style of ocean liner look.

Don’t get me wrong- this is not some wild eyed rant against the new generation of floating resorts. I understand and appreciate the rationale that has brought them into being, and you cannot argue with their continuing success in sheer financial terms. Rows of balcony cabins are now de rigeur on modern ships and, as a lover of my own private space outside, it ill behoves me to start casting aesthetic aspersions.

And yet it’s nice to see a slow but steady return to a sense of ageless, elegant exterior styling. Take a look at the ship in the above illustration as a prime example.

Slated to enter service in 2019, the 60,000 ton Spirit of Discovery is the first of a brace of sister ships being built in Germany for Saga Cruises. That raked bow, sleek hull and single, proud funnel is a deliberate tribute to a pair of former Saga beauties of the past, the much lamented Saga Rose and Saga Ruby. And, with cool, classic interiors more reminiscent of the Art Deco era overlaid with elements of country club casual, these new ships are fine examples of how modern design can still accommodate contemporary tastes.

Of course, Disney Cruise Line can rightly take credit for this ‘back to the future’ look. Their quartet of large, retro vessels are a deliberate nod towards the likes of the old Queen Elizabeth and the Normandie. So much so that the company even went to the extent of building a virtual carbon copy of Southampton’s old, now long gone 1940’s Ocean Terminal to service them at their home port of Port Canaveral. And again, under multiple layers of ‘Mickey Modern’ embellishments, the decorative theme of all four ships is a distinctive Art Deco style.

Now, that same line has announced plans for a trio of even larger sister ships. Here’s hoping that this tremendous new trio adhere to the strong, hugely popular retro theme that has been hitherto so successful for them. With the new generation of screamingly advanced Virgin new builds looking like a trio of giant, floating steam irons, some calm, classic constructions are to be warmly welcomed.

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Another flank view of the elegant new Spirit of Discovery. Picture credit: Saga Cruises

COMING SOON- THE CHI-TANIC

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Under way- construction on the ‘new’ Titanic replica is well advanced

Like some fantastic, improbable sea monster rising from the depths of a deathless legend, a familiar shape is fast assuming solid form in a Chinese shipyard. A name at once suffused with horror, fascination and sheer, fatal glamour.

Titanic.

Now firmly under way in a part of China’s Sichuan province, construction of the static, full scale replica of the ill fated juggernaut is expected to be completed by 2019. And, unlike the bombast fuelled hype that surrounded Australian business man Clive Palmer’s moribund attempt at recreating the ship, this Titanic is very much in the realms of the here, the now, and the oh-so-real.

While all Palmer managed to achieve was laying down dinner plates in restaurants at a series of very fancy press launches, the actual keel plates of the ‘Floating Ritz’ are rising again, day by day, in China. The latest illustrations show construction cracking on at a rate of knots perhaps unseen since the fateful night of April 14th, 1912, as the original ship surged towards her nemesis.

While the replica Titanic will be the centre attraction of a massive, man made theme park, the owners have been very astute in securing the services of a world renowned team of Titanic experts to give the project both credibility, depth and expertise; something that Clive Palmer singularly failed to do.

The current project cost has been estimated at around £105 million, and will include the recreation of three hundred first class cabins, to be sold as hotel rooms. The original lavish, opulent interiors will reappear, in the exact scale and stance as those of 1912. There is talk that at least one boiler room will be recreated down in the bowels of the hull, and also possibly the engine room.

There will inevitably be those who cry indignation at any attempt to recreate the central component of such a notorious event as the Titanic disaster. But this ship will not be making any attempt to sail. And yet, paradoxically, this land locked colossus will, indeed, take people on a voyage of discovery back into the past.

For, in terms of interest and fascination, the genie has long been out of the bottle in connection with the Titanic and her story. You only have to look at the phenomenal success of the Titanic quarter in her former builder’s yard at Belfast, to realise just what awe, fascination and sheer sense of wonder are carried by those seven, simple letters. Those who decry the Chinese project are entitled to their point of view, but they are very much swimming against the tide of human curiosity.

In truth, the fateful voyage of Titanic has never actually ended. She has always continued to sail in the minds of men, racing heedlessly across the calm, starlit Atlantic towards her chilling rendezvous near midnight. It was- and still is- a story so staggering and implausible that not even the combined talents of Gene Rodenberry, Steven King and Jules Verne could have conjured up anything so fantastic as the real life events of April 14th-15th, 1912.

It seems to me that this actual, physical reincarnation of the Titanic could act as a kind of emotional lightning rod for those who continue to be fascinated by the ship, one that complements the stellar achievements still being rolled out at Titanic Belfast. And yes, I would have preferred to see the replica displayed in state at the place of her birth, but that’s not how the dice has rolled.

So I expect this now rapidly looming replica to arouse awe, appalled horror, and outright admiration in different people, according to their temperaments. But the point is that the original Titanic herself aroused exactly the same sentiments in many, and some of those even long before her eventual, aborted maiden voyage.

I continue to watch this project with fascination, and I know that I am far from alone.