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NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE ADDS JERSEY BOYS TO ON BOARD ENTERTAINMENT ROSTER

JERSEY BOYS

In line with it’s stated determination to continue offering the best entertainment afloat, Norwegian Cruise Line has announced that it will add Jersey Boys to it’s roster aboard the new Norwegian Bliss when she comes into service next year.

The new ship- part of the ‘Breakaway plus’ class- will offer a debut season in Alaska, before switching to Eastern Caribbean sailings for the winter of 2018-19.

The award winning Jersey Boys tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and their rise from performing ‘doo wop’ standards in the back streets of New Jersey, to global super stardom in the 1960’s as one of the biggest selling acts in the world.

With most of their songs written or co- written by founder member, Bob Gaudio, the Four Seasons created a kind of sound that has been often imitated, but never equalled. From the low bass tones of original member Nick Massi, to Frankie Valli’s soaring falsetto range, the ‘Four Seasons sound’ became unmistakable.

Their first worldwide hit was Sherry, a rhythmic little thumper of a tune with a simple, irresistible hook that swept all before it. By December of 1962 it had become the first of three consecutive American number one records for the band.

Internal wrangles, run ins with the mafia, and the always present tensions within the music industry, all but sidelined the Four Seasons as a major chart act by the turn of the seventies. But a stunning return to form with a series of edgier, more relevant tunes saw them make a massive comeback in the mid seventies, both on the charts and as a live act.

Jersey Boys itself is an evocative retelling of the Four Seasons story, from the point of view of each of the original band members. It’s a bittersweet roller coaster through the hinterlands of triumph, tragedy, loss and betrayal, and the personal element really shines through.

But it’s that deathless roster of hit songs- Let’s Hang On, Rag Doll, December ’63, Who Loves You- that will really bring down the house aboard Norwegian Bliss. Each one of them is like a kind of emotional lightning rod that strikes an amazing connection with people of all kinds, right across the world. With the personal endorsements of both Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio themselves, Jersey Boys took award after award on Broadway (including the Tony). Once it opened in the West End of the UK, it wowed crowds for years.

The unveiling of Jersey Boys aboard Norwegian Bliss is more evolution than revolution in truth; a continuation of mining the rich seam that Norwegian Cruise Line has tapped into in terms of musical entertainment. I expect it to be an enormously popular addition to the entertainment roster on board this fabulous new ship.

THE LARDBURGER’S TIPS FOR VISITING SCOTLAND

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This is one of the local delicacies that Scotlanders eat. Herb and I were not amused…..

Hi folks, it’s Myrtle Lardburger here again! Herb and I went to Scotland recently to sample some of the culture and hospitality on offer, and Anthony asked us if we’d be kind enough to write a blog for his website. So, here we go!

We flew over on a wide bodied jet from the mid west US of A to Edinburgh. We had to fly over England because some guy called Adrian has built a wall to keep the Brits out of Scotland, apparently. Go Scotland!

(Otherwise, next thing you know, that Mrs. De May will be up there, rounding up every Dalmatian puppy she can get her hands on. Can’t be too careful around THAT woman, let me tell you!)

Anyway, back to the subject in hand. The Scotlanders are very proud of their heritage and history, so Herb and I decided that we would try to fit in. We stayed with what is called a Laird and his Lady in an old castle. Dreary place, no air conditioning. Still, when in Rome….

We both had a kilt made especially. Ours were made from curtains taken from the old Royal yacht, Britannia. We so, so wanted royal hair for our sporrans, but you can’t get it because it’s illegal. Apparently, the last monarch- Mary, Queen of Scots- died of a bad head injury or something. And Prince Phillip is as bald as a coot.

However, the Lard of our castle very kindly ponied up some of the hair from his beard for the front of Herb’s sporran, and his wife did the same for mine. Winners!

Having seen Westminster and York Minster last year in England, we were really looking forward to seeing the Loch Ness Minster this year. Apparently, it’s a monster. Being something of a culture buffer myself, I expected this to be a highlight of or visit.

Well, I took the high road and Herb took the low road, but damned if we could find sight or sound of the damned place. Maybe it’s just one of those urban mists that you read about. There’s lots of that stuff up here. Can’t see your damned hand in front of your face at times.

There is also a local dish called Haggis, that everybody here eats. The Haggis roam wild in the Glens, and are hunted and cooked by a band of hunters called the Haggi, or ‘Hag’ for short. They take their work very seriously indeed.

We went to a Haggis feast, and when Herb asked one of our lady servers how long she had been a professional hag, she went bright red, and then slapped poor Herb across the face with a big, wet haddock. Poor Herb- his jowls wobbled like jello on top of a washing machine on spin cycle, and all for asking a perfectly simple question. We won’t be going Haggi hunting again any time soon, and would not recommend anyone else to, either!

You also have to be aware that the Scotlanders do like to spin the old folks tales as well. We kept hearing about something called ‘Battered Mars Bars’, so of course we had to try one…

More local exaggeration, I’m afraid. These things are sold from behind a shop counter, and they have obviously never been in orbit, never mind to Mars. When I pointed out that mine wasn’t even vaguely battered to the help in the shop, he hit me across the head with the durned thing! Five times! Then had the cheek to ask me if it was ‘battered’ enough now? How rude, and how cheap!

So don’t fall for this baloney. Luckily, Herb and I are sophisticated, well masticated world travellers. Two of life’s beautiful people. I mean, I’ve eaten sushi in Stockholm, for crissakes.

So sorry, no, we won’t be going back to Scotland-on-Sea any time soon, I’m afraid. It’s damp, wet and scary, and full of strange creatures lurking in the undergrowth. Kinda like the Everglades, but without the sunshine.

See you all soon!

CRUISE AND MARITIME VOYAGES TO SAIL FROM FOURTEEN UK PORTS IN 2018

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The veteran Marco Polo, a mainstay of the 2018 Cruise and Maritime Voyages programme. Photo by Anthony Nicholas

In what amounts to the most ambitious programme of regional cruises ever offered by a mainland British cruise operator, Cruise and Maritime Voyages will offer departures from no less than fourteen UK departure ports aboard five different ships for the 2018 season.

Line voyages to and from South Africa and Australia for the premium range Astor begin and end in Tilbury, as does the entire  2018 season of cruises offered by new flagship, Columbus, currently on line for a scheduled UK debut in June of 2017.

New to the 2018 programme is a series of seven cruises, departing from both Portsmouth and Poole aboard the retained Astoria. This series of cruises extends the programme for the former, 1948 built Stockholm right through until almost the end of 2018.

Meanwhile, fleet mainstays, Magellan and the veteran Marco Polo will offer a series of regional departures from around the UK on itineraries ranging from two to fifteen nights, plus the occasional overnight, repositioning mini cruise.

The full list of UK departure ports is: Belfast, Bristol (both from the port and Avonmouth), Cardiff, Dundee, Greenock for Glasgow, Harwich, Hull, Liverpool, Newcastle Port of Tyne, Newport, Poole, Portsmouth, Rosyth for Edinburgh, and London Tilbury.

It is also worth noting that the company provides many coach links that coincide with sailings from their various ports around the United Kingdom, making for easy connections with all the different cruises on offer.

In the main, Cruise and Maritime Voyages sail to Norway, the Baltic, Greenland and Spitzbergen, plus the Canary Islands in peak season. Shoulder season sees some attractive, short European coastal and city cruises, with winter heralding a series of short Christmas market jaunts. There is also a handful of cruises that take in the stunning, winter time Norwegian Lights.

The CMV fleet is, for the most part intimate, adult’s only ships, though some high season sailings aboard the new flagship Columbus will offer some child friendly sailings for 2017.

Early year sailings now include a mammoth, round the world circuit from Tilbury, an exotic Caribbean round trip, and an extensive itinerary that embraces the highlights of the Amazon.

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……

NORWEGIAN SKY EXTENDS CUBA CRUISES THROUGH 2018

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The Norwegian Sky off Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

Norwegian Cruise Line has today announced that it’s 78,000 ton Norwegian Sky will continue to cruise from Miami to Cuba throughout the course of 2018.

The popular ship is already slated to offer some thirty, four night sailings to the re-opened holiday destination this year. Most of the new 2018 sailings will follow this year’s route, with most offering an overnight stay in Cuba’s sizzling, salsa fulled capital of Havana.

These cruises on Norwegian Sky will continue to be all inclusive, with all drinks included in the price on board.

This second Cuba season will begin on March 26th, 2018. As well as some thirty-two sailings that will showcase the overnight Havana stay, all sailings will also feature a call at Norwegian’s heavily renovated Bahamas private island, Great Stirrup Cay. Bookings for these new cruise open effective April 20th.

Among some of the excursion options on offer will be the chance to tour modern Havana in a classic, fifties, style American car. Another option takes in the chance to sample the local flora and fauna at Soroa, while another, more rustic option allows the chance to savour an immersive food fest, taking in local food from farmyard to dining table.

Originally built in 1999, the Norwegian Sky can accommodate some 2,004 passengers, served by a crew of around 900, in a large range of inside, outside and balcony cabins, as well as several upper deck suites.

Like the rest of her fleet mates in the Norwegian line up, the Norwegian Sky offers open seating, Freestyle Dining that eschews the conventional set meal times on many ships. She also offers several extra tariff, speciality restaurants that offer a fine dining experience, bookable on board, together with the company’s renowned on board high energy, razzle and sizzle style of entertainment.

All things considered, this is quite an attractive option, allowing passengers to dip their toes into a hitherto relatively secluded, exotic destination without a large outlay in terms of either time or price.

WHERE TO FOR THOMAS COOK CRUISES?

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Could one- or more- of the Carnival Fantasy class vessels be chartered to Thomas Cook in late 2017?

It isn’t so very long since the venerable tour operator, Thomas Cook, announced that it would be starting up a cruise line of its own at the end of 2017, initially with a pair of second hand ships. As soon as that statement was made, a tidal wave of speculation began to break as to what the identities of those two ships might be.

The first, and most obvious options, seemed to be the two ships that would be leaving the Thomson Cruises fleet at the end of the year to return to parent company, Celestyal Cruises. That line has a long record of chartering vessels out to other UK holiday operators, so it seemed that the two vessels in question- Thomson Majesty and Thomson Spirit- might be the prime candidates for a Thomas Cook start up.

However, we now know that the Thomson Majesty, soon to be Celestyal Majesty is going out to Cuba for week long cruises in the Caribbean. And, with Spirit said to be set for a deployment out of Malaga, just where will Thomas Cook go looking for that vital start up tonnage?

One option might actually be Carnival Cruises. Carnival Chairman, Arnold Donald, is on record as saying that arriving new builds will lead to older ships being phased out of the ‘Fun Ship’ fleet. And, with Carnival Vista a reality and Carnival Horizon on the, erm, horizon, it might well be the case that one or more of the 1990’s built, 70,000 ton Fantasy class vessels might become suddenly available. These would be nice sized ships for a start up, too.

Or could it be that Pullmantur, the Spanish operator, might charter the 45,000 ton twin sisters, Horizon and Zenith, out to Thomas Cook? That would still leave the troubled Spanish operator with the larger Sovereign and Monarch to handle South America and the Caribbean, respectively. Plus, it might also finally pave the way for the long awaited, already once cancelled transfer of the third of the original Sovereign class vessels- Majesty of the Seas- from former parent company, Royal Caribbean, over to Pullmantur.

If you think about it logically, there really isn’t much else out there that is available to TC- just possibly the two remaining Statendam class ships over at Holland America. After the sale of two of their siblings, everyone knows that Maasdam and Veendam are now on borrowed time as part of the HAL portfolio. But is the veteran Dutch company ready to part with them before it’s own new tonnage comes on line? I personally doubt it, but stranger things have happened for sure.

Interesting times. Stay tuned as details begin to be firmed out.

VILLEFRANCHE REVISITED- AN ONGOING LOVE AFFAIR

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The waterfront of Villefranche. Photo by Anthony Nicholas

Anyone who knows me even vaguely will tell you how much I love Villefranche Sur Mer. The small French fishing port is the pearl of the French Riviera; a jump off point for cruise passengers to visit the heady delights of Nice, Monaco, or even Cannes. As Villefranche has no pier, passengers come ashore via local tenders, and are then taken on tour by coach.

Their absence is fine by me; it leaves me free to just soak up the atmosphere and sheer, jaw dropping beauty of what is, quite simply, the most stunningly beautiful harbour in all of southern Europe. Villefranche, while not a cheap date, does not have the stratospheric prices and brittle glamour of nearby Monte Carlo. It’s always been about style here, rather than hype.

As our ship-Pullmantur’s stately, legendary Sovereign– hugged the coastline of the French Riviera, the expected springtime weather decided not to play ball. Presumably, it had not read the memo regarding blue skies and sunny weather.

Instead, a slate grey sea roiled and slammed against the sides of the ship. Grey clouds scudded like malign, ghostly galleons across a leaden sky that threatened rain at any moment. But none of that was going to dampen my enthusiasm; I was going back to Villefranche, setting foot once more on what, to me, amounts to hallowed ground.

I stood mesmerised on the windswept upper deck as the Sovereign loomed past Cap Ferrat. Before I knew it, the enormous ship swung to port, and came swaggering into the stunning bay of Villefranche. Jaws dropped by the dozen at that first view.

A vast, natural ampitheatre of low, rolling greenery is studded with hillside villas, peeping out from among the foliage. On the quay, a ring of beautiful Italianate architecture, clad in shades of ochre, terracotta and pale cream, crouched along the waterfront, their window shutters garbed in shades of electric green and petrol blue. A handful of unsteady fishing boats huddled against the quayside, as if seeking refuge from the rain clouds.

An hour later, I was on a tender to shore, bumbling across the slate grey briny. Whitecaps licked greedily at our flanks and, even as I watched, the gorgeous panorama of Villefranche opened like a flower, bursting into bloom. Oddly, I still felt the same sensations of awed reverence as when I first came here, way back in 1998.

I stepped ashore on the old stone quay, and took in that still peerless panorama. Truth be told, Villefranche seemed surprised to see us; some of the houses had paint peeling from their usually immaculate facades, and most of the cafes were still closed against the just gone winter weather. Rows of chairs and tables were stacked up against the front of these, as if seeking refuge from the elements. The normally pristine beauty resembled nothing so much as a drowsy supermodel, woken suddenly from her sleep, that had not yet had time to put on her make up properly.

There were very few people about on a waterfront that is normally sun splashed and awash with happy visitors in the long summer days and nights. The two small, perfectly formed beaches were empty, the twin bars that adjoined them still shuttered and silent. But the wisteria and the oleander were beginning to bloom again on the old stone parapets below the railway viaduct; a sure sign that much better weather was on the way. Alas, just not today.

Sovereign was the first cruise ship to arrive in Villefranche for the 2017 season, and she will be followed by literally hundreds more. In very short order indeed, Sleeping Beauty will awaken and greet these visitors with her usual flair and finesse.

Some of the old stalwarts were open, however. It was nice to enjoy a glass of wine and some sporadic people watching at Les Palmiers, a cafe bar set just back above the quay. I walked along the windswept beach and then came back for another glass of wine in the Wine Pier, the seaward facing conservatory of the waterfront Welcome Hotel, with its beautiful Art Deco interiors. Warm against the outside cold, that wine- a beautiful drop of Sancerre- was truly something to savour.

Later, as our tender purred back across the darkening sea towards the spectacularly floodlit Sovereign, I gazed longingly back at the waterfront of Villefranche. Pools of light danced and shimmered along the edge of the bay, casting a subtle, seductive glow on the water. I felt cheered, almost elated at the sight.

Spring might not yet truly have sprung on the pearl of the French Riviera, but I felt warmed, charmed and, once again, hopelessly in thrall to this singular piece of rare earth. Needless to say, a return visit is already in the planning.