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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……

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TRAVELLING ON CRUISE SHIPS WITH BABIES AND TODDLERS- A ‘HOW TO’ GUIDE

SUPREMES
A bit of ‘Baby Love’ goes a long, long way….

With mainstream cruising becoming a much more multi generational thing in this day and age, you don’t need the detective powers of a Columbo-never mind a Clouseau- to be aware that there is now a wealth of travel options spread across cruising’s glittering firmament.

But, as always, ‘choice’ is often shadowed closely by it’s cousin, ‘confusion’. And, if you’ve toyed with the idea of taking your little ones on a cruise for the first time, there are questions that you might want to get answers to before you actually make that all important booking.

So here’s just a few things that you might want to consider asking, though no doubt the more astute among you out there will come up with your own ideas.

Check the size of the cribs on board your intended ship before you sail; don’t just blindly accept that a uniform standard exists across the board. This could be especially true on cruise ships operating in the Far East. After all, if the smallest ones get a good nights’ sleep, there’s more than a passing chance that mum and dad will, too.

Is the cruise line that you’re travelling with fully capable of meeting all of your baby’s dietary needs? Can, and indeed will they be willing to prepare pureed food as necessary?

Is there a bath, a shower, or maybe even both in the room that you are considering booking? Forewarned is prepared, after all…

You’ll want to know if there is a dedicated baby sitting service on board. If yes, find out how it works. For instance, will there be a dedicated child sitter on call and, if so, what are the actual working hours? Some cruise lines simply provide baby alarms, so be aware in advance. Covering all your bases up front is far more conducive to stress free downtime once on board.

Check out the situation concerning the carriage and use of strollers, especially if you’re embarking on a fly cruise as some airlines might have different regulations and restrictions. On board, where tenders have to be used to get in and out of certain ports, is it practical to get strollers- and, indeed, baby-in and out of a moving tender? Otherwise, you could very well miss out on seeing a destination you’ve always yearned to, simply because of problems with carrying a stroller. Best by far to know these things upfront.

Thinking of splashing out on a balcony cabin? You’d do pretty well to first ensure that the barriers are of the modern, plexi-glass type, rather than those old style metal railings. Pre-empting adventurous little climbers is just another way of de-stressing before you even set sail.

Though on board children’s clubs are extensive on most ships these days, you might want to think about keeping the little ones more comfortable and content by bringing along some of their favourite books and toys. Some kind of portable viewing device might also be good. While many ship’s cabins have DVD players and in house movies these days, most of these are naturally placed at a height made for adult viewing. Give the kids something of their own that they can use up close and personal.

Check the on board availability of high chairs, too. Are they freely available in all of the main dining venues and, more to the point, are they of the right height? After all, if Junior is snug, chances are that mum and dad will be happier at meal times, too.

Just a few passing thoughts for you to digest….

FIVE NOVEL APPROACHES IN CRUISING…..

MANHATTAN
The breathtaking panorama of Manhattan at dawn….

These days, we have become accustomed to mass air travel as the main means of getting from A to B. Almost every minute of every day, a plane lands at an airport such as, say, JFK in New York. And, except for the pilot and the flight controller, nobody bats an eye at such comings and goings.

And yet.. some cities can only truly be seen at their absolute best when you approach them from the sea. Few things cap any sea voyage with such poetic perfection as the stately procession of an elegant ocean liner along the waterfront of Venice, or a midnight departure from the floodlit, mountain studded backdrop of Hong Kong. And, while the list of truly spectacular and arrival ports is potentially endless, here are five of the ones that both time and tide have left seared into my memory…..

RIO DE JANEIRO

Rio; just say it. It sounds sultry enough in its own right. But imagine sailing into the vast, hushed expanse of Guanabara Bay at sunrise, with the city’s fabled twin trademarks of Corcovado and Sugar Loaf Mountain shearing out of the silvery water like gigantic exclamation marks. At your feet, epic, world famous beaches such as Leblon and Copacabana sprawl like silent, honey coloured sirens of old. Any way you slice it, it all makes for a sensational arrival in one of the greatest cities on the planet.

ISTANBUL

The early morning cry of a muezzin floats over the steel grey sprawl of the Bosphorous, where Europe meets Asia. Minarets on world famous buildings like the Haghia Sophia splintering the first, rosy glow of dawn. Sleek, low ferries bumbling back and forth across the sparkling expanse of water. The ancient, spiky Galata Tower pointing at the sky like some gnarled, skeletal finger. Only here can you sail into the embrace of two continents at the same time, and be equally awed by both.

SYDNEY HARBOUR

The biggest, most vibrant city in Oceania is a rocking, rolling metropolis around the clock. But an early morning arrival in Darling Harbour is an adrenaline fuelled surge as you nudge up close to the famous ‘Coat hangar bridge’ that still spans the harbour. Meanwhile, the quixotic, brilliant white ‘sails’ of the nearby Sydney Opera House loom like giant shark fins against the Antipodean daybreak. Proof, if ever you needed it, that you really are in a different world.

CAPE TOWN

Dominated by the looming, cloud kissed spread of the infamous Table Mountain,  South Africa’s most instantly recognisable city has a waterfront studded with fleets of moored yachts, fussing tugboats and bustling cargo ships. Pastel coloured hotels, shops and restaurants on the Victoria and Alfred waterfront crouch in the shade of jagged, rolling peaks laid out under a carpet of vibrant, petrol blue sky. Awe inspiring does not even begin to truly cut it.

NEW YORK

The city that still remains the daddy of them all in terms of impact. Manhattan at dawn is a spellbinding forest of steel and glass, clawing at the sky. Car horns can be heard from traffic that barrels along the waterfront as your ship ghosts upstream. To port, the Statue of Liberty is a demure, sightless, pale green siren with her torch held aloft in greeting. Tug boats fuss around your ship like water beetles. Amazing and, once seen, an awe inspiring adventure that you will never, ever forget.

 

MARCO POLO TO SAIL SPECIAL D-DAY ANNIVERSARY CRUISE IN JUNE 2019

MP

The Marco Polo will sail a special, one off six day cruise next year to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings of June 1944. Leaving Portsmouth, the 1965 built, 800 passenger ship will provide a comfortable platform from which to take in a whole raft of evocative commemorations and ceremonies during the cruise.

The Portsmouth departure is so appropriate, as many of the first wave of some 165,000 British, American and Canadian troops embarked for the Normandy beaches from the Hampshire port. Many would not get the opportunity to return of their own volition; the subsequent three months of fighting that ensued in and around Normandy is some of the bitterest in the history of civilisation. The breaching of Hitler’s Festung Europa here marked the formal beginning of the end of the Third Reich.

The cruise first makes an overnight stay in Antwerp, located some sixty miles inland from the mouth of the River Scheldt estuary. Montgomery took the port intact in September of 1944, but failed to clear the river banks on both sides of the estuary. This allowed some 70,000 German troops vital time to dig in, and they subsequently made the port unusable for almost three full months. That delay allowed Hitler’s armies time to regroup, rebuild and, ultimately, to launch the Ardennes counter-offensive- the infamous ‘Battle of The Bulge’- in December 1944. Luckily, the German plan of presenting the port as a ‘Christmas present for the Fuhrer’ never came to pass.

The next port of call is Honfleur, inland on the River Seine. As well as it’s World War Two history, the pastel pretty fishing port was a great favourite of Claude Monet, who painted it many times. There is a stint of cruising literally just off the famous Normandy landing beaches themselves, with the added advantage of being able to enjoy that historic panorama from a hot tub, rather than some storm tossed, shrapnel splattered landing craft.

There then follows some scenic, sublime up close and personal cruising along the River Seine itself, before an overnight stay in historic Rouen, with it’s links to the ill fated Joan of Arc. A large swathe of the city was carpet bombed during the Normandy campaign, but much of the old, medieval centre-including the vast, Romanesque cathedral-survives to this day. From Rouen, the Marco Polo then charts a course back to Portsmouth.

During the course of the cruise, a whole raft of events will take place both on board and ashore to commemorate one of the most defining moments of twentieth century history. Among the highlights; a chance to visit the replica of the famous Pegasus Bridge, whose capture by British airborne troops on the first day was so vital to the whole campaign, plus the chance to visit Arromanches harbour, where the famous, jury rigged ‘Mulberry Bridges’ allowed a torrent of men and material to be poured into the slowly growing Allied bridgeheads.

On June 6th, a poignant service will be held on board the Marco Polo to commemorate all of those lost on that epic day, and there will also be a military historian on board, there to retell the saga of the ‘Longest Day’ and it’s aftermath.

If you’re looking for something truly different in terms of a summer break, or maybe just yearning for a chance to glean the true nature of the terrible, momentous events of June 1944, then your ship many very well have just come in.

SILVERSEA TO ADD BRACE OF ACES TO IT’S DELUXE FLEET

SW
Silver Whisper. Image credit: Silversea Cruises

In what amounts to a serious statement of intent following it’s buyout by Royal Caribbean International, Silversea Cruises has announced plans to build a brace of new cruise ships, known as the Evolution Class, for it’s ultra luxury brand. The lead ship is expected to enter service in 2022,

Other than this grand announcement, actual physical details are thin on the ground. We know nothing as yet of the anticipated size or interior layout but, given Silversea’s stellar reputation, no one should anticipate any watering down of either the on board luxury or service that has been the company’s twin pillars.

But what is groundbreaking from the Silversea perspective is that this is the first time that company new builds will be constructed outside of the line’s normal, ‘go-to’ Italian shipyards at T. Mariotti and Fincantieri. Instead, the new duo will be crafted by Germany’s prestigious Meyer Werft shipyard.

Since the company’s inauguration with start up ship, Silver Cloud back in 1994, each new generation of Silversea ship has been slightly larger than the one which preceded it. But it remains to be seen whether that tradition will continue with this new class of ship.

Already on order from Fincantieri is another duo, Silver Moon and Silver Dawn. Slated to debut in 2020 and 2021 respectively, these 40,700 ton siblings are sister ships to last years’ Silver Muse. I honestly doubt that the new ships will be much bigger than this. if indeed, they actually are bigger at all.

That said, Silversea has definitely tilted toward some ever so subtle up-sizing over the last few years. The recent addition of a new mid section to the one of a kind Silver Spirit allowed the line to create a diverse, very substantial dining handle on board that these new ships will also surely replicate. Despite being one of the most esteemed names in deluxe luxury cruising, Silversea realised some time ago that it needed to enhance and update the traditional, tried and tested staple product, and it has done exactly that. Under the new ownership, I would very much expect that trend to continue.

Silversea is also strengthening it’s current, pre-eminent position in the deluxe expedition ship market with the commission of a first ever dedicated new build. Due to debut from the De Hoop shipyard in Holland in 2020, the Silver Origin is designed specifically for the niche Galapagos market. Whether this means that the current, on site ship-Silver Galapagos– will go elsewhere, remain on site or, perhaps, even leave the fleet-is as yet uncertain.

However you cut the cards, it’s still full steam ahead for Silversea on both fronts. As always, anticipation truly is a marvellous appetiser.

 

THE WORLD CRUISE, AND THE LOGISTICS THAT GO INTO PLANNING IT

QE2
Cunard’s QE2 was for many years the doyen of the World Cruise circuit

As voyages go, the World Cruise is still the Mount Everest of ocean travel; a kind of Holy Grail that towers head and shoulder above every other voyage, both in terms of aspiration and expectation. Many people will only ever get a crack at it once and, quite naturally, their expectations are as stratospheric as if they were about to embark upon an actual moon landing. Thus, each year, the cruise lines are expected to deliver on a truly global scale.

The actual hurdles involved in planning and then executing, a full circuit of the globe are mind blowing. Think of it as a chess game, where one protagonist intends to deliver a match winning epic in terms of style, experiences and service. On the other side of the same board, a whole amalgam of opponents, from changing weather patterns to political upheaval, via logistical snafus and resupply issues, combines to perform a potentially very formidable opponent, one whose whimsical nature can impose potentially drastic changes in what everyone fondly anticipates will be the adventure of a lifetime.

There are so many kinds of ship embarking on the full world cruise these days, from deluxe boutique ships carrying around three hundred guests, to some truly spectacular floating resorts that carry more than ten times that number. As always, passenger choice comes down to personal taste, affordability and, of course, the itinerary. But-whatever kind of ship people choose-their expectations are huge.

No one should be surprised at the latter, given the way that cruise lines of all types and shades ramp up the ante of expectation. Just the idea of a three-maybe even four month-grand odyssey around the entire globe is enough to fuel the adrenaline for sure, but adding further fuel to those same flames by promising the earth (quite literally) is all par for the course. The problem then is that you have to deliver, all potential obstacles be damned.

Some people save for literally all of their working lives to make a once only, life defining voyage such as this. It’s the crowning peak of their time on earth in so many cases. Others, blessed with a a glut of disposable income, might do a different world cruise every second year or so.  In both instances they expect the best and, to be fair, why shouldn’t they?

Accessibility to the main banner ports around the globe is key, and getting people to and from the main sites on shore excursions is huge, not least in terms of on board revenue spend. The typical full world cruise passenger is of a demographic not usually given to late night drinks parties or on board gambling. So a huge amount of the on board revenue take has to come from the sale-and en masse at that- of often expensive shore excursions.

It’s a fact that smaller ships usually get berths far closer to the city centre in places like, say, Saigon, but all ships coming into Laem Chebang-the main port for Bangkok-have to transfer their passengers into the city via a coach journey that takes anything up to two hours in each direction. That’s a full, near on four hour journey before people even begin to see the sights and, obviously, it’s easier to provide a few coaches for, say, three hundred passengers as opposed to a flotilla of them for three thousand plus potential explorers. In those respects, the smaller ships really do get the best of all worlds.

In between the excitement of seeing far flung foreign ports from Colombo to Curacao, there will inevitably be times when every ship has to spend several days in a row at sea. And it’s then that a curious transition takes place with every shipload of passengers, and on every kind of ship.

For the first time in many days, their collective attention terns totally inward. Deprived of shore side diversion, they begin to analyse every single aspect of how their ship runs, and the people that make her run. From lounge singers to salon crimpers, speciality chefs to the quality of the free coffee on board, no-one and nothing is exempt, and no amount of piston rings on a uniform renders any on board department head as sacrosanct. Passengers become naturally more observant and, as days pass by, sometimes they become more inherently critical of the smallest things. And oh, boy, do the crew ever know it as well. These people are not at all shy in voicing their opinions, and often at quite some volume.

It’s a process that is as natural as daylight. Typically, full world cruise passengers are of an older generation; after all, you need both the free time and the free flowing collateral to invest in such an epic adventure. And, as we get older, many people (including this writer) become naturally more grumpy, and somewhat less forgiving. Factor into that the surreal, ever expectant environment that the world cruise creates, and it is really scant surprise that the slightest hiccup causes the most mild mannered person to mutate into a kind of maritime version of Hyacinth Bucket.

Which is why it is absolutely vital for the morale of the crew on board to be kept up in as many ways as possible. Deck parties once a week, free time ashore when practical, and just general thoughtfulness on the part of the key heads of department on board, are all absolutely essential in helping to ensure that the crew stays keen. After all, without great service and the genuine sense of welcome that only a well motivated crew can offer to expectant passengers, then even the finest ship is simply an empty vessel. Often, quite literally.

After a few weeks on board, the sheer richness and lustre of the on board catering could become passe for many passengers, and executive chefs need to be constantly on their toes when it comes to creating new, imaginative dishes. Being able to pick up fresh, local produce at ports en route is key to any chef wanting to relight the taste buds of his shipload of pampered passengers. Obviously again, this is easier to do for a small complement of passengers than with one of the larger ships. It’s always a question of scale and economics, as well as quality and diversity.

The same goes for the on board entertainment. Like food, this is very much subjective for each individual. One man’s James Brown might be another’s Joe Dolce (Google him, if you must); keeping up a constant roster of newly arriving acts to entertain potentially jaded passengers- not to mention the provision of intriguing, high quality guest speakers- is an important part of ensuring that people stay engaged with the ship’s social side at night, as well as during sea days.

Weather is not something that anybody can make, and most-but not all-people will take it well when adverse weather conditions mean that things do not always go to plan. However, should a major storm make it necessary to avoid one, or even maybe two really popular, much anticipated ports of call, then that is where the captain and the logistic department ashore really need to pull out all the stops to lay on one, and possibly more, options that will at least attempt to appease an obviously disappointed passenger load.

And this is easier said than done, as any given ship has an over reaching route and course to maintain. Any resultant diversion means figuring how to get from the substituted port to the next scheduled one. What speeds need to be made, and what about allowances for tides? Will there even be a local pilot available for a possibly revised arrival time? At the substitute port (s), new and interesting shore excursions have to be conjured up quickly, and from nothing, and then suitable transport (plus guides) found to cater for those people taking up the revised options. As a logistical exercise, this can be an absolute nightmare for the staff of any ship, from the smallest to the largest.

So yes, the world cruise is awesome, both in scope and for the potential for things to go wrong. Weather and world events are no respecters of even the grandest, most long cherished dreams and, of course, we all travel in a fickle, whimsical environment in any event. And, while this is also true of even the shortest cruise, think how much more so it applies on a full, flung, multi-week round the world roustabout.

Mind you, I’d still do it. But then, I mean, who wouldn’t?

 

 

 

CRYSTAL’S NEW DIAMONDS, AND HOW THEY STACK UP TO THE COMPETITION

CDPROF
Broadside view of the first of the new Crystal Diamond class vessels. Image copyright is that of Crystal Cruises

Well, Crystal Cruises has finally delivered details of it’s first, new purpose built cruise ship since the Crystal Serenity back in 2003. And what details they are, too.

However, what is also interesting is the extent to which the project has been scaled down since the tenure of Edie Rodriguez at the helm of the ultra luxury cruise line.

She originally outlined a series of breathtaking, 100,000 ton siblings, each one with an ice strengthened hull and an entire upper deck of exclusive, condo style apartments available for purchase. Under any circumstances, these would have been the most impressive ultra luxury siblings ever to have been built.

Post Rodriguez, the scale of the new trio-now defined as the Diamond Class- has been pared back to 67,000 tons each, with a maximum capacity of just 800 guests. There is no more talk of any bespoke apartments available for purchase. To be built by Crystal’s own, in house shipyard of MV Werften in Germany, the trio is now slated for delivery over a six year time frame, with the first expected to debut in 2022. With a passenger space ratio of 83.75, these ships will offer a level of space unparalleled in luxury cruising.

To see how they stack up against other, contemporary ultra luxury ships, check out the table below;

Silver Muse. Silversea Cruises. 40,700 tons. 596 guests. Passenger space ratio of 68.28

Seabourn Ovation. Seabourn Cruises. 40,350 tons. 604 guests. Passenger space ratio of 67.1

Seven Seas Explorer. Regent Seven Seas Cruises. 55.234 tons. 738 guests. Passenger space ratio of 68.3

Europa 2. Hapag Lloyd Cruises. 40,000 tons. 516 guests. Passenger space ration of 77.5

So, seen purely from the standpoint of on board personal space, the Diamond Class ships are set to become the new benchmark of ultra luxury cruising.  But, what else will Crystal’s upscale, pampered clientele be getting, other than space bragging rights?

For sure,while general interior arrangements have been settled according to the company, these are not yet public knowledge. We have to go with these first, tantalising renditions on general display to try and play detective here.

Images released by Crystal reveal a class of ship with a brace of large, upper deck pools, separated by a deck house. The single funnel is located aft of these, and it bears more than a passing resemblance to the new funnel design on Regent’s recent Seven Seas Explorer.

A series of terraced decks descend right aft, timeless acknowledgement and welcome continuation of the areas so popular over the years on both Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity. A large, terraced deck on the lowest aft deck could either contain a third pool, or serve as part of an outdoor dining area.

Lifeboats are nested above the lower hull, just as they are on the Crystal Serenity, and there is a smaller promenade deck in evidence. This marks a first, distinct link with either of the current duo. Worthy of note is the absence of an enclosed, upper deck area with a sliding glass roof. I suspect many regular Crystal acolytes might miss this.

On the other hand, the always popular Palm Court makes a welcome reappearance in it’s usual, forward facing upper deck location.

Of course, ideas can change and morph into something entirely different from the process of renderings, through to actual physical realisation. As of right now, there stands some four years between the two.

It’s going to be quite instructive to see how this first ever, dedicated class of sister ships for Crystal evolves over time and tide. Though they are to be constructed on what is essentially the same platform, expect each of these Diamond Class ships (Crystal Diamond, Crystal Ruby and Crystal Sapphire, anyone?) in turn to offer some wonderful new, cosy twerks and hallmarks of their own as the debut on the cruising circuit.

Interesting times, for sure. As ever, stay tuned.