Tag Archives: carnival cruises

SHORT BUT SWEET; LONG HAUL TRIPS IN A WEEK….

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Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of The Seas is perfect for a short break cruise

If a week is, indeed, a long time in politics (and right now it seems like an eternity on both sides of the Atlantic), then the idea of a week away from politics, holidaying somewhere warm or maybe just satisfying some deep, latent wanderlust, has to be the gift that keeps on giving.

Nor do you have to limit yourself to something ‘local’ of you’re a resident of, say, western Europe. A flight of around ten hours will take you from some rain lashed runway in February to the shimmering, salsa fulled heat of sultry, sophisticated Miami. It’s a long hop for sure, but it’s a bold one. And, if changing your scenery and mood is a big thing for you, then this is one very bold step indeed.

Let me propose the following to see if it floats your boat, as it were…

Get on that plane, and fly to Miami. Leave Brexit and all that other bone chilling stuff flailing in your slipstream, and instead spend two days working on your tan on South Beach. Add cocktails in the sun for good measure, and a solid stretch of languid people watching as you do so. Not bad for starters, eh?

Feel the long, gloomy days of winter fall away like some damp, unwelcome overcoat as you board some gleaming white dream palace at the Port of Miami, for a three or four night mini cruise to the banner ports of the Bahamas and the Western Caribbean. Add Nassau, Cozumel, Key West or maybe even sensuous, sublime Havana to your own, personal playlist. Top up with a potent splash of adrenaline, and you’ll soon be grinning like a kid as your ship’s whistle booms out across Bayside, and you begin to nudge ahead, sailing between those hula waving rows of palm trees that line both sides of Government Cut. From there on in, the sense of sheer, almost wickedly indulgent fun will take over like some kind of subtly pre-programmed auto pilot. Best to just kick back, and not fight it at all…..

Sure, those days will pass by at a frantic rate of knots. Don’t think of it as a holiday; this is more of a fairground ride, paced at warp speed. It will be noisy, and will most probably lack any real, ingrained finesse. It’s exhilaration rather than sophistication, more roistering than ritzy. Fun in the sun when you should (in theory) be shivering at home. Take it for what it is, and you’ll own it like some surfer besting a class ten roller.

You can be a beach baby at Coco Cay, Great Stirrup Cay or even Nassau for the day en route. Cold beer in your hand, warm sand between your toes, blue skies up ahead. Para gliders ghosting across the sky; the roar of a jet ski tearing up the briny… this is no normal Tuesday in February, that much is for sure.

And, when you do get back to Miami, why not gift yourself one last day of fun and adventure before flying home? Go out and see the magnificent visual smorgasbord of the Everglades on an adrenaline pumping air boat ride, go shopping on Bayside, or just take in one last day of sun on South Beach? There are no bad options here; just different levels of indulgence.

Yes, it’s a long way to go for a week, and one hell of a lot to pack in, too. But that’s the hole point; get out there, eschew the ordinary and set a bead for the borderline outrageous. Give winter the drop kick. Put down that snow shovel, and pick up an ice cold Mojito at sunset.

Food for thought?  Lord, yes, I think so. In point of fact, I think I might just have sold myself on this.

See you out there….

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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.

GOLDEN PRINCESS GOING TO P&O AUSTRALIA; CARNIVAL SPLENDOR TO STAY WITH CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE

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Carnival Splendor

In something of a surprise move, Carnival Corporation has announced a ship swap for 2020; the proposed transfer of the Carnival Splendor to P&O Australia has now been cancelled, and the Australian company will now receive the 2001 built Golden Princess from Princess Cruises instead.

There’s little real difference in the size or passenger capacities of the two ships: I suspect the decision to retain the Carnival Splendor is simply a desire to keep a major fleet unit based permanently in Long Beach, California, where the Splendor will transfer to as of next year.

Ironically, the one off Carnival Splendor first began her regular career on that same, Mexican Riviera run in 2009. Launched in 2008, she did a few maiden sailings in Europe before making an epic circumnavigation around South America- Carnival Cruise Line’s first ever such voyage- before she took up station in the port of Los Angeles for regular, seven night Mexican Riviera cruises.

Once there, the Carnival Splendor endured a much publicised loss of power for two days, resulting in her having to be towed back for emergency repairs in San Diego. Since then, she has sailed successfully on many itineraries, including her current role in the Caribbean.

It was intended to send her back to California as a stop gap replacement for long standing veteran, Carnival Miracle, and then replace her in turn with another vessel out of Long Beach when she transferred to P&O Australia in 2012. That, as we now know, is not going to happen, and it’s more likely than not that the Carnival Splendor will become a more or less permanent Long Beach resident, at least for the next few years.

She beefs up the Carnival line up out of Long Beach with an increased passenger capacity in excess of 3,000, and joins the smaller Carnival Inspiration and Carnival Imagination to round out the company’s west coast roster. While the two smaller ships sail on a series of three and four night options each week, the Carnival Splendor will almost certainly run the line’s prestige itinerary down to Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas.

FIVE THINGS THAT I LIKED ABOUT CARNIVAL MIRACLE

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The magnificent Carnival Miracle

Readers of this blog will be aware that I have just returned from a week aboard the Carnival Miracle to the Mexican Riviera. Despite covering Spring Break, this was a hugely enjoyable cruise on almost every level.

It marked my first time on one of the Carnival Spirit class ships, and I was really interested to see how these compare to the likes of the Fantasy and Destiny classes, and even the Carnival Splendor.

My overall impressions are noted in an earlier blog but, as something a little extra, here’s five highlights that ‘made’ the Carnival Miracle experience something quite special and unique.

ATM/TELLER MACHINES

Carnival Miracle has a series of self service machines on Deck Two that allow you to check your on board balance, make deposits, and even take cash withdrawals from your on board account if you want to.

These save an inordinate amount of time standing in line at reception, and avoids the need to phone, either. You can print out statements using the simple, touch screen set up as well. It’s easy, user friendly, and a smart bit of thinking all round.

SERENITY DECK

Of course, all of the Carnival ships have the dedicated, adults-only Serenity Deck. The format on Carnival Miracle broadly follows the same as on the rest of the fleet.

So you have hammocks, comfy sofas and chairs, and shaded pod beds sprinkled around an area that also includes a pool, hot tub, and bar service. So far, so Carnival.

But here, location is key. Serenity on the Carnival Miracle is located right aft. Sheltered by the ship’s superstructure, it offers marvellous views out over the wake, without the breeze. Part of it is under a sheltering overhang, the rest is directly in the sun.

Both offer wonderful chill out points to savour those peerless Pacific sunsets. With a glass of chilled Zinfandel at hand, this sheltered, secluded location adds enormously to the pleasure of a voyage on this ship. And, with the hot tub open until midnight, take at least one night to admire a sparkling canopy of brilliant starlight from this unique vantage point. Lovely.

NICK AND NORA’S STEAK HOUSE

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Nick and Nora’s steak house on the Carnival Miracle, seen from the outside

Here, location and menu combine to create a truly elegant, elevated experience. Located in the forward part of the funnel base on the topmost deck, Nick and Nora’s has windows looking out right across the horizon on both sides. That stunning vista is, however, merely an appetiser to the food and service here.

Sumptuous, seductive cuts of prime beef. steaks and lamb chops are served with as many sides as you can manage. Surf and turf? Of course. I had the ten ounce Filet Mignon, and it was so soft that it almost crumbled at the touch of my knife.

For starters, consider Escargots (if you must) or some delicious New England Crab Cake. In all, there are some eight different choices, and all will seduce the true food lover.

Desserts include a quartet of diverse chocolate samples that I went for yet again. Deft service, pared with some strikingly good wine choices, make the steakhouse experience a must. At just $35 per head, it is the best deal on the ship by a country mile, and worth it simply for the ambiance.

FRANKENSTEIN’S LAB

Only on a Carnival ship would you find a two story disco, done up as the laboratory of Doctor Frankenstein. His most infamous creation looms twelve feet high on the right hand side- a model of the infamous monster, complete with ‘electric flashes’ that ‘interact’ with him. The glass dance floor, with it’s colourful, flashing squares, is pure Saturday Night Fever revisited.

It’s a fun, frivolous enclave, and as gloriously tacky and over the top as a real disco should be. And, on our dedicated Seventies Night, it was packed to the rafters with party goers well into the witching hours. Great fun.

TEAK DECKS

Real teak decking is getting rarer and rarer these days, but Carnival Miracle showcases vast swathes of the stuff. The walk around Promenade Deck is a stroller’s delight (though it would benefit from some actual sun loungers to chill out on). But teak adds class, style and a sense of timeless chic to any ship and, on one the size of the Carnival Miracle, it also creates a fresh, clean feel. Never underestimate the therapeutic power of watching early morning sunlight flowing across freshly scrubbed teak- it is truly heart warming.

So, there we have it. Five of my favourite things about a week spent in what is, to all extents, a floating town. No doubt, other people will go out and find their own favourite places on board.

And, after all, that’s what ‘fun’ is all about.

 

 

CUBA CRUISING IN CONTEXT

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Cuba cruises are on the horizon for more players than ever from 2017

Without doubt, one of the defining memories of Barack Obama’s second term as US President will be the sudden, long overdue rapprochement with Castro’s Cuba. All of a sudden, more than five decades of mutual fear, suspicion and name calling seem to have collapsed as completely as the Berlin Wall of old.

Now the cruise lines are looking to get back into Cuba, and how. And, with relations between the two countries warming almost daily, it is only a matter of time before Cuba becomes as subsumed by contemporary cruise culture as every other island in the Caribbean. My advice? Get out there now.

As things stand, these are your current cruising options if you are a European citizen, intent on seeing Cuba.

MSC Cruises will operate the 60,000 ton MSC Opera on year round Cuba cruises, centered on Havana, for the 2017 season. Each voyage features at least a two night stay in the Cuban capital.

Come the winter, sister ship MSC Armonia will also offer a similar season of seven night cruises, again centered on Havana, before the ship returns to Europe in the spring.

Both of these ships offer a large number of balcony cabins, great entertainment, as well as multiple dining venues. But if they seem a little big, other options are available.

For the last several seasons, Celestyal Cruises have operated a winter programme aboard the intimate, 24,000 ton Celestyal Cristal. Originally sailing under charter to a Canadian outfit called Cuba Cruises, Celestyal saw massive potential in being the sole operator.

Thus, they bought out the Cuba Cruises stake, and continue to use Celestyal Cristal on the seven night runs. Again centered on Havana, the size of the ship allows the company to offer the most destination intensive programme of all Cuba bound ships.

While relatively intimate, a recent refurbishment updated the Celestyal Cristal with refreshed public rooms, and a number of additional balcony cabins. And, as of next year, the ship will be sailing Cuba itineraries year round, instead of returning to Europe each spring.

Carnival has also introduced fortnightly sailings on it’s new Fathom offshoot. Making a week long circuit of Cuba from Miami, the 4o,000 ton ship offers what is claimed to be a truly immersive local experience. Passengers can opt to learn how to make cocktails at bars ashore, or engage with local artists, musicians and families, in an environment intended to benefit both the passengers and the local community. It will be interesting to see just how this new genre of ‘eco-cruising’ ultimately plays out.

Perhaps most evocative of all, Star Clippers will offer a series of sailings between Havana and Cienfuegos over winter 2016-17 on the 3,000 ton, four masted Star Flyer. Carrying just 170 passengers, this awesome seagoing cathedral offers a series of seven, ten and eleven night sailings that-like many of the other cruises listed here- also call in at Grand Cayman. And, while the idea of a Cuba cruise is exotic enough in it’s own right, the lure of seeing this sultry island under full sail is something else again.

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The Empress of the Seas

What else might be coming? I would put money on it being only a matter of months before Royal Caribbean enters the ring. The line has just resumed sailings with the 42,000 ton Empress of the Seas from Miami, after that ship had spent the previous eight seasons in Europe sailing for the Spanish operator, Pullmantur.

Currently, the ship is slated to sail three, four and five day sailings to the Bahamas and Caribbean from Miami, but she is also the perfect size for a resumption of Cuba cruising. All of the ‘big’ companies in the cruise industry- notably Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean- are currently hampered in the Cuban market by the sheer size of most of their vessels. The long neglected infrastructure of Cuba is simply incapable of handling such giant ships.

Hence the sudden return of Empress of the Seas, a ship that operated successfully for many years on the New York to Bermuda run, where similar size limitations then applied. I would not be at all surprised to see this spiky little ship placed on a round trip, weekly service from Miami, with up to three full nights’ docked in Havana itself. If this does indeed materialise, I would expect it to be a year round service as well.

Invariably, Cuba will adept to accommodate the latest and largest of the all singing, all dancing, Vegas-at-Sea style resort ships. When that eventually happens, it is highly likely that Cuba will become as much a Caribbean staple circuit as Cozumel, Saint Thomas and Antigua.

Interesting times, for sure, Al always, stay tuned.