Tag Archives: celestyal cruises

LOUIS GROUP SELLS MAJESTY

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Going, going, gone…..

Louis Group, the parent company of Celestyal Cruises, has formally announced the sale of the Celestyal Majesty to an as yet undisclosed buyer.

The ship was built at Turku in Finland as the Royal Majesty back in 1992, for the start up Majesty Cruise Line. In 1997, she was sold to Norwegian Cruise Line and renamed Norwegian Majesty. In 1999 the ship went to a German shipyard to have a new mid section inserted, before resuming the popular, seven day Boston to Bermuda run each summer, with longer Caribbean cruises in the winter.

The ship sailed for NCL (as was) until 2008 when, in a joint deal with fleet mate Norwegian Dream, she was sold to the then Louis Cruise Lines. Though the purchase of the Norwegian Dream ultimately foundered, the Norwegian Majesty was restyled as the Louis Majesty. She sailed some Western Mediterranean itineraries for Louis Cruises (I did one of them), based out of Genoa, as well as some short cruises out of Piraeus to the Greek Islands.

In 2012 the ship was chartered by Thomson Cruises, and renamed as the Thomson Majesty. The new charterers added some balconies to upper deck suites and cabins- the first on the ship- and enclosed the aft facing, open air Piazza San Marco buffet to accommodate larger numbers of alfresco diners in greater comfort.

In service for Thomson, she usually sailed the Mediterranean in summer, on alternating eastern and western Mediterranean itineraries out of Palma de Mallorca and Corfu. In winter, the ship typically shifted to seven night, Canary Island runs, sailing out of both Tenerife and Gran Canaria. I caught up with her out there for a week back in 2014.

With new ships coming on line, Thomson Cruises rebranded itself; firstly as TUI Cruises, and then quickly again as Marella Cruises. And, with the new ships, it was a case of ‘out with the old’, and the subsequent return of the Thomson Majesty back to Celestyal in November of 2017.

Celestyal had initially hoped to charter her out again, but nothing transpired. In March and April of this year the ship, renamed as the Celestyal Majesty, operated a two month stint on the classic, three and four day Greek Isles and Turkey circuit out of Piraeus.

I joined her on her last, four day run, and she had never looked or felt better. But, after just one more cruise, she was again laid up in Greece at the height of the lucrative main season. Clearly, something was in the offing. And now we have at least half an idea of what that is.

As things stand, rumours are that the 40, 876 ton, 1460 passenger ship will be sold to the Chinese market although, as I stressed at the start of this blog, nothing has yet been formally announced.

Personally, I’m hoping that this svelte, pretty little ship can be kept in the European market but, alas, I’m none too optimistic.

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WHAT NEXT FOR CELESTYAL CRUISES?

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The Celestyal Crystal has been operating seven day cruises from Piraeus since her return from Cuba this spring

The Greek specialist line’s current itineraries are sound, well thought out, and perennially popular. And Celestyal is cautiously expanding it’s Eastern Mediterranean programme, with a new, Egypt accented itinerary that will run through until November, with the short, three and four day Aegean cruises resuming as early as February. Both have the hallmarks of being a considerable success.

In terms of overall quality, the Celestyal product has improved, year on year. The choice of on board food, together with its variety and taste, has go markedly better. service, too, has improved to a good level of standard for a four star product. And, with the Cuba market now abandoned for the foreseeable future, both the Celestyal Crystal and the larger Celestyal Olympia have been refocused on the short, lucrative three, four and seven day cruise runs out of Piraeus. The use of nearby Lavrion as an embarkation port seems to have been abandoned, at least for the moment.

By all accounts, both ships are sailing at or very near full capacity on a weekly basis. The current brace of ships present an alluring, totally authentic, Greek accented experience for those who prefer not to sail those fabled waters on one of the larger mega ships, where the accent is on the on board attractions, and the gorgeous landscape sprinkled around them is so often an afterthought.

value, too, is a premium selling point. Each Celestyal sailing comes as an all inclusive package, with most drinks and some selected shore excursions folded into the fare. Coupled with the ease with which these ships can access sites that those other, larger ships must bypass, all of this combines to give Celestyal Cruises- always a destination oriented product-a distinct edge in terms of these short Aegean cruises.

But Celestyal is also currently sitting on another ship that really merits gainful employment soon-the Majesty. For want of either a charter or a dedicated itinerary, this beautiful ship is currently spending the summer in lay up. As situations go, it’s quite incredible.

The ship ran a programme of short, three and four day cruises from March through April. I was on the last, four night cruise in April, and the ship-and her crew- was performing beautifully. Yet now, in peak season, she sits wining at anchor, while her two siblings continue to garner big passenger loads on the lucrative Aegean circuit.

Next year, the line will also welcome the return of the Spirit, when that ship finishes her final charter to Marella Cruises this coming November. So, Celestyal has to find itineraries and/or charterers for both her and the Majesty for next year. What to do?

Obviously, markets have to be sourced and developed with care, and especially so when you are a smaller, more intimate, niche cruise line. So the time for planning and promoting these two welcome, potentially very profitable returnees to the Celestyal stable is clearly at hand.

Possibly, one of the ships could be based on Marseilles, where the ability to tap the potentially quite large French market is obvious. A new, port intensive seven night itinerary that parallels the current, seven night Celestyal Crystal sailings out of Piraeus could well be a potential winner.

Imagine being able to overnight in, say, Sorrento, Ajaccio, or even Ibiza? Tie in another couple of ports- maybe Villefranche and Cannes, for instance-and the appeal of a smaller, more intimate style of cruising (and cruise ship) becomes obvious.

The other ship could, perhaps, be home ported in Malaga, and offer a series of three and four night cruise departures that showcase such glorious regional locales as Cadiz, Valencia, Cartagena, and the seldom visited island of Menorca.

We’re not talking about filing 4000 passenger plus mega ships on a weekly basis here.; those Celestyal ships typically carry around 1400 passengers each at most. And, were the company to start offering complete fly/cruise packages, including transfers and even an overnight hotel stay where necessary, then the global reach of these short, totally alluring cruise options becomes readily apparent. It’s also an option that Celestyal cruises should consider for the Greek Islands and Turkey cruise options as well.

Food for thought? I certainly think so. What about you?

CELESTYAL CRYSTAL COMMENCES 2018 ‘IDYLLIC AEGEAN’ SEASON

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Celestyal Crystal

In her first summer season back in the Aegean after several years out in Cuba, Celestyal Cruises’ popular 24,000 ton, 1,200 passenger Celestyal Crystal has embarked on a series of seven night sailings- known as the Idyllic Aegean itineraries- out of her home port of Piraeus, Athens.

These are very different from the normal Celestyal offerings on a number of fronts. Firstly, the vessel sails at 2100 in the evening, thus actually allowing passengers from Europe to fly in on embarkation day itself. The normal, 1130 in the morning sailings so typical of the three and four night itineraries usually mandate an overnight stay in either Piraeus or Athens itself.

Central to this new itinerary is a pair of overnight stops at both Mykonos and Santorini, allowing passengers ample time to sample both the famous Mykonos beach and nightlife scene, as well as the sublime experience of enjoying the summer sunset from atop Santorini’s lofty cliff top town of Oia.

Other ports along the way include a new, first time call into Milos, as well as full day stays at both Heraklion, with it’s fabulous Palace of Knossos and nearby resort life at Aghios Nikolaios, and also at Turkey’s beautiful, breezy seaside port of Kusadasi, an easy access point for the nearby ruins of once mighty Ephesus.

Uniquely among niche Greek Island operators, Celestyal includes complimentary shore excursions at many of the banner ports en route, as well as tips and an all inclusive drinks package.

All things considered, this longer cruise allows for more interaction and immersion with some of the most seductive, sought after destinations in the Aegean when they are at their most popular, at the height of summer. And the pretty little Celestyal Crystal offers a more intimate, truly immersive, Greek style experience and ambience that the big, international cruise ships simply cannot replicate.

ALL CHANGE FOR CELESTYAL; MAJESTY IN THE AEGEAN FOR THE SUMMER OF 2018

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Majesty at San Sebastian, La Gomera. Photo by Anthony Nicholas

After her return from Thomson Cruises this coming November of 2017, it had been intended to send the 40,000 ton, 1400 passenger Celestyal Majesty (currently still sailing as the Thomson Majesty) to Cuba after a short refit. That plan has now been sunk.

Instead, it seems that the ship will lay up for the first two months of the year, before entering service on the three and four day run out of Athens to the Greek Islands and Turkey in late March.

Three day cruises will sail from Piraeus each Friday, offering a call in Mykonos that same evening. Next morning, passengers can choose between an early morning visit to Samos, or a shorter call into Kusadasi, before an early evening visit to Patmos.

Next day finds the ship at Heraklion in the morning, with an early evening visit to Santorini, before arriving back into Piraeus on the following Monday.

The four day, Monday sailings follow an identical route, except for an added, full day call into Rhodes after the Patmos call. In this guise, the Celestyal Majesty is offering the pretty much tried and tested ‘short run’ options that have proved so popular for several years now.

But it’s the following, seven day Idyllic Aegean itineraries that are really making waves. Beginning on April 30th, the Celestyal Majesty will offer a seven night cruise running through to October that offers no less than three overnight stays in two of Greece’s most compelling high spots.

 

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Mykonos at dusk. Photo by Anthony Nicholas

Sailing in late afternoon, the Celestyal Majesty arrives at Mykonos just before midnight that same day, there to begin a two day and night stay in the platinum chip people watching capital of the Dodecanese. Passengers can come and go from the ship as and when they wish during this extended stay- the only one of its kind-at the Aegean’s most hedonistic hot spot.

The ship then sails on to further calls at Ios and Milos, before a third full overnight stay in Santorini. There is an afternoon call into Crete’s capital of Heraklion, before a final day that again offers the options of either an early start to Samos, or a longer day in Kusadasi, before the ship returns to Piraeus the next day.

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Aegean Islands sunset. Photo by Anthony Nicholas

These new cruises- similar to the ones being offered aboard the smaller Celestyal Nefeli this year- have really upped the ante in the Greek local market. While still very port intensive, the included possibility of three full nights ashore (though it’s not likely that the ship would run all night tender service into Santorini) on a larger ship, really marks a significant notch up in the local product offering.

Shore excursions in the ports, as well as an all inclusive drinks package, are offered to UK passengers as part of the overall cruise price. And, while Celestyal does not offer a fly cruise programme, flights and transfers to Athens are easily arranged independently.

From London, Manchester and Edinburgh, Easyjet has direct flights to Athens. Ryanair flies to Athens from Stansted. Air France and KLM serve Athens from twenty one UK airports via their respective hubs at Paris and Amsterdam.

Celestyal Majesty herself is the perfect size for cruising to the smaller, more secluded ports of the Greek Islands, as well as the ‘Greatest Hits’ ports such as Mykonos. While she does not have numerous balcony cabins or multiple restaurants, she is a pretty ship, both inside and out, that will offer her passengers an authentically intimate, local Greek style experience, with food and entertainment crafted to fit the environment through which the ship will be sailing.

Standard inside and outside cabins are of roughly the same size; not huge, but big and comfortable enough for a week where passengers will be spending much of their time ashore. And, while wardrobe space might be tight, you won’t need a huge amount of formal wear for what is a very footloose, free and easy kind of cruise experience.

Highly recommended for sure.

LOUIS AURA CHARTERED TO ESTUR FOR 2017 SEASON

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Louis Aura

According to the well respected Cruise Industry News website (www.cruiseindustrynews.com) the laid up, 1968 built Louis Aura will begin a season of three and four night cruises for the Turkish operator, Estur, this summer.

The much loved ship, originally famous as Norwegian Caribbean’s Starward, will operate from the Turkish port of Cesme on a series of three and four night cruises to the Greek Islands. The cruises begin effective June 24th this year, with prices beginning at 199 euros per person.

If true, the news represents an astonishing, albeit very welcome reprieve for one of the cruise industry’s original pioneers; a much loved ship that has introduced many people to cruising over five successful decades.

For a few years, the Louis Aura was chartered out to a French operator called Rivages du Monde. This author can remember seeing her in the unlikely setting of Saint Petersburg in the summer of 2015. But, once that final charter finished, the ship was laid up and Celestyal Cruises, the offshoot of original owners Louis Group, showed no interest in reviving the ship. Most people took this as a sign that the Louis Aura had, indeed, come to the end of her days.

So the news that this lovely ship looks like having at least one last season in the sun will be welcomed by ship lovers all over the world. Let’s hope that Estur make this a yearly event.

For any updates, stay tuned.

CELESTYAL MAJESTY IS OFF TO CUBA IN 2018

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The Thomson, soon to be Celestyal Majesty. Photo credit: Thomson Cruises

Long standing rumours that the forthcoming Celestyal Majesty might go out to Cuba have finally been confirmed by Celestyal Cruises.

The 40,876 ton, 1460 passenger ship is still currently sailing under charter to Thomson Cruises as the Thomson Majesty, but she will return to the Celestyal fold in November of 2017. Initial reports suggested that, after a refit, the ship- restyled as the Celestyal Majesty- would re-enter service on a series of three, four and seven night round trip cruises from Malaga, Spain.

However, after rumours that Celestyal would add a second ship to it’s nascent, highly successful Cuba operation, it was thought by some- this blog included- that the rejoined Celestyal Majesty might become that second, Cuba based ship.

Truth is, Celestyal is replacing, rather than augmenting. Current Cuba stalwart, the 1200 passenger Celestyal Crystal, will return to Greece in 2018, to operate the three and four night cruises from Piraeus to the Greek Islands that she was once so familiar for.

Celestyal Majesty ups the passenger capacity for each seven night Cuba sailing by around some 200 plus passengers. The ship will offer embarkation both from Havana (where the vessel will stay overnight) and Montego Bay, Jamaica. Sailings will begin in January 2018, and thence continue year round.

This move marks the welcome redeployment of a once very popular Caribbean stalwart back towards her former cruising zones. Built in 1992, the ship sailed for both Majesty Cruise Line and, later, Norwegian Cruise Line. The latter had her dry docked in Bremerhaven and stretched in an ambitious refurbishment in 1999.

For both lines, the pretty little ship sailed from Boston to Bermuda each spring, before moving to Miami each winter for longer Caribbean runs. Later, Norwegian Cruise Line also sailed her out of Charleston, where she was very popular with the South Carolina market.

The ship was sold to as- was Louis Cruises in 2008, though she remained on charter to Norwegian Cruise Line until late 2009. Since acquisition by Louis, and then under subsequent charter to Thomson, the ship has operated exclusively around the Canary Islands, Mediterranean and Aegean, mainly on seven night cruises.

A handful of balcony cabins were added to the Thomson Majesty during a recent refit, and it will be interesting to see if Celestyal add more before her bruited move to Cuba, or even whether such a move is practical.

The Celestyal Majesty is a busy, pretty ship with very beautiful interior decor, though the entry grade inside and outside cabins are quite small. Wardrobe space is not great, but you won’t really be needing a huge amount of formal clothing on these informal, sun splashed cruise itineraries in any event.

Stay tuned for further updates.

CELESTYAL OLYMPIA PART TWO: MYKONOS

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Eighties elegance at sea; the Celestyal Olympia sets sail from Piraeus for the Aegean

Once clear of the port of Piraeus, the Celestyal Olympia cut an elegant swathe through Homer’s ancient, wine dark Aegean as we settled on our course for Mykonos. Lunch was being served, both at the upper deck buffet and in the main restaurant downstairs.

I opted to go alfresco, picking at some delicious souvlaki as the ship slipped neatly between a string of shimmering, arid looking islands flung at random across the sparkling emerald carpet of the Aegean. Sunlight danced on the water in the two swimming pools as the sound of on board bouzouki music caught the ears of seabirds wheeling in our wake. Warm breeze, ice cold ouzo- life felt good that late September afternoon.

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Mykonos revisited……

All too soon, a familiar, fondly remembered shape stirred me from my daydream as it breasted the line of the horizon, filling our view as it spread across the sea. Low, rolling hills took on depth and definition as the sun began to dip, taking on a sharper aspect. Indistinct dots on a headland morphed into a quintet of shimmering, petrified white windmills.

Time to say ‘hello again’ to dear old Mykonos, the hedonistic queen of the Dodecanese.

Yes, Mykonos is expensive compared to many other Greek islands, and there are those who think that it is over rated. But for me, the island retains an inherent, ageless charm that no amount of tacky souvenir shops can erase. It’s a magical place, almost adrift in time and space.

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Windmills on the waterfront, Mykonos

The Celestyal Olympia docked at the new port of Tourlos, and I was amazed at just how much that port has developed now from just a small pier surrounded by arid hills, into more or less an extension of the main town itself. A chain of small, biscuit coloured beaches has been grafted onto the sea shore here, lined with a run of bars, shops and tavernas that now runs right along the waterfront.

As a result it’s now busier, more bustling and colourful than before, and the yacht marina near the pier is now blossoming into a beautiful, expansive place in its own right. But, inevitably, I found myself drawn back along that ancient, cobbled quayside, and back towards the old town centre.

In the winding streets, shop lights shone on white bordered crazy paving. Bouquets of flaming red and cherry plants overflowed from painted baskets that hung below balconies framed by bright, electric blue shutters. Tables and chairs spilled out across every conceivable space as evening revellers sought out a place to dine. On the crown of the hill where the windmills stand, crowds gathered to watch the ritual, world famous Mykonos sunset.

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Mykonos sunset; twilight of the old Gods

I would normally have joined them, but this time I chose to grab a veranda seat on the upper level of a bar overlooking Little Venice. From there, with an ice cold Mythos beer to hand, I watched spellbound as the vast, crimson ball of the sun sagged slowly into the Aegean like some flaming piece of performance theatre. In the background, I could hear Louis Armstrong’s La Vie En Rose playing. The sound of Satchmo’s soft, cool trumpet notes kissing the flaring purple Mykonos twilight was almost too good to be true. I hardly dared breathe, in case I shattered the moment forever.

It was the end of the season in Mykonos, and the night air somehow felt heavy with the feeling of the impending winter’s hibernation. White capped waves flailed and thrashed against the quayside on Little Venice like the heralds of the coming darkness. It felt beautifully mellow, nostalgic and sentimental all at once.

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Mykonos at dusk. Magnetic and compelling.

But Mykonos will awaken again. Come the spring, she will stir lazily and smile at the first, welcome rays of the returning springtime sun. Tourist haunts, closed against the bony stillness of winter, will reopen. Plants will bloom. Life will flood back like spring water. And I, too, will return.

I mused on this as I walked back to the ship. Floodlit from bow to stern, the Celestyal Olympia was a towering, majestic presence, at once welcoming and reassuring. As I walked back on board, the sound of an acoustic guitar caught my ears.

Later, I sat in the spectacular, twelfth level high Viking Crown lounge, drinking prosecco as the lights of Mykonos glanced against the window panes before fading from sight like so many dying fireflies. The gentle shudder of the ship brought me out of my reverie, and set me to thinking about the upcoming ports of call on the morrow.