Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV) has just announced an epic, seventy-eight day African adventure aboard it’s legendary, 1965 built, 22,000 ton Marco Polo in January of 2020. The 800 guest ship will embark passengers at Bristol’s port of Avonmouth on January 6th, 2020.
What follows is a truly epic adventure. Leaving winter in her wake, the veteran liner-one of the last of her breed still in existence-shapes course for the warmer, more welcoming waters of Namibia and South Africa, where highlights include calls into Cape Town, Durban, and the beautiful Mossel Bay.
From there, the Marco Polo surges towards the Seychelles, going onward to the Maldives, Mauritius, Reunion, and Sri Lanka.
The voyages continues on to Goa, India, Oman and Egypt, before sailing to the Holy Land and on through the springtime Mediterranean, before finally arriving back into Bristol Avonmouth on March 24th- just in time for the start of the British spring.
It is heartening to see this much loved ship being sent on such an epic, alluring adventure. Some of the highlights en route include two crossings of the Equator, a transit of the Suez Canal, and calls at no less than thirty-one different ports, ranged across three different continents.
In all, the Marco Polo will log a staggering 21,296 sea miles during the course of this stunning ocean safari. When you consider combining such an epic adventure with the legendary status of the Marco Polo herself, I fully expect that this cruise will be a complete sell out.
Stories are circulating that Holland America Line’s Prinsendam, the company’s popular ‘Elegant Explorer’, will be sold to the German cruise operator, Phoenix Seereisen.
If true, it would re-unite the 1989 built ship with her former RVL fleet mate, Albatross, ex Royal Viking Sea.
The Prinsendam, originally built as the Royal Viking Sun, was the largest ship ever built for the Royal Viking Line from scratch, as well as the last. And she may well now be surplus to the Carnival Group’s overall portfolio. Carnival CEO, Arnold Donald, is on record as saying that any ship of less than 70,000 GRT is likely to be sold in the next few years and, at around 38,000 tons, the Prinsendam as is would certainly fit in that planning.
For sure, the Prinsendam was at one time highly coveted by Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, and indeed she would still be a great fit with that company’s own duo of former RVL veterans, now sailing as Boudicca and Black Watch. but the smart money seems to be on the German operator, for now at least.
The Royal Viking Sun had a short stint at RVL, before that legendary company was wound up and the ship went firstly to Cunard, and then to Seabourn as the Seabourn Sun. Since her transfer to the Dutch brand in 2002, the restyled Prinsendam has offered longer, more destination intensive cruises, for which her intimate size and capacity-currently around 836 passengers-makes her a perfect choice.
Recently, Holland America Line sidelined two of its four, 50,000 ton Statendam class ships off to P&O Australia. In turn, one of these will now transition over to Cruise and Maritime Voyages next April. That leaves HAL as it currently stands with the two remaining ships in the class- Maasdam and Veendam-But this duo must surely also be on borrowed time as part of the HAL roster.
In any event, the move of Prinsendam to Phoenix Seereisen would make perfect sense if it does, indeed, come to pass.
Cruise and Maritime Voyages’ new flagship, Columbus, will make a second round the world cruise in January of 2019, following brisk bookings for her inaugural 2018 sailing.
Like the 2018 opener, the 2019 world cruise will sail round trip from London’s port of Tilbury. The 120 day epic begins on January 5th, 2019, with fares for the complete circumnavigation starting at £15,999 for two people, based on sharing an inside cabin.
Columbus will first cross the Atlantic to the Caribbean, then sail through the Panama Canal, and across the South Pacific to the palm splayed, paradise islands of French Polynesia. From there, the 63,000 ton, 1400 guest adults only ship will make a run for the highlights of new Zealand and Australia.
The ship then makes a date with the ancient, awe inspiring Asian majesty of Japan, China, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia, before cruising to India and an eventual passage through the Suez canal. Then, as a final flourish, the ship winds her way through the springtime Mediterranean before returning to Tilbury in time for the spring.
This voyage is actually the third full world cruise to be operated by Cruise and Maritime, a relative newcomer to the UK market that has added substantially to its tonnage in the last couple of years. The first was operated in 2017 by the Magellan– formerly Carnival’s Holiday.
For those unable or unwilling to indulge in the full, four month world fest, there will be a series of shorter fly cruise options available that allow passengers the luxury of cherry picking their favoured sectors, perhaps tying them in with land stays at banner cities such as Singapore, Sydney and even Bridgetown. And, with a large number of single cabins available on board at a minimal supplement, this big, beautifully refurbished vessel offers a fine, nicely balanced and relaxed way to see the highlights of the globe.
In something of a pioneering move, Cruise and Maritime Voyages will send it’s 46,000 ton, 1400 passenger Magellan to operate a series of fly cruises out of Acapulco over the winter of 2018/19.
While most mainstream Mexican Riviera cruises typically start in Los Angeles or San Diego, the ship will actually home port in the Mexican resort of Acapulco itself. The resort, famous in the sixties as a jet set destination, is undergoing something of a renaissance after many years in the doldrums. But, while cruise ships have slowly began to return to Acapulco, the deployment of Magellan out of the port makes her the first cruise ship to be based there for a couple of decades.
The route itself is something of a game changer, too. Typically, ships in the region visit the three ‘greatest hits’ ports of Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta on their week long voyages. Typically, these cruises spend at least three days at sea en route.
Placing Magellan out of Acapulco allows for a more diverse and interesting itinerary, offering up calls at Ixtapa, Manzanillo and Zihuatanejo, as well as both Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. This makes these voyages the most port intensive on offer to passengers wanting to see as much as possible of Pacific Mexico.
Originally built in 1985 as the Holiday, the mid sized Magellan was originally intended for warm weather cruising, and a comprehensive refurbishment has seen the ship very smartly adapted to suit the tastes of the British cruise passenger. The result is a ship that can offer a pleasant range of public rooms, dining options and ample deck space, while at the same time maintaining a sense of intimacy and comfort.
This new deployment of the Magellan is definitely going to be one to watch, and is a real warm weather, winter alternative to the overcrowded Caribbean circuit.
When Saga Cruises takes delivery of it’s new Spirit of Discovery in 2019, that line’s current, popular Saga Pearl II will leave the fleet. Though no buyer has yet been announced, it is to be hoped that this charming, intimate ship will find another owner, and hopefully within the UK market at that.
One possible interested party could well be Cruise and Maritime Voyages, which operates the Astor on a winter programme of fly/cruises to and from South Africa and Australia over the autumn and winter. Saga Pearl II is the near identical sister ship to Astor, and there’s no doubt that the two ships would make a great working duo. And, by then, it has to be reckoned that the veteran Marco Polo might well be coming to her final sell by date around that period. The slightly smaller Saga Pearl II would make an ideal replacement, with her outdoor terraced decks and similar, intimate styling, so the logic is inescapable here, too.
Against that, Saga Pearl II has a passenger capacity of just over 500- significantly less than the 800 carried by the adults’ only Marco Polo. And the trend lately at CMV has been to buy more bigger, second hand ships than before. The line first acquired the 45,000 ton, 1,300 passenger Magellan, and then upped the stakes significantly this year with the introduction of the near 64,000 ton, 1,400 passenger Columbus. Though relatively intimate compared with the modern big ships of P&O and Cunard, these two ships are still respectively double and treble the size of the Marco Polo. And, though intimacy remains at the heart of the CMV philosophy, the size of the ships is moving inevitably upwards.
A similar, upward gradient has also taken hold at Fred. Olsen, whose last addition- the 43,000 ton Balmoral- is almost twice the size of the 24,000 ton Braemar, and much larger than either of the stable, popular 28, 000 ton sister duo of Black Watch and Boudicca. It’s interesting to note that all four of the Fred. Olsen ships have been ‘stretched’ with the addition of a new mid section. In fact, both Braemar and Balmoral endured the process when already under the Olsen flag.
Like CMV, Fred. Olsen has nailed it’s colours firmly to providing a more intimate, British oriented travel experience, aimed at the older passenger. And, while both lines have succeeded and gained much success with this approach, it’s difficult to see how they expand in the same market; quite simply, the availability of major tonnage is now becoming an ever increasing problem.
Fred. Olsen has failed to add any new tonnage since the Balmoral back in 2009 and, while all four of the fleet’s ships are undergoing significant refurbishments to keep them fresh and attractive, the line is clearly in need of a new ship, or perhaps two. For a long time, the line has cast a covetous eye on the 38,000 ton Prinsendam of Holland America Line. Up to now, the Dutch line has proved very reluctant to part with it’s widely admired ‘Elegant Explorer’. But that might be about to change.
Holland America itself is in the throes of a retrenchment, geared towards providing the line with larger, more luxurious and family friendly vessels. Two of the 50,000 ton, 1990’s built Statendam class vessels- Ryndam and Statendam herself- were recently sold off to the Carnival subsidiary of P&O Australia. The two remaining in Holland America’s portfolio-Maasdam and Veendam– are clearly on borrowed time, especially when Holland America takes delivery of the stunning Nieuw Statendam in 2018.
If those two do, indeed, go- and it is pretty certain that they will- then Holland America might also, finally, divest itself of the Prinsendam. Any of these three fine, well cared for vessels would make great additions to Fred. Olsen or, indeed, to Cruise and Maritime Voyages.
Elsewhere, other potential pickings are slim. I’ve already mentioned the lovely little Saga Pearl II, but the 19,000 ton Celestyal Nefeli- the original twin sister of the Braemar– might also be in the mix. Her two year charter to Celestyal Cruises comes to an end this year and, thus far, the Greek line has shown no commitment to renewing it. It has returning tonnage of it’s own to hand at the end of this year, coming back from Thomson Cruises. But the latter line’s decision to retain the popular Thomson Spirit for one more season might yet cause Celestyal to rethink again about the Nefeli.
Other than the ships cited above, it seems that the only new route open for both lines is that of dedicated new builds. Indeed, this is the route that Celestyal itself is heading towards, with plans for a pair of new, 60,000 ton cruise ships. And, with the current, on going boom in the number of small sized expedition ships now under construction, builders are beginning to appraise the viability of more general purpose, smaller sized cruise ships, albeit to a limited degree.
That said, none of this is written in the sky, never mind set in stone. It’s food for thought rather than a set menu. But, as the next two years or so play out, the moving of chess pieces here and there should be fascinating to watch.
In an obvious attempt to bowl over a legion of new fans to cruising (pun wholly intentional), Cruise and Maritime Voyages has arranged for a crack team of former international and test cricketers to join Magellan for her six night Medieval Cities and River Seine cruise from Tilbury on October 24th this year.
Leading the batting at a series of themed Q and A sessions will be such luminaries as David Gower, the former England captain; Chris Cowdrey, Alan Wells, John Lever, Ray East, Don Topley, and Ken McEwan. All things considered, quite a swathe of talent from the glory days of both Essex and Kent.
MC and umpire duties will be the responsibility of Nick Hancock, the former host of the long running They Think It’s All Over sports quiz show.
The six night sailing on Magellan is a coastal cities voyage, with calls at the classic trade centres of Amsterdam and Antwerp, plus a visit to Honfleur, the famous French fishing village famous for it’s associations with impressionist painters such as Monet and, as the highlight, an overnight stay in Rouen, a gorgeous, half timbered city remembered mainly as the site of Joan of Arc’s martyrdom in 1431.
Additionally, Magellan will serve up some splendid scenic river cruising, along the sixty mile expanse of the River Scheldt leading to Antwerp, and along the long, lazy sprawl of the River seine, en route back to Tilbury.
Travels With Anthony will be on board for the cruise, so expect more dispatches from the front closer to the time.
I was lucky enough to be a guest at the launch party for CMV’s newest addition last week. Columbus ups the ante for the British accented cruise line on a number of fronts for sure, but nowhere more so in terms of style and space.
Consider that the last addition to the fleet- the 45,000 ton Magellan- can accommodate around 1400 guests, and then understand that the near 64,000 ton Columbus can accommodate the same number of passengers. The spatial difference becomes obvious.
That translates into three principal, critical areas; larger cabins, a larger and more diverse string of public rooms, spread across more of the ship, and a larger, far more expansive amount of open deck space. And, while Columbus has been sympathetically updated and lovingly- nay, lavishly- refurbished across most public areas- it is the cabins that really come to the fore here.
For the first time, a CMV ship has quite a substantial number of balcony cabins, suites and mini suites. While these are not vital for the regular CMV acolytes, it is a big step forward for those who might not have considered sailing with the line before. In addition, the presence of some one hundred and fifty cabins dedicated and sold as singles will not hurt the company’s bottom line, either.
Food and service on board during our overnight stay was top notch. There were many familiar faces on board, recruited from both Marco Polo and Magellan, with the obvious, sensible intention to get the newest member of the fleet up and running in fine style.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that the company’s original selling point of creating a unique, intimately styled cruise experience has been forsaken. Columbus feels more extensive than expansive, open rather than overpowering. Fittings and fixtures throughout are fine quality, and nowhere more so than in the oval shaped, three story atrium lobby. Suffused with the sounds of live, late night jazz, it was sheer bliss to just chill out in one of the supremely comfortable armchairs here. I can see this becoming very much the focal point of the ship during the evenings.
What else? Well, there’s a large, upper level open lido area, with two pools- one of which includes a dedicated, in pool sit up bar, plus a new speciality coffee venue located forward. The circular, upper deck dome offers 360 degree views over the ship, and doubles as the late night disco.
My favourite public room has to be the upper deck, mid ship sited Connexions Lounge. Flooded with light from the floor to ceiling windows that flank each side, it is full of raffish wicker furniture that helps to give it a really light, airy feel. Because of it’s location, it acts as one part winter garden, one part public thoroughfare for the ship. On the overnight stay we enjoyed on board, it was hugely popular.
Unlike the other ships in the fleet which sail from a series of ports around the coast of the United Kingdom, the Columbus will remain a year round, Tilbury based ship. This in itself is quite a coup for the Essex port, and the London International Terminal in particular. Transfers across from the capital to Tilbury are brisk, easy and relatively hassle free.
So, fair seas and sunny skies to Columbus; with a range of cruises lasting from three night continental samplers to a mind boggling, full three month circumnavigation of the globe next January, she offers a wealth of travel opportunities for all types of people with different tastes. The ship should be particularly popular in the Canary Islands, where some of her cruises will be sold as family friendly- another step forward from the lines’ previous, adult only sailings.
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