Tag Archives: cruise and maritime voyages

COLUMBUS LAUNCH; SOME IMPRESSIONS

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Columbus. Photo impression courtesy of Cruise and Maritime Voyages

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CMV’S COLUMBUS TO MAKE WORLD CRUISE IN 2018

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Columbus, the new CMV flagship as of June, 2017

In her first full year of service for CMV, the company’s new flagship, Columbus, will make a full world cruise in 2018.

The spectacular, 121 day odyssey will sail round trip from Tilbury on January 5th, 2018. Leaving home waters, the Columbus – a ship that many will remember as the popular Ocean Village– will visit some forty ports of call on four different continents.

Among the more exotic highlights en route will be such destinations as Tahiti, Hong Kong, Auckland, Shanghai, and Sydney. She will cross three oceans, as well making transits of both the Panama and Suez canals during the course of the adventure.

Fares for the full voyage start at £8, 275 per person- around £68 per day- for all bookings made before November 30th. Another big plus point for this ship is the availability of some 150 single cabins, priced at a supplement of just 25% on the equivalent twin grade fare.

The idea of using Columbus on the 2018 world cruise follows healthy bookings for the line’s inaugural world voyage, due to be operated by Magellan, in January of 2017. In contrast to the pioneering Magellan, Columbus carries roughly the same number of passengers, but she is something like 18,000 tons larger.

That extra space translates into more space per passenger, several more dining options, a large number of balcony cabins and suites, and a much larger entertainment handle on the newer ship. If bookings keep on looking as brisk as current trends suggest, it might be entirely possible that CMV might well consider offering a world cruise each year.

Stay tuned for updates.

IS THIS THE END FOR ASTORIA?

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CMV’s Astoria is leaving the fleet in 2017

Cruise and Maritime Voyages has formally announced that the Astoria, which began life in 1948 as the Swedish built Stockholm, will be leaving the fleet at the end of a 2017 charter to  a French company.

The ship- the oldest surviving cruise ship in the world- will operate a short season of cruises for CMV between March and the end of April, 2017 before embarking on her French charter. No future buyer has been announced.

The loss of Astoria from the CMV portfolio is not so surprising, given that a new flagship- the 63, 786 ton, 1400 passenger Columbus– is scheduled to enter service from Tilbury next June,

Though much speculation is already placing Astoria as being on a final, one way course to the scrapyard, this might not necessarily be the case. With the exception of her original, riveted hull, the entire ship was rebuilt over 1993-1994. Though technically sixty eight years old, almost everything on board is actually of 1994 vintage, and the ship is in astonishingly good condition. It is just possible that she might be picked up by another company.

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The Andrea Doria at speed on the Atlantic

In any event, this extraordinary ship has had a career that baffles the imagination. It is now just a little short of the sixtieth anniversary of the loss of the Andrea Doria on July 25th, 1956, after the as was then Stockholm rammed the Italian liner in thick fog off Nantucket.

As the last surviving, in service vessel of the original Swedish American Line, the Stockholm holds a special place in the hearts of maritime historians and ship lovers alike. It is pretty certain that her few remaining cruises will sell out quite quickly.

THE MARCO POLO- LIFE IN THE SLOW LANE

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The Marco Polo at anchor off Lerwick

For those used to the mega ships that now dominate the world of contemporary cruising, the Marco Polo might come as something of a conundrum. At only 22,000 tons, the ship is quite a way smaller than the new generation ships that often tower above her in the ports that she visits.

But, before making a judgement based on size alone, it is worth considering that the Marco Polo carries only something like eight hundred passengers maximum. And none of these are children.

Essentially, you have a trim, tidy, adult only ship that can often slip into the smaller, more secluded harbours that the big resort ships have to bypass. That same size allows you to enjoy a more intimate, up close and personal kind of exploring.

If you’re an active type, she might not be best for you. Marco Polo does not have the rock climbing walls, flow riders and ice rinks of the modern ships. There is a small, aft facing upper deck gym and sauna complex that will help keep you in reasonable trim, and a promenade deck that wraps neatly around one of the most sublime, spectacular hulls afloat anywhere today.

You won’t find balcony cabins, either. But the cabins that are on board- both inside and outside- are beautifully panelled little alcoves, with more than ample wardrobe and drawer space. Not all of them convert into doubles so, if booking, best to check the deck plans, or ask your travel agent to do so for you.

Another strong point is the ease and accessibility to almost everything on board, from any one given spot. The restaurant is just a couple of flights down from the main lobby, which contains the Reception and Shore Excursions desks. From this central lobby, the main run of passenger lounges and bars runs fore and aft, ending in the open fantail behind the Marco Polo buffet.

Only Scott’s, the late night entertainment lounge and disco, will require you to ascend another flight of stairs. But, once you’ve checked out the room itself, with it’s stunning, aft facing open terrace allowing Olympian view out over the stern, you’ll probably make it a focal point of your sea days. Half of that terrace- the starboard side- is devoted to smokers.

On the top deck, aft of the funnel, is a trio of Jacuzzis that offer both bubbling warmth and brilliant vistas, right out over both sides of the ship, as well as astern.

Most importantly for many passengers, the Marco Polo is a very strong, stable ship. Built with an ice strengthened hull and a very deep keel for a ship of her size, she can shrug off ocean swells that would have many, much larger ships rolling about like so many drunken dowagers.

In many ways, the Marco Polo plays the part of the traditional, agelessly elegant cruise ship to absolute perfection. She is exactly what she appears to be; an enigmatic sixties throwback that offers solid comfort rather than screaming cabarets and endless, round the clock casino action.

Naturally, this might seem like ‘not enough’ for some, and that’s fair enough. But the Marco Polo does offer something of an alternative to the mega ships; a totally different, dignified and distinctive piece of maritime architecture. If she does not attract your interest, than she should certainly at least command your respect, simply because there is nothing else quite like her in the world.

 

 

THE MARCO POLO; DECK, SHIP-AT SEA

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The Marco Polo at anchor off Lerwick

In an age of excess, there is a very obvious inclination to scoff at the idea that ‘less’ might just possibly equate to ‘more’ under certain circumstances.

Yet in the case of the floating, 1960’s built anachronism that is the Marco Polo, this simple phrase defines the ship, her ethos, and her sheer style to near perfection.

Here is a small, intimate ship, low slung and yet highly styled. No kids. No rock climbing walls or roller rinks. No ‘art auctions’ or extra tariff restaurants.

No casino, No balcony cabins. No huge, fur and feather boa style floor shows. No hassle. No hurry.

So, what is there, then?

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Timeless view over a classic fantail

There are broad, expansive teak terraces that frame unforgettable views out over the ship’s wake. Comfortable, cosy, beautifully decorated lounges that are ideal for relaxing. Menus tailored to the tastes of British passengers.

Of course, all these are a given. That being so, here are some personal observations from being aboard the Marco Polo in mid June over the course of a six night cruise to the Scottish Isles and Faroes.

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Port side corridor, with the Columbus Lounge off to the right

Some people seemed surprised that the aft outdoor pool was not filled throughout the voyage. Many of those actually seemed to forget that we were not on some voyage to benign summer climes, but actually heading north, out into the North Atlantic. Not exactly an ocean famed for either it’s warmth or friendly disposition to all things maritime.

In point of fact, we were half way to Iceland itself at the northern apex of our cruise, when we reached the Faroe Islands. Out in the big, open ocean, the Marco Polo rolled slowly and ponderously. Leaving the pool empty was a wise decision under the circumstances.

And it was often cold, too. Almost glacially so in the Faroes. But, in those climes, I don’t see how anybody could have expected otherwise. After all, this was not the Riviera.

But the play of light on water in these fast, far northern climes was utterly compelling. Even at 1.30 in the morning, the golden afterglow of the recently set sun cast an ethereal, blood red sheen across the rolling gunmetal expanse of the ocean. It was a sight so powerful and overwhelming that it made you forget the cold almost entirely.

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Surreal beauty of the far northern twilight

As we rolled sedately in the Atlantic, the drawers in my cabin continually came open and shut for a couple of hours on end. But with her deep draft and long, classically styled hull shape, the Marco Polo shrugged off this assault with an easy grace that no other ship could muster. After a while, you simply learned to ‘move’ with the ship.

Overall, a sense of calm, easy contentment suffused the Marco Polo as she sailed these legendary waters. There was no hysterical over excitement or hyperbole; in the fevered, often frantic world of the modern, resort style cruise ships, the Marco Polo is nothing less than artfully applied balm.

So there was nothing to really jar the senses or chafe the soul. Relaxation was on the menu every day, pretty much.

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Captain’s Club aboard the Marco Polo

So yes, ‘less’ truly was ‘more’in the case of the Marco Polo on this northbound foray with a Nordic accent. Calm elegance, wrapped in a cocoon of sixties style, met solid comfort in an intimate, inimitable classic of a ship, the likes of which we are extremely unlikely to ever see, or indeed, savour, again. She truly is a scintillating, singular ship; a quirky, slightly eccentric old gem that will captivate anyone with even an ounce of romance or appreciation of the classic, old style of ocean voyaging.

And- because she is, quite literally- in a class of her own, she becomes ever more compelling and addictive as the years go by. For anyone intrigued by the idea of such a ship, my advice would be to sail her while you still can.

FRED OLSEN ANNOUNCES 2017 CRUISES FROM NEWCASTLE

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Fred, Olsen’s stately Balmoral will be back at Port of Tyne for another season in 2017

Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines yesterday confirmed a second consecutive season of sailings from Newcastle’s Port of Tyne on it’s flagship, Balmoral.

The 43, 537 ton ship accommodates some 1,350 passengers across some 710 cabins. Beginning in May of 2017, she will offer some thirteen departures from Port of Tyne, sailing through until the end of September.

Highlights of the 2017 Balmoral programme will include a five night departure to western Norway, an eleven night ‘Swedish Waterways’ round trip, and a fifteen night ‘Authentic Andalusia’ sailing that will highlight seven ports of call in Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar.

The news, announced last night, comes as a welcome boost following the recent announcement of the return of Thomson Cruises to the Tyne for 2017- their first such sailings since 2014. That company will offer a series of Norwegian and Baltic itineraries. And, with the continuing presence of Cruise and Maritime Voyages for several Newcastle sailings next year, the placement of Port of Tyne as one of the premier regional departure ports in the UK seems assured.

Located just eight  miles from the centre of Newcastle, Port of Tyne boasts easy, accessible links from London and the north west via rail, road and air travel, and a dedicated cruise and ferry terminal that offers a seamless embarkation process overall.

For 2016, the Port of Tyne season commences with the arrival of Cruise and Maritime’s Magellan for the first of a series of seven night sailings to the Norwegian Fjords.

Stay tuned for further details.