Tag Archives: cruise

M/S PAUL GAUGUIN: MUSING ON CRUISING

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Pool deck in Paradise; on board the Paul Gauguin off Moorea. Photo copyright is that of the author

Well, today is our last full day here on board the Paul Gauguin. We’re still anchored in the gorgeous embrace of Moorea but, at around five o’clock this evening, we will weigh anchor to make the short, ten mile or so canter back to Papeete, where I’ll be spending the night on board before disembarking tomorrow.

I am going to miss these islands- and this ship- more than I can possibly describe. ‘Dream Trip’ is an over used cliche that I personally detest but, in this case, nothing else will do to describe the deep sense of peace that this part of the world engenders in you. That, combined with the ease of accessibility, the casual, spectacular luxury of the Paul Gauguin herself, and the attentiveness of one of the best crews that I have ever encountered on any ship, all makes this one a very hard act to follow.

Not that I won’t try, mind you. Yep, I’m looking at you, Bermuda….

Highlights of this trip have come and gone like so many muffled drum rolls. Last night’s Polynesian themed dinner in the L’Etoile Restaurant is simply one of the best meals that I have ever eaten anywhere. The lobster was out of this world, and don’t even get me started on how scrumptious Tahitian vanilla actually is.

Our tenders- my preppy little ‘Gauguin Water Beetles’-run with the smoothness and efficiency of a Swiss watch. To be fair, they have now had twenty years to get this right, but the organisation remains impressive for all that.

The Paul Gauguin herself is spotlessly clean, and I mean ‘immaculate’. No sooner does someone get up out of one of the rattan chairs, than a staff member appears to plump the cushions, perking it up ready for the next weary lotus eater to sag into like some broken puppet with it’s strings cut.

I suspect that the sound of a ukulele will haunt me for many a month to come, and at odd, random moments when I least expect it, too. Don’t get me wrong; that’s not a complaint of any sort. It’s just a way of explaining how the sound and the soul of French Polynesia have seeped so deeply into so many of us.

I’ll miss the sense of care and palpable concern that this crew has for the passengers in it’s charge. Like the receptionist who called me back the other day to advise me to take an umbrella ashore, as it looked like it might rain. None fell right then as it happened, but you get the picture. And I’ve seen so many examples of this kind of thing happening all over the ship.

I’ll sure as hell miss those magical evenings spent lounging on the terrace outside La Palette, with the stars twinkling over the darkened, dreamy peaks of Moorea as a brilliant half moon shines down on the waters below us. That warm breeze, the easy manner and sense of elegant fun of my fellow travellers, and their kindness and generosity of spirit. That last remark also applies unreservedly to this splendid, selfless crew.

Needless to say, there is always at least one unpleasant person aboard any cruise. In our case, it’s an irascible, addled ‘lady’ with a hefty sense of self entitlement. The poor dear seems possessed of the notion that the entire ship is her own, personal fiefdom.

To be fair to her, she may simply be in the last throes of Mad Cow disease, or something similar. In any event, she’s the one person on board that most definitely puts the ‘moo’ into Moorea. Most of us avoid her like the plague, but she has still contrived to make life hell for the crew who, unlike us, do not have that simple luxury of side stepping her.

Obviously, being the professionals that they are, they still treat her with unfailing courtesy. Personally, I’d tie a pork chop to each of her legs, and then tip her overboard for the sharks to play with.

Ah, but such things are like the rain clouds that glower over us for a few moments, only to be replaced by a rainbow. My own, personal rainbow awaits in the seductive little shape of the post breakfast Mimosa that I will shortly be taking on board. Because, while it is almost over for this trip, ‘almost’ is not quite ‘finished’, as it were.

And here, in the charmed universe that is the Paul Gauguin, many of us are still dreaming, wide awake……

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MONARCH EMERGES FROM $10 MILLION REFURBISHMENT

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Pullantur’s Monarch in her current livery

Pullmantur’s Monarch has just emerged from a 21 day, $10 million refurbishment at Freeport’s Grand Bahama shipyard. The ship is probably best remembered as Royal Caribbean’s monolithic, 1991 built Monarch of The Seas.

Pullmantur- itself at one time part of the Royal Caribbean portfolio- has invested significantly in the 74,000 ton ship.

Much of the work carried out was internal in nature, and involved new carpeting, fixtures and fittings in cabins and public areas right across the 2,300 passenger ship, together with some external work across the pool deck, and other outdoor areas of the ship. In all, something like fifteen thousand square metres of  carpeting was replaced, together with around a thousand metres of furniture upholstery fabric.

Deck Twelve has been outfitted with a new solarium area, and the indoor spa and shopping complexes have also been refreshed. There has also been a change for all signage in food and public area outlets, with the intention of making it more user friendly for the ship’s predominantly Latino clientele.

On the technical side, Pullmantur says that enhancements were made to make the vessel more ‘environmentally friendly’, but actual details on these are non existent at the time of writing.

After completing this period of overhaul and updating, the Monarch resumed her programme of year round, seven day, all inclusive Caribbean cruises. These destination intensive cruises allow foe embarkation in either Curacao, Aruba, or at Panama City’s port of Colon.

Meanwhile, the Sovereign- twin sister ship of the Monarch- has returned to Europe after her usual seasonal winter programme in Brazil. The ship- formerly the Sovereign of The Seas- is now operating seven night round trip cruises in the Western Mediterranean that allows for embarkation from any of six ports of call en route.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

THOMSON CRUISES REBRANDS AS MARELLA

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

The news has broken today that Thomson Cruises, part of the global TUI brand and the third largest cruise line in the UK, will rebrand as Marella Cruises later this month.

The name- a derivative of the Celtic word for ‘Shining Sea’- will be retrospectively applied to all four vessels that will fly the company colours by next summer- Marella Celebration, Marella Discovery, Marella Discovery 2 and Marella Explorer.

With the new name comes a serious expansion of the brand’s global reach; for winter 2018-18, Marella Discovery will embark on a series of fourteen, seven night Far East itineraries calling at such vibrant destinations as Singapore, Langkawi, Phuket and Vietnam- the first time that the operator has employed a ship in these waters for well over a decade.

And the line will also offer a first ever, two ship winter sailing out of Barbados over that same season, as Marella Celebration and Marella Explorer sail a series of seven night fly cruises to the highlights of the Caribbean, all of which can be combined with a seven night pre or post cruise stay on Barbados itself.

All of this marks a significant attempt by the tour operator to muscle in on the UK accented winter cruise market. With all inclusive fares, multiple dining options and the ability to join a Caribbean cruise from a whole range of regional airports across the country, the newly minted Marella is looking poised to make a significant impact on the contemporary cruise market.

CMV’S COLUMBUS SLATED TO MAKE SECOND WORLD CRUISE IN 2019

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Columbus Photo credit: Cruise and Maritime Voyages

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.

SUPERSTAR LIBRA TO START CRUISNG FROM TRIO OF ASIAN HOME PORTS

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Sperstar Libra. Photo courtesy of Star Cruises

Asian specialist cruises operator, Star Cruises, has announced that it’s 42,000 ton SuperStar Libra will begin a series of three and four night cruises around Malaysia and Thiland from September 3rd.

The voyages will allow passengers to embark the ship at either Port Klang- the main port of Kuala Lumpur, at Georgetown on the Malaysian island of Penang, or at the popular Thai tourist resort of Phuket.

The idea behind the repositionng is to broaden the ship’s accessibility to passengers holidaying on mainland Malaysia and Thailand, and perhaps tempting them into adding on a short, port intensive cruise to a Far East holiday itinerary.

The ship itself has an interesting history; built for Norwegian Cruise Line in 1988 as the Seaward, she was that company’s sole new build of the entire 1980’s. She typically sailed from Miami to the Eastern and Western Caribbean on week long deployments, a role she continued in for some time after being restyled as the Norwegian Sea.

The ship became too small and inflexible to fully showcase the new Norwegian ‘Freestyle Dining’ concept of the new century. The company, then part of Genting Group, seconded the ship to it’s Asian affiliate, Star Cruises.

Renamed as Sperstar Libra, she sailed for one season in the Mediterranean, on cruises that marked the Asian operator’s one and only foray to date outside of eastern waters. Later, she would be joined in Asia by other ex-Norwegian stalwarts Superstar Aquarius (the former Norwegian Wind) and her sister ship, Superstar Gemini, the former Norwegian Dream. At one stage, the ship was sailing cruises exclusively tailored to the Indian market.

Between them, this trio of smaller, more intimate ships have proved very popular with the Asian domestic market. But, with the introduction of newer, larger ships to the Genting portfolio, there now seems to be a conscious effort afoot by Star Cruises to introudce at least one of these classic vessels to a more international market.

I hope a similar scenario plays out for the two sisters mentioned above, built in 1992 and 1993 respectively. While Star Cruises did indeed achieve regional dominance in the Asia market, there are now many more competitors muscling in and expanding in that vibrant cruise region. Some diversity is clearly needed.

Until now, the line has been astonishingly reluctant to showcase it’s highly styled and much lauded product across Europe and North America. Quite why remains something of a mystery, but perhaps this first, cautious redeployment of the fondly remembered SuperStar Libra is a postive sign. Like the Libra sign itself, it’s all about achieving a harmonious balance.

Interesting times, for sure. As ever, stay tuend for updates.

SCENIC ECLIPSE- THE EXPEDITION BOOM CONTINUES

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SCENIC ECLIPSE

The burgeoning expedition cruise ship circuit looks set to reach a new plateau next year with the introduction of the all suite, all inclusive new Scenic Eclipse.  Purpose built for cruising to regions such as Antarctica and the Amazon, this new vessel pushes the boundaries in terms of sumptuous, on board amenities and sheer, personal indulgence.

Time was, you really had to be prepared to ‘rough it’ on an expedition ship to Antarctica. It was almost exclusively the preserve of chartered Russian ice breakers, hired by companies such as Quark. The vessels were as sturdy, uncompromising and yes, as spartan, as the incredible scenic smorgasbords that they pushed and crunched their way through. It’s safe to say that on board product delivery was not top of the bill on these ships, and equally safe to say that many loved them for that simple, no nonsense approach. They wore that perceived discomfort like a badge of honour.

My, how that will change….

Scenic Eclipse will carry just 228 passengers in all suite, all balcony accommodation, with a 1:1 crew ratio to match. When the ship is in Antarctica, passenger numbers will be limited to just 200. There will be no less than-count them- nine separate, all inclusive dining venues, and the ship will be completely all inclusive. There are indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs and, naturally, the Scenic Eclipse will carry her own helicopter, submarine for sightseeing under the ice, and an on board fleet of zodiac motor boats.

You’ll be able to scuba dive, or take specially prepared picnics ashore in some of the more temperate waters where the ship will cruise. You can take out a kayak or an e-bike, have unlimited wi-fi usage, and even have your clothes unpacked and repacked by your own, dedicated butler.

So, does all of this lavish indulgence (and I personally think that nine restaurants for a ship of this size and capacity is way over the top) mean that expedition cruising has ‘gone soft’? Will the exploits and memories of Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen be decried by the prowling presence of the sort of ship previously associated with a particularly well heeled Bond villain?

I guess it depends where you stand, but to my mind, the answer is ‘no’. There is no written rule anywhere that expedition cruising has to be either uncomfortable, or almost puritan in its scope and intent. The notion of progress is hog wired into our very DNA, after all. And, for all his seafaring prowess and derring- do, I dare bet that Christopher Columbus would have found crossing the Atlantic far more pleasant on the Queen Mary 2 than on the doughty, plodding little Santa Maria. Thrill seeking need not automatically equate to lack of style or space. I am more than happy to survey the great, jagged, blush tinted ice floes of Antarctica up close and personal, as long as I can sit in a hot tub with a glass of something warm and reviving to hand.

Scenic Eclipse? Sounds more like a scenic sunrise to me. As always, stay tuned for updates.

THE SAGA EXPERIENCE-GROWN UP TRAVEL AT SEA

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SAGA SAPPHIRE

For lovers of grown up travel, Saga Cruises is an option that should certainly be on your personal horizon. With just two ships- Saga Sapphire and Saga Pearl II- the line offers a level of elegance and inclusivity aboard their brace of intimate, well served ships.

With just 720 and 500 passengers respectively, Saga Sapphire and Saga Pearl II are sold exclusively to UK passengers over the age of fifty. They feature many single cabins, and public areas that are more refreshingly genteel than screaming glitzy; they have tone, rather than torrents of on board diversions. Your search for a rock climbing wall will disappoint you in the end.

Instead, the line puts the emphasis firmly on good food that is actually outstanding at times, and on low key, high quality live musical entertainment at night. Expect a pleasant piano bar rather than a pounding disco, and cool, late night jazz instead of a frantic casino. This combination of high quality food and live music runs through both ships like a continuous thread.

Saga also offers the marvellous boon of free, chauffeur driven travel from your home direct to the ship, or the options of free rail, coach or even air connections to the port. This seamless packaging of essentials comes as standard, and is an inestimable boon to the line’s prospective guests. The line also offers free travel insurance for each trip, or a per person fare reduction for those already in posession of their own; again, quite forward and thoughtful thinking.

Saga also offers free wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner each evening, as well as free wi-fi and paid gratuities. Taken as a whole, this all amounts to something of a comfort blanket for people that might not otherwise be happy with the idea of voyaging off into the relative unknown, and it’s certainly a key factor in their success. When I visited Saga Pearl II recently on a sold out sailing, more than fifty per cent of the passengers were repeat guests.

interestingly, both ships feature small, indoor pools- a rare treat these days. The upper decks are sprinkled with gorgeous wooden loungers with royal blue padding, and there’s no shortage of umbrella shades tables and chairs. In such an intimate setting, it’s all conducive to raising relaxation to the level of an art form.

And- coming in 2019- is a new flagship, in the form of the currently building Spirit of Discovery. The new ship comes in at around 60,000 tons, and looks like nothing so much as a retro throwback to the great transatlantic liners of the 1930’s, with it’s proud, raked bow, gleaming back hull and a single staunch, graceful funnel. With tasteful, airy interiors more reminiscent of a grand country house rather than a glittering Vegas resort at sea, this new ship looks set to raise the bar on this style of cruising, offering the best of modern luxury in a setting that’s restful, retro indulgence at it’s best.

The one downside is that her introduction will see the departure of Saga Pearl II from the fleet after a final, glorious, fifty four day foray out to South Africa and back.

I’ll be looking at the Saga product in more depth during a short cruise on Saga Sapphire next month, and you’ll be able to read about it right here. As ever, stay tuned.