In a move that has come as a further sign in the revival of the Mexican Riviera market, Holland America Line has announced that the 1,920 passenger Oosterdam will join her sister ship, Westerdam, on cruises to the region this coming autumn.
Both of the ships- members of Holland America’s Vista class ships- will sail from the port of San Diego on a series of seven night, round trip cruises to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. Oosterdam will undertake her first cruise on September 30th, with Westerdam joining her in service from the California port on November 24th.
San Diego offers the easiest city to port access of any west coast American port in the region and, with direct flights now available on British Airways from Heathrow, the cultured, sophisticated city on the bay makes for a wonderful pre or post departure stay in it’s own right.
The arrival of Oosterdam marks an act of faith on the part of Holland America in the steadily resurgent Mexican Riviera market. For years, the trade was decimated because of adverse press reports on the levels of crime in Mexican ports, and at Mazatlan in particular. But in the last few years, local authorities have gone to great lengths to restore a sense of safety and security in all of the ports.
The season typically operates between November and March, though Carnival does sail the same route year round from Long Beach, and Norwegian Cruise Line also has the Norwegian Jewel sailing to the Riviera through this coming winter, also from Los Angeles.
Interesting developments in this part of the world, for sure. As ever, stay tuned.
A couple of days ago, Holland America Line announced that it’s popular MS Oosterdam would be withdrawing from European sailings next year. The 2003 built ship will, instead, switch to Alaska and Inside Passage sailings from the west coast of the USA.
Of course, Oosterdam is not the first ship to up anchor and go west, as it were. Recently, the entire Mediterranean programme for the deluxe Crystal Serenity was cancelled, in favour of a series of voyages that would involve sailings from both the east and west coasts of the USA. This will be her second consecutive season in the USA. And it is also the first time that the current Crystal flagship has spent two consecutive seasons away from Europe since her debut in 2003.
Things being what they are on the international scene right now, it seems that Americans in particular are reluctant to travel to Europe. Terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels, Nice and Turkey, in particular, have had an inevitably baleful impact on the plans of the travelling public. And Britain’s shock decision to quit the European Union has only added to a general air of unease and uncertainty.
Ironically, cruise ships have some of the best and most stringent security measures in the entire travel industry. But the seemingly random, mindless natures of atrocities carried out ashore is what has really made people stop and think.
Of course, there has also been the belief in some quarters that the European cruise market has simply been over tonnaged for several years now. In the wake of the 2012 loss of the Costa Concordia, fares plummeted across many of the mainstream lines, and have still to regain the pre-2012 levels of traction overall.
In the current climate, expect to see the curtailment of more European schedules for 2017. But, as everywhere in such circumstances, there are of course some winners.
Primarily, these will be in the US domestic market, where lines such as Carnival and Norwegian in particular, have been very adroit at positioning ships all around the perimeter of the mainland USA. Pacific Mexico cruises, already regaining popularity slowly but steadily, could see a real resurgence over the next couple of years. Increased competition in home waters should help leverage rates right around the continental USA. Bermuda cruises, too, should enjoy a bumper season.
Today, there are a handful of sybaritic, top end cruise lines that promise their guests the sun, the moon, and the stars on a golden platter. Crystal, Regent, Seabourn, Seadream and Silversea come most readily to mind.
All of the above are absolutely high end, incredible experiences. But, while they all compete with one another for the cream of the trade, one thing that all of them have in common is their original source of inspiration.
That source being the legendary Royal Viking Line.
Founded by the suave, patrician Warren Titus in 1972, and with head offices quartered in San Francisco, the line pioneered an almost identical trio of superlative sister ships, designed to take top end cruising to a stratospheric level. The plan was simple, but sweeping; create an environment of casual, spectacular ease and luxury that embraced the best of everything, from food, cabins and service through to stunning, far reaching itineraries. Wrap all of this up in a trio of incredible, swan like vessels, and garnish with real Scandinavian hospitality and flair. Titus thus laid the corner stone for the line which, even today, evokes unashamed awe and nostalgia as the true progenitor of luxury cruising.
First out of the stocks was the Royal Viking Star, in the summer of 1972. She was followed by the Royal Viking Sky in the summer of 1973, and by the third ship- Royal Viking Sea- in December of 1973.
The actual physical appearance of these three vessels was nothing short of stunning. Always immaculate in shades of bridal white, each boasted a graceful flared bow, and fine flowing lines topped amidships by a single funnel, one that owed a lot of influence to the rival, much larger QE2.
The three sisters were all of around 21,500 tons as new, and all were delivered from the Wartsila shipyard in Finland. Designed for epic, long distance cruising, the three sisters carried only around 550 passengers each- 200 or so less than similarly sized vessels of the day. And, although balcony cabins were not yet then in vogue, the on board space and accommodation was, quite simply, spectacular for the size of the ships.
Their clientele revolved largely around wealthy retirees, often from the Pacific Coast of North America. These were people used to expecting- and demanding- the best of everything. On Royal Viking, they were indulged and cossetted in a way that had never been seen before, on ships that were intimate enough to have everything imaginable, and yet still small enough to slip into the most secluded, sought after ports in the world. From Papeete to Portofino, these spectacular, modern day Vikings became a familiar, much treasured sight. Within a short time, Royal Viking gained a stellar reputation as the only real way to cruise. All three ships were so popular that they often sold out many months in advance.
This led to some dramatic cosmetic surgery for the trio. Beginning with the Royal Viking Star in 1981, and then followed by Royal Viking Sky in 1982 and Royal Viking Sea in 1983, each ship was taken out of service, cut in half, and then joined together with a new, ninety three foot long new mid section.
These extensions had the effect of raising the gross tonnage of each ship to 28,000, and allowed the ships to cater for a new total of 750 passengers each. Despite this, the three sisters were still able to accommodate all passengers at one seating for dinner, an industry ‘first’ that set the tone for almost every luxury line that followed them.
If anything, the additional length made them more beautiful and yacht like than ever. Still venerated and utterly sophisticated, the three ships went back to their own series of fantastic voyages. But change was in the offing.
In 1984, Royal Viking Line was bought out by the legendary Knut Kloster, as part of his plan to make Norwegian Cruise Line an international conglomerate. Grand as it was, the plan was way too early, and beset with logistical and financial hurdles. Disenchanted, Warren Titus left the company in 1987. But, by that stage, the visionary Kloster was already envisaging a big new build for the fleet. The first, in fact, since 1973.
When she emerged in 1989, the 39,000 ton, 850 passenger Royal Viking Sun had the same general appearance as her smaller siblings, with the exception of her superstructure. This was now garlanded with rows of the newly in vogue balcony cabins, and topped by a shorter, more squat funnel. Big things were expected of this new Viking flagship when she first appeared.
Kloster also gifted the line a small, luxury mega yacht, the 10,000 ton, 1992 built Royal Viking Queen. With all outside suite accommodation for just 212 passengers, she was at that time the most spacious cruise ship afloat anywhere.
But this bullish expansion belied the fact that Kloster’s overblown operation was now in deep financial trouble. Simply put, it had grown too big, too soon. By 1994, the whole operation was sailing on a rising tide of red accountant’s ink.
By now, even the sybaritic Royal Viking Line had lost a great deal of its shine. Newer rivals such as Seabourn and Sea Goddess ate voraciously into its former core passenger base. After twenty two years, Royal Viking Line was finally wound down as a company in 1994.
But the impact of Royal Viking on high end cruising has been seismic. Many of the senior staff on their ships have now transferred to the likes of Silversea, Oceania, and even Crystal.
And it is testimony to the original strength, excellence and adaptability of their design, that all five original Royal Viking ships still remain in service today. The original trio in particular are still utterly unmistakable. Over time and tide, they have evolved into some of the most graceful and elegant vessels still sailing to this day.
Today, Royal Viking Sky survives as Fred. Olsen’s Boudicca, having there rejoined her sister ship, Black Watch, the one time Royal Viking Star. Royal Viking Sea, meanwhile, sails on as Phoenix Seeresien’s magnificent Albatross.
Fittingly, Royal Viking Sun graduated to Holland America Line, sailing for them to this day as their ‘Elegant Explorer’, the beloved Prinsendam. And, still sybaritic to this day, the former Royal Viking Queen remains in service as the elegant Star Legend, of Windstar cruises.
In Royal Viking, Warren Titus created far more than a salubrious brand. He created a legend, one echoed today in the service, cuisine and stance of every de luxe cruise ship in service across every ocean on the globe.
For that, and for the memories that this great institution created over the better part of two peerless decades of excellence and indolence, Warren Titus deserves to be ranked right up there with the likes of Albert Ballin. To this day, Royal Viking remains a byword for the best of everything in luxury cruising. And history will only further embellish that reputation over the years to come.
In a move sure to be welcomed by those preferring a more intimate style of cruise experience, Holland America Line has announced that their popular Veendam will make no less than six round trip cruises from Boston to Bermuda in 2017.
The trips leave Boston on May 13th and 20th, June 10th and 17th, and July 8th and 15th, respectively. Unlike the larger ships that berth for three days and two nights at the Kings Wharf complex on the north west corner of the island, the Veendam spends three full nights alongside in the city centre of Hamilton, the capital of Bermuda.
This gives her guests a considerable advantage in terms of central location and accessibility, and a full twenty four hours longer to enjoy the grace, tranquility and sheer beauty of Bermuda itself.
The 57,092 ton Veendam was built in 1996, and named by the actress, Debbie Reynolds. She carries some 1,350 passengers, served by a crew of 580. Though now one of the smaller ships in the Holland America portfolio, the Veendam is, in fact, the perfectly sized cruise ship for Bermuda voyages.
The Veendam will also offer some interesting summer cruises to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and other ports along the perennially popular coastline of Maritime Canada. These can be combined with one of the Bermuda cruises to make for one particularly exotic, fourteen night long adventure.
Combining the old world charm, excellent service, fine cuisine and elegance of the intimate Veendam with the sheer beauty and allure of Bermuda has proved to be something of a resurgent success for HAL. And, as an elegant counterpoint to the increasing number of mega ships unloading passengers at Kings Wharf, these intimate, indulgent cruises are sure to be just as popular as those offered over the three preceding seasons.
As ever, stay tuned for updates.
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