It’s double up time for Norwegian Cruise Line’s Cuba offering. The line has just announced that the 78,000 ton, 2001 built Norwegian Sun will join near sister, Norwegian Sky, on the four day Florida to Cuba cruise circuit, effective as of May 7th, 2018.
Norwegian Sun will first undergo a seventeen day refit in Victoria, BC, to bring her in line with all the latest ‘Norwegian Edge’ innovations, after which the ship will transit through the Panama Canal to her new home port at Port Canaveral.
Once there, the ship will sail four day Cuba cruises that each offer a night in Havana, plus an additional call in Key West- a must for any of you Hemingway fans out there. The Norwegian Sun will also offer shorter, three night cruises to Nassau and Great Stirrup Cay, this effectively mirroring the sailings of Norwegian Sky from nearby Miami,
It would be perfectly possible to do these two, consecutive cruises together, or even to ‘switch’ between the two ships mid cruise, and thus get two for the price of one.
In line with it’s stated determination to continue offering the best entertainment afloat, Norwegian Cruise Line has announced that it will add Jersey Boys to it’s roster aboard the new Norwegian Bliss when she comes into service next year.
The new ship- part of the ‘Breakaway plus’ class- will offer a debut season in Alaska, before switching to Eastern Caribbean sailings for the winter of 2018-19.
The award winning Jersey Boys tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and their rise from performing ‘doo wop’ standards in the back streets of New Jersey, to global super stardom in the 1960’s as one of the biggest selling acts in the world.
With most of their songs written or co- written by founder member, Bob Gaudio, the Four Seasons created a kind of sound that has been often imitated, but never equalled. From the low bass tones of original member Nick Massi, to Frankie Valli’s soaring falsetto range, the ‘Four Seasons sound’ became unmistakable.
Their first worldwide hit was Sherry, a rhythmic little thumper of a tune with a simple, irresistible hook that swept all before it. By December of 1962 it had become the first of three consecutive American number one records for the band.
Internal wrangles, run ins with the mafia, and the always present tensions within the music industry, all but sidelined the Four Seasons as a major chart act by the turn of the seventies. But a stunning return to form with a series of edgier, more relevant tunes saw them make a massive comeback in the mid seventies, both on the charts and as a live act.
Jersey Boys itself is an evocative retelling of the Four Seasons story, from the point of view of each of the original band members. It’s a bittersweet roller coaster through the hinterlands of triumph, tragedy, loss and betrayal, and the personal element really shines through.
But it’s that deathless roster of hit songs- Let’s Hang On, Rag Doll, December ’63, Who Loves You- that will really bring down the house aboard Norwegian Bliss. Each one of them is like a kind of emotional lightning rod that strikes an amazing connection with people of all kinds, right across the world. With the personal endorsements of both Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio themselves, Jersey Boys took award after award on Broadway (including the Tony). Once it opened in the West End of the UK, it wowed crowds for years.
The unveiling of Jersey Boys aboard Norwegian Bliss is more evolution than revolution in truth; a continuation of mining the rich seam that Norwegian Cruise Line has tapped into in terms of musical entertainment. I expect it to be an enormously popular addition to the entertainment roster on board this fabulous new ship.
Norwegian Cruise Line has today announced that it’s 78,000 ton Norwegian Sky will continue to cruise from Miami to Cuba throughout the course of 2018.
The popular ship is already slated to offer some thirty, four night sailings to the re-opened holiday destination this year. Most of the new 2018 sailings will follow this year’s route, with most offering an overnight stay in Cuba’s sizzling, salsa fulled capital of Havana.
These cruises on Norwegian Sky will continue to be all inclusive, with all drinks included in the price on board.
This second Cuba season will begin on March 26th, 2018. As well as some thirty-two sailings that will showcase the overnight Havana stay, all sailings will also feature a call at Norwegian’s heavily renovated Bahamas private island, Great Stirrup Cay. Bookings for these new cruise open effective April 20th.
Among some of the excursion options on offer will be the chance to tour modern Havana in a classic, fifties, style American car. Another option takes in the chance to sample the local flora and fauna at Soroa, while another, more rustic option allows the chance to savour an immersive food fest, taking in local food from farmyard to dining table.
Originally built in 1999, the Norwegian Sky can accommodate some 2,004 passengers, served by a crew of around 900, in a large range of inside, outside and balcony cabins, as well as several upper deck suites.
Like the rest of her fleet mates in the Norwegian line up, the Norwegian Sky offers open seating, Freestyle Dining that eschews the conventional set meal times on many ships. She also offers several extra tariff, speciality restaurants that offer a fine dining experience, bookable on board, together with the company’s renowned on board high energy, razzle and sizzle style of entertainment.
All things considered, this is quite an attractive option, allowing passengers to dip their toes into a hitherto relatively secluded, exotic destination without a large outlay in terms of either time or price.
When Knut Kloster first announced his intention of converting the laid up transatlantic liner SS.France into the world’s first mega cruise ship, the sound of jaws dropping worldwide was almost deafening, It was not long before the ‘experts’ started to offer a whole raft of dissenting opinions.
She was simply too big for profitable, week round cruising. She would consume too much fuel to be viable. She was too large to dock at any of the islands in the Caribbean. She was a twin class ship, a relic of the 1960’s. The list went on and on.
One by one, Kloster deftly demolished all of these splutterances. In April 1980, the reborn SS. Norway emerged from her six month long winter hibernation in Bremerhaven to gasps of awed amazement. Dazzling, shiny and resplendent, the ‘Playground of The Caribbean’ sent the opposition reeling in every direction.
From the start, the Norway was a stunning, triumphant splash; a ship without a peer on the ocean. So radical an update was she that the Norway completely shaped the entire modern cruise industry. Every mega ship in service today owes it’s very existence to Kloster’s bold, brave resurrection of an already legendary ship. Kloster’s $118,000,000 investment in his dream ship would make her a legend for the second time.
Firstly, the sheer size and scale of the ship allowed him to envisage, and then assemble, an entertainment roster unparalleled in size, quality and scale. It was the Norway that first staged near full scale Broadway musicals on board. She was the first ship to stage full, Vegas style fur and feather boa revues in a vast, two story, eight hundred seat theatre.
Platinum chip headliners featured on every sailing, too. Jack Jones, Phyllis Diller, Petula Clark and Sacha Distel were just a few of the big names to perform for the Norway passengers during her week long circuits of the Caribbean. There were mime artists, portrait painters, and even a resident fifteen piece big band.
That band played out on deck every sailing day, as the Norway sashayed downstream from Miami past the opposition, leaving them figuratively and literally in her wake. After the stunning smorgasbord of entertainment served up aboard the Norway, every company had to look to their laurels.
Secondly, by introducing economy of scale. As the France, the ship’s four propellers fed by two giant engines rooms, pushed her across the Atlantic at thirty knots. The fuel consumption was horrendous; the ship guzzled the stuff like so much cheap table wine.
All of that would change. Kloster shut down the forward engine room and removed two of the props. The remaining, aft engine room was modified to drive the two remaining ones. As a cruise ship, the reborn Norway would need to sail at around eighteen knots. In fact, she hit twenty five knots on trials that spring without even breaking sweat.
This drastic realignment had the immediate effect of cutting the fuel bill by a full two thirds. That torpedoed the economic argument completely, once and for all time.
And it was the little touches, too. The Norway boasted the first television station- WNCL- of any cruise ship afloat. And the Norway was also the first cruise ship to have colour television in every cabin on board.
Her two giant, twin tenders on the bow- Little Norway I and II- became almost as iconic as the great, winged smokestacks themselves over time. Capable of carrying a full four hundred passengers each, they waddled ashore from the ship each week at St. Thomas and Great Stirrup Cay, disgorging hordes of sunburnt dollar crusaders ashore with almost effortless ease. In one fell swoop, the need to dock alongside at every port was negated almost completely.
And there is no question that the ship felt incredibly lavish. Swathed from bow to stern in Art Deco, her vast interiors had a magical lustre all of their own; one that no other vessel on the ocean could truly match. The Norway looked and felt spectacular in every aspect of her public spaces. Looking along passenger corridors, the ship seemed endless at times.
In short, the Norway was innovative, inspired, almost impossibly dramatic and luxurious. Yet underneath all of that flourish and finery, she was a hard headed, well thought out, extremely workable cruise ship that predated the new generations that would follow her by a full decade.
The Norway quite simply set the gold standard. And even now, she remains an adored, enigmatic legend. Gone for a decade now, for many of her besotted fans she remains, quite simply, a ship apart.
Speaking during the inaugural voyage of Regent’s new Seven Seas Explorer, CEO Frank Del Rio said that he was just ‘waiting for the phone to ring’ before inaugurating a series of Cuba sailings with ships from right across the Norwegian/Regent/Oceania Cruises portfolio.
One source states that the Cuban born Del Rio actually named the Norwegian Sky as being the ship to probably start regular, year round Cuba cruises beginning in 2017. Other sources say that he refused to name any specific ship.
Assuming that the right ship has been identified, it would mean the 78,000 ton, 1999 built Norwegian Sky forsaking her usual, year round itinerary of three and four night Bahamas cruises from Miami. With several alternative dining venues and a reasonable number of balcony cabins, there is no question that the Norwegian Sky could work well as an immediately available start up ship, though it seems doubtful that Norwegian would completely abandon the lucrative, short Bahamas cruise run.
How might it work? Probably, the Norwegian Sky would sail on seven night, round trip cruises to Cuba from Miami. The ship could spend two, or even three, nights docked in Havana, where the revenue stream to be tapped from shore excursion sales must be extremely tempting to Norwegian Cruise Line. The ship could also offer one, perhaps even two calls at ports such as Grand Cayman and Key West.
In any event, it would be gratifying to see this still beautiful ship running on something more demanding than short, pedestrian jaunts around the Bahamas.
Continuing to fine tune it’s operations in Asia-Pacific in Australia, Norwegian Cruise Line has announced plans to deploy the Norwegian Jewel out of Australia over the winter of 2017-18.
The 93,502 ton, 2,376 passenger ship, built in 2005 and recently extensively refurbished, will leave Vancouver for Sydney via a forty day redeployment voyage, beginning on October 3rd, 2017. En route, the ship will offer a string of Hawaiian and Polynesia itineraries.
Beginning on November 12th with a five day sailing to Tasmania, the Norwegian Jewel will offer seven round trip cruise itineraries from Sydney, including one nine day voyage, and a series of ten to sixteen day sailings between Australia and New Zealand.
This first season will end on February 20th 2018, when the ship will leave Sydney on an eighteen day itinerary to Singapore. Following this, Norwegian Jewel will sail on an as yet unspecified series of cruises to Vietnam, Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and China.
The lack of a specific return date to America for the Norwegian Jewel is being interpreted in some quarters as evidence that the ship will then switch to the Chinese market, but I personally think that such a move seems unlikely without a substantial- and as yet unconfirmed- refit to equip her for the Chinese cruise trade.
It looks very much like the end of the line for the Louis Aura.
The 16,400 ton ship has been towed from Piraeus to the outer port of Salamina and placed in what is described as a ‘state of permanent lay up’.
For several years now, the Louis Aura– the only ship in the fleet not to be rebranded with the Celestyal livery- has survived on a series of French charters, as well as making short summer cruises from Limassol for the Louis group itself.
Though the decision to lay up the still elegant, 1968 built twin stacked ship is sad, it has been somewhat inevitable for a few years now. Louis Aura has grown increasingly more expensive to operate, and that, combined with her advanced age, was bound to accelerate her ultimate demise.
She was originally built in Germany in 1968 as the Starward, the first year round, purpose built Caribbean cruise ship, for Norwegian Cruise Line. As such, she was nothing less than the pioneer of the modern Caribbean cruise ship. Starward sailed for NCL until as late as 1995 and remained an immensely popular ship to the end.
She then went to Festival Cruises and sailed for nine years as the Bolero on mainly seven night long Mediterranean routes. In this role, she was often chartered out during the summer to the British holiday operator, First Choice.
Then, in July 2006, sailing under the name of Orient Queen, she gained world wide media attention when used to evacuate refugees fleeing the conflict in war torn Lebanon.
After a $15 million dollar renovation, the ship was sold in August of 2006 to the then Louis Cruises, who operated her on a series of three, four, and seven days cruises from both Piraeus and Limassol, to the Greek Islands and Turkey. Her relatively small size and large amount of open deck space made her the perfect ship for these itineraries. I enjoyed a memorable weekend aboard her in September, 2012, on just one such cruise. For the following season, she received her final name of Louis Aura.
Even then, there was a sense that the still pretty ship was very much on borrowed time. She managed a couple of seasons on European charters before the decision to lay her up in Salamina was finally taken.
Sadly, it seems almost certain that her last voyage to the scrapyard beckons. She was one of the true, pioneering cruise ships, and many people retain fond memories of their time aboard what was one of the most forward thinking and evolutionary cruise ships of all time.
She will be sadly missed, but few ships have served so well, for so long. Her dignity remains intact to the end.
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