Tag Archives: sea travel

WHERE TO FOR THOMAS COOK CRUISES?

FANTASY CLASS
Could one- or more- of the Carnival Fantasy class vessels be chartered to Thomas Cook in late 2017?

It isn’t so very long since the venerable tour operator, Thomas Cook, announced that it would be starting up a cruise line of its own at the end of 2017, initially with a pair of second hand ships. As soon as that statement was made, a tidal wave of speculation began to break as to what the identities of those two ships might be.

The first, and most obvious options, seemed to be the two ships that would be leaving the Thomson Cruises fleet at the end of the year to return to parent company, Celestyal Cruises. That line has a long record of chartering vessels out to other UK holiday operators, so it seemed that the two vessels in question- Thomson Majesty and Thomson Spirit- might be the prime candidates for a Thomas Cook start up.

However, we now know that the Thomson Majesty, soon to be Celestyal Majesty is going out to Cuba for week long cruises in the Caribbean. And, with Spirit said to be set for a deployment out of Malaga, just where will Thomas Cook go looking for that vital start up tonnage?

One option might actually be Carnival Cruises. Carnival Chairman, Arnold Donald, is on record as saying that arriving new builds will lead to older ships being phased out of the ‘Fun Ship’ fleet. And, with Carnival Vista a reality and Carnival Horizon on the, erm, horizon, it might well be the case that one or more of the 1990’s built, 70,000 ton Fantasy class vessels might become suddenly available. These would be nice sized ships for a start up, too.

Or could it be that Pullmantur, the Spanish operator, might charter the 45,000 ton twin sisters, Horizon and Zenith, out to Thomas Cook? That would still leave the troubled Spanish operator with the larger Sovereign and Monarch to handle South America and the Caribbean, respectively. Plus, it might also finally pave the way for the long awaited, already once cancelled transfer of the third of the original Sovereign class vessels- Majesty of the Seas- from former parent company, Royal Caribbean, over to Pullmantur.

If you think about it logically, there really isn’t much else out there that is available to TC- just possibly the two remaining Statendam class ships over at Holland America. After the sale of two of their siblings, everyone knows that Maasdam and Veendam are now on borrowed time as part of the HAL portfolio. But is the veteran Dutch company ready to part with them before it’s own new tonnage comes on line? I personally doubt it, but stranger things have happened for sure.

Interesting times. Stay tuned as details begin to be firmed out.

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TITANIC ‘SANK BY MUTANT, HAIRY BREAD ROLL’ THEORY SURFACES

titanic-beken
The Titanic; heading for a doomed appointment with a mutant, hairy bread roll?

In the wake of yet another conga line of conspiracy theories, word reaches me that the ill fated White Star liner Titanic may actually have been sunk by a mutant, hairy bread roll that had been adrift in the Atlantic since 1588. This monster- nicknamed the ‘Beast of Bizerte’- can trace it’s origins back to the time of the Second Crusade.

It was a Gtangan priest who first discovered the recipe for a kind of mutant dough that possessed both incredible strength and buoyancy around the 9th Century BC. This recipe was then rediscovered among a sheath of Thomas Cromwell’s papers and presented by Sir Walter Raleigh to his Queen, Elizabeth I.

The canny Elizabeth created a massive batch of the dough, which was then shaped, hammered and beaten into several thousand lethal cannon balls. In July of 1588, the Spanish Armada of the Duke of Medina Sidona was decimated by a combination of terrible weather and an endless hail of hairy bread rolls.

The tale should have ended there, but in 1943, Nazi rocket scientists somehow discovered the same formula. The third and most terrible of all Hitler’s V-weapons- the V3- was to have been armed with a payload of mutant bread rolls that were intended to devastate New York. Only the Allied ground advance across Europe thwarted these evil designs.

Later, international airlines bought this same formula, and many still use it for their in flight bread rolls to this day, despite a clear ban on such horrors by the UN Security Council. And this is where the Titanic link comes in.

In April 1912, the Titanic left on its first cruise to New York, crammed full of terrified civilians fleeing a Walpurgis Night concert scheduled for Berlin. It is alleged that Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and The Krankies were on the bill that awful evening.

Five days into her maiden voyage, the liner hit a hulking, mutant bread roll just before midnight. The ship’s plating crumpled like rice paper on contact with the waterlogged brute. The rest, as they say, is history.

The airlines, unwilling to admit that one of these monstrous, morally indefensible creations might somehow have slipped out of one of their galleys to drop into the path of the most famous shipwreck in history, simply banded together and used their huge media influence to concoct a story concerning an iceberg. Obviously, these could hardly speak up to defend themselves. Hence the Titanic was on the bottom, and the airlines were off the hook. Very convenient, to be sure.

But there is another, even more sinister take doing the rounds.

What if one of those original feral beasts, hurled from the mouths of Drake’s cannon way back in 1588, had actually survived for centures to float, silent and menacing, on the surface of the Atlantic until that fateful night in 1912? If icebergs can be carried south on the Labrador current, then why not mutant, hairy bread rolls, too?

Did Titanic actually hit one of these? Or is the international airline industry actually guilty of a corrupt cover up on a scale unseen in modern history.

Yes, it all sounds more than a bit daft, fanciful and far fetched. But it’s not the most stupid conspiracy theory to surface this year by a long way….

THE TENDER TRAP- GOING ASHORE BY SMALL BOAT

CRUISE SHIP TENDER
Love me, tender. A waterline perspective

When you take a cruise anywhere in the wotld, there is almost always a good chance that, at one port or another, you will have to go ashore by tender.

That means that the ship will anchor offshore, and you will transfer down an inclined gangway into a smaller tender boat, often via a floating platform. That incline can vary greatly depending upon tidal or swell conditions.

The tender in question might be some local, hired vessel, but more often than not it will be one or more of the ship’s own, motorised lifeboats. There are crew on hand to guide you every step of the way and, as long as you follow their instructions, there is nothing alarming about the process.

In fact, it can be a bit of a joyride, bumbling ashore in a small launch as it splutters across the sparkling briny. For sure, you will never get a better opportunity to take pictures of your mother ship as she sits out in her natural element.

But tender operations anywhere are always subject to certain weather conditions. With the cruise industry’s rightful insistence on passenger safety as a priority, no captain worth his salt is going to put tenders in the water if he considers the sea conditions to be even remotely dangerous or uncomfortable.

So sometimes, this can cause the inevitable cancellation of a certain port of call, owing to the already cited sea conditions. Similarly- as I have just witnessed- thick, sudden fog can also play havoc with a scheduled tender service, too.

Obviously, this can cause disappointment. But you always have to bear in mind that a ship, even the most luxurious, is not a hotel. It is subject to the causal effects of wind and wave alike. In short, it is not an immovable object.

More than once, I have heard a tidal wave of moans and groans as a captain announces that he has had to cancel a port of call due to just such conditions. Do these people honestly imagine that the captain does this deliberately, in a determined attempt to spoil their day? Obviously not.

I have heard these same naysayers whinge that the sea looks perfectly calm from where they are standing. Perhaps so. But, down at the shell door near the waterline, that same sea might look much more unpredictable. And, at the end of the day, it is the duty staff- and ultimately the captain- that would take the blame for any mishap at a tender station. You can imagine the law suits rolling in like storm clouds.

I would far rather sail with a captain that displays an overabundance of caution, rather than one who might ‘wing it’ (unfortunate phrase) to keep a handful of blowhard passengers appeased. Missing out on a port of call is unfortunate. But the Titanic disaster it is not.

And you need to exercise patience when getting on and off the tenders. Loading each one at peak times can be a slow, time consuming process. Not everyone can bound up or down those slowly moving step ladders at lightning speed. And, often as not, it will be the same process in reverse when you return from your day’s foraging around some palm splayed foreign paradise.

And, of course, it takes time to organise the whole process from on board. The ship must first stop, and drop anchor. Then the shell plating doors have to be opened, and a floating pontoon lowered to sea level. Then the gangway has to be rigged and lowered, down to the pontoon. Only then can the boats be lowered into the water, released from their davits, and come around to the pontoon to get ready for the first, shore bound passengers.

Ashore, a reception and security area has to be rigged up on the quayside; a visible focal point for passengers that also acts as a first line of protection for the ship, her passengers and her crew.

And, of course, the whole process has to go into reverse when the last tender returns to the ship. Anyone who has watched the entire, labour intensive slog involved in just preparing a ship for tendering ashore will appreciate the complexities of the operation, and the time involved in just getting everything safe and ship shape.

But-tendering is a slice of the cruising adventure as a whole, and it can often be tremendous fun. The views alone often make it a rewarding little jaunt. You just need to be prepared to have a little patience, show a little courtesy and yes, sometimes, just grit your teeth and wait your turn.

Of course, none of this is rocket science. But, based on the trips I have done thus far this year, it’s amazing how many people seem to forget it.