COSTA; COMING ON STRONG

Calmer seas ahead for Costa Crociere?

Calmer seas ahead for Costa Crociere?

After a couple of very shaky years, it looks like things are finally moving in the right direction once again for Costa Cruises.

November 1st sees the inauguration of the line’s newest and biggest ever ship, the stunning  Costa Diadema.  The 135,000 ton ship- styled as the ‘Queen of The Mediterranean’- is built on the same platform as the very successful Carnival Dream trio of ships. With interiors designed by the veteran Joe Farcus, the new ship is intended to emphasize the indolent, outdoor lido lifestyle that defines la dolce vita afloat. After her christening, this beautiful new ship will operate seven night cruises in the Mediterranean, with embarkation possible from Barcelona, Rome and Marseilles.

And even bigger may soon be coming. For Costa is reported to be in talks with it’s favoured shipyard, Fincantieri, about a possible, 170,000 ton ship, provisionally slated for delivery in 2019. So far this ship, which would be of an entirely new design, is a stand alone order. She would be the largest purpose built cruise ship ever delivered to any European based line.

Smaller, but auspicious in its own way, is the imminent restyling of the veteran Costa Classica into the Costa NeoClassica. This will take on a similar style and scope to that of her sister ship, the Costa NeoRomantica. The substantially refurbished ship is due to emerge in December, when she will embark on a season of long, languid cruises to the Spice Islands.

Also imminent is the 48,000 ton Costa Celebration, the last of the former Iberocruises fleet now being amalgamated into Costa proper. Extensively refurbished not long ago, this former Carnival veteran will provide the Italian juggernaut with a smaller, more personalised option for passengers who might be averse to the bigger ships.

So is it all music and Moet? Er, not quite. Looking at prices for the two ship Costa deployment in the UAE out of Dubai, weekly rates in November and January 2015 show prices from an unbelievable £199, based on inside cabins on a cruise only fare. Even in the vastly over tonnaged winter Caribbean cruise market, such fares are not seen.

Maybe two ships in the region at the same time is one too many?

In any event, it is to be hoped that better times are, indeed, ahead for Italy’s historic flag bearer in the cruising firmament. Certainly, the Costa Diadema adds a fantastic new, year round option to the traditional, seven day ‘Meddy-Go-Round’ circuit.

For the first time in a few years, it seems that Costa can look ahead with some confidence once more. That’s nice to see.

As always, stay tuned.

AND NOW- NEWCASTLE TO NEW YORK DIRECT BY AIR

New York's iconic Empire State Building; less than eight hours by direct flight from Newcastle in 2015

New York’s iconic Empire State Building; less than eight hours by direct flight from Newcastle in 2015

In a move sure to be welcomed by both business and leisure travellers alike, United Airlines has today announced the start of a direct, Newcastle to New York service five times a week from May, 2015 to September.

Westbound flights begin on May 23rd through to September 7th, every day of the week except for Wednesday and Thursday. Eastbound flights run from May 22nd through September 6th, with no flights on Tuesday and Wednesday.

United will use a Boeing 757 for the flights, configured with sixteen business class seats, forty five economy plus seats, and one hundred and eight standard economy seats.

Leaving Newcastle International Airport at 0910, flights arrive at Newark International at noon. Return flights depart Newark at 1920, and arrive back into Newcastle at  0730 the next morning.

There are several obvious advantages to this service; first and most obvious is that it means passengers can avoid transiting through the disjointed hell hole that is Heathrow, saving hours in the process. Not to mention keeping your blood pressure somewhere near normal.

Secondly, those flight times are absolutely superb. No more getting up at four in the morning to check in for a domestic flight to London to connect with your transatlantic long haul flight.

Downsides? Some will baulk at crossing the Atlantic in a potentially crowded 757; hardware wise, these are not as up to date or as comfortable as the A330, the new Dreamliner, or even the Boeing 747.

That said, every passenger will have their own, on demand entertainment on a seat back screen, plus free in flight meals and soft drinks. Unlike every other transatlantic US carrier, United still charges for beer, wine and cocktails, unless of course you’re in Business Class. In which case your flight could well be champagne fuelled.

But these are pretty minor gripes in the real scheme of things. On first look, I would say that the potential benefits far, far outweigh any possible drawbacks.

For passengers from the north, this service literally saves hours on your transatlantic journey. It also means that you can connect to hundreds of other destinations in the USA via the United hub at Newark.

And, for ease of access into New York itself, it is well worth remembering that Newark International offers a far easier and more convenient entry point than JFK.

So this move by United is very much to be welcomed. Of course, the trick will be to keep the fares competitive but, on the whole, the future for this service looks bright.

Here’s wishing United Airlines much success for this welcome, long overdue service.

TIMESLIP: QE2 ON TYNESIDE, SEPTEMBER 17TH, 2007

The Mauretania.

The Mauretania.

The sky was leaden grey as the svelte, storied bulk of the QE2 slipped proudly past the headlands of north east England. The sea donned similar dress, topped with long, rolling whitecaps that rose and fell like so many angry wraiths. A cold wind whipped across the decks that Sunday afternoon. Bundled up against the cold, I silently mused that our bruited, imminent arrival on the fabled River Tyne might be in some danger.

On the second full day of her historic fortieth anniversary cruise, the QE2 had a long overdue rendezvous with a massive part of Cunard’s fabled history. For this same day- September 17th- marked the centenary of the delivery by Swan Hunter shipyard of the legendary Mauretania to Cunard. The rest of that particular success story needs little embellishment here.

I had thought about it many times already on this voyage, especially as I gazed at the huge painting of that self same event that had graced QE2 herself for many years. It shows the brand new Mauretania, pristine and so full of promise, making her way down that same River Tyne on September 17th, 1907, escorted by a flotilla of tugs and excursion boats. As a Tyneside native, that picture always filled me with a deep, real sense of pride.

And, of course, it was so apt that QE2 of all ships should honour that anniversary. For the first time, the giant Cunard flagship would grace the steel grey expanse of the Tyne. That was, if we could get in at all in the prevailing weather conditions. And, despite this being her first actual visit, QE2 herself and the Tyne did have a brief, fleeting history.

She was scheduled to call there back in August of 1995 and, bang on schedule, QE2 duly arrived off the river. But our ever mercurial weather kicked up yet again, making it impossible for her to tender passengers in on that day. After several hours of hoping for a break in the weather, the ship and her frustrated human cargo upped anchor and headed off in search of more benign climes.

QE2 was a welcome sight on the Tyne

QE2 was a welcome sight on the Tyne

That memory played on a loop in my head as the QE2 surged north on the forenoon of September 17th, still intent on making the Tyne for an overnight stay. Of course, for Captain Ian McNaught up on the bridge, it was far more problematical. As a ‘local lad’ from North Shields, it was so right that he was on the bridge of the ship he loved so much to- hopefully- take her into home waters. But would the weather play ball this time?

The estimated half a million people that already blackened the long, winding banks of the Tyne certainly hoped so. For them, the bruited arrival of the QE2 was a huge event; the advent of something fabulous. magical and, of course, timelessly majestic. They braved the cold in their thousands. Old, young, families and ship lovers, drawn to the edges of the river as if by some incredible, unseen siren.

Thousands gathered to witness the slow, stately procession of the great ship as she sailed within close proximity of the headlands of Blackhall, Horden and Seaham that day. Among them were my sister and my nephew. They stared with jaws scraping their shoes as the giant Cunarder sailed past at almost touching distance, bucking through the whitecaps with her usual, poised majesty. I guarantee that many of those spectators will never forget the sight until their dying day.

Inside the Tyne, the howling wind whipped up to thirty knots, making the approach a hazardous process. The entrance to the Tyne is perilous enough in such conditions for a trawler, never mind a 70,000 ton, 963 foot long liner. Things were beginning to look a little hairy.

The QE2 made three successive, abortive attempts to thread her way into the mouth of the river, but the adverse weather made her break off on each occasion. Rain came and went in angry little flurries that stung the skin; the wind continued to lash at us, and the sky showed no signs of clearing. On board, a rumour began to surface that we would stay offshore for the night. and wait for the weather to hopefully clear next day. Some ventured that we might even go straight on to Edinburgh instead. My heart sank as I shivered under my blanket. Would the weather cheat us of our moment of history?

And then, suddenly, we were surging through the breakwater…

The Queens Room, QE2

The Queens Room, QE2

A brief, almost biblical wave of sunshine danced skittishly across the scene, and the waves inside the Tyne receded for just long enough. And then that proud, graceful bow surged past the pier as one vast, ragged cheer went up from the crowds dotting the beach.

It found an echo in the shouts, cheers and yells from half a million hardy souls that surged to the edges of the river as the QE2 loomed into the Tyne. On cue, a staggering firework display crackled, roared and erupted against the setting sun as we came on. Sirens on small boats screeched, car horns tooted. Somewhere, I could hear a dog barking.

From the shore, QE2 was a magnificent sight; proud, imperious and elegant. The last rays of the sun glanced against her charcoal hull and sparkling white superstructure. High overhead, her siren boomed out a deep, sonorous salute to the crowd; one acknowledged with another series of huge, ragged cheers.

Slowly, the gap between hull and quay diminished from a steel grey sliver into nothingness. One hundred years to the day after proud, elegant old Mauretania sailed down these self same waters, the soaring flank of the QE2 kissed the quayside of North Shields. Gangways were rigged, and we could go ashore.

The liner that had taken me away on so many adventures over the years, had finally delivered me back to where it all began.

Standing there, trying in vain to take in the enormity of the event, I cursed silently at the rain that was once again beginning to dance on my face. It shook me out of my reverie, and I moved under cover.

But there was no rain.

And it was then that I realised that my own tears were trickling slowly down my face.

Homecoming.

 

QUEEN MARY 2- NOT YOUR GRANDMOTHER’S CUNARD?

Cunard had the most popular, two ship service on the post war Atlantic

Cunard had the most popular, two ship service on the post war Atlantic

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times.

“Oh, we loved QE2, but the QM2 is different. She’s just not our idea of what Cunard is…..”

It’s a throwaway remark, although one usually made in honest good faith. But how true is it? Here’s my take on it:

Cunard represents to many people an idea of what a transatlantic shipping line is (although the company itself has always been about far more than the Atlantic crossing) and they have very definite, heavily entrenched, ideas of what that experience should be. A nostalgic experience, where old world civility, values and dress codes rule. And those values should be enshrined, like the Ten Commandments, on every ship that flies the Cunard flag.

Berengaria was the first Cunard liner to be named after a Queen

Berengaria was the first Cunard liner to be named after a Queen

In short, even if times change, Cunard most assuredly should not.

And yet the line, like any successful shipping business, has constantly changed. How else do you suppose it has survived the better part of 175 years that encompassed terrible depressions and two global conflicts?

Of course, the line’s evolution is expressed front of house in the form of each successive generation of new Cunarder. And that is where the ‘old guard’ tend to recoil in horror over their tea and cucumber sandwiches. That is where QM2, like QE2 and yes, every new generation of Cunarder that came before her, become such potent lightning rods for those against changing a cosy, charmed universe that has become their utopia over the course of several decades. The shock of the new can be hugely unsettling. At least, to begin with,

Queen Mary Observation Lounnge

Queen Mary Observation Lounnge

I can only begin to imagine the disdain that many veterans of the Mauretania, Aquitania and Berengaria must have felt when first confronted with the Odeon/Art Deco modernity of the brand new Queen Mary back in 1936. Gone was the Edwardian opulence and overblown swimming pools of old, replaced by a ship swathed in linoleum flooring, a hundred different wooden veneers, and starkly modern lighting and statuary. Yet few, if any, ships came to so typify the Cunard brand- and embellish it’s already formidable legend- than that same Queen Mary and her later sibling, the proud Queen Elizabeth.

Such was the pre-eminence of those two liners, and so great was the esteem in which they were held, that over time they became the exemplars of ‘what Cunard is’, writ large in a pair of illustrious, 80,000 ton ocean matriachs. They were adored and deferred to- the Mary especially- as if they were the seagoing equivalents of St. Paul’s, or even St. Peter’s itself. Twin cathedrals of the sea; the living embodiment of something timeless and intangible.

QE2; the shock of the new

QE2; the shock of the new

So imagine the shock when QE2 in turn made her much delayed maiden debut in 1969. ‘Ships have been boring for long enough!’,shrieked one of the pamphlets that accompanied this ground breaking paragon; a vessel that so completely eschewed the styling and designs of her predecessors that it was a full thirteen years before the traditional Cunard funnel colours appeared on her. It must have been like throwing a brick through the cathedral window.

And- initially at least, the ‘old guard’ that had grown up with the previous Queens recoiled from this startling newcomer. And yet, over time and tide, QE2 would become the longest serving and most beloved of all the Cunard lineage; a diva of epic proportions, the Audrey Hepburn of ocean liners. A timelessly beautiful vessel that exhibited a chameleon- like ability to adapt to change, internally at least. Fires, storms, bomb scares, groundings, and even a war- the old girl sailed through them all with head held high. And she, in her turn, became the quintessential Cunarder.

For many, QE2 was Cunard. Like so many others, I was bound in hopeless, illogical thrall to her. She was my high water mark; the repository of fulfilled dreams and cherished memories alike.

QE2

QE2

And then, of course, came Queen Mary 2. Twice as large as her fleet mate. The largest liner ever built for the Atlantic, in fact. The same fine, deep hull, adorned with thousands of balconies and a shorter, less noble funnel. Huge, broad walkways and interior boulevards inside. And yes, for some of the veterans of QE2, not quite their idea of what Cunard is.

But times and tastes have changed, and the new ship- like every generation of her forebears before her- has to bow to that unstoppable tide. Now into her tenth anniversary, the proud and beautiful QM2 has matured like fine wine to become a legend in her own right. Smart and contemporary for sure, but also full of the old Cunard traditions.

The ship gives more than a very respectful nod to the string of illustrious legends that predated her, but adds her own, unique touches. A planetarium? Unthinkable on the Aquitania, but somehow just right for a modern, state of the art ocean liner that spends a week crossing the same ocean. How magical.

And if the ships change and evolve, the Atlantic remains as timeless and mercurial as ever. The sheer magic of crossing it by sea remains as spellbinding as ever. Something ageless that never gets old.

So, no; Queen Mary 2 is not ‘your Grandmother’s Cunard’. Why should she be? This is the only truly glamorous way to cross the Atlantic in any sense of style or splendour. So lose the jet lag and opt for a Jacuzzi across the Atlantic instead.

And, best of all, at journey’s end, as the great ship makes her early morning, ceremonial procession up the Hudson River past the Statue Of Liberty and the famous skyline, the adrenaline will flow like tap water. If you have an ounce of romance in your soul, the hairs on the back of your neck will stand on end, and you’ll feel something as amazing as it is intangible; something that the millions who arrive in New York by plane could never get near in a million flights.

Don’t worry; it’s nothing infectious, but it is unforgettable. And your grandmother? Well, she would have recognised that feeling at once.

LAVRION: THE NEW ALTERNATIVE PORT FOR ATHENS

Temple of Poseidon, Cape Sounion

Temple of Poseidon, Cape Sounion

Piraeus is one very busy cruise port during the main Aegean cruising season; so much so, in fact, that the port authority is extending it considerably. But one company- Louis Cruises- has started exploring and utilising an alternative that the Greek government is keen to promote.

The town of Lavrion (Lavrio) lies some seventy kilometres south of Athens, in the area near historic Cape Sounion, with its magnificent, cliff top Temple of Poseidon. This alone is worth the journey south from the often crowded capital.

In terms of geography, Lavrion is actually closer to Athens International Airport than is Piraeus, and it provides a calmer, more sedate option for a pre cruise rest up than does the crowded, always frantic capital.

The Louis Cristal docked at Lavrion

The Louis Cristal docked at Lavrion

Louis Cruises has created a tidy little, state of the art terminal in the town of Lavrion itself. Throughout the summer season, the company based it’s popular, spiffy little Louis Cristal down there for a series of seven night cruises to the Greek Islands and Turkey.

I boarded her there a couple of weeks ago, and the speed and ease of the boarding process was breathtaking; from pier to cabin in literally ten minutes. One week later, debarkation was a similar breeze. From first to last, it is a simple, seamless procedure that completely lances the boil of pre embarkation stress. It is well worth considering.

We stayed the night prior to cruising at the four star Aegeon Beach Hotel, located on the waterfront at Sounion, and quite literally in the shadow of the Temple of Poseidon itself. For those determined to make the hike to the temple summit- and it’s well worth it for the views- the walk uphill is a steep, exhilarating ten to fifteen minute climb.

Santorini is on the Louis Cristal itineraries from Lavrion

Santorini is on the Louis Cristal itineraries from Lavrion

With just forty five rooms, the hotel itself is comfortable, and the rooms have generous balconies overlooking the small beach. There is a pair of tavernas set just a short walk along the same beach. It’s a quiet, soothing little venue; a perfect panacea for the hassle of a long international flight. From here, a taxi to the port on embarkation day takes just ten minutes.

The only downside is that some might consider it too far from the attractions of central Athens. The Greek capital remains, of course, a ‘must see’ for many, but that in itself does nothing to detract from the ease and convenience of Lavrion as a port of embarkation.

Anticipating this, Louis Cruises runs a dedicated coach service to and from Lavrion from the main port of Piraeus on each sailing day. At twenty euros each way, it’s an efficient and cost effective way to make the two hour journey without having to worry about your luggage.

Lavrion definitely has a bright future as a port of embarkation, though it would certainly benefit from one or two more luxury class hotels in the town itself. Certainly, Louis Cruises is bringing the Cristal back for a second season of ex-Lavrion sailings in 2015, so something is obviously working well here.

WHAT’S NEXT? MUSINGS ON THE LUXURY CRUISE SHIP MARKET

Silver Spirit off Lipari, Italy

Silver Spirit off Lipari, Italy

With the arrival in Europe of Oasis Of The Seas for the first time and the imminent launch of her much anticipated sibling, Quantum Of The Seas, plus the looming debut of the new Costa flagship, Costa Diadema, the emphasis of media attention has been firmly focused on the mega ship sector of the market over the last several months.

Hence now might be a good time to recap some of the ongoing developments in the small, luxury sector of the cruise market. For, while it has not been making waves on the same scale as the big ships cited above, there is an interesting series of developments. across several lines, that are worthy of recounting.

Seabourn has a fourth, slightly larger vessel in its Odyssey class coming into service in the second half of 2016. Said to be coming in at around 40,000 tons, this new vessel is currently under construction at the Fincanitieri shipyard in Italy. Every room on this as yet nameless vessel will feature a private balcony.

For the recently re- monickered Ponant, a fourth in their highly successful Boreal class vessels will debut in 2015. Le Lyrial will give the French company a handsome, highly styled quartet of luxury vessels, each around the 10,000 ton mark.

Meanwhile, also at Fincantieri, the new Seven Seas Explorer continues to take shape for Regent Seven Seas Cruises. The spectacular new ship, scheduled to debut in 2016, will also be all suite, all balcony, and is currently expected to come in at around 54,000 tons.

And, of course, the first of the Viking Ocean cruise ships- Viking Star- promises to deliver a kind of sublime, ‘back to the future’ traditional luxury cruising when she debuts next April. Two sisters are already firm orders, and a fourth seems likely. With the emphasis placed firmly on a far more traditional, gimmick light type of cruise experience, these ships will certainly add momentum and choice to the upper echelon.

Regent has a new ship coming in 2016

Regent has a new ship coming in 2016

Those are the vessels actually under construction as I write this. Of course, the rumour book also has a healthy amount of tonnage on its pages, too. Among the most prominent of these:

Silversea are reportedly close to ordering another new build, similar is scale to the 2009 built Silver Spirit (look out for a voyage report from that ship in the next few weeks). The new ship is expected in two or three years’ time, so placement of an order can be considered to be imminent.

Even before its acquisition by Norwegian, Oceania Cruises was said to be on the verge of ordering another pair of sister ships in the same class as their hugely successful, 66,000 tons sisters, Marina and Riviera. With the financial clout afforded it by the new ownership, it seems likely that at least one of these ships- and more likely both- will translate into firm orders in the not too distant future.

Lastly, but by now means least, those seriously luxurious scions at Crystal Cruises are hoping to announce an order for a new build before the end of the year. New CEO, Edie Rodriguez, has stated publicly that she will be lobbying the parent company, NYK, for funds for a new build. A third Crystal ship would take the line back up to a three ship fleet-something it definitely needs to be in order to offer year round deployments across the world.

In terms of revamps, Windstar will be massively bolstered by the addition of the two remaining smaller Seabourn yachts to the fleet. This means that the line has effectively doubled in size in just three short years; a quite remarkable achievement.

As ever, stay tuned,

MASSIVE MEDITERRANEAN; SOME BIG, BIG ARRIVALS FOR 2015

Allure Of The Seas is Barcelona bound in 2015

Allure Of The Seas is Barcelona bound in 2015

If a seven day ‘Meddy-Go-Round’ cruise is on your cruising horizon in 2015, then you are going to be in line for a string of exciting mega ship options, and how. With the ‘big guns’ of Norwegian, MSC Cruises, Costa and Royal Caribbean all bringing in prime tonnage to augment their respective offerings, the choices have never been more extensive.

For the sake of argument, this blog is assuming that you are drawn to a certain kind of ship; the vast, family friendly floating resort vessels that come absolutely chock full with every leisure amenity that you could imagine, and then some. With a huge range of inclusive, across the board accommodations on offer, these vessels have proved enormously popular- and profitable- in recent years.

And they have grown bigger, too. From next spring, Norwegian will home port its ground breaking, 150,000 plus ton Norwegian Epic in Barcelona on a year round basis. The 2010 built Epic is the permanent replacement for the 78,000 ton Norwegian Spirit, which is returning to the Caribbean next October.

Costa will also have its new flagship, the 130,000 ton, state of the art Costa Diadema on the Mediterranean circuit. This fabulous new ship- built on the same platform as the hugely successful Carnival Dream class trio- will actually debut in November 2014, and is slated to be a year round presence in the region.

MSC Cruises meanwhile always retains at least one of it’s mega ships on the seven day circuit on the ‘Meddy-Go-Round'; for next year, this will be the very family friendly MSC Splendida.

The awesome bulk of the Norwegian Epic

The awesome bulk of the Norwegian Epic

But the real splash will, inevitably, be the arrival of the mighty, 220,000 Allure Of The Seas for a maiden, full season of seven night cruises out of Barcelona. With 6,200 berths to fill on a weekly basis and the most complete range of facilities of any resort ship in the region, the deployment of this monster ship to the region is a huge act of faith in the future from owners, Royal Caribbean.

Everyone is waiting with baited breath to see just how this massive ship fares next year. A current short, first season by twin sister ship, Oasis Of The Seas, will help as a marker to iron out any potential kinks in operating ships of such vast, unparalleled scale and capacity.

With Barcelona as their main embarkation port, these massive ships typically make landfall on the ‘greatest hits’ ports of Rome, Florence, Naples, Palma De Mallorca and Monte Carlo over the course of a week. Of course, their huge size precludes them entering the smaller ports, but that is not their raison d’etre.

These ships are all about resort life at sea; each one contains a mind boggling array of alternative restaurants, bars, and increasingly exotic entertainment. Sailing relatively short distances through the night, their revenue stream becomes more akin to a torrent when sales of shore excursions are factored in.

While the Mediterranean cruise market is said to be slowly recovering from the effects of the recession triggered in 2008/9, that recovery is still sluggish. And the unprecedented number of new berths arriving with these huge ships means that there will always be a line of potentially great bargains, especially if you can be a little flexible, time wise. That said, it is also possible- likely, even- that uncertainty in other regions might boost bookings as well.

Naples is a staple of the 'Meddy Go Round'

Naples is a staple of the ‘Meddy Go Round’

Whenever you go, or for whatever reason, the seven day ‘Meddy-Go-Round’ has never offered so much potential diversity as you’re going to find in 2015. The only minor down side remains the seething, human train wreck that is Barcelona’s aptly named El Prat airport.  I would definitely advise anyone to spend at least one extra day in the city- no great hardship, that- both pre and post cruise, in order to avoid the worst of the airport crowds.

Why not- you’re worth it. Happy travelling!

 

HAL’S NEW BUILD- INTRODUCING KONINGSDAM

Holland America's current Westerdam

Holland America’s current Westerdam

Holland America Line has just announced that it’s new, 99,500 ton ‘Pinnacle’ class new build will bear the name of Koningsdam.

The name has kingly connotations, and is being touted as honouring the nation’s current king, Willem Alexander.

Due to emerge from the Italian Fincantieri shipyard in February of 2016, the 2,650 passenger Koningsdam will be the largest passenger vessel ever built for Holland America Line since its transatlantic debut back in 1873.

As yet, this beautiful ship- the first in class and also the first to bear this name- is a stand alone order and design. And, despite being unprecedented in size as an HAL ship, the total tonnage is still considerably less than the most recent addition to parent company, Carnival. Their most recent trio of vessels topped in at 130,000 tons each. The newest build, Carnival Vista, is also due out of Fincantieri in 2016. She will come in at something like 135,000 tons.

The first publicity release depicts a ship with obvious similarities to the previous Eurodam, with the same graceful, raked bow. However, the Koningsdam is depicted with just a single, stand alone funnel, one more in line with the smaller Statendam class vessels than with their larger, Vista class siblings.

With a staff of 1,025, the new Koningsdam brings a fresh, state of the art design to one of the most venerable names in liner and cruise history, while still maintaining the sense of space, grace, and elegant, attentive service that has made HAL an obvious choice for seasoned travellers over many decades.

Combining an exciting new design and a series of old, familiar favourites, the Koningsdam has already taken front running as ‘the’ most eagerly awaited new build of 2016.

As yet, no itineraries have been announced. Stay tuned.

THE MARCO POLO THROUGH SIGHTLESS EYES

Norway always makes 'Rudy' dance for joy...

Norway always makes ‘Rudy’ dance for joy…

Few people anywhere would dispute that the Marco Polo is one of the most singular and distinctive cruise ships afloat anywhere today. Tiny by comparison with the increasingly huge flotilla of hulking theme parks that have sailed in her wake ever since, she is gigantic in terms of stature, reputation and sheer stage presence. When she sails into a port, heads turn and jaws drop. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn walking into a room full of anodyne, contemporary supermodels.

Since her amazing transformation came into full effect at the end of 1993, the Marco Polo has literally gone where few ships can follow. From the steaming jungles of the Amazon to the the icy, rose tinted splendour of Antarctica, the Marco Polo had showcased them all. From the imperial splendour of Saint Petersburg to the pretty, indolent dolce vita lifestyle of fabled Portofino, the Marco Polo has been there, back, and done it all again.

She has sailed literally millions of miles and carried almost as many passengers. And each individual one is a person on their own, very personal voyage. All with different expectations- and, indeed, perceptions- of what lies ahead and, in time, memories of what now lies astern. Like human fingerprints, no two impressions are ever the same. This is a ship that has generated a million stories across a myriad of oceans.

Naturally, to see, document and understand even a fraction of those stories would be impossible. But there is one whimsical, permanent presence that has, indeed, actually seen the lot. Since 1993, he has done it all and, like any good and patient observer, he has maintained his silence all these years.

Of course, I’m talking about the statue of Rudolf Nureyev that graces the small plinth just behind the aft facing, lido deck pool. Human sized, lithe and reaching for the heavens, ‘Rudy’ has always been a focal talking point on the ship. A presence as distinctive as the funnel, or that gracefully raked bow, and the subject of a million photographs, from the reverent to the downright ribald.

What tales he could tell, if he were not mute. What views his sightless eyes could replay. Monumental, pine shrouded Norwegian fjords in the endless mid summer nights. Pristine, sun splashed Caribbean beaches studded with languid, swaying palm trees. Pretty, yacht studded little harbours like Honfleur in Normandy, and the surreal, lush. mangroves of the wondrous, winding Amazon river.

And if Rudy is a little recitent these days on the subject of his amazing past, then perhaps that is not so truly surprising. After all, a true gentleman never tells. And, as any crew member of any ship will tell you; what happens on the ship, stays on the ship.

Keep up the good work, Mister Nureyev; you’re doing a damned fine job.

APPROACHING MANHATTAN; THE CAVALCADE AT DAWN

Hey Manhattan....

Hey Manhattan….

Today being September 11th, there seems no better day to recall one of the most perennially magical and awe inspiring experiences that any traveller by sea can ever experience.

The approach to Manhattan.

Long before the completion of the World Trade Centre in 1973, New York was a city as uniquely wedded to the sea as, say, Venice. Manhattan was, and still is, a cluster of stupendous, dreaming spires, rising from the Hudson River. A shimmering, symmetrical confection of glass, steel and concrete that clawed at the sky, but one whose feet were, inevitably, always wet.

It was this unique communion with the sea that gives Manhattan its dramatic, almost mystical stance. And the only way to approach it- to truly get it- was by ocean liner.

Let’s first put this into context; we all know that air travel is mass transportation in this day and age. The jets won on speed, as they were always going to do.

Every few seconds of the day, a commercial jet airliner comes in to land at one of the city’s three principal airports- JFK, Newark and La Guardia- from all over the globe. Except for the pilot and the flight controller on the ground, nobody bats an eyelid at the sight.

Inside, the passengers see nothing but the back of the seat in front of them. The only thing they feel is that uniquely unsettling sensation in their ears as the plane descends, and then that sudden, abrupt thump as screaming rubber connects with cold concrete.

Close enough almost to touch...

Close enough almost to touch…

But arriving by ship? Oh lord, how very, very different…..

How often I stood on the little bit of waist below the bridge of the QE2, shivering in the pale light of dawn as the great ship edged into the sudden stillness of the Hudson at the end of a five day, often storm tossed crossing from Europe. Stood there, with the adrenaline running like tap water. For this was the moment of theatre that nobody wanted to miss; the ceremonial procession into Manhattan.

First came the tips of the World Trade Centre; splintering the horizon like twin, skeletal fingers as the first rays of dawn ghosted across the blackened canvas of the sky. A few lights twinkled, shimmering on the ink black river; a river so still and silent that it could have been made of glass.

That first contact was like a sucker punch; hugely emotional, a deep intake of breath. Here was the culmination of an epic adventure; the arrival in the New World, as generations of our forebears experienced it.

And now, as if pushed from below the sea by some gigantic, unseen hand, the whole of Manhattan rose from the river to starboard, a ragged forest of gleaming spires, squat, hulking office buildings and, looming above it all, the unmistakable twin spires of the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings. A twin pair of global icons, their facades dusted a shade of blush red as the rising sun sluggishly heaved its way towards a sky so still and silent that it might have been some painted canvas.

To port, the Statue Of Liberty was now in view; a deceptive, diminutive waif clad in copper, torch held aloft. Patient, pale and perennial.

The Empire State Building still dominates midtown Manhattan to this day

The Empire State Building still dominates midtown Manhattan to this day

History is etched into every fold of her gown. On a warm , spring morning in April of 1912, the same great lady waited patiently for the Titanic to sweep proudly past her, making the same, age old procession as we now undertook. She is still waiting to this day.

Meanwhile, the magnificent vision of Manhattan is now so close as to be almost overwhelming. And we are no longer alone, either.

A trio of Moran tug boats are now riding shotgun on the QE2, like three respectful ladies in waiting. They are there to swing us into Pier 90 when the moment is right.

Now we can see cars, looking like madly animated beetles as they scurry along Twelfth Avenue, their headlights making them resemble tiny glow worms. And we can see lines of them, coming down the canyons that have opened up between the ranks of serried skyscrapers that now loom almost above us.

What strikes you most is the silence; though the deck is crowded, there is almost a sense of reverential awe, one not dissimilar to the feeling of entering some huge, impassive cathedral. And, in a sense, that is exactly what we have just done.

The sudden, exultant boom of the QE2 siren shatters that mood as completely as a brick thrown though a window. It’s a thrilling, spine tingling sound that touches something deep and intangible in the soul. It echoes like fading fog down those same, long canyons. They seem almost close enough to touch now.

Then comes that sudden, abrupt stop. A sharp intake of breath, and then the slow, ponderously elegant swing into Pier 90. After what seems like a lifetime, the matchless, elegant beauty of QE2 kisses the pier in Manhattan. Gangways are down, and we are once again physically tethered to what someone once aptly called ‘the hard, clear vigour of New York’. It was never better put.

Journey done. But we have not merely entered a city. We have arrived. And how.

Almost there...

Almost there…

With thanks to both QE2 and the great city of New York for such a series of priceless, immortal memories. And also with deep respect and remembering the victims in New York and elsewhere of the appalling events of September 11th, 2001.