QUEEN MARY 2 WESTBOUND DIARY

‘The liner, she’s a lady…’ Rudyard Kipling

Deck. Ship. At sea....

Deck. Ship. At sea….

Those words flitted through my mind as I sat at breakfast this morning in the Britannia Club on board the Queen Mary 2. Sunlight danced on the rolling, gunmetal waves as the liner romped at a stately twenty two knots across an unfeasible, calm December Atlantic.

We were several hours late setting out on this, the last scheduled westbound crossing of 2014. A fault with an Azipod line obliged Captain Kevin Oprey to wait until midnight to warp this colossal floating city clear of her berth. Thus, most passengers missed the departure of the ship, but it was just one of those things that cannot be helped in the scheme of things.

Soon after noon yesterday, the QM2 swept past Bishop’s Rock, and our crossing could truly be said to have begun. The sea was signature Atlantic trademark; surging rollers crowned with white caps that flailed the great hull at force 4. Above us, a leaden sky sent skittish rain squalls drumming against the decks of the big liner as she held to her course.

On board, an air of quiet, unruffled calm suffuses the ship. The broad passageways of Two and Three Decks are beautifully decorated for the Christmas holidays, as is the stunningly beautiful Grand Lobby. Christmas trees have sprung up everywhere, like so many mischevious elves.

After a good lunch, it was somewhat incongruous yesterday to listen to an excellent live band as I sat, gently par boiling in an upper deck hot tub. This upper level area- the Pavilion Pool- sits amidships. As well as a pair of hot tubs, it has a swimming pool, lots of plush, comfy sun beds and chairs, and a full service bar.

Best of all, the entire complex is covered by a sliding perspex roof. Just outside, through the glass windows, I could make out my fellow passengers, promenading bravely in the face of the weather as they tried to work off another lunch. Sorry, but I was more comfortable watching rather than participating, thanks all the same.

To get to a point of sorts; right at that moment, I felt more than a pang of sympathy for the huddled masses, six miles above us, hurtling across the Atlantic in a succession of essentially characterless metal tubes. Down here, we’ve eschewed jet lag for Jacuzzis, and seats no wider than a pygmy’s hankie for a seemingly endless amount of spacious, spectacular vistas, variety and vast, beautifully plush spaces to just indulge in.

And Queen Mary 2 is handling the seas with great style and panache; of course her great size- and she is the largest ocean liner ever built- helps this, but it is just as much about intelligent design, too. Deep, wide, tall and powerful, this truly is ‘Proud Mary’ afloat.

Last night was the first formal night of the crossing, and Captain Oprey’s welcome aboard cocktail party drew a large, properly attired and perfectly primped crowd to the Queen’s Room. It was the sort of elegant event that Cunard does better than anybody else and, of course, it was wonderful to see everybody in their finery.

A first, excellent dinner in the Britannia Club was followed by a  few hours of soft, mellow jazz in the Chart Room. This gorgeous space- so reminiscent of the same room aboard QE2- was packed to capacity, and deservedly so.

Later, I checked out the kind of industrial chic, funky, two level G32 disco. Again, the room was packed with party goers but, by this stage, the Queen Mary 2 was indulging in a little rock and roll of her own, as the force eight predicted by the captain at his party duly served notice that even the biggest ship will still move at sea. But, by the time I woke to the welcome sight of sunlight streaming across my stateroom floor this morning, the sea had fallen back to a kinder, more benevolent state.

There’s already an ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’ quality about this voyage. Once more, I find myself sagging with pathetic ease into the timeless traditions of a westbound crossing. I have visited the huge- and hugely popular- library to pick out some reading material. And there’s a pub lunch in the Golden Lion at noon that suddenly seems like the most important meal of the day right at this moment.

For the next few days, our most terrible dilemmas will center around our choice of meal orders. The Queen Mary 2 and her human cargo are in between two continents and, right now, we are strictly part of neither.

Only a very tenuous thread seems to connect us to reality of any kind. The normal, the mundane and the plain tiresome elements of everyday life have been packed away in the hold like excess baggage, unwanted for the voyage. And that is exactly as it should be.

For now, I send you my best wishes from this extraordinary, elegant lady. I’ll be posting updates in the blog so, if this piques your attention, please stay tuned.

ROYAL CLIPPER IN THE CARIBBEAN; WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Sails up! The Royal Clipper sets out on another elegant adventure

Sails up! The Royal Clipper sets out on another elegant adventure

If you think that all Caribbean cruises are more or less just variations on a theme, then the Royal Clipper will truly take the wind out of your sails. And yes, the pun is wholly intentional.

Having done more than thirty Caribbean cruises on every style of ship- from the boutique to the mainstream- I can tell you that the Royal Clipper offers a totally unique way of experiencing those warm, winter sailing grounds. The differences are so pronounced and absolute that they actually equate to what is, in effect, a totally unique kind of Caribbean voyage.

In this blog, I’d like to highlight some of the ways in which the Royal Clipper is a stand apart way of close up cruising, and throw some light on the day to day practicalities of travelling on this magnificent, floating throwback.

 

 

THE WAY SHE SAILS

This is dictated entirely by her hull shape; long, low and narrow, the Royal Clipper is a sailing ship that contains comfortable cabins, an excellent food and beverage operation, and plenty of deck space. But she does not have stabilizers and, as a result, she is susceptible to roll. At times, waves washed against our porthole windows as the ship heeled into a turn. Nothing to worry about, but you should be aware of it. It’s all part of the adventure.

MOBILITY

There are no elevators. That said, the ship has only three main decks. You need to hold onto railings when moving around, and throughout the ship. many of the exits onto the upper decks have high thresholds, known as ‘lips’. You need to bear that in mind, and exercise due care. There are no disabled cabins or facilities. If in any doubt about the suitability of the ship for you, I recommend that you talk to Star Clippers directly.

ITINERARY

The Royal Clipper operates a pair of destination intensive, seven night, round trip itineraries from Bridgetown, Barbados. Ours took in calls at St. Lucia, Dominica, Antigua, St. Kitts, Ile Des Saintes, and Martinique.

Only in Martinique (plus embarkation/debarkation in Bridgetown) were we able to just walk off the ship. All other destinations were achieved by ‘soft’ tender landings. For these, you negotiate a roughly forty-five degree angled step gangway down to water level, where crewmen are on hand to help you in and out of the tender. The process repeats in reverse on your return.

It’s a simple, safe process providing you follow the instructions of the crew. They do the job day in day out, and they know their stuff.

Tendering is great fun and, of course, it allows you to snap some breathtaking waterline shots of the ship. But again, if you have mobility issues either on the gangway or getting on and off the tenders, you might want to speak to Star Clippers yourself.

MONEY MATTERS

The on board currency is the Euro. You will also be fine with Euros- as well as US dollars- on the French islands such as Ile Des Saintes and Martinique. On the others, US dollars are best. In the likes of Antigua and St. Lucia, the Eastern Caribbean dollar is fine, but do not get stuck with a large number of these; the French islands in general will not touch them, and even many places in Barbados- which has it’s own dollar- will not accept them.

Just exercise due care; all those different kinds of dollars can be baffling. Best bet is simply to take American and, if you are bartering for souvenirs or simply ordering a taxi or meal, clarify what the cost will be in USD. And ask for your change, if any, in the same currency.

FACILITIES ON BOARD

If you want the endless on board daytime diversions and the all night, round the clock night life that you would find in a big city, best stop right now. You won’t find that on the Royal Clipper. 

Here, less is most definitely more. You’ll come to appreciate that the entire ship is one vast, theatrical show piece in her own right. Excitement and drama is writ large in the raising and lowering of some forty two sails, draped like theatre curtains across five towering, latticed masts.

Other than that, just go- I very much doubt that you will regret the experience.

Bon voyage!

SUNSET, STAR CLIPPERS STYLE

Close cruising Dominica

Close cruising Dominica

So I’m nursing a Margarita- aptly, at five o’clock- at the Tropical Bar of the Royal Clipper. We are close cruising the lush, verdant coast of Dominica, and the mood is quietly electric.

Across my line of vision, a rainbow splits the landscape like some amazing, technicolor lightning rod, even as the last rays of the setting sun turn the still, silent ocean into a glorious, golden carpet. There are hot hors d’oevres on offer on a central display base- watermelon slices, cookies, and some absolutely delicious hot spring rolls, and the crowd milling around the open bar devours them with obvious relish. It’s a relaxed, dreamy vibe in a location that soon became the social centre of the entire cruise.

The Tropical Bar is not one of those cushioned, faux Miami Beach luxe style areas that are so currently popular on the mega ships. Here, it is very much a case of ‘less being more'; with an open view on both sides (covered by canvas screens when the sea gets up), the wooden deck area is sprinkled with a few tables surrounded by wooden stools, bolted to the floor. Immaculately varnished benches flank the edges, seeming to recoil from the three sided, central bar and the crowd that throngs it at this magical hour every evening.

Over our week in the Caribbean on this extraordinary, five masted flyer of a sailing ship, the Tropical Bar would pull in people like moths to a flame. At any hour up until midnight, and sometimes beyond, you would always find a few hardy souls braced there, sampling good German beer, or the potentially deadly Long Island Iced Teas served up with such deft aplomb.

And you needed to be hardy at times. As befits any royal lady with a temperament, there were moments when the Royal Clipper would suddenly heel sharply, almost as if she were trying to keep us on our toes. Or, perhaps, throw us off them. In so many ways, this magnificent paragon really does dance to her own, unique tune. And to hear it, well- that was to love it.

There was actual music, too, from a wonderful Hungarian guitarist/organ player by the name of Gabor. Like everything on board, it was subtle, understated, and it seemed to fit the mood of the moment with almost cosmetic perfection. Listening to his version of Hotel California as the last rays of the sun threw long, fading fingers of light across the wooden deck was a spine tingling moment.

With the vast, tree shrouded slopes of Dominica darkening slowly and almost within touching distance, a warm breeze ruffled my hair. The drinks straw in my glass did an idle, skittish little dance as the ice cubes in it clinked together, as if huddling together for protection. Suddenly, a thoughtlessly discarded plate slid down the bar like a runaway train. The barman caught it mid stream without even batting an eyelid. And so catastrophe was averted once more.

Sunset at the Tropical Bar....

Sunset at the Tropical Bar….

With that, I gazed out once more across the deep red carpet of the Caribbean, so lost in it’s vast, rolling beauty that I almost missed his words.

Another one? Hmm, why not? You don’t get to hang out in a bar like this one every day, that’s for sure.

So, when you do get the chance to do it, you absolutely owe it to yourself- and to your fellow travellers- to make every moment count.

Whether we’re talking food, drink or good music, there’s always something nice cooking at the Tropical Bar. Often as not, it’s all three.

Don’t exist-live. Get out there.

 

FIRE ABOARD OCEANIA’S INSIGNIA (Third update)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAReports are coming through from St. Lucia news online of a fire aboard Oceania’s cruise ship, Insignia, in the port of Castries, St. Lucia this morning (Thursday 11th December).

Three people are reported to have been hospitalised- one of them for respiratory complications- following the fire, which broke out in the engine room at about 0925 local time this morning.

There is as yet no report on the condition of the other two men, but the situation is apparently under control.

The 30,000 ton Insignia is one of the original ‘R’ class, former Renaissance ships used to launch the company back in 2004.

The 684 passenger Insignia was in the course of a ten night, San Juan to Miami cruise when the fire broke out. All passengers are reported to have been evacuated, and the ship remains in St. Lucia for now.

Stay tuned for updates as they become available.

World Of Cruising website (www.worldofcruising.com) is now reporting that two of the three crewmen reported injured have actually died. The condition of the third crew member is unknown.

The two confirmed fatalities were apparenly sub contractors, working in the vessel.

Sincere sympathies and condolences to the relatives of the deceased.

12/12 UPDATE

Sadly, the death toll from the fire is now three, following the death in hospital of a crew member.

As of now, one crew member still in hospital was reported to be in a ‘stable’ condition.

All 656 passengers have been given a full, 100% refund, plus a 50% reduction off any future cruise.

Oceania Cruises’ CEO, Jason Montague, is on site in St. Lucia with a care an assistance team.

THE BLUE RIBAND- THE TWENTY YEAR HIATUS

The Mauretania.

The Mauretania.

Of all the great speed races on the planet since time began, few if any, have held the allure of the Blue Riband of the Atlantic. For almost a full century, the pride, prestige and sheer, technical excellence of some of the greatest nations on earth were invested in creating one, or more, record breaking ocean liners. In time, the very names of these ships assumed an aura and immortality out of all proportion to the actual ships themselves.

Consider this brief list: Mauretania, Bremen, Rex, Queen Mary, United States…. Every one a bona fide, platinum chip maritime legend. Each one at some time (or sometimes more than once) the proud holder of the ancient honour.

Competition for the record was at it’s fiercest between 1897 and 1909, in an era that started with a barnstorming maiden crossing by the first four stacker, the German Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse, and effectively ended when the Mauretania proved marginally faster than her sister ship, Lusitania. The two giant Cunarders had played the maritime equivalent of ping pong with the Blue Riband since 1907.

A second bout of fierce speed racing flared up again between 1929, when the squat, powerful new Bremen finally beat that 1909 run, and 1938, when the Queen Mary finally took the pennant back for Cunard. In between, the likes of Europa, Rex and, of course, Normandie took, lost, and sometimes took back the speed record in what was the most astonishing period of ocean liner rivalry ever seen; the true apogee of those marvellous, majestic, often massively unrealistic ‘ships of state’.

But what of that strange, twenty year hiatus between 1909 and 1929? What happened there? Why, for two full decades, was the greatest speed race of all time shunted off into the sidings like an embarrassing, drunken relative at a wedding disco? Here’s my theory;

As of 1909, the pre-eminent companies that, in theory could have challenged Cunard were the age old rival, White Star, and Germany’s  Hamburg-Amerika Line. But both of these lines had set their hats on fuel conservative, six day crossings that emphasized comfort and luxury over speed. Competing with a greyhound like the Mauretania was simply not part of their business model in those days.

Plus, speed record attempts were damned expensive. Every additional knot of speed attained over the first twenty cost as much as that initial twenty. And then came the Titanic disaster.

While that ill-fated juggernaut was not trying for a record crossing, there was no doubt that she was being run at a casually excessive, dangerous speed on that cold April night in 1912. After that, even the perception of a fast running ship seemed downright careless, and just asking for trouble. The haunting spectre of the ‘Floating Ritz’ would dog the Atlantic sea lanes for decades ever after.

When war erupted in 1914, just two years later, the Blue Riband was still held by the Mauretania. Naturally, the war put an end to any potential, resurgent interest in speed racing on the Atlantic or, for that matter, anywhere else.

Post war, it was a huge task just to recondition the surviving liners, and get them back up towards running something like their pre- 1914 schedules. And, although new liners were being built, the tendency was to produce slower, steadier ships of around 20,000 tons that could be run far more cost effectively.

In the cold, sober light of post war travel, slow and steady were the watch words. And, while the likes of the Majestic and the Leviathan turned in some very fast, respectable crossing times, it was considered imprudent to be seen to attempt to revive the speed race.

Then, in 1927, the stunning new Ile De France emerged on the Atlantic. She was the first liner of over 40,000 tons to be envisaged and completed in the twenties and, with her fabulous Art Deco interiors, she set standards for style, elegance and luxury that became the stuff of legend.

The Ile De France was not intended to be a record breaker, but her advent certainly fired the starting gun for a whole glut of new, larger tonnage. Next, in 1929, came the new Bremen, the first of a superb new pair of German thoroughbreds.

The Bremen was a different creature again. While the Ile De France looked externally as if she could have been built in 1912, the German liner was positively space age in appearance. Long, low, with a streamlined, curved forward superstructure and a pair of squat, painfully low funnels, everything about her screamed of speed and modernity.

Below the water, the Bremen boasted a bulbous bow; a kind of underwater forefoot that was designed to lessen water resistance and push the ship through the water at a higher speed. It soon became standard issue almost right across the maritime world, but the one incorporated into Bremen was the first.

There was nothing subtle about her; she had been built specifically to take back the Blue Riband for Germany. And, when she sailed on her maiden voyage in June of 1929, the eyes of the world were on her.

Twenty years of advances in maritime technology could not be ignored, and the Bremen duly took the Blue Riband at the first attempt. As she passed the finish line at Ambrose Light, her steam whistles let out a single, triumphant scream.

It might as well have been a pistol shot, because it restarted the old rivalry for the Blue Riband. In fact, it ignited it as never before or, indeed, since.

After twenty years of moribund silence, the age old rivalries had been reignited. Britain, France, Germany and Italy now engaged in a series of spirited, determined attempts to seize the crown. And, for the first time, an actual physical manifestation of the Blue Riband- in the form of the Hales Trophy- came into being.

FROM TITANIC TO QUEEN MARY 2- A LINEAGE EXPLAINED

The Lusitania.

The Lusitania.

For as long as ocean liners (and, indeed, warships) have been built, it has long been accepted that they possess a definite, mostly feminine gender. And that idea naturally expanded to the notion of ‘sister’ ships, where two or more vessels were constructed to a similar design. So we can see that the concept of a particular fleet as an actually constituted ‘family’ is not too hard to grasp. In point of fact, it’s a tradition that continues in mainstream cruising to this day.

And, like any families, liner companies had siblings that fought like cat and dog. For instance, Lusitania and Mauretania fought tooth and nail for the Blue Riband between 1907 and 1909, when the latter proved ultimately victorious. Of course, this was as much about the pride of the respective shipbuilding communities on the Clyde and Tyne, respectively. Sibling rivalry shone through here.

Contrast that with the Belfast built duo of Olympic and Titanic. The two great sister ships grew up, side by side, in the same shipyard for three years. As such, there was an incredibly strong bond between the two ships that was in stark contrast to the friendly rivalry of the Cunarders.

So; relationships, siblings and rivalry have long been accepted as very real facets of the ocean liner and cruise ship scene. And, from Titanic to Queen Mary 2, it is perfectly possible to trace a tangible line of heritage; the current mighty Cunarder is a direct descendant of the ill fated White Star juggernaut. And it pans out like this;

White Star Line crockery of the sort used on Titanic

White Star Line crockery of the sort used on Titanic

By 1907, both Cunard and White Star were each planning to implement a reliable three ship service, to and from New York, that would sail every week of the year. In the case of Cunard, this would be inaugurated from Liverpool with the Mauretania and Lusitania, and rounded out for a few blissful weeks, pre- world war one, by the much larger Aquitania.

By contrast, White Star intended their three ship service to run from Southampton. Beginning with the twin sisters, Olympic and Titanic, it would later be augmented by the third of class, marginally larger Britannic (originally to have been named Gigantic).

The sinking of the Titanic hit White Star- and the entire travel industry- like a hydrogen bomb. Then, when war erupted like a poisonous mushroom cloud and unleashed mass slaughter on an unprecedented scale, everything was thrown to the wind.

Both the Lusitania and Britannic became casualties of that war. But. post conflict, the three ship service remained the ambition of both Cunard and White Star. With a vast pool of surrendered German liners to pick from, both lines set out to cobble together the best service that they could.

For Cunard, that meant the acquisition of the mighty Imperator. Re-named Berengaria, the ponderous, opulent three stacker came round to join the Aquitania and Mauretania. That line finally followed the pre- war example of White Star, and shifted its first string of liners from Liverpool down to run from Southampton to New York.

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

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

For White Star, it was much harder. Dealt a double whammy with the loss of both Titanic and Britannic, the company purchased the German liner, Columbus, to join the surviving Olympic. She was restyled as the Homeric.

The trio was rounded out in 1922 with the arrival of the giant Bismarck, the last of the great Ballin trio designed before the war. She was every bit as overpowering and luxurious as her sister ship and new Cunard rival, Berengaria. She was put into service in 1922 as the Majestic, the largest liner in the world. White Star modestly advertised her as ‘The Queen of the Western Ocean’.

With these six gigantic ships in service, the old pre-war rivalry flared anew; not in terms of speed, but in terms of style and luxe. Cunard and White Star had always been fierce rivals, ever since the debut of the latter in 1871.

For some inexplicable reason, the Berengaria became the most popular ship on the Atlantic for several years. And, because the Mauretania still held the Blue Riband, she also had a very loyal clientele, including many former, pre- 1914 Lusitania regulars. With weekly westbound sailings from Southampton on a Saturday, Cunard was well and truly back in business.

The loss of Titanic changed everything on the Atlantic crossing

The loss of Titanic changed everything on the Atlantic crossing

For White Star, it was once again somewhat harder. They offered westbound sailings from Southampton each Wednesday. In particular, the post war Olympic was very popular. She had a heroic, well known war record and, as twin sister of the lost Titanic, she also attracted a certain level of morbid fascination. The real problem was the Homeric.

Not really fast enough to qualify as a true ‘express’ liner, her speed lagged way behind that of the Majestic and Olympic. Still, the fierce rivalry with Cunard continued right up until October of 1929.

Both lines had replacement ships on the drawing boards for many of these slowly aging divas when the collapse of the stock market, followed by the great depression, torpedoed any chance of viable new builds. As the depression rumbled on and on, the very survival of both lines came into question.

Things were not helped at all by the advent of a whole new generation of jazz age, government subsidized foreign rivals. One after another, the Ile De France, Bremen, Europa, Rex and the Conte Di Savoia emerged from French, German and Italian yards to challenge the old order. The advent of each one was like a slap across Britannia’s imperial face.

It led from thinking the unthinkable, to actually implementing it. Faced with the impending reality of the even greater Normandie on a French slipway, the British government forced the shotgun wedding of Cunard and White Star in 1934. This was the precursor to a massive cash advance to complete the Queen Mary, moribund for twenty-eight months on a Clydebank slipway, and also to complete a second, companion ship that would eventually be built as the Queen Elizabeth.

QE2, the quintessential Cunarder for many

QE2, the quintessential Cunarder for many

In the new Cunard White Star Line, the former held sixty-two per cent of the shares. The parlous state of White Star at the time of the ‘merger’ was reflected in its paltry thirty-eight per cent rump holding. The blood letting that followed was both necessary and inevitable.

One by one, Olympic, Mauretania, Homeric and Majestic met the scrappers. But with Queen Mary already in popular, profitable service by 1938 when the Queen Elizabeth was launched, the future seemed a lot brighter for Cunard White Star.

Once again, war intervened to thwart these grand plans. The heroic, ultimately decisive war record of both Queens is sufficiently well known to avoid repetition here.

Reconditioned post war, both ships were soon running the long dreamed, weekly two ship service by 1947. With almost no initial quality opposition, the Queens were often booked solid a full six months in advance. Cunard White Star was thriving as never before, It is no exaggeration to say that those two ships dominated the Atlantic like no others, either before or since.

The resurgent company was so profitable that, in 1950, Cunard bought out the last remaining balance of the old White Star shares. The company that had created Oceanic, Titanic, Majestic and scores of others over seventy three years as an independent entity, was no more. The name of the company reverted, simply and naturally, to Cunard Line.

Queen Mary Observation Lounnge

Queen Mary Observation Lounnge

Cunard as a brand would go on to survive another attempt at extinction at the hands of post war airborne travel. In due course, it would produce the immortal Queen Elizabeth 2 to carry the old Cunard traditions and heritage forward for almost forty more years of unparalleled success. In time, the QE2 would become the most famous, prestigious and sought after passenger ship in the world.

For her turn, QE2 was first augmented, then ultimately supplanted by the current Queen Mary 2, the flagship of Cunard, and the largest ocean liner that the world has ever seen. Entering service in January 2004, this newest Queen has already become a true global icon.

So, from Titanic to Queen Mary 2, there exists a tangible link of rivalry, forced marriage, service and tradition as easily traceable as a family tree. To this day, it is the Cunard Line that pays for the upkeep of the graves of Titanic victims in Fairview Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A little known, poignant fact.

Though many tributes exist to the once raffish elegance of White Star, from the wonderfully eloquent to the downright mawkish, it seems somehow right to me that, if only one of the two lines survived in a physical sense, then that line should be Cunard. The Cunard Line started the whole business of what evolved into the regular, safe commercial crossing of the busiest ocean route in the world. That you can still cross that same stretch of restless ocean on a first rate Cunarder seems little short of miraculous to me.

Mauretania. Lusitania. Aquitania. Olympic. Titanic. Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth. QE2. Queen Mary 2. A line of ocean going, royal genealogy every bit as fascinating, multi- layered and breathtaking as that of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, and one every bit as glamorous and compelling. But unlike those false, feted, adored ‘gods’ of old, the last chapter on the history and heritage of the Atlantic liner has yet to be written.

I, for one, am thankful for that.

 

 

NORWEGIAN DUO RETURNS TO EUROPE AS PART OF 2016 PROGRAMME

Norwegian Jewel is off to LA in 2016

Norwegian Jewel is off to LA in 2016

Just months after announcing the departure of year round Europe based ships, Norwegian Jade and Norwegian Spirit, Norwegian has announced that the two ships will, after all, return to Europe for a full summer, 2016 programme of cruises.

The two ships will be replaced in full time European employment by the soon to be refurbished Norwegian Epic.Both will redeploy to the Caribbean next autumn, then return for the European season in the spring.

Both ships will revert to the old programmes they sailed for many years; in the case of Norwegian Spirit, a run of spectacular, twelve night cruises between Barcelona and Venice. For Norwegian Jade, 2016 will see a return to her seven night, Greek Islands cruise circuit out of Venice.

With a year round presence in the shape of Epic, and the return of Norwegian Jade to cruise Scandinavia and Norway out of Copenhagen, this gives Norwegian a full, four ship summer deployment in Europe for the first time ever.

Other highlights of the 2016 programme include a renewed, two ship Bermuda deployment in summer, with Norwegian Breakway sailing from New York, and Norwegian Dawn complementing her out of Boston.

And 2016 sees Norwegian strengthening its west coast presence, with the arrival of Norwegian Jewel in Los Angeles to operate seasonal, seven night cruises to the Mexican Riviera, and the veteran Norwegian Sun sailing longer, eleven night Mexico cruises from San Diego. She will also offer a second programme of longer cruises down to south America over the winter of 2016-17.

For further details, stay tuned,

FIVE OF MY MOST ANTICIPATED CRUISE EVENTS OF 2015

Soul survivor; the marvellous Marco Polo sails into a stately fiftieth anniversary year in 2015

Soul survivor; the marvellous Marco Polo sails into a stately fiftieth anniversary year in 2015

With 2014 almost following Elvis out of the building, now seems as good a time as any to look at some of the most pertinent events in the cruising firmament this coming year. Not all of you will necessarily agree with this list, which is fine. And, for the sake of clarity, these events are not listed in any kind of personal preference. As such it’s a compendium, and not a pecking order.

That noted, here we go;

CRYSTAL CRUISES’ 25TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS

The benchmark of deluxe cruising, it is hard to believe that suave, classy Crystal celebrates 25 years of continuing excellence next year. Both the superlative Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony will offer a series of celebratory cruises next year, including ‘guest appearances’ on certain trips from former captains such as the likes of the well loved Glenn Edvardsen, and a special, round Europe cruise hosted by new Crystal CEO, Edie Rodriguez. As ever with Crystal, expect a distinct helping of style, and a total absence of hype.

CUNARD’S LUSITANIA COMMEMORATIVE VOYAGE

To be undertaken by the Queen Victoria in May, 2015, this commemorative voyage will celebrate and honour the achievements of the mighty Lusitania, tragically torpedoed with horrendous loss of life in May, 1915, off the coast of southern Ireland.

This is timely and apt; these days, Lusitania is remembered almost solely for her loss; yet she was a hugely groundbreaking ship and, over eight years of civilian service, a hugely popular and successful one, too.  The voyage will also house a temporary display of salvaged artifacts from the lost liner, and also the launch of  a new book on the Lusitania by renowned maritime author Eric Sauder, who will be on board. The culmination will be a memorial service in the cathedral at Cobh, where both survivors and victims of the sinking were brought ashore. A hugely emotional experience all round.

ALLURE OF THE SEAS IN EUROPE

Some might roll their eyes, and others might head for the hills. But the advent in Europe of one of the two largest cruise ships in the world- Allure Of The Seas - for a full season is hugely significant. While sister ship Oasis Of The Seas dipped her toe in (as it were) for a few cruises last year, the full summer deployment of her younger sibling on the seven night ‘Meddy-Go-Round’ circuit is an event on the same scale as the great ship herself. Definitely one worth following.

THE VIKINGS ARE COMING

At last! The first, real ‘back to the future’ cruise ship finally makes her debut in the svelte form of Viking Star. Travel writers will look in vain for rock climbing walls, outdoor beach clubs and extra tariff restaurants, while old Royal Viking Line hands may smile sagely and, hopefully, nod in recognition. With all excursions included in the cost of each cruise and an emphasis on a more traditional ship board experience, this one truly will be one to watch, especially with two similar, confirmed sister ships in the offing.

THE MARCO POLO AT FIFTY

Cruise And Maritime’s venerable, 1965 built Marco Polo celebrates an (almost) unbeaten ‘fifty not out’ next year with a pair of special, round trip cruises across the Atlantic to Canada and back. While these will be without doubt the highlights of the grand old lady’s year, expect a series of year round events on this beautiful. venerable grande dame of the ocean. Throw in some of the most awe inspiring sights in Europe, Scandinavia and Greenland, plus the evocative Art Deco luxe of this exquisite liner turned cruise ship, and you have the stuff of nostalgia junkie dreams.

Food for thought, I hope. Are you taking part in any of these?

THE FIVE MOST DISTINCTIVE CRUISE SHIPS AT SEA

Sails up! The Royal Clipper sets out on another elegant adventure

Sails up! The Royal Clipper sets out on another elegant adventure

This one is always going to be contentious and, as ever, the opinions expressed here are, quite simply, my own. You can agree or disagree with them as you wish.

My parameters in assembling this list are as follows; each ship is a one off, rather than part of a series of ships. And each has to have some kind of distinctive cachet- a kind of unique selling point- that truly marks it as something apart from the ever growing fleet of cruise ships roaming the oceans, seas and rivers of the world.

Please note that ‘most distinctive’ does not imply that I consider these ships to be the most opulent, well served, or even necessarily the most luxurious. Nor is there any ‘pecking order’ implied in this list. Each of these vessels is an outstanding, one off individual that can hold its own with any of their maritime peers.

So, without further ado, I give you…

 

MARCO POLO

A true 1960’s throwback with a sharp prow, single, proud stack, and a series of graceful, cascading aft terrace decks, the Marco Polo is swathed in bow to stern Art Deco, and features an ice strengthened hull that makes her truly capable of navigating ice fields in comfort and safety. With a gross tonnage of just 22,000 and a capacity of 800 passengers (adult only), she has no balcony cabins, but absolutely boat loads of old style charm, beauty and elegance. Sail her while she is still around- she is worth the investment of time and money.

ROYAL CLIPPER

The largest ever purpose built sailing ship comes in at just 5,000 tons and, with accommodation for just 237 passengers, you’ll look for ice rinks and rock climbing walls in vain. But five towering masts, forty two sails and a long, low, gently rolling hull all make for what is arguably the greatest piece of floating theatre anywhere on the oceans. A steel and canvas cathedral decorated in brass, burnished woods, beautiful wall murals and real, old fashioned sailing ship rigging, this is time travel that gets you up close and personal to some of the most stunning vistas on Planet Earth. An experience impossible to either forget or adequately describe.

QUEEN MARY 2

In her role as the last regular transatlantic liner, the fabled Cunard flagship has a cachet that cannot be denied. Undeniably huge at 154,000 tons, the QM2 carries 2,790 passengers on her voyages; a relatively small number compared with similar sized conventional cruise ships that pack in over 4,200. As such, she is a unique combination of space and grace. And the Queen is also the only ship at sea to boast her own planetarium; that, combined with her unique series of eminent guest lecturers on each crossing, makes her one of the most compelling travel experiences in the world today. And the graceful, flared bow and broad, sweeping hull marks her out as a thoroughbred. Her deep draft- which works against her when cruising into smaller ports- works like a charm on the often feisty Atlantic crossing. Still an epic adventure.

PAUL GAUGUIN

At a little under 20,000 tons, this polished little gem has offered cruises exclusively in the waters around Tahiti since her delivery in 1999. With a capacity for around 330 passengers, the Paul Gauguin is right up there with the likes of Regent and Silversea in the all inclusive, totally exclusive stakes. Each of her seven night, round trip sailings offers an overnight stay in Moorea, Bora Bora and Tahiti itself. Her water diving platform at the stern allows passengers to enjoy a variety of above and below water adventures in one of the most romantic and alluring settings in the world. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Paul Gauguin is hugely popular with honeymooners.

EUROPA 2

Lauded by many as ‘the’ most luxurious ship afloat, Europa 2 is as distinct as she is dreamy. All outside suites accommodate a maximum of 514 passengers on a 42,000 ton hull. This alone makes the Europa 2 the most spacious cruise ship in the world, per passenger. And the ship offers no less than eight, open seating restaurants for her passengers. Inside, the decor is clean, crisp, linear, and almost relentlessly modern, with only the finest of fabrics, stemware and flatware used from bow to stern. Suffused with sunlight everywhere by enormous glass windows, this remarkable ship is elegant, exhilarating, and so relaxing that she constitutes an actual hazard to physical activity of any kind. A stunningly stylish departure from anything that has gone before or since.

So- that’s my ‘fab five’. What about yours?

NEW DUO FOR CELEBRITY CRUISES

Celebrity is the epitome of 'Modern Luxury'

Celebrity is the epitome of ‘Modern Luxury’

Celebrity Cruises has today ordered a pair of new, 117,000 ton cruise ships from the STX yard in France.

Known as ‘Project Edge’, the two sisters will be some 984 feet long each, and a passenger capacity of 2,900.

The first of the duo is scheduled for delivery in the autumn of 2018, with the second ship expected in early 2020.

The two new ships will build on the ‘Modern Luxury’ theme enshrined in the Solstice class quintet, and retro-fitted to the quartet of earlier, Millennium class vessels. It is understood that there will be a conscious effort to make the new sisters particularly environmentally friendly.

Other details are yet to be fleshed out at this time.

As ever, stay tuned.