SAILING TO NEW HORIZONS

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Full steam ahead, Let’s stretch her legs……

Well, I guess it had to happen….

After numerous voyages into the past, present and future of travel on land, sea and air, Travels With Anthony is simply unable to accommodate any more copy.

Having started this blog as recently as 2012, I find myself stunned to be even saying this. But the fact remains.

However, that does not mean the end of everything. Or, indeed, anything.

If you would still like to follow my writing, simply turn your attentions to the imaginatively named… Travels With Anthony Two, also located here on WordPress.

I’m hoping to offer you much more of the same; the endeavour as always is to keep it elegant, informative, thought provoking, nostalgic and, hopefully, just damned inspiring by turns. Simple as that.

So, do please feel free to come aboard. The gangways are down, we are serving Moet (of course), and there will be plenty of light, laughter and music as we embark on our ‘maiden’ voyage.

For those of you that follow me on Facebook, posts from here will still appear under the Travels WITH Anthony banner.

Many, many thanks for your kindness and your comments over the last few years and- smooth sailingūüėČ

 

 

SS UNITED STATES; CRYSTAL SALVATION?

Yesterday’s hydrogen bomb of an announcement concerning Crystal’s acquisition of the SS. United States left me with my jaw scraping the tops of my shoes. Stunned, incredulous disbelief does not even begin to cover it.

And the idea that she will be returned to service, subject to a full maritime evaluation, topped even that. Shock and amazement gave way to a tidal wave of euphoria.

Of course, it’s not one that is shared by everyone.

Sure enough, within minutes of the formal press announcement at New York’s historic Pier 88 on Thursday, a whole tidal wave of dissent, derision and- in some cases- sheer, surly denial- began breaking over the whole project.

But first and foremost, let’s look at the bare bones of what is proposed.

The former transatlantic speed queen, built to carry 2.000 passengers in three classes on a 53,000 ton hull, will be completely re-engined, with a new service speed of roughly twenty five knots.

All accommodation will be rebuilt to feature just four hundred suites, averaging some three hundred and fifty square feet, on a hull that will have the superstructure extended aft, with extra upper decks built fore and aft to accommodate balcony cabins. Capacity will fall to just eight hundred passengers, served by a crew of six hundred, on a hull whose GRT will increase to an estimated 60,000 tons.

This would give the restructured SS. United States a passenger/space ratio roughly comparable to most current six star ships. Add in Crystal’s unique level of style, hospitality and cuisine, and the potential for such a project is incalculable.

On the aesthetic front, the original colour scheme will be retained, and the two great, red, white and blue funnels- surely among the most iconic in maritime history- will remain. That gracefully tapered prow will stay as well.

This is only right. Messing with any of these would be the artistic equivalent of painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa; an abject capitulation to hype over style. Thankfully, we now know that such will not be the case.

Inside, such perennial locations as the famous Navajo Lounge and the long, interior promenades will be restored to their original lustre.

Restored and enhanced beyond anyone’s most optimistic dreams, the¬†SS. United States¬†will be uniquely able to offer her passengers two voyages for the price of one.

The first, of course, is on a modern, state of the art luxury vessel that can take her guests all over the world cocooned in sybaritic standards of flair and finesse. And one whose dimensions also allow her to transit the Panama Canal as well.

The second is a trip back into the past, aboard an ocean liner so legendary in history that even the mention of her name makes the adrenaline flow faster. Imagine sailing up the Hudson River, inbound for New York, on the United States. The idea is spine tingling and delicious. For many, that seems too good to be true.

And that’s where the naysayers come in.

After all these years of stop-start, false promises, and coming within weeks of the executioner’s axe, many simply cannot absorb that this long suffering, much adored legend has been not only reprieved, but actually looks like returning to sea. Their incredulity is not to be underestimated. Or, indeed, disrespected. Actions, as they say, speak louder than words.

The ship needs a complete, stem to stern survey to determine exactly what will be required to return her to a seagoing state. But anyone who thinks that either Crystal, or indeed, parent company Genting Hong Kong, have not already done their homework is deluding themselves on this front.

This complete survey will, apparently, be undertaken very soon. But in the meantime, there are more cosmetic aspects that could surely be embarked upon without either moving the ship or, indeed, breaking the bank.

An obvious sign of intent would be to remove the acres of superficial rust that currently shroud the ship, giving her a kind of forlorn, Miss Havisham sort of appearance. The hull and funnels could surely be repainted in situ.

And illuminating those huge funnels at night would be a far bigger statement of intent; a potent message to every naysayer out there that revival is not only imminent, but actually already incubating within the dark recesses of that fabulous hull. It would represent a kind of spiritual unshackling of the ship from the ties that have bound her for these long, lonely years. The psychological effect- and, of course, the press it would generate- are quite incalculable, but totally positive.

Genting, of course, now also owns the great Lloyd Werft shipyard in Germany. And, while no formal announcement has been made as to where the projected restoration of the ship would be carried out, few would bet against Lloyd Werft. With it’s reputation for delivering timely, consistently excellent quality work, Crystal’s own in-house shipyard has to be the clear front runner by a country mile.

Will it be easy? Of course not. A very conservative preliminary survey estimates the conversion price at around $700 million.

But the job is not impossible, and the return is truly priceless.

This is Field of Dreams stuff, with a maritime twist. And, once rebuilt, I for one have no doubt that the people will, indeed, come.

They will come to sample an authentic American legend, restored and enhanced, and put back on the one stage that she once so dominated.

They will come to experience a ship that has survived against incredible odds, thanks to the unimaginable tenacity of Susan Gibbs and her ‘Band of Brothers’ at the SS. United States Conservancy. The story of their ‘never say die’ fight to keep the ship afloat, when all others had given up, is surely worthy of a film script in itself.

They will come to experience a unique vessel, one suffused with the courteous, effortlessly elegant sense of warmth, beauty and style that the Crystal brand personifies.

The SS. United States, the fabled ‘Yankee Flyer’, looks set to find a whole new audience. Once again, the truly savvy among the travelling public will get the chance to fall in love with a ship that has heart, style and soul in spades. A ship where space meets grace; one where the benign shades of Duke Ellington and his band can almost be heard once more in the ballroom, just as on her historic maiden voyage in July. 1952.

I have the feeling that the United States may very well be leaving Philadelphia under tow before too much longer has passed, thence to begin her dramatic renaissance; a rebirth that is without parallel in maritime history.

And when she comes back, it will be under her own power. That famous bow will once more furl the steel grey Atlantic rollers back along her glistening black flanks, to where her wake surges back to Europe. Row upon row of her deck lights will dance like hundreds of skittish fireflies on the Atlantic. Naturally, the soundtrack will be sassy, ebullient swing and jazz.

Many will refuse to believe it until they see it, of course. But the idea of this maritime Sleeping Beauty emerging from her slumber is one so powerful, so utterly compelling, as to be the real stuff of dreams.

This great, long neglected, nearly forgotten cathedral of the sea is coming back, sailing straight at you at twenty five knots. I, for one, cannot wait to meet her.

 

 

 

CARNIVAL ORDERS FIRST NEW BUILD FOR P&O CRUISES, AUSTRALIA

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P&O Australia is ploughing full speed a head with a first ever, dedicated new build

Carnival Corporation has announced the construction of a first ever, purpose built cruise ship for it’s P&O Australia brand.

The ship is part of a brand new, four ship order from Italy’s Fincantieri yard for the Carnival portfolio of lines. In addition to the P&O Australia build, there will be two dedicated vessels for Costa’s operation for the Chinese market in Asia, and another ship for Princess Cruises, based on the popular Royal Princess platform.

All four new vessels are expected to be delivered between 2019 and 2020.

But it is the new build for the Australian market that is especially interesting. Thus far, all of the P&O Australia fleet has been reconditioned former tonnage, taken from the likes of Ocean Village, and Holland America Line.

The new, as yet nameless vessel is said to have a passenger capacity of 4,200. Following on from the projected 2017 debut of the Pacific Explorer (currently sailing as the Dawn Princess) the new ship will bring the P&O Australia fleet up to a total of six vessels- a quite remarkable achievement in such a relatively short space of time.

She will also constitute the first, purpose built vessel for the P&O Australia fleet, and her much larger passenger capacity puts her on a par with the 150,000 ton class of cruise ships that seems to be becoming the worldwide industry standard size these days.

Interesting times, for sure. As ever, stay tuned.

LITTLE ROYALS- SHORT EUROPEAN BREAKS ON CUNARD IN 2016

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QM2 is sailing full speed ahead for some substantial enhancements in 2016

Interested in trying the classic Cunard on board experience for yourself, but unwilling to make a first time commitment to a long, potentially expensive voyage?

Or maybe you’re already a die hard fan, short on time, but looking for a tasty little top up of that famous on board ambiance?

Both of these can be realised on a short, two to five night break on one of the storied ‘Three Queens’ in Europe next year.

Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth will offer a whole raft of trips between them. Starting in January, you can visit prime European short haul ports such as Zeebrugge, Amsterdam, Guernsey and Hamburg, while still lapping up the on board vibe.

To coincide with some of her Atlantic crossings that embark in Hamburg, there are options to sail on the Queen Mary 2 from Southampton to Hamburg, or indeed vice versa. These jaunts give you two full days on the Cunard flagship-fresh from a substantial refurbishment and upgrade in the late spring of 2016.

In July, Queen Mary 2 also offers a special, four night round trip cruise from Southampton. Smaller sibling, Queen Elizabeth, offers a similar itinerary in May.

The voyages, running through until December, offer a cost effective way to experience life on board one of the famous famous trio of ships at sea, plus the chance to step ashore and enjoy the lifestyle in some of Europe’s more invigorating ports.

Worth a look for sure.

EMPRESS OF THE SEAS IS MIAMI BOUND

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Empress of the Seas is returning to the warm, welcoming waters of the Caribbean and Bahamas for 2016

Royal Caribbean International has announced that it’s soon to be re-integrated Empress of the Seas is to be based in Miami.

The 48,000 ton ship is returning to RCI after an eight year spell sailing as the Empress for Pullmantur, the troubled Spanish offshoot of RCI, in Europe.

Beginning in March 2016, the Empress of the Seas will embark on a series of short three, four and five night cruises to destinations such as Nassau, Key West, Cozumel, Costa Maya, Grand Cayman and the company’s private island of Coco Cay, in the Bahamas.

Key selling points of the ship’s programme will be an earlier, expedited embarkation time from 110 onward, and a number of overnight stays in Cozumel on the longer, five night run. At present, she is the only ship out of Miami to offer such an option.

The vessel is being sold as very much a party experience rather than an in depth, cultural expedition ship of any kind. She will also undergo a refurbishment before returning to service, though exact specifics are few at this time.

At present, these short cruises are being sold as year round options. But speculation remains rife that Empress of the Seas may, in time, return to her old summer programme of seven night Bermuda cruises from New York- a role in which she was hugely popular in the late nineties.

Stay tuned for any updates.

CRYSTAL SERENITY TO OFFER SECOND ALASKA SEASON IN 2017

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It’s ‘adios’ to the Mediterranean for Crystal Serenity in 2017

In what amounts to a complete about face, Crystal Cruises has cancelled the entire 2017 European deployment for Crystal Serenity. Instead, the 2003 built, 68,000 ton ship will offer a whole new raft of itineraries, centered on the continental USA.

Summer will see the ship offering a second, consecutive season of Alaska cruises, ranging in length between seven and ten days, and the year is filled out by a string of Eastern Seaboard sailings, before the ship heads down into the Caribbean for a fall and winter season.

There will also be a series of New England itineraries in the fall, also typically in the seven to ten nights’ range.

A fourteen night repositioning cruise from Miami to Los Angeles will be the prelude to a series of seven night West Coast USA cruises, and at least one long, exotic, sixteen night swing out cruise to Hawaii and back. There will also be a longer, more in depth, fourteen night itinerary to Mexico as well the more conventional seven night options.

Bookings for these new itineraries open on December 31st.

This is the first time since her launch in 2003 that the Crystal Serenity has spent two consecutive seasons away from her usual run of peak season cruises in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe.

So far, there is no news of alternative itineraries for sibling vessel, Crystal Symphony. Her full season of Baltic and Northern Europe cruises, scheduled to operate from May to October, is thus far unchanged.

As always, stay tuned for updates.

 

DIANA ROSS TO HEADLINE CARIBBEAN CRUISE IN APRIL

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Carnival Breeze at Grand Turk

The legendary Diana Ross will lead an astonishing line up of musical talent on an eight day Carnival cruise to the Caribbean from Miami next April.

Also on the bill will be Patti Labelle, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, and a host of other stars on what amounts to a soul music festival at sea.

Other headline acts include Charlie Wilson, New Edition, and the Bar-Kays.

The cruise is being run as part of the Tom Joyner Foundation Fantastic Voyage, which raises funds to support students attending what are described as ‘historically Black colleges and universities.’

The eight night cruise sails from Miami on April 23rd, calling at St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Grand Turk, before returning to Miami on May 1st.

The 135,000 ton Carnival Breeze will also be hosting a series of empowerment seminars during the cruise, as well as daytime parties and various theme nights.

While all of this amounts to a massive party on the ocean-one with a  charitable slant as well- there is no doubting that the centre spotlight will belong to Diana Ross.

As a recording artist, she found fame with the Supremes in the mid 1960’s before going solo. Since then, she has also recorded duets with Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie and Julio Iglesias, among many others.

In all, she has scored some nineteen number one hit singles to date; twelve as lead singer of the Supremes, and seven solo smashes.

Fares for the cruise are currently listed from $2,860 for an inside cabin, to around $4,000 for an outside.

 

QUEEN MARY 2 SUFFERS SMALL FIRE IN GAS TURBINE

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Queen Mary 2 Mid Atlantic funnel shot

The Queen Mary 2 has suffered a small fire in one of her gas turbines today while docked in the port of Lisbon.

The fire is under control and the damage- described as minor- is currently under assessment. Right now, the liner is still scheduled to sail on time for her next port of call- the Spanish port of Vigo- later tonight.

However, one of the pods is not coming on line right at this moment.

The Queen Mary 2 is currently in the last stage of a twelve night, round trip cruise from Southampton to the Canary Islands and Portugal, that sailed from Southampton on December 3rd. The ship is due back in the Hampshire port after her Vigo call on December 15th. Later that same day, she is scheduled to sail on her final, westbound crossing of the year to New York.

Stay tuned for news.

My grateful thanks go to Ron Acosta for this on the spot update.

ELEGANCE AND EXCESS; FIRST CLASS ON THE ATLANTIC CROSSING

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The France of 1962 at her Manhattan pier. The French Line called her ‘The last refuge of the good life.’

With the high water era of the Atlantic liners long since gone, many exaggerated claims have been made about those largely vanished times. Partly through the prism of warped memories recounted to star struck writers, former passengers waxed lyrical about entire tureens of caviar in first class, among other things. One woman in particular recalled the ill fated¬†Titanic¬†carrying ‘an entire herd’ of dairy cows to provide the first class passengers with fresh milk.

Add in  a nostalgic fondness for a mostly wonderful experience that has all but vanished, and the possibility for exaggeration and distortion grows larger still. The line between fact and fiction blurs like fog on the horizon.

Drawing a perfect bead on those days is ultimately about as plausible as stuffing a cloud into a suitcase. But a great many of those lovingly embellished claims really do have at least some foundation in fact. ¬†Let’s look at some of the most famous excesses of the first class Atlantic crossing that actually do stack up.

French Line cuisine is often claimed to have been the finest afloat. In first class, the Ile De France offered no less than two hundred and seventy five different items to sample on the dinner menu. The same ship offered onion soup for breakfast, among other things.

A few years later, the still unparalelled Normandie listed some three hundred and twenty five items on the evening menu. It must have taken an hour just to peruse it. This menu was served up in the first ever air conditioned public room to go to sea.

Interestingly, the French Line never really went for separate, additional first class eating venues for dinner, such as the famed Verandah Grills of the Cunard Queens, or the Ritz-Carlton that was so popular on the Amerika. 

True, the Normandie did have an aft facing, upper deck Cafe Grill located in approximately the same place as those on the Queens, but this was far more of a late night supper club venue than a dedicated, first class alternative for dinner. On many crossings, it seldom got busy before midnight.

Simply put, the French Line considered that it’s uniform standard of first class dining was of such a high level that creating a separate dining room was superfluous. Passengers could, of course, also dine in their suites. But that lack of an alternative first class venue for diners was as much a statement of intent as anything else. Even the flashy, much more modern France did not deviate from that rule when she came into service as late as 1962.

If the ships were over the top in first class, then they certainly did cosset- and covet- many over the top passengers. In the 1930’s it was nothing unusual for Count Rossi, of Martini and Rossi fame, to block book entire thirty cabin suites for himself and his entourage aboard the¬†Conte Di Savoia or the¬†Rex¬†on the Italian Line’s ‘sunny southern’ route to and from New York.

Cunard devotees before and after the war, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor switched to the brand new United States from 1952 onward. The Duchess would think nothing of asking in advance for her suite to be decorated in a colour scheme that she herself had devised. However, that same couple rather let down their reputation for extravagance by insisting that they pay only a minimum, inside cabin rate for the same suite.

Mountains of personal luggage were an obvious norm. A lady travelling in first class on a transatlantic liner could be expected to change her clothes up to four times a day. The likes of the Astors, Wideners and Thayers boarded the ill fated Titanic with a whole raft of suitcases, steamer trunks and other sundries that they had picked up during their travels, not to mention an entire retinue of personal maids, valets, private secretaries, and even prized pets. In those days, this would not have even raised an eyebrow.

It is a common conception that such excess ended after the war. It almost did, but not quite.

On the¬†QE2,¬†the famous Mrs. L. Kirk Edwards- known to everyone as Lulu- spent so much time in residence on board that she became part of the fixtures and fittings. She once famously quipped that “I sent my yacht to the Falklands” after the ship’s heroic stint in the infamous 1982 conflict. She was in the habit of throwing cocktail parties for the ship’s off duty officers after church service on Sundays. They became known on board as ‘The thirst after righteousness’.

Another lady of a certain age sailed on the QE2 on every single one of her three month long circumnavigations of the world. She routinely took two suites- one for herself, and the other to store each of the ninety or so new designer outfits that she had created from scratch for each adventure.

Of course,¬†QE2¬†always remained a singular, stubborn holdout to the end; a shining example of style over hype. I remember one particular lady, wearing over a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of jewels at one cocktail party. With a perfectly straight face, she told me that¬†QE2¬†was the only place where she could wear such an excess of diamante and still feel perfectly safe.

There was a man- a brain surgeon as it turned out- who lost $45,000 in the casino on a single night. And many¬†QE2 regulars will no doubt recall meeting the legendary Beatrice ‘Bea’ Muller, another lady of means that lived on board the famed vessel until the end of her Cunard career.

Excessive? Probably. Elegance? Certainly. Enigmatic? Beyond the shadow of a doubt.

 

PULLMANTUR’S ZENITH IN REEF INCIDENT

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Grand Cayman remains a popular anchor port for Holland America Line, among many others. Photo @antnich

Pullmantur’s cruise ship Zenith was the inadvertent cause of reef damage at Grand Cayman on Tuesday.

The 47,000 ton ship was directed by the local pilot to a government assigned anchor position, where she duly stopped in preparation to tender her passengers ashore for the day.

Scott Prodahl, a local diving instructor, noticed that the water around the anchored Zenith was clouding over- a sign that the anchor chain was chafing against nearby coral. He subsequently filmed a five and half minute long video of the scene.

However, there is no suggestion from any quarter that the Zenith was to blame for the incident. A Cayman environment official, Scott Slaybaugh, told The Cayman Times exactly that. In evidence, he produced a software tracking graphic that clearly showed the Zenith correctly positioned at her designated spot.

All of this points up the need for proper berthing facilities at Grand Cayman. As of now, all cruise ships have to anchor offshore and then tender their passengers into the centre of George Town.

On many days, there can be upwards of five cruise ships tendering passengers ashore-a state of affairs that has increasingly exasperated all the major cruise companies for over three decades.

In October, the government finally gave the go-ahead for construction of the first, purpose built cruise terminal at Grand Cayman.

But even that is nowhere near enough to handle the huge volumes of winter traffic at this Caribbean hot spot, and there are still environmental concerns around the subject that need to be thrashed out at a local level.

That said, the unfortunate incident with the Zenith might prove something of a wake up call.

Stay tuned for further news.